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5 Things I Learned From Ken Robinson
Education expert Sir Ken Robinson is more than a New York Times bestselling author. He is a dynamic speaker and leader in the development of creativity and innovation. Now an emeritus professor of education at the University of Warwick in the UK, he has received honorary degrees from five different universities as well as numerous awards. Throughout his prolific career he has been a strong advocate for creativity and the arts in education systems around the world.
After watching Ken Robinson’s talk at the prestigious TED conference in 2006, I couldn’t help but marvel at his insightful insights into the education system of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. What exactly did I take away from his speech? The following five points summarize how, as Robinson puts it, “our schools are killing our children’s creativity.”
1. We are all innately creative beings:
The key to unlocking creativity, as Ken Robinson says, is accepting the fact that sometimes, as thinkers and innovators, we will get it wrong. Unfortunately, most adults are suffocated by the fear of making mistakes. This fear is instilled in us from childhood and follows us into adulthood. Preschoolers do not share this concern and therefore have no problem harnessing their creativity. When asked a question, young children will enthusiastically offer a multitude of creative answers. It’s not until they’re repeatedly told they’re wrong that they start to be cautious about volunteering. Creative people accept failure as part of the innovative process. Thomas Edison tried his version of the light bulb over 3000 times before he got it right, but he didn’t see it as a failure. When asked about it, he simply said that he didn’t fail 3,000 times, but found 3,000 “ways it didn’t work.” This is the kind of mindset that is needed to succeed in innovation and therefore in life.
2. Intelligence is diverse, dynamic and different:
We know that each individual demonstrates their intelligence in uniquely different ways. A system that focuses on only one path, one way of doing things, undervalues those who don’t fit the mold. In his talk, Ken Robinson brought up the story of dancer and choreographer Gillian Lynne who, as a child, struggled in the typical school system. She just couldn’t sit still. After discovering dance, she blossomed and had a fabulous career as a dancer and choreographer. Today’s teachers and doctors would have rated him with ADHD and given him meds to calm him down! His talent would never have been recognized. What a shame that we stigmatize other forms of intelligence that are not up to the current standard. Too many talented kids fall through the cracks because their unique gifts don’t fit the mold of today’s education system. We need to broaden the scope of how we teach our children so that they all reach their full potential!
3. We are educating for a different era:
As public education developed to meet the needs of the industrial revolution, subjects that were most useful for workforce training were prioritized. Most jobs during the industrial revolution did not require creative thinking. Even today, we have an education system focused primarily on math, science, and standardized testing. Left brain dominance preferred. A system that tends to leave creativity aside. Schools often teach children that there is only one answer to a question. When we are taught to believe that there is only one answer, we see the world as binary: right and wrong. When we start to see the world this way, if a teacher asks a question and the students don’t know the answer, they won’t open their mouths. As a result, children tend to lose the will to try new things and have their own independent ideas. We should encourage the opposite. We need to change our education system to meet the demands of today’s labor market, where innovation is a precious commodity.
4. We need to adopt a new system if our children are to thrive:
As Ken Robinson explained, our education system has “mined our minds” for a commodity. We have enacted this system for a purpose in the past, but it has become obsolete and needs to be renewed. Tomorrow’s world, with its ever-growing population, growing global instability and fragile environment, will need highly creative people. We need people who can predict emerging trends, propose solutions to new problems and stay calm in a challenging and ever-changing world. The system in place today will only stifle the creativity and ingenuity of tomorrow’s leaders and innovators.
5. “Academic inflation” and global competition:
More people than ever are earning degrees worldwide. In 30 years, a bachelor’s degree will be worth almost nothing. In order to have a career, you will need a master’s degree or a doctorate. We already see college graduates coming home to live with mom and dad with no career prospects. So how do we make sure our kids stand out from the well-behaved crowd? Inevitably, we must rethink our definition of intelligence if our children are to succeed in this increasingly competitive world. Only if we feed their creativity will they have a chance.
Transforming our education system is not only desirable, but essential. Embracing all forms of intelligence will prepare us for an unpredictable and constantly changing future. To continue down the same path, with an outdated system in place, will mean throwing away undiscovered talent and potential. Fostering undiscovered potential and talent is one of my favorite things about working with young people. What a life-changing gift to another human being. I, for one, am not willing to let more and more kids fail in life because they don’t fit the mold… Are you?
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