Tuesday, October 16, 2012

In Defense of Gurdon's Teacher

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. Steve Jobs

In a mindless flurry of newspaper reporting and viral internet flubber, the former teacher of then 15 year old John Gurdon (now Nobel Laureate Gurdon) is being portrayed in a most unflattering manner.

The teacher posted the following report on Gurdon:

It is possible that the teacher was cruel or inadequate, and that this reflects poorly on 'our' system of education. It is also possible, and to the knowledge of anyone that has ever been a 15 year old boy, most probable, that Gurdon wasn't doing his work.

In defense of the teacher, it was not written that Gurdon would fail as a scientist. Rather, that if he kept up the poor effort he would fail.

We don't know of that teacher's interactions with Gurdon beyond a single report and should thus be somewhat cautious in assuming intent. We do know that Gurdon framed the report and, if various news services are to be believed, it is the only thing he has ever framed. Such an action is an "I will show you" thing, or maybe it was an ever present reminder of what happens when effort is inappropriate to the task.

To the many who criticize the teacher for crushing creativity, I provide this alternative.  Creativity without discipline does not lead to Noble Prizes. It is not enough to be creative. One must conform to the accepted protocols of science, to publish, to interact with peers (Gurdon shared the prize after all), to present ideas in a standardized fashion, to communicate to the community in a manner understood. Creativity without that discipline would no more result in a Noble Prize than discipline without creativity.

Now, I'm a fan of incorporating creativity into the classroom and have even taken on the perilous task of teaching a course in creativity many times. However, as I have previously written, creativity untethered is little more than insanity.

Perhaps Gurden's teacher should have written "John does everything his own way. I don't understand what he is doing and, therefore, can not determine if he has in fact learned anything about biology. He may one day win a Nobel Prize, or not." Had he done so, it could BE different, but maybe not better.

1 comment:

  1. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-19959565

    Thanks for the link Issac describing the correlation of mental disorders and creativity.