On happiness, creativity, and “giving childhood back to children”

“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” -John Lennon

What do you remember most about your childhood?

Here are some things that immediately come to mind for me: Digging through our basement “costume closet” (which consisted mostly of old scraps of cloth) and putting on “plays” with my sister and neighbors. Beanie Baby Olympics – that is, sending our little friends ziplining down the staircase in a basket. Sharing a journal with my best friend in which we wrote about our lives as famous ice skaters. (Also, “Wishbone”.)

As a kid I made a lot of attempts at being artistic. Some were mildly successful, some not, but I do suspect that I offered my relatives plenty of entertainment. What all these memories have in common, though, is creativity and play.

“All children are born artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” -Pablo Picasso

Back in 2007, Sir Ken Robinson did a TED Talk in Monterey, California on this topic: “Do schools kill creativity?” We’ve embedded his video below, because as the years pass and as education changes, Robinson’s words merit even more consideration.

Robinson points out (through humorous anecdotes) that children are unafraid of making mistakes; they give everything a go. Now we’re running an education system in which mistakes are the worst thing you can make. But that goes against the laws of creativity, and perhaps those of childhood, too. Consider this quote from an Urban Gateways 7th grade student at Greeley Elementary in Lakeview: “Art isn’t perfect and that’s why it’s so beautiful.”

As Robinson says, there isn’t an education system on the planet that teaches dance every day just as they teach mathematics every day. And why not? Because as children grow and progress through our education system, we focus more and more on one side of their brains. “You’d have to conclude that the point of public education around the world is to create university professors,” he says. The problem is, we don’t just need university professors.

Public education began in the nineteenth century to meet the specific needs of an industrialized society, and as a consequence, many brilliant kids think they’re not – often those whose thinking is less industrial, those who don’t draw inside the lines.

“We need to radically rethink our view of intelligence,” Robinson says. He tells the story of Gillian Lynne, choreographer of “Cats” and “Phantom of the Opera”, former professional ballerina, who was hopeless at school: Teachers thought she had a learning disorder because she was fidgety. Robinson describes how she ultimately recognized her talent for dance, and it’s a beautiful and moving story. Watch this video – the 20 minutes are worth their weight in gold:

For humanity to flourish (arguably even to survive), we need to hone our creative capacity and we need to celebrate children for the hope that they offer through creativity.

Also check out a TED Talk from 13-year-old Logan about how HE thinks we should redefine education: As the road to happiness. As he puts it, “We don’t seem to make learning how to be happy and healthy a priority in our schools. It’s separate from schools, and for some kids, it doesn’t exist at all. But what if we didn’t make it separate?” What if we cater education towards making a life, rather than a living? Creativity is the key.


(Our thanks to social-consciousness.com for the great content!)

“Most problems in life cannot be solved with formulae or memorized answers of the type learnt in school. They require the judgement, wisdom and creative ability that come from life experiences. For children, those experiences are embedded in play.” -Dr. Peter Gray, Professor of Psychology at Boston College

Now here’s something brand new – an article by Dr. Peter Gray about creativity in children and education, and how desperately we need to “give childhood back to children.” He is writing in response to the UK’s plan to make school days longer and holidays shorter in order to raise test scores.


So where do we go from here? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.