What Sir Ken Got Wrong

“We are educating people out of their creativity”

Sir Ken Robinson

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Sir Ken Robinson’s ideas on education are not only impractical; they are undesirable.

 

If you’re interested in education, at some point someone will have sent you a link to a video by Sir Ken Robinson, knighted for services to education in England in 2003. He has over 250,000 followers on Twitter, his videos have had over 40,000,000 views online, and his 2006 lecture is the most viewed TED talk of all time. The RSA Opening Minds curriculum his ideas are associated with is taught in over 200 schools in the UK. He clearly has some influence.

What explains such iconic influence? Like a magician’s performance, explaining the magic helps to dispel it. Humour, anecdote and charm combined with online, animated media explain why it’s gone viral. Jokes get contagious laughter from his audience in the video, and as online viewers, we laugh along too. Anecdotes about a little girl having the pluck of drawing a picture of God to show everyone what he looks like, or about Shakespeare as an annoying little boy, are part of this charm offensive. And the RSA graphic illustration being drawn before our eyes is just a very cool way of animating ideas.

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Sir Ken’s ideas are incredibly seductive, but they are wrong, spectacularly and gloriously wrong. Let me explain why. But first, beyond the jokes and anecdotes, let’s get to the nub of what the ideas actually are.

In a few sentences, this is his argument about education:

1. Schools kill children’s innate creative talents because

2. The school system prioritises academic ability.

3. The system neglects other intelligences.

4. Creativity is as important as literacy.

5. Subject hierarchies of English, maths & science over drama, dance & art are damaging.

6. We are in thrall to conformity rather than diversity of intelligences.

7. So we must transform how the system nurtures talent and intelligences.

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All that glistens is not gold

Here are some select quotations from his talks and books that illustrate his ideas:

1. On Innate Talent

‘All kids have talents, and we squander them ruthlessly.’

‘We don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it.’

‘Education dislocates people from their natural talents, buried deep; you have to create circumstances where they show themselves.’

 

2. On Academic Ability

‘What is education for? Who succeeds? Who are the winners? The purpose is to produce university academics. The whole system is predicated on academic ability, a protracted process of University entrance. Our system has mined our minds for this commodity….’

 

3. On Multiple Intelligences

‘Academic ability is seen as intelligence; others are not valued, or stigmatised.’

‘Education should be personalised to every learning style.’

 

4. On Creativity

‘Schools kill creativity.’

Creativity is as important as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.’

‘Creativity as I mean it is just a metaphor for multiple talents and intelligences.’

‘The education system discourages creativity.’

‘What we know about children is this: children don’t need to be helped to learn, for the most part. They are born with vast, voracious appetite for learning … evolve in the womb with appetite… You don’t teach your child to speak, though we do teach them to write. Writing appeared much later in human evolution. But they have a vast appetite for learning and it starts to dissipate when we start to educate them and force-feed them information.’

5. On Subject Hierarchies

‘Every education system on earth has the same hierarchy of subjects – why maths and languages and not drama and dance?’

‘The academic curriculum is based on a series of assumptions that are irrelevant to our current circumstances’.

‘I believe the way we have to go is not to go back to a subject-based curriculum.’

‘I think we should question that there are subjects… It’s not like we don’t know; we know what works in schools; and we know that there is a better alternative to narrowly conceived subject-based curricula that enshrine a hierarchy.’

‘The reason I don’t like the idea of subjects is that it suggests you can differentiate the curriculum purely on the basis of information or propositional knowledge. History is not just a bag of content, it is a discipline, a process of reflection. I just think it’s based on a false premise that you can lift information out of the world and pin it to the wall like a butterfly, and that is what the old academic curriculum was too much about, what we’re trying to get away from.’

 

6. On Conformity

‘The big issue is conformity – a fast-food model where everything is standardised, not customised.’

‘Industrial systems are impersonal and emphasise conformity in the curriculum and teaching methods and standardisation in assessment.’

 

7. On Transformation

‘We must rethink the fundamental principles of education.’

‘Reform is no use any more – that’s just improving a broken model. What we need is not evolution but a revolution, for it to be transformed into something else – one of the challenges is fundamental innovation.’

‘It’s a change from an industrial, manufacturing model of batching people – based on agriculture, not mechanic but organic – to create conditions under which they can flourish. It’s not about scaling a new solution – but where we allow people to create their own solution, a personalised curriculum. We must revolutionise education. We have to change from industrial to an agricultural model, to where schools can flourish tomorrow.’

‘It’s already happening – in Austin, Texas, a whole district has given every kid an iPad. It’s a revolution in the way they’re teaching and learning. And you can multiply the example. The system is already adapting.’

ipads

iPads for all?

 

Seductive but Wrong

These ideas are very, very seductive. It’s easy to be enthused by the grand conceptions of ‘talent’, ‘multiple intelligences’, ‘revolution’, ‘innovation’, ‘paradigm shift’ and ‘transformation’. It’s easy to recoil from the horror of ‘conformity’, ‘standardisation,’ ‘academic ability’ and ‘hierarchy’.

Head of English Alex Quigley has written convincingly here on how seductive these ideas are, and why we should mistrust Ken Robinson: initially ‘entranced … enraptured … infatuated’, he soon felt ‘beguiled’, ‘frustrated’ at the ‘cult of personality’, then ‘healthily wary’. Some, though, were not so seduced. UK education blogger, teacher, author and expert on education research Tom Bennett has challenged Sir Ken’s ideas:

‘There are many dangerous ideas he promotes that, while well-meant in root, bear dangerous fruits.’

‘The suggestion that the contemporary curriculum is somehow the death-knell of creativity is nonsense.’

‘The idea that schools somehow drive creativity out of a child is laughable.’

‘I tire of someone who has never been a classroom teacher telling me what classroom teaching is like, or how children should be taught. Being told by a non-teacher with a PhD in education how to teach is a bit like being told by a virgin how to get laid.’

 

‘His theories of what creativity is, and how it must be taught, are sophistry and illusion. There isn’t a shin-bone of evidence to support what he says.’

‘… easy to find inspirational, but empty. It’s far harder to inspire someone with concrete and practical ideas. Superficially convincing but ultimately brainless.’

brainless

Ultimately brainless?

Cognitive scientist Dan Willingham has also challenged Sir Ken’s approach:

‘Robinson suggests that what’s needed in education is a “paradigm shift”. Maybe so, but Robinson makes a poor case…’

‘I lose confidence in Robinson because the framework in which he puts education and education reform is not in the least revolutionary. In fact he’s tapping a very rich, very old vein of thought… I want Robinson to tell me what’s going to make things different this time around.’

‘My other problem with this video is that some of the details are inaccurate. Getting details wrong makes me less confident that Robinson is getting the big things right, and failing to acknowledge previous attempts to change the paradigm makes me uncertain of his vision.’

