Stephanie Dowrick praises creativity

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Perhaps the greatest gift that we have as a human family is imagination and, with that, our creativity and capacity for thought, expression, language (all the languages of body, vision, touch, as well as speech and silence, and also the languages of the land, oceans, air). Yes, imagination in its most familiar sense can be used for ill – but oh, how wonderfully and variously it can also be used to enhance life and to understand it. The motto at my son’s Steiner school (Glenaeon) was “Education for Life”. And so education should be: for life and throughout life – the Latin word is educare…to bring forward. Creativity is bringing us forward from the first to last.

Imagination, creativity, originality of thought and response, awe, expressiveness: these are gifts we all have.  But how they develop in an individual life depends so much on our circumstances. Interestingly enough, it is not just “privilege” that plays a part here. In some poorer countries there is a great deal of emphasis on simple beauty, in part as an essential spiritual practice and as an expression of self-respect and care for others. Though, of course, having the leisure to think, choose, act is a profound privilege that we should never take lightly.

I have been deploring long and often how conventional and confining everyday education is in Australia. So much emphasis on narrow “testing”, so little investment or passion for the excitement of learning, for developing awe and wonder, deep and connecting knowledge of the natural world, and of learning cooperatively rather than competitively.

Where is the daily excitement in our schools about original thinking, problem solving, working with your hands and body, for music, drama, art integrated into all other and otherwise “learning areas”? It increasingly seems that it is the conformist qualities that are most highly praised, and the “rote”, the predictable, that is most amply rewarded.

But these constrictions are not confined to schools only. How could they be? Schools simply reflect the priorities of our culture. Parents will spend a small fortune when they can on education for their children, yet neglect their own daily reading, their own pursuit of art, poetry, philosophy; their own expanding knowledge of the natural world; their own vital search for meaning. It is not enough to think; we must also consider what we think – and talk and read – about. Where is it taking us? It is expanding our horizons or contracting them?

Learning by example, our children would all benefit from a conversationally and culturally rich environment – where teachers, family, neighbours are eager to share ideas, debate them, read up more, think more – and not confine “conversation” to what lulls or is entirely predictable. We would pray together more and discuss far more. We would sing together more, take nature walks, create large and small gardens, look up at the sky, know the night sky, write stories together and in our journals separately, read aloud to one another, make plays, play… Oh, and so much more. This is also what feeds our relationships.

Close relationships of all kinds depend for their good health on genuine exchanges; on heartfelt, mindful conversations – at least some of the time. Where conversation is entirely predictable, or is just about organising daily life, relationships suffer badly. Exchanging information or gossip isn’t enough. It is not creative, fresh or uplifting. We need more. So HOW we talk about life and what we are discovering and learning at any age is almost as important as content is. Let’s bring in some depth, some daring, lots of close attentive listening. Let’s get children away from the absurd right/wrong thinking to explore ideas, to understand where ideas come from, what it means to listen carefully even when you disagree, to open your mind to new information and to learn also from the rich tapestry of your own lived experiences as well – through novels, plays, movies and conversation – from the experiences of others who might be quite unlike yourself.

Apologies please to all the great and wonderful exceptions to my complaints about education and what it’s doing to our children. Apologies especially to all those truly special teachers, parents and children who are doing their very best to circumvent a system that costs them a great deal. But we do need to speak up! More than that: we need to honour our own imaginative resources, our dreaming, our creativity and originality – especially in a world where mean-spiritedness seems to be the new “norm”. No, we must defy that!  Life is too precious for that.

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Why do things the same way, because you always have?

Why not step out of your comfort zone of stale assumptions?

Why not try something new – where you are totally INexpert?

Why not stretch inwardly? 

Why not see the world through beginner’s eyes, ask more questions, take more interest, be MORE AVAILABLE to life?

Where can you add beauty, interest, energy, vividness to your daily tasks, your precious daily existence?

How can your relationships be livelier, deeper, richer, more playful and much fresher? (And also more bravely serious when that is needed?)

For life to be lived fully, we must participate and question, throw ourselves into learning that enhances life and does not reduce it – whatever our age. We must embrace expressiveness and interest in others within our relationships, as well as the expressive arts – whatever our age. We must sing often, dance, laugh, encourage one another rather than ceaselessly competing – whatever our age. Take it for granted that in a rich, encouraging, respectful and structured environment, all children will learn what they need to and far more. Finland testifies to that; so do Steiner schools worldwide. I am not for one moment suggesting that educators should turn away from the necessary “basics” – but how they are taught, with what passion and, again, imagination, makes all the difference in the world. Where is our “body of knowledge” held? What can “the body”, “the natural world” also teach us? And how are we expressing that – and also receiving it?

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Most of us cannot do much about the formal education system (though that should not prevent us from speaking up). What we can do, though, is live life and consider life with fresh and increasing appreciation. In this, creativity (in its biggest sense), imagination and a big dash of boldness and courage are our great friends.

“Creative work” is not just what we apply to a page or easel. Much, much more than that, it is how we think, imagine, interact, look, stare, regroup, re-think, solve, write in our journals, talk some more, listen, listen, enquire, love, treasure, laugh, cry, group and re-group. It is creativity that drives us as dynamic beings, that lifts our spirits, that “makes the world anew”. It is my gift, it is yours, it is ours. Very happy for you to share thoughts on my public Facebook page. Encouraging one another is also part of the creativity, “original, fresh thinking” story. In fact, it is central to it. May we lead each other forward – with joy.

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