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Ofilispeaks: Are We Beating Creativity Out Of Our Kids?

OfiliSpeaks

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Some weeks ago, I was at the Nnamdi Azikwe Airport waiting for my flight (that flight was coincidentally suspended due to the Dana aircrash) to Lagos to be called up, when this young girl about 5 or 6 years in age suddenly gets up and starts twirling around like a ballerina. I know she was dancing like a ballerina because an older gentleman surrounded by his family stared in excitement and said “look there she goes dancing just like a ballerina!” But before his words of admiration could fully resonate into the ears of the twirling dancer, her mum screams the words most Nigerian children are used to hearing “C’mon will you sit-down!” sending the girl into a paralytic I-better-sit-down-or-am-gonna-get-whooped stance as she cowers into her seat as yet another dream is killed prematurely.

Everywhere I go in Nigeria, I see people using the S-words on their kids “shut-up” and “sit-down.” In a country saturated with the S-word, we end up having very well behaved children that are afraid to touch toys in a toy store without the explicit approval of their parents! But who can blame them? in secondary school, I was afraid to touch computers in the computer lab.

We spend the first year of a child’s life teaching it to walk and talk and the rest of its life to shut-up and sit-down. There’s something wrong there. ~Neil deGrasse Tyson

In the early 90’s when computers were just becoming popular across the globe, we were fortunate to have some in my secondary school. But we were frightened of them, frightened because the computer teacher treated those things as sacred. We were not allowed extra time on the computers and did our boring DOS exercises and were promptly made to scoot. Anyone who tried to do anything beyond DOS was met with thunder, fire and spit from the inadvertent splashes of our computer teacher’s saliva as he yelled “stop playing around with the computers.” I doubt that I would have grown up to be a computer guru if I had the free reign to play around with the computers, but I do think that someone in my class set could have done something special with computers early on. Especially if they had the same level of computer freedom as certain silicon-valley entrepreneur did in his youth.

Everybody knows about Bill Gates, the intelligent computer programmer who dropped out of Harvard to create arguably the most important computer company in the history of the world…Microsoft.

His story is a tale of pure talent and genius. But what people fail to realize is that the real reason Bill Gates was successful was not solely because of an innate technical talent but rather due to a combination of talent and freedom. Freedom to explore and play with computers without being yelled and spat at.

In the 1960s, when computers were still quite rare and computer programming was still being done with the laborious and tedious punch card system, the students at Lakeside high-school were programming with something different. It was a then sophisticated computer terminal that connected straight to a mainframe computer in downtown Seattle.

You see, back then it was very expensive to own actual computer, so instead of spending anywhere from $100,000 to $200,000 on a device, small organizations invested in what we call a time sharing computer terminal. What the terminal allowed you to do was to connect remotely to a mainframe computer and then purchase time to program with the computer. Despite the scaled down nature of the computer terminal device, it still cost a whopping $3000 to purchase. And in a time when only a few organizations could afford such a hefty price tag, the students of Lakeside high had the computer terminal device in their backyard.

One of the students that really benefited from this was Bill Gates. He was able to practice full scale computer programming for hours on end at a time when very few people had even heard about computers. To put into perspective the significance of this exposure, one has to understand that $3000 in 1968 was way worth more than what it is now. I can imagine myself in secondary school with a $3000 computer in our computer the room, the teachers will simply just make us stare at the computer but never touch it. But in Bill’s case, he and his classmates were allowed to probe and poke at the computer freely and this is what defined his success.

