Through The Static

August 12, 2008

INTELLIGENCE! What Is It? Being Educated Out of Our Creativity

‘pologies for lack of witty title.  bobblebot is slogging away at ze moment.


Here’s a segment from the Ted conference they hold every year in Monterey, California.  Sir Ken Robinson (yeh, yeh, SIR!) is charming and funny in that witty, British-but-not-pretentious sort of way and talks about a lot of key issues that so many of us with a bachelors degree find post-undergrad.  He goes off on a lot of tangents but entertainingly so.

Okie dokes — I found his little CATS choreographer chestnut at the end a little too lofty and idealistic.  That isn’t always the case, her life story is the EXCEPTION and not the rule.

BUT he does bring up interesting points:

* intelligence is diverse, dynamic and interactive
* creativity comes through the interaction between multiple intelligences
* we need a new concept for an educational system.  our brains are mined for very specific kinds of intelligences while others are devalued, ironic, since even technological innovation is bread by imagination and creativity.

BobbLebot’s gonna get a little personal here, but when ze robot looks back upon the 2 years it spent in education, there was something about the job that kept it there: it was dynamic, interactive, emotionally engaging and it felt like it was helping people.  Helping students.

But not in the ways in which its helping was valued.

Emotionally abused, isolated, bullied and undervalued kids often hung around the robot’s purple table.  The bobblebot learned something: even privileged kids have problems! In any case, it took a lot of work, a lot of trust and a lot of patience, but what kept the BobbLebot there was the sense that it was helping these kids gain some kind of sense of value for being different, odd or living inside their own BRAINS.  BRAINS!!!

The thing that killed the robot’s spirit was the shift.  Beyond giving tykes the skills to read and write and basic math, the bot was sometimes pressured to help them with their homework or help train them for standardized testing.  And all of this was just so incredibly USELESS!

Basically, if a student can’t pass a standardized test, he or she can’t move onto the next grade — which is a problem in and of itself because the new grade is increasingly geared toward training them for more standardized testing.  TRAINING.  Not educating.  Making sure they MEMORIZE, not learn to think for themselves.  They’re being trained to learn not to think at all.

What was the bot being paid to teach them?  To learn the skills so that they’ll succeed in an educational system that teaches them that if they don’t learn a certain skill set, if they can’t find the answer in an allotted amount of time, if they need more than a single scratch piece of paper or get confused when filling in bubbles, they’re essentially worthless.  They’re gearing them to learn (mostly) arbitrary skills or sets of knowledge (beyond reading, comprehension and basic math) that aren’t really applicable in undergrad anyway.

They’re pressing families to invest money in SAT prep and educational centers for their kids who fall behind, because if they fall behind they can’t get into this private school or get into that AP class to get into this kind of university — AUUUGH!  RAT RACE!  RAT RACE!!

Their brains ARE being mined in a very specific way that is quite disturbing.  This isn’t to say that math sucks (though for the bot, numbers and figures don’t naturally mix – BLIP!) or that physics is without value, but they certainly are overvalued, especially for the many who really don’t have an interest or aptitude for them.  They are being conditioned to desire or work for these fields in ways that destroy creativity.  It’s all for pushing towards economic productivity.

It’s not even about technological innovation, the way education is framed.  It’s about thinking in a very linear fashion.  It’s about plugging in very specific formulas and equations — on a metaphoric as well as literal level.  When we’re taught Shakespeare (BLEH!  not to bash the bard, but MUST he be the standard of ALL Western literary achievement?) we’re taught to read his work in a very specific way, to perform it in a very specific way, to write essays on it in a very specific fashion.  You see, even in highschool English lit, there IS a right and wrong answer, apparently.  Or a right and wrong way to answer.  Fill in the blank.  Agree or disagree.  Thesis statement.  Support.  Quote.  “Analysis” — which isn’t real analysis anyway, but more of a translation of what you think the author’s already saying.

