Sir Ken's title is correct: http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity Unfortunately, beyond that - the Professor says nothing truly profound or new. The idea that students are naturally innovative is simply an acknowledgement of their humanity. Who could possibly argue otherwise? Sir Ken questions the hierarchy of academic subjects - the idea that mathematics is somehow a more worthy or important subject than (say) geography. But so does every teacher - even those who teach the subjects supposedly at the top of the hierarchy. And that very idea - of the hierarchy of subject is itself an idea from a previous generation. Sure - most school systems are still encumbered by that bad idea (and so more hours per week are devoted to mathematics than to the study of art of music) - but most school systems are encumbered by far worse ideas. Like the very one I am criticizing here - the idea school should be compulsory.
Academics who work in the area of Education, just as most teachers - and indeed our culture generally - explicitly endorse the bad idea which has come to us from bad psychology: the idea of “intelligence”. The false, and damaging idea that certain people have mental inherent capacities over and above others. This is false because people are simply interested in different things (including being interested in things like trying hard to do well in intelligence tests). Intelligence is just an idea from psychology that values certain kinds of knowledge over others (like doing maths problems or completing puzzles or whatever).
At no point does Sir Ken, like any educational theorist who is calling for very nebulous reforms in the educational systems they work within, question the presumption that schools should be compulsory. Of course schools kill can kill creativity. Of course it is going to be the case that forcing a child to attend school is likely to have detrimental rather than positive effects upon their creativity. Forced to undertake studies into things they do not want to do takes away their opportunity to devote to things they are interested in - the areas where they want to be creative. What Sir Ken suggests is that students have more control over what they learn at school. That is to say: what they are forced to study at school. This is tinkering at the edges of a bad system.
The best line from his entire talk is this: “We have to rethink the fundamental principles on which we're educating our children.” Yes. We need to rethink compulsory schooling.
Imagine a student (call her Jane) who decides she really wants to be an expert in music video production. Jane loves the pop boy band "One Direction" and what she wants to do is one day work with them or bands like them and shoot their videos. That, she thinks, would be awesome. It is likely her parents would not take her very seriously - at best they might humor her while telling her to go and study her algebra homework and at worst might attempt to squash such an idea as childish pie-in-the-sky stuff. Teachers would also likely not take her seriously, nor show any real interest in this dream of Jane's. But in a better world she would be encouraged. She could make inquiries during “school hours”, she would try hard - and soon understand the long road ahead. But it wouldn’t be hard. She would love every step of that journey. She might one day be lucky enough to make contact on Twitter or Instgram with someone who actually knows what it takes. Someone she can learn from.
However it happens, Jane quickly realizes the interconnnectedness of knowledge. That the boundaries between subjects are artificial and superficial. If she wants to know about music video production she will need to understand a little bit of computer video editing. And in a few years perhaps she comes to understand that if she really wants to be among the best at what she does she might even need to know a little bit about computer science and mathematics and programming to do really expert truly original video editing to set her apart from the competition. She will realize early in her journey the importance of things like grammar because she notices that she is sending lots of emails and doesn’t want to be misunderstood and besides she has an idea to introduce a new trend where she might have some of the lyrics up on the screen. And she needs to understand lots of details about music itself so she learns how to read music - and stuff like music history because it’s also fashionable to reference old music clips and sounds from much older artists. And to learn all that music history she has to watch and read and make notes. She has to become really really good at writing. And she loves learning all this. Because it is all completely relevant because she chooses it every step of the way. And she engages only those teachers who can help her and want to help her. And, like like many of us, she might change her mind many times and decide to do something else. She might decide that although she likes video editing, she no longer likes "One Direction" and instead finds that a career in advertising is more her thing.
So that is how it might look. And yes, there would be big changes. But many more people would, perhaps, want to become teachers. And many more teachers might even be needed because classes would necessarily become smaller.
The truth is this: there is no person on the planet that is not interested in something. Often many things. And children do learn that in order to understand the things they are really interested in the most, there are foundations they need: like basic literacy and numeracy. They know this because kids can be wise. And they can also be wise enough to know what they don’t need to pay attention to. If only children were really allowed to pursue their interests they would pursue things more broadly and deeply than their parents, teachers and other adults could ever dream they would.
There will always be the kids - the minority - who want to be lawyers and doctors, scientists and programmers who need an extra high level of language, science and mathematics. They’ll always be with us.
But it makes no sense to treat every student as though that’s what they might want to become. Or, if they change their mind from wanting to be singers, models and actors that the day comes when it might be too late for them to change their minds. It's never too late to do what you really want to.
Sure, we all know stories of little Timmy (or indeed a whole class of “disadvantaged” little Timmys) who struggled for many years only to get a “good teacher” and then he improved. But this is little Timmy’s triumph - not the teacher's. There are infinite reasons why little Timmy changes his mind. One indeed might be that the classroom system is slightly less worse than previous ones. But there are many many ways the “system” could be better still for little Timmy. Like giving him a genuine choice. Like the choice about what he learns, and when and where.
This has been inspired by philosopher and physicist Professor David Deutsch who has written widely on the topic of Taking Children Seriously. The simple idea that the ideas of the child, and what they say - should be taken just as seriously as those of any adult. His latest book "The Beginning of Infinity" goes into detail about how knowledge is created.
1/9/2016 05:05:44 pm
Hi Brett, just wanted to say how I agree with you about schooling. I know for a fact I would have studied in an area of what I wanted if I was given the chance and I also think I would have been a much nicer adolescent instead the awful child I was, not to mention all the trouble I got into. It is in America I think that have these type of schools.
10/3/2019 05:54:30 pm
There is a sort of meme that exists and is learned early by most students. It’s the one where the student, in the middle of some lecture in algebra or other math class asks, “when am I ever going to need to know this in my life?” I’ve asked it myself many times but the answer given by the teacher (if any) never quite seemed a good enough explanation to me to justify the torture (and in many ways it truly is torture). I mostly assumed they were right and I was wrong about something. 30 years later I can see I was not wrong at all.
1/2/2022 11:33:46 pm
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