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Debate: The last word

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By John CoeGeneral Secretary of the National Association for Primary Education

John Coe tells a story from the past. There is a moral – to be creative you first have to be free

John Coe

Pens and notebooks at the ready, the 99 nuns regarded me expectantly – they were ready for a lecture. I had come to a college near Dublin to teach a week-long course on creativity and the nuns were teachers from the west of Ireland. But, I surprised them all. ‘No lecture,’ I said. ‘I’m just going to brief you about tomorrow. I want you to go into Dublin and take a camera or a notebook with you. It’s a marvellous city, enjoy it and make a record of your day. There’s nothing in particular you have to do, but later on in the college we’ll use your notes and make a personal, perhaps even creative, response to your experience.’ There was, what I can only describe, as an awed hush followed by excited chatter.

By 8.30am the next morning, the college was deserted. ‘I’m impressed with their enthusiasm,’ I said to the principal. She regarded me with an amused eye. ‘I fear,’ she replied, ‘You don’t know what you’ve done. You see, most of the nuns have never been to Dublin in their lives before. They come from closed orders.’ (I should explain that I write of a time before the reforms of Pope John Paul).

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