Why wait to unleash children’s creativity? | Letters

Karen Eslea, Salley Vickers, Rick Hall, Mark Hebert and John Richer on a piece by the National Theatre’s Rufus Norris

Rufus Norris says “During these uncertain times we must feed any golden geese we have, and a steady stream of qualified graduates and school-leavers is the strongest investment for the future we can make” (Why are we squeezing creativity out of our schools?, 17 January). But why wait for the future? If we disregard the skills, creativity and ideas that children have at this very moment, we will be poorer for it. They also have a lot to teach.

At Turner Contemporary, we are committed to supporting children’s leadership through the arts, and recognise the enormous contribution that children of all ages can make to society. Distressingly, in 2017, in part because of lack of child participation, the UK fell dramatically in global rankings for child rights from 11th to 156th.

That a country should disregard the views of more than 18% of its population is staggering, particularly given their potential for creativity and divergent thinking, as explored by Sir Ken Robinson. When 98% of pre-school children are ranked “genius” level at divergent thinking, with this capability decreasing as we become older, why not harness it now? If adults and children genuinely learn from each other, society has huge potential to be happier, healthier, fairer and more inclusive, with adults and children deeply engaged in the arts, their own learning, and their communities. Investment in these highly creative members of society can pay today if we let it. Why wait for the future?
Karen Eslea
Head of learning and visitor experience, Turner Contemporary

• Re Rufus Norris’s excellent piece: at my state primary school I and another pupil were put into a classroom by ourselves by an enterprising teacher and told to “write a novel”. He had observed that we were restless during the usual English lessons in which we were both somewhat advanced. I thus wrote my first novel aged nine. Sadly, I no longer have it, but it was the precursor of the nine novels and two short story collections I have written since. It showed me that not only could I write a sustained piece but, most importantly, that someone in authority thought so. I wish I knew what had happened to the other lucky pupil, who was, by the way, the daughter of Polish refugees.
Salley Vickers

• We should not be surprised, and neither should Rufus Norris, that a government that promotes conformity over initiative, stress over motivation, and only values what is measurable, then eliminates creative thinking from state schools. Some hints at solutions, however, lie in your letters page (same day), where maths and literacy are taught through role play and fascination with numbers. Stem subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) are innately creative, requiring imagination, speculation, improvisation and rehearsal (experiment) – activities and skills that Rufus Norris will employ every day in his neck of the creative industries woods.
Rick Hall

• Rufus Norris makes some excellent points concerning the downgrading of creative studies in our schools. I would add a fourth persistent myth about creativity to his list (ie that creativity is entirely innate, that it thrives is adversity and that artistry is associated with decadence somehow). This is that music, drama, fine art and so on are somehow less intellectually rigorous and academic than other subjects. This is nonsense, of course, and anyone who plays an instrument, sings, paints or acts in a play will know that these activities can be as demanding as any other that they may do in life.
Mark Hebert
Needingworth, Cambridgeshire

• Rufus Norris is right to emphasise the importance of creativity, and not just in the arts but in science, industry and other areas of life. In his 1972 Croonian lecture to the Royal Society, the Nobel prize winning zoologist Niko Tinbergen argued for the importance of schools developing curiosity and creativity in children: “Teaching as much as possible by arousing and stimulating exploratory interest rather than by regimented instruction, is not only biologically sound but yields promising results.” He set this in the context of accelerating cultural evolution increasingly outpacing genetic evolution, leading to many stress diseases, but also requiring faster adaption to new changed environments. The early practice of confident exploration, play and creativity develops this vital ability. Among the many points Tinbergen made was that curiosity flourished in an environment of security and that the balance between cooperation and competition in our species had shifted too far towards competition. Many teachers know and try to practice this as much as they can for the benefit of their pupils; they would be helped if government policies supported rather than undermined and excessively stressed them.
Dr John Richer

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