Creativity is the fuel needed to drive education reform; An essay by William Childs

It always hurts my soul when I hear that a school is forced to cut back on creative classes, like music and art.  After all, allowing kids to be creative in school helps set them up to become creative adults – where creativity can lead to innovation in the workplace.  

The current public educational system in the United States was developed in the 19th century, primarily to meet the demands of the industrial revolution.  The spread of industry necessitated mass schooling to produce a skilled workforce. The system worked — factories had workers and workers had permanent jobs.

Today, the global economy demands new ideas and innovation, but our educational system doesn’t encourage entrepreneurial traits like creativity, risk-taking, or leadership.  The system is set up to teach kids how to take standardized tests; not to help them nurture their passions. I don’t blame the teachers; I blame those who refuse to admit that the world has changed and that we should keep doing the same thing over and over and expect different results.

Irish poet, William Butler Yeats gets it right, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” A wonderful example of what  Mr. Yeats is referring to is in Jack Foster’s fantastic book titled, “How To Get Ideas,” where he writes about an exercise he calls, “What is half of 13?”  The purpose of the exercise is not to find the correct answer — Foster already knows the answer is 6.5. Instead, he’s more interested in seeing if we can solve it creatively.

Since schools are not required to encourage creative thought, it’s hard for us to imagine how to solve the challenge.  When you view it through a creative lens, the clues begin to reveal themselves. The number 1 is half of 13. The number 3 is half of 13.  What about ‘thir,’ How about ‘teen.’ What if you wrote the number thirteen and erased the bottom half? What about roman numerals? Thirteen is written like this: XIII, so ‘X’ is half of thirteen. ‘III’ is half of thirteen.  The exercise is designed to show that when you look to solve a challenge creatively, you must be willing to look at it from different angles and be open to new possibilities, which is precisely what young children do effortlessly.

Think back on your childhood, and how you could play for hours with an empty refrigerator box. You could use it to create a boat, a car, a rocket ship, a castle. Endless possibilities. That’s the beauty of imagination and creativity, which is why, if you can reach back into your childhood, you can taste genius.

Children’s book author and creativity expert, Vince Gowmon states, “Children do not move, think or speak in a straight line, and neither does imagination, or creativity.  Sadly though, our standardized pathways of education still do.”

In one of the most viewed TED talks ever given, ‘Do Schools Kill Creativity?’ Sir Ken Robinson, who led an advisory committee on creative and cultural reform, said, “Our children and teachers are encouraged to follow routine algorithms rather than to excite that power of imagination and curiosity.” He also adds, “young children are wonderfully confident in their imaginations … Most of us lose this confidence as we grow up.” 

The next few years in our country are going to be crucial.  It’s time for creativity to be granted its proper status in education.  It’s every bit as important as math, science, history, and social studies.  While the industrial revolution is over, now is an excellent time to re-engineer how we structure our curriculums.  Curiosity, wonderment, and imagination are no longer child’s play. Those attributes must be encouraged and treated with respect at every grade level if we ever hope to change the current outdated educational system and put students on a path to success.

(Photo via

THE AUTHOR: WILLIAM CHILDS | Creative Director | Brand Storyteller | Columnist | Optimist
Bill is an accomplished creative leader with a history of delivering award-winning campaigns for a variety of businesses. Relentlessly dedicated to the skillful and creative translation of strategic business objectives, he’s known as a collaborative mentor and champion of fearless creativity. With a career spanning three decades, Childs knows how to take an acceptable idea and turn it into an exceptional one. His reputation of setting high creative standards while helping to create a culture of genuine collaboration and engagement is one of things he’s most proud of across his career. Recognizing and mentoring talent, and building high-performing, cohesive teams is one of his passions. Email. Website. Twitter. LinkedIn.

Find our glorious podcast on iTunes

Join the mailing list. You’ll hear from some cool folks, we promise

Leave a Reply