Elbert Hubbard once said that “the greatest mistake you can make in life is to be constantly fearing you will make one”. Over a century later, in a world obsessed with regulations, examinations and finding answers: a world in which making a mistake is often synonymous with failing, Hubbard’s advice has never seemed more pertinent.
In 2010, educationalist Sir Ken Robsinson gave a talk in which he argued that the current British education system can best be compared to the fast food industry: production is linear and standardised, and the end result leaves the consumer lacking the nutrition they need. Similarly our rigid, curriculum-oriented and standardised approach to educating children is leaving them lacking the passion, inspiration and variety that they need to succeed in life. The growing culture of elitism amongst schools and the increasing competition for the best university places has meant that a disproportionate amount of emphasis is placed on traditional, academic subjects such as Maths, Science and English, whilst creative subjects such as Media, Art and Drama are seen as easy options, since we are told that they won’t ever lead to a good career.
Robinson argues that instead of this, schools need to adopt an approach to teaching whereby advice is tailored to the individual, and less “traditional” ambitions (for example, the desire to become a musician or hairdresser) are cultivated just as much as ambition to become a doctor or lawyer. Not everyone wants to go to college; not everyone wants to get a degree and be a professional … anything. Some people are born with incredible, creative minds; schools need to recognise this and encourage the development of creative passions in students of all backgrounds, abilities and aspirations. To do so breeds variety and diversity in society; something which is undeniably necessary. The world wouldn’t last a second if everyone became lawyers.
This creativity-destroying attitude, it seems, is being instilled in children much earlier than secondary school – when they begin to make their career choices. A mission statement for the Education Trust based in America asserts that “College begins in Kindergarten”; a quick Internet search of this statement showed that this is the mantra of many educational organisations, and highlights a glaring failure in the education system when it comes to allowing young people to flourish and succeed. It is becoming increasingly difficult for children to be children, and to develop in their own unique way; instead they are expected to take tests and answer questions just as young adults are, albeit at a different level.
Judith Hackett, head of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recently gave an interview with The Guardian in which she argued that “children today are denied … playgrounds have become joyless for fear of a few cuts and bruises” and the limiting of “formative experiences” along with the “creeping culture of risk aversion and fear of litigation … puts at risk our children’s education and preparation for adult life”. Not only are young people given a very restricted view of the the opportunities available to them later in life, as a result of the stigmatisation of not being a classically academic person, but they are also being prohibited from exploring the world outside of the classroom and are consequently becoming less interested and excited by the world in which they live.
A study conducted through the University of Michigan, USA, by Diener and Seligman suggested that among students, the 10 per cent who were considered to be most “happy” were those who led more social and broadly interactive lives. Therefore, it can be seen that by discouraging uninhibited, spontaneous and adventurous exploration and interaction amongst children, and instead enforcing endless guidelines and restrictions, schools are potentially causing children to be less sociable and assured, and more fearful of risks and trying something different. This could not only result in children eventually ending up in jobs which don’t necessarily utilise their true passions – since they will be more likely to conform to traditionally respected careers – but it could also inadvertently lead to a generation of much less happy adults.
A study by Professor Peter Warr in 1999 concluded that the happiest adults were those who engage in “work which effectively matches one’s skills, talents and preferences”. This cannot be achieved if the education system continues to treat students as statistics, and a means of gaining a good reputation for schools through impressive academic exam results. Achieving one’s academic potential will always be important; learning is a neccessary part of every life. However, this cannot be promoted at the cost of individuality and pursuing personal ambitions. Rather than encouraging children to get everything right, and to follow a set path, we should be encouraging mistakes from which we can learn, and the exploration of the road less travelled. Intelligence matters, but creativity, innovation and passion matter too, if not more.