Sir Ken Robinson: Reclaiming the Elemental Purpose of Education
Post written by Laura Varlas
Like most teenagers, Sir Ken Robinson had no idea what he wanted to be when he grew up.
"Life is a constant improvisation. How many of you, at the age of 15, accurately anticipated the life you've had?," he asked at his ASCD Annual Conference general session presentation last month.
"Your résumé conveys the myth that this was all planned. The last thing you want to do is convey the actual chaos you've been living through."
The path through your life appears as you take it, he explained, and finding your element implies tuning your ear to that inner voice that guides you along the journey. "It requires looking both beyond yourself and more deeply inside yourself to plot a course through your own talents and interests," Robinson noted.
Robinson fears that education is trending increasingly away from helping students find their element.
"Politicians talk about getting back to basics as a finite set of disciplines, but the basics of education are really a set of purposes—why are we doing this in the first place?," Robinson asked. He outlined four major purposes for education and the challenges to realizing these purposes in the current state of industrialized education:
- Economic: "We expect education to facilitate growth and stimulate our economy, yet we are still operating under systems designed to support the Industrial Revolution."
- Cultural: "You need a broad curriculum, not just STEM, to be able to meet our cultural goals for education: tolerance, understanding, and a sense of identity."
- Social: You don't restore confidence in political processes simply by talking about them; you have to mirror democratic values within education. He added, "If you design a system of education on a very narrow conception of creativity and capability, don't be surprised if not many people benefit from or participate in it."
- Personal: For Robinson, this is the linchpin on which the economic, cultural, and social purposes of education rely. He argues that schools need a richer conception of ability so that all students can connect with their natural aptitudes and be in their element.
How many kids go through education without any idea of what they're good at? Why is it that only after leaving school, artists like George Harrison and Elvis Presley connect with their musical talents? We are all born with immense natural talents, but when creativity is narrowly defined, we miss it, Robinson lamented.
To restore the personal, elemental aims of education, Robinson recommends several conditions:
- School culture should foster a sense of community, individuality, and possibility.
- Curriculum must be diverse, deep, and dynamic.
- Pedagogy should inspire and engage the imagination and creativity of students and create confidence in learning.
- Assessment should motivate students to achieve at high standards.
In her poem, "Risk," Anaïs Nin writes,
And then the day came, when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.
For Robinson, that day has come. "It's a misconception that creativity is only about certain people, doing special things, and either you have it or you don't."
Added Robinson, "We've spent too much effort in education on containing, when instead, we can—and great teachers do—create the conditions for creativity to flourish, and each student to blossom."
Learn more at www.ascd.org/wcsymposium.