Quigley, Bennett and Willingham are right: the evidence isn’t often on Sir Ken’s side. For example, in his 2006 talk (with 25million+ views) he mentions that the reason why women multi-task better than men is probably because the ‘corpus callosum’ in the brain is thicker in women. It turns out this is from one study in 1992. The evidence from a meta-analysis of 49 studies from 1980 to 1997 shows that ‘no sex difference could be found in the size of the corpus callosum, whether or not account was taken of larger male brain size.’ This is just one example of the faulty evidence for his claims.

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Practice is the path to mastery

Others are using Hans Zimmer and William Shakespeare as examples in his anecdotes. The reason for their creativity is not innate talent. Zimmer was the son of two musicians, who grew up in a music studio and played by himself for countless hours. As Shakespeare expert Rex Gibson says:

‘Shakespeare is an outstanding example of how schooling can foster talent. Schoolboys learned by heart over 100 figures of rhetoric. His schooling provided an excellent resource for the future playwright. Everything Shakespeare learned at school he used in some way in his plays. Having mastered the rules of language, he was able to break and transform them. On this evidence, Shakespeare’s education has been seen as an argument for the value of memorising and of constant practice.’

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Schooling can foster talent

Unwittingly, Sir Ken has stumbled on the very example that belies his idea that traditional schooling kills creativity. And this is true not just in the musical or artistic sphere, but the political sphere too. Nelson Mandela in South Africa and the Black Panthers in America turned their traditional education to radically revolutionary aims.

How is he wrong?

Sir Ken’s ideas aren’t just impractical; they are undesirable. Here’s the trouble with his arguments:

1. Talent, creativity and intelligence are not innate, but come through practice.

2. Learning styles and multiple intelligences don’t exist.

3. Literacy and numeracy are the basis for creativity.

4. Misbehaviour is a bigger problem in our schools than conformity.

5. Academic achievement is vital but unequal, partly because…

6. Rich kids get rich cultural knowledge, poor kids don’t.

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False prophet?

1. Talent is not innate

A growing body of research shows that talent isn’t innate, waiting passively like a tooth ready to be extracted. Research collated in books from Malcolm Gladwell, Carol Dweck, Matthew Syed, Daniel Coyle, Geoff Colvin, Daniel Willingham, Doug Lemov and Paul Tough show that natural talent is a myth; it’s only dedicated, determined and disciplined practice that leads to great achievement.

 

2. Multiple intelligences don’t exist

Dan Willingham has summarised the research and shown that learning styles do not exist; on multiple intelligences, ‘for scientists, this theory of the mind is almost certainly incorrect’: ‘The fact that the theory is an inaccurate description of the mind makes it likely that the more closely an application draws on the theory, the less likely the application is to be effective. All in all, educators would likely do well to turn their time and attention elsewhere.’

3. Literacy and numeracy are the basis of creativity

In the UK, 17% of school leavers leave school functionally illiterate, and 22% leave school functionally innumerate. Ask any parent what they would prefer: that their child left school unable to read, write or add up but able to dance and draw creatively, or unable to dance or draw creatively but able to read, write or add up. The reason why there’s a hierarchy of subjects is because some are more empowering than others. If you can’t read, you can’t learn much else. If you can’t do arithmetic, you can’t become a teacher, doctor, engineer, scientist, plumber or electrician. Numeracy and literacy are complex evolutionary applications of civilisation; they take a great deal of time, practice and expert guidance to master, so we dedicate a lot of time to them in school, and rightly so. Sir Ken is wrong when he says children do not need to be helped to learn, for the most part: children do need to be helped to learn – every teacher knows that. We don’t dedicate so much time to dancing and drawing because they don’t disempower you so much if you can’t do them.

 

4. Misbehaviour is more damaging than conformity

In any classroom, without compliance with instructions, no one learns anything. Disruptive behaviour is chronic, particularly in the most challenging schools. The problem for many teachers is not so much conformity, but rather pervasive disruption to teaching. Self-discipline is not an evil weed to be uprooted, but the foundation for effective learning. But then again, Sir Ken has not been teacher in a tough school – nor any primary or secondary school at all.

5. Academic achievement is important, but unequal

Strong academic achievement in private schools allow 96% to go to University, and in the UK commandeer 70% of the jobs as high court judges, 54% of the jobs as doctors and 51% of the jobs as journalists, despite only educating 7% of children. Yet only 16% of the poorest pupils go to University, due to persistent academic underachievement. It’s no good Sir Ken disparaging the education system’s focus on academic ability; closing the gap in academic attainment is vital for social mobility, social equity and social justice in this country.

6. Subject knowledge is vital for critical and creative skills

Decades of scientific research shows the importance of broad and domain-specific knowledge for reading, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. So it’s no good Sir Ken disparaging subject-based curricula. All over the world, mastering subject disciplines is the route to success. It’s no coincidence, no middle-class industrial Victorian conspiracy that China, South Korea, Canada and Scandanavia all organise their systems like this, as global expert Tim Oates explains: ‘In all high-performing systems, the fundamentals of subjects are strongly emphasised, have substantial time allocation, and are the focus of considerable attention. It’s the most effective way of organising teaching and learning, because, as Daisy Christodoulou explains: ‘thinking skills are subject-specific; our working memories are limited and easily overloaded by distractions; and pupils are novices,’ not experts, and so require expert guidance.

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In short, Sir Ken is wrong on education: profoundly, spectacularly wrong.

So next time someone sends you a link to one of his videos, perhaps you could send the link to this blogpost back to them – what Sir Ken got wrong.

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About Joe Kirby

English teacher, education blogger
This entry was posted in System. Bookmark the permalink.

206 Responses to What Sir Ken Got Wrong

  1. Simone says:

    When I first saw his Ted talk something felt amiss….he gives a lot of reasons (and ‘quotes’) against the education system but offers no alternatives or ideas, it is like someone moaning and complaining about their lot but doing nothing about it. Did his own children go through the education system I wonder? Most likely, because he does not have anything to put forward as an alternative. I teach, and I gave up teaching to homeschool/unschool my youngest son who has ADHD, it worked and informed all of my future teaching and I can very much say that Ken Robinson’s ideas are just a tip of the iceberg, with no real depth to them or experience. I went back to teaching when my son was old enough to cope by himself and I do very much have misgivings about the system and find it to be totally flawed, but from a much more informed basis that Ken’s – through real experience. More than that, I can offer and prove the validity of alternatives, which is more than can be said for Ken. Much I was inspired by his talk many years ago (although there was something that did not resonate at the time), he uses his influence or ‘Sir’hood to propagate something he really knows very little about, I’m afraid to say.

    • Simone, it’s field experience and feedback that is the cornerstone or progress within education. You spent the better part of your post reinforcing the fact that you have experience where he doesn’t, and that you can offer valid approaches to alternative methods in teaching. You did, however, make the same folly that you claim that Robinson has committed; provided no real demonstrative proof of what you say. You can have all the exposure, experience, and functional familiarity in the world, but if you’re not doing anything with it on a broader scale, your scope is limited. He wrote books, he’s appeared on web seminars and spoken at multiple functions; regardless of what your misgivings are behind his methods, he’s making an effort to effect change. I think it has less to do with his teaching lineage and more to do with what he is saying.

