Saturday, June 4, 2011

What we need is not evolution, but a revolution in education

Sir Ken Robinson followed up his 2006 TED talk with another genius speech that captures so much of my thinking and writing here on The Innovative Educator blog.  Not much has changed for the better in schools since Sir Ken Robinson convinced us that schools do indeed kill creativity.  In this speech he makes the case for a radical shift from standardized schools to personalized learning. This does not mean everyone achieves the same personal mastery for the same standard tests and outcomes. Instead it means creating conditions where kids' natural talents can flourish.

Robinson explains that education dislocates many people from their natural talents. He goes on to say, what many of us working in schools already know. Reform is of no use anymore, because that’s simply improving a broken model. What we need is not evolution, but a revolution in education. It has to be transformed into something else.

He recognizes that innovation is hard because it means doing something that people don’t find very easy for the most part. It means challenging what we take for granted, things that we think are obvious. This is difficult to do when school systems dictate that all their employees implement the one vision handed down to them by the suspect Common Core Standards. Suspect because these standards, being adopted across the nation, stand to make the testing and publishing companies that created them billions of dollars.  They also promote college for all which ultimately lines the pockets of many, leaving behind as carnage the graduates known today as generation debt.

Robinson points out that many of our ideas have been formed, not to meet the circumstances of this century, but to cope with the circumstances of previous centuries. He says that our minds are still hypnotized by them and we have to disenthrall ourselves of some of them.

He gives these examples.

Linearity
He says one such example is the idea of linearity, meaning that it starts here, and you go through a track, and if you do everything right, you will end up set for the rest of your life. He shares that the pinnacle for education today is getting into college. Recognizing that we are obsessed with getting people to college he responds with this.

I don’t mean you shouldn’t go to college, but not everybody needs to go, and not everybody needs to go now. Maybe they go later, not right away.

Conformity
Sir Ken says that we have sold ourselves into a fast food model of education. And it’s impoverishing our spirit and our energies as much as fast food is depleting our physical bodies. He suggests we recognize a couple of things.

One is that human talent is tremendously diverse and people have very different aptitudes. Forcing someone to take a subject like Algebra isn’t going to make them good at it.  Instead it will enable you to see who has an aptitude for it.  He shares a great example stating that he was given a guitar as a kid at about the same time Eric Clapton got his first guitar. As we all know, it worked out for Eric. For Sir Ken, not so much.  I had the same experience with a piano.  Despite years of lessons I can’t read music and can’t play the piano. 

Another is a favorite topic of mine: PASSION, or that which excites our spirit and energy. He shares a point he makes in his book, “The Element” that often, people are good at things they don’t really care for. For instance, I may be very good at cleaning and doing the laundry, but I just don’t care for it.  However, when I’m doing something that I love like reading, writing, talking to friends, or playing volleyball, an hour feels like five minutes.  On the other hand if I’m emptying the dishwasher, five minutes feels like an hour. 

Opting out of school
He goes onto explain the reason so many people are opting out of education. I was so excited to hear him use that phrase.  When I created the “Teenagers Guide to Opting Out of School,” I wasn’t aware Sir Ken was using this language.  It’s encouraging to learn that Sir Ken and I are on the same page here! He says kids are voting with their feet and leaving education because it doesn’t feed their spirit, it doesn’t feed their energy or their passion.  These are exactly the reasons the guide was written.  To provide teens with alternatives that do just that if traditional school is not fulfilling that need.

The change we need
Sir Ken explains that we have to move

from
An industrial model of education, a manufacturing model, which is based on linearity and conformity and batching people.

to
A model that is based more on principles of agriculture. We have to recognize that human flourishing is not a mechanical process, it’s an organic process. And you cannot predict the outcome of human development; all you can do, like a farmer, is create the conditions under which humans will begin to flourish. It’s about customizing to your circumstances, and personalizing education to the people you’re actually teaching.

