Why is Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” the number one TED talk of all time with over 65,000,000 views? Aside from the fact that he’s British and pretty funny, the question is one that resonates with so many. People want to know; do they? Do schools kill creativity? It's a great question.

Let me digress for a moment, I’ve recently been researching Dyslexia because both my son, as well as a friend’s son, are believed to identify with this trait (official screening is scheduled). Being a concerned parent, I of course started reading books, listening to TED talks, and researching on the internet. But in researching Dyslexia I actually found myself more concerned for children, my own and others, that are NOT Dyslexic than those that are. And it all has to do with CREATIVITY.

You see, people who are Dyslexic actually have a physical difference in their brain. The axons in a Dyslexic brain are further apart than those in a ‘normal’ brain, leading to some significant cognitive advantages in the ability to see the “bigger picture” that most people can’t see. This ability leads to a higher level of success in four areas: entrepreneurship, engineering, architecture, and the arts. Those identifying as Dyslexic are physically hardwired to be more creative. Of course, this is not meant to undermine, in any way, the challenges associated with Dyslexia, it’s just not my point today.

Learning = More Creative? 

With most things in life we expect that as we learn, practice, and experience more we will improve. And mostly, that’s true, but not so with creativity. At least according to the numbers.

In 1968 George Land, Ph.D. (with Beth Jarman) conducted a longitudinal study of creativity with 1,600 kids starting when they were just 4-5 years old. The test used was the same test conducted by NASA to select innovative engineers and scientists, figuring it had worked well for NASA Land decided to give a sample of the test to children. The outcome was eye-opening…

Scoring ‘Genius Level’ for Creativity:

1,600 children at 4-5 years old – 98%

Same children at 10 years old – 30%

Same children at 15 years old – 12%

Same test given to over 1,000,000 adults (avg age 31) – 2%

The trend was very clear, as children aged they lost creativity. Land said of the test, “what we have concluded is that non-creative behavior is learned” (Breaking Point and Beyond by George Land and Beth Jarman). 

So is that what schools are effectively teaching, non-creative behavior? Kids are commonly asked to recall, or reproduce, information in all different formats, but not to think for themselves. And since those with Dyslexia are hardwired to be more creative, are the children that are NOT Dyslexic at higher risk for losing their creativity? This is my concern!

Are our schools outdated?

The basis of our current educational system was created based on principles of the Industrial Revolution, over 200 years ago, to train children to be effective workers and follow instruction (encouraging creativity was certainly not a goal). While being a good worker and following instructions are both important, is that what is most important for our children today for their future? I would argue that of the most important traits for our children in this unknown world is that of creativity and adaptability.

Can creativity be taught?

But can creativity and adaptability be taught? The answer is yes, but not from simply sitting at desks listening to a lecture and regurgitating facts on tests. Once we find an answer or figure out a way that works we naturally stop trying, effectively stopping creativity in it's tracks. We give up on the possibility of better solutions in favor of one that we know works and we are comfortable with, halting growth. 

Learning in a way that encourages creativity and adaptability means stretching those muscles, guiding young people to the edge of their ability so that they can grow beyond where they currently are. These muscles have to be exercised like everything else in our body, by encouraging learners to think freely and critically. We stretch these muscles to make them stronger by using our imagination, experimenting, developing solutions on our own, testing and re-testing, exploring, and by questioning assumptions. Time, space, and freedom are all essential for creativity to grow.

And since non-Dyslexics aren’t hardwired for this, they have to work harder to maintain it (to not un-learn it). We need to re-think education so that our own kids, Dyslexic or not, don’t lose their creativity. This is the time we, as parents, need to think critically about how we are educating our children and if our schools are acting to “reinforce and encourage student’s fresh thinking and promote high levels of creative behavior, enriching their thinking skills – critical thinking, problem solving and decision making” (Larry Vint, “Fresh Thinking Drives Creativity & Innovation').

So back to the original question…do schools kill creativity? The answer is: the right ones don’t! But you have to be willing to question what has always been, to go against the grain and wear a colorecap in a white cap world. Although, a little secret...the world is rapidly becoming a lot more colorful as parents see the need to turn learning upside down!

"Creativity is as important now in education as literacy and we should treat it with the same status."

- Sir Ken Robinson

Dyslexia Statistics...

Since we were on the topic, here are a few statistics about Dyslexia:

- approximately 10% - 20% of the population identifies as Dyslexic (even at the low end that’s 1 in 10 people, but could be as high as 1 in 5 people)

- 50% of all left-handed people are Dyslexic

- the ratio of boys and girls with Dyslexia is about the same

- it is genetic

- people with Dyslexia use only the right side of their brain to process language, while non-dyslexics use three areas of their left side

Some bleak statistics (but keep reading it get’s better):

- 35% of all Dyslexics drop out of High School

- 50% of all adolescents involved in drug and alcohol rehabilitation have Dyslexia

- 60% - 70% of all juvenile delinquents have Dyslexia

Now on the up-side, some positive statistics:

- 35% of all entrepreneurs are Dyslexic

- 40% of all self-made millionaires are Dyslexic

- 1 out of every 2 rocket scientists at NASA is Dyslexic

- innovative schools like MIT embrace these students as they can thrive in that environment

- people with Dyslexia: Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, Richard Branson, Oprah Winfrey, Charles Schwab, John F. Kennedy, George Washington, George Bush, Orlando Bloom, Tom Cruise, Walt Disney, Jamie Oliver, Steven Spielberg, Leonardo da Vinci, and so many more


Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk “Do schools kill creativity?” (highly recommend; all of his talks are excellent)

George Land & Beth Jarman's book "Breaking Point and Beyond"

Larry Vint's article “Fresh Thinking Drives Creativity & Innovation”

Dean Bragonier’s TED talk “The true gifts of a Dyslexic Mind”

Kate Griggs TED talk “The Creative Brilliance of Dyslexia”

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