When I heard Sir Ken Robinson’s 2007 TED talk on creativity and education, I was fist pumping through much of it. It took me back to a decade as a public school librarian and my conviction that what we should all be doing is encouraging young people’s natural sense of wonder.
It also reminded me of the American program that supported my 15-month job in Oakland, training seniors to be storytellers in fifth-grade, inner-city classes. What those seniors were doing in the classrooms was inspiring, but the “No Child Left Behind” Act that funded us horrified me. The schools in which I witnessed it were so lock-step and rule bound they should have been teaching robots, not children.
The fault lay in the program, not in the teachers. I met many creative teachers who somehow managed to instill some excitement into a day carved up, quite literally, into 15-minute blocks. The expectation was that a supervisor could walk into any classroom, any time of the day and find students learning exactly the same thing at exactly the same minute.
So I am fist pumping again as I listen to Robinson’s latest TED talk and hear him say:
America spends more money on education than most other countries. Class sizes are smaller than in many countries. And there are hundreds of initiatives every year to try and improve education. The trouble is, it’s all going in the wrong direction. There are three principles on which human life flourishes, and they are contradicted by the culture of education under which most teachers have to labor and most students have to endure.
No Child Left Behind focuses on the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) to the exclusion of arts and humanities. He says:
Kids prosper best with a broad curriculum that celebrates their various talents, not just a small range of them. And by the way, the arts aren’t just important because they improve math scores. They’re important because they speak to parts of children’s being which are otherwise untouched.
Robinson is critical of the emphasis on standardized test as the “dominant culture of education”. He views them as a simple diagnostic tool that could support learning, not set a tripwire for it to stumble on. He reminds the audience that:
[H]uman life is inherently creative…We all create our own lives through this restless process of imaging alternatives and possibilities, and what one of the roles of education is is to awaken and develop these powers of creativity. Instead, what we have is a culture of standardization.
Robinson has some simple, sound ideas for reforming the American school system, and I hope people in positions of influence are paying attention. What I witnessed as I was training storytellers should not be inflicted on children or teachers. What Robinson envisions for schools will transform them. The popularity of his talks gives me hope that somewhere out there, enough people are listening to start an education revolution – not by imposing yet another magic formula but by providing the kind of atmosphere he calls for when he says:
The real role of leadership in education – and I think it’s true at the national level, the state level, at the school level – is not and should not be command control. The real role of leadership is climate control, creating a climate of possibility. And if you do that, people will rise to it and achieve things that you completely did not anticipate and couldn’t have expected.
And those things will rock the world.