Ken Robinson says schools squander talents

by Andreas Koller

Last but not least, I’d like to add a classic TED talk to my list of inspirational talks. Actually it is the most watched TED talk ever – over 15 million on the TED website and another 5 million views on youtube since 2006. And quite rightly, I think. While folks like Evgeny Morozov love to hate TED talks, which is debatable of course, Ken Robinson’s remarks on creativity and the educational system can be considered a masterpiece, rhetorically as well as regarding the argument he makes.

We have no way of knowing how the world is going to look like in 5 years – still we are meant to educate our children for it. Robinson defines education not only as a good dinner party conversation topic, but also as the cornerstone of our society. However, the extraordinary capacities of children are wasted in the current educational system (of course he’s more talking about the US here, but I think this applies to Europe, in a different way). Basically he’s saying that creativity has to be given more priority in education.

„My contention is, all kids have tremendous talents. And we squander them, pretty ruthlessly.“ 3:05

If kids don’t know how something works, they usually will take a chance, without being afraid to be wrong. While making mistakes is not the same as being creative, you will only come up with something new if you take the risk of being wrong. Basic stuff, still worth repeating, as our world stigmatises mistakes and kids are educated out of the capacity to accept failures as part of the process.

„If you’re not prepared to be wrong you’ll never come up with anything original.“

The hierarchies of educational systems around the globe is similar: mathematics and languages on top, then humanities, and on bottom are the arts. In 19th century, industrialism dictated the priorities. However, the world has changed and Robinson argues that academic ability is not as important any more and we need to rethink our view of intelligence, which is not measured by academic titles. Talents in kids, like dancing or drawing, should not be treated as diseases. It happens too often that talented people are told that they are not.

„I believe our only hope for the future is to adopt a new conception of human ecology, one in which we start to reconstitute our conception of the richness of human capacity. Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we strip-mine the earth: for a particular commodity. And for the future, it won’t serve us. We have to rethink the fundamental principles on which we’re educating our children.“

While Robinson’s talk is more comedy than serious arguments, he does make some valid points. It’s perfect entertaining TED talk with little bits and pieces of food for thought.

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