Speaking over the weekend at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the children’s author Cathy Cassidy could not have been clearer – creative daydreaming lies at the root of everything we seek to create. It has certainly worked for her, as she is a hugely successful author with fans all over the world; as she pointed out, however, ‘daydreaming’, so often maligned in schools, is, according to many great scientists, mathematicians and engineers (and others) actually an essential component of all invention and development. We confine or squash it at our peril.
Edinburgh in August is an astonishing place to be, and the Book Festival is only part of the action. Alongside the original Edinburgh International Festival, founded in 1947, which brings world class arts to the city – music, drama, dance, opera – the equally longstanding Fringe Festival explodes all over the city, using seemingly almost every space to explore creativity in almost every form. Over 3000 shows and events take place in a four-week period: visitors and participants can throw themselves wholeheartedly into the whole turbulent and uplifting experience.
From a multi-layered and hugely entertaining (loose) rendition of Shakespeare’s Midsummer’s Night Dream, served up with breakfast, to Dr Seuss’s Cat in the Hat complete with bubbles and huge bouncy balls, and from late night comedy to a mid-afternoon silent disco led through the streets by an irrepressible disco ‘guru’, there is – as aficionados of the Fringe will know – a veritable feast of creativity on show. In a moment of personal nostalgia, it was a wonderful pleasure to see St Mary’s Calne students continuing the tradition of excellent young theatre at the Fringe, with a scarily realistic (and very politically relevant) grown-up version of Little Red Riding Hood.
When you are surrounded by such creativity, routines slip and the impossible becomes possible. Convention is thrown to the wind: whereas an evening’s outing to the theatre might for most people, for most of the year, be a rare occurrence, planned for well in advance, with special arrangements required, Edinburgh in August sees people catching five, six or more shows in a day, buying tickets on a whim, and dashing to make it to the venue before the door closes.
What does all this lead to? For the actors and dancers and singers, they practise, grow and develop their art; for audiences young and old, they are immersed in what is effectively a bain-marie of creative activity, and it acts astringently on the brain. It puts routine and structure into its proper place – as an essential support to thought and experience, but not its driver – and by bringing often contrasting experiences together in quick succession, it sparks original, imaginative, inventive, ingenious thinking.
For educators, education policy-makers and – in fact – everyone involved in any way, however tangential, with education today (which is all of us), it is a powerful reminder that creation and innovation need space, inspiration and stimulus, and often cannot be planned to the extent that they have clearly defined input leading to clearly defined outcomes. Planning really matters in education … but not as much the space and the unexpected which this planning should be designed to support. As the school year commences in the northern hemisphere of our planet, let us remember this power, and cling on to it even when processes and procedures threaten to become the tail that wags the dog of education.
And if we do, who knows what fresh original thinking and human progress will emerge as the year unfolds? It is – as ever – a deeply exciting