      Teaching an ADHD child boils down to identifying what type of ADD he possesses, and like you said, providing coping mechanisms in order for the child to learn how to harness their ability (it is an ability when used correctly, not a detriment or disability) to maximize their information intake, situational awareness, and data processing/retention. Additionally, taking proactive measures to tailor their diet towards foods that mitigate the hindrances an ADD/ADHD child can experience (low blood sugar is the source of most restlessness/tics/agitation/loss of focus), as well as lessen the dosage of medications required to help them focus. High levels of fats and proteins within in a large caloric intake help the child retain control of their faculties while attempting to learn (most of these people are thin based on high metabolic rates as well as an inattentiveness to eating when hyperfocused on something). This would be what a functional solution looks like, I encourage you to share your findings with the masses, and if he’s touching on the tip of the iceberg, be the one who pulls it out of the water for everyone else to see. People like to talk, few takes the steps to make a change.

    • thegman77 says:

      I’ve found that his talks awaken many people to what is wrong. In 15-18 minutes, it’s a bit difficult to go into the specifics of how things can be changed. But he does leave ideas to be considered. Thinking back to my own schooling, I can say that there were things which simply did not capture my interest at all, though I was forced into taking (and failing) them. Higher level maths, for instance. I thrived on band and orchestra, later finding my real voice in choir. I only wish there had been dance classes as they, too, would have helped me greatly in my own later career. But they simply were not available.

      I disagree with much of the article. For instance, I’ve seen specifically that different individuals perceive and learn quite differently. The tenor of the article, also bothered me. There was a great deal of arrogance and, I thought, fear that someone was trying to make changes in what they’d given their lives to.

      I’m also very involved in learning about the “new” children being born and the rapid climb of “disturbed” children who seem to be eagerly put onto drugs. Hardly the correct “prescription” for learning.

    • Erika Young says:

      I do feel that Ken Robinson’s ideas are just a tip of the iceberg, as you say. However, based on what you are saying, the system is flawed. What has been your alternatives with regards to solutions for fixing or finding answers to our school system?
      Thanks in advance for any information you share.

    • Greg Hamilton says:

      I do very much have misgivings about the system and find it to be totally flawed, but from a much more informed basis that Ken’s – through real experience. More than that, I can offer and prove the validity of alternatives, which is more than can be said for Ken. – Simone
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      Galileo was belittled and vilified because he had the audacity to use his creative mind. He also came up with the main reason our present ‘education’ system is not just flawed but criminally incompetent–and arrogant. We can see that here with Simone, bleating away as one of its sheeple. Galileo said you can’t teach anyone anything; all you can do is help bring out what is within him. That’s the root meaning of the word ‘educate’ (educe = draw out; not ram in), Few are those in education who know what it means, or practise it. So we get the blind leading the half-blind. I know someone who has a PhD from the lamentable current Postmodern “education” system. His degree is in Psychology. I asked him what the word ‘psyche’ meant. He said he didn’t know. He teaches psychology at university, mind, and he’d never wondered what the word at the root of his calling actually signified. When I told him it was old Greek for ‘soul’, all he could think of by way of a reply was: ‘I’m not into that soul crap.’ In other words, he’s not interested in bringing out what is within his students. He’d rather ram in his prejudices. He sees the word ‘soul’ as just a religious notion so he’s not interested. But he’s very interested in fraudulently masquerading as a bona fide educator, ramming away killing creativity in his subjects. To me, Simone, you’re in the same business; earning a living making clones of yourself, spreading destruction you’re blind to. Must try harder, as Sir Ken said in his talk. Sir Ken did offer the alternative, but you–a ‘teacher’ advocating blindness–failed to see it. Sir Ken got it right. I think Ortega y Gasset also got it right when he said: “The characteristic note of our time is the dire truth that, the mediocre soul, the commonplace mind, knowing itself to be mediocre, has the gall to assert its right to mediocrity, and goes on to impose itself where it can.” Amen.

  2. Emma Hiscox says:

    This blog totally reaffirms Sir Ken’s brilliant observations. Clearly this writer just cannot grasp what on earth ‘creativity’ means & stands for & how creativity & the arts affect every single aspect of life, how sad. What a great example of how someone can be so ‘intelligent’ yet so stupid at the same time….& this folks is the problem with many that teach & whom we entrust with our childrens education.

    • Vicky says:

      I agree. The writer of this post sounds angry and even envious of Ken. If he cares so much about our future, (which are the children), he should be collaborating with Ken, having healthy debates to come up with solutions. The attitude of this writer is exactly what’s wring with our education system. Furthermore, my understanding is the current education system misses vast percentages of those on the outskirts. The children that fall above and below average; whilst sifting the rest of us out into loveless employment. All you have to do is look around at the robotic faces to understand that many of us have not identified our ‘Element’; we are not taught to, it is discouraged in the current ed system. It’s true that our creativity is squandered; only those with strong dispositions can ride above the ed system of conformity. Most humans are like ‘sheep’, we are taught to follow the crowd, to fit in. This is why so many kids turn into adults, and in their late 20’s, early 30’s; they go, ‘how did I end up here?’

    • mia gordon says:

      Excellent comment and completely agree. There may be some research gaps or ‘big words’ in Ken’s approach and far from malign what current teachers do, he praises then for their tactics within a very stultifying curriculum.

    • sarahloumac says:

      EXACTLY, I feel heartfelt sorry for this writer. He is reaffirming everything Ken Robinson says and laughably does not even realise it!

    • Chris Thompson says:

      What I find so difficult is that you are effectively just supporting the current system which by almost every measure on a worldwide basis is failing: most students don’t like school, many teachers don’t like teaching, we still teach to the test and grades, students aren’t prepared for the world, students are disillusioned, etc. Finland is at least looking at the research and then making changes to their system. And other schools and teachers are also doing this.

      Ken glosses over things. Yes. But why do we continue to live this lie? Our education system is broken. Now people ask what is the solution?

      Here is one: Green School Bali (www.greenschool.org). For transparency, I ran the school for three years and my children attend the school. It isn’t perfect. But it looks at the research and data available and provides an alternative to the standard model. And what is interesting is that while I was running the school I had the privilege of interview hundreds of teachers over the years. I never met one teacher who defended the system. Not one. I have never been seen this in any other industry.

      In my work with the Singapore government, who look to Finland as a leader in education, they also came to similar conclusions as outlined by Ken Robinson. And for anyone who has spent time in Singapore you will know the pressures and challenges that exist there.

      I am glad articles like this are written and shared. I think education is the most important topic we can address. And I also believe teachers hold the most important profession in the world. But as a society and parents we still make irrational demands on them which helps to perpetuate this situation.

      But I must say I am always surprised when I see anyone still defending the education systems around the world. To me it is like defending the health benefits of tobacco.

