As the school year begins to wind down before Christmas, I thought I would write my first blog post on two things I care passionately about - education and creativity.
Over the past decade we have witnessed a severe decline in students taking creative subjects. Between 2003 and 2013 there was a 50% drop in GCSE numbers for design and technology, 23% for drama and 25% for other craft-related subjects (reference). Likewise, the number of pupils choosing home economics and food preparation has dropped year on year.
It's all too easy to marginalise traditionally non-academic subjects because they seem easy, or for shallow monetary reasons. The most recent recession, coupled with successive government STEM-subject rhetoric, has helped relegate creative subjects to the sidelines. This is despite the fact that the creative and service industries provide significant cultural and financial capital.
Our current education system both avoids and punishes failure, whilst the creative process actively encourages it. If you haven't failed, you haven't tried.
Creativity is an opportunity to explore and learn, and children should not be afraid to fail or ask questions. Schools must carve time out for their pupils to express what they think and feel. To be creative without fear of being judged or rejected by a group of peers. It's incredibly important to facilitate exploration, curiosity, playfulness and imagination. Our ability to imagine things that do not exist is fundamentally what makes us human.
Imagination and innovation has transformed our world, yet we still set kids up for their adult life using a 100-year-plus model. The Victorian empire was so powerful because it was an expert in measurement. However, the rigid perfection championed in the 19th Century is still present to this day and often suffocates creativity. We're still teaching the past and not the future. To strike a healthy balance, we must drag our schooling system into the 21st century and actively encourage students to take subjects dealing with subjectivity, as well as absolute measurement. Why not go even further and re-evaluate how we define subjects themselves? The visionary Sir Ken Robinson states that:
"School systems should base their curriculum not on the idea of separate subjects, but on the much more fertile idea of disciplines... which makes possible a fluid and dynamic curriculum that is interdisciplinary."
Robinson argues that learning is complemented through interdisciplinary teaching. The Renaissance man was someone who had knowledge and interest in all things, not just maths and science. Now, I can't think of a better interdisciplinary subject than food. Think about it. Cooking incorporates a number of subjects; English, History, Maths, Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Art. It balances all of these disciplines whilst remaining a practical craft. It is both a science and an art, and made us who we are today. Eating cooked food allowed our brains to triple in size and conquer the world. It's the only conscious activity we need to perform in order to survive (our temperature and breathing is self-regulated) but in many ways, its everyday quality can hide its significance.
Two years ago I started to work with the OCR and RSA exam body on their new Food Preparation and Nutrition GCSE because I wanted the course to accurately represent the versatility and depth of the subject. The recipes I've included in the course are similar to the ones my team and I use everyday. We help students understand the basics of cooking, as well as the functional properties and chemical processes involved. But more than that - we challenge them to question why and what they're doing in the kitchen. Working in groups gives them an opportunity to depend on others and share ideas. In the schools I've visited taking the course, I can see that it creates a supportive environment for children to ask questions, think creatively and work in a team. My hope is that they build on these skills and use this inquisitiveness outside of the classroom.
We want our children equipped with essential skills that will stay with them for life, so why do we often ignore the basic tenets of cooking and nutrition? In Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll says very simply to "begin at the beginning". We need to be creative in our approach to food, and creative in our approach to learning from the very beginning. Parents, teachers and politicians need to recognise that our relationship with food shapes us in more ways than one, and that creative pursuits are an integral part of what it is to be human. Creativity is the default setting for all of us, which is why it is very difficult to teach. Instead, we should be learning to remove the fear of failure and the barriers we put in front of ourselves.