Tuesdays with TED: Sir Ken Robinson, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”

One of  the first TED talks made available online in 2006, Sir Ken Robinson’s “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” remains the most-watched talk on the TED.com website. In addition to the speaker’s excellent rhetorical techniques (which, indeed, have helped set the tone for many future TED and TEDx events), the subject matter, if anything, rings even truer now than it did a decade ago.

Robinson builds his speech on the themes that, in his opinion, the whole conference shares:

  1. The extraordinary range and variety of human creativity
  2. The impossibility of knowing what the world will be like even five years into the future
  3. The innate capacities children have for innovation and creativity

He asserts:

All kids have tremendous talents. And we squander them, pretty ruthlessly… My contention is that creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.

After telling two humorous anecdotes about the fearlessness of children to be wrong, Robinson concludes:

You’ll never come up with anything original — if you’re not prepared to be wrong. And by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong. And we run our companies like this, by the way. We stigmatize mistakes. And we’re now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make. And the result is that we are educating people out of their creative capacities.

While many other TED talks have discussed the variety observed within educational environments around the world, Robinson focuses on the hierarchy of subjects that he finds universal within them: that mathematics and languages (the subjects that supposedly make a person employable) are at the top of the hierarchy, and the arts on the bottom. Even within the arts, he notes, drama and dance rank below art and music.

Don’t do music, you’re not going to be a musician; don’t do art, you won’t be an artist. Benign advice — now, profoundly mistaken. The whole world is engulfed in a revolution. And the second is academic ability, which has really come to dominate our view of intelligence, because the universities designed the system in their image. If you think of it, the whole system of public education around the world is a protracted process of university entrance. And the consequence is that many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not, because the thing they were good at at school wasn’t valued, or was actually stigmatized. And I think we can’t afford to go on that way.

Robinson tells the thought-provoking story of Gillian Lynne, who, as a child, performed poorly academically until a doctor suggested taking her to a dance school, where she met other people like herself, “who had to move to think.” The story concludes:

She was eventually auditioned for the Royal Ballet School; she became a soloist; she had a wonderful career at the Royal Ballet. She eventually graduated from the Royal Ballet School and founded her own company — the Gillian Lynne Dance Company — met Andrew Lloyd Weber. She’s been responsible for some of the most successful musical theater productions in history; she’s given pleasure to millions; and she’s a multi-millionaire. Somebody else might have put her on medication and told her to calm down.

All in all, we would have to agree that the 20-minute talk does deserve its place of prominence among the TED collection. Robinson explores his topic in further detail in his book, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything [library]. He has also given several more TED talks, which we will eventually feature here.

The face of the giant | Wallace Stevens

I thought, on the train, how utterly weI thought, on the train, how utterly we have forsaken the Earth, in the sense of excluding it from our thoughts. There are but few who consider its physical hugeness, its rough enormity. It is still a disparate monstrosity, full of solitudes & barrens & wilds. It still dwarfs & terrifies & crushes. The rivers still roar, the mountains still crash, the winds still shatter. Man is an affair of cities. His gardens & orchards & fields are mere scrapings. Somehow, however, he has managed to shut out the face of the giant from his windows. But the giant is there, nevertheless.

-Wallace Stevens

Souvenirs and Prophecies, ed. Holly Stevens (New York: Knopf, 1977), note of April 18, 1904, p. 134.

You Want a Social Life, with Friends | Kenneth Koch

kenneth koch social life

You Want a Social Life, with Friends
Kenneth Koch

You want a social life, with friends.
A passionate love life and as well
To work hard every day. What’s true
Is of these three you may have two
And two can pay you dividends
But never may have three.

There isn’t time enough, my friends–
Though dawn begins, yet midnight ends–
To find the time to have love, work, and friends.
Michelangelo had feeling
For Vittoria and the Ceiling
But did he go to parties at day’s end?

Homer nightly went to banquets
Wrote all day but had no lockets
Bright with pictures of his Girl.
I know one who loves and parties
And has done so since his thirties
But writes hardly anything at all.

—-

Kenneth Koch (1925-2002) was an American poet, playwright, and professor. He was a prominent poet of the New York School of poetry, a circle of poets that also included Frank O’Hara and John Ashbery.

William Butler Yeats on Poetry

from Anima Hominis (Chap.5)William Butler Yeats
William Butler Yeats

We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry. Unlike the rhetoricians, who get a confident voice from remembering the crowd they have won or may win, we sing amid our uncertainty; and, smitten even in the presence of the most high beauty by the knowledge of our solitude, our rhythm shudders. I think, too, that no fine poet, no matter how disordered his life, has ever, even in his mere life, had pleasure for his end. Continue reading

Mark Strand | The End

The End
Mark Strand
 The End by Mark Strand
Not every man knows what he shall sing at the end,
Watching the pier as the ship sails away, or what it will seem like
When he’s held by the sea’s roar, motionless, there at the end,
Or what he shall hope for once it is clear that he’ll never go back.
When the time has passed to prune the rose or caress the cat,
When the sunset torching the lawn and the full moon icing it down
No longer appear, not every man knows what he’ll discover instead.
When the weight of the past leans against nothing, and the sky
Is no more than remembered light, and the stories of cirrus
And cumulus come to a close, and all the birds are suspended in flight,
Not every man knows what is waiting for him, or what he shall sing
When the ship he is on slips into darkness, there at the end.

 

 

“The End,” © 1990 by Mark Strand from The Continuous Life by Mark Strand.

