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Schooled by Creativity

October 29, 2019

This morning, I watched an interview with the ever-impressive and creative personality Lilly Singh who recently made history by being the first woman to host her own late night talk show on American network television. Singh has broken so many barriers on her path to success but it was a path that began with feeling depressed and lost for not knowing what to do with her life because there didn't seem to be an obvious path for her to take, not to mention the weight of disappointing her parents by not getting a "real job".

I understand Singh's early struggles. It is quite common in Asian families and mine was no different. Growing up, my father insisted the path I needed to take was the one that should take me to medical school. However, I knew from an early age that that wasn't going to happen because it didn't feel right, it didn't make me happy or excited or inspired. It didn't energise me. In fact, it had the opposite affect. The problem was, I didn't have the confidence or even the language to communicate what I was feeling to my father. I didn't know how to tell him that being a doctor wasn't for me because I didn't know what I actually wanted to be or do. I remember it being such a stressful time. I was 16, in high school and still so afraid of disobeying and disappointing my dad. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to have teachers at my high school who recognised something in me (before I even saw it in myself) and who were willing to go to bat for me when it came to explaining to my father my potential in journalism.

Today I am having a different conversation with my own son. As my husband and I tour schools to see which would be the perfect fit for him, we are talking about creativity, emotional intelligence, life skills. Academics factor in, of course they do, but they aren't the driving force when picking a school in which our son will hopefully thrive. It goes without saying that we want our child to have a strong foundation academically and intellectually but we also want him to have access to those activities and outlets that will stimulate the right side of his brain. We are asking teachers at these potential schools about their philosophies and ethos when it pertains to encouraging and fostering creative souls with the same weight as questions on the school's academic standing.

The brilliant filmmaker Stanley Kubrik once said, “I think the big mistake in schools is trying to teach children anything by using fear as the basic motivation. Fear of getting failing grades, fear of not staying with your class, etc. Interest can produce learning on a scale compared to fear as a nuclear explosion to a firecracker.” At the end of the day, I want my child to be able to figure out what he gravitates towards and how I can help him do that is to make sure he is surrounded by options that will encourage a love of learning, a love of being in an educational environment that will bring out the best in him. I am doing so because I believe that is what the world needs more of. It needs more creative beings who are looking to make our world better, healthier, happier. Creative beings who challenge what doesn't work anymore and have the confidence to change things. I am also doing this because I didn't feel I had options when I was growing up. I didn't grow up feeling my destiny was in my hands and that it was up to me to find my passion. Those weren't the kind of conversations that I or others in my generation, especially those of us in Asian families, were having back then. Hearing those teachers that we spoke to talk about choosing the right paint for the classroom walls to foster creativity, taking lessons outside so they can breathe in the fresh air and see the colours of nature, and have valuable insight into my child's strengths and interests is all music to my ears.

This is perhaps why this week I got those goosebumps that I often talk about when I find pieces for #Repost. I loved reading about Ivy Ross, Vice President of hardware design and user experience at Google. For her, it comes down to neuroaesthetics, the practice of understanding that design has the ability to impact our biology. Ross' work is governed by art and creativity because she knows it isn't simply about designing a product, it is about helping to re-design lives, knowing how vital what we see everyday and what taps into our psyche  in a way that only creativity can, is to our lives. It is with those same principles that architect Oana Stanescu operates by asking life's bigger questions on how designing buildings or spaces affect the space and the people that use it. By recognising the wealth of knowledge that comes from being exposed to people with different backgrounds with different skill sets.  

Perhaps it is also about recognising that there isn't one way to do something. There isn't one path to success, however it is defined. Take for example the maximum security prisoners who joined a college prison initiative debate team and beat Harvard and Cambridge universities in contests. Perhaps we also need to recognise the importance of understanding our EQ, our emotional intelligence, after all so much rides on it. Important decisions are made based on our feelings, even who will run our country is based on how we feel, as an article in Canada's The Walrus explains.

Look, what I'm talking about isn't rocket science. It literally isn't. But even rocket scientists have to believe in something that isn't perhaps logical because logic implies a thought that has already been explored. Every invention from the lightbulb to laptops came from, what was seen at the time, as irrational, illogical thinking. It came from thinking creatively. It came from ideas that didn't already exist but from a process of what could exist. The architect and structural engineer Cecil Balmond who often works in the space between art and science, once told me that even at the root of mathematics is "a mystery", one that needs to be explored in order to create that next amazing thing. And that is what I am looking for when it comes to my son's educational experience. It is the hope that he will be taught by people who foster a confidence to explore what isn't already there, but what could be there. I would love for him to feel the freedom and courage to ask the questions and to search for answers, so that even if there isn't an obvious path to a career, my son will not be afraid to create one for himself, just as Lilly Singh did and continues to do so. As Albert Einstein said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world." 

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