Our current system of education—specifically below the college level—mediates the relationship between technology and creativity. While creativity has been one of the engines behind the progress of our technology and has generated the new ideas that manifest themselves as innovation, the mere growth of technology has led to the propagation of an education system that discourages divergent thought. One could almost say that creativity has facilitated the diminishment of its own role within society, and although this may be true, it most certainly should not be the case as we move forward.
Ever since the Industrial Revolution, our American society—and many others around the world—has felt the need to have ever more “educated” citizens in order to feed the machines of industry, in order to sustain technological growth. Because of this, we have erected a sprawling education system that molds the minds of our youth, teaching them laws of science that were proven hundreds of years ago, shedding light on math corollaries authored by people long since dead, and so on and so forth.
In large part, this system has helped to maintain and speed up the progress of our nation and of the world. Just consider these facts for a second: in America in 1905, the literacy rate was 80%, the high school graduation rate stood at 6%, there were 8,000 primitive cars on the road, and 8% of homes had a telephone, which was then the most advanced means of communication (see http://dailyreckoning.com/100-years-of-progress/ for more facts). Contrast this with 2010: our literacy rate stands at 99%, 75% of American adults have graduated from high school, and, well, I think we can all see how saturated our society has become with similar technologies.
The fact that the increase in education has corresponded so directly with the rise of technology suggests an inherent connection between the two. Although there are undoubtedly other factors at play, a more educated citizenry has facilitated an increase in the sophistication of technology because every bit of education places people on a higher intellectual ground. For example, even basic math skills are essential to the production of today’s supercomputers. But our education system does have its limits, as people such as Sir Ken Robinson (http://sirkenrobinson.com/skr/who) are quick to point out. By condemning wrong answers and placing the arts at the bottom of an implicit hierarchy of subjects, the system stifles the types of creative and divergent thinking that have the most potential to revolutionize society.
In Robinson’s opinion, we are nearing a point where our system will bump up against its limits, where the discouragement of creative thought will finally begin to impede our technological progress. This is because our technology is evolving at an ever-increasing rate, so the jobs that our schools are preparing people for are vastly different from the jobs many people will actually have; a classic example is that, if you were to tell someone twenty years ago that they were going to work for Google, they would have looked at you like you were crazy, only partly because Google was founded in 1998. In these “new” jobs, classical knowledge only gets people so far and is secondarily important to adaptive and creative thinking. And because these new jobs are becoming ever the more common, the importance of these two skills, among others, will only increase as time marches onward.
In essence, our system of education may be too effective for its own good: the exponential growth of technology is outmoding the system of education that we put in place to foster it. In order to ensure that we can continue our growth, we need to revamp this system—below the college level, that is—and place a higher value on original thought. Only then can we ensure that we will not run out of ground-breaking technologies.
Here are some of Sir Ken Robinson’s Talks on this subject: