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Human Potential in the Age of Exponential Tech

Ted Tuesday – Ken Robinson on why education is killing creativity

Welcome to the first ever Ted Tuesday! I have been a huge fan of TED for a long time, and I’m happy the response to discussing various presentations on The Foush was so positive- thank you for your tweets and emails! Looks like I’m not the only one craving some idea juice. I wanted to pick my favorites because some of them go back to 2006 and I wanted to make sure that you knew about these videos. I’m hoping that this will be a two way exchange, that you will in turn share with me your favorite Ted Talks and we can put them up here and talk about them too!

Why you should watch this (from TED):

Why don’t we get the best out of people? Sir Ken Robinson argues that it’s because we’ve been educated to become good workers, rather than creative thinkers. Students with restless minds and bodies — far from being cultivated for their energy and curiosity — are ignored or even stigmatized, with terrible consequences. “We are educating people out of their creativity,” Robinson says. It’s a message with deep resonance. Robinson’s TEDTalk has been distributed widely around the Web since its release in June 2006.

My Favorite Part:

When describing the conversation between a doctor and the mother of a girl who been brought in because she was having trouble paying attention in school.

Doctor: Mrs. Lynn, Gillian isn’t sick – she’s a dancer.

My Take:

I loved that line. I always wonder how many kids were medicated out of their true talents because they didn’t quite fit into the system? How many employees fall through the cracks in an organization because they are stifled by boxy job descriptions. How many of us know or feel what are calling is, but get talked out of it? I remember talking to my guidance counselor about post-secondary options. I wanted to be a writer, I said. I want to write novels, movies, poems, plays, anything with words and I wanted to be a part of it. Do you know what his response was?

“Do you know how hard it is to get published? It’s nearly impossible. Writers don’t make a good living, you’ll be poor for the rest of your life. You’re better off going into something else. Something more useful.”

I never forgot that conversation. It was part of the reason I applied to business school in the first place, that unspoken shame that by wanting to pursue a creative avenue, I would somehow be committing myself to a life of poverty.

Why is it that the arts aren’t as respected as other institutions?  The Arts are the backbone of culture, the lense through which we express the joys and hardships of our times. It is the Arts that endure to tell our stories when business is nothing more then a paragraph in a history text.

I truly believe that each of us are born with a calling, and that unfortunately by the time we get through the educational system we have been so systematically programmed to regurgitate information on command that we forget what it’s like to listen to our hearts and do the things that truly bring us joy. The irony being that often time, by following our joy we actually enjoy a greater prosperity. (As in the case of Gillian Lynn, but you have to watch the video to hear how she thrived!)

Your Turn:

What do you think? Agree? Disagree? What was your favorite part?

Comments: 5

  • James Nutter

    November 11, 2008

    When I was in grade school and high school they told my mom and dad ” he needs to be in special ed for part of the day” “what is his disability my parents asked?” “He does not really have one, he just needs a little extra time for taking test and the instructions on the homework explained in a different way.”

    I always approach a problem in a different way then others, and maybe the teachers did not know how to handle a student that did not follow the “standard” way of doing things.

    I also have a problem with “standardized” test, I never did well on them and it is like telling someone “Hey, if you do not fit into this “box” then you will not do well in school or a career.”

  • Brandon Bouwhuis

    November 12, 2008

    In general, I feel much the same way as Sir Ken Robinson. I sense there are many cases where talent is not easy to diagnose, and therefore has been dismissed as some type of defect that needs to be treated, either medically or conditionally. If identification is incorrect or absent, it can lead to the type of squander described by Sir Robinson. Regarding education and the hierarchy of subjects, I firmly agree that in order to fully realize intelligence and creativity, both sides of the brain must be fed, especially in early childhood. I also agree that the current system tends to place more importance with the science-and-mathematics end of the hierarchy. The reasons such a system exist are many, including the ideals of those running it, as Sir Robinson noted; but, these reasons also include lack of government funding, limited training of teachers to identify needs of individual students, and standardized testing. I and my uncle, who was a great guidance councilor, have discussed how the current system is (supposed to be) designed to educate the average student. Definitions of ‘average’ student aside, this means that students some standard deviations away from average (both above and below) receive less from the current system.

