Today's post is on the most viewed TED talk to date in the organization's history, by Sir Ken Robinson on how schools kill creativity. (He defines creativity as the "process of having original ideas that are valued".) In this talk, which has already been watched more than 11 million times, Robinson argues for a rethink of the school system so that education will nurture - rather than kill - creativity, in his opinion just as important as literacy. This is due to the fast-changing environment facing young people soon to enter the workforce.
One of Robinson's famous quotes in the speech is: "If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” He also quotes a well-known line by Picasso: "All children are born artists, the problem is to remain an artist as we grow up." Robinson believes kids are being educated out of creativity and argues that the purpose of the education system is to produce university professors. This might be a bit of a stretch, but he points out that a lot of professors live in their head, while arts like dance are viewed as the least well-regarded part of the curriculum. Academic ability has come to dominate the education system, and students are discouraged from doing something they won't do a career of (music, etc), in spite of (a) the process of academic inflation, which means that they need always more advanced and expensive degrees to be competitive for a job - and (b) the fact that we don't even know the skills our children will need in the workforce decades from now.
According to Robinson, we need to rethink our view of intelligence to capture that: (1) it is diverse, like the world we live in, (2) it is dynamic & interactive, and finally (3) it is distinct (we process information by seeing, hearing, touching it). Sadly, he provides no specifics whatsoever. That's the issue with giving talks that are only eighteen minutes long. Thankfully, he expands on his views in his book Out of our minds, about which I'll write a post next.
Robinson had clearly prepared for his talk, though. I loved the story about Gillian Lynne, the Royal Ballet dancer who went on to great success on stage (especially thanks to Cats and Phantom of the Opera) but had been incorrectly labeled as incapable of learning as a child because she wanted to move all the time - it turns out she wasn't sick, she just wanted to dance. On the other hand, if you only have 18 minutes to make your point about schools killing creativity, maybe you could find a better example than someone who picked an athletic career. The over-diagnosis of ADHD, which Sir Robinson mentions in the dancer's story, is an important issue, but it brings us a bit far from the purpose of the talk.
As an obvious example, it never ceases to amaze me how multiple-choice tests are viewed in the US school system as the ultimately tool to distinguish top students from average ones. They're easy to scale, but they most certainly don't help in assessing creativity.
The talk, which was taped in 2006, isn't quite as polished as later TED talks, but it's a good watch nonetheless. Contrary to most TED talks these days, this one doesn't end with a call for action, and the audience is left wondering what to do next to bring about change in education. I also found his book Out of our minds to be light on practical recommendations, although very well researched and with good comments on how today's educational system emerged from the need to produce workers for assembly lines in the Henry Ford factory model. Of course if it was easy to figure out what to do to teach people how to be creative, it wouldn't be such a hot topic.