Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Sir Ken Robinson (and Abraham Lincoln) on the need to transform our outdated education system – to  ‘tread softly on children’s dreams’.
Sir Ken Robinson
Sir Ken Robinson is well known to most teachers but for all the admiration few schools have put his ideas into action.
The trouble is although there have always been a small group of creative teachers whose teaching is aligned to SirKen’s views their ideas have been side-lined by the standardized approaches being foisted on schools by the current government; an approach that favours narrow achievement above love of learning.
Sir Ken’s follow up TED talk (which is still the most viewed TED video of all time) provides educators and opposition politicians with a real alternative but only if admirers have the necessary courage to translate words into action.
Unfortunately far too many schools have been pressurized into complying with  implementing a narrow educational approach  based on assessing students on literacy and numeracy achievement. Literacy and numeracy have, in effect, become the default curriculum. Arbitrary national standards and league tables have reinforced the natural conservative ethos of schools.
Sir Ken’s videos (s) provide inspiration for a real change. And he is not alone.
Sir Ken believes that not only do we have to face up to a climate crisis but that there is also a ‘crisis of human resources and that we need to deal with the  crisis  with the same urgency as we make such poor use of our talents’. ‘Many people’, says Sir Ken,’ go through their  lives not knowing what their talents are…many people don’t think they are good at anything…many people simply do not enjoy what they do…they get no great pleasure…they endure it’. In contrast some people ‘love what they do…it is who they are…it is their authentic self’. Such people however, says Sir Ken, are a minority.
An explanation for this sad siyuation is education. ‘Education' , he says, ‘dislocates many people from their natural talents'.
An education that taps into student’s talents is not easy according to Sir Ken, ‘(talents) are buried deep…we have to looking for them…you have to create the circumstances for them to be realised.’
‘Every system around the world is being reformed but reform is not enough….we do not need evolution but revolution… education has to be transformed into something else.’
To make his point Sir Ken quotes a speech made by Abraham Lincoln during the civil war in the 1860s.
 Lincoln said, ‘The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate for the striving present, the occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new so we need to think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves and then we can save our country.’
Building on Lincoln’s speech and relating it to the crisis in education Sir Ken said there are ideas about schooling we take for granted.
 Such ideas were suited to a previous century but our minds are still captured by them. We need to ‘disenthrall ourselves of them.  This, he said, is easier said than done because ‘it is very difficult to know what you take for granted the reason being we take them for granted’.
Until we challenge currentassumptions and way we do things currently we cannot move into the future- all we are currently doing is tinkering with a failing system. Worse still the current standardisation government’s’ agenda is reactionary at best; an agenda that is creating a system unsuitable for far too many students.
Two things, in particular, are limiting education according to Sir Ken.
The first thing we need to ‘disenthrall ourselves of is the idea of linearity…the ideas that students need to follow a specific track….Life is not linear, it is organic. We create our lives as we explore our talents. We have become obsessed with this linear narrative’.

 Because of this linearity teachers all too often do not take their student’s interests seriously. Students are pushed into ability groups and courses that do not suit them – all too often more the convenience of teachers and their intentions. ‘Schools’, believes Sir Ken, ‘need to focus on the innate gifts of the students.’ ‘Human communities depend on a diversity of talents’ The challenge for teachers is to ‘reconstitute our conception of ability’. Our ability grouping is subverting students –‘ignoring their gifts and talents’.
The second big issue is conformity. We have designed our education on the model of fast food. Everything is standardised rather than customised’. Our current education is ‘impoverishing our spirit and energy as much as fast food is depleting our bodies.’
No wonder students become disengaged or leave alienated from their own learning. Many can no longer see the point of it all.
(The two taken for granted assumptions that come to my mind is the current over emphasis on literacy and numeracy and, associated with this, the harmful effect of demeaning ability grouping. By the use of such approaches and associated obsessive assessment schools have already all but moved back into 3rs Victorian education.  )
According to Sir Ken ‘we need to recognise that human talent extremely diversified…we all have unique aptitudes….we need to recognise the power of passion…what excites our spirit and energy…the things we love and want to get good at.’
Imagine schools based on developing this love of learning – the need to tap into and amplify every student’s talents.
‘We need to change our metaphors. We need to go from an industrial model which is based on linearity and conformity and batching people and move to a model that is based on the spirit of agriculture’.
The model for education!
We have to recognise that human talent is not a mechanical process – it is an organic process and you cannot predict the outcome of human development, all we can do is to create the conditions under which they will flourish.’
‘We are not into cloning education’ ( standardising it as is the current agenda)’ it is about customising to your circumstances and personalising teaching to the students you are actually teaching.
Personalising education to develop the talents and gifts of all students is the ‘answer to the future – it is about creating a movement in education with external support based on a personalised curriculum.
Sir Ken concluded his presentation with a quote from W B Yeats,
 I have only my dreams to offer,
 tread softly on my dreams’.
W B Yeats
‘We should tread softly on our children’s dreams’.
So far we crushed more dreams than realised them. No wonder so many students leave our current school system seeing themselves as failures.
Imagine a country with an educationsystem dedicated to realising the gifts and talents of all students. How would a school look dedicated to developing the talents of all students? Could schools be developed to ensure all students to leave with their innate desire to learn and explore alive and well?
Sir Ken believes that the combination of new technologies and creative teachers could form the basis of transformed system but only if we ‘change from an industrial model to an agricultural one.’
Teachers would have to change their own minds first

More Sir Ken

And lots more on Google


Allan Alach said...

54The problem, as you are well aware, is that our ideologically deaf and blind govt is ignoring Sir Ken and his ilk. The same way that they are ignoring climate change and that they ignored work place safety in the past. They've used the complaint media to sell their spin to parents and so have entrenched in parents' minds, the need for standards. Undoing that will be hard work.

Anonymous said...

How do you envision a 21stC school/class? How different would it look from a current classroom/school?