Some Musings on Education, Creativity, and Music

I have always believed that there is something miserably wrong with education, especially here in the Philippines. Growing up, I had to go to school every day, wear my uniform, pin my ID in a very specific manner, and keep a hairstyle exactly as described in the student handbook for discipline. The one thing that baffled me was why did I have to look like everybody else in order for me to have a good education? Does that exercise in conformity lead to anything beneficial? I have always thought that the answer was no. I have always thought that such rules were of no value and they only contributed to a superficial sense of order and discipline. A prescribed haircut never contributes to knowledge within my head or the life skills that I should possess. Matter of fact was it even encouraged me to rebel, seeing how utterly useless such rules were. Looking at the bigger picture of things, it seemed to me that schools (yes, even private ones with expensive tuition fees) are hell bent on producing “cookies”, mass producing students who eventually become part of a grand industrial assembly line. This cookie-cutter-style education, as Sir Ken Robinson puts it, kills creativity.

I can remember how many times I’ve heard something like I should be this or I should be that. It can become really frustrating because many people try to put you in a mold where you don’t really fit. I’m guessing all would agree that with the exception of art schools, the arts (music included) are of a low hierarchal standing in many educational systems. It’s good that we do have to place good regard for math, the sciences, and language studies, but shouldn’t we put the arts in equal footing? It’s really sad to see in this part of the world where I live that music is lumped together with other arts and physical education into a single subject. It’s just wrong! What happens in the end really is that these schools produce students who have some semblance of athletic ability, standard curriculum knowledge, zero knowledge about and appreciation for art, and almost nothing about music except some form of dancing to it and barely carrying out a tune. It really is sad given that one of the primary ways of learning is through listening, the primary sense that music appeals to. By lumping all of the arts into a single subject called MAPE and then placing it at a category lower than all other subjects, the present education system in the part of the world where I live is indeed killing creativity.

One thing that I have to say, however, is that in order to translate creative ideas into tangible output, discipline still is necessary. I remember my classical piano training in that regard: I would have to say (without any offense to my wonderful piano teacher) that it is the farthest anyone can go from exercising creativity in terms of music. It’s the kind of training that expects you to become as accurate as a MIDI player, and unfortunately I don’t seem to be very good at it. You have to follow the whims of the composer almost 100% of the time. One thing I would appreciate about it, however, is that it builds the skills that are necessary for me to be able to execute or communicate to others my own musical ideas without needing the assistance of a performer. Even something as free-spirited as jazz or the Blues requires knowing how to play a pentatonic scale. While the creative impulse has to be fed, it still requires discipline to execute properly.

The discipline we get out of schools is much appreciated, but if we lose touch of any attempts to become creative then such discipline is worthless study. The discipline and order we get out of education should go hand-in-hand with exercises in creativity, and therefore education shouldn’t be a lopsided affair where we push math, science, and linguistic studies to the top and regard music, dancing, painting, sculpture, etc. as mere extracurricular activities. It is true that you cannot produce creative output without the means to execute it. It is also true that without any semblance of creativity, all those means of execution obtained from rigorous discipline is unusable.

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