Picture a small Welsh Hotel in late February, fresh with glimmers of early spring sunshine reflecting optimistically off the grey Menai Straits. Thirty Primary Head Teachers, Education Action Zone Directors and LEA officers converge on the small town of Beaumaris for three days of discussing, planning, evaluating and reminding ourselves of the local nightlife. And Learning about Creativity. The sessions start promptly and we dutifully sit through workshops on the Extended School, School Leadership, Teaching and Learning, Special Educational Needs and a myriad of other agenda items which seem to flood into Head Teacher’s offices daily from on high. The tide of initiatives is unrelenting. Social Exclusion, Gifted and Talented, Learning Mentors, Accelerated Learning, E-credits, The Primary Strategy and now Creativity is on the agenda.
The message from up the food chain is that Creativity in the Classroom is now officially important. Word has passed down to all of us in the way that much communication is processed in education: people deliver monologues and soliloquies at each other. Government at the LEAs and Head Teachers, Head Teachers at teachers, and teachers at pupils. Monologues which like to think they’re dialogues, but in fact are rules and instructions dressed up as advice and ‘good practice’.
But first, before the creative potential of the Classroom can be released, it is our turn to participate in a Creative Workshop. We face the impending session with a mix of suspicion, interest and hangover. In some quarters there is a distinct unease about what is about to unfold. We are presented with a creative task. We have been told we are going to listen to some music and then, in response to this stimulus, we are to create a poem, make some music, prepare some movement and put the whole thing together into a presentation for the end of the afternoon. The music is Liadov’s Enchanted Island and Holst’s Mars from the Planet Suite, two too- obviously contrasting pieces of ‘classical’ canon fodder which instruct you to think ‘ooh, peaceful’ on the one hand or ‘cor, angry’ on the other.
We set out to magic up a piece of creativity in the wake of this piece of emotional and psychological manipulation, doing as we are asked in a well-behaved-group sort of way and having a lot of fun and discussion whilst preparing our various contributions. One of us opens up frankly about her unease about being asked to write a poem. Another, mightily irritated with how the original sources of music has been applied so didactically, writes a free-flowing rant in the Seething of Tunbridge Wells style of old which uses the f-word in a novel and liberating style.
This makes lots of us laugh heartily. We like to hear the f-word very much, so that the author is encouraged to repeat it in rehearsals as often as possible. Quite whether we would be happy to hear it in our classrooms is another matter entirely. Whilst we can be as creative as we like as responsible adults, allowing that old Anglo- Saxon English the free run of the modern classroom with a group of excitable and hormonally-drenched pubescents is quite another matter.
One of us notes that some kids in schools are like of bottles of Coke – you do not know if they have been shaken up before they come into the classroom or not, and if your efforts at unleashing their creativity are going to make them explode. That is one of the problems of creativity: how do you ever replace the top on the bottle once it has been opened?
Given that pupils’ experiences of schools these days is driven by the need to comply and meet targets… Given that it is about responding to and adapting to the hierarchy; listening (or pretending to listen) to the monologue being talked at you, about formulating your own version of that monologue and then delivering your take on it at someone else (a phenomenon also known as bullying)… Given all that, how is it possible – and is it even desirable – for creativity to flourish?
The tension generated when creativity is placed up alongside learning in schools is that the former is fundamentally about dialogue and collaboration. It is not about talking to yourself or foisting your own monologues on others. Whilst some Head Teachers stress that more enlightened teachers are teaching creatively by acknowledging their pupils’ differing learning styles and recognising multiple intelligences, the act of creativity itself is a process which demands a physical, psychological and metaphorical wrestling with demons, unpleasant and unwelcome impulses, significant others, parents, partners, neighbours, the hell of the past and visions and delusions of the future. It is, crucially, as much an act of destruction and chaos as it is about vision and creation – as much about killing your babies as it is about bringing them up.
Are we serious about enhancing creativity in our classrooms and our pupils’ learning experiences? If so, what is to be done in a climate which views creativity solely as a one-way ‘making’ process, is terrified of the correlatived yet essential ‘breaking’ process, and continues to rain down monologues day upon day?