Humans have an inbuilt ability for dramatic play. It’s one of the first observable behaviours in children, occurring naturally, from a very early age.
Young people instinctively explore identity, experimenting with hypothetical realities and futures. In the words of educational psychologist Jerome Bruner, they are “entertaining the results as… alternative possible worlds”
When we get sent to school, we feed into an education system where we must become acclimatised to more passive, directed experiences. Imaginative free-play is misunderstood, undervalued and often suppressed. Playful behaviours are curtailed in the classroom.
Though many excellent teachers use drama in the service of other subjects, our wider lives in school are structured so that free creative play is largely confined to “playtime” and the “playground”, seen as a respite from somehow more important work, and not of any learning value in itself. Eventually, for most of us, that’s where dramatic play ends.
Most state high schools still offer creative classes, including Drama, but reforms over the last two decades have led to a narrowing arts curriculum. Creative subjects are being squeezed off timetables, to make way for more “serious work”.
Covid lockdowns have led to catch-up initiatives for young people “behind on their studies”. More tuition, and extra lessons in lunchtimes and on Saturdays, means more denied opportunities for developing friendships, social and creative skills.
Creativity needs feeding, and room for growth, but our opportunities for play, from early years onwards, become more and more scarce. Our activities become more functional, resources become more practical and learning becomes more logical. When we are not acknowledged as creative beings, we lose the capacity and the confidence to experience ourselves as creative beings.
Yet the source of our creativity is not the environment around us, but the spark within us. So let’s experiment with hypothetical realities and futures: when school imprisons creativity, imagine an alternative possible world, where our creativity sets schools free.