AÚN – Pablo Neruda | Still Another Day

AÚN
de Pablo NerudaA Ú N

XVIII

Los días no se descartan ni se suman, son abejas
que ardieron de dulzura o enfurecieron
el aguijón: el certamen continúa,
van y vienen los viajes desde la miel al dolor.
No, no se deshila la red de los años: no hay red.
No caen gota a gota desde un río: no hay río.
El sueño no divide la vida en dos mitades,
ni la acción, ni el silencio, ni la virtud:
fue como una piedra la vida, un solo movimiento,
una sola fogata que reverbéro en el follaje,
una flecha, una sola, lenta o activa, un metal
que ascendió y descendió quemándose en tus huesos.

 

STILL ANOTHER DAY
by Pablo Neruda

XVIII

The days aren’t discarded or collected, they are bees
that burned with sweetness or maddened
the sting: the struggle continues,
the journeys go and come between honey and pain.
No, the net of the years doesn’t unweave: there is no net.
They don’t fall drop by drop from a river: there is no river.
Sleep doesn’t divide life into halves,
or action, or silence, or honor:
life is like a stone, a single motion,
a lonesome bonfire reflected on the leaves,
an arrow, only one, slow or swift, a metal
that climbs or descends burning in your bones.

(trans. William O’Daly)

Philip Larkin | Going, Going

GOING, GOING
by Philip Larkin
January 1972, from High Windows

I thought it would last my time –
The sense that, beyond the town,
There would always be fields and farms,
Where the village louts could climb
Such trees as were not cut down;
I knew there’d be false alarms

In the papers about old streets
And split level shopping, but some
Have always been left so far;
And when the old part retreats
As the bleak high-risers come
We can always escape in the car.

Things are tougher than we are, just
As earth will always respond
However we mess it about;
Chuck filth in the sea, if you must:
The tides will be clean beyond.
– But what do I feel now? Doubt?

Or age, simply? The crowd
Is young in the M1 cafe;
Their kids are screaming for more –
More houses, more parking allowed,
More caravan sites, more pay.
On the Business Page, a score

Of spectacled grins approve
Some takeover bid that entails
Five per cent profit (and ten
Per cent more in the estuaries): move
Your works to the unspoilt dales
(Grey area grants)! And when

You try to get near the sea
In summer . . . It seems, just now,
To be happening so very fast;
Despite all the land left free
For the first time I feel somehow
That it isn’t going to last,

That before I snuff it, the whole
Boiling will be bricked in
Except for the tourist parts –
First slum of Europe: a role
It won’t be so hard to win,
With a cast of crooks and tarts.

And that will be England gone,
The shadows, the meadows, the lanes,
The guildhalls, the carved choirs.
There’ll be books; it will linger on
In galleries; but all that remains
For us will be concrete and tyres.

Most things are never meant.
This won’t be, most likely; but greeds
And garbage are too thick-strewn
To be swept up now, or invent
Excuses that make them all needs.
I just think it will happen, soon.

Bronze Statue of Phillip Larkin, by sculptor M...

Bronze Statue of Phillip Larkin, by sculptor Martin Jennings, at Hull Paragon Interchange (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Philip Larkin in a library. Photograph by Fay ...

Philip Larkin in a library. Photograph by Fay Godwin. © The British Library Board (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

On Poetry

I wish our clever young poets would remember my homely definitions of prose and poetry (2)poetry; that is, prose,—words in their best order; poetry,—the best words in their best order. –Samuel Taylor Coleridge

So many people, many of whom enjoy other forms of the arts, are quick to declare, “I hate poetry.” I suspect that what they really mean is that they hate bad poetry. But perhaps I should agree with them and say, “I hate poetry too.” That is, I hate this terrible definition of poetry that has become standard in American culture (and perhaps other parts of the Anglophone world? I don’t know it well enough to say).

The first part of the problem is that poetry has become interchangeable with rhyme. Not all rhymes are poems and not all poems rhyme. But the collective consciousness seems to have decided that two lines of varying length and cadence can tied together with an end rhyme (or near-rhyme), and voila! You have a poem. It seems that kindergarten teachers start us off on the wrong path and most of us never get corrected.

The second major issue I’ve observed is that people take confession a bit too far. While personal touches or revelations can make a poem great, overdoing it is uninteresting at best and downright awkward at worst. Often some of the worst offenders on issue #2 aren’t also committing sin #1 of rhyming any- and everything (but when they do, it is AWFUL). Rather, they take what is basically a diary entry, add some haphazard line breaks, and call it a day. Processing that deep emotion through poetry should not be so quick nor so simple.

All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling. To be natural is to be obvious, and to be obvious is to be inartistic. –Oscar Wilde

The third problem is that because the subject matter is often so personal and deeply felt, no one wants to offer the budding poet anything but praise. Certainly it does take courage to share one’s works and experiences, but just as with any other art form, or any skill at all really, the beginner needs honest feedback, direction, and constructive criticism to grow. You probably wouldn’t let your friend try to exhibit his finger paintings in an art gallery if he was older than 8, and yet you might give him a pat on the head when he pays lots of money to have his terrible poem included in an anthology (which is a scam, by the way).

We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry. –William Butler Yeats

The fourth problem isn’t unique to poetry: people want to be producers and not consumers of the art. In other words, people want to write poetry, but not read it. Or write novels, but not read them. Make films. Take photos. And so on. One novelist often laments how his publishers pass on his new fiction work, but offer him a nice advance for a “how to write a novel” or “how to get published” guidebook, because those will be sure to sell. The more poetry you read, though, the better your poetry will become. And not just good poetry, either: read BAD poetry, really really bad poetry, for a nudge in the right direction.

And of course, one should read good poetry. We share our favorites on this site (with perhaps a crummy poem or two for variety). There is the Academy of American Poets. AllPoetry.com. The Poetry Foundation–and they’ll even email you one poem per day if you sign up for their newsletter.

So, how do you stop writing bad poetry and start writing good poetry? Continue reading