      Thank you for letting me share. I applaud all of you for being part of this and I applaud the author for having the strength to share their views. I don’t agree but I genuinely thank them.

      With kind regards. chris

  3. Teacher all my life says:

    your conclusions are correct but the sources you use to challenge sir Ken are ridiculous. One cognitive scientist, an RE teacher calling sir Ken “brainless” etc
    Good effort but embarrassing references

  4. pedagogy PHD says:

    Challenging sir Ken with another illusionist – gladwell – is a joke

  5. Terry Clarke says:

    Good academic results and an approach to life where you embrace ideas, think creatively to solve problems, dare to take risks, recognise and use the strengths you have, build on your weaknesses and have a love for something like the arts, sport ……anything. 46 years as a teacher I’ve kept going because you can’t beat that moment when students find that thing that makes them special. They have self worth so they work harder in all areas because they don’t want to let themselves or you down. Challenge for all. Sort out lessons that are death by PowerPoint. Whole school support for behaviour standards. Sir Ken for me not Gove!
    TC. MBE services to education

  6. Linda Lindholm says:

    As an educator I completely agree with Sir Ken Robinson. I think you need to fully educate yourself on his work before you are so quick to judge. I disagree that creative behaviors require literacy. Some do, some don’t. Learn the facts!

    • Andrew Johns says:

      the fact is all creativity stems from knowledge. (This was the argument in the above article – the writer just emphasizes literary and numerical knowledge due to their importance and vast outreach in many other domains) The more knowledge one has, the more the person has the ability to be creative. Knowledge, however, doesn’t guarantee creativity, but does enhance it. This is because the act of creativity is to make a new whole from parts which are learned from the real world. The more parts you know (knowledge), the more the complex the wholes you can create. Think of a child’s creativity. It starts simple and as that child grows and attains more knowledge, their creativity develops complexity. However, if the child doesn’t practice this act of creating, their creativity can wane over time like any other skill. Think of any domain and that domain will require specific knowledge that needs to be explicitly taught before the student can be creative. This is a very simple and well-known cognitive process; however many educationists ignore it because it doesn’t reflect their romantic ideals. I hope, after reading this, you have learned some facts on creativity.

      • Maxwell Downham says:

        Andrew Johns demonstrates quite arrogantly here what Sir Ken is rightly railing against. He shows us why Ken is so right about our contempt not just for child creativity but for children generally. What Johns puts to us here as fact is really just the bleedin’ obvious – the plodders’ view of the world. Sir Ken is on about what people like Johns can’t or just plain won’t see – that creativity is a gift at birth, as a form of survival mechanism our species needs for an authentic life (as opposed to the robots so many of us have become). Mozart demonstrated this as well as it could be done. Picasso had a view on the phenomenon. He said that “we’re all born artists, but the difficulty was to remain artists into adulthood.” The loss of innate creativity occurs with the loss of a child’s self-esteem as an individual spirit. The many will buckle to conformism, to please dud teachers, while the few will rebel to maintain their sense of worth. Schools blindly cater for the conformists, because less talent, effort and dedication is required of the pseudo-teachers. If our schools achieve anything, it’s providing proof that Picasso was right, in the same way Sir Ken is. I’m not in the least surprised that so many dud teachers come out to rubbish people like Sir Ken. They react to life rather than pro-act. It’s far easier to demonise those with insight and initiative who step outside the ranks of walking dead to show real leadership. But above all, they need to rationalise their own failure due to their own lack of creativity and talent. It’s quite pathetic, really.

      • Maxwell Downham says:

        It might be said that a notable creative act of recent times occurred in a canoe on a lake by a man with long hair. He conceived of a new model to explain our physical universe. It was Albert Einstein, and he had an opinion on the subject in hand. ‘The true sign of intelligence,’ he said, ‘is not knowledge but imagination.’ Imagination is one of the few things we have that is infinite. It’s at the core of our creativity. Knowledge is stuff we take off the supermarket shelves. Imagination is what led to the supermarket being there, and lets us know what and why we need to eat. It’s no small thing.

      • Chase Zav says:

        Could you give any book references elaborating this? I think a lot of what Ken Robinson is talking about makes sense and he does bring up a lot of good points. I think his main flaw is that he’s more of an academic than pragmatist, leaving a lot of room where his solutions should be. But I’ve had a hard time finding any references to further elaborate what he’s talking about that’s epistemic.

      • Simon Johnson says:

        Maxwell downham’s comment is so frighteningly bereft of common sense that it has compelled me to respond.

        “that creativity is a gift at birth, as a form of survival mechanism our species needs for an authentic life”

        This statement is a pure article of faith, devoid of any substance or evidence, and as such is spectacularly vacuous. It’s also an insult to our understanding of human evolution. Just because you wish to believe something to be true doesn’t make it true. Any way you choose to define creativity, the notion that it does not rely on knowledge is preposterous. Tell me how you can manage to create anthing without an understanding of the purpose, utility or tools used to establish your creation. Einstein needed to absorb enormous amounts of mathematics and theoretical physics before he could establish his theories. Your mention of Mozart: Another catastrophic fail. It’s very well documented that whilst he obviously possessed unique abilities, they were nurtured by thousands of hours of deliberate and structured instruction from his father, who was well renowned for his disciplined teaching methods. It’s common knowledge that his initial childhood compositions were not particularly impressive. Furthermore, Soundbites from famous artists do not constitute evidence.

        “The loss of innate creativity occurs with the loss of a child’s self-esteem as an individual spirit”

        Yet another intellectually bankrupt statement. Where is your evidence for this? Reminder: a soundbite from a philosopher or famous artist is not evidence. Furthermore, your statement is paradoxical. If creativity is “innate” and not developed, it is not a logical position that we would “lose” it. It would also stand to reason that 4yr olds have demonstrably more creativity than adults. Other than the comically infantile paperclip challenge, this is clearly false.

        “If our schools achieve anything, it’s providing proof that Picasso was right, in the same way Sir Ken is.”

        Funny that the current model of schooling has still enabled society to produce all the stunningly creative achievements throughout modern history we currently benefit from. Ken Robinson is yet another snake-oil salesman, hoodwinking gullable people such as yourself who are unable to think critically, and who wilfully ignore evidence, reason and logic in favour of romantic but meaningless soundbites.

      • Maxwell Downham says:

        Simon Johnson wants me to use some common sense. I don’t do common anything, Simon. As a child, I was belted and told to have some common sense by a tyrannical father who didn’t have a creative vein in his body. As an old man, in his dying year, he admitted he was wrong. The problem, Simon, is that we venerate the common and the ordinary. It makes us feel like one of the gang–a phenomenon embraced and celebrated by the Nazis. José Ortega y Gasset put it better than I possibly could: “The characteristic note of our time is the dire truth that, the mediocre soul, the commonplace mind, knowing itself to be mediocre, has the gall to assert its right to mediocrity, and goes on to impose itself where it can.” Ken was too polite to put it in such brutal terms. But I’ve lived through the post-war neo-Nazism you advocate with your common sense snake oil. No thanks. I don’t do common or rough. Do it if you must, but leave me out of it. Please.

