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Guest blog from Carnegie Medal winner Sally Gardner: a 'rigorous' education crushes children's innate creativity

(15 Posts)
JessMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 19-Jun-13 13:26:50



Earlier today, Sally Gardner was announced as the winner of the Carnegie Children's Book Award for her hugely popular novel Maggot Moon, which tells the story of dyslexic hero Standish Treadwell's race to defeat the oppressive forces of the Motherland and save his best friend.

Sally's achievement is all the more remarkable because her own severe dyslexia meant that she didn't learn to read until she was 14; at school she was, shamefully, told she was 'unteachable'. Decades later, the author regards her dyslexia as a gift - and campaigns to change how society treats children who are dyslexic.

Here, she argues that schools should be able to adapt and teach creatively, allowing children to find individual ways to learn which best suit them.

Read her blog, and let us know what you think. Is our structured education system letting some kids down? If you blog about this topic, don't forget to post your URL on the thread.


"The time has come to start educating children to their strengths, not to their weaknesses. By focusing on weaknesses, we're perpetuating failure, and the government is endorsing it. I visit a lot of schools and I see all too often that one of their major classmates is an insipid bully called boredom.

Children and young people now have access to the internet, smart phones, computer games, cameras... Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, thousands of new interfaces and resources, ever changing content. Not just to porn, as our government would have us think - but to intellectual and artistic material that surpasses the dry, ill-funded resources that teachers are forced to give their students. In classrooms, it's as if the technological revolution hasn't happened. It has.

Our children are learning outside of the educational system, because they find what they are made to learn in school doesn't relate to the real world and it doesn't relate to them. It is not the fault of teachers and parents, it's the fault of educational policies that are inflicted like wounds upon the state school system. State schools are filled with the smell of uninspired students who long for the day when they'll be out.

The greatest resource that a country has is the imagination of its children, it is something to be treasured, to be encouraged. Imagination is the starting point for the inquiring mind. Building on it will help those with an academic leaning as well as those with a non-academic leaning. What I see of the curriculum is too much geared towards the accountant and not enough towards the artist. Einstein, a fellow dyslexic, said: Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.

I have a vision of sorts - what it's worth, I have no idea - but this is an age of magicians, when at our fingertips there's the most extraordinary technology that can inspire, enlighten and encourage young people - from 'A grade students' to those who can't be measured by letters from the alphabet. With this magic, there could be new ways of learning in state schools, where teaching could be tailor made to the requirements of children's abilities, a more democratic system with more imaginative content. The end of 'white board, black board, we're all bored' teaching and learning.

Teachers need to be valued and able to do what they do best - teach - without government interference. I truly fear that we are causing too much damage to children, crushing their self-esteem, testing them in to failure. We all succeed at different points in our lives and learning should be a lifelong achievement. Some of those who succeed well at school aren't the ones who go on to own tomorrow. It's often those who sit outside the box of education who do. Because life isn't an exam, it throws things at you that you can never prepare for."

TheBirdsFellDownToDingADong Wed 19-Jun-13 15:24:55

All very well and good, so in this hypothetical creative class of 25 kids with 25 different strengths, 25 different interests, 25 different creative agendas......how many teachers and how are we going to train them?

How is all this lovely, fluffy, creative, artyfarty stuff going to translate in the workplace?

Because already in the UK there has been so much dumbing down of the education system, from the 1980s onwards, where, quite frankly, sometimes the Brits seem to revel in their own mediocrity ("I'm crap at English me" "I've never been able to do maths") that all of the above fluff makes me wonder how low we can go.

Bonsoir Wed 19-Jun-13 16:24:54

Imagination is not more important than knowledge. Both have their place. But one of the biggest problems the world faces is people who are not knowledgeable about it imagining solutions to its problems.

LadyBumps Wed 19-Jun-13 17:06:29

Ooh, I can almost agree with the entire spectrum of opinion on this! I love the ideology of valuing creativity & freedom. But I also see that sometimes, cold hard facts/routine/practice/discipline save our lives too.

In a perfect world, we would all know our strengths & have them nurtured & developed by our education system so that we can go on to contribute our unique gifts as fully as possible. How to do that?! No idea!!

morethanpotatoprints Wed 19-Jun-13 18:40:02

I don't know how it would be possible to achieve this in schools tbh.
I really believe in this ethos and am using it with my dd at home. She doesn't do things she struggles with much and the emphasis is learning through fun, games and being creative.
Playing to their strengths gives them confidence to tackle something in which they struggle.
Some people do struggle with maths and English and a prescribed education just pulls them down into the depths of despair.
I have been there myself and my dd would be there if she had stayed in the school system.
Let them find their own strategies that work for them, what does it matter if they can't read until they are 14. In the meantime they will have become very proficient in other areas.

Katisha Wed 19-Jun-13 19:32:49

If they can't read until they are 14 then they are going to be pretty hamstrung for learning anythign much else.

EInstein was able to give that quote from a position of strength- he had knowledge. His imagination enabled him to take that further. You cant just sit down and play the piano, for example - you have to put in years of - yes often dull - graft to get the technique and the knowledge.

I'm afraid that while the blog is all very lovely, we are letting young people down if we don't give them skills and knowledge. There are very few jobs where the employer is just looking for creative souls.

And I think letting the internet/technology do it for us is a dangerous thing. Turns us all into passive consumers of whatever we come across online. I want my DSs to have a rigorous education so that they can sort the wheat from the chaff.

morethanpotatoprints Wed 19-Jun-13 19:38:11

Katisha.

I don't understand how reading and writing has anything to do with learning anything, apart from reading and writing. This is a very narrow view imo.
There may be few jobs where employers are only looking for creative souls, but there are plenty of professions and careers.