Doing that he says is the answer to the future because it’s not about scaling a new solution; it’s about creating a movement in education in which people develop their own solutions, but with external support based on a personalized curriculum or what I like to call aPersonal Success Plan.”

Check out the video below to hear Sir Ken Robinson share these ideas in his latest TED Talk.

17 comments:

  1. I love this talk from Sir Ken Robinson. I had just finished watching it again not more than 15 mins ago. I am really enjoying your blog, keep up the good work fighting for innovation in education.

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  2. I'm tired of hearing about "what we have now." Let's get serious about what education transformed looks like....and not an anti-social, anti-authority, quasi-political rant....a real educator's answer!

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  3. walter,

    what is a "real educator?"

    I would love some perspective on this because I am continually dumbfounded with this description of a person.

    thanks, amanda

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  4. Thanks for posting this talk. The education system we have now in not sustainable for a number of reasons not the least of which is tax base in shrinking communities like my own. As I walk the halls in many schools I think how much this looks like we are preparing children for incarceration. It's definitely an industrial age model. That being said, no one has a really good idea of what we do to go forward. How do we educate children in the early years to read, write and "do math." Most of our middle and high schools are preparing most of our students for a time that no longer exists. We are preparing our children to be employees instead of entrepreneurs. Our schools are administratively heavy. We don't need all the "middle managers" that no longer exist elsewhere in the culture. We need teachers who are rewarded for taking risks and we need models for what that should look like.

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  5. @Amanda, I'm taking a stab at defining what an educator is. This is fun to think about. How about this?

    An "educator" is someone who respects and supports others in finding and developing their passions and doesn't force them to learn or do that in which they do not want to engage.

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  6. The world has always been changing and people have always been able to step up to the task of filling positions that didn't exsist before, the idea that the world has changed so much in that way is silly.

    I also disagree that school necessarily kills creativity, it could be that growing up causes this as we align to cultural norms and would happen regardless of if we were in school or not, and that those special few are not impacted in any way by "schooling" or lack thereofe. Just because someone said it in their TED talk, no matter how good it was, doesn't make it true.

    An educator can be many things. I want my professors to force me to learn things, to challenge me, not to let me get by with the least effort and earn an A. I don't want to learn grammar but I do and I will get by doing the least possible if I can because in the middle of the semester life gets in the way and I'd rather go to see a film than diagram sentences, but in the long run I need a professor who is going to kick my butt and fail me if I don't stay home and diagram sentences.

    http://behaviourguru.blogspot.com/2011/06/deliver-us-miracles-that-education.html?spref=tw

    Just a good post about what schools need, and in the UK just as here, it's that people who don't know a thing about schools, other than that they attended one once, need to butt out.

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  7. @WalterMackenzie and @Don,

    I've shared models of what an education revolution looks like in my writing. You can start with the "Teen Guide for Opting Out of School" available for free download from my blog. That has some ideas and examples through which others are finding great success. The models are also identified in my piece, “Want Passion (Not Just Data) to Drive Learning? There's a School for That!” http://huff.to/gw66E4

    I've also written quite a bit about Dale Stephen's fab "Uncollege Movement" as well as "Radmatter" which will be a system where students can go beyond an institution to credential their mastery. While this will certainly be beneficial in college, I can see it working powerfully for high school too.

    I’ve also shared that what it looks like is having the school world look more like the real world and in fact empowering students to engage in the real world and have real world opportunities like they do at the iSchool, the Island School, and the Science Leadership Academy. All schools which I’ve written about here.

    Another component I’ve written about is that instead of one set of standards and assessments for everyone, we should support students in developing their personal success plans which would include measures of mastery that align to students passions, talents, and interests.

    Finally, I believe that we should be helping students develop authentic ePortfolios that can be used to showcase academic and career potential and success. I’ve connected with too many young people who graduate from high school or college with simply a diploma and transcript but no real evidence of who they are or what they’ve accomplished. On a related note, I’m psyched that Dr. Helen Barrett has contacted me to collaborate with her on this type of work.

