Creativity and Individuality in Education through Arts Practice (Breaking the Mould)

I recently read a school prospectus in which the school "acknowledges its responsibility to the needs of the nation by providing those skills which will allow the children maximum flexibility and adaptability in their future employment and other aspects of life" It shocked me to see stated so blatantly an attitude that I believe is a major contributor to the despair and disillusionment of many of our young people. I am referring, of course, to the emphasis on the "needs of the nation" as opposed to the individual needs of the children. Surely the school's primary responsibility is to the child and to his or her parents. How easily nationalistic jargon slips into our everyday lives.

I was taught many years ago that it is a teacher's role to provide the "fertile garden" in which each student can discover and fulfil their own unique gifts and talents. A child taught in this way can decide for themselves what kind of contribution they wish to make to the society that has nurtured them, indeed our children can eventually , collectively decide on what kind of society they want to live in. There seems to be an underlying lack of trust in our young people that prevails in public educational discourse and a lack of faith in their ability to take responsibility for the future. We are constantly told how our future will be and none of us, least of all our children, feel we have the power to influence that future.

A creative individual has a belief in their ability to affect change in the world around them and such an ability is needed in taking responsibility for the future. It is telling then that "Creativity and Individuality" are almost absent from modern educational rhetoric and practice.

There is a paradox in modern educational thinking. We are "product" driven ie, we have a preconceived notion of an endpoint or specific outcomes for our children. We know where we want them to "be" when they complete their formal studies. Yet one of the outcomes that we want is for them to be able to adapt to change, to innovate, to reinvent themselves to suit different work situations and to come up with radical and creative solutions to the problems that will confront them in a rapidly changing world.

Therein lies the paradox. In order to achieve the end we want, a flexible innovative workforce, we need to focus on individuality and creativity in education but as a society undergoing rapid change we are in a conservative mood and in many respects afraid of innovation, individuality, creativity and change. When an education system is "product" driven there will be many who "fail" because their particular talents don't suit the preordained pathway toward such a product.

Were we to trust that a child who has been encouraged to grow and to fulfil their individual talents will wish to, and indeed will, make a contribution we may see a future brighter than any of us imagine possible.

Ironically this “pragmatic” view of the role of education is ascendant at a time when there has been a revolution in understanding of how we learn and how the the brain works. With the studies on Creativity, Victor Lowenfeld (late 1940’s -late 1960’s), on the Nature of Intelligence, Howard Gardner (1980’s- present) and more recently on actual Physical Brain Function, Eric Jensen and others, we are well placed to revolutionise educational practice.

Educators now recognise that a linear, one style fits all education system cannot cater to the diversity of learning needs and learning styles that individuals posses.

In a recent Youth Arts project (YARTS), run by Arts Excentrix (an Adelaide Hills based Arts Collective that I am a member of) and funded by the Adult Education Council of SA, we worked with those young people who for one reason or another had been failed by our education system. They had little or no confidence in their ability to learn.

What we discovered was that through the Arts, through Dance, Theatre, Music, Poetry, Visual Arts and Crafts, many of them found a door that could lead them back to learning. When they felt that as individuals they mattered, and more importantly that what they had to say mattered, then they felt that they had something to contribute.

Someone listening to them, rather than trying to teach them, seemed to awaken in them a desire for the skills that they needed to facilitate better communication. Identity, or sense of self and self-worth, develop in a social context and a strong sense of self and of self-worth are essential tools for survival in the modern world. Identity, self-worth, and the capacity to express one's self, seem to me to be prerequisites also for "life long learning".

One of the reasons for the success of the YARTS project was the diversity of arts experience that YARTS offered. As I have said earlier modern education practitioners know that individuals perceive the world in different ways and process the information they access in different ways (Howard Gardner's theories of multiple intelligences).

It is my belief that the various art forms available to us today have arisen from this very diversity of human nature and that through exposure to the spectrum of arts experience an individual can find a form that best suits them. Once found this provides them with a powerful vehicle for self-expression.

In this extremely pragmatic era it is important that we regard the Arts as more than the cream on the cake or a luxury in education.

Arts education not only provides opportunities in the rapidly expanding Arts Industry. It can also be a powerful vehicle for providing an understanding of creative process, an essential tool in most areas of modern human endeavour.

The Arts present us with a spherical or global model for learning that is expansive and open ended as opposed to the current linear model, a model that values diversity and individuality.