  7. Andrew Scully says:

    A motivational speaker on education who is causing people to discuss the merits of different forms of education and reflect upon what is happening in schools? You’re right…definitely a fraud. Who would want someone who preaches educational reform to be the catalyst for conversation about how schools should be modeled and what teaching should look like?

    Oh please!

    Disagree if you like but the reality is that his work is stirring conversation and if you are going to speak intelligently on what he says then you need to reflect on what you are doing. Seems like a good thing even if you don’t agree with what he says.

  8. Christopher says:

    It would help if more people were aware of the subject of the Philosophy of Education, which is the study of the purposes of education, the content of curriculum and the teaching methods- Rote Learning, Group Teaching, ‘Child-Centred Education’, etc.

    People must be aware of this field and its history, otherwise they will not have anything (effectively) to compare modern ideas with, and the ideology of Progressivism will continue to grow insidiously.

    Here are some key texts-

    The Republic, Plato. 350 BC. Book 1 discusses the need for Gymnastics and Music at the core of the curriculum, as well as Astronomy, Geometry and Mathematics. An educated class of ‘Guardians’ to lead the state. Selection in Education advocated for the first time.

    Politics, Aristotle. 300 BC. “Balanced Development”. Advocates Rote Learning. Discusses Vocationalism in education for the first time, as well as the formation of character .

    The Institutes of Education, Cassiodorus. 550 BC. Calls for a Christian curriculum based around the study of Psalms, Epistles and Gospels, as well as the Trivium and Quadrivium of Logic, Grammar, Rhetoric; Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy and Music.

    Some Thoughts Concerning Education, John Locke. 1693. The first signs of ‘Creativity’, Child Centred Education, Student Led Learning etc. Advocates Maths and Science as for the sons of businessmen, discarding the Arts and Humanities. “A healthy mind in a healthy body”.

    • thegman77 says:

      As well, the current system, relatively unchanged since the 1900s, was created by Catherine the Great of Russia. It’s purpose was to turn out obedient factory workers, soldiers and bureaucrats, all to feed the burgeoning industrial revolution. The system worked well at that time. And just at that time, there was a huge influx of expatriates flowing into the US from many parts of the world, most uneducated and non English speaking. The US, of course, was well into its own industrial revolution and was very much in need of labor. So the system worked well there, too. But we’re in a very different time now. Things that were important to know then are no longer so important. And a fairly large number of individuals now have completed their college education and cannot get jobs at all, despite that education. Imagination and creativity are the things most needed and one will find very few such classes in the current system. Sir Ken is one of the earler speakers bringing forth truth. And, as usual, he’s being lambasted for daring to think differently and possibly threatening the current system. Those ensconced there dread his ideas, very frightened of losing their status.

    • Maxwell Downham says:

      The Institutes of Education, Cassiodorus. 550 BC. Calls for a Christian curriculum based around the study of Psalms, Epistles and Gospels.
      ____________________________________________________________________

      Why bother with syntax, Christopher? It’s okay if you make us guess what you’re saying (if anything). Christian stuff as far back as 550BC?!! Very creative thinking there, Chris. But what has any of this got to do with the subject of this blog?

      The great Czech educator John Comenius’ said it all on education. The words are those of Robert Hutchins in his book called The Learning Society (1968), in which he accepts, as I do, John Comenius’ definition of education. Comenius admitted that there was too much for any single soul to learn in the limited life span he has. Rather, “it is the principles, the causes, and the uses of the most important things in existence that we wish all men to learn … For we must take strong and vigorous measures that no man, in his journey through life, may encounter anything so unknown to him that he cannot pass sound judgement upon it and turn it to its proper use without serious error. If it be urged that some men have such weak intellects that it is scarcely possible for them to acquire knowledge, I answer that it is scarcely possible to find a mirror so dulled that it will not reflect images of some kind, or for a tablet to have such a rough surface that nothing can be inscribed on it.”

      When I was schooled (note I didn’t say ‘educated’ because I got conditioned, not educated) the aim was to neutralise or kill off my natural creativity and to cultivate instead the abilities of a parrot or trained seal. I rebelled, knowing these “teachers” were mediocrities in jobs they had no right to hold. The last two generations are plagued with all the defects conditioning or schooling contaminate us with. Noam Chomsky said that “the general population doesn’t know what’s happening, and they don’t know that they don’t know.” I see alarming proof of that in this blog. Sir Ken’s trying to use a bit of Christ’s metanoia (he wasn’t on about repentance; metanoia is Greek for ‘wake up to yourselves before it’s too late to do so!’) and here we have the usual suspects, all galahs, trying to do to him what they did to Christ–and for the same boring old reasons. It’s bloody tedious.

  9. Huskie says:

    You have it backwards. Yes, academics are important and vital, but you can’t force-feed “literacy” and “numeracy” and expect students to later be creative with all of this wonderful content knowledge that some central planner felt it imperative for everyone to know. Learning doesn’t work that way…why do you think the illiteracy and innumeracy rate is so high? If you allow them to follow their strengths and interests then the content will follow. Start with the content and students have no purpose for learning – that’s why we have to bribe them with grades.

    “Natural talent is a myth” – maybe, in a sense. Most of us aren’t born geniuses who can play violin or write novels with very little hard work or experience. But it defies common sense to suggest we are all born as identical blank slates, with absolutely no strengths or weaknesses, who can be molded however family, society, and culture molds us. Yes, hard work and self-discipline is important, but I don’t think Sir Robinson ever says it isn’t. He does say that different people are different, which I can’t help but to agree with.

    “Misbehaviour is more damaging than conformity” – so your position is that students don’t comply enough? That self-discipline can best be achieved by obediently working hard towards management’s goals? By that definition, slaves were the most self-disciplined people on earth.

  10. h8ed says:

    Shut up, Sir Ken Robinson is completely right, I am a student and I vouch for him, stop trying to play safe, what’s wrong is wrong, the current system is wrong

  11. Eddie Carron says:

    Children are born with an innate imperative to learn – not from formal instruction – perceptually from their senses. This is the same imperative that has driven evolution; it is the mechanism called the ‘absorbet mind’ by Maria Montessor.

    Teaching is what teachers do – instructing is what trainers do. Do went want to teach our children or train them to perform in a predetermined way so that we can tick lots of boxes. I suspect the latter because that is certainly what governments want us to do.

  12. modiplop says:

    I was pleased to find this post. I love Ken Robinson talks but always had a doubt in my head that the message wasn’t quite right. He presents a lot of problems/ doesn’t address indiscipline/ he’s never been a teacher.
    reading your comment further I found in my experience (as a class teacher) profoundly disagreeing with you however:-

    1 – Talent is not innate
    I suppose that for a lot of students depending on the subject this is not the case, but in my experience there are definitely students who show an innate talent/ understanding of a subject which gives them an advantage over other pupils. In one class of 12 year olds I have had the top end of the class working on work attributed to 14/ 15yr olds. The other end of the class were struggling to do work attributed to 8/9 yr olds. Pupils talent/ ability varies immensely.

