TED Talks Worth Talking About | Ken Robinson on Bring on the Learning Revolution

Posted on May 26, 2010


Sir Ken Robinson: Bring on the learning revolution! TED, February 2010.

Picking up from his 2006 talk, …

I believe there is a second climate crisis which is as severe, which has the same origins and we have to deal with, with the same urgency. This is a crisis, not of natural resources, but a crisis of human resources.

We make very poor use of our talents.

Jeremy Bentham once said, “There are two types of people in this world. Those who divide the world into two types, and those who do not.”

Education dislocates people from their natural talents. Human resources are like natural resources. They’re often buried deep. You have to go looking for them. They’re not just lying around on the surface. You have to create the circumstances where they show themselves. You might imagine education is the way that happens, but too often it’s not.

Every educational system in the world is being reformed at the moment, and it’s not enough. Reform is no use anymore because that is simply improving a broken model. What we need is not evolution, but a revolution in education. This has to be transformed into something else.

Innovation is hard, because it means challenging what we take for granted, things we think are obvious. The great problem for transformation is the tyranny of common sense.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN: The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise — with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country. [December 1, 1862]

There are a couple things we are enthralled to in education. One is linearity. That it starts here, go through a track, and if you do everything right, you’re set for life. Life, however, is not linear, it is organic. We create our lives symbiotically as we explore our talents in relation to circumstances they help to create for us. The pinnacle of this is getting to college. Not everyone needs to go, and not everyone needs to go right now.

Human communities depend upon a diversity of talent, not a singular conception of ability.

And at the heart of the challenge is to reconstitute our sense of “ability” and of “intelligence.”

A three-year-old is not half a six-year-old.

Other issue is conformity. We’ve built our education on the model of fast-food. There are two models of quality assurance: standardization or customization (to local circumstances).

We’ve sold ourselves into a fast-food model of education and its impoverishing our spirits and our energies as much as fast-food is depleting our physical bodies.

Recognize that human talent is tremendously diverse. It’s about passion. If you’re doing something you love, and hour feels like 5 min. If you’re doing something that doesn’t resonate with your spirit, 5 min. feels like an hour. The reason so many are opting out of education is because it doesn’t feed their spirit, their energy or their passion.

I think we have to change metaphors. We have to go from an industrial model (manufacturing model based on linearity and conformity) to a model of principles based on agriculture. Recognize that human flourishing is not a mechanical process, but an organic process. You cannot predict the outcome of human development. All you can do, like a farmer is create the conditions under which they will begin to flourish.

So, when we talk about reforming, or transforming, it’s not about cloning, but about customizing them to your circumstances, and personalizing education to the people you’re actually teaching. It’s not about scaling a new solution, it’s about creating a new movement in education in which people develop their own solutions but with external support based upon their own personalized curriculum.

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread upon my dreams.

And everyday, everywhere, our children spread their dreams beneath our feet and we should tread softly

— VIA —

I actually have several follow up questions. I loved the talk, and its inspiration, and more importantly, the “spirit” with which he communicates. It is powerful and necessary for the fundamental principle of humanity. So, question 1: “How?”

No doubt a first step is inspirational talks like this one. Spreading ideas is the first step. But beyond that, are there practical behavioral steps to take that can help move peoples’ behavior and systems, not just their beliefs? Some [very raw] ideas:

  • establish a stronger working and educational relationship between educational institutions and the families of the children
  • eliminate a school’s “schedule,” and begin a “calendar of events” in which students learn through various experiences
  • decrease the ratios of educators to students
  • train educators in inductive processes and the value of inquiry
  • eliminate exams
  • overhaul the written “goals” of any educational institution
  • eliminate homework and institute homeexperiments or projects

I’m sure there are plenty of other ways.

Second question, “Are not current educational institutions already integrating these “non-linear” and “customization” principles in their existing establishments? And how much?

Third question, “While customization is necessary, isn’t there a foundation of linearity required in order for customization to take place? In other words, should we be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater?” I’m not suggesting that Robinson has posed this, but I can see it as an existing possible paradox (rejected by some), that real education requires both linearity and customization. In other words, there is a “science” in addition to an “art” and that we ought not forsake one for the principles of the other. Even in the illustration of the firefighter, there must be some “step 1, step 2” foundations set.

Regardless, I loved this talk, and appreciated the sentiments greatly, and will be working and thinking diligently how we can begin to implement some of these principles in what I do.

Sir Ken Robinson: Bring on the learning revolution!

Posted in: Culture, Education, Life, TED