Sir Ken Robinson

I saw Robinson’s talk today at the Turning Tides Emergent Learning Conference in Halifax, NS today. Oh yeah – I gave a talk there too, but didn’t have quite the audience of 1000+ that he garnered. And I can see why they all came.

I had read Sir Ken Robinson’s book “Element” first, saw his TED talk, and his brilliantly produced RSA talk, but it didn’t make his talk today any less valuable. He described his childhood as a victim of Polio, in the school for the physically handicapped, named so that we could all be exactly sure what type of children were going there, he quipped. He learned from that experience that education systems, even today, focus on disabilities rather than abilities.

Robinson’s main point today was a lot about the same ideas I’ve heard him talk about (or write about) before – warning against the narrowing of the curriculum and the standardization of our school systems since the industrial age. He spoke of how now, more than ever, we are in need of innovation but are stifling creativity in our educational programs at the same time. But listening to him put flesh on the bones of those ideas, telling stories from his own life and the lives of the many others he’s met (e.g. the Dali Lama!), painted pictures in my mind that were new and deep.

He advocated for the learners who may express themselves and learn through arts or kinesthetically, and thus are “betrayed” by school systems that demand they think, produce, and communicate in only very specific ways, ways that may seem foreign to them. The biggest danger of this, he warned, is that those students may never find the areas in which they can think, produce, communicate…and thrive. The current educational system produces a vast amount of waste, analogous he said to the dangerous waste of our over-consumption of fossil fuels and the like – our planet, or at least the human race, cannot sustain it.

As a solution, Robinson gave rich illustrious examples such as learning environments where young children were given reading lessons in a public area right near a residence for the elderly. The residents saw the program, asked to help and it became an organic reading-buddies program between the very old and the very young. The benefits included improved literacy outcomes for the children as well as a decrease in anti-depressant and sleep-aid usage in the older participants.

My memory cannot do justice to his powerful examples of what does and does not work in education. But I was moved by his depth of experience, his ability to synthesize ideas and provide powerful insight into what MUST happen for our society, the human race, to survive and succeed. His global view adds depth to an argument that runs through my blood and is the challenge that EdGE is taking on…to make learning environments that capture the blissful productivity of play (dropping a little Jane McGonigal into my SKR rant) and to let learning that happens in alternate environments (such as games) be recognized, measured, and leveraged for productive means.

Robinson spoke passionately for nearly 2 hours – driving the conference organizers bonkers probably, but the audience was riveted. A 2 hours very well spent.


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