The cult of creativity — the new Utopia


The cult of creativity — the new Utopia


Sunday, December 08, 2019

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Waldane Walker's profanity-laced ending to his valedictory speech at the recent 2019 graduation exercises at Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts (EMCVPA) was not merely a farrago of ignorance and downright display of what the late celebrated Caribbean renaissance giant and cultural icon Rex Nettleford immortalised as bhuttooism; rather, it camouflaged a far more painful, heartbreaking, and distressing truth: For some time now, successive governments and their ministers responsible for crafting education policy, have failed to address the fundamental weakness that has undermined our entire education system, and even the kind of thinking that lies at the heart of the current decay.

The burning question, at least to me, is whether those students occupying places at our secondary and tertiary institutions can actually think. The concerning fact is that, while increasing numbers of tertiary students are graduating with certificates and degrees, a great many university and college educators among us are privately astonished that so very few of their students know anything, can write a literate paragraph, or can actually think for themselves.

I have come away from the lecture hall believing that this is because more and more of our students are being drilled to pass formula exams that are no longer a reliable guide to whether they have the vital quality and ability to think laterally and originally.

Fostering creativity

This, I suspect — and I put it down to no more than a suspicion — is because, in the main, our exam system is now perched at the pinnacle of an establishment which has been taken over by ideas that are profoundly anti-teaching and anti-education; a kind of post-modernism that has brought large sections of education in this country to its bending knees.

The rage in mainstream education today is all about fostering creativity among students. The alleged lack of creativity in schools, colleges, and universities was what lay behind the ideology of “progressive” education. The theory, as I understand it, is that children's innate creativity is harmed or stifled by being taught in any structured way by adults. Teachers, therefore, had to become “facilitators”, taking a back seat while children “discover” knowledge for themselves. The result is a catastrophe in our education system.

Much of this thinking shadowed the ideas put forward by the American academic Richard Sennett in his tome The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism (1998), in which he argues that the single-minded drive for money and success is all that appears to motivate the middle class and, consequently, their children — and soon all children would grow up believing that is all life is about.

The knowledge economy?

The upshot of this was that creativity as we had come to know it, defined as identifying problems and solving them, had to be set free from elitist things such as exam standards. Schools, goes the argument, controlled knowledge from above, which implied that teachers had the audacity to actually teach. This, we were told, was out of joint with the new “knowledge economy”.

I don't quite know what Charles Leadbeater, the British author who popularised the idea of the knowledge economy in his book Living on Thin Air: The New Economy (1999), would quite make of this. But the idea appears to mean, contemporaneously at least, that society now revolves exclusively around communications and computers, that people must become mobile entrepreneurs, and that they must take responsibility for their own educational development and work opportunities. Fine.

But I ask: When was knowledge ever not an integral part of the economy? The notion that changes of this magnitude are new shows a disturbing contempt for history. The seismic shift of the industrial revolution and the birth of the modern age knock the Internet into what the Americans call a “cocked hat”. For people have always adapted, precisely because knowledge was “controlled from above” and taught to succeeding generations. The assault on the very nature of education we are witnessing in this country today breeds deep-seated fear for our future.

I say this because computers or videos are seen as the key to the new creativity because they can respond to children's and young adults' multiple intelligences. This is to say, interactive electronic education packages now means the average Jamaican child can conjure up pictures or graphics to explain things. This denigrates linguistic or mathematical intelligence as no more important than the visual or spatial ability, which lets a young learner or a child click on a mouse and be entertained by the resulting images. And yet, without mastery of language and number, a child or young adult isn't going to get very far in the global space — on computers or anything else.

What is even more telling, as we have experienced, is that these young learners are put in charge of their own learning process. The startling suggestion is that computers will liberate them from teaching. Teachers are only now needed part-time, some claim, and have to reinvent themselves as “facilitators” to be able to enable students to access the technology.

What utter nonsense! Teachers cannot be replaced by computers, no matter what the rabid, capitalist, disruptive innovators among us espouse. Far from being more democratic, as I have heard it said, this abdication of adult responsibility would further disenfranchise our children who would be further lost without proper guidance. Moreover, as I have argued elsewhere, it is only by being taught hard facts that children and young adult learners learn those critical lessons about objectivity, evidence, and argument, which help identify problems and solve them. In this regard, Waldane Walker's disbelievingly disrespectful and misguided profanity at the end of his valedictory speech lifts the veil of the cult of “creativity” eating away at our native soul and exposing what is happening in our classrooms throughout the country at all levels of the education system. This cult has produced a classroom orthodoxy that has replaced challenges by feelings, and independent thought by propaganda.

If you doubt me, then I invite you to observe that in some quarters knowledge is now said to be obsolescent. Thanks to Walker and his supporters at the EMCVPA, among students and faculty alike, we now know that skills are increasingly being taught in a knowledge vacuum and then dressed up as pretend knowledge to be tested in formula exams and public spaces like graduations.

Of course, the world is changing, and rapidly so. But unless we all have basic knowledge, we can neither build upon it nor adapt to new challenges.

The chilling assault on education at varying levels over recent weeks was conducted in the face of a Government which, by its utterances, seeks to be tough on restoring traditional education standards. This is a sensible, if not urgent objective, and should be encouraged and supported by all well-thinking Jamaicans. For the EMCVPA's 2019 valedictory speech incident and the nationwide furore it evoked is only the latest piece of evidence to surface proving the existence of a pernicious ideology being promoted which strikes at the heart of education itself in this country.

The Walden Walker-EMCVPA incident, furthermore, is best viewed as the latest example of the way traditional education is being bullied relentlessly under the guise of promoting creativity by misguided class warriors intent on fanning the flames of social resentment against traditional education in favour of homogenised mediocrity to cover their own intellectual and political bankruptcy.

The late Beverly Lopez

As a practising Roman Catholic and woman of deep faith, the late Beverly Lopez would have understood that death is something that happens in life, rather than to life. She died, I am reliably informed, kneeling beside her bed in a praying position. While among us, she exhibited at all times kindness of spirit, a calm but willing disposition to solving problems, and an assured confidence in the future of the country in which she had her being, and which nurtured her successful business acumen. I, like the entire Stella Maris Church community, mourn her sudden passing and shall forever remember her for her faithfulness and long-standing commitment to helping the poor and dispossessed. I am certain that on the day she died Christ received her as a friend.

Everton Pryce is a former educator and government advisor. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or

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