Sadly, I see too many teachers and parents not allowing their kids poke around, dance around or mess around with items, for fear that they will break, spoil or destroy it. That fear limits talents and stifles creativity but that is a fear we are used to because it is ingrained in us right from birth. I remember buying a toy action figure for our housegirl’s 2 year old son. I gave it to the son one morning and he played around excitedly with the toy. By the time I had come back home from lunch break, the toy was on the top most part of our bookshelf. It was as if Michael Jordan himself had lifted it and placed it on the shelf. But I know it was not MJ but the boy’s mother who placed the toy on the shelf. And that was where it remained for the rest day, after which I never saw the toy again. I really don’t know what happened to the toy, I would like to believe it was taken home so that the young child could play with it, but I doubt it. Because it was the same thing I experienced growing up, we got gifts, but were only allowed to play with them on special occasions such as Christmas day and Easter Holidays. The rest of the time the toys were locked up in some secret cabinet, which we had to break into from time to time (sorry mom) to access. The fact is that we were not allowed to be free with toys or computers and that lack of freedom affects one’s ability to create or be creative.

That is why the typical (not every) Nigerian child tends to interact with their environment with hesitation, as if they are waiting for permission from their parents. While other children, run around wildly, exploring poking and yelling at their environment…sometimes with the encouragement of their parents.

The honest truth is that if we are to raise creative children, the ones that will challenge societal norms and beliefs, we would have to let them be free. If the child in the airport was free to twirl around who knows what she could become. She could become a world renowned dancer.

Gillian Lynne in the 1930’s suffered from a common classroom disease…boredom.

Because of boredom she could not sit still and was constantly fidgeting in class. Her fidgeting behavior had gotten so bad that she had begun to distract her classmates. Concerned, the school wrote her parents saying in their words “We think Gillian has a learning disorder.”

Her mum, worried that her daughter might be suffering from a type of mental problem took her to a hospital for a medical analysis. They arrived at the hospital and entered an oak paneled room to see the doctor. With Gillian at her side, her mum proceeded to explain to the doctor all of Gillian’s problems in class. She talked about how Gillian was always distracting others in class and how her homework was always late. After they finished discussing, the doctor walked over to Gillian and told her that he needed to talk to her mum in a private room. But right before he walked out, he tuned the radio to a musical station and turned up the volume. What happened next could simply be described as magical…So magical I would narrate it exactly as it was narrated in Sir Ken Robinson’s classic TED talk “Are Schools Killing Creativity”

But as they went out the room, he turned on the radio that was sitting on his desk, and when they got out the room, he said to her mother, “Just stand and watch her.” And the minute they left the room, she said, she was on her feet, moving to the music. And they watched for a few minutes and he turned to her mother and said, “Mrs. Lynne, Gillian isn’t sick; she’s a dancer. Take her to a dance school.”

I said, “What happened?”

She said, “She did. I can’t tell you how wonderful it was. We walked in this room and it was full of people like me, people who couldn’t sit still. People who had to move to think.” Who had to move to think. They did ballet, they did tap, they did jazz, they did modern, they did contemporary…”

Today Gillian Lynne is responsible for some of the most amazing dance pieces and choreography in the world and as recent as 2001, she was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award by the Royal Academy of Dance, which is highest honor the academy could bestow on any dancer. She went on to become one of the most successful British dance choreographers in history.

Many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not — because the thing they were good at school wasn’t valued, or was actually stigmatized. ~ Sir Ken Robinson

If it was a typical family, she would have been screamed at and shouted upon and then flogged until she literarily stopped dancing for fear that she was doing something wrong. Her name would have graced the honor roll of noise makers repeatedly. But because, she was allowed to dance and without hearing the s-words she was able twirl her way to success and today she has shared her talents with millions of millions of people and her name is written on the pages of international newspapers versus the tattered pages of exercise books as a noisemaker or troublemaker.

I often wonder about the concept of writing names of noisemakers, what it achieves or aims to achieve. I often look around at people in my class or in society that are making a difference today and it is hard to imagine them not on the noisemakers list. They are vocal, they often speak up while others are quiet, they are social revolutionaries, but they are lucky because their ability to effect change were not robbed from them in primary or secondary school by ostracizing them as noisemakers or outcasts that need to seat still and be quiet while their environment screamed to be touched.

