I have been reading a large book on famous people in history. They range, as does all of humanity, from the very good who developed great ideas or instituted great changes that have benefitted people to the evil tyrants who killed mercilessly, sometimes innocent children and sought power and domination over their fellow men.
It occurred to me, as I thought about the deeds that I read about, that we are indeed a very creative animal, that has used their intelligence and ingenuity to come, in a comparatively short space of geological time, from hunters and simple farmers, to the owners of our current and ever-changing technology that is allowing you to read this blog post on your remarkable device, be it computer, tablet or phone (or maybe television!).
Our creativity though has included an ability to think up better ways to be evil. The dreaming up of a plot to fly passenger planes into the side of the World Trade Center twin towers was certainly a creative act. There was planning, the need to work out complicated logistics, the foresight to learn how to pilot a plane and the result, as we all now know only too well, was a successful and deeply horrible event that has put another scar into the tapestry that represents man’s inhumanity towards his fellow man.
An earlier post that I wrote was called “How destruction is easy“. In this post I told about my own experiences, in teaching, of seeing how easy it was to destroy another person’s work that may have taken them a long time and effort in making, painting, creating. This was the “destructionist” nature that we all share, the ability to simply destroy what has been built in what seems like no time at all. This can also be a non-physical act, in that it is so easy to destroy with words and comments. Every day in schools throughout the world teachers and fellow students undermine by sarcasm and put-downs and we can all probably recall feeling useless and disregarded as we had our efforts decried or joked about.
Thinking about the destroyers, be they tyrants laying waste to huge areas of the world’s populated surface or just the gang putting down the student for their effort in trying to paint something, we need to reflect on the real world that we live in. We say that creativity is significant for all our futures and we need to encourage children to become more creative and I totally agree with that. But we cannot isolate our children from the world that they live in and we need to understand that creativity has a negative as well as a positive side.
I feel therefore that we need to balance the creative with a social and moral awareness. We cannot just create in a vacuum. The world will be effected by changes. We hope that this will be to the better but we cannot dismiss the fact that we may be educating tomorrow’s tyrants who may well use the technology to achieve what we might consider undesirable ends. I am reminded of reading about the scientists who worked on the creation of the world’s first two atomic bombs that were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They were driven, initially, to create this fearsome weapon, to defeat Hitler in Europe. This was understandable because many of them were or knew refugees from the murderous regime who had lost friends and family in the dreaded concentration camps. The actual bomb, as we all now know, was used to bring an end to the war against Japan. The creation of the bombs had followed a genius insight by Einstein that great energy was capable of being released from an unstable material.
After the war many of the scientists who had worked on the bombs campaigned against their proliferation. The actual pictures of the dead and dying from Hiroshima and Nagasaki must have lived in their memories for the rest of their lives.
As I continue to study and interact with people all over the world on my MOOC “Learning Creative Learning”, I reflect that we must learn how to be creative but also how to use creativity to the betterment of our fellow man. We cannot just have schools where we encourage innovation in a moral and social vacuum.There is even an argument that we should teach these things first so that students get the choice to use their talents and skills in a positive way to benefit developing nations and the poor in their own countries or communities. I have noticed a lot of this in the amazing work on mobile education that is being pioneered in places such as Stanford University and that is seeking to use novel ways to create power in countries in Africa to allow use of mobile technology in order to facilitate communication and education.
It has always been my hope that technology can facilitate real progress in our world and help us to overcome the many problems that our planet faces mostly due to our own treatment of its natural resources. I really believe that we are capable of great innovation and have proved very good at problem solving. The advancement of science has been nothing short of remarkable. We are a remarkable life form, our art and artifacts bears testament to that, but we come with a lot of baggage that we need to be aware of if we are not to have the unhappy ending to our story that many have predicted. A place to start would be social and moral awareness in the curriculum, I submit that we neglect these things at our peril.