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  8. @Anonymous, we’re not stepping up to the task of filling positions any more. Colleges are disappointed with how unprepared HS graduates are. Businesses are disappointed with how unprepared college graduates are. Our student loan debt has passed the nation’s credit card debt. 30 – 50% of students are leaving high depending on where you are. Only 50% of those who start college finish. 85% of students who graduate college move back home. Our newest crop of college grads are known as “Gen Debt” and people everywhere are screaming that college is the next bubble that’s about to burst.

    As far as school killing creativity, I know it did mine and I’ve connected with many others who agree and are working hard to help restore passion driven learning to students. I’m not saying textbooks, Algebra, Shakespeare, and/or physics aren’t areas where some or even many find the ability to connect with their creativity. I am saying for many of us, this doesn’t work.

    While I understand there are some who want or need to be forced, many of us do not thrive that way. I do not like being forced to do things. I like being given the opportunity to do things that I love and will learn from. I was not challenged in school. Compliance was demanded so I acquiesced. If I did not I got in trouble and got bad grades. I challenge myself when I am interested in something. I like writing so I challenged myself to start a blog. I like thinking and growing ideas so I challenged myself to speak to large audiences. I like volleyball even though I’m not built for the sport. Still, I’ll work my butt off and defy logic to beat those who technically should be able to dominate the court against someone my size.

    If you didn’t want to learn grammar, you wouldn’t. You aren’t learning it because a professor told you to. You are learning it, I am guessing, because you want to share ideas and be taken seriously. I have never learned grammar. Never was able to learn what things like past participle meant and still can’t diagram a sentence. I don’t learn that way, yet I can write and I still have nightmares of being forced in front to diagram a sentence. What I did was demonstrate what it looks like to be embarrassed in front of a class floundering because my brain doesn’t work that way. I was forced to do a piano recital despite the fact that the lessons didn’t work for me and I embarrassed myself on stage because I was told it would be good for me. Neither was. I’m not saying these things…diagramming and piano recitals aren’t good for all, but they’re not good for me. And there in lies the point. While “traditional school,” forcing, and compliance works for some, there are many for whom it does not.

    I don’t need a professor or anyone to fail me. I judge myself. Like many others I do things because I like to succeed and achieve. I don’t need someone else to tell me I’m wrong. I know when I’m wrong and when I’m failing. I need others to support me in getting things right and doing them better if I should desire such support. When I do, I know how to ask for it. In school, it didn’t work that way. I was graded, judged, and we moved on whether I was ready or not. Outside of school I can spend as much time as I want learning and growing with the people I choose. School should be more like that.

    As far people who don’t know a thing about schools, first, I don’t fall in that category. Second, I’d remind that there are people who don’t want to know about schools because they’re just not working for them. They know about learning and they know it can happen outside of schools. Many of these people are parents who know a thing or two about how their own children learn. I believe we should be empowering the parents (not the government) with the dollars to reform education which I elaborate on here http://huff.to/e86R98

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  9. Lisa It's McKenzie - no A.

    Amanda I keep things simple - I was not referring to real educators but a real answer. Educator - someone focused on instruction. Period. None of these other quasi-political issues. Thanks for asking!

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  10. Lisa I don't see unschooling as a model of education transformed. It's where you would like education to be, but let's be realistic. The government will continue to run public schools, there will be standards and curriculum, and all students will receive a certain level of education, whether they go on to higher education or straight into the work force. The question is, how that instruction will be delivered, not anti-authority, anti-government and corporate conspiracy theories. This is about instruction. So let's move forward on how instruction will be delivered by teachers in schools. After all....you do work for the NY City Public Schools. Yes? ;)

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  11. Connie Southworth CoyleJune 4, 2011 at 6:08 PM

    I didn't watch the talk and I didn't read the entire blog post. I read some of the comments but one thing that seems to be forgotten is RESOURCES!!!