The truth is that there are many Gillian Lynnes and Bill Gates out there, but for every one of them there are many others who would never be given the opportunity to shine. They are the funny looking ones, the ones that get on the noise makers lists, the ones get bored with school just like you probably were, the ones whose imagination runs so wild that they need to speak to express it. They are the outcasts, the outliers, the drop outs. If we are able to see the magic in them, see their potential and let them run around and scream just for a little bit we might see their talent several years later you and other adults might be running around and screaming as they unleash their talent on the world.

Photo credit: microsoft.com; ofilispeaks.com
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Ofili is an award winning ninja motivational speaker, author, success coach and mind reader entrepreneur who blogs about life, success and entrepreneurial excellence. Follow him on twitter , facebook or subscribe to his blog for more success TIPS!” His latest book is titled HOW LAZINESS SAVED MY LIFE, to find out how it saved his life and to learn about his other books click ofilispeaks.com

Okechukwu Ofili is a trouble maker, the author of 4 books and speaks at organizations that are tired of hearing the same old stuff and want the truth. He is also the founder of okadabooks.com and blogs daily at ofilispeaks.com You can follow him on Twitter or stalk him on Instagram You can also read his funny books on konga or okadabooks

27 Comments

  1. PJ

    August 30, 2012 at 9:26 am

    Hmm, thoughtful and inspiring. I am a mother and I share and agree with your points. But to be honest its sometimes difficult to let your child do what they want. We travelled with my daughter recently and she embarrassed us. She was running everywhere at the airport, screaming hi ya to everyone she sees (that’s her way of greeting people, she means hello). But she was saying it so loud. She wanted to push her buggy around by herself, she did all sort. She is just going on 2. I have plans to travel alone with her but I won’t lie to you its giving me headaches. I’m thinking how will I control her without her dad there to assist. Reading your article this morning has helped me a lot. I will try my best possible to allow her explore. Thank you for the brilliant write up and keep writing!

  2. baby1

    August 30, 2012 at 9:30 am

    Awesome Read! I pray God helps me to discern and allow the gifts in my children. Amen!

  3. Reallaw

    August 30, 2012 at 9:40 am

    Triple Gbam!!! 😀

    • Mz Socially Awkward...

      August 30, 2012 at 1:58 pm

      Quadruple “GBAM” and some “GBOSAs” thrown in there as well!

      I know exactly what Ofili means about raising Nigerian kids so theyre afraid to even try. In sec school, I was always sketching designs. That’s all I did, even when I was meant to be doing something else, sketching models in clothes on classroom blackboards after lessons, in exercise books, just everywhere and all the time. So when the time came to apply for courses at Uni, I innocently told my mother I wanted to be a fashion designer. Her answer “your father isn’t going to pay for you to study that, so better choose law.” I immediately stopped thinking about creating designs and focused the serious business of being a lawyer.

      It’s paying the bills so I won’t complain but I’ll never forget my first love… *deep sigh*

  4. Exclusive

    August 30, 2012 at 9:41 am

    Such an interesting but lengthy write up,who can read them? My brain just #crash#

    • Abass

      August 30, 2012 at 10:48 am

      You’re probably a dancer, LOL!

  5. phantom

    August 30, 2012 at 9:42 am

    Brilliant piece! i quite agree with your submission that a lot of parents stiffle the creativity of their kids in their bid to ensure proper up-bringing. It must however be noted that there’s a thin line between ‘self-expression’ and ‘bad-behaviour’. A lot of badly-behaved kids are given free reign under the guise of allowing them be themselves. While i agree that the ‘S’ word has done enough harm to people’s psyche, it should not be totally thrown-out. Some kids need to be told to shut-up or sit down: its left to the parents to apply to apply it appropriately.

