Friday, March 26, 2010

Eureka! We've Finally Perfected Educating Students for the Past Ken Robinson goes prime time on the Bonnie Hunt Show to lament the fact that in the 21st century we've finally perfected the art of preparing students to meet the needs of manufacturing. If we're entering what Daniel Pink describes as the conceptual age, we're way off the mark. Unfortunately, students are anything but standard and we're judging them as though they are all the same. Innovative educators know that they're not! They are different. Despite that, schools have become a manufacturing system that is all about conformity (video 1:44). This is driven by the multi-billion dollar industry of standardized testing which judges intelligence in the same way even though kids are very different people with different intelligences and talents.

Robinson goes on to explain that when you test different kids with different talents in the same way, many of those kids fail. Hunt adds some insight surmising that when so many kids fail it's no surprise that 30 - 50% of student are not graduating when we're only testing to the strength of a particular type of student. Robinson shares that this is not the fault of students or teachers. When you have this many kids not making it, it is clear our system needs to be fixed!

Robinson offers a solution. When you help a student find their talent their whole life changes. That’s the first step. If education is not about helping people finding a life of purpose, meaning, and fulfillment, then what is it? He asks Williams to reflect upon the tremendous impact following her passion had on her.

Robinson suggests that we need to rethink talent and build a different type of system around it. For parents and teachers he further suggests we listen to kids messages, help them discover and build upon their passions and encourage their individualized talents.

To learn more watch this video and visit his site


  1. In the mid 70s I took a 3 week graduate workshop course with Dr Lillian Weber at CCNY on what was called "Open Education." The premise was begin with student interests and build the curriculum around that; students would learn skills and concepts within the context of those interests. In the 80s or 90s Dr Yvette Jackson of the National Urban Alliance began her work and research on the theory that working from student strengths, not weaknesses, is the way to provide the highest quality education and success to all. (Her book, "The Pedagogy of Confidence," is expected to be published this year.) Interests, strengths, passions - all the same - students learn best when we begin with these factors, and have the confidence in them that they will learn and succeed at the highest levels.

  2. This is wonderful...I have frankly found Bonnie's show a bit dull, but I have new respect for her now that she featured Sir Ken!

  3. Glad you brought this clip to my attention. I love Sir Ken's 20-minute TED talk, "Do Schools Kill Creativity," and this distillation gets at many of the same ideas.
    BTW, let's go ahead and acknowledge Bonnie Hunt(as opposed to Williams).

  4. Sir Ken is a brilliant orator and an entertaining guest for TV and radio, however, he's still stuck in that 60s counterculture mindset of thumbing noses at conventions and calling for revolution. The fallacy of that movement forty years ago, as I see it, was that it had the requisite passion but not the common sense to work with those it opposed to achieve compromises. Radical reform doesn't work and only serves to alienate, not unite, people. I also seriously believe that Sir Ken is likely projecting his own animus toward an educational system that didn't understand HIM as a student long ago.

    My biggest problem with Sir Ken is that his thesis can't acknowledge how the present system has served a vast number of students very well over the years. If it had not, America would not have risen to the status of a world power in the 20th century. The present malaise cannot be fairly attributed to any alleged failure of the educational system, but rather to how people choose to think and behave in their professional and personal lives. Choosing greed, self-interest, and irresponsibility is the fault of the schools? Will letting students be more "creative" correct that kind of behavior and return America to a more respected status in the world community?

  5. Marksrightbrain :

    Will you please share what grade and topic you teach as well as the geographical area you serve? My understanding of Sir Ken's interview was much different than yours and so I am trying to understand your point.

    My understanding of Sir Ken's points fundamentally was that we need to provide a learning environment that allows students to achieve through discovery versus providing them a cookie cutter curriculum where their successes evaluated with essentially a binary method - right or wrong.

    The societal factors stink. I agree with you there. As teachers, we can provide an environment for students to learn character attributes, through experimentation, discovery and creativity, self respect, respect of others, confidence and achievement. If society hasn't provided them the environment to live that way, then while they are with us, for most of their waking hours, we should be providing it. I would think it to be difficult to provide students the opportunities to develop interests, see their talents, and succeed if we are only following a pacing guide, always preparing for the standardized test that may not even reflect their actual skill set and success. That is what I understand Sir Ken to say.

    With education of a population comes civility, ingenuity, and innovation, amongst many other good things. So if providing opportunity for creativity can educate people, then let it be that.

    This does not seem so radical an idea to me. It just seems to be the thing that good teachers do. We provide a forum for success that meets the student needs. It's tough to do that when your hands are tied with the pacing guide.

    I would be most happy to hear how teachers are meeting the standardized testing requirements while still keeping education fun and innovative.

    Jackie Gorski
    University of South Alabama
    Secondary Education/Math

  6. Just wanted to let you know that I enjoyed the post and built it into a post of my own. I enjoyed Pink's Drive and think when you put Pink, Robinson and Godin together, you have a compelling case for school reform. I don't think it is good enough to say schools have worked for some students in the past. As a teacher, I do think it is more accurate to say that only some students have been prepared for the world of the past, and few are being prepared for the world we now live in or will live in. I like Godin's suggestion for what schools should say: "We teach people to take initiative and become remarkable artists, to question the status quo and to interact with transparency." or Pink's :“Yet in the face of this evidence – and as the world economy demands more non-routine, creative, conceptual abilities – too many schools are moving in the wrong direction. They’re redoubling their emphasis on routines, right answers and standardization. And their hauling out wagons full of if-then rewards – pizza for reading books, iPods for showing up to class, cash for good test scores. We are bribing students into compliance rather than challenging them into engagement.”

  7. Daniel Pink has obviously been too influenced by Alfie Kohn! I think we are all desiring the same outcome ... to employ multiple strategies to achieve results, from planning, to managing, to delivering, to assessing instruction. Teachers who rely on one or two tricks to motivate and instruct students will fail. That's fact. The push to abandon all traditional methods is wrongheaded. Whatever happened to moderation? All I'm getting from the Pinks, the Kohns, and the Robinsons of the ed world is warmed over radical extremism. It's just not necessary or pragmatic to go that route. Standardized testing is not going away as long as bureaucrats control the purse strings for education. Authentic assessments should be incorporated but they have to be done in a cost efficient manner, otherwise, politicians won't bite. The NEA can lobby all they want. The upcoming reauthorization of NCLB will be an interesting fight.

    On my blog, I've ruminated more extensively on the Robinson and Pink phenomenon, so I won't rehash all my points here. Although I will say this, I don't know of any good schools that employ this "cookie cutter" approach alleged by Sir Ken. I suspect he's finding isolated examples to reinforce his agenda, which is essentially to unfairly impugn all standardized testing, among other things. There is peer reviewed evidence that cites the work of K-12 teachers being creative within test driven schools. I know, I had to read a bit of it for a paper I wrote for a sped assessment class last year.

    Jackie, since you asked, I am a K-12 special education teacher in Pennsylvania. I see Pink and Robinson as slick pitchmen trying to profit from selling unproven ideas in the name of being "visionary," which is a label I'm usually very circumspect about, as much as I am about the label of "genius." They're used so much that their true meaning is devalued considerably.