How School Killed My Creativity

November 5, 2016


I had worked so hard on it. Shading in the different areas with my pencils, erasing my lines and redrawing them over and over again until I was satisfied. For once I had actually managed to avoid joining in with the conversation amongst my school mates and instead I had put my head down and worked hard. I had put a lot more hours into drawing that school shoe than I had put into anything art-related within the past five years. I took my drawing home and continued working on it until the late hours of the night. Don’t get me wrong, it certainly wasn’t what one would consider ‘a piece of art’, and certainly didn’t look as good as half of my classmates drawings of their school shoes, but I was proud of it. I was excited to hand it in.

I’ll never forget that feeling when my high school art teacher handed that drawing back to me. I had ‘passed’ according to the marking rubric, yet my mark was still dismal considering the effort that I had put into it. My heart dropped and my mood instantly changed and the familiar feeling of failure in this subject surfaced once again. The constant disappointment when receiving my marks back in art were becoming all too normal and every time that I got given a piece of work back, the dread would flood back. I would look at my mark & scrunch my work up before throwing it away. I started to loathe art class, I started to loathe my teacher, I started to loathe walking up those stupid steps into the blue classroom only to be told to ‘create’ another piece that would only result in the same grade, because the rubric was always the same. The only thing that I remember being taught in that class, the only lesson that I took away from it, was that I was not a creative individual.

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I didn’t realise it at the time, in fact I only started to think back on it this year how my school art classes might have had an impact on my life. Ever since I was small, I used to love throwing myself for hours into colouring books, writing stories with my wonky left-handed writing, writing daily dairies, acting different scenes out of movies in front of the mirror (namely from Titanic), playing in our pool for hours after school alternating between pretending to be a lifesaver and someone who was drowning. Recording myself singing into that blue and white microphone on my toy piano, doing news reports with my brother, lining up all of my teddies and dolls in my room and pretending to be their teacher. For hours I would amuse myself, exuding these incredibly important forms of innocent and fearless creativity that oozes from children, that we lose as we get older. That I lost at school.

Despite never really being interested in drawing or painting, I still used to love art class as a child. It was an opportunity for all of us to break free from the right or wrong answers of our classes, the teacher would play music and we were allowed to chatter away to each other, whatever it is that 6 year olds enjoy chatting about anyway. It was a sense of escapism before returning back to our desks and getting on with the rest of the school day. I can’t remember how old I was when we started getting our art assessed in our term reports four times a year. Those pieces of freedom and expressions of creativity that we had naively handed in at the end of class, were being marked. Assessed.

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My art marks were never good from the age of about 8, until I was 15, when art wasn’t a compulsory subject anymore. As a small child in a girls only school, things were competitive and we used to compare our term marks with each other. I always seemed to do worse than most of my friends in art. Do you know how insulting that is as a child? How embarrassing? A subject that everyone loved, that I loved, and yet happened to be lowest mark. How does that work? The worst part is that I got used to it and thus that marked the beginning of me believing that I wasn’t creative. After all, when you’re at school that’s what you believe creativity is, all of those arbitrary subjects that no-one takes seriously…drama, dance, music and art. That’s what I believed fell under the word ‘creative’. Nothing more.

Little did I know that I was creative every damn day of my life. I was creative in my school sports, figuring out unique passes in hockey that the opponent wouldn’t intercept, analysing new tactics as a team, new formations on the field. I was creative in my surfing, and anyone that surfs will relate to it when I say that it is a form of art in itself. I was creative in my writing, whether it was when I was younger and write down stories from our family holidays, or when I was older and it involved writing or analysing books in my school English classes. I was creative when I got given that Kodak disposable camera as a kid & snapped those photos from our holiday. I was creative when my dad used to film us on family holidays and my brother and I used to act up for the camera. I was creative when I used to play in the sand at the beach, building castles and forts. I just didn’t know it, because I had lost the ability to recognise ‘creativity’ due my lack of understanding of the word.

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It was only in my late teens when I was taking a couple of photos which I then proceeded to show my dad, that he mentioned that the angle that I had taken the pictures from was ‘very creative’. This was a huge paradigm shift for me. It might seem obvious now, but it had never occurred to me that taking photos or being behind a camera was a form of art, of creativity and I remember feeling so happy about that revelation.

My point is that we are all creative. The school system with their marking rubrics and conventional methods that we all have to adhere to as students is essentially a form of creative oppression, one of the most dangerous forms of oppression there is. In a world full of robots, chugging along on autopilot in their daily lives, their monotonous routines, their blank expressions, it is poisonous to be teaching us that we aren’t creative, whether its intentional or not.

