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Disenthralling Ourselves: Rethinking the reform of formal education

Kwarlizzle's picture

Normal 0 false false false EN-US ZH-CN AR-SA The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present; the occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country

– Abraham Lincoln at the 2nd Annual Meeting of Congress, December 1862

       The formal education system purports to equip students with essential life skills and the tools necessary to be successful, productive citizens to their countries and the world at large (Class Discussion). Not everyone agrees on what precise pedagogical methods are required to achieve this goal.  Furthermore, the many different factions seem to concur that the current formal education system is deeply flawed. There also seems to be a consensus that one of its most egregious flaws is that our current system does not give much value to creativity – in fact, Sir Ken Robinson argues that we go so far as to “educate [people] out of creativity [in formal education] (Creativity).
       Creativity is about innovation; education is meant to nurture creativity. The implications of this notion becomes even more important once the realization dawns that “[creativity, and by extension, education] is meant to take us into the future [that] we can’t grasp…nobody has a clue, despite all the expertise, what the world will look like in five years time” (Creativity). Thus the devaluation of creativity in our schools leave us unequipped to face this unknown future we prepare for, and the battle to save our schools takes on more ominous portents, for it is one we cannot afford to lose.
       Experts often acknowledge that two giant steps in making our public education system into what it should be are to reintroduce creativity into our schools and to change the structure of our educational systems. However, many of the proposed solutions are doomed to fail because they are simply a different spin off of the status quo. To effectively change our current education system, we must “disenthrall ourselves” of many of the “dogmas of the quiet past” about what exactly the nature of creativity is and what a good educational structure should look like. Our current definitions “are inadequate to the stormy present. As our case is new, so must we think anew, and act anew.” Only then can we save formal education, and preserve ours and our children’s future.
       Sir Ken Robinson notes that worldwide formal education systems came into existence to meet the needs of industrialism (Creativity); before then, formal systems of education were little more than seminary schools for pastors (Deresiewicz).  Thus, from its inception, the formal education system has placed a premium on scientific creativity and literacy – two of the forms creativity most valuable for the industrial revolution – at the expense of other forms of creativity, like the performance arts, or the humanities (Robinson, Creativity), and so it continues to this day. Not many would disagree with the assertion such a status quo is untenable because not only is the world now vastly different from the world at the beginnings of the industrial revolution, but also because we now ostensibly acknowledge that creativity is as important as literacy and we should treat it as such (Robinson, Creativity).  However, simply acknowledging this truth is not enough to begin the process of correctly reforming our public education system: we must first disenthrall ourselves of our conception of what creativity means.
    Creativity is often defined as “the production of something original and useful” (Bronson and Merryman). However, William Deresiewicz notes that our conception of creativity begins and ends with only one of its forms – the analytic type, the type that is most valued in the scientific and literary disciplines, the kind “necessary for success in law or medicine or science or business (The Disadvantages of an Elite Education). Such a definition, although ostensibly all-inclusive (after all, creativity is being denoted as “original”) is as narrow minded as our current system of education and will produce no real change.
    To be able to disenthrall ourselves of the dogma that we still hold we must take the definition of creativity literally, and recognize “the extraordinary evidence of human creativity…the variety of it and the range of it” (Innovation, emphasis mine). And in disenthralling ourselves, we come to appreciate that “...human communities depend upon our diversity of talent, not a singular conception of ability; at the heart of the challenge is to reconstitute our sense of ability and intelligence” (Innovation).  We realize that science is not the only way of knowing, nor is analytic skill the only way of engaging with our world, or even the most important way of knowing. In disenthralling ourselves we acknowledge that our subconscious definitions of creativity still belong with the industrial revolution. Once we come to this understanding, we can begin the business of breaking the stranglehold of an education system rooted in industry, of the tyranny of acknowledging only analytic creativity, and of the premium placed on the scientific disciplines.