    I don't care what method of education you are talking about, if resources are lacking, then... learning will be lacking. When I say resources, I am talking about people, places, and things. If a kid is home educated (unschooled or school at home), it will be lacking if the home lacks resources. If the parents aren't interesting and don't work to provide lots of cool stuff, then it becomes no different than the public school. If the public school doesn't have resources (good teachers, technology, libraries, supplies, etc.), then the education will be lacking. I know somebody that works in advising/admissions at a community college and the big complaint is that most students have no idea what resources are available to them. Even if they know about the resources, they have no idea how to use them. I think all "education" should focus on identifying, finding, and using resources because let's face it, we have no idea what kind of work will need to be done in 20 years.

    I cannot even begin to guess what the world will look like when my 2 year old is 18 so I would like to make sure that she (and all of my girls) will be able to adapt to whatever the future may bring.

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  12. @Connie Southworth Coyle,

    You are right. That was an important missing piece. Thank you for adding it!

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  13. @Walter McKenzie,

    While I appreciate the unschooling model, I'm well aware it's not a model for all. But as Unschooling Rules: The Book author Clark Aldrich knows, even our president is looking at the ideas of unschooling to inform his thinking around schools.

    I recommend using models like the Schoolwide Enrichment Model. I recommend having personal success plans for students. I recommend ePortfolios. I recommend against the idea that every child must be on the college path. I think there are many possible paths to success.

    These are all things government public schools can and should do and it would leave children more prepared to succeed.

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  14. I showed your personal success plan to my students on Friday and I'm going to work over the next couple of months to use it and whatever else I can to change the climate of our middle school. Like Gandhi we must be the change we wish to see in the world. The Hebrew prophets were never heralded nor acclaimed in their lives and were frequently scorned. I have been reading your blog for a couple of years now and thanks to you I remain hopeful. Do not be cowed by those who are too afraid to dream.

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  15. Sir Ken is scheduled to speak at our district's annual Leadership Conference in August. This is the kickoff to the new school year attended by all school-based and central administration, plus an assortment of local politicians and school board members. I expect Robinson will use many of the themes from the talk Lisa discusses as well as his recently updated book, Out of our Minds, which discusses creativity and learning.

    I know one keynote speech is not going to change the world (or even our little corner of it) but I'm hoping the people leading our system will at least listen closely to what he has to say. And then, more importantly, it would be nice if they actually do something to incorporate Sir Ken's ideas into how they run things. It's way past time we began dumping the assembly line model for teaching and learning.

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  16. “Businesses are disappointed with how unprepared college graduates are.” But I don’t think the purpose of schools is to prepare students to work in a business. (Be it high school or a college course other than business studies, unless this is a trade school we are talking about) If students are ill prepared to work for a business maybe the way the business runs is the problem, not the student, just like you say that it’s not students that are the problem, but the schools.

    This generation debt has a lot to do with the choices students and their parents as well as the rising costs, but the blame isn’t solely in one place. A lot of students take out loans for more than is necessary, don’t work during the year to pay cash for their courses and books, and don’t fully take into consideration the amount they can reasonably expect to repay in their chosen field. Loan debts go up as Pell Grants get slashed and other funding is pulled. It’s a complicated system and the blame doesn’t rest with just one group. College is a bubble for some, but even people who disagree that everyone should attend college are saying the idea of a college bubble is silly (Anya K something who I’ve seen you mention here before is one of them).

    I think we agree in some measure about creativity, but I just come at it from a different angle. I think that schools should offer a wide ranging curriculum and even if you aren’t interested in you should learn some in a core of subjects, while having time to take other courses (i.e. electives). To me the main purpose of education is to make people cleverer. Cleverer in core subjects and in other chosen subjects, I think that the narrowing of curriculum by testing and budget cuts is awful.

    “As far people who don’t know a thing about schools, first, I don’t fall in that category.” I never said that you were one of them, but in general we are seeing a lot of that now, legislators and business owners whose own children do not attend public schools are creating programs and instituting policies. If they were making public schools look more like their private schools their children attended I think they’d get a lot of support from teachers. Arne Duncan our very own Education Secretary follows not one single teacher on twitter (as pointed out by various people I follow on twitter).

