Are Schools Killing Creativity?

By: Guest | October 27, 2011 | 

Today’s guest post is written by Craig McBreen.

Years ago, there was a boy who spent much of his school day staring out the window, daydreaming.

To him, school was like the clink – a penitentiary so void of inspiration his imagination often left the room.

His creative spirit needed an outlet, but it was so stifling in there.

Kids dream big

Children are imaginative and not afraid to be wrong, but we often lose this as we grow up. Do we grow out of it or does the system drain it out of us?

Innate abilities lost over time? Or are they never discovered? Passions are lost.

Factories can’t teach

Our current educational system is a product of nineteenth-century industrialism. It is a model with a limited focus on specific subjects, considered beneficial a long, long time ago. That place isn’t far, far away, but it sure feels like it. This tired setup works for some, but many are left to wither on the vine.

One size doesn’t fit all

Most students receive a one-size-fits-all solution, not the creative or critical thinking they need.Kids don’t learn the same way. There are different types of intelligence: Kinesthetic, musical, linguistic, spacial, etc. People excel in certain areas, but struggle in others, yet our system demands children fit into one box and learn the same subjects, the same way.

In a post on his new book, “We Are All Weird,” Seth Godin wrote,

During the age of mass (mass marketing, mass manufacturing, mass schooling, mass movements) the key was normal. Normal was important because you needed (were required) to fit into your slot.

Well, the new normal is a bit abnormal, and uncommon little shapes don’t fit into perfectly square holes. Weird is in.

But … Billy’s odd AND distracted

Growing up in one of the most stimulating environments ever, kids have the ability to communicate with anyone, anywhere. All. The. Time. And we wonder why they’re preoccupied. If kids have difficulty, we often decide there is something wrong with them, or seek to medicate. Are they ill-suited for learning or are there defects in a system that tries to box them in?

The fundamental principals of public education need to be razed and rebuilt

Post-industrial economies rely on creativity and inventiveness. It is imperative the United States (and the world) have school systems designed for the twenty-first century. And with technology quickly replacing people, isn’t this more important than ever?

We often hear jobs are going overseas, but America will always be strong because of its intellectual capital and creative spirit. Problem is, we rarely ask our students to think creatively. As Alanis Morissette would say, “Isn’t it ironic.

So, what about solutions? 

  1. Shut down the assembly line. Toss the factory model to make way for more organic and dynamic development. Foster the differences in kids and create a curriculum that brings out these unique talents.
  2. Standards must go. Of course you need core standards, but not just in math, writing, and the humanities. What about fundamental skills in communication, arts, software, and trades? Nothing wrong with standards, just the obsession with them.
  3. School shouldn’t be a snooze-fest. Ditch rote learning in favor of engagement. Focus on creative and critical thinking in all subjects. Cultivate inventiveness through the technology kids are so immersed in anyway.
  4. Nourish spirit and passion. Create conditions where kids can flourish.
  5. Invest in great teaching and teacher development. Just think how creative teachers could be if they weren’t so focused on standardized tests.
  6. And finally, back off Tiger Mom. Parents often steer kids away from their true talents, for a more conventional route to success. We need to broaden that spectrum.

It’s time for change.

With budget cuts, the pace of bureaucracies, and resistance to change, this might not happen anytime soon. Regardless, it is time to rethink the current system, or maybe that good old American ingenuity will be a thing of the past.

Maybe a good PR campaign is in order.

Do yourself a favor and check out Sir Ken Robinson’s speech on TED.com. A brilliant and engaging speech which summarizes this topic oh so well.

Will high-tech companies and innovators simply force these changes without government mandates?

Do you agree or disagree? Is this a pipe dream?

Craig McBreen owns and operates McBreen Design, but you can also find him at craigmcbreen.com. A rookie blogger and student of social media, Craig is originally from Baltimore, but now lives in Seattle, with his wife and two kids.


As they say - teachers should stop teaching subjects - and start teaching children...


This is a topic I am very passionate about because personally I just don't test well. But testing is everything in schools unfortunately. The fact that we are cutting art programs and classes that encourage creativity is also very disheartening. Our education system really needs a complete makeover and I think you made some great points. Thanks for writing this!


