Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Time for a rebirth of the creative spirit.


The time is right for a true educational revolution!We need to listen to lost voices and rediscover our own.

Who wants to join the fight to return to creative education?
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It was real surprise – and pleasant one at that – to receive a publication written by Roger Hardie, celebrating the role of the Art and Craft Advisers in New Zealand education, and not just because, for a short time, I was an art adviser.

It was more because it made me reflect on the importance of these advisers on developing creative education in New Zealand.

Most teachers, with little knowledge of ‘the history’ will possibly think the current School Support Services, delivering Art Contracts, are the same thing. There is a world of difference.

The Art Advisers I refer to were set up after World War two as part of the then Director General of Education’s Dr Beeby’s and the new Labour Governments, liberal vision for New Zealand education. The key figure, with respect to art education, was Gordon Tovey. Tovey in turn appointed third year training college students who had particular talent in the arts and, none the least, a number of young Maori. Many of these people are now amongst the who’s who of New Zealand art, but it is the work they did to develop art and creative education, that is their legacy.

In the early 50s primary education was a very formal and inflexible affair. By the 70s a major revolution had occurred and today we take for granted the colorful child centred classrooms of our primary schools. Early educational innovators came to believe in ‘education through art’. Such teachers embraced enthusiastically: the writing of poetry, movement, dance and drama, story telling, myths and legends, social studies and natural science, the making of creative music, and of course a wide experience of the arts and crafts, including clay and paint – and at the same time the arts of the Maori were introduced.

There has not been such a change in educational practice to this day – and this includes the introduction of computers.

The programmes we take for granted today have their genesis in this period, including such ‘new’ ideas as ‘integrated programmes’. Throughout the country, in the early days, the art advisers tapped into the often latent talent of countless creative teachers. I remember well some of these teachers, long since retired. They had a self belief in themselves, and in the creative powers of their students, that is missing in today

A lot of the energy been lost today, dissipated by the requirements of teachers to comply with tiresome imposed curriculums and accountability requirements. And, as well, what has been lost is the focus on student self expression based on realizing their interests and concerns, and making full use of their immediate environment.

Throughout New Zealand week long courses, or longer, introduced keen teachers through practical activities, to the power of student creativity. It was attending one such course that made me realize my own passion for creative education. The Art and Craft Syllabus, introduced in1961, was a permissive document, a far cry from the almost incoherent Learning Areas documents of today.

Naturally things changed since those early days but what remains is under threat today as a result of the deadening compliance culture teachers now live in. Once again there is a need for students to develop their talents and express their lived experiences through whatever media they desire.

Dr Beeby is quoted in the book as saying that education unravels in forty year cycles dictated by the living memory span of the teachers involved. As the author of the book, Roger Hardie concludes in his introduction, ‘this may explain why we are now back to a somewhat similar point’ as when the ideas were first introduced. This time though, we have to replace the unwieldy failing technocratic curricula and return to developing a personalized education system to once again release the creative powers of our students.

As we enter an era of imagination, initiative and ideas, it is none too soon. A creative approach to life will be vital for our students to thrive in what is potentially an exciting, if unpredictable, future.

This time, though, we will have to do it ourselves! But the spirits of creative teachers, long gone, will be with us. The secret is to seek out and network with creative teachers in your own areas to share their wisdom.


Anonymous said...

I was at school in the 50s -things have sure changed for the better.

The creativity never made to the high schools?

Anonymous said...

We have forgotten a lot of good things since the introduction of 'Tomorrows Schools'. It is great that Roger has recorded the Beeby/Tovey era and that you have shared it with us.

Anonymous said...

Most schools are so busy complying with endless demands that they are unaware of the fight for teacher professionalism that is going on! And soon the Ministry will require all schools to send in 'data' to a central point! Creativity will die! 'Big brother' is alive and well and lives in Wellington! Haven't the technocrats heard of the high trust high achievement culture of Finland?

Anonymous said...

The strenght of the work of Tovey and his advisers was working directly with students and classroom teachers - the teachers involvement was vital.
Today's art would not impress Tovey - all technique and little spontaneity. Mass produced art!

Bruce Hammonds said...

We need a new creative revolution led by those who really know what they are doing - creative teachers in schools. Where is our modern Dr Beeby today?