    “Second, I’d remind that there are people who don’t want to know about schools because they’re just not working for them. They know about learning and they know it can happen outside of schools.” But if they aren’t working in schools then their theories may not apply to how schools work, they need to do pilot programs to see if their hypothesis based on their knowledge outside of the school has impacts inside of schools in significant amounts to be worthy of making those large changes to systems.

    “Many of these people are parents who know a thing or two about how their own children learn. I believe we should be empowering the parents (not the government) with the dollars to reform education which I elaborate on here” I’ve read the article and still occasionally think about the ideas you presented there, I don’t know if I agree or disagree still. I think some parents know a lot about how their children learn at home, and am glad when they can share and we can be mutually supportive of each other in the work we are trying to do for their child. I think more parent groups should be forming charters instead of businesses because their goals are usually going to provide a much better education than any business run charter whose goals are primarily financial (my own charter included, which makes me very angry each and every day).

    I know I seem very contrary, but these are just areas I disagree on and I appreciate the light you do bring to some alternatives that are out there, and I’ve been sharing your blog with people who are interested in education.

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  17. “Businesses are disappointed with how unprepared college graduates are.” But I don’t think the purpose of schools is to prepare students to work in a business. (Be it high school or a college course other than business studies [though thoughts on that are not fully fleshed out], unless this is an accredited trade school we are talking about) If students are ill prepared to work for a business maybe the way the business runs is the problem, not the student, just like you say that it’s not students that are the problem, but the schools.

    This generation debt has a lot to do with the choices students and their parents as well as the rising costs, but the blame isn’t solely in one place. A lot of students take out loans for more than is necessary, don’t work during the year to pay cash for their courses and books, and don’t fully take into consideration the amount they can reasonably expect to repay in their chosen field. Loan debts go up as Pell Grants get slashed and other funding is pulled. It’s a complicated system and the blame doesn’t rest with just one group. College is a bubble for some, but even people who disagree that everyone should attend college are saying the idea of a college bubble is silly (Anya K something who I’ve seen you mention here before is one of them).

    I think we agree in some measure about creativity, but I just come at it from a different angle. I think that schools should offer a wide ranging curriculum and even if you aren’t interested in you should learn some in a core of subjects, while having time to take other courses (i.e. electives). To me the main purpose of education is to make people cleverer. Cleverer in core subjects and in other chosen subjects, I think that the narrowing of curriculum by testing and budget cuts is awful.

    “As far people who don’t know a thing about schools, first, I don’t fall in that category.” I never said that you were one of them, but in general we are seeing a lot of that now, legislators and business owners whose own children do not attend public schools are creating programs and instituting policies. If they were making public schools look more like their private schools their children attended I think they’d get a lot of support from teachers. Arne Duncan our very own Education Secretary follows not one single teacher on twitter (as pointed out by various people I follow on twitter).

    “Second, I’d remind that there are people who don’t want to know about schools because they’re just not working for them. They know about learning and they know it can happen outside of schools.” But if they aren’t working in schools then their theories may not apply to how schools work, they need to do pilot programs to see if their hypothesis based on their knowledge outside of the school has impacts inside of schools in significant amounts to be worthy of making those large changes to systems.

    “Many of these people are parents who know a thing or two about how their own children learn. I believe we should be empowering the parents (not the government) with the dollars to reform education which I elaborate on here” I’ve read the article and still occasionally think about the ideas you presented there, I don’t know if I agree or disagree still. I think some parents know a lot about how their children learn at home, and am glad when they can share and we can be mutually supportive of each other in the work we are trying to do for their child. I think more parent groups should be forming charters instead of businesses because their goals are usually going to provide a much better education than any business run charter whose goals are primarily financial (my own charter included, which makes me very angry each and every day).

    I know I seem very contrary, but these are just areas I disagree on and I appreciate the light you do bring to some alternatives that are out there, and I’ve been sharing your blog with people who are interested in education.

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