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Is higher education killing creativity?

Is higher education killing creativity?

Does conformism go hand in hand with education?

We often attach conformism to the lower strata of society, to the uneducated. We think that those who do not have a wide access to education and culture do not have the capacity to think for themselves and can only follow, conform. On the other hand, the educated and the intellectuals are those who can escape conformist paths to define their own way of living and thinking. This is something most people would probably agree on: culture and education are liberating and allow us to differentiate ourselves.

Edgar Morin (French philosopher and sociologist) radically challenges this idea by showing that the more educated people are, the more likely they are to adopt conformist behaviors. Indeed, he tells us that with culture comes “imprinting”, a mark that normalizes human beings. Culture is structured and classified, and the education that transmits it teaches us to use the references and logic that are recognized by society. It is what led Edgar Morin to write that you can hear more personal opinions in a pub than at an intellectual cocktail. Rather than allowing us to differentiate ourselves, education therefore prints on us the mark of conformism. This could lead us to say that higher education actually kills creativity!

To the roots of the educational system

In every society, education has indeed been established to answer the need of transmitting knowledge and culture from one generation to the following and to integrate kids and young adults to the collectivity. In France, the main motivation for the creation of Jules Ferry’s public education was to unify the French people into a nation, under the values of the Republic, by transmitting them a common culture and history.

This need to conform has remained prevalent in educational systems, whether it is in primary, secondary or higher education. To go back to the example of France, its educational system is a model of conformism and delivers close-ended knowledge which students are in no way supposed to challenge, but only to articulate. The schools I have experienced in France, Argentina and the United States, have in common, to different degrees, the coldness of their educational environment.

They indeed fail to provide their students with, in the words of physics, a “warm” environment in which the intensity and multiplicity of exchanges of ideas is fostered and divergent thinking encouraged. If schools are culturally rigid, how new ideas or innovative projects could ever emerge from them?

Creativity & innovation – the key assets for schools

Nonetheless, creativity and innovation increasingly appear as vital to Western societies as they become aware that the ideas they generate will now be the only base of their prosperity.

So how can we encourage students to generate divergent ideas?

How can teachers innovate learning processes and the teaching methods?

Finally, how can we create creativity-friendly and warm educational environments?

To answer these important questions, we decided to run a research and focus our investigation mainly on universities. Indeed, it is presumably at this stage that education can be opened the most easily to creativity. The conformist pressure exercised on higher education is lower as university students are in fact already integrated to society. Universities should therefore be completely free to focus on the creativity and capacity of their students to give birth to projects.

Our closing question for you is SIMPLE: “HOW can we create some kind of higher uneducation, that would liberate its students’ creativity and focus more on the exchange of ideas and the questionning of knowledge?” Any ideas? Let us know! :-)

Author: Côme SALVAIRE

4 Comments to Is higher education killing creativity?

  1. I agree with the article. Most universities, especially public ones, do not encourage new thinking and an attitide that challenges horizons of thinking. They instead expect students to conform, comply, adapt an regurgitate what they are taught. In Africa, where we have adopted the Western education system, any association with African thinking, a reflection of indegenous knowledge or any attempt to introduce proven African paradigms is viewed with dismay, even where African values, cultures, norms, etc have proven to be relevant and a solution to daily living.

    Universities should be institutions of robust discourse. They should also allow students to question ‘proven’ theories, critique them, tear them to pieces and bring in fresh thinking, obviously within the realm of building a new order.

    Universities should be the ‘clearing houses’ of community and societal challenges, a laundry where communities can take their daily problems and difficulties to get lasting solutions. Instead they are ivory towers of the few and ‘educated’, who are in fact the ‘miseducated’.

    Globally, universities, especially public universities, must remove the elitism and arrogance of self anointment as ‘leaders’ of society and industry. They must go back and humble themselves before consituencies they serve and say “for hundreds of years our values were ego-centric and delusionally grandeur, we have come before you with humility, service and respect. How can we as universities be of service to you?” In that way, they will find themselves a place in society and industry as true catalysts for change.

  2. Beatriz Chatain


    I definitely agree on a part of the idea suggested: Education (not necessarily higher) may kill creativity. I could write the reasons why I think this but I prefer to refer to somebody much more qualified than I am to explain, Sir Ken Robinson. Please view these presentations, they are very interesting…and true (from my point of view)

    Concerning new ideas… I believe we have to start thinking how to change basic education fundamentals for the future and in the meantime figure out how to create alternatives schools (there are some already trying to change things), methods and specially train educators to do so. Without their help it would be difficult to get any significant outcome. I will be happy to read other comments on this topic.

  3. John Coveney


    Very interesting “is higher education killing creativity?” Yes and no, in very subtle ways?

    For myself, I have lived to my mature years, after considerable formal education, and working creatively in the professional building services industry, as an innovate electrical engineer, and have come to this conclusion? We have moved from the Enlightenment to the Industrial Revolution in a blink of an eye, and this contradiction goes unreported?

    We are now living in a post industrial society, an unparalleled scientific and technological society whose final destination is unpredictable and unknown. We as individuals from my perspective are living in a society that mass produces goods and we as consumers mass consume! Join up the dots and we all mass conform?

    Not meaning to sound all doom and gloom. Individuals will stick their heads above the parapet, and will continue to be either applauded or ridiculed.

    Kind regards
    John Coveney

  4. i very much agree with presented thoughts!

    though, i DO have an idea that can improve this situation:
    i’m very positively impressed by TEAM-COACHing – this has roots in some of such experience.
    i’ve gone through 1st individual COACHing by a Mater Certified Coach from Singapore, brought 2 Slovakia by my friend. next year, when he returned i’ve taken part in several of his team-coachings [The Courage To Create, the Power of Seduction & assisted 2 1 participant as a translator @ his coaching training].

    then i’ve taken part @ an Accredited Coach Training Process ‘The art & Science of Coaching’ by Marilyn Attkinson @ Ericson College International.
    i DO SEE that team-coaching = the way university teachers SHOULD work with their students! :D

    = it encourages creativity & active participation! ;)
    just the only issue here = 2 SHIFT teachers’ education! :O
    i even feel like i’d LIKE 2 start such work! ;) i’m pretty sure students will enjoy it very much! as they R ‘conformed’ 2 being ‘normal’ by education so far, but i KNOW they’d also welcome OTHER way of education as being still young, they do ENJOY shifting their thinking! ;)

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