Education in creativity

BBC4 The Art of Raising a Child and BBC2 A Carryin’ Stream reviewed by Dr Aspasia E. Paltoglou who is a Lecturer in Psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University.

As the COVID-19 lockdown took hold and I could not visit the adored Royal Exchange Theatre and other artistic venues in Manchester, I turned to the beloved BBC, and was not disappointed. Two programs caught my attention.

The art of raising a child’ on Radio 4 is about a research project conducted by De Montfort University in Leicester called ‘Talent 25’. Researchers are investigating the effect of creativity on babies, and following them up every six months until they reach the ripe old age of 25. Tiny participants and their families participate in creative sessions in community centres – good in terms of ecological validity – and their responses are recorded with both qualitative and quantitative methods. There is an indication that involvement in creativity from a very early age can positively influence the way individuals interact with the world. The hope is that fostering early creativity will equip individuals with the creative skills and flexibility that is necessary in work and in life, as well as enhance wellbeing. I look forward to seeing the results of this fascinating longitudinal study.

I then travelled in time and space to a small village in Ireland via the BBC documentary ‘A Carryin’ Stream’ to look at an example of creative education at primary school in the 1930s. Director Alison Millar went back to her childhood home to find out more about a legendary teacher, R.L. Russell who had taught her Dad at primary school.

Mr Russell believed in the power of poetry, visual arts and creativity. He encouraged the children to create poems and visual artefacts, such as drawings, woodprints and Lino prints. The pupils were of poor background, with safe job prospects in the local factory or farm. The teacher therefore saw education as an opportunity to enrich their lives through art and creativity. The classroom was viewed as a place to inspire children.

Mr Russell gave the children freedom to create whatever they liked, anything that interested them, rather than imposing things on them. He stressed the importance of children finding their own true voice, rather than trying to capture someone else’s vision. He encouraged them to look around them carefully into ‘ordinary’ life, and bring what they saw onto the page. He gave them the confidence to feel that what they had to say mattered. As one of the contributors noted, Mr Russell was ‘trying to educate people into creativity’. There was plenty of discussion about the positive effects of this type of teaching in the pupils’ lives, which, though anecdotal, was impressive.

The teacher collected the pupils’ work in leather-bound volumes, to give them the confidence that their work was of value. The idea appears to be that children see themselves as published authors and artists, enhancing their confidence in their creative abilities, in turn increasing their creativity and creative potential (see Karwowski and Lebuda in the 2017 Handbook of Creativity and Personality Research).

It occurred to me that The Psychologist is doing something similar. It is open to contributions from fledgling and seasoned psychologists alike, and encourages different types of writing – including articles, reviews and even poems. It is a space where, similar to Mr Russell’s classroom, people can look around them, write about things that matter to them in their own true voice, and educate themselves into creativity.

Indeed, this very review is accompanied by artwork from one of our second year psychology students, Eden Dordi.

-  Reviewed by Dr Aspasia E. Paltoglou, Lecturer in Psychology, Manchester Metropolitan University

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