I ask this question because my own life supplies the answer.
Looking back over my schooling, my childhood and my education, I see something, in the young boy and man I was, that I have rarely seen in the students I have taught in the decades since. I used to approach every task given me, not from the point of view of what have other people thought about this problem, or question, but from what did I think of it? I always did my own thinking. It was not something I made myself do, it was something I did naturally, anyway. Indeed, I think I would have found it much harder to do it the other way, the way almost everyone else did it: with reference to the thoughts of others. I couldn't do that. I didn't think that way. I wasn't built to absorb the thoughts of others and make them my own, undigested and uninterpreted. Yet, that was the way of most people.
So, when given a question to answer, I would answer it in my own way. Typically, this would result in an original answer, because I was not influenced by other people's prior thoughts. Yet, how was this creativity received? Was it welcomed by my teachers?
Well, the short answer is sometimes, yes, but often no. Even the times when it wasn't spurned, it wasn't really respected.
Once, for instance, I gave the beginnings of a book I had written, to my favourite English teacher, Mr. Stephen Kerruish, so that he could read it and give me feedback. He smiled his customarily broad smile on receiving it, took it from me, and listened as I asked him to let me know what he thought of it. I would like you to guess what he did with it. Have a good think.
I expected Stephen Kerruish, being my favourite English teacher, and one whose opinion I valued, to read my science fantasy story and perhaps provide some helpful comment. I hadn't shown it to anyone else and I trusted his opinion. He was the only person in the world, I let read my work. Not even my family got to read it. Well, I asked him about it, a week or so later, but he hadn't read it yet. He just nodded, and smiled and didn't commit himself to anything. A few weeks later, I still hadn't heard from him, so I asked again. He nodded again, smiled and didn't commit. I decided to be patient. Weeks became months and soon the months stretched to the end of the year. He never got back to me about it - and he never returned it. In time, I forgot to ask him anymore and I never saw my work again. Now, it had been perhaps a sixth of a book, written very quickly, over a few days. So, its loss was, to me, at the age of 15 or so, quite a loss, indeed. I never got the chance to read it again and I never got the chance to finish it. Of course, it was not anywhere near as well written as my later works - but, you know what, I would give anything to have it back, again, so I could have the chance to read my teenage thoughts and once more, come to know the boy I had been.
I found Stephen Kerruish's response discouraging. Clearly, my creative efforts meant nothing to him. He didn't even value it enough to return it to me - even if he couldn't be bothered to read it. The saddest part of it was that I respected him as an English teacher and really would have liked his opinion. In asking for it, I lost my work, because I never saw it again. How disenchanting.
That was my best experience, with teachers, with regards to creativity. So, at best, I received a smiling indifference.
I had an art teacher called Jeremy Bournon, who used to do something very demoralizing whenever I discussed my art ideas to him. He would laugh at me. He would laugh in my face. Now, I understand what he thought was funny. He thought my enthusiasm for my ideas was funny, he thought my passion was funny. He found it hilarious that I should care so much about my ideas - so he laughed at me. What is more he would encourage anyone else who was present to laugh, too. So, I would end up being laughed at, for ideas which were, actually, very original and striking (so much so that they were typically plagiarized and used professionally by others, in later years). I remember those discussions well. Jeremy Bournon would begin with a smirk, and end in a mocking laughter - and any others watching, would join in the general amusement at my expense.
That was how creativity was encouraged at my school, King's College School, Wimbledon.
Jeremy Bournon had another habit, too. He was forever mocking me for my name. He would try a dozen different variations on it, in one conversation. He would never get my name right. He would pretend that he couldn't remember it and would pretend to struggle to recall it. He would refer to me with a long list of wrong names, finding my irritation at being misnamed, most amusing. Again, he would invite witnesses to laugh with him. So, everytime I met him, he would go through this routine. He never failed to find it funny - perhaps because I never failed to find it irritating. I would, of course, supply him with my correct name, and he would pretend it was news, to him, and stop the chain of misnomers.