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So to all of you out there who like me, believed that you weren’t creative..I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong. I’m here to tell you that they are wrong. Their marking rubrics that haven’t changed in years, their assignments that have stayed the same and favoured those who are talented in the most traditional forms of ‘art’, it’s all wrong.

You are creative. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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  • Clare W

    I love this piece. I grew up homeschooled and the only subjects we were graded on was math/science and even then we weren’t compared to each other. There was no curve. If you did the assignment correctly, you were good to go, otherwise you just did it again until it was right. But writing, art, political science, etc were loosely structured and rarely grouped with “school”. We just did them because we wanted to or we were bored because we had no television. Me and my siblings read hundreds of books, drew, wrote, put on plays, taught ourselves music, and so forth–and I honestly think that we wouldn’t have done this if my parents had structured these things as a class. Being allowed to be creative all through my life has helped me immensely in transitioning to a professional work environment.
    I loved this post–thank you!

  • Emma Berg

    I’ve always been a creative soul until now. I like writing novels, draw, photoshop and making music but I always come to the point where I feel I can’t.. that people would probably make fun of my ideas. So yeah. Nice post and I can relate.

  • James Webb

    This is so familiar to read. I recall at about 12 years of age spending an entire night working on an art piece (a drawing). For once even my Mum thought I’d done a good job (my toughest critic ever!) and yet when I handed it in the following day I barely even received an acknowledgement. A simple tick in a box to say I’d done the work. I think I gave up in that moment. Such a shame and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.

  • We’ve “unschooled” our kids from the beginning. I was worried at first that they would lack socialization but they are easy going and at ease with new people. Now we’re traveling Europe for a year and they are engaged in the new adventure without being confined to a pre-existing notion of what interests they should follow. Curiosity and a desire to discover combined with opportunities are all they need. Wonderful post and love your youtube channel. Thanks for writing this.

  • Chloe Keeley

    Hi Nicole
    My names Chloe Keeley, i’m 14 years old and from a small country town in Australia.
    I would just lik

  • Great post and thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    I totally agree that to grade children on their creativity can be harsh. I was never good at drawing but, loved taking art. I too never got good grades in my art classes until I starting taking photography instead of painting. It was the same with my English classes. I always loved to read and write but, never got great marks as I am a terrible speller (thank god for spell check!) but, once I switched to Creative Writing did better as assignments were graded on things other than perfect structure.

    I think that everyone is create, and that those who think they are not, just have not found their perfect creative outlet.

    Again thanks for sharing 🙂

    Sarah
    balancingwanderlust.com

  • Kevin Vincke

    Hi Nicole,

    Great piece if writing and I think you are right. Everyone is able to be creative and create great things. It’s just about finding the inner creativity that we all have somewhere, (often) hidden away in ourselves. And yeah, it is sad. Schools, or better yet, the whole educational system is pretty bad at helping people find that. More so, in my opinion they are pretty good at killing creativity as a whole just because it doesn’t fit in the “capitalistic” “you need to get a job/make money” – way of thinking. By the way, this reminds me of an amazing Ted Talk I once saw (from Sir Ken Robinson). Your piece reminded me very much of his way of thinking about creativity and schools not supporting (all kinds of) creativity (only the ones that fit into their, in my opinion, very narrow minded system). I think you might find it interesting (maybe you even saw it already), here is the link if you would like to see it, I found it one of the best Ted talks I’ve seen so far (Sir Ken Robinson is an awesome human being and he is pretty funny too): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iG9CE55wbtY

  • Adrienne Barson

    Hi Nicole.
    Very c r e a t i v e post 😉
    I was a creative child too. I did similar things like you mentioned in post. My art teacher at school was artist himself in some way so he get everyone fair grades/marks. if you did something he wanted you to do at you had your own style he rewarded with bonuses. Maybe now I’m not in school I’m not as creative as I was in school but I saved some for different things and projects I want to do. In my opinion my school wasn’t taking my creativity. We did many creative things such as theatre , themed days, anything where we can use our brains and imagination.
    I hope I wrote ok for this subject. I’m drinking coffee while writing this so maybe my thought aren’t clear yet i hope I said what i wanted to say. 🙂 Have a nce evening (if you are in CT)
    Adrienne – @ amusicgeek ^^

  • Annie

    I absolutely loved this piece. It’s unfortunate how a single incident can have such an effect on a person like that but I find it very admirable that you found the positivity in this whole thing. I know I struggled with something like that a while back as well and I’m still trying to figure it all out. Again, lovely piece!

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