    p:s i know you dont know it yet but i’m gonna marry you! 😀

  6. Okechukwu Ofili

    August 30, 2012 at 9:55 am

    Great article…the words flow so seamlessly…it is as if I wrote it myself…lol

    • Ejiro

      August 30, 2012 at 11:10 am

      Mind reader huh? Lol

  7. annie

    August 30, 2012 at 9:58 am

    Urs truly was a regular guest on the ‘names of noisemakers’ list. 🙁

  8. Kach

    August 30, 2012 at 10:02 am

    Sad but true… It’s not enough for us to just wake up one morning, and say we want to be like the Americans or the Europeans in terms of development and success in all aspects of life. Even the Asians, have realized this. The future of any nation depends on the children of that nation. It’s not enough for us to force our kids into saying that they are the leaders of tomorrow, we equally have to encourage them by granting them the freedom to express and harness their innate abilities into success, while we guide, support and make sure they don’t go astray. If only parents, guardians and teachers would just step out from their conformed ways of bringing up children, poverty and every other negative vice plunging this nation down, to a large extent will reduce drastically. We should support and monitor, not shut and kill their talents and dreams. Nice article, a call to order!

    • Sarah

      August 30, 2012 at 2:25 pm

      @Kach,

      I am not sure about the Asians, because they are more regimented that us Nigerians. Asians instill DISCIPLINE and HARD WORK into their kids, but not creativity as such. That’s why they still depend on the West for creativity, but they are good at copying ideas and refining them.

  9. annie

    August 30, 2012 at 10:03 am

    Yours truly was a regular on the ‘names of noisemakers’ list. 🙁

  10. Been there done that

    August 30, 2012 at 10:23 am

    This is so true…..it was the same thing growing up. i struggled with maths all through school but was born for the arts, and i knew this right from primary school. Fine arts and later literature made me so happy. in secondary school i could spend all day in the arts studio even when other kids grumbled, and my quiet curiosity discovered poetry. Needless to say my parents would not have any of that. While everyone clamoured to study law at uni, i was determined and happy to study English (by choice not because of JAMB) and i graduated top of my class…but even that was a struggle.

    But for me, the lesson will be for my children. As i believe it is foolish to let a child go through the pains to become a mediocre when with a little nudge they could become the greatest in their field.

  11. Afoluwasho Flowerpower

    August 30, 2012 at 11:09 am

    A great article!!..when we know better we’ll do better…this is one of such that motivates one to do better…thank you for this

  12. Afoluwasho Flowerpower

    August 30, 2012 at 11:10 am

    A great article!…when we know better we’ll do better…this is one of such that inspires one to do better….thank you for this…

  13. spicy

    August 30, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    Omg Ofili, have you somehow found a way to break into my mind and read what i’ve been thinking about these past couple of weeks??I agree with every single point you raised in this brilliant write up. Now i just pray for God to bless me with healthy and wonderful kids who i can support in reaching their potential in whatever field they excel in.

  14. faith

    August 30, 2012 at 12:57 pm

    what about feeding a four years old child just bcos u dont want food scattered all over d place or soiling herself if u allow her eat by herself???is it wrong???wen is d right time to allow a child to start feeding herself….

  15. why???

    August 30, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    Wow! Thanks a lot for this write up.
    I’m a victim of the S-word, I’m what you’ll normally call a good girl.
    My parents never let us free.
    It’s so bad that even now that I’m studying in Europe, my new friends here think my behaviour of being afraid to try new things is really strange.
    I mean I practically do nothing spectacular or go out and see places like I should.
    My life is so strict and boring and it really sucks!
    It’s as if my parents locked me in a cage that no matter where you even find yourself, you still feel that they are shutting you up and sitting you down. Though they don’t do that to me anymore cos I’m 21 now but that ”discipline” is still instilled in me and I still haven’t discovered myself.
    There are so many things I missed out in childhood and I’m very bad at meeting people. I’m the typical sit-at-home and read your book girl but I know I love music and fashion a lot.

  16. 'Alex'andyRaH!

    August 30, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    Awesome!!!