Another interesting habit of Jeremy Bournon was that he never attended his own lessons. I took A level art, but this "teacher" never showed up to teach me. So, I had no art teacher for A level at all. I don't know why this was so. Perhaps the school, in all its administrative efficiency, had not informed him of when my lessons were supposed to be. Who knows...or maybe he just couldn't be bothered.
The only interest he ever took in my art was to present it at a public showing, without my permission, to make it look like he had been doing some teaching. The art works were cut and framed up (thus permanently altering their characteristics in a way I had not chosen). Furthermore, I was not allowed to take them home, despite repeated enquiries. After I had left the school, I asked for my art back and no-one seemed to know where it was. There were indications that, perhaps, it had been thrown out. So, there went all my painstakingly created adolescent work. It should be noted that I had a very detailed style in those days, and would sometimes spend months on a single work. What a waste.
Then there was Cambridge University, which I have written about before. I would just like to remind you though, of the incredible hostility I received, from the academic staff, whenever I handed in a creative essay. Staff guilty of this included, Dr. Barbara Politynska, a psychologist of little apparent intelligence, who crumpled up my essay, most intently, and handed it back, after ironing it flat again. In the margins she had written comments like: "Is this a moral thesis or an extract from the Sun?". She behaved as if she had been highly offended by what was, after all, nothing more than an analytical work offering a different, perhaps challenging, perspective on some established thinkers. When she handed it back, she HAD TEARS IN HER EYES and said I was "precocious". Now, why being precocious would make her angry and tearful I have no idea. It was a most disturbing experience for me.
I never saw her again. Nor did I have a supervisor for the rest of the year, in Psychology. It was most bizarre.
Another terrible supervisor was Dr. Robert Lee Kilpatrick, who refused to mark my essay, called its 22 pages, a "work of inappropriate length", made an OFFICIAL COMPLAINT ABOUT ME to my college, for writing it, blamed me for Barbara Politynska's disturbed personality problems - and I ended up being disciplined, in a special hearing, for my "misconduct". Oh, and he never returned the essay, so I could not benefit from all the work I had put into what amounted to a thesis.
What had I done wrong? I had written essays based entirely on my own thought - and not that of others. That is all. It was really perturbing.
From that moment forwards, I wanted nothing more to do with Cambridge "University". It had shown itself to be positively inimical towards anyone with any thoughts of their own.
This post has been deliberately brief. It is little more than a precis of the events in question, a suggestion of what happened. Much more detail would make it too long to read. However, the lesson of my own educational experience, at school and University is this: creativity is NOT welcome, in the present education systems, in the UK at least. Being creative won me indifference at best and a venomous, seemingly jealous hostility at worst. I was even punished for being creative, at Cambridge. Now, how is that for encouraging creativity in the young?
The best place for a creative person is out of the school and University system altogether. There is no place for the creative person in the education system I grew up with. "Education" might as well be spelt "ERADICATION", where creativity is concerned.
So, what advice can I give to a creative person? Firstly, don't expect a positive response from authority figures, of any kind, if you choose to reveal your creativity to them. Expect jealousy and consequent hate from the more insecure and competitive ones. Expect to be plagiarized. Expect to be marginalized, for it. Secondly, find a quiet place of your own, secure from the interference of others, where you can work on your ideas and creative products, yourself. Work in peace. Expect no help from others. When you are ready and feeling strong, you may show your work, to someone in a position to bring it to the wider world (a publisher, a gallery, a scientific journal etc.) but preferably not someone who would be in a position to feel competitive towards you.
It won't be easy, but this is, unfortunately, the only safe way to proceed, if you are creative and wish to build any kind of creative career. You have to be tough - and you have to be immune to the discouragement that you will, inevitably, receive along the way, from the insecure, the jealous, the spiteful, the incomprehending, or the simply indifferent.
Don't give up, however. If you have something to say, make sure you find a way to say it - but like I have said, don't expect the journey to that point to be a happy one or an easy one. It won't be.
Best of luck.
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Labels: abuse, art teacher, Cambridge University, creativity, Dr. Barbara Politynska, Dr. Robert Lee Kilpatrick, jealousy, Jeremy Bournon, King's College School Wimbledon, marginalization, psychologist