       Disenthralling ourselves of our narrow concept of creativity empowers us to craft systems of education where all forms of creativity will be encouraged and nurtured; we can encourage students to apply to Juilliard to study ballet with the same verve that we encourage students to apply to Harvard to study for an MD/PhD. Disenthralling ourselves of our narrow concept of creativity will empower our children to explore all their talents without fear, and give them the power to choose to develop the one they feel most passionate about, instead of the one they are most sure will lead them into a cushy job. 
       Nevertheless, disenthralling ourselves of our false assumptions about the nature of creativity will avail us little if we do not reform our current formal educational structure. It is not conducive to
       Professor Paul Grobstein, only one of many people, has remarked that the purpose of school seems to be a drawn-out process of university entry: we go to pre-school so we can get in elementary school so that we can enter high school, so that we can enter university, the pinnacle of modern education (Innovation, Grobstein). In recent times, even undergraduate entry into the university is not enough: “Suddenly degrees aren’t worth anything…because you need an M.A. when you previously need a B.A” (CREATIVITY). The implicit assumption behind university education is “start here, go through a track, do everything right, you will end up set for life” – rich, with the whole world at one’s disposal and wanting for nothing (Robinson, Deresiewicz).  And so, from kindergarten, we begin to ready children for a university education. Such a structure often does not support creativity, but rather tempts to security or mediocrity: by simply gaining admission into college, we feel that the world should be ours on a silver platter (Deresiewicz).  The educational structure we have was formulated to enable us be successful – a particular kind of success.
       Here again, we find that if we are to rescue our educational structure, we must disenthrall ourselves, this time of our definitions of success. We must realize that if human creativity can be diverse, so can said definitions. Success can no longer be defined in terms of wealth, or of excess, or even of going to college, or being the best in a particular field. 
       In disenthralling ourselves of our narrow definitions of success, we empower children to make choices to become firefighters instead of engineers, and feel no shame in that; we empower them to take pride in a job well done, no matter if it’s cleaning people’s houses for a living or delivering babies for a living; we empower them to be the best policemen and women they can be, even if they don’t get to become the chief of police. In disenthralling ourselves of the notion that more wealth equals more success, we empower our children to choose live in mere houses, doing what they love, instead of living in mansions, working just to keep up appearances. In disenthralling ourselves of our definitions of success, we free our children from the tyranny of fear, and they can go on to become doctors and lawyers and teachers and plumbers who can work with confidence, neither afraid to make nor afraid to admit making mistakes.  By disenthralling ourselves of our narrow definitions of success, we empower our children who do not wish to go through college to feel no shame in their choice, and give them the courage to finds roads less traveled by, to trail blaze new paths for future generations who may also not wish to go to college. 
       Through disenthralling ourselves of our preconceived ideas of success, we break free of the shackles that immure our current education system, and we can begin to build the foundations for educating our children keeping in mind that “human flourishing is an organic process…we cannot predict [its outcome]. All [we] can do is create the conditions under which they will flourish” (Innovation). And once we realize that, we can begin to customize our formal education system, and personalize it so that children within its confines, our children’s creativity will blossom, our children will blossom, and our future will be bright. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our children and our future.


       Works Cited:
Bronson, Po, and Ashley Merryman. "The Creativity Crisis." Newsweek 10 July 2010: n. pag.
     Newsweek. Web. 27 Sept. 2010. <
Deresiewicz, William. "The Disadvantages of an Elite Education." The American Scholar Summer 2008:
     n. pag. Web. 27 Sept. 2010. <>.
Grobstein, Paul. " Education, the brain, and co-constructive inquiry." Park 229, Bryn Mawr College.
     30 Aug. 2010. Class Discussion.
Robinson, Ken. "Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity." TED: Ideas Worth Spreading. Feb. 2006. Web. 27 Sept. 2010. < ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html>.
Robinson, Ken. "Sir Ken Robinson: Bring on the learning revolution!" TED: Ideas Worth Spreading.
     Long Beach, California. Feb. 2010. Web. 27 Sept. 2010. <


Paul Grobstein's picture

education as disenthrallment

Disenthrallment of narrow definitions of creativity, of narrow definitions of success.  "As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew." THAT's an inspiring rallying cry for a new approach to education. What would it take to put it into practice?