As the son of a kindergarten teacher, I have always been fascinated by the pedagogy of pre-formal education. My mum and many other teachers find educating at the beginning of schooling engaging and rewarding, not a job but a vocation. This is a million miles away from the horror of the classroom in ‘formal’ schooling, where sedentary children from the age of six sit uninterested and bored by micro-managed learning criteria designed to suit the needs of the industrial revolution.
I could have never guessed, however, that all this box-ticking and lecturing would make it so much harder for me to think creatively. I started a BA Womenswear at Central Saint Martins straight after high school without the traditional foundation course (designed to bridge the gap between school and creative education). Adjusting to this new environment was incredibly difficult. In many ways it reminded me of the freedom children in my mum’s class enjoyed; the freedom of movement and the not-so-regimented daily routine. It was confusing for me to be at the place I had tried so hard to get to, yet be unable to engage with the freedom I had always felt would benefit us all. After two terms I was ready to drop out. I had anxiety and depression and thought I’d made the biggest mistake of my life. I couldn’t understand why the freedom wasn’t allowing my creativity to flourish.
It was only three years later, as I began to think about my dissertation, that it became clear: when you’ve been playing by the rules of an industrial education game, switching to a creative system requires a reformation in itself. It is perhaps the greatest sadness of industrial learning that it prevents those who go through it from thinking freely and for themselves.
I was introduced to the work of Ken Robinson, perhaps the world’s most influential thinker on creative education, and his now famous TED talk which moved me to tears. It highlights the issues facing education today and suggests a way to move forward, that education should be about learning and nurturing the whole human, not only the brain, much in the same way kindergarten does. It points out the need for creativity in all walks of life and not only in the arts.
One reason our society rejects creativity may be down to its association with artistic practice. Increasingly, we misunderstand artistic skill as the only outlet for creative expression. However, Swedish psychologist Gumund Smith believed that many people are not being ‘creative but re-creative.’ A new scientific formula can be more creative than most clothing we see today and creativity can formulate anywhere in life and this is how it needs to be approached today. I believe we should open up our understanding of creativity.
We see the rise of school business managers and head teachers acting more like CEO’s than the nurturing people they have to be. The overbearing load of the ‘core’ subjects weights down and decimates everything else. We are reverting back to a system that only allows those wealthy enough to pursue other endeavors to do so and one that jeopardises all of our futures. It will crush future Alexander Mcqueens and allow the future creative system to be as it once was, a reserve of the wealthy elite. We know that the best ideas and creative responses come from diverse and culturally broad groups of people, so I wonder why we see an increase in educational systems that again favour those at the top of the food chain. To ensure creative freedom we must have diversity.
Ken Robinson, the previously mentioned educational theorist, makes it clear that this system is increasingly educating from the waist up, focusing on the brain. Preparing children for what we currently see as the pinnacle of education ‒ attending university to study one subject exclusively for three years with the aim of memorising as much as possible to achieve the highest grade. Mitchell Resnick of the pioneering Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Media Lab and author of Lifelong Kindergarten explains that it is the end for the A grade-student and calls for a new generation of X-students: those who will be able to think for themselves and engage with the ever-changing global landscape we now see ourselves in. Creative education plays an important role here.
That changing landscape can’t be underestimated. Frey and Osbourne of Oxford University wrote a report predicting that 47% of total US employment is in the high-risk category of being replaced by technology over the next two decades. If we do not begin to address the major issues with education as it stands, we are preparing children and adults to fail later on in life. The need to have interchangeable skills and relearn existing ideologies is more important than ever and we need to consider education as a lifelong pursuit rather than the preserve of childhood. It is no longer the case that we can complete a lifelong career in one subject, we have to be prepared to change and move with the technological shift. Many of us have seen our parents or our grandparents start a career in early life and retire from the same field over 40 years later, but for the younger generations, we must expect that the job we might start in our 20’s may not be there in our 40’s. As technology advances, we too have to change with it or face being left behind. A lifelong approach to learning will allow these changes to happen more fluidly.
Resnick has implemented his idea of the ‘lifelong kindergarten’ into his department at university level. He firmly believes that the ideologies of pre-formal education are those that nurture the development of students of any age and will prepare them for the landscape they are going to live through post-education. Robinson has stated that the need for creative education has now become economical as institutions and businesses begin to pay attention to the need for X-thinkers. If our current cultural context is measured by our capitalist gains then educational reform must come quickly to its aid. If the foundations of all progress begin in education, the lack of awareness around creativity in the classroom has already begun to show its economical downside. As industries begin to recognise the need for quick adaptation they struggle to facilitate that change through industrially educated workforces. We see it in the fashion industry, instead of recognising a failing system, leaders are starting to panic and play celebrity designer chess, masking the real issues around changes to an outdated business model.
It is clear that the ‘Devil Wears Prada’ era is over. The fashion bitch who dictates from their office while throwing a tantrum is old fashioned and unproductive. According to Robinson, people work better in collaborative environments. To work creatively in fashion business we need to see those at the top allowing the right mix of ideas in their workspaces. One person’s vision is created through their team. We have all heard about the changes in working practice technology companies are starting to implement and we have seen how their business has thrived. It is time for fashion to do the same.
At Central Saint Martins, Sarah Gresty Head of BA Fashion encourages students to “break down and relearn the rigid rules that were enforced in students’ previous education,” believing that to achieve their creative potential students have to actively break away from the constraints of industrialised learning. Sarah points out the fundamental importance of transitional courses like the Art and Design Foundation.
Jeremy Till, Head of Central Saint Martins, is also aware of the difficulties in the intermediate stages between education models: “Suddenly you’re saying; actually don’t listen to me. I want to hear what you’re saying.” Students are “thrown back on themselves” which can only allow for personal development. The students are treated as individuals and nurtured through individual paths of growth but provided with classes of culturally diverse students. A fundamental part of creatively educating that again is jeopardised by government cuts and lack of awareness towards the need for this style of learning. As tutor contact time is cut and their pupil numbers increased how long can we maintain this privilege of creativity in an industrial landscape?
If these learning practices were in place in the fashion industry we might see a less dysfunctional business model. It is important to remember that a fashion brand is made up of different people, usually, designers being a small percentage of that. To change an industry, education is key. Companies need to get their entire workforce thinking like creatives, to design better ways around the issues we face today, and relearn old practices that have been long out of date, working with the technological age we are in and seeing how it can help the industry move forward.
The need for creative learning, regardless of age or topic, is upon us. To ignore it, we risk being left behind. We have all seen how drastically the global landscape has changed in our lifetimes, even in the last 20 years. We have to realise that it will be in our ability to unlearn, relearn, re-evaluate and change that will hold the key to all our creative futures.
Words Patrick McDowell
Images Jelly Luise