Creativity, Education and Punk

The greatest punk manifesto:

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This image was from the fanzine ‘Sideburns’, though in common memory it is usually remembered as being associated with Sniffin’ Glue but it wasn’t that fanzine wot done it. Punk a reaction against the skilled overblown prog rock of the early to mid seventies was an attack on ability and artistry, it was a sonic and visual kick in the groin for the hi fi geeks listening to their ELP whilst smoking a joint and sitting on bean bags. Mark P begins his editorial in the first edition of Sniffin’ Glue like this:

The Ramones were in London this month and to realy [sic] get into the fact we’ve put this little mag/newsletter together. It’s a bit amateur at the moment but it is the first go isn’t it, I mean we can’t all be Nick Kents over night can we.

This was the ethos. Just do it. It’s this excitement that the best free schools seem to have – a kick back against the big prog establishments – and it’s why I like them. They get on with it, and find their way. They are creative institutions. They don’t wait for education experts, they won’t go knocking at the door of the edu equivalents of Roger Waters or Rick Wakeman to ask them what to do and how to do it, they’re going to do it their way and do it now. Here are three likeminded people, none of ’em are Nick Kents – now form a school.

Yesterday, I was fortunate to attend an excellent day of debates at Michaela Community School. Each debate got me thinking as each one covered critical ground. It was the one between Guy Claxton and Daisy Christodolou that got me thinking about the theme of this blog, how much knowledge does one need before one can be creative?  When is one ready ‘to do’? Clearly after three chords it would be impossible to form Genesis but it might be possible to form a band. Will the band get better, will they live long in our collective memory, will they produce work of quality, will they last in the competitive world of the pop business? Will they be better than Genesis?

How much do you need to know before you can begin to learn to do? In my book, Trivium 21c, this becomes a crucial question, I interviewed Ferdinand Mount about it and he said that although children need to learn how to think and argue that this should not be something that occurs before the age of 16. He went on to say:

The golden years of maximum brain activity should be spent in absorbing, in reading and listening to every conceivable source of knowledge. And rote learning, in all its forms, is an essential discipline in acquiring intellectual muscle. [p.184]

When should a child, in a school, begin to think, argue, test out, and/or refine their work? At what point do we move from the absorption of knowledge to the questioning of it? At what point do we know enough in order to *be* creative? Is this subject specific? Is this down to the individual teacher? Should this be enshrined in a curriculum? Is there a difference between practical and more traditionally ‘academic’ subjects in how teachers might approach the now or never or later of getting pupils to be creative?

Is it better to learn to be a teacher by studying the theory for a few years or by stepping into the classroom as soon as is possible? “Here are three ideas about how to teach – become a teacher…”  Or are the years spent absorbing the subject a good enough grounding in order for you to be an expert from day one?

I don’t think any of the answers to these questions are easy but if you believe that creativity is an important outcome of schooling then what you do might influence how creative your students might end up in your subject. If a music teacher just teaches her pupils to read music and play all the notes in the right order then her charges might be good musicians but should she teach them how to create, should she teach her pupils how to compose music and, if so, when? If she leaves it until they are sixteen is it too late? It certainly is too late for those who gave up her subject at the end of year nine…

What of those who know next to nothing, can they be truly creative with only three chords at their disposal? I would say they can be, they might be able to make a blistering song or two but their oeuvre might be somewhat limited after a time. Even the Ramones used more than three chords.

But Genesis were always dreadful.

