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Growing Leaders Blog

on Leading the Next Generation


How Schools Today Thwart Creativity

I constantly try to offer insights into how our leadership of students must change. Lately, we’ve drifted from providing engaging leadership and our kids are victims. Even when we cover issues that are helpful, we bore them to tears.

Consider this fact. Some of the world’s most creative geniuses hated the instruction they received in school. Thomas Edison once said his greatest blessing was his lack of formal education. He felt had he been educated, teachers would have convinced that what he did was impossible. Einstein remembered most of his schooling in both Germany and Switzerland as an “unhappy experience.” He later wrote, “It is nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry…without this, it goes to wreck and ruin without fail.”

George Bernard Shaw compared school to prison, but then suggested prison might be better. He said, “In prison you are not forced to sit and listen to the turnkeys discoursing without charm or interest on subjects they don’t’ understand or care about and are therefore unable to make you care about. In a prison, they torture your body but they do not torture your brain.”

It’s been said a thousand times but Bill Gates and Steve Jobs never finished college. They didn’t have time to read history…they were too busy making  it.

Our schools fail to engage creative students because we continue to use pedagogy that was created for life fifty to one hundred years ago. Lecture. Drill. Test. It’s often rote. It is seen as boring and irrelevant by many students. And it’s primarily targeted at the left hemisphere of their brain. Perhaps you’ve seen these columns I created below, but they summarize the disconnect that happens so often in our schools. In short, our dilemma is—Right-brained Students Must Attend Left-brained schools:



1. Right brained thinkers                                                        1. Left brained delivery


2. Learn by uploading; expressing themselves             2. Teach by downloading lectures


3. Experiential in nature                                                        3. Passive in nature


4. Music/art enables them to retain information       4. Music and art classes often cut


5. Desire to learn what is relevant to life                         5. Teach for the next test


6. Creativity drives them                                                       6. Curriculum/scores drive them

Somehow, we must harness the art that lies within us. Creativity. Ideas. Idealism. Educator, Maya Angelou, once said, “We are all creative, but by the time we are three or four years old, someone has knocked the creativity out of us. Some people shut up the kids who start to tell stories. Kids dance in their cribs, but someone will insist they sit still. By the time the creative people are ten or twelve, they want to be like everyone else.”

May I summarize this complex issue for you if you work with young people?

They are looking for:

  1. Creative communication by using imagination.
  2. An environment that questions that status quo.
  3. An authentic relationship with a leader who cares.

Here’s a thought. Why not do what Ladell Fortune is doing. He teaches high school students outside of Atlanta. When he asked for a show of hands, he discovered that none of his boys in class had a father at home. So, what did he do? He decided to launch an informal mentoring group, where teen boys could meet with him to get help filing out college forms, get questions answered, get advice on the future, etc. He volunteered to be a role model. He builds a relationship with every young man; uses art forms, like music, to shed light on issues and gets creative with his delivery and interaction with the students. And he’s making a difference.

It can be done. But we’ve got to re-think the way we teach.

What are some ways you have been able to inspire creativity in students?


  1. Lauren on July 20, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    I try to do a sort of “open ended” projects. We do front load with lecture, notes, and other “traditional” methods, but then to demonstrate their knowledge of the subject, students then do a project whether it be a fake Facebook profile page for a character in a novel or a presentation where they get to be the teacher. Not all students learn the same way, but pressure is put on teachers to produce results, test results. It’s a tough balance to find and being a novice teacher (going on my 4th year), it’s even worse.

  2. Austrin Oluwafemi on January 24, 2019 at 5:30 pm

    Thank you very much Sir. I consider myself fortunate for having come across this blog. Your write up leaves a deeper insight which is not only thought provoking, but encourages a teacher to perform different. I do not agree to the myth that, teachers are intended only to teach. Let me correct someone’s perspective and ignite them to think better. A teacher is a ‘decisive element’ in every student life. The kind of influence a teacher makes in a matter of 40 minutes in a day within the student reciprocates in a student’s life. The ratio of impact is much higher than what a student can receive in home.
    “I’ve come to frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in my classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor or hurt or heal. In all situations it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized “(Haim 1972, p 15 as cited in Ackerman & Mackenzie 2007 p.11). From the above statement it is understood that a teacher have comparable opportunity to make or destroy the collective whole.
    Also, teacher can be more successful when they apply Action Research (AR) in their classrooms by trying a different strategy and check how the students engage themselves to the AR. Teachers can influence students with their new approaches rather than following pedagogy.
    Every teacher must consider their responsibility not for a set of students, but for a group of rising leaders. This thought may revolutionize legacy education practices.

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How Schools Today Thwart Creativity