Schools are killing more than children's creativity. An estimated 5 million children on on psychotropic drugs, prescribed and administered by the schools, some which have been linked to murder and suicide among some users. Rather than ask if schools need to change, I question whether anything about them can be redeemed. To be able to salvage something from the present school system would help with a smooth successful transition, but I have yet to find a feature from the present system that I want for my children.


Whew what a post - I can see your passion for the topic Craig. And I agree, education must change. But parents and the community must change as well.

The reason why education isn't working is that it is stuffed to the brim with stuff - not just the fundamentals. There is very little time to teach creativity and critical thinking when I also need to teach cyber safety, ethics, stranger danger, and resilience. You see the community and the governements see a topic that children need to know and assume that a teacher should teach it.

Take that out and then teachers will have time to dig deep and stretch students



Ok, I'm a little odd...........oh wait I'm sure you were talking about another Billy.............

I completely agree; I barely made it through high school after my parents divorced and I was left to figure it out on my own. When I happened to be in school there was some serious daydreaming going on. The traditional model is a snooze fest and most definitely one size does not fit all.

Fortunately, the Army gave me the opportunity to figure it out and I was able to complete a 4-yr degree the traditional way; but I truly feel working with a model that engages and excites kids to learn is the way to go. Changes need to be made to the traditional model; we are not preparing our kids for the 'real' world.

Sorry for the late drop-by; I had a day and a half of Chamber orientation, once again off the grid. Good to see you at Lisa and Gini's and great job on the post..............


Education is always quite the hot button issue Craig, nice to see you tackle it here. I've got F&F in education, smart teachers who struggle to make a difference within the constraints of the system. And I see how hard it is, how political and challenging it is to change what clearly is a broken system, esp. as I read stories of school districts spending $$ per child, but closer looks show how little of that really trickles down to the students.

I also look at the parents, happy to read comments from those like @John Falchetto who don't let their kids education stop with school. I ended up w/ a pretty solid education coming from public school systems in MS and LA. As a non-parent I still observe and shake my head at 'these kids today' and how much things have been dumbed down, homogenized, filtered. All for the sake of 'normal' and 'equal.' Then it's hearing complaints of too much work, too hard and again.. shake my head when I think back to the jobs, extra activities, chores I had back in school. IDK how or where things shifted, but agree the system doesn't always reward creativity. And FWIW that TED talk is one of my faves.


@justinthesouth NOTHING about "we do this because it helps them learn better/more." Higher standardized scores is priority #1 #NCLBFail


@justinthesouth Yup. @ oldest's Mid-school orientation the principal bragged about everything they've done that "boost std. test scores."


Yes. Since No Child Left Behind has been the standard, creativity has gone out the window for not only the student, but the teacher as well. Teachers are bound by state mandated curriculums - no deviation based on student interest or class personality. All to ensure that every child gets an equal education. Despite the millions of dollars spent, stats show that there's been so significant gains in closing the "achievement gap". In fact, that dial hasn't moved since the late 1970's. Public education has become another branch of social services.


I just wrote about this. http://www.tomacedonia.com/2011/10/24/school-vs-your-life/.

From an early age children arent afraid to be wrong. They do want they want and have fun.

School is educating people not to be wrong. If your not prepared to be wrong you’ll never come up with anything original.

Creativity is Originality's fraternal twin.


This is a subject that I'm really passionate about considering that I've learned more from the skool of life than any other school I've been to. Craig, one of the big issues I see with the education system is that it's a one sized fits all approach helping people reach their potential. "here's your degree, would like fries with that?" I consider myself a failed byproduct of the education system and always tell people the only thing my two degrees got me are these pieces of paper on the wall at my parents house and a bill that shows up every month.

That aside, there's a great movie called Accepted that you might enjoy. The premise is basically that some kid doesn't get into college so he makes up his own college and the whole thing spins out of control. But one of the interesting things that happens is that he ends up with all this tuition money and ends up appropriating people's money to whatever they are interested in studying in. I think we need to see an education institution take this kind of initiative. Sure we don't know what the results are going to be, but they're not that spectacular now, so why not shake it all up.