And it’s not even about educational reform anymore. Fixing leaks in an oxymoronic system will not fix the problem.  More teachers is not the answer.  More money is not the answer.  It’s the MATERIALS.  It’s about what is VALUED in an academic sense.  It’s about creative thinking and creative teaching.  But people keep telling us that there aren’t the resources for that.  (resources = funds in their brains)


When has creativity ever needed dollars and cents?  Creative things CAN be MADE with materials that are PURCHASED with money, but money is not creativity.  Just like scoring high on a standardized test is not a sign of real intelligence.

The thing is, if the standards of standardized testing (bubbling in, memorization, sitting still, time management) become the authority for entry into higher education (which is getting increasingly static in what’s become standardized academic material – film studies, creative writing, etc) then what are the chances that the brilliant minds will be allowed to burn as bright as stars when these very minds are being mined for rote facts, compliance and mediocrity?

QUESTION: do you think THIS dude would have survived the very academic environment in which we are currently situated???

He’s brilliant, he’s excited, he can’t think while sitting still — can you IMAGINE being in class with this dude?  Most of all – beyond the performance, beyond the eccentricities, he’s HUMAN.  We’re not training humans in our schools.  We’re not training robots.  (robots are COOL!)  We’re training machines.

We need a NEW paradigm.  This sh*t has gone too far.



  1. I don’t think the powers that be have much interest in encouraging people to be creative. How can a society like ours function if the people were all creative, critical thinkers? Uncritical conformity is necessary, and so that’s what you get with the education system.

    I place little value in institutional education, in the sense that I don’t consider people who have a degree to be necessarily intelligent. The fact is that any average (and even below average) person who has the means and the desire can succeed academically. And what does it mean to succeed academically? That you can jump through some hoops? Good for you. I’m not impressed. What I find sad is that many people with fancy degrees walk around feeling superior, while those who don’t do go far in the education system often think that there’s something wrong with them.

    Comment by disciplepete — August 12, 2008 @ 2:02 pm | Reply

  2. “How can a society like ours function if the people were all creative, critical thinkers?” — how do we know that it can’t?

    As for the powers that be, yes, they hold power, but I suppose that’s my point. It’s not all as top-down as we think it is. It’s only when we believe it to be that we get these kinds of issues. When we believe they are in total control, we actively GIVE them total control.

    The thing is, society, any society, was built and molded by creative minds. (It doesn’t always work out to be a great thing, but there ya go.)

    On another point – conformity is a given. Some people naturally conform. Good for them. BAHHHH… BAHHHHH, I say! It’s a comfort thing.

    The thing that concerns me, however, is that students – actually citizens, on a larger scale – are being FORCED to conform. They are being stripped of their creative potential. We’re creating products, not people.

    Not to say that they are complete victims. I don’t believe in supporting victim mentality. But I am very critical of a system that makes it near impossible for any kind of creative mind to break through. Conformity is a given for large quantities of people… so why must it be mandated?

    “What I find sad is that many people with fancy degrees walk around feeling superior, while those who don’t do go far in the education system often think that there’s something wrong with them.” — exactamente <– dunno if that’s a real word

    the people who don’t get far. what happens to them? and what will happen to us as a whole after what happens to them?

    education – as frakked up as it always was – wasn’t always corporatized like this. that’s why we need to look beyond reform and beyond answering to the standards put in place by the powers that be. the thing is, when we stop answering to them, they lose their powers. refocusing our attention towards building new paradigms is a productive way towards changing these things to breed more creative thinking.

    Comment by bobbleheadedbob — August 12, 2008 @ 2:17 pm | Reply

  3. what do you think a better education system would be like? what’s something that could be implemented to change things for the better?

    It sucks that things that do encourage creativity in school…like music programs…are typically the first victims of budget cuts. That shows you how much creativity is valued.

    “Conformity is a given for large quantities of people… so why must it be mandated?”

    It’s true that conformity is a given generally, but so is curiosity, and asking too many questions can be dangerous to the status quo…so from the point of view of those running the system, it’s in their interest to stifle curiosity and critical thinking as much as possible.

