Monday, October 25, 2010

Sir Ken Robinson’s latest talk on Changing Education

Check out Ken Robinson’s RSA lecture: Changing Paradigms of Education here.

Or, you can get a Podcast of this lecture in iTunes for your mobile device by going here.

These are my notes from this 11 minute version of this lecture:

Every country on earth is reforming public education right now for two reasons.

1. For economic reasons. How do we educate our children to take place in the economic landscape of our country given that we can’t anticipate what the economy will look like next week?

2. For cultural reasons. How do we educate our children so they have a cultural identity and be a part of globalization?

The problem is we are trying to reform education the way it was done in the past.

We were told when we were young if we worked hard, did well in school, we’d get a job. Not true anymore. Particularly not true if the route to doing this marginalizes the things you feel are important about yourself.

Is raising standards the answer?

Of course you should raise standards. No one is arguing against raising standards.

But the problem is, the current education system was designed and conceived for a different age -- during the intellectual culture of the Enlightenment and economic culture of the Industrial Revolution.

Public, compulsory education was a revolutionary idea back then. Many said it’s not possible to educate all children, because some street children aren’t smart enough for school. An intellectual model of the mind developed that said real intelligence = academic ability. Or, there are smart and non-smart people.

Sadly, many brilliant people think they are not smart because of this notion.

This model of education (intellectual and economic) has benefited some, but most have not benefited from it.

The current plague of ADHD – the diagnosis is still a matter of debate.

It’s not an epidemic, yet many kids are being routinely medicated.

Our children are living in the most intensely stimulating period in the history of the earth, they are being besieged with information and calls for their attention from so many sources – computers, iPhones, tv, etc. & we are penalizing them from getting distracted from what? From mostly the boring stuff at school.

It doesn’t seem to be too much of a coincidence then that the incidence of ADHD has risen in parallel with the growth of standardized testing.

The arts, in particular, are victims of this mentality – the arts address an aesthetic experience, when you are present in the current moment, and your senses operate at their peak, when you are fully alive.

An anesthetic is when you shut yourself off and deaden your senses, a lot of these drugs for ADHD do this to children. We are getting our children through education by anesthetizing them and I think we should be waking them up to what is inside of themselves, not putting them to sleep.

Education is modeled on the interests & image of industrialization – ringing bells, factory mentality, separate subjects, separate ages groups, still educate them by batches, by age groups, etc.

You don’t start from a production line mentality if you are interested in a good model of learning. I believe we have to go in the opposite direction of standardization. That’s changing the paradigm.

Divergent thinking example. Divergent thinking is an essential capacity for creativity. There are tests for divergent thinking.

One longitudinal study of 1500 kindergarteners asked how many uses are there for a paperclip? 200 uses means they have high levels of divergent thinking.

What % of these 1500 kindergarteners tested scored at genius level for divergent thinking? 98%.

The same kids were retested 5 years later.

What % now scored at genius level for divergent thinking? 50%.

Retested again 5 years later…

The idea is we all have this divergent thinking capacity when we are young, yet it mostly deteriorates over time. What happens to us? One thing is we’ve been educated. We’ve been told for 10 years in school there is one answer, and it’s in the back of the book, and don’t copy, that’s cheating. Outside of school, “cheating” is called collaborating.

And all of this isn’t because teachers want it this way, it’s because it happens this way.

What do we have to do?

We have to realize these ideas are in the education gene pool. We have to think differently about human capacity, we have to recognize that most great learning happens in groups, in collaboration. If we judge people separately, we form a disjunction between them and their natural learning environment.

It’s about the habits of our institutions and the habitats they occupy.


  1. Kerry, I love this lecture, but it also makes me sad for the kids today. They are stuck in a changing era and it is very hard to know how to help them.

  2. Hi Kerry,

    Thank you for writing this summary - today I even had to skip the 11 minute version of the video!

    To anonymous: We all need to speak up for kids, whether it is at school, in the home, to politicians and with other parents. When I first became involved I thought I was going up against a brick wall. But I have found that by politely, persevering that our schools have started to change for the better. Even making the life of our children a little better is a worth while thing to do. While I would prefer faster and more change I am grateful that change is happening and it is significantly better for my children (and other children too) than it would have been had I done nothing.

  3. Hi, Kerry. I remember you from StopHomework. I was a regular contributor. Haven't been to your blog in a while. Good catching up with you here!

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