In December, the Optimist Club hosted a TED Talk recorded by Sir Ken Robinson in 2006 and titled “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”
The talk has been viewed online more than 60 million times and seen by an estimated 380 million people in 160 countries. If you have children, or if you worry about education and the future of our country, this humorous but thoughtful 20-minute talk is well worth a listen.
Robinson contends that all children have talent, but it’s often squandered within the current educational system because the system doesn’t emphasize creativity.
Throughout his talk, he uses examples, such as the teacher whose class was drawing. A little girl who rarely paid attention during regular lessons was extremely intent. The teacher walked over to ask her what she was working on. “I’m drawing a picture of God,” the girl said.
The teacher said, “No one knows what God looks like.”
The little girl replied, “They will in a minute.”
Robinson speaks about his four-year-old son, who was cast as Joseph in a nativity play. The three boys, playing kings, came bearing gifts. The first one said, “I bring you gold.” The second one said, “I bring you myrrh.” The third boy said, “Frank sent this.”
Robinson makes the point that “kids will take a chance…. and they are not frightened at being wrong.” But the current educational system only wants the “right answers,” he says. “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”
By the time kids are adults, they often have become frightened of being wrong. “We are now running a national education system where mistakes are the worst thing you can make,” Robinson says.
He goes on to explain that every education system in every country has the same hierarchy of subjects that are considered most important, with mathematics and languages at the top—arts are on the bottom.
Robinson says that if an alien came to this planet and looked at the education system to see who succeeds, “you’d have to conclude the whole purpose of public education is to produce university professors.” He notes that he can say that because he was a professor.
“Our education system was predicated on the idea of academic ability,” Robinson say, noting that public education came into being to meet the needs of industrialism.
But now, the things that some kids are good at in school, such as music or art, they are steered away from because they are told they’ll never get a job or make enough money pursuing.
Robinson says there are “highly talented brilliant people who think they’re not, because the things they were good at in school were not valued.
“Degrees are not worth anything. When I was a student, if you had a degree you had a job.” Today, too many kids, once they have a degree, come back home with no employment.
Robinson describes academic inflation, meaning you might have had a job with a degree in the past, but now that person with a degree needs a higher degree to get a job.
He says that we need to radically rethink intelligence, calling it “diverse, dynamic and distinct.”
He speaks about Gillian Lynne, a ballerina and eventually the choreographer of “Cats” and “Phantom of the Opera.” She was seven years old when her mother took her to see a doctor because the teachers at her school said she couldn’t sit still. It was the 1930s in England – and “ADHD hadn’t been invented…. Somebody else might have put her on medication and told her to calm down,” Robinson says. Instead, the doctor told the mom to put her in dance school.
He concludes his talk, “The education system has mined our minds in the way we have strip-mined the earth for a particular commodity. Our task is to educate the whole being so they can face this future. By the way, we may not see this future, but they will. And our job is to help them make something of it.”
(Robinson, who died this past August from cancer, was named as one of Time/Fortune/CNN’s ‘Principal Voices’. He was acclaimed by Fast Company magazine as one of “the world’s elite thinkers on creativity and innovation” and was ranked in the Thinkers50 list of the world’s top business thinkers. In 2003, he received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II for his services to the arts.
His 2018 book “You, Your Child, and School: Navigating Your Way to the Best Education,” was published by Viking. To learn more, visit: sirkenrobinson.com.)