A Creative Curriculum or a Curriculum about Creativity
08th October 2017
By Yasmin Jamal
Let’s be clear: in schools, creativite subjects are labelled as music, drama and visual art. All other subjects are not. At the Labour Party Annual Conference of 2012, one key speaker said “… we need creative subjects like music, design and art. And practical subjects like engineering and IT”. Are mathematics and science not creative? Did the development of integral calculus by Newton and Leibniz not emerge from a creative base? What about the non-Euclidean geometries in the 19th century?
The accepted understanding of a school curriculum is that knowledge, skill and concepts are explicitly taught to children. Creativity is only to be considered in terms of invention, pleasure and individuality in tangible subjects like art, literature and music. A creative curriculum we should try to achieve is one in which students learn through active creative teaching strategies, focusing on big ideas and each student’s passions and needs. Every element of a curriculum must be approached creatively, from science to maths, and drama to music.
The demands of modern society demand the constant creative application of mathematics and science. How is building a tunnel and composing music not begin at the same foundation of creatiity? What if a computer writes a piecce of music – is it still creative? And if the same computer designs a building?
Albert Einstein, famous for his science and mathematical genius, was an accomplished pianist and violinist. He once said, “If ... I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.”
Architecture’s shapes and forms that now populate the world’s skylines: are they achieved through creative art, mathematical designs or engineering skills? Could poets, playwrights and novelists have successfully written their ideas without the multitude of mathematical forms, patterns and frameworks, giving shape to their verses and stanzas and capturing rhythm?
With new mathematical discoveries (like the geometric shapes called fractals discovered in the 20th century), contemporary artists like Jackson Pollock can integrate them in their creative process. Anish Kapoor uses mirrors in his art to portray the universe as it exists: curved and bent, showing twisting light as it winds through space. Would we be enjoying 3D filmatography without a mix of science and creativity?
So, do we label Leonardo da Vinci a mathematician or an artist?
And so to education…
As babies and toddlers, then pre-school and kindergartens, parents and teachers worldwide teach children through playing musical games to learn rhythm movement for dexterity, all of which forms the base of future readers, writers, mathematicians, gymnasts, artists.
Children’s natural curiosity in the performing and visual Arts is given free reign in the first five years of life, through unfettered drawings, scribblings, paintings, play dough structures, dressing-up boxes, role playing and telling stories. Encouragement turns to instruction as children grow older, where passion for the Arts changes to learning set structures and being shown right from wrong.
What is the purpose of teaching the Arts in Primary schools?
Drama seems to fall back on having to present an annual performance or an assembly play. Weekly music lessons become a platform for the whole class to sing a song or play recorders in unison. Art and writing creatively is usually timed and given strict guidelines. These subjects are rarely tested or reported to parents and lack a competitive spirit like sports. Where is the academic study of the history, theory and criticism in music, literature, drama and art, to enable children to express their opinions, thoughts and feelings through the Arts?
Child psychologists see the power of using puppets, toys, games, role play and story writing to get to the inner truths of children in difficulty. In schools, the Arts are powerful methods to learn social skills such as eye contact, taking turns and team spirit. Listening to music or watching a performance is an engaging form of inspiration and helps develop self-concentration, especially in today’s world dominated by immediate gratification. They capture children's interest and motivate them, whilst highlighting the necessity of practice.
Moving to Secondary School -
Drama and music is the large musical play; dance is a bit of movement with the PE teacher; visual arts is sketching a still life. This is still what often passes for education in the Arts in secondary schools. These have become elitist subjects, set aside for only those with a talent to pursue, and often for those who are not achieving high academic results. Parents rarely encourage their children to study these subjects, preferring more traditionlly academic ones, thinking these will be better suited for future university and job opportunities.
The fault lies with educators. Why aren’t Arts subjects a disciplined based education, as are history, IT and maths? In music lessons, students should be expected to distinguish among Classical or Baroque music and be acquainted with music from different cultures.
Imagine the success of teaching social subjects creatively through the performing or visual arts: to be engaged in the learning and first hand discussions on world issues through song or drama or a piece of art, rather than being given facts and figures to digest. All questions, whether moral, philosophical or knowledge based could be debated not as an English or Social Studies lesson, but incorporated through the Arts too, thereby enabling students see a link between school and life outside.
Creating art, composing music or writing a play requires knowledge of the subject, an ability to critique it, verbalize about it and finally present a completed work. Like maths and science, the Arts are based on problem-solving ability: what colors to choose to reflect the emotion? What words show the feelings to be portrayed? The Arts form a natural link for interdisciplinary approaches in school, just as all careers do.
In the words of Dr Howard Gardner, Harvard Graduate School of Education (www.artworksforkids.org), “The arts are a major area of human cognition, one of the ways in which we know about the world and express our knowledge. Much of what is said in the Arts cannot be said in another way. To withhold artistic means of understanding is as much a malpractice as to withhold mathematics… Since schools traditionally develop only linguistic and logical / mathematical skills, they are missing an enormous opportunity to develop the whole child”.
More and more employers repeat that the Arts help train the kinds of employees that businesses need. Regurgitating answers and following instructions does not fit in with the constantly changing competitive world of international businesses and new technology. They demand anaytical skills and collabortive team effort and an ability to include disparate ethnic backgrounds. Students solely versed in the knowledge of maths and science may become engineers or scientists, but without creativity, they will never develop into inventors and discoverers. Similarly interested musicians and actors would not become accomplished at their tasks without self-discipline and a strictness of practice.
Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, ofen repeated that he hired artists and musicians absorbed by technology rather than purely computer geeks. “Employees with an arts degree have developed more quickly in their roles from the start. They have discipline, confidence and can accept criticism.”
What can be done?
Let school life guide the way to teaching children how to communicate a concept or feeling, how to generate and test ideas and solve real problems. Let them see collaboration at work and find the importance of presentation. Let them learn about the creative process: how to realise ideas and how to be inspired from the greats. Let this remove the artificial divide between Arts and science, and show how engineering and sculpture are related, how drawing and architecture require the same sort of skills, how music and mathematics mirror each other, how digital creativity encourages an entrepreneurial spirit, irrelevant of age. After all, isn’t the process of writing a melody or building a bridge the same with diferent outcomes? Both require use of imagination and learning to absorb a series of concepts, skills and techniques and then practice to perfect.
At the very least, think about why children and adults alike doodle; why hobbies are music and watching a performance; why Sudoku and crosswords are popular; why cooking is considered an art form. If we could only distance ourselves from the cliché that certain subjects are allegedly creative and agree instead that creativity is in the good teaching practice of all subjects, students and society alike would benefit.
Summary of what is achieved using creativity in the whole curriculum:
making independent decisions
developing emotional intelligence to be self critical and accept criticism
team collaboration and communication
engaged and active, not passive learning
long hours of practice, dedication and attention to detail
need to draft and perfect
expressing thoughts and arguments whilst making sense of the world