Atari Founder Nolan Bushnell Says Schools Are Killing Our Kids' Creativity

29/08/2015 8:37 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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(GERMANY OUT) ATARI Gründer Nolan Bushnell (Photo by Adolph/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

Allow school classrooms to get rid of chairs. Let children have a post-lunch nap. Scrap the ‘industrial’ concept of grades; then we’ll have a new generation of creative geniuses.

That’s the view of technology pioneer, entrepreneur and scientist Nolan Bushnell, who’s determined to help turn the concept of education on its head.

“We have to get rid of the industrial processing of our children. There should be no grades in schools. Grades crush creativity,” said Bushnell.

"The whole idea of grades in school classrooms is so industrial that it causes a whole range of problems for our children. They need to learn at their own speed.”

Bushnell is in Australia as part of the Commonwealth Bank’s ‘Wired for Wonder’ live talk series where he has shared his passion for allowing children to ‘think outside the box.’

He’s best known as the founder of Atari Corporation and Chuck E. Cheese Pizza Time Theatre.

Nolan was the first and only man to hire the late Steve Jobs, of Apple fame, and later he penned the bestseller ‘Finding the Next Steve Jobs.’ More recently, he’s developed software that he says teaches academic classes ten times faster than in classrooms, with a 90 per cent retention rate.

"I believe there should be no grades. The whole idea of being in the 3rd grade or 4th grade of 5th grade is so industrial that it causes a whole bunch of problems. What kids should do is absolutely learn at their own speed,” said Bushnell.

“There simply should not be a peer group that is based on age because it enfranchises some and disenfranchises others. Children move at different speeds.”

“One of the things that extinguishes passion is failure. And I think that creativity is actually trained out of people through school because they’re supposed to solve problems. If you give them a reward for ‘in-the-box’ thinking, you’ve ultimately trained out creativity and that is quite devastating, particularly for children who are creative and not ‘in-the-box’ thinkers.”

Bushnell would love to see schools throwing away half of their chairs and allowing kids to exercise at least twice a day. He believes both children and teachers will benefit.

“There should be more physical activity in schools and the kids should also be allowed to have a 20 minute nap after lunch. The science isn’t even questionable. If you increase activity you increase mind flow and brain function. If you have a nap, you’ll increase your effectiveness by 20-30 per cent. Why aren’t we doing it? Everybody would benefit.”

“Our DNA was pretty much created when we were hunters and gatherers. Hunter and gathering males walked around 20-30 miles a day and we’re used to learning while we’re on our feet. Whether you’re in an office or a classroom, sitting is abnormal. It’s criminal.”

Yet Bushnell is not confident that radical changes will happen in classrooms anytime soon. Sadly, he says changes like these only take place when those at the top of the system -- the decision makers -- retire.

But there is hope. Bushnell believes the tide is turning and people are beginning to recognise that the way we educate children in mainstream schools does not allow for those ‘out-of-the-box’ thinkers that society, as a whole, really appreciates.

He also advises parents to teach their children some basic life skills and that it’s never too early to give a lesson in marketing.

“One of the best marketing lessons you can teach your kids is to sell something on eBay. I think everybody needs to have marketing skills and the best way at a young age is to empty out your garage, put your stuff on eBay and see how you go.”

“I also believe everybody needs to be able to play games. If you know a bit of chess or a bit of golf, you will go a long way. Why? It changes the way you think about things. It’s about pre-thinking moves and planning your future step-by-step. These are great skills you need throughout your life.”

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