Lewis LaLanne aka Nerd #2
Lewis LaLanne aka Nerd #2

One of my favorite speeches I've ever heard on this topic of the education system being broke is titled "Valedictorian Speaks Out Against Schooling and you can see it here . . .


My brother is a brilliant guy. He graduated high school, college and grad school with no less than a 3.5 grade average all while doing close to zero studying. He was so good at knowing what the teachers wanted and knowing just what was gonna be covered on tests that I believe outside of MAYBE a few of his classes, for example, the History of Rock & Roll, he was never wide-eyed, soaking in knowledge for the sake of passion.

All of his effort was poured into gaming the system and learning just enough so that he could pass tests.

He got "certified" to teach and I sensed that the only reason he's moving in that direction is because that's what his degrees "supposedly" give him the best shot at earning a living in the world. I feel like he dreads the idea of doing that work (never talked to him about it) and that he feels forced into a corner by the sheepskin handed to him by the business guys running the universities. Can't very well abandon a profession you aren't passionate about after tens of thousands of dollars has been dumped into your becoming "Qualified" to pursue it, just because you aren't juiced about it, can you?

Well, guess what? He did. In this economy his masters degree is working against him. He's discovered that schools are leaning towards hiring people with no grad school experience because they can pay them less.

One thing I don't think schools taught him though was the importance of and how to be a value adding networking beast who builds friendship and alliances that allow you to get the breaks. Schools don't teach a lot of stuff like this that is so important to be equipped with in the real world.

Craig McBreen
Craig McBreen

@rachaelseda Hi Rachael, Well, I can relate ;) Testing is everything, unfortunately, and it does seem like art programs are often the very first to go when funding is tight. I'm glad you liked the post, Rachael, thanks for commenting.

Craig McBreen
Craig McBreen

@yokkaichi1 The widespread medication of children is certainly not the answer, yet so many so many are quick to medicate. Young minds dulled when they should be exploring and learning.

Craig McBreen
Craig McBreen

@Ameena Falchetto

Hi Ameena,

Thanks! Appreciate the kind words. I sucked at school too. I was not in detention as much as you ;) but bored out of my mind. I'm glad you were inspired. The fact that this message resonates with so many shows you how much this change is needed. It also amazes me how many are aware of Ken Robinson and his message. Thanks!


@craigmcbreen you speak to known problems, I also affirm to that in my #community and my #digital #inhabitat.

Craig McBreen
Craig McBreen



Thank you for the comments. Very good points you've made here. "stuffed to the brim with stuff," indeed! I just think that so many kids are pushed through the system and don't get anything out of it. If your personality, traits, skills don't line up with the system, you either just get by, don't, or learn how to game the system. And the "stuff" you've mentioned just makes it that much harder on the teachers.

Craig McBreen
Craig McBreen


Hi Bill,

Ha ha, that's a good one, Bill, I mean Billy ;)

I drifted through school daydreaming, but somehow made it, bored to tears. Didn't realize you were left to figure it out on your own, but sounds like the Army straightened you out, an entirely different type of four-year degree.

Maybe one day, we'll have that engaging and exciting model that truly prepares kids for the real world.

Thanks for stopping by, my friend. Appreciate the comments. Day and a half of Chamber orientation sounds like fun ;) I might be emceeing a chamber event here, which will be kind of cool.

Thanks! Lisa and Gini are great hosts.

Craig McBreen
Craig McBreen


Hi Davina,

Good to see you back in town!

This is indeed a hot button issue. I do think a lot of super talented teachers leave because of the constraints. Many stay and try to make a difference, but it's an up hill battle in most cases.

I wrote this because I felt, way back when, that I didn't fit into this complex and things haven't changed much since I was a kid. There are many exceptions of course, but. Things have been homogenized and filtered, and we need to focus more on creativity, in all areas.

Yes, that is not only my favorite TED talk, but one of my favorite speeches, period.


Craig McBreen
Craig McBreen

@LeslieW.Brazil Hi Leslie, Agree with you there. Current reform movements, like No Child Left Behind, do emphasize testing over learning ... leaving out the creativity and passion of teachers.

There are plenty of exceptions of course, as Katie has mentioned below, and as I have regarding our great public school district.


