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