Where have all the artists gone?

Some of the most influential and ground breaking people have also been the most creative. Albert Einstein said that he never made any discoveries as a result of rational thinking. Whatever the industry, in order to be ground breaking and to challenge the structures, you have to be creative and be able to think outside the box.

Until I started my fellowship with Year Here, I never really thought that I was that creative. Yes I have an A-level in textiles, but I got that by ticking the right boxes. I hit the right grading criteria. I never really had to think that much, I just had to follow the correct ‘recipe’ for success. It is only now that I have started to realise that my creativity is not in my ability to draw or paint, but that I see the gaps in things. I almost subconsciously look at a process, concept or idea, consider it and think about how I could apply myself to working with it and improving it. This is part of my nature, and yet why has it only come out now? Why did it not come out at school, or at university. When I was very young I loved to create things but as I grew up I lost that urge, not because I didn’t still enjoy it, but because I saw it as a waste of my time when I could be doing other things such as homework or practicing for my music and dance exams. I was focused on being successful which somehow didn’t fit with my creative side…

Today thanks to my mentor I read a very interesting blog post which asked ‘Can any school foster pure creativity?‘ and this really got me thinking. I find it amazing that the American Psychiatric Association sees many of the characteristics that are associated with creativity, such as being impulsive and taking risks, are considered to be symptoms of ADHD. How can anyone, especially a child, be expected to see the value of creativity if it is associated with a psychological disorder? As well as this our system of structured examinations and the focus of the syllabus on those exams seems to leave little room for creativity. In doing some research looking at marking criteria and exam reports I was saddened to find that it explicitly stated that some student’s answers were regarded as overenthusiastic and so moved away from the passage ‘into creative territory’. As a result of this, these answers would never hit the ‘top grades’. Why is this that students must forgo their creative side in order to succeed? Especially when some of the most successful people are also the most creative.

So what is the solution?

Cevin Soling suggests that the education system needs completely reinventing and whilst there are some schools that do this, they are also not necessarily the answer. Unfortunately in this realm, there can be no mistakes. My education was messed with hugely due to different governmental policies being introduced on a yearly basis, as a result there are definite gaps in my knowledge base. I worry that the lessening importance of ‘soft subjects’ such as drama and art will create a generation of rule followers. I am not saying that students should be able to run free because I see education as a hugely important and an empowering part of life. I do however think that we should be nurturing the entirety of an individual, because we are, after all, individuals. We all have different strengths and weaknesses and for emphasis to be placed on certain ones creates a divide between those who can, and those who cannot.

Almost everybody is creative in some form whether it is through the artistic medium or in their ability to design application and create code. There needs to be provision for this as well as the ‘necessary’ subjects.

‘I am not a product of my circumstances, I am a product of my decisions’ – Stephen Covey

For many within the state education system circumstance does dictate educational outcome. This does not have to be the case.

The issue of educational disadvantage is very complex and there is no quick fix. As each child is different, so is their attitude to learning. As a result of this fact schools seem somehow counter- intuitive. We all go in to ‘the system’ at 4 years old and become part of a ‘machine’. We are expected to learn in the same way and achieve within set parameters. Success is something that can be measured, it is quantifiable. But is this really the case?

This however is a difficult question to answer and throws up alot more questions.

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation children from less advantaged backgrounds feel less in control at school because they are under pressure to perform required tasks in which they lack confidence. This in turn leads to a reluctance to receive the curriculum. So by putting children under pressure to perform and ‘meet the grades’ are we just creating more individuals with a negative attitude?

This week I have seen some evidence of this. My school, an academy which has been praised by Ofstead and has had a number of visits from high profile people, is still fundamentally a school. According to the National Audit Office (NAO), academies were introduced to raise achievement in deprived areas by replacing poorly performing schools. They are publicly funded but are also supported by sponsors and operate independently of the local authority. This means that they have more autonomy and can allocate funds according to their individual needs. Due to their more independent status academies are able to challenge existing school structures. Yet in this instance, from my perspective, this is even less the case.

There is absolutely no doubt that many of the students here are capable of achieving great things and many will go onto university and do very well. However what about those who won’t? What about those who find structured learning difficult and are not academic in their abilities?

I have only been in school a week and already I have a better understanding of what it is that drives students to succeed, but also the barriers they face. I am also starting to see very difficult task of ensuring that everyone leaves with some results.

It is very difficult at this point to pass any form of judgement and I am not here to do that. I am here to learn about the structures that govern the institution, to learn about the barriers that students face both inside and outside of the classroom. I am also here to help those under my charge reach their potential. I am in what is called by Year Here as the ‘immersion phase’ and that is exactly what I am doing, I am immersing myself within the school to try and understand it from everyone’s point of view.

The next couple of posts will hopefully build up a more comprehensive picture. I will try to be as candid as possible and completely non-judgmental. I am here to learn and that is what I shall do.

An aside – The world we live in…

So this post is not about my time on the Frontline, however I feel that this story should be told.

The world we live in:

  • Fair?
  • Non-judgmental?
  • Equality of access?
  • Protection of rights?

Last night as part of my Year Here Fellowship, the fellows and I met to discuss how we could contribute to the question ‘How might we make low income urban areas safer and more empowering for women and girls?’ This is part of a wider research and design project with Open IDEO an online design platform. The discussion threw up a number stories about the daily harassment that we as women face. Now I know that this is not a new revelation, but it occurred to us all to question where the men were in this discussion? Is it not also about educating men about the way heckling and staring makes women feel? As a result of this we decided to do some research asking our male friends and acquaintances whether they had witnessed sexism, whether they reacted to it and if they would have done anything differently.

The responses I have got have been quite an eye opener and have highlighted for me some key issues that I had some awareness of but that I had not really addressed before. Sexism is embedded in our society. As much as we try to deny it, it is still very much a problem. My male counterparts all admitted that they had encountered sexism in some form, whether in the work place, in a different society or in their daily life. However the thing that stood out for me was that when I questioned further and asked about the objectification of women on a daily basis, such as heckling, staring or honking, they were silent. These things which they have no doubt seen happen just completely passed them by… This suggests some level of normality, that it was so insignificant it didn’t warrant their attention. Even I am guilty of allowing such instances to just pass me by without a second thought.

For them and myself to ignore these injustices suggests something about our society. For all feminism did for women, it still has a long way to go. I am not talking about radical feminism as whilst it has its place I feel it no longer works in this context. It is the education of everyone (not just men) about how the objectification of both sexes makes people feel. I do not like being stared at when I walk down the street, but it is just part of my life so I have to deal with it right?

This post is part of the wider conversation about the position of women in society. In doing my research I felt a sense of hopelessness at the fact that this has become such a normal part of life when it is fundamentally wrong. We must question these encounters as it makes us challenge our societal paradigm. There is no quick fix, but just asking the question is a start.

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