Snog Wed 19-Jun-13 20:15:56
psychologymum Wed 19-Jun-13 21:51:01

We need to encourage children to work hard at school and learn for its own sake not to achieve grades. Carol Dweck's research suggests that focusing on achievement rather than learning can be detrimental for children. Perhaps that is what Sally Gardner is trying to say.

Developing children's emotional intelligence is also importance as success in life is related to this more than academic intelligence.

wrestlingalligators Wed 19-Jun-13 21:55:35

I'm afraid I agree with other comments - this blog has its heart in absolutely the right place, but it reads like it's based on a snapshot of one or two schools, with little experience of modern educational resources.

'Extraordinary technology' is being employed by educational publishers to create extraordinary resources, with the help of extraordinary teachers (as both creators and users). Personalized learning has been a buzzword for almost a decade. To see some of this technology, spend a day at the Bett Show – it's mind-boggling and inspiring in equal measure.

If technology is not employed constantly in the classroom, it may be because it's not be practical or conducive to learning to do so. I have observed science lessons at Eton - not lacking in funding for resources - and seen children taught in exactly the same way as those in state schools (tailsuits aside).

Knowledge is the necessary foundation for creative thinking. No one can create new educational software, for example, without a thorough knowledge and experience of coding. To break outside the box, you need the means as well as the motivation.

morethanpotatoprints Wed 19-Jun-13 22:23:56

psychologymum.

There is a train of thought that if you want to turn children off a certain subject or topic, give them a test. I think this is so true but only my opinion of course.
Giving our children a love of learning needs to begin with something they are interested in, surely?

I agree with wrestlingalligators Knowledge is the foundation for creative thinking. I also believe that skills are just as important. However, there are so many ways we can learn that doesn't involve sitting at a desk, reading, writing and recording that knowledge.

TheBirdsFellDownToDingADong Thu 20-Jun-13 07:29:37

My child, aged 9, is interested in In My Pocket toys and having water fights with her friends.

That's going to get her a long way on a CV isn't it?

I've been thinking some more about this.....I don't quite know how to say this without coming across as mean, and I hope the blogger understands what I'm trying to say, but it almost comes across as a therapeutic attempt to normalise her own not normal experience.

Doesn't she wish she had learned to read before she was 14? That the right people had been involved in her education so she did have the same education-base as her peers?

My small animal loving child is also hugely creative. She has a phenomenal imagination. She writes her own "books" on the computer. Ergo, using her basic skills (because that's what reading and writing is, surely?) to do other things. To suggest that reading and writing are superfluous to anyone's life is disingenuous at best and laughingly fluffily naïve at worst. That would be like suggesting people cook only for cooking's sake and the buns then go in the bin.

I'm not in the UK. And my child's primary school is much more like the primary school of yore, the type I went to in the 1970s. Not a great deal of colouring and hands on/in stuff. I love it. My daughter loves it. She loves learning stuff. I would posit that, contrary to what some parents would have us think, the majority of kids love learning stuff. Creativity has its place, of course it does. The kids recently built their own pyramids etc etc. They have field trips, play instruments. But my god they read and write about it all as well.

Someone asked me the other day whether I prefer the school system here, or in the UK. Unequivocably, as far as primary goes, here. Brits have kind of rested on their laurels as far as education goes for too long and for long enough. When I tell people here what secondary school consists of, frankly, a lot of them just laugh.

As for the blackboard/whiteboard comment, tongue in cheek though it undoubtedly is, I tend to tell children (and adults) who whinge about being bored that only boring people get bored. wink

Pozzled Thu 20-Jun-13 07:47:46

I think Sally Gardner has a point about the curriculum. There is too much structure and too much that is not relevant or necessary. For instance- I think it's really important to study History ad it teaches you many valuable skills- especially about looking at evidence and bias. But children nowadays don't need to be learning names and dates. Or at least they should be learning the skills first and foremost.

I also a with Sally about testing- teacher assessment is vital, but formal testing isn't- at least
at primary school.

However, I completely disagree about children's imagination being stifled. In my literacy class, we do a lot of work on the basics- we need to. But the children do not feel bored and lack self-esteem- they are excited by literacy and enjoy writing, they are very proud of what they do and can easily describe the ways in which they have progressed. They are supportive of each other.

And in each and every lesson they have a chance to show off their imaginative flair. My class don't always remember their full stops, sometimes they miss words out- but their imagination shines through.

As it will in any decent school.

gazzalw Thu 20-Jun-13 08:11:47

I would agree that for some children, not all, the school curriculum totally stifles creativity. There is not enough positive praise attached to those who do well in art, music and/or drama (particularly at primary school).

I would also question that all schools provide a 'rigorous' education. I think a lot of children are coming out of school without their key strengths having been tapped, particularly if they don't fit into the academic 'type'.

Certainly I think learning and creativity are two sides of a coin and that this should be recognised. Learning and creativity should be organically intertwined but I'm not sure any but the bravest, most visionary teachers manage to achieve this particularly within the confines of the National Curriculum...

Is this possibly why some parents favour the Steiner and Montessori approaches to education?

morethanpotatoprints Thu 20-Jun-13 12:19:36

Birds

I think the main point was that there weren't the right people to help dyslexics back then. I'm not convinced the opportunities are there today tbh. So many children don't get the support they need because when tested they are average, they can still be dyslexic.

*gazzalw8

My dd is one of the children whose creativity was stifled and she is so lucky to be encouraged now she is H.ed.
We have found she uses imagination and her natural creative ability to help in academic subjects too. It is lovely to see the joy and happiness she gets from attempting maths problems, she doesn't have to do written sums in a book. In addition, every time she learns a new fact she doesn't always need to record it in an exercise book. Taking the emphasis of spelling, handwriting and grammar enables the topic to be more interesting as learning is fun. Not just another exercise in writing.

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