Nicky Morgan is the latest politician to misunderstand the value of creativity. Photo: Getty
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Creativity is the key to education, so why aren't we pursuing it?

With an innovation problem in the UK’s economy, many children being disengaged with education and a desire for user-led services, now is the time to aggressively support creativity in schools. 

Last week, the Education Secretary made a speech at the launch of an education campaign that wants to promote the subjects of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). In her speech, Nicky Morgan said that the choice by pupils to study traditionally creative subjects, the humanities and arts, would in fact restrict their career choices. Morgan’s comments come as the latest in a long line of political misunderstanding about the value and significance of creativity.

Creativity in schools isn’t just restricted to the teaching of "creative" subjects; art, English etc. In fact even that definition of what subjects are creative is a misstatement of what creativity can mean. Sir Ken Robinson, the go to man on issues of creativity in schools, has previously written about an interview he did with Hans Zimmer, the Oscar winning composer. Apparently Zimmer was a disruptive child at school; he was thrown out of eight of them. When he got to the ninth, the head teacher took him to one side and spoke to him, trying to figure out how to get Zimmer involved in education. Zimmer said he liked music and so the head teacher organised for him to study music, which went onto improve his performance and engagement across all subjects and led to his successful career.

The creativity we see in this example isn’t only the music that the music that Hans Zimmer played, but also the teaching method. The head teacher was creative in their teaching methods, something which is sadly becoming more and more difficult in a heavily regulated teaching environment. It’s the strange paradox of the coalition’s education that they pursue a top-down approach whilst also crying ‘autonomy’ while they let groups set up free schools.

One current political trend is for localism; bottom-up politics. We can see it in the push for greater devolution (particularly amongst proponents of a constitutional convention) and in the movement for patient-led services. Creativity can provide this trend with a home in education; teachers who are able to determine their own teaching methods in response to what children want and need. School is a notoriously divisive experience for people, with many disengaging entirely with it. Surely if the way in which they were taught was responsive  and creative, students will respond better to education.

This idea touches upon one of the core tenets of creativity; self-determination. Creativity gives a voice to a person’s thoughts, whether it be in writing a song or developing some new software for internal company use. It also, despite prejudices suggesting otherwise, contributes to the economy. A recent experiment saw that science students outperformed arts students on a creative writing task. You might think this backs up Nicky Morgan’s point, when in fact it does the complete opposite because the experiment showed the value of creative thought of scientists in their workplace. The creativity and innovation of these scientists push forward the organisations they work for, instilling the atmosphere of a startup company, the small businesses of which the coalition government is so proud.

The perspective that Nicky Morgan has on the humanities and arts (and by the way shouldn’t she be doing something about employment prospects?) is representative of a wider problem that government has with creativity. Nicky Morgan’s predecessor Michael Gove was fond of saying that creativity could only come off the back of formal education in topics like grammar and David Cameron has expressed his preference for a UK film industry that produces more blockbusters like Harry Potter and less independent films. These men have shown that the coalition doesn’t get creativity, it isn’t just about producing Hollywood blockbuster’s or forcing children to write grammatically correct haikus; it’s about expression, innovation and self-determination. If the government can’t see the economic, political and societal benefits to a creative education, then perhaps they need to think a bit more creatively.  

Dan Holden is deputy editor of Shifting Grounds

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It's easy to see where Berlin is being rebuilt – just hit the streets

My week, from walking the streets of Berlin to class snobbery and the right kind of gentrification.

Brick by brick, block by block, the people are rebuilding the city once called Faust’s Metropolis. To see it clearly, put your boots on. One of the most bracing walks starts by the Gethsemane Church, which served as a haven for dissenters in the last days of the GDR and takes you down ­towards the Hackescher Markt.

Here, in what is still the eastern half of a divided city that wears its division more lightly, is a Berlin experience both old and new. In three decades of frequent visits, it has been fascinating to note how much this part of town has changed. Even a decade ago these streets were rundown. With crumbling buildings showing bulletholes, it wasn’t hard to imagine what the place looked like in 1945. Now there are lilacs, blues, and yellows. Cafés, bars and restaurants abound, serving the young professionals attracted to the city by cheap rents and a renewed sense of community.

