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Education and Creativity

Date posted: 10/03/2009

Dr Olivia Sagan, Senior Research Fellow (Pedagogy) at the Centre for Learning and Teaching in Art and Design (CLTAD), reviews:

Education and Creativity

Book: Education and Creativity

Authors: Simon Foxell and William Mitchell

Publisher: Black Dog

Publication date: 2008

ISBN: 9-781906-155100

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The good thing about little books is that you can shove them in a pocket and have a quick read while waiting for a meeting to start. The bad thing is that...well...they are little. This is OK if they have little titles, but this little book has a big, enticing title. This immediately makes one wonder – how much can be said about either education or creativity in such humble a package? Read on.

Education and Creativity consists of an introduction and two essays – ‘Education and Creativity’ and ‘Creativity and Creative Networks’ – although this structure, peculiarly, is not easy to discern from the list of contents. Adding to the confusion is a sprinkling of unfortunate typos and a time-warping utopian vision that throws the author into a retrospective from the year 2025. The distinguished psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion often wrote in a deliberately abstruse style to illustrate the ways in which links between thoughts, concepts and learning can easily be ill-forged – but I fear the attacks on links in this book are less deliberate and far more irksome.

But what is being said once the reader persists with these obstacles and the sense that although small this book is weighing one down, is mostly admirable stuff. I for one welcome additions to literature which expose some of the fallacies and failings of New Labour and its transformation of a Keynesian national welfare state to rampant competition state. Polemic which seeks, as does this book, to illustrate how enmeshed educational policy and economic policy are, is also needed, although one might argue it would be near on futile to compete with the erudite elegance of Ball (2008) on this very subject. But this book is far less caustic in its allegations than others have been on the area, and this disappoints. It is also, problematically, largely uncritical of New Labour discourse with its hijacked and denuded terminology. This means the book’s own position vis-à-vis terms such as ‘the knowledge economy’ and ‘globalisation’ is unstated, and one can only assume these terms and their ideologies have, then, been uncritically adopted.

Education and Creativity is, however, not only about the thinking needed to sensibly link educational policy to economic policy. It also suggests that to do so without considering the state of the planet, the health and wellbeing of our children and the creative drive of humans, is folly; and this is to its credit. The economic debacle currently being played out with bankers and city-boys being booed off centre stage is surely reminder enough that we in education can and must do better than train number-monkeys with insatiable consumerist aspirations. Much of the first essay, imagined from the vantage point of post 2010, describes changes in primary education. It makes the case for a number of ‘radical’ curriculum changes which many practitioners and researchers in the primary school sector will be familiar with; (they will also be familiar with a more thorough endorsement and/or critique of these initiatives through established literature not mentioned in this book.) These changes include cross-curricular work; a Leadbeaterean (2002) vision of personalised learning; a use of ICT both utopian and rather cavalier in its non-recognition of the emotional aspects of learning, most particularly in child education; a change in school hours and term times which will give any working parent the heebie-jeebies, and a rather lovely if idealistic description of self-sufficient, zero-carbon school buildings shared by the community and running on a 24 hour basis. One can almost hear the frenzied shrieks of ‘who nicked the stapler, again?’

Each of the initiatives described, albeit in sometimes rather platitudinous terms, are A Good Thing. Nicely interwoven, are imaginary (but highly believable) global economic events and natural disasters that trigger change in the ways in which education is viewed and structured. But Good Things, back on planet earth 2009, are not always what they seem. Personalised learning, for example, can just as often mean some persons are overlooked; linking education to a demand and supply traffic between economy and learning can also mean learning becomes subservient to ‘skilling’. Governments by default are grand on rhetoric (Building Schools for the Future, DfES 2003) and notoriously short on delivering, particularly when economic crises demand a tightening of the social-conscience belt. None of these problematics is entered into.

The second essay describes an alterative strategy to ‘a large multi-disciplinary 
Team of specialist consultants’ which is the ‘usual response’ to a complex urban mobility design and engineering challenge (p.41). The essay describes marshalling the forces many of us will be familiar with but perhaps less versed in using to the extent described. This is a mixture of local and remote, synchronous and asynchronous meetings and communications which can be employed to develop a community of practice (Wenger, 1998) both international and non-hierarchical. It is a short essay, which, to anybody designing virtual learning environments (VLEs) and making a SKYPE call, will seem pretty much like an extended day at the office – not that worthy of a description unless one can add in some way to the ideological debates about virtual communications, global exchanges of information, (in)visible hierarchies, to name a few.

Overall, either I’m missing a trick or there really is limited point to the book, which reads more like a two-man Blog than a rigorous addressing of either education or creativity. I won’t be using it, either with students, colleagues or researchers, other than to illustrate a point. That point is that while multidisciplinarity is commendable, and we need architects thinking about education, educators thinking about urban design and economists thinking about new ways to save the planet - when we dabble outside of our immediate area of expertise, we need to have put in the research.

Ball, S. (2008) The Education Debate: Policy and Politics in the 21st Century,
The Policy Press, Bristol.
DfES (2003) Building Schools for the Future,
Leadbeater, C. (2002) Personalisation through Participation: A new script for public services, Demos.
Wenger, E. (1988) ‘Communities of Practice: Learning as a social system’. The Systems Thinker, Vol. 9, No. 5., 9 (5).