    2 – multiple intelligences don’t exist
    Wether or not some people are visual/ auditory learners is pretty moot. If its possible in to do so I find myself explaining topics in as many ways as possible (usually multiple times) to get the pupils to click.

    3 – Literacy and Numeracy are the basis for creativity
    I agree with you here. However if a pupil has an ability outwith numeracy/ literacy it should still be encouraged. Even if the numercal/ literacy part of what they are doing does not click immediately I believe that it will later in life.

    4 – Misbehaviour is more damaging than conformity
    I agree that misbehaviour in the classroom is incredibly damaging to the learning of the whole class. But I do agree with Sir Ken that we are living in one of the most stimulating times in hostory for young people and trying to get them to sit quietly in class is always going to be a challenge. New ways of engaging pupils is the key. How to do that will depend on subjects. I also know that you coud go into a class with bells/ whistles/ lasers and fireworks and there would still be pupils not engaging/ misbehaving. So it is always going to be a challenge.

    5 – Academic achievement is important, but unequal
    Not sure what your point is here other than students attending private schools do better than those attending public schools. Seems more like a class divide than anythign else.

    6 – Subject knowledge is vital for critical and creative skills
    I’m not sure what Sir Ken says about subject based curricula exactly so cannot comment on what you have said here.

    “In short, Sir Ken is wrong on education: profoundly, spectacularly wrong.”
    I was pleased to read your blog as I had some doubts myself whilst watching Ken Robinsons videos. He definitely talks a good game. But in reading your 6 points I found myself disagreeing with most of them. I think that my problem with Ken is that he presents a lot of problems without possible solutions. Thats not to say those problems are not valid and worth pondering.

  13. EduNuts says:

    Sir Ken Robinson says completely right about Poor Education Kills Students Creativity. i think, we Need a New Strategy and Patterns…..

  14. Xavier says:

    It was interesting reading your insights, thank you made me think more deeply about what Ken Robinson said. But i have to say that I still entirely agree with Ken Robinson. The video about ‘learning styles does not exist’ is a misleading video. The video title does not match the content.
    I agree with what you said that talent and intelligence is not innate. Ken Robinson only implied that creativity is innate.

  15. Howard Scott says:

    Interesting discussions and comments here. Robinson stimulates debate, which is certainly useful. Thinking in terms of one person being right or wrong seems to me not to be useful, for we all can surely throw ideas around that resonate or not. And evidence about these complex uncertain realms will always be contested by theory and personal observations.
    I’m surprised not to see anyone introduce ‘context’ to this. For if Shakespeare’s creativity was schooled, why isn’t everyone capable of writing so many classics? Social context may have given Shakespeare a platform for creativity, enabled by circumstance. That is surely a key difference in how creative one can become, so dedication and practice has a lot to do with it. If you are, like the students I teach, from an impoverished area, then creative ambition may be the product of abstract activities and the processes involved not pursued, because – again – of the social context. So schools should (and do) provide opportunities for people to flex that creativity and discover what appeals to them and provides fulfilment. What I mean is a young persons ultimate objectives can be ground down by context, or encouraged by it. Of course there are always cases of people from deprived backgrounds becoming creative geniuses – with hard work and determination, of course, but more often a lot of encouragement and perhaps some privilege.
    What I think Ken is really saying is that there isn’t enough creativity in schools, balanced against other important stuff. Perhaps he’s right, but I imagine most primary schools provide much stimulation in creative areas. I think he should spend more time on the ground and see for himself instead of talking in platitudes, convincing as they may be.

  16. Mr. Kirby, while I’m sure there is grounds founded within some of your findings and research, your clear disdain for Robinson detract from that point; calling concepts that inspire people to accept all aspects of education as things of value laughable contradicts the purpose of an educator. In regards to your six points, I’m afraid you may wish to do some more research within the bulk of what you have listed. As you’ve seen from your commentary, as well as the opinions of the people you chose to reference, educational theory is often up for interpretation and public scrutiny from peers.

    1. Talent, creativity and intelligence are not innate, but come through practice.

    – Practice can foster these things, but to say that people don’t have a natural predication towards certain fields, skills or abilities is just unreasonable. Robinson even addresses the fact that you can just BE creative; it takes work and there is a process in place:

    “Creativity is the process of having original ideas that have value. It is a process; it’s not random.”
    – Ken Robinson

    2. Learning styles and multiple intelligences don’t exist.

    While you cited Dan Willingham as your reference for this (thanks for providing the link, it was a good read), but it’s just a contradictory piece on Gardener’s Theory. One person’s view versus not only Gardner’s Theory, but models created by David Kolb, Peter Honey, Anthony Gregorc, Alan Mumford, Walter Burke and Neil Fleming all stand to challenge Professor Willingham’s proposal. Simply put, bringing one guy with you to a gang fight usually doesn’t end well; take it from a lower-middle class punk from not-so-nice areas of MD/DC/VA.

    3. Literacy and numeracy are the basis for creativity.

    The simple fact that from birth a parent can attest to watching their child functionally and methodical use inherent techniques to assess and understand the world around them shoots this down. The don’t learn what red is when they learn the word; they learn it when they see it. How it mixes in to other colors, how it makes them feel, and what it says to them internally. A fundamental understanding of calculus is not a groin kick to my ego, it’s simply just the level of aptitude that I possess when it comes to that style of mathematics. Strengths and weaknesses will always be prevalent in people, and relying on a numerical grading system that is cookie cutter for each student misses the point of this.

    4. Misbehaviour is a bigger problem in our schools than conformity.

    I would actually agree with this; discipline is a rampant issue within the school systems as a result from over-obsessive/protective parents, apathetic educators, lawsuits against the school board, and the readily available information to child on how to subvert the system and use it to threaten or gain leverage on the adults in charge of them. I am a firm proponent of physical discipline, and pain through shared adversity. Many children never experience this, and leave them unprepared for the real world, but conformity only serves to further increase this issue. Combating individual expression with Conformist authority is just crashing fists against each other; you’re just left with bloody knuckles. The goal should be found within fostering that expression while demonstrating and elaborating on the PURPOSE behind structure, and why it is important. Very few adults understand that a sense of purpose is a significant motivator within children and young adults; make it important to them, show they that you have genuine concern for them as well, and things will change in time.

