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Schools Don’t Kill Creativity

February 27, 2018 in Big Topics, Out of the Classroom - 4 Comments

Schools Don’t Kill Creativity

February 27, 2018 in Big Topics, Out of the Classroom - 4 Comments

I was reading through posts on a parenting group on Facebook yesterday (always a slightly dangerous move), and came across one that got my hackles up. It’s a concept that has been floating around since schools were invented I’m sure, and I’ve felt the need to defend it in so many arenas.

One mum was asking what options she had for her children because she is worried about the education system only ‘preparing her children for repetitive office jobs, kills creativity, and trains them to sit still for hours on end’.

While I absolutely applaud her concern for her children, and the fact that she is clearly interested in their education, I am sad that she thinks that’s all schools are good for.

Repetitive office jobs…

Yes, school prepares children for repetitive office jobs. It also prepares them for myriad other jobs. Jobs that have nothing to do with repetitiveness or offices. The vast majority of people in our end of the world have gone through the education system, and the vast majority don’t work in offices (or at least not in the type of office environment she is alluding to).

I honestly don’t know where people get this particular idea from. If schools only prepared children for office work, they would only ever teach them the skills required for that. We certainly wouldn’t be teaching music, or sport, or science, or art, or advanced mathematics or writing skills.

What even is creativity?

When people think of creativity, they almost exclusively think of artistic creativity. They think of things like painting, drawing, writing stories or music, dancing.

I have a big problem with that.

Creativity comes in as many different forms as there are people on the planet, and only a small subset of that is in an artistic way.

Designing a science experiment takes a hell of a lot of creativity. So does creating a circuit board, solving a mathematical problem, investigating ancient texts, writing a new computer program, drafting a business proposal, negotiating with clients, fixing anything that is broken, thinking of what to cook for dinner tonight that will keep the whole family happy. The list is endless. I’ve yet to see a job out there that doesn’t require a form of creativity, even ‘repetitive office jobs’. Sometimes dealing with customers and clients requires an extreme form of creativity to keep everyone happy.

But before you can be at such a high level of task, you need to learn the basics of your craft. You can’t design an experiment to look into a cure for cancer if you haven’t first learnt how the human body works, the basics of experiment design and grant proposals, even how to write. You can’t craft a new app if you haven’t first learned how to type, how to code, a bit about user design and experience.

Even if we go back to artistic creativity, you can’t paint a masterpiece if you haven’t learnt how to mix colours, work with paint, and apply them to the medium you are working with.

All the basics for these things are taught in school. Some of it is taught at home, if you have parents who are so inclined. It is extended in tertiary education where necessary. The specifics of any job are taught on that job, as required.

I see so many students at school that feel like they aren’t ‘creative’ purely because they aren’t artistic or musical. I’ve had so many conversations about how creativity is so much more than that. It breaks my heart to see some of them so downtrodden because they aren’t in the school play or band. They don’t see their potential, don’t see the exciting and creative opportunities open to them in other fields.

School doesn’t ‘kill’ creativity – quite the opposite. It shows you so many different avenues that you can take your creativity down; wherever your passions and talents lie, you can follow that path and be as creative as you like.

I really, really wish that people would stop assuming that you aren’t creative purely because you don’t show it through an artistic avenue.

Sit still for hours on end

Guess what many people do while flicking through Facebook on their smart phones…

In all seriousness, there is so much more to this comment than I think she realises. In order to master any skill, you need to learn the basics of it. In order to be able to be creative with any skill, you need to learn the basics of it. In many cases, that means learning theory before practising the practical skills. And in many of those cases, that means sitting and listening, or reading, or watching.

Yes we expect children to sit still and listen. There are so many reasons for that besides learning the theory of the subject at hand – to learn patience, to listen to and follow instructions, to behave in a manner appropriate to the scenario, to be safe, to participate in individual or group work, to read a book, and even to be super ‘creative’ and paint/draw/write something.

The skills required by a large host of jobs are intrinsically taught when children learn to sit still and do whatever it is they are required to do at that time.

Yes it can be boring, but so can literally any task depending on your frame of mind at the time.


If you are worried about your children not getting to be ‘creative’ enough in school, perhaps you should look a little more closely at what they are doing. If you still feel like it’s not enough, you can extend them in whatever direction you feel is appropriate and necessary outside school hours. There are infinite opportunities if you are willing to spend the time and effort (and sometimes money) – just please, for the sake of your children, remember that creativity isn’t restricted to the arts.


Photo by Angelo Pantazis on Unsplash


Emily is a secondary science and math teacher in Australia. She enjoys sharing the real and human teacher life, facilitating the ‘light bulb’ moment in her students, and drinking tea and wine.

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  • Ellen April 29, 2018 at 3:12 am

    Thanks for your informative post. Actually, my friends are talking about this topics. We always blame that schools are killing children’s creativity. Know I know this is a misunderstanding.

  • Mahwish July 10, 2018 at 5:25 am

    I must say WOW Emily! I was searching on this debate and i came across urs. You made it. Seriously no further debate after this… well done

    • Emily July 10, 2018 at 7:06 am

      Thank you! Do you agree with the points I made?

  • Anonymous July 26, 2018 at 2:12 pm

    Ah, of course, there always must be a ‘actually, all those people are full of nonsense’ argument. I’m glad a friend (opponent) of mine directed me towards this.

    I am a professional writer and part-time animator and graduated at the top 10% of my high school class before pursuing my bachelor’s at Johns Hopkins, and I say with certainty that school does in fact kill creativity. And not only does it ‘kill’ it, it murders it. Slaughters it. Rends it to bone and gore. There is a reason why all of the greatest creative minds without exception point out the flaws of the ‘education’ system and its venomous effect on creativity.

    Contrary to your assumption, most people don’t associate creativity exclusively with art, and none of the the people I referred to above do so either. Einstein, Newton, Hawkings, Curie — they are all considered creative geniuses. Emphasis on creative. Your assumption that people only believe creativity refers to the arts was fabricated in the private polemics within your head.

    What is creativity, you asked?

    Creativity’s definition is within itself: CREATivity is the capacity to CREATE. Create how? By synthesizing pre-existing information and pulling something new out of it, reorganizing and mutating it. Seeing the unseen patterns in the strings of the world. Connecting ideas. Imbuing a sense of self into the mundane.

    School does not teach this. There is a reason this argument has been made so many times. School teaches self-correction and slaps on shameful layers; it foists busywork and nonsense onto the wandering minds of children who would otherwise eventually find work they enjoy doing to consume that boredom, which is the work they should be doing for the rest of their lives.

    School, while helpful in a general, is not a closed garden of fertile soul where seeds can mingle and cooperate and bloom. Rather, it is a closed petri dish where bacteria begins to fester and rot away the creative energy inherent to youth.

    Because of school, nowadays, if an activity cannot be reported on a college resume, then it is not worth doing at all. That is school’s fault.

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