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5 Things I Learned From Ken Robinson

Education expert Sir Ken Robinson is more than a New York Times bestselling author. He is a dynamic speaker and a leader in the development of creativity and innovation. Now Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Warwick in the UK, he has received honorary degrees from five different universities as well as numerous awards. During his prolific career, he has been a strong advocate for creativity and the arts in education systems around the world.

After watching Ken Robinson’s speech at the prestigious TED conference in 2006, I couldn’t help but marvel at his astute insights into the education system of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. What exactly did I take away from his speech? The following five points summarize how, as Robinson puts it, “our schools are killing the creativity of our children.”

1. We are all naturally creative beings:

The key to unleashing creativity, as Ken Robinson says, is accepting the fact that sometimes, as thinkers and innovators, we will be wrong. Unfortunately, most adults are suffocated by the fear of being wrong. This fear is instilled in us at a young age and follows us into adult life. Preschoolers don’t share this worry, so they have no trouble tapping into their creativity. When asked a question, young children eagerly volunteer a multitude of creative responses. It is only when they are repeatedly told they are wrong that they begin to distrust volunteering. Creative people accept failure as part of the innovation process. Thomas Edison tested his version of the light bulb more than 3000 times before succeeding, but he saw no failure. When asked about it, he simply said that he didn’t fail 3000 times, but found 3000 “ways it didn’t work”. That’s the kind of mindset it takes to succeed in innovation — and in life, for that matter.

2. Intelligence is diverse, dynamic and distinct:

We know that each individual demonstrates their intelligence in unique and different ways. A system that focuses on one way, one way, underestimates those who don’t fit the mold. In his speech, Ken Robinson brought up the story of dancer, choreographer Gillian Lynne who, as a girl, struggled in the typical school system. She just couldn’t stay still. After discovering dance, she flourished and pursued a fabulous career as a dancer and choreographer. Teachers and doctors today would have assessed her with ADHD and given her medication to calm her down! His talent would never have been recognized. How sad that we stigmatize other forms of intelligence that don’t live up to today’s norm. Too many talented kids fall through the cracks because their unique gifts don’t fit the mold of today’s education system. We need to broaden the scope of how we teach our children so they all reach their full potential!

3. We educate for another era:

As public education expanded to meet the needs of the Industrial Revolution, the subjects most useful in training the workforce were favored. The majority of jobs during the Industrial Revolution did not require creative thinking. Even today, we have an education system focused primarily on math, science, and standardized testing. Left-brain dominance is preferred. A system that tends to put creativity aside. Schools, more often than not, teach children that there is only one answer to a question. When we are taught to believe that there is only one answer, we see the world as binary – right and wrong. When we start seeing the world this way, if a teacher asks a question and the students don’t know the answer, they won’t open their mouths. As a result, children tend to lose their will to try new things and come up with their own independent ideas. We should encourage the opposite. We need to change our education system to meet the demands of today’s labor market, where innovation is a hot commodity.

4. We must adopt a new system if our children are to thrive:

As Ken Robinson explained, our education system has “mined our minds” for a commodity. We adopted this system for a purpose in the past, but it has become obsolete and needs to be revamped. The world of tomorrow, with its ever-growing population, increased global instability and fragile environment, will need highly creative people. We need people who can predict emerging trends, come up with solutions to new problems, and stay calm in a challenging and ever-changing world. The system currently in place will only stifle the creativity and ingenuity of tomorrow’s leaders and innovators.

5. “Academic inflation” and global competition:

More people than ever are graduating across the world. In 30 years, a baccalaureate will be worth almost nothing. To have a career, you will need a master’s degree or a doctorate. We are already seeing college graduates returning home to live with mom and dad with no career prospects. So how do we make sure our children stand out from the well-educated crowd? Inevitably, we must rethink our definition of intelligence if our children are to succeed in this increasingly competitive world. Only if we encourage their creativity will they have a chance.

Transforming our education system is not only desirable, but essential. Embracing all forms of intelligence will prepare us for an unpredictable and ever-changing future. Continuing on the same path, with an outdated system in place, will mean throwing away talent and undiscovered potential. Cultivating undiscovered potential and talent is one of my favorite things about working with young people. What a life changing gift to give to another human being. For my part, I am not ready to let more and more children fail in life because they do not fit into the mould… And you?

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