This book is aimed at anyone with an interest in education and what it should look like in the 21st century. In particular, it calls on leaders of all organisations, including schools and universities, to engage everyone in the creative life of their organisation, in order to build a culture of imagination, creativity and innovation, where there are no stupid questions and where everyone can discover and develop their own natural intelligence. Robinson very consciously focuses on creativity across all disciplines and activities, on the need for collaboration beyond the boundaries of individual subjects.
In 1998, Robinson led a national commission on creativity, education and the economy. All our futures: creativity, culture and education, published in 1999, was a rallying cry for educationalists to consider the place of creativity in the school curriculum and its importance in the economic and cultural life of the country. To his dismay, All our futures was persistently referred to by politicians as 'the arts report' and it could be argued that this led to it being marginalised and the important changes he was urging ten years ago still needing to be effected. The first edition of Out of our minds followed two years later, picking up on these same themes, as did Robinson's Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) conference talks in 2006 and 2010. Robinson has revisited this book ten years on, in the light of huge changes in the world happening at an ever-increasing pace - in technology, the economy, the environment and culture - changes that he still does not see being reflected in the world of education.
This book argues that in a world of rapid change and multiple challenges, the ability to think creatively, to imagine different possibilities, generate ideas, make judgements, be prepared to fail and try again, are among our best resources. However, we are squandering these resources because young people at present leave education with no idea at all of their own creative abilities. It goes further and says that education systems stifle children's innate creative confidence; that we educate creativity out of them. It suggests that our current education system is built on two pillars, dating back to the Industrial Revolution and the Enlightenment. The first is economic, supplying the labour needs of an industrial economy based on engineering, manufacturing and related trades. This has led to an educational hierarchy of subjects seen as useful/not useful, from the sciences and maths at the top of the heap to the arts at the bottom, with consequent levels of funding, timetabling allocation and teacher status. The second is intellectual, encompassing an idea of academic ability being synonymous with intelligence and that this is traditionally measured through forms of testing.
Robinson says that to be fit for purpose in the future, we need to rethink some of our basic ideas about education, intelligence and ourselves. He sees education as developing individual talents and sensibilities; deepening our understanding of the world; and providing the skills required to earn a living and be economically productive. These three roles should be promoted equally and in relation to each other. We are urged to take account of the findings of authors like Howard Gardner, that intelligence is multifaceted, rich, complex and highly diverse. The book suggests that lip service is being paid to this work in schools and in teacher training but that in reality the old hierarchies, under political pressure for school improvement and higher standards of academic achievement, are still very much in place.
This is a very readable book, often humorous, but with a powerful sense of crusade, a cri de cœur for change in the way we educate our young people. Its message is not new (successive governments regularly trot out the word 'creativity'), but the fact that it still needs repeating after ten years suggests that change is very slow in coming and that the will to help our children find what excites them and motivates them, giving them the skills to control their chosen medium and be 'in their element', can be swallowed up in the desire to maintain status on a league table or an Ofsted scale. Employers say they want young people who can think creatively, who can innovate, who can communicate well, work in teams and be adaptable and self-confident. The need is for schools to cultivate a broad curriculum, offering breadth and depth, a flexible range of teaching styles - traditional and progressive - and a real sense of making the learning personal to each student.
I would recommend this book particularly to those at the beginning of their teaching career, to inspire them to cultivate creative relationships with their students, between disciplines and between school and the wider community: 'The price of failure is more than we can afford, while the benefits of success are more than we can imagine.'
Sheila Morrissey, University of East London
Review by (Sheila Morrissey) (2011) 'Out of our minds: learning to be creative' Research in Teacher Education, Vol 1 (No.2), 32–35.