    I’m pretty cynical about things changing anytime soon as far as education goes, if u can’t tell. =) One of my fav. books which I recommend to anyone interested in history or k-12 education is called “Lies My Teacher Told Me”, it’s by this historian who reviews high school textbook versions of American history. It’s funny/sad cuz the conclusion that becomes apparent is that the better a kid does in high school history classes, the more AP classes that student takes, the worse their understanding becomes of American history…college history profs actually find themselves having to make students unlearn a lot of mistaken ideas.

    And it’s cuz history in high school is taught as a bunch of names and dates, with all conflicts and debates settled, when in reality, the field of history is rife with controversy and debate, and it’s actually big questions that are important, not trivia like names and dates. It’s no wonder that kids leave high school generally thinking history is the most boring subject.

    Anyway, the book really makes u think about education…

    Comment by disciplepete — August 12, 2008 @ 2:41 pm | Reply

  4. Great post, it was very informative. I think its a must read.

    Comment by Mathew James — August 13, 2008 @ 9:23 am | Reply

  5. ze bobblebot thinks that a link to a hack-site that is essentially peddling the ANTITHESIS of this posting is tres amusing.

    “great post…very informative” and “a must read” – from a dude who is trying to sell TEXTBOOKs ESSAYS!!! omgz, this just proves my point further. that is, if the bot had one to begin with.

    As for you, disciple Pete – the next step isn’t to say, “Well, how are YOU gonna solve it?” Everyone plays a role. To ask these questions and engage in a critique – that’s my role. Brainstorming new ways to make these new paradigms a reality belongs to someone who has a deeply entrenched investment in this issue.

    One day the bot would like to own a confectionary shop that sells cheap, delicious whimsical treats, like red bean stuffed mandu or key lime tarts that are dipped in dark chocolate and rolled around in toasted coconut. A whimsical dream that can become a reality.

    But must I be the one to come up with the architectural blue print, business plan, design the equipment, set the hours, make the confections, handle the cash register, wipe down the counters and clean up in order for it to become a reality?

    Most plans come into fruition stem from single ideas that get teased out and added onto by a multitude of like minded thinkers and planners.

    So to answer your question — no, I don’t have an immediate plan except the dismantling of the current system and building up a new paradigm in which interdisciplinary studies and creative thinking is valued and fostered. And when enough people are on board with this idea and add to it, I know that it can become a reality.

    Comment by bobbleheadedbob — August 13, 2008 @ 9:52 am | Reply


    Comment by bobbleheadedbob — August 13, 2008 @ 9:53 am | Reply

  7. Yeah, I wasn’t demanding that you come up with a plan…just seeing if by any chance you had any ideas. I agree with you, you can critique something without having the blueprint for a better solution.

    I agree with you overall…I am just pessimistic about the whole thing…I’m glad there are robots like you who do recognize the problem tho. =)

    Mandu? I’ve never even heard of that! I’m so out of the food loop. Although I do know a guy named Mando.

    Comment by disciplepete — August 13, 2008 @ 12:19 pm | Reply

  8. I want soe NY pizza right now…I had the greatest greasy slice yesterday

    Comment by disciplepete — August 13, 2008 @ 12:20 pm | Reply

  9. i want clifford stoll to be mah professor. he’s TOO COOL!!!

    as for NYC pizza — ah, u cans HAVES it! sure it’s good, but me thinks it’s been overly romanticized. but den agains, bennigans, too much pizza makes ze bobbLebot feels DEATH.

    Comment by bobbleheadedbob — August 13, 2008 @ 12:51 pm | Reply

  10. clifford stoll…haha, dang that’s a performance. I don’t think I’d want him as my prof first thing in the morning tho, I don’t like the whole in-your-face thing when I’m tired…I’ll take a noon/evening class with him tho

    Comment by disciplepete — August 13, 2008 @ 1:09 pm | Reply

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