Columns, Imagine That

Every child an artist

When she was a little girl, Gillian couldn’t sit still and had trouble focusing. She had such difficulty in school that her teachers recommended that she be placed in a school for kids with learning disabilities. Gillian’s mother, fearing that there was something terribly wrong, took her to a psychiatrist.

While her mother was being interviewed, Gillian tried not to fidget in the chair. After talking to both mother and daughter, the doctor turned to Gillian and said that he and her mother were going to leave the room for just a moment.

Laura Mann

As he got up, he turned on the radio. When they left the room, the doctor told Gillian’s mother to look through the window leading into the office and just watch. Almost immediately, Gillian got up and began to move to the music on the radio. “There is nothing wrong with your daughter,” the psychiatrist said. “She’s a dancer. Take her to dancing school.”

Our current system of education was tailored to the industrial revolution, with a focus on subjects that would benefit the average 19th century worker.

Gillian Lynne went on to be a solo dancer for the Royal Ballet Company, and eventually choreographed Cats and Phantom of the Opera. Gillian didn’t need to be sent to a special school; she just needed to be who she really was.

Creativity is a terrible thing to waste

Author and educator Sir Ken Robinson loves telling this story when he lectures because it’s a powerful example of why kids need to be allowed to express themselves creatively. Robinson believes that it’s not just artistic types who are being let down by schools’ lack of focus on creativity. “All kids have tremendous creativity, and we squander it ruthlessly,” he explains.

Robinson states that our current system of education was tailored to the industrial revolution, with a focus on subjects that would benefit the average 19th century worker. He explains that factors which contribute to the squashing of children’s creativity include “a narrow emphasis on certain sorts of academic work; the exile of arts, humanities, and physical education programs from schools; arid approaches to teaching math and sciences; an obsessive culture of standardized testing, and tight financial pressures to teach to the tests.” Kids are funneled into classrooms that foster only one kind of intelligence, and, after years of neglect, their creativity withers.

Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.”

We live in one of the most challenging times in history. Many of the jobs that our college freshmen will work at when they graduate do not exist today. We need creative, imaginative thinkers more than ever.

How not to squander creativity

What can we as parents do to foster creativity in our children? First off, we can encourage our schools to continue funding arts, humanities, and physical education programs. A more direct approach would be incorporating creativity into kids’ everyday activities outside of school, an aspect that parents have more immediate control over. Spend an afternoon at a program like the Minneapolis Institute of Arts’ free Family Sundays, where kids can explore the world of art and meet artists, musicians, and storytellers; or Eagan’s Caponi Art Park Family Fun Tuesdays, a free weekly summertime program where kids can learn about art and culture from around the world. Encourage your child to dance, draw, make music, and create.

Mike Mann

Creativity is something from which everyone can develop and benefit. As Daniel Pink says in his best seller A Whole New Mind, “The capabilities we once disdained or thought frivolous — the ‘right-brain’ qualities of inventiveness, empathy, joyfulness, and meaning — increasingly will determine who flourishes and who flounders.”

Our current system of education was tailored to the industrial revolution, with a focus on subjects that would benefit the average 19th century worker.

Imagination has its place in the boardroom as well as in the art studio. In the new century, we must make sure it has its genesis in both the classroom and at home.

Laura Mann is a freelance writer and blogger, and a student in Emerging Media and Communications at the University of Texas. Michael Mann is an award-winning storyteller (www.storymann.com), a speaker for the MediaWise Movement, and a father of four, including Laura.

© Michael Mann, 2010, all rights retained. Printed by permission of the author.

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