@LeslieW.Brazil In Illinois at least, there is no state mandated curriculum. Some school districts mandate a curriculum, but even then there are opportunities for teachers to customize it to the needs of their students - and teachers are encouraged to do so. As a college professor, I am tasked with preparing future educators, and thus have the opportunity to "glimpse" into many different schools in a variety of settings. In most cases, a mandated curriculum simply means that a committee of teachers has made recommendations about how resources should be used efficiently across classrooms and grade levels (i.e. they purchase class sets of materials and textbooks that are used by all teachers at a grade level). Teachers still have the leeway to make the curriculum their own, and most have the training and passion for their work necessary to do so. Differentiation, or making the curriculum appropriate to each individual student, is a skill that teachers learn during undergraduate studies, and are expected to utilize once they are in the classroom. Teachers differentiate based on student interest and class personality, as well as the learning needs of their students.

Craig McBreen
Craig McBreen

@skooloflife Hi Srini, Yes, I definitely know about the skool of life. As you know, I'm very fond of your podcast. And as you said, I've probably listened to more of them than you :)

"Here's your degree, would like fries with that?" Ha ha, can I trademark that?:)

I'm a failed byproduct just like you. As I mentioned to Lewis below, college is a different matter, BUT, if the educational system was setup in a different way, I don't think there would be quite as many kids entering college just for the sake of entering college, and then getting so many close-to-worthless degrees.

I'll have to check out "Accepted." Man, I now have enough material to keep my busy for a while. Plenty of great suggestions. All for shaking it all up. Thanks!



Your statement is unfair and as unbalanced as the accusation you make. I am not a full time teacher now but there was a time when I taught and I spent decades working with children in positions that are part of the education system.

Not every school or teacher is bad but there are quite a few who are mailing it in and using techniques that cater to the lowest common denominator. I am not the only one saying this- my friends who are teachers are saying it. My friends who are teachers have told me that they would do whatever they could to avoid certain schools. Many of those are located in middle class neighborhoods.

There is a big problem and we don't do any favors by pretending otherwise.

Craig McBreen
Craig McBreen

@Lewis LaLanne aka Nerd #2 Hi Lewis, Not aware of this, but will check it out.

Interesting story about your brother. I think there are so many people like him that know how the system works and get through like he did ... as you said, gaming the system. I like what you said about him, "… he was never wide-eyed, soaking in knowledge for the sake of passion." I think that describes a huge percentage of kids.

This story about college is an entirely different matter I think. But, if the school system was setup differently I don't think there would be so many people entering college just for the sake of entering college. I think people with two year technical degrees are doing much better than the average four-year college graduate right now.

I do know someone with a masters degree who went into an entirely different line of work. All that education. All that money. Yikes.

The interpersonal skills you mentioned are very important and they should be taught at a young age. Our public elementary school does this kind of thing. Kids have to prepare presentations, give speeches, and the kids talk afterward. Pretty cool really, but the exception, not the norm.

Thanks, Lewis

Craig McBreen
Craig McBreen


Hi Katie,

Thanks for the detailed comments here. There are definitely exceptions out there and thanks for explaining the situation in Illinois. But there are many states and districts where teachers don't really have this choice, as Leslie mentioned, with teachers bound by state mandated curriculums.

You've made some great points in your comments and I really appreciate that, I just hope you don't think this post is anti-teacher, because it's anything but that.


  1. […] educational system needs to change. by teaching kids in a brand-new way; embracing uniqueness, fostering inventiveness and bringing […]

  2. […] asked. For a guy just starting out, he has interviewed Gini Dietrich, been a guest contributor on Spin Sucks, and admitted to being A Chubby Kid With No Social Game. Craig is doing all the right things. He […]

  3. […] might know I’m not a fan of the school system. To me, school was like a penitentiary. And this little prison system does a […]

  4. […] about your school days: Do what teacher says, pay attention and don’t move from your damn […]

  5. […] you can circle back to the post my friend Craig wrote about Schools and Creativity and ask/answer the same questions that we are addressing here. Others are talking about this too, […]

  6. […] mentality pervades our culture, but it needs to change, in business in school and in individuals trying to succeed in a challenging and ever-changing economic […]

  7. […] Are Schools Killing Creativity? originally appeared on Spin Sucks on October 27, 2011. […]