Thoughts on Creativity, Education and Human Ecology

Educator and Author, Sir Ken Robinson, talks about our education crisis in this 20 minute video.

There was a time in my life when I considered returning to school to get a masters degree in art therapy from Naropa University in Boulder. Instead, I applied to the University of Colorado at Denver for a MLA in Landscape Architecture. I was looking for a creative career with a guaranteed income when I set my sights on Landscape Architecture. While some people are able to compromise their values for money with aplomb, I was not as successful. In fact, I didn’t listen to the tap on my shoulder when things weren’t going well despite the nagging feeling inside – and didn’t change my path until a brick slammed upside my head and knocked me straight.I spent a good part of 2006 feeling sorry for myself after dropping out of the graduate program at UCD. Don’t get me wrong, I was a really good student – but at the expense of my family and my health. And, then there was that nagging feeling that I wasn’t in the right place. So, before I made the decision to drop out I asked myself, was I willing to continue for 3 years in a program that would put me into $60,000 of debt which would guarantee that I would work 60+ hours a week after graduating for the next 10 years, albeit well compensated. 20 years ago, that wouldn’t of been a problem, but today it is. It just doesn’t feel right, especially after coming off of a 17 year career with an airline where I prostituted myself for free travel and a job where I didn’t have to think too hard.2007 brought greater clarity to my life and I’m really thankful to have bumbled about the past 2 years. When the children’s director at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center emailed me last year about teaching a kid’s art workshop this coming summer, it was an avenue that I had never considered. I thought I needed to be licensed to teach art. Turns out I didn’t. I just needed to have some cool projects, a passion for my medium, a desire to work with children and a good rapport with children. Check, check, check and check! My after-school clay classes will begin again next week and I have gained even greater clarity with what I want to do next.I have noticed a correlation between clay and learning that is so exciting to me. Most kids really dig working with clay – and they do so intuitively. I notice active kids calm down and concentrate when they’re really into the project and artistic children really flourish. My clay class is also very social – the kids talk freely about a lot of different things going through their minds. For the past few months, I have been mulling over the idea of opening up a clay studio outside my home that offers wet clay classes to kids and maybe a few to adults. There’s a huge demand that I can’t fill myself at one school.

Granted the Art Student’s League offers art classes for kids, but mostly on Saturday mornings during the school year and during summer art camps. Downtown Aurora Visual Arts does offer art outreach programs as well, but, they are a multi-disciplinary destination program. I would like to offer the clay classes year round. My model is the Baltimore Clay Works, where I hope to take a field trip in the next year. I believe there’s a similar program in Richmond, VA. My ultimate goal is to offer clay out reach programs to children in less advantaged areas of Denver. My husband has offered to help me write a business plan, but being the responsible finance guy that he is, he wants numbers and cold hard facts rather than dreams and good wishes.

In a sense, this new found clarity taps into my original interest in art therapy – helping people by tapping into their creative selves. Only, it doesn’t involve any more schooling or degrees, just action.

One of the parents from my after school kid’s clay class forwarded me this video of Sir Ken Robinson in conjunction with TED, a creative think tank. If you have the time, I highly encourage you to watch the video – it’s thought provoking and in a sense, relates to my rants of recent weeks.

I have really been thinking a lot about education, especially since my daughter started school 5 years ago. She’s a terrific student academically, but, after volunteering in her classroom, I worry about some of her classmates. I don’t believe that children learn in the same way. Maybe we’re not giving them the best education and that one size doesn’t fit all.

Sir Ken Robinson relates a story about Gillian Lynne, dancer and choreographer of Cats and Phantom of the Opera that really hit home for me. After interviewing her for his new book, she told the story of how her teacher insisted that she see a therapist because she had a low attention span, did poorly on tests etc., etc. Her mother took her to a Doctor, who after turning on the radio and watching her dance, told the mom that she didn’t need therapy or drugs, just a dance class. What if the Doctor and Mom had medicated her? She might never have had the opportunities that she has since enjoyed.

What if we’re trying to educate, strip mine style, all the kids in this country? There’s some lost potential. Here’s my favorite quote from the video:

If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original…in this country we stigmatize mistakes.


PS. It’s been brought to my attention that email subscribers to my blog might not see the video. If that’s the case, click on this link to go directly to this blog post.