    5. Academic achievement is vital but unequal, partly because…

    It’s unequal because the majority of it is based on tests, evaluations, and blanket assessments. It’s the precise reason why kids cram, ace the test, and brain dump what they just learned. From an academic time standpoint, it is a complete waste. Education is simply an exchange of knowledge – a transaction. If you pay the man for his work with food, and he just chucks it in the trash once he gets it, how did it benefit either party. Mastery and Non-Mastery is a more prudent course of action for this, and using the results to those results to steer and tailor a students progression through the school system in order to build upon their weaknesses; not punish them for them. While the contention may be that completion of high school may be easier or harder for others based on what courses they end up taking is irrelevant; since when is life equal or fair? Some get easier rides and others don’t; the point is that they make the finish line eventually.

    6. Rich kids get rich cultural knowledge, poor kids don’t.

    Poor kids get rich cultural knowledge too, take my word on that. I didn’t become and educator because I was rich, I became one because I want to leave people better than I found them. I was given the tools to do so, I just made use of them.

  17. Old Teacher says:

    I don’t think Ken Robinson disparages the subject matter, or the need for it. He says he thinks the STEM areas are very important. One cannot become a master of one’s subject area without learning the subject matter, but there are differences between rote learning, directed learning, self-directed learning, project-based learning, etc. His argument seems to be that we have produced a streamlined delivery system for information, not a means of learning, and that standardized testing looks at regurgitation of factual knowledge. Which isn’t mastery of a discipline. How many of the more complex professional areas in the US, e.g., engineering, have a process of assessing professional competence that revolves almost completely on multiple-choice tests? But professionally, one almost never sees a problem with neatly packaged potential solutions, where one is exactly right and all the other are wrong. Sir Ken seems to be arguing that we need to go beyond this model in how we get students to deal with the real world.

    It is very easy to criticize a set of ideas presented. One way is to say they are not new. Another is to criticize the fine details and attack credibility through small errors. Yet another brings in other ‘experts’ and uses a small piece of what they say (relevant or not). Then the criticism that what has been put forward has not been presented in every last, exhaustive detail, proved to work without any flaws or failures, and that it costs less and avoids weight gain, cancer and global warming. All of these are employed here.

    There is no question among thinking people that many parts of the US system of systems are failing. Much of the US system was developed to support an Industrial Age economy and processes, and whether that include the political system, financial system, educational system, or social system. But the Industrial Age is over, and we need new systems to deal with a new Age. It’s made more difficult because we don’t know the shape of the new Age and its systemic needs. But we can make some educated guesses about what the detailed needs will be. Sir Ken seems to be trying to spark discussion about this.

    Similarly, he is trying to raise the issue of individualization of education, and other concepts such as non-linearity and the like. Linearity is needed within disciplines, in some ways, as you need to know A to understand B, but that is within one area. Similarly, he is not advocating that dance comes before learning English or Math(s), but that in an individualized education, there can be close coexistence. Those of us who need to move as we think have to resort to fidgeting and pacing, even as we get PhDs, plan lectures and write journal articles, into our 50s. Would that we could dance to crystalize an idea…..

    Finally, don’t make the mistake of assuming that provocation is the same as advocacy. Otherwise one may be accused of not knowing anything about irony. Similarly, part of good communication of ideas is stimulating alternative lines of thinking, and stories and jokes do this. It’s not a seduction technique, it’s a means of getting a different part of the mind connected and contributing. Too often we shift straight to critical thinking, rather than letting an idea dwell in our minds and exploring it. Too often we use our intellectual abilities to dismiss ideas we don’t agree with as quickly as possible, in case they may have something in them. We are also great at throwing out babies with bathwater, by dismissing everything, when we really only had issues with one part. To dismiss Ken Robinson totally is to dismiss education totally; we don’t want to do that, or even appear to do that.

    I had an excellent education (outside the US) and have used it to provide an education to students within the US (mainly) over the last 20 years. As time has gone on and I have been doing it for more time, the need to get away from the old methods (perhaps even ‘learning environments’) have become more critical. This is not because they are intrinsically wrong, but that the larger environment has changed. Too often our student learn despite us (and the ‘system’), rather than because of us.

  18. Nick says:

    Not very creative! You can’t form a curriculum based on someone else being wrong. What’s your idea or solution?

    • Hal O'Leary says:

      For the sake of humanity we has better listen to Sir Ken.
      Hal O’Leary

      THE PURPOSE OF EDUCATION

      Our present system of education, with its emphasis on “Standardized Testing,” is both a glowing success and a colossal failure. The side one may come down on depends on what
      we may perceive the purpose of education to be. The current clamor calls not for reform but simply for ways to increase the efficiency of a system whose premise and purpose must be questioned. The success or failure of an honest reform of the present system may well decide the fate of the American experiment.

      If viewed honestly, the purpose of the current system of education is primarily designed to assure that industry will be supplied with a competent work force and that society will be made up of a stable citizenry. The rewards for compliance are monetary gain and social acceptance. In this respect, there is no question but that our current system is a glowing success, and nothing could better serve this educational purpose than standardized testing. With its emphasis on retention rather than thought, it makes for an unquestioning employee and an acquiescent civilian. This, in turn, makes possible a consumer-driven economy and society in which both value and achievement are measured, most often, in material gain. What we have in place of education is indoctrination. Such a system may instruct us as to the best way to “make a living,” but little in the ways in which we might live.

      Standardized testing has become the mainstay of both “No Child Left Behind” of the Bush era and the more recent “Race to th Top.” The strategy’s dubious success in terms of student and public acceptance has the professionals scrambling for answers. What the public and the professionals cannot seem to come to grips with is the void in student gratification that comes from having little or no voice in the procedure. The pride and joy of learning are replaced with an award for retention of data. This, unfortunately, diminishes the desire to learn, and it is my contention that the best teacher in the world cannot teach a student who has little or no desire to learn, while the student with such a desire cannot be prevented from learning.

      While the professionals continue to debate and we ponder the true relevance of standardized testing, a more complete understanding of both the pros and cons can be found at this link:
      http://standardizedtests.procon.org/.

      In weighing the arguments for or against, I would like to add just two specific failings of the current system that are too often overlooked and ways in which they might be overcome. It may be well at this point to turn for the first to Socrates, who said, “I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make him think.” It should be obvious, I should think, that the current system of instruction will, more than likely, actually discourage thinking and depress creativity. This approach stands in sharp contrast to the Socratic method in which the teacher, by asking questions, guides students to discovery. Curiosity is another victim of the current system in which instruction becomes obstruction. Again, as Socrates reminds us, “Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.” Here is a concluding admonition from this great mind that is well worth remembering: “The most important of all knowledge is how best to live.”

      The current system may instruct us as to the best way to “make a living,” but it does little by way of enabling the student to live a full life. The full life I refer to is a life in which the individual has the opportunity to realize his or her innate and unique potential as a human being. To inhibit this potential is to deny it. The harmful effect of this inhibition for the individual student is incalculable. To paraphrase William Saroyan, it takes a lot of learning for a man to get to be himself. In the present system, this aspect of what it should mean to be educated and human is painfully ignored, and we should realize that the only true happiness one can know comes not from the acquisition of wealth but from the fulfillment of individual potential, whatever that may be. The objective of the system should be to help the individual student to find himself as something other than a lackey for industry and a sycophant for society.

