Robinson describes the increasing importance of creativity in the modern world, and bashes the education system for “educating people out of their creativity”. He contends that “creativity now is as important in education as literacy and we should treat it with the same status”. Robinson is an entertaining speaker, and I quite enjoyed his video. However, as I thought about it later, I become more dissatisfied.
I agree that creativity is important, and that the education system is doing a terrible job nurturing creativity. My problem with his talk is that he equates creativity with the arts: drawing, drama, dance, etc. I would hate to see some school administrator be inspired by the talk and attempt to “solve” the problem by simply adding an extra art class to the curriculum.
I'm not anti-arts. I'm not saying that art classes are bad. I am saying that giving students one art class in which to be creative, while systematically sucking the creativity out of them in every other class, is not going to solve the problem.
Instead, we need to recognize that other disciplines outside the arts also require creativity, and teach them that way. For example, mathematics is often taught in a way that brooks no creativity whatsoever, whereas the practice of actually doing real mathematics is highly creative. See Paul Lockhart's essay (pdf) for a wonderful discussion about creativity in mathematics education.
I think people often view technical subjects as having no place for creativity. You don't want a student getting creative when multiplying two numbers. I certainly don't want my programming students getting creative about indentation. In fact, in many technical subjects, the very word creative is often used as a synonym for wrong or mistaken (or sometimes unethical, as in “creative accounting”).
For example, I just said that you don't want a student getting creative when multiplying two numbers. But that's only because, in that context, “getting creative” would usually be interpreted as getting the wrong answer. In reality, I'd be thrilled if my grade-schooler, when faced with a multiplication problem like 37x999, rejected long multiplication and instead said, “Hmm. 999 is almost 1000. 37x1000 is 37000. Then take away 37 to get 36963.” That's creativity!
Perhaps the biggest difference between creativity in the arts and in technical subjects has to do with constraints. In the arts, you tend to have fewer constraints, and those constraints are often flexible. In technical subjects, you tend to have more constraints, and those constraints are often non-negotiable. Think of the scene from Apollo 13: “We've got to find a way to make this...fit into the hole for this...using nothing but that.” Or the t-shirt about the speed of light that says “300,000 kilometers per second: It's not just a good idea, IT'S THE LAW!”
Common perception is that, the more constraints you have, the less creativity is involved. I don't think that's true. In fact, as Marissa Mayer of Google fame says, creativity loves constraints. Of course, sometimes the creativity lies in figuring out which constraints are real, and which aren't.