What is education, anyway? Pt.1

Ken Robinson’s take on schools, and how they kill creativity…

You’re likely one of the 20,738,467 viewers of Ken Robinson’s “Schools Kill Creativity” 2006 TED Talk. Robinson’s assertion, and general gist of the talk, is that “all kids have tremendous talents, and we squander them; pretty ruthlessly”. The “we”, we can infer from the rest of his talk, are schools.

Let me pick out some key points:
• “My contention is that creativity, now, is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”
• “We are educating people out of their creative capacities.”
• “Every education system on Earth has the same hierarchy of subjects… At the top are Mathematics and Languages, then the Humanities and at the bottom are the Arts… And in pretty much every education system there’s a hierarchy within the Arts. Art and Music are normally given a higher status in schools that Drama and Dance. There isn’t an education system on the planet that teaches Dance every day to children, the way we teach them Mathematics. Why? Why not?”
• “Our education system is predicated on the idea of academic ability.”
• (On why schools are so focussed on academia) “Education systems were designed to meet the needs of industrialism… The subjects given the highest status were those that were most useful subjects for work… Kids were, and still are, steered away from subjects you like on the proviso that you won’t find work doing that, such as music, art and so on.”

To finish:
• “We have to rethink the fundamental principles on which we’re educating our children.”
• “Our task is to educate their whole being”

I believe we’d struggle to find many teachers that would whole-heartedly disagree with what Robinson has to say. I believe that most teachers do what we do in spite of those “fundamental principles”. I believe many teachers would feel that – as well as their students’ innate talents and creativity being snuffed – their own talents and creativity don’t get much of a look-in. I believe most teachers are very restricted in terms of what they teach as well as how they teach it. Naturally, as a teacher, I’m bound to get defensive when schools are under fire, but in this case I believe that Ken Robinson is correct. However, I also know that there’s very little teachers can do about it.

It’s the administrators and politicians that should take Robinson’s advice. It’s also the perceptions of a majority of parents that would need to vastly change if any rethinking of fundamental principles were to occur. So many administrators, politicians and parents are so conditioned by their own school experiences (in many cases this was decades ago!), that makes me feel that Ken Robinson’s ideas are, sadly, a pipedream.

On school change and educational reform, Richard Elmore (2007) noted that “complex systems are built to do what they have always done, not to engage in fundamental transformations.” So, wouldn’t many argue that the ‘product’ that schools create is great? Lots of young people are popping out at the end of the school machine, ready for either work or further study. Wouldn’t many argue then, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?

What do you think?


• Elmore, R. (2007) Educational Improvement in Victoria. Harvard University
• Robinson, K. (2006) Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity. TED Link: http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html

7 thoughts on “What is education, anyway? Pt.1

  1. Pingback: Teachling | What is education, anyway? Pt.2

  2. Reblogged this on Norah Colvin and commented:
    One of my favourite talks about education is a TED talk given by Ken Robinson in 2006 “How schools kill creativity”.
    His contention is that “creativity . . . is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”
    Although the video has had more than 21 million views (while quite a few of them mine, nowhere near that number!) and drawn over 3 000 comments during the last 8 years, his views need to reach a wider audience still; an audience with the power to enact change.
    One thing I had always loved about teaching was the opportunity to express myself creatively, and to encourage my students to do the same. Unfortunately the current emphasis on a content-driven, top-down approach where test results reign supreme has left little room for anyone’s creativity. I am not saying there was ever much opportunity for creativity in formal schooling, but creative teachers could always squeeze a bit it. Now the opportunities for creative “massage” are few.
    My optimism for positive change in education is always raised when I read or hear of others who share similar views. I think if enough voices are heard chanting the same message that a change may come.
    This post (and article in Saturday’s QWeekend magazine) by Mary-Rose Maccoll “Why Banff means the World” also proclaims the vision of Ken Robinson. Mary-Rose is another fan.
    She says that “Being at the Banff Centre (in Canada) has made me reflect on what we lose when we don’t foster art, when we don’t foster creativity. And what we lose is the world.”
    She says that “even as school education becomes increasingly narrow in its focus, we’re also seeing a decline in performance on the very outcomes that standardisation seeks to improve.”
    She concludes by saying, “As I sit in my room and watch the mountains, listening to the trail of a contraband sax down the hall (you’re supposed to play in the soundproofed studios in the forest), reading a piece by a Scottish writer, I am grateful for artists. In our 21st century world, we surely need them.”
    I agree wholeheartedly as, I’m sure would Ken Robinson, along with Teachling whose post What is Education, anyway?Pt 1 I reblog for you here:

  3. This is a great article. I am sorry it took me so long to get to it. I saw it when it was first posted. Thanks for sharing your ideas. This is one of my favourite TED talks. I have reblogged this article on my blog. We really need to spread the word. Thanks for doing your bit!

    • It was the first Ted Talk I ever saw. Love it to bits. Ken’s very engaging and everything he says makes so much sense. Thankyou very much for the reblogging. Good luck for the new school year – not long now!

  4. You’re right Norah – it needs to be heard (and indeed enacted upon) by an audience with the power to enact change. Doesn’t it sound odd though, as we the teachers are not in a position to enact change even though we’re the ones that do the work. Perhaps that’s where the problem lies? And yes, here’s to the artists!

  5. Pingback: Teachling | What is education, anyway? Pt.3

  6. Pingback: Teachling | The highs and lows of teaching: From making a difference, building great relationships and shaping the future, to homework, reports and helicopter parents.

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