    Throughout my education I was guided towards a multi-disciplinary education, including science, the arts, and sports (the last of which some consider its own art form). I was very fortunate to have all these resources. By utilizing all of them, I also felt I could be more creative. Sir Robinson defines creativity as ‘the process of having original ideas that have value,’ and, like me, notes the importance of interdisciplinary educational experiences. After all, there is art in science and science in art. However, this knowledge arises with age; many children won’t care to learn about the subjects that don’t immediately interest them. A 6-year old who loves nothing but science and math may feel very creative in that alone. This poses a problem: do you force a multi-disciplinary education on to a child because you know it’s good for them in the long run, despite any early talents observed; or, do you allow a child to follow every educational whim because it may be their talent? I see the solution somewhere in the middle of a large grey area.

    Next, how do you alter the current education system, at least in Canada? We could all increase our taxes for an education system with more teachers, smaller classes, focus on early child development, late child development, and broader, more dynamic teacher training. I believe the key word here is dynamic. Sir Robinson plucked a neuron which has resonated in my brain for some time: he said “…nobody has a clue…what the world will look like in 5 years time, and yet we’re meant to be educating [the children] for it.” This is true, and in all accounts a very jarring statement, but it goes further: there is also a wide range in education standards throughout the world. All children should have the same access to the type of education that promotes creativity. One solution may be e-learning. With this solution I agree in part, but believe in this case there is a fundamental limit to technology: in its current state, the arts are not fully represented. To fill this gap will require a deep understanding of the sciences and the arts.

    As a small post-script, I have no problem accepting that women are better at multi-tasking than men. However, a proof simply and solely based on the size or thickness of the corpus callosum alone is by no means complete; see, for example, S.J. Gould’s “The Mismeasure of Man.” In fact, such a statement would be better forgotten by someone such as Sir Robinson, who is trying to elevate the present education system from its outdated beliefs.

  • Paul Sham

    November 14, 2008

    Wow, thanks for posting this video. It’s an excellent analysis of the education system.

    Going through the education system, (especially in high school, where 90% of my graduating class went into science- and math-related fields) I can definitely see the hierarchy, and how it affected me. I was your typical math and science student because that was the thing to do. Luckily, in high school, one of my friends wasn’t like that and decided to get us an arts course, which happened to be a Media Arts course that changed my direction completely. It is weird though that we had to get support for an arts course, while the subjects “higher in the hierarchy” were abundant. Now that I’m in multimedia design, learning the technical stuff of multimedia design was easy: coding websites, getting exact measurements. I do struggle creatively though because creativity was never fostered.

    I’m also interested in his analysis of connecting the current education system to the Industrial Revolution. It sounds very Marxist. I don’t know much about the history of the education system, so I can’t really agree or disagree with this, but I found that it’s an interesting point.

    It’s sad to hear what your guidance counsellor said to you. I’ve seen friends go through similar things, and it’s unfortunate. Luckily for me, however, I never had anybody tell me that, and I’m so thankful for that. My teachers, principal, and even my parents were supportive of what I chose to do (even if my mom still doesn’t understand what I’m studying). One of my best moments was going back to visit my high school, and hearing my principal say how proud she was that I chose to do something I was good at, and didn’t just force myself into a traditional education.

    But, I do think children can also learn through extracurricular activities, which does put responsibility on the parents. If the education system isn’t providing something, there are classes outside the school to provide other forms of learning. The only concern is these activities usually have costs attached to them.

    Also, I agree with his assessment about degrees not being worth anything. In my uni/college collaborative program, I’m going to end up with both a degree and a diploma. But, in the end, I’m relying on my own personal portfolio to get me anywhere.

  • Jeremy

    November 17, 2008

    A brilliant video – I love his approach the the topic – it is what education really needs. A great follow up to this is the Sugutra Mitra video on TED about how kids can teach themselves… Something that we should allow them to do more often…

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