Sunday, January 13, 2013

On Esteeming Creativity in Education

Charlotte Mason believed the science of relations was of ultimate importance in education. Children relate what they are learning currently to things they already know or have formed intimate affinities for previously. And conversely, if they do not have anything to relate current information to, they flounder and are less apt to take it in. Thomas Rooper gave us a great example of this in his "Pot of Green Feathers." If a child has never seen a fern and is presented with one, he can only relate to it as a pot of green feathers. Feathers he has seen. Ferns he has not.

Relationships are crucial.

To me, relationships always involve emotion. And emotions are tricky things. Students will often say, "I HATE MATH!" or "I CAN'T STAND DIAGRAMMING SENTENCES!" or somesuch. (Of course, Charlotte Mason says, "The child must not be allowed to get into the mood in which he says, 'Oh, I am so tired of sums,' or 'of history.' His zeal must be stimulated; and there must be always a pleasing vista before him; and the steady, untiring application to work should be held up as honourable, while fitful, flagging attention and effort are scouted." vol 1 pg 150)

But you know, those same children who cry and writhe in pain over the process will remember how to diagram a sentence for the rest of their lives simply because of the emotional response the struggle triggered within them. Ironic, isn't it? But I believe it's true! And the same is true (and healthier) when students fall in love with a certain author or painter or composer or scientist. The emotional response creates a hook on which to hang ideas and knowledge in our long-term memory closets. What an intricate organ the brain is. God really knew what He was doing when he gave us such a complex way to form relationships with His creation. I'm impressed yet again with the glory and magnificence of Who He is and what He does.

This morning, a friend of mine from childhood who also happens to be a former judge and the principal of a law-based magnet high school in Dallas, shared a video that I believe supports Charlotte Mason's belief in forming relationships. It's a commentary by Sir Ken Robinson on fostering creativity in education. How this is related to forming relationships for me is in the details. When students create, they solidify the relationships they're forming with the material, connecting it to other subjects and other knowledge they already have, and settling it into long-term memory. Creating is also emotional. It's fulfilling. It breeds contentment, satisfaction, and urges us to create even more.

Creativity has been crucial for us in our educational journey. I'll give you an example.

In our homeschool co-op, I decided to have the kids take the material we were reading about (Renaissance history) and research, write, assign parts, direct, find props and costumes for, and act in a play. Hoping this would help them form relationships with the material, which had been complex and difficult for them, I came to class with only one goal in mind. Assign them duties, then step out of the way.

Fortunately, since in a co-op all parents participate, the kids were able to use some outside time on this project under parental supervision. But that is nothing more than what is required of school children now and again. My two researchers set about deciding on and finding details about the topic. They chose Savonarola as their main character, which I thought was a juicy idea. Lots to work with there. They titled it "Bonfire of the Vanities."

They turned over their research to the writers, who then assigned parts to everyone in the class and created a script. They worked hard on the script, meeting at a local coffee shop to put on the finishing touches. The next class period, we talked about their progress. They turned over the script to the prop and costume masters, who set about finding materials. Their toughest job was finding a fake fire to throw all the materialistic goods into (read about Savonarola here).

We turned over some class time for rehearsals, and soon the play was performance ready. They did an excellent job! The younger class enjoyed it immensely, as did all the parents. But of ultimate importance is the fact that they will never forget who Savonarola was, what the bonfire of the vanities was about, and much more about Renaissance history. Creativity helped them form relationships that mattered to them. Listen to what education expert Sir Ken Robinson has to say about creativity: 


Many thanks to Tony Palagonia for posting this video and to Sir Ken Robinson for saying what I've known all along about creativity. The one caveat I have about his commentary is that he sees creativity as somewhat utilitarian. We are preparing children to enter the employment world, to take their places in society. Creativity and innovation are important for future employment. I almost disagreed with him, but in a very practical sense, he's right. Employers ARE looking for creative, innovative thinkers. (They're looking for thinkers, period, and not finding many, according to reports I've read.) And one of our duties as educators IS to prepare our students to somehow earn their keep in this world of ours. But in the overwhelming scheme of things, creativity is important for so many more reasons than merely taking our place as spokes in society's wheel. 

Her friend Henrietta Franklin said to students in memorializing Charlotte Mason, "Do you ever ask children from other schools if they like their lessons as you do yours? I fear many say they do not because they have not learnt as you do in the P.U.S. the joy of getting knowledge on which the mind can live. Lewis Carroll, who wrote "Alice in Wonderland," says in a serious essay on knowledge that we are very careful to feed the body on various foods--we do not give it nothing but dry bread or nothing but chocolate, but we are not so careful of the mind. Miss Mason felt that the mind needed food to make it do so. When you feel a joy in working it is because your hungry mind is being fed."

I believe fostering creativity yields great food for hungry minds. If you're interested in hearing more from Sir Ken Robinson, here's a longer video to wrap your heart around. Many thanks to Ann Voskamp for making me aware of this lecture from 2006.



  1. I am glad you posted the short clip because he reminded me how one simply cannot predict where someone is going. When Pamela, my twenty-something daughter with autism, was six years old, she screamed at writing and drawing. The adults in her life were part of the problem for we were expecting her to learn developmentally inappropriate skills. If you had asked me about her future career, the last thing would have been art. Even after I pulled her out of school and focused on where she was developmentally and guided her to writing and drawing when she was ready to learn, she found it difficult to learn. Then, the most unlikely thing captivated her interest in drawing: Steve on Blues Clues. She also spent a lot of time playing with colors on the computer and coming up the the combinations that pleased her. Years of picture study and nature study has exposed her to beauty. And, now, all these years later, people love her watercolors. Had I only focused on where I thought she ought to be going, I would have never dreaming of getting her into art.

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  3. I recently found this Sir Ken Robinson clip myself, while on YouTube looking at Mollie's page. I shared it with a few students and parents and we all found it much food for thought. Thanks for reminding me of it. Blessings on your new endeavor!