  17. OmoMakun

    August 30, 2012 at 6:50 pm

    You speak the truth my brother. I agree with you on this, but i think its important for children to have balance. You can just allow them to do whatever all in the name of creativity. I think its good to set some boundaries which can be explained to the child according to their knowlegde of the world. For example the lady that commented first, that has a very friendly daughter, you can’t stop that kind of child from saying hello to everybody. But you can tell your child that they should stay by your side at all times while saying hello, because if they don’t “Mommy” or “Daddy” would be very sad and worried. Kids of nowadays, one really has to talk to them, I don’t believe that spanking alone works

  18. triangle

    August 30, 2012 at 7:10 pm

    I couldn’t read past the errors Ofili. It’s sad especially ‘cos I’m a huge fan. Your first paragraph was just wrong and dampened the rest of the article for me! You started with past tense, and then immediately started describing with the present tense. Consistency is key in writing. I don’t claim to know it all though but you may want to invest in a good editor.
    Nice article overall, I’m on all fours with your submission. Xx

    • Amazeballs!

      August 31, 2012 at 4:51 pm

      You know what triangle, while some criticism might be constructive, sometimes you dont have to say. There are some instances where you just let live and assimulate the message being imparted, this is such an instance.

  19. ifeoma n.

    August 30, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    Once again I have fallen in love with ofili (don’t worry BN will feature our wedding). When I was meant to decide in SS1 d class I was going to I chose d arts and I even chose law but my parents would have none of it.I am happy I am not studying law but I also didn’t want to be an engineer.I was not sure of what I wanted to be then but I was sure it didn’t involve d sciences.today I am an engineer in d making
    And I don’t like d feeling.I struggle to make good grades but God if I cld change tins I would have done it better.if I graduate with a second class uppe honours what next?I always feel out of place.I hope future parents learn to allow their kids to have a say.

  20. me

    August 31, 2012 at 10:33 am

    @ triangle i think I need to correct you as well. I am also a writer and I believe one can use different tenses if one likes in any piece of writing so as to make a transition from what has happened previously to what is happening presently. So Ofili was not wrong in using both tenses. Thanks.

  21. bimogz

    August 31, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    I agree with the stifling creativity out of a child sometimes. Nonetheless, it is important to remember that children will test boundaries if you give them too much of a leeway…. This is were the West has generally gone wrong by not establishing such boundaries hence you’d hear some children call their parents all sorts of ludacrous names. I think in the bid to help a child achieve their full potentials, its also important to discipline and admonish them. If it requires the occasional spanking, please do so as their creator intended it or does the bible not say “spare the rod and spoil the child”? Its up to the parents to find a balance.
    There is no manual to raising a child, each parent should ask for wisdom to lead a child in the way he should go.

  22. Teris

    August 31, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    oh boo-hoo. a good number of us have similar sob-stories. interesting isn’t it that this “creativity” leans towards the artistic and not the scientific/technological.
    when we have a society that can support everybody’s fanciful wishing, maybe concerned parents can ease up on the “law of averages” concept and let their kids be. however, u are less likely to go utterly wrong with a decent education under your belt. artists in various fields are a dime-a-dozen in the States, UK, (where they make that minty green) and a lot of them are doing tables, and kitchen duty to pay bills.

    and no, we do not have dancing schools of pedigree, nor are the existing ones (?) ppl’ed by the passionate, so i say “NO TO RAISING HOOLIGANS”. the very type of kids u and i will frown at for poor home training.

    beating creativity out of kids? instead of purchasing little box-sets of playdough and watnot, parents pay for DStv premium bouquet and let their kids zone out, OD on Ben10 and some explorer chic. …tomorrow, common directing traffic solutions, or looping a bar over a well to draw water is not possible. simple solutions.
    the tv programs, CreativeAfrika and GojeAfrika will be highlighting tie-and-dye of batik with random, non-standard processes, bending at the waist when u can fashion a table-top with trenches for efficiency… in fact i don vex!! what really is your understanding of the concept of “creativity” sef?!

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