Creativity and Jobs of the Future

Categories: Philosophy, The Classroom
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Published on: February 9, 2015

Most educators are familiar with Ken Robinson. The following TED presentation, “Do schools kill creativity?”, strikes home for me.

In most school districts, when funds are scarce, the first classes to go are the arts. Art classes and music are always first on the chopping block. As Robinson discusses, schools are putting all of their effort into the “core” curriculum and turning our schools into extended college entrance courses. Kids who want to pursue creative endeavors are left to do it on their own.

But here’s the problem:

We’re also telling everyone that most jobs of the future will require creativity. Our corporations are shipping labor and manufacturing overseas and stressing the generation of intellectual property over the ability to, say, read a schematic and solder wires together.

Consider this other educator favorite video:

The video focuses on the proliferation of technology, but consider as well the portion about jobs and products that did not even exist in the last couple of years. The iPod, for example, and apps on the app store.

Consider a student who wants to be a computer programmer. To most adults, this means getting a job punching in code for some major corporation to make some business software work. To most kids, this means app development and game design.

There’s a lot more to app development than hammering on code. App programmers need to design interfaces. They need to create artwork and market the product. Heck, they need to come up with a way to address a specific need, or to entertain users. It all has to start with creativity before they can start punching in lines of code.

Our schools get students who want to be game designers all the time. What do we do? Tell them how unlikely it is they’ll get anywhere, and discourage them. Of course we should be realistic with them, but let’s be realistic with ourselves: take a look at the sheer numbers of games on the shelves, and the staggering numbers of apps in the app stores. There has never been a better opportunity for a student to become a game designer than right now. Shouldn’t we be nurturing whatever it is about games that engages them? We assume they want to be lazy and sit on the couch all day, but what is it that draws them to gaming? Do they like the storylines? Or the problem-solving? Why not continue providing opportunities like the Hour of Code so they can get a realistic expectation of programming on their own rather than just tell them to stop dreaming and do their math homework?

The same goes with any creative endeavor. Music, publishing, and film are all so much more accessible than at any time in the past. Creative people are making a good living thanks to Web publishing, and are at least living comfortably if they’re not at a level we’d consider famous. The odds of an artist, writer, or musician successfully connecting with an audience are better now than they’ve ever been.

My point is, I think the real warning from Robinson’s talk is we are beyond just stifling creativity, we are actively limiting our students’ future success. We are still teaching to future success as we perceived it in the ’80s and early ’90s, not what future success can look like today.

If academia doesn’t change with the times, we’re going to find ourselves left behind.

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