15th December 2006 at 00:00
The Creative Imperative: Unravel the Mystery of Creativity By Roger Cole Primary First pound;25

Sue Palmer discovers that developing creative thought in children involves a delicate balancing act

"Too much freedom - chaos can ensue. Too much control - creativity can be stifled." Thus Roger Cole, an educational consultant, sums up the ultimate challenge of primary education. From the "anything goes" classroom that followed the Plowden Report in 1967, to today's government-inspired control-freakery, extremes of freedom and control are inimical to creativity.

And so, as Roger Cole points out, is slavish or thoughtless adherence to an educational philosophy. Whatever the regime, lack of reflection on the part of teachers can lead to the instigation of dreary routines and pointless practices.

The Creative Imperative investigates the delicate balance between freedom and control, between the pursuit of excellence and enjoyment, that underpins creative teaching and learning. In the classroom, this balance can vary from moment to moment, from child to child, so trying to pin it down on paper seems an impossible task. However, as Roger Cole says, "if you want to see the stars, you have to venture out into the dark", and his mixture of argument, example, quotation and personal reminiscence is a valuable contribution to the creativity debate.

One incontrovertible argument, now solidly based in neuroscientific evidence, is that "the kind of experiences children have shapes the kind of brain they develop and have for the rest of their lives". So his example of children rushing around a cathedral ticking boxes on a worksheet ("they had looked at everything and seen nothing") has terrifying resonance in an era of tests, targets, objectives and ticklists.

Elsewhere, an extended quotation from a Nobel Prize winner about his playful approach to quantum theory ("I continued playing with it in the relaxed fashion I had done, and it was just like taking a cork out of a bottle - everything just poured out") provides a fascinating contrast to Roger Cole's own recall of back-breaking apprenticeship at the Picasso pottery, learning about his medium by digging, carting, pulverising and wedging clay into the right consistency for use.

The Creative Imperative is also a stunning book to look at, beautifully designed and illustrated with photographs, art reproductions and children's pictures: a truly creative use of the medium. However, in terms of editing, it suffers from too little control.

Quotations are inconsistently attributed (one is attributed wrongly on page 14 to Wordsworth and correctly, 50 pages later, to Newton) or not attributed at all; references to educational documents aren't dated; punctuation is often erratic. Sadly, since this sort of thing matters greatly to the control freaks who currently rule the education world, they may never manage to look beyond it to Roger Cole's essential and inspirational message Sue Palmer's latest book, Toxic Childhood: How Modern Life is Damaging Our Children and What We Can Do About It, is published by Orion

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