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Creativity and the influence your parents have on you


King Alfred School
Richard Gregory Scientist
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It’s about 100 years old, it’s one of the earliest sort of experimental schools where children are supposed to be allowed to do what they want to do and we had virtually no lessons in the afternoon at all. We had games and we made things. We had workshops, art as well, and one was allowed to sort of invent things. I had a sort of game, I think, of inventing things all the time but I did actually make one or two things. I made an electric pendulum clock and I made a calculator with wheels, a geared calculator, that was fun, and stuff like that so in a sense it was partly pretend and partly real. I did actually try to invent things, always have done, but I’m really a sort of failed inventor, as I should probably tell you because very few of my inventions have ever really got anywhere, do you know what I mean? But as an activity in life, I think it’s absolutely super to have an idea and not simply to say to oneself, well, somebody else will have done it before, or it’s so obvious, why bother? Or it’ll be of no use. It think, you know, to be brought up with the idea that it’s good to accept challenges, it’s good to have enough self confidence so that you can actually try and do something new, is absolutely right. I think optimising self confidence is very much what education should be about and I think my school, I mean the school I went to, King Alfred, was rather good on that. It supported kids. Our Christian names, of course, were known to all the staff and we, apart from the head, used their Christian names. It had a sort of informality about it, you know, and it was like a big family, that’s why I mentioned this, in the sense that you got support and very little punishment. If you did something silly, on the whole it was just accepted. Against that, it was absolutely appalling for learning languages and really for learning mathematics because one just was not made to sit down and jolly well learn a lot of boring stuff and that’s been a handicap to me. I mean my languages are absolutely abysmal, you know. I go to Germany or France or something, I can just about order a meal if I’m thinking about it, and that’s it. No way could I have an intelligent conversation in French or German which I think is a terrible handicap and when I see German students and friends and I go to Germany and they all talk English, it actually makes me quite upset that we’re insular in that way and certainly don’t learn languages properly as children. So I think the lesson really is that some of what King Alfred did, that is to give people the confidence to think for themselves, is brilliant, but not to have sort of rote learning and make one actually learn verbs and the whole bit, is also a tremendous disadvantage and I think somehow, in a good education, you really do need both and it’s like, indeed, making something in a workshop. You’ve got tools but if you can’t use a tool, you can’t actually make anything worth having and you’ve got to learn how to plane wood straight, how to saw properly without the saw jamming, and mentally you’ve got to have the same facility for basic skills in order to be effectively creative. So I think my school made you creative but not all that effective because of the lack of primary basic skills.

The late British psychologist and Emeritus Professor of Neuropsychology at the University of Bristol, Richard Gregory (1923-2010), is well known for his work on perception, the psychology of seeing and his love of puns. In 1978 he founded The Exploratory, an applied science centre in Bristol – the first of its kind in the UK. He also designed and directed the Special Senses Laboratory at Cambridge which worked on the perceptual problems of astronauts, and published many books including 'The Oxford Companion to the Mind', 'Eye and Brain' and 'Mind in Science'.

Listeners: Sally Duensing Adam Hart-Davis

Sally Duensing currently is involved in perception exhibition work and research on science and society dialogue programmes and is working with informal learning research graduate students and post-docs at King's College, London. In 2000 she held the Collier Chair, a one-year invited professorship in the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Bristol, England. Prior to this, for over 20 years she was at the Exploratorium, a highly interactive museum of science, art and perception in San Francisco where she directed a variety of exhibition projects primarily in fields of perception and cognition including a large exhibition on biological, cognitive and cultural aspects of human memory.

Born on 4 July 1943, Adam Hart-Davis is a freelance photographer, writer, and broadcaster. He has won various awards for both television and radio. Before presenting, Adam spent 5 years in publishing and 17 years at Yorkshire Television, as researcher and then producer of such series as Scientific Eye and Arthur C Clarke's World of Strange Powers. He has read several books, and written about 25. His latest books are Why does a ball bounce?, Taking the piss, Just another day, and The cosmos: a beginner's guide. He has written numerous newspaper and magazine articles. He is a keen supporter of the charities WaterAid, Practical Action, Sustrans, and the Joliba Trust. A Companion of the Institution of Lighting Engineers, an Honorary Member of the British Toilet Association, an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Society of Dyers and Colourists, and Merton College Oxford, and patron of a dozen charitable organizations, Adam has collected thirteen honorary doctorates, The Horace Hockley Award from the Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators, a Medal from the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Sir Henry Royce Memorial Medal from the Institute of Incorporated Engineers, and the 1999 Gerald Frewer memorial trophy of the Council of Engineering Designers. He has no car, but three cycles, which he rides slowly but with enthusiasm.

Duration: 3 minutes, 49 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2006

Date story went live: 02 June 2008