Classic disciplines are still cool in the 21st century

This morning I read an interview with creativity professor, Lene Tanggaard (University of Aalborg), on the Danish internet magazine, Zetland. She claims that we cannot learn 21st century skills without the classic disciplines.

Let’s start right there; 21st century skills. These years the term 21st century skills set the agenda for education policies in many countries with OECD leading the way. Due to the rapid economic, social, and technological change, schools have to prepare students for jobs and technologies that do not even exist yet. The skills needed to successfully conquer the 21st century are critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity.

According to Andreas Schleicher, OECD Education Directorate, education today should be on ways of thinking, ways of working, the ability to exploit the potential of new technologies, and the ability to live in a multi-faceted world as an active and engaged citizen.

This means a whole new approach to educating our children. Methods first; “ways of doing something” – disciplines second. If we do not adapt, we should not be surprised, says Andreas Schleicher, if students lose interest or drop out of schools because they cannot relate what is going on in school to their real lives.

We fail to see the importance of classic disciplines

Back to the Zetland interview. Lene Tanggaard questions the agenda and says that we cannot expect original ideas to emerge from nothing. We have to learn the classic disciplines to get a repertoire for learning new ways of thinking and working. She thinks, we fail to see the importance of the existing, while we are chasing after innovation and new ideas.

“Creativity is not an isolated cognitive activity. It’s about understanding what your contribution to the world is and make a connection to something bigger than yourself.” (Lene Tanggaard, Zetland, 2018-06-01, translated, red).

Simplified; if you want to write an original text, you should practice writing, explore the vocabulary, read and analyze litterature. When you have a broad interest in different fields, and a deep interest in a specific field, you enhance your pool of knowledge and experience to draw from when coming up with alternative ideas. I have been writing a bit about this in my previous post “Healthy habits to unfold your creative skills”.

Somehow we got the idea that children are unable to get new ideas

If you take a glance at school policy debates, you will see pretty soon that we think we have to learn children how to get new ideas. Even Ken Robinson says that schools kill creativity, and that learning all the disciplines prevent children from developing original ideas. 

When I take a look at my 7-year-old nephew and other children his age, I see plenty of original thinking. They experiment, they learn, and they are even born with an iPad, adapting to new digital impressions every day. What can we possibly teach them?

Well, for sure schools should not kill creativity. And I highly agree that critical thinking, communication, and collaboration are essential skills for anyone living in the 21st century. But what is the better way to learn these qualifications? If we want to provide the space for our children to have original ideas, maybe we should allow them a little boredom once in a while.

Respect boredom and create strong, professional communities

Lene Tanggaard suggests in the Zetland interview that we change our focus from having new ideas to creating communities that can carry original ideas out into the world. Ideas arise when we are working on something, often working with other people; engineers, scientist, craftsmen.

This also arises a fundamental question, for what is the source of creativity? Is it the cognitive process and activities that enable us to have more ideas? Or is it the basic foundation of knowledge that allows us to think creatively within our field? 

I have previously referred to another book of Lene Tanggaard, In the shower with Picasso, written with business owner Christian Stadil based on interviews with a range of highly creative people. Their conclusion is that these people worked very hard to know the traditions and foundations within their field, respecting the work of their predecessors and creating their own expressions. 

I have been working with artists, architects, and entrepreneurs for several years. I find the same patterns. Those who are really succesfull worked hard since they were kids or teenagers to learn their discipline, practice the techniques, and find their own expression as adults. Furthermore it has been essential to realising their creative ideas that they have build connections, networks, and engaged with co-creators and partners within other fields and disciplines.

The time issue

Having ideas don’t seem to be the issue for my generation. When I look at my friends and colleagues, I see highly educated people with lots of great ideas. What we need is time. I know that Greg McKeown would say, that that’s not a thing. We’ve got the exact same amount of time as we did previously. What we need is prioritizing. I know, he’s right. 

When will we realize that implementing ideas is not just to snap your fingers? And that not all ideas should be implemented? We need creative leaders who will allow us to be creative, and we need structures that encourage creativity rather than obstructing and pacing processes. I know I speak on behalf of many people in my generation when I say that we are really worried that the fact that the world is changing rapidly has made us loose our head and just run like crazy. 

Why don’t we teach our children the disciplines at school? Because we don’t have time? Is the world changing too fast for us to learn how to read and write, do the maths, realize that people on the other side of the planet believe in other Gods, or that the sun is up every morning because our planet turns? And that we’ve got a huge issue called climate change?

Let’s slow down, be patient, and allow ourselves to be bored. Just for a while.

The art work in the image above is Horizon by Lucy Humphrey, shown in Aarhus 2015. The installation turns the world upside down in it’s own peaceful way and makes us pause.

Read more

The interview with Lene Tanggaaard is right here:

Andreas Schleicher, OECD about 21st century skills:

Greg McKeown (2014): Essentialism – the disciplined pursue for less (Book, run to the library or get it somewhere on the www)

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