 

Breaking the fourth wall

Looking north along Schliemannstraße, you’ll find a delightful vista of well-tended balconies. It’s a pleasant place to live, notwithstanding the gaggle of grotesques who gather round the corner in the square. On Kastanienallee, which forms the second leg of the walk, an old city feels young. It’s a kind of gentrification but the right kind. There’s more to eat, to drink, to buy, for all.

Berlin, where Bertolt Brecht staged his unwatchable plays, was supposed to have been transformed by a proletarian revolution. Instead, it has been restored to health by a very middle-class one. Germany has always had a well-educated middle class, and the nation’s restoration would have impossible without such people. The irony is delicious – not that irony buttered many parsnips for “dirty Bertie”.

 

The new snobbery

The British Museum’s survey of German history “Memories of a Nation” is being presented at the Martin-Gropius-Bau as “The British View”. Germans, natürlich, are curious to see how we observe them. But how do they see us?

A German friend recently in England  said that the images that struck him most forcibly were the tins of food and cheap booze people piled up in supermarkets, and the number of teenage girls pushing prams. Perhaps Neil MacGregor, the former director of the British Museum who will shortly take up a similar role here at the new Humboldt Forum, may turn his attention to a “German View” of the United Kingdom.

There’s no shortage of material. In Schlawinchen, a bar that typifies Kreuzberg’s hobohemia, a college-educated English girl was trying to explain northern England to an American she had just met. Speaking in an ugly modern Mancunian voice that can only be acquired through years of practice (sugar pronounced as “sug-oar”), she refer­red to Durham and York as “middle class, you know, posh”, because those cities had magnificent cathedrals.

When it comes to inverted snobbery, no nation can match us. To be middle class in Germany is an indication of civic value. In modern England, it can mark you as a leper.

 

Culture vultures

The Humboldt Forum, taking shape by the banks of the Spree, reconsecrates the former site of the GDR’s Palace of the Republic. When it opens in 2018 it will be a “living exhibition”, dedicated to all the cultures of the world. Alexander von Humboldt, the naturalist and explorer, was the brother of Wilhelm, the diplomat and philosopher, whose name lives on in the nearby university.

In Potsdamerplatz there are plans to build a modern art museum, crammed in between the Neue Nationalgalerie and the Philharmonie, home to the Berlin Philharmonic. Meanwhile, the overhaul of the Deutsche Staatsoper, where Daniel Barenboim is music director for life, is likely to be completed, fingers crossed, next autumn.

Culture everywhere! Or perhaps that should be Kultur, which has a slightly different meaning in Germany. They take these things more seriously, and there is no hint of bogus populism. In London, plans for a new concert hall have been shelved. Sir Peter Hall’s words remain true: “England is a philistine country that loves the arts.”

 

European neighbours

When Germans speak of freedom, wrote A J P Taylor, a historian who seems to have fallen from favour, they mean the freedom to be German. No longer. When modern Germans speak of freedom, they observe it through the filter of the European Union.

But nation states are shaped by different forces. “We are educated to be obedient,” a Berlin friend who spent a year at an English school once told me. “You are educated to be independent.” To turn around Taylor’s dictum: when the English speak of freedom,
they mean the freedom to be English.

No matter what you may have heard, the Germans have always admired our independence of spirit. We shall, however, always see “Europe” in different ways. Europe, good: we can all agree on that. The European Union, not so good. It doesn’t mean we have to fall out, and the Germans are good friends to have.

 

Hook, line and sinker

There are fine walks to be had in the west, too. In Charlottenburg, the Kensington of Berlin, the mood is gentler, yet you can still feel the city humming. Here, there are some classic places to eat and drink – the Literaturhauscafé for breakfast and, for dinner, Marjellchen, a treasure trove of east Prussian forest delights. Anything that can be shot and put in a pot!

For a real Berlin experience, though, head at nightfall for Zwiebelfisch, the great tavern on Savignyplatz, and watch the trains glide by on the other side of Kantstraße. Hartmut Volmerhaus, a most amusing host, has been the guvnor here for more than 30 years and there are no signs that his race is run. The “Fisch” at twilight: there’s nowhere better to feel the pulse of this remarkable city. 

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage