‘Schools can kill creativity because they do not allow certain topics to be discussed, certain books to be read, certain ideas to be aired.’

EVER since Roby Alampay briefed me about TED –which began in 1984 as a conference on Technology, Entertainment and Design and is now a network of conferences and talks about “ideas worth spreading” – I’ve been hooked and almost every night end my day by clicking on one of the thousands of TEDTalks so that I could go to bed more enlightened, informed, amazed, and even amused.

There are a number of speakers and subject matters I particularly like, and a few that I watch again and again. I have a preference for the funny ones, many of which are informative and inspiring as well. I particularly like two talks of Julia Sweeney (check out her May 2010 remarks on having “The Talk” with her daughter, and her July 2006 remarks on “letting go of God”). I also like the 2006 and 2010 talks of Sir Ken Robinson on creativity and education; in fact I liked them so much I picked up a copy of Sir Ken’s book “Out of Our Minds” and am dying to breeze through it as soon as I finish with Fukuyama’s “Origins of Political Order” and Martin Jacques’ “When China Rules The World”.

Somehow I will need to find time to squeeze in Daron Acemoglu’s “Why Nations Fail”; maybe there is something we could learn from this book.

Oh, and yes, I should be able to do all this reading while still devoting my 8-5 at work! (I need to write this lest someone tell my bosses that all I intend to do is waste office time reading books!).

Which brings me to the fact that today is the start of the new school year, and it may very well be — as Sir Ken Robinson may very well say – a school year that will achieve everything opposite of what it is supposed to achieve!

For example – making students less, rather than more, creative!

I think it was Alvin Toffler who first pointed out how the school system has evolved to meet the needs of industrialization. From regimented work plans, uniform curricula, clock-work precision of class time and recess that mimic factory time – all of these elements, and many more, were designed to meet the needs of a new era of human civilization.

The problem, as Toffler and many more commentators have since pointed out, is that the world is no longer in the industrial age. It is in a post-industrial age that some call the information age, the digital age, even the network age, or that I prefer to call the Age of Creativity. Why creativity? Because as we have more and more information out there, and as more and more people can gain access to the same information that you and I have, then the value added, the competitive advantage will be to transform the raw data or information into something new and useful, and this requires creativity.

But how can schools be killing creativity?

Well, there are schools that kill creativity because they do not allow certain topics to be discussed, certain books to be read, certain ideas to be aired. In effect, academic freedom is limited to areas that the school administration is comfortable with. The extreme form of this type of censorship is when a government (like Nazi Germany or Cultural Revolution-era China) decides to burn books because they are pollutants propagating ideas that are subversive to the status quo. I should say here that the Roman Catholic Church was itself once a keen practitioner of this type of censorship that makes me wonder what books the libraries of its great universities contain – or do not contain.

There are schools that kill creativity because the faculty is uncomfortable with being questioned, challenged, even corrected. With all the two or three-letter initials that come after their names, the faculty members have a difficult time accepting the fact that the curious young minds before them (or behind them, depending on their style of teaching) could pose questions about life, science, the universe, mankind, politics, even math that takes a different angle, point of view or perspective – perhaps one that they never contemplated at all.

I remember, in my early school years, raising my hand because something the teacher wrote on the blackboard – which we were supposed to copy onto our notebooks – was erroneous. She thanked me for pointing out the error and told the class we should all be similarly alert. A few minutes later I raised my hand again to point out another error, and again my teacher thanked me, albeit a bit more curtly. The third time it happened, she looked at me sternly and called me a fault finder! I think that she should have told me I should have pursued a career in editing books, manuscripts, or even newspapers!

Finally, there are schools that kill creativity because they are nothing more than diploma mills. There are a lot of these in our country, and you know better than I how they are able to get the required licenses from government to operate. If a driver’s license can be had by paying off an LTO examiner, can a school license be had by giving a DepED official a good time? I’d like to see the Secretary of Education swear on a stack of bibles that this doesn’t happen.

And so, today, as it has been for the last 50, 75, maybe 100 years, millions of students from ages 5 and up will return to their classrooms, many in the hope that at the end of their schooldays they will be better equipped to rule this country, if not the world.

I wish them luck and at the same time urge them to seek just as good an education – if not in fact a better one! – outside of the classroom as inside it!

– Jose Bayani Baylon