      Then, of course, there is the corruption born of a system that moves us from simple need to greed. It’s not only the system that becomes corrupt, for ultimately it will pervade the entire society it ostensibly serves. It has been sufficiently shown time and again that standardized testing leads to an irresistible tendency to cheat. It begins with the student whose subsequent life may be colored by what he scores. Then we have the teacher whose very employment may depend on the scores of those students. The same can be said of administrators who supervise the teachers. But it must be noted that it doesn’t stop there. An investigative report released in July of 2011 found that 44 out of 56 schools in Atlanta, Georgia cheated on the 2009 Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT). Guilty teachers and administrators all confessed to cheating and blamed “inordinate pressure” to meet targets set by district officials, saying that they faced severe consequences such as a negative evaluation or termination if they didn’t.

      Who can doubt that such a tendency will inevitably carry over into the society at large, and since cheating has become so widespread, can easily be seen as not only an acceptable practice but a mandatory one? Morality is undermined. Trust is lost, and with the loss of trust, humanity is lost. This is a dire picture indeed. Can there be any hope?

      I cautiously suggest that there just may be. It will of course demand a reversal of societal values with nothing short of revolution. For those who may scorn the possibility, I would remind them that it was not so long ago that women could not even vote. It was not so long ago that racism was tolerated, schools were segregated, and everyone not a WASP was stigmatized in some fashion or other. Admittedly, no less than with the others, it will be a slow but inevitable process, but I fear that the only alternative is anarchy and a failed state. It will mean that the values of humanity, altruism and brotherhood must replace the greed of a capitalistic economy that has lost its way–a capitalistic society that has planted the seeds of its own destruction. We must adhere to the Socratic admonition, “Prefer knowledge to wealth, for one is transitory, the other perpetual.”

      As with any revolutionary change, it begins with education. To combat American exceptionalism, history must be revised to reveal the excesses of American imperialism. Geography must be reinstated to help us realize our global obligations. The sciences must be approached from a humanistic standpoint that allows for ethical considerations to keep pace with technology. The arts can no longer be considered a luxury relegated to the periphery. They are a necessity.

      There is one last observation which I would like to make in this appeal. Since most of our current curricula are designed to meet the needs of industry and society, any meaningful reform will require an alteration of focus in which the intellectual and emotional needs of the individual student are paramount and properly addressed. In this regard, I would strongly suggest that the abhorrent standardized testing be replaced with aptitude testing beginning in pre-school. With the realization that each child has his or her own unique, innate potential, it would seem that unless that potential is recognized at an early stage, the child’s chances for the joy of fulfillment as a human being become limited.

      Such an approach will most certainly meet with powerful opposition not only from an industry for which our current system is, in reality, a training ground, but also from a society that is all too comfortable with having us all alike. Before we ask the question of how to increase the effectiveness of the present system, we had best address the question of just what the purpose of education should be.

    • thegman77 says:

      There are hundreds and hundreds of people offering ideas and solutions, Nick. The “system” resists change and immediately attacks anyone who suggests it. A lot of the naysayers here are simply shooting from the hip, afraid of newness, afraid of change. And nowhere in this particular discussion if the reality that our children are changing. Rapidly. And they are going to change a lot of things you and I have taken for granted for decades. It’s already happening and only a relative few – often teachers – have noticed.

    • The solution is to do as Ken suggests: stop the psychic rape of our kids, to trust in the ability of humans to find their own meanings in life without the neurotic (even psychotic) urge to ram things down people’s throats. The word ‘educe’ means to draw out, not ram in. We all have the capacity to discover truth, and it’s a teacher’s job to help young people uncover their own–not the one approved by the government or the church or the extended family. Only minds thus treated will be able to recognise the slavery the rest of us brought upon ourselves and be in a position to do something about it for future generations.

  19. This article is everything that it claims Ken Robinson’s ideas are. Shakespeare was educated in the 16th century!!! He’s not saying that education doesn’t work he’s saying it doesn’t work for everyone and I know he’s right because I have taught and worked with those very kids and was one myself!! So if our education system is so perfect and it works in the way you suggest, why, WHY???? are so many kids bored, failing, miserable, disengaged and cannot wait to get out of school at the end of every day??? WHY?? You’ve got all the answers apparently, what are YOU doing to change help?

  20. AndrewSeo says:

    I’m not surprised to see that there are some who would oppose to Ken’s ideas. His belief in how the ideal education system and how students and teachers should look at learning may sound profound. And those who oppose his beliefs may say that he’s a very persuasive or seductive speaker without evidence, experience or alternative solutions. However, whatever it may be, I believe his idea has certainly poked a hole in the current educational society. Personally I feel that Ken has more influence not because he’s a great speaker, but because what he says applies to people like me. I have seen how people have lost their grasp in creativity in school. One of the most interesting part was his explanation about comformity. I come from an Asian background and as a young student education is extremely important. Yet, I cannot avoid the fact how the educational society requires so much of us in terms of academic abilities but ignore the individuality of each person. There are still so much to talk about these topics.

  21. Angela says:

    So, let me get this right – Sir Ken is so terribly wrong that the response is to just keep things the way they are in education ???? Really ?

  22. Liz says:

    WOW ! But what if Sir Ken Robinson is right. we could change the lives of generations of families if we bring out the best in children who will eventually grow up and mix in society. Our current system of education is classrooms full of children getting tested for exams. How do you define education? is this it? Surely common sense will emerge one day that if we all really thought about it like Sir Ken Robinson it would be far better to have creative minds in our society to evolve it not human beings that can crash learn information for exam purpose. History already tells us that our best inventions for mankind came from creative minds, our education system has been taken over by the money men who use exam stats to make more money – They are not interested at all in children’s learning.

  23. Jason says:

    Sir Ken has studied education his entire professional life. You’ve studied one video of his quite confidently claim that he is wrong? What Sir Ken is attempting to do is cause people to THINK about education, and challenge it where it needs some much needed attention. You, comparatively, are asking people not to THINK, to accept the current system while it continually fails to fulfill its very purpose for existence. It is the obvious failures in our education systems that causes the overwhelming interest in Sir Ken. Surprisingly, you create an argument that underneath the personalities, we humans are wired all the same. What you lack is an understanding of heart. The wellspring of passion and purpose. That understanding is evidently lacking throughout our education systems, which ironically is the very point Sir Ken attempts to make.

    Your blog, while written to dispel Sir Ken’s assertions, actually serve to prove them.

  24. It is interesting to see that the author knows so much about Shakespeare (or was he Marlowe or Crollalanza?), when, in fact, little is known even when Shakespeare was born. Brainwashing without looking at facts… starts in earnest.
    Is talent predominantly an innate construct, is it mostly acquired, or does it result from the interaction between (specific levels of) nature and nurture components? The Blogger presents eight names that are prepared to state that natural talent is a myth. To the contrary – starting from Prof. Steve Jones and moving to Dr. M