Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Sir Ken Robinson: live at CUE 2013

By on March 15, 2013

I had the privilege of seeing Sir Ken Robinson as the keynote speaker at the CUE conference earlier today.  For those who may not know of whom I speak, here is his now famous TED speech on “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”  You can also watch an animated version of another talk he gave called, “Changing Education Paradigms.”  Humorous, Deeply Moving, Reflective, and Reflecting, Sir Ken brought nearly 4000 educators to their feet in applause, laughter, and tears.

In the past, after seeing some great presentations, I’ve used my blog as my own way to digest key phrases, sayings, and ideas in the hopes to more fully understand the depth of the concepts and to share with my readers.  So I wanted to spend some time here downloading some key quotes from his speech and morphing them with my own mental commentary and interpretation.


 March 15, 2013. Palm Springs, CA.
Sir Ken Robinson
“Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative”

“We’re at a transformative point in education…and what we do sits on the front edge of what we have to achieve…. We are living in revolutionary times…. [and] There are challenges we face on earth now that we never have had before.”  After all, according to BBC’s How Many People Can Live on Earth, “almost 10% of the total population is living on the earth now.  We are the largest generation ever, and there are more people on the earth now than ever before and we don’t know if we, as a species, can make this work.”  Many people worry about the fate of the earth.  However, it isn’t the earth we have to worry about.  It’s this blip of a species, humans, who have yet to prove whether they are a successful achievement or a mere evolutionary experiment.

The fact is, he continues, “Every single one of the 100 billion lives who have walked the face of this earth is unique and unrepeatable…To be born at all is a miracle, so what are you going to do with your life?”

How should this knowledge help us transform our teaching practice?  If we all, as teachers, embraced this fact, that every being is unique and unrepeatable, then wouldn’t we see all students for their unique potential to make contributions to this world?

The best teachers, the Dalai Lama for one, “is perfectly prepared to say, ‘I don’t know.’  In your experience, what would you advise me?” Are the answers that students give ones that are explored and encouraged for their uniqueness, or are they shut down for not being able to fit into the box of standardization?

The fact is that “One of our core principles is our diversity” and that “Human talents are very much like natural resources in the ground…and they don’t always manifest themselves without the right conditions.”  Do we currently grant students the opportunity to discover their talents and encourage them to grow no matter what those talents are?

We’ve highlighted STEM, which is very important, to be sure.  But in so doing, we’ve limited those other talents that are needed in any civilization.  And by doing this, we’ve perhaps ultimately doomed all subjects, including science. People confuse raising standards with standardization, and they tend to focus on certain standards while neglecting others – “STEM is not enough!”


The 3 Principles that Guide Us As a Species
1. Humans are diverse.  Schools do not embrace the diversity of our species and by diversity we mean talents and potential to contribute. According to business leaders- “adaptability is needed at the core of corporate America – but going through our schools closes that skill.”

2. Human beings are inherently creative.  And by creative we mean contributions that can’t be predicted by standards, but can yet be untapped by some modicum of freedom to create our own standards. “Nothing seemed less probable…when I was a child…that I would have the life I have…it wasn’t a plan.  It was an evolution.”  Do we permit students to evolve or do we predict for them by putting them on specific paths, guided by the limited standards we created, and thus do the very opposite of what we should be doing as educators?

3. Human lives aren’t linear; they are organic.  “Every life is a conversation between your talents and your experiences.” There is an ebb and flow to learning.  Yet schools remain as linear as they did a century ago for “The educational system is based on our compliance.”  People are defined by “what they can’t do, not on what they CAN do.”  How would that transform teaching if we flipped this philosophy?

There is such a thing in medicine as septic focus (note: I may have misheard this phrase.)  It’s when people confuse symptoms with causes, and when it comes to education, “social issues show up in schools and schools get blamed for them.”  As a result, the solution can become a part of the perpetuating problem.

Narrowing the curriculum is a cause of that very problem. So “we have to get away from standardizing to personalizing. We have to get away from narrowing to embracing the diversity.”


Technology’s Role in This Revolution

Technology grants access to different outlets, allowing a different cultural experience than ever before – and it’s unpredictable.  After all, they couldn’t predict all the apps people created when permitted to do so.

We have to grant access to opportunities to solve and to contribute.  We need to help guide students to be the answerers to questions about future food supplies and fuel production. “Education is meant to address this situation.”

Therefore, “our future [as education] has to lie in a radical transformation.”  Otherwise, as George Orwell said, “civilization is a race between education and catastrophe.”  Who is winning if education cannot evolve?

Every student could have a purpose towards this evolution.  Every student could find a way to contribute, but in order to do so, “education should always be personalized [so that] every kid in the system should have a reason to stay there – and if education doesn’t engage students personally, we’ll lose them.”

“Our job is to facilitate learning,” not direct it.  “Educating is not a process of directing instruction, but to inspire, to feed curiosity, to facilitate…if we aren’t facilitating learning, then education is not happening.”

We keep talking about teaching this standard or that standard, but “our job is not to teach subjects, but to teach students.”


So What Should We Do?
Find ways to embrace and nurture the unlimited variety of diverse talents.

Broaden student experiences.

Individualize schedules.  After all, just imagine if you were asked to close up shop and stop working every 45 minutes to switch gears and start up another cause.  It’s abrupt, and it’s not working.

Recognize that kids learn at different rates.

But there’s hope.  After all, Death Valley isn’t dead.  In 2004, it rained in Death Valley, and the desert floor was blanketed with flowers.  It wasn’t dead; the beauty was merely dormant, and “when the conditions are right, life is inevitable.”

It takes more energy and resources to stifle our creativity by developing more narrow standards and rules and limits and definitions, than it would to find ways to cultivate it. And as an educational system, “If we celebrate our creativity with their creativity,” this revolution can begin.

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