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