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21 thoughts on “Creativity, Education and Punk

  1. Chris Chivers

    Martin,
    One key element that rarely, if ever, gets brought into the “creativity” discussion is the use and application of the known in practice or in novel situations. As a Primary teacher working with infant children, it was usually in challenge tasks that they could really demonstrate their true ability. If the challenge required them to think, to make decisions for themselves, applying their knowledge, they might come across a need for this to be extended. Equally, happenstance might throw up something new, which might give rise to, or create, new understanding. Young children can be creative with what they know. To understand that you have some agency in your own learning can be a significant driver, otherwise we make knowledge clones without application or imagination, which is reported as being a Far East concern.
    I worry that some learned, erudite commentators, as evident on Saturday, might be “creative” with their truths, just to create and sustain their unique selling point. That might entertain an enthusiastic audience, but is less than helpful at a distance.
    Ps, I started with 3 chords, at 26, with the beginners guitar group. With 7 , I have a repertoire of 100+ children’s songs.
    BW Chris

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  2. suecowley

    You can be given the knowledge, but you can also get to it because you really want and need it. You have something to express and you feel that you must get it out in the right way. So you learn another chord. And then another. You find the right resources (perhaps materials, knowledge, a teacher, space, time.) Then you become more creative through the act of doing the thing you want to be creative in. Well, that’s how it happens for me anyway. Technique comes through guidance and repetition, but creativity comes through doing it yourself. “A word after a word after a word.” 🙂

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    1. Martin Robinson Post author

      If you don’t want it and you’re not given it, what then? Aren’t all children creative to a greater or lesser degree? Does the ‘guiding’ teacher drive the pupil to create from materials etc. that are chosen in order to limit the child’s choice as to what parameters within which she is told to create?

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  3. jfin107

    Martin, thank you once again for such a valuable piece. It is a wondorous thing that ‘making’ – making music, making art etc. is a generative process as commented above. Aesthetic, personal, practical, tacit, experience and propositional knowledge is created in the making, the stock of expressive getures expanded with the teacher acting as mediator of culture.

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      1. jfin107

        Creative musical performance involves interpretation. The ASBRM now look for ‘musical shape’ from the earliest grades. Shaping a musical phrase – an act of fine grained creativity, an interpretive act. Limiting the notion of creative music making to improvisiation and composition is regrettable. And then there’s the creativity of listening.

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  4. teachwell

    I wonder if our obsession with creativity ignores the reality that we managed to produce people who were creative when we weren’t obsessed with it. How did that happen??

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    1. Martin Robinson Post author

      Aristotle and Plato were very interested in it, it has a rich and varied history… I think our understanding of ‘Art’ in the sense of creating something has diminished into some platitudes that have become understood as ‘creativity’ in education, which haven’t helped education or creativity.

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      1. jfin107

        Yes, creativity is a tired concept. Perhaps we might refresh the discourse with ‘playfully imagining’. Parents with child playfully imaging and inventing a song. [I must say that i don’t think Saturday’s debate was very well informed. And surpised that creativity should be considred ‘the aim of education’ (D.C.)]

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  5. julietgreen

    How much should we focus on knowledge acquisition? A lot. When should we start allowing the freedom to be creative? As soon as possible. These things are mutually compatible. Anyone who ever played jazz could tell you that.

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  6. nickmiddleton2

    I have to say this is quite a provocative article, and on a couple of points I may have to disagree. As an ex-music teacher who taught improvisation among other things, I was always strongly of the opinion that knowledge is absolutely essential for good improvisation.

    However in this article, I believe you are conflating the quality of the product and the process of arriving there under the heading of creativity. Learners can truly apply creativity with limited tools e.g. three chords in this case, but the product may not withstand scrutiny out of context. However whether this process is sufficiently beneficial or satisfying to the learner with a limited palette at their disposal is clearly questionable; indeed this is the question you are posing here and in your book.

    Incidentally the other point on which we disagree is that I thought Genesis were excellent! Thanks for the article.

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  7. Martin Robinson Post author

    Ignoring Genesis…

    Limiting tools is a good idea, the continuous process of making, learning, making, learning is how I think the Arts work, in schools, best. I teach improvisation – you need to do a lot of it to get proficient at it, practise if you will… But quality is inextricably linked, we have to know what is good and what isn’t and that is no science – it is part of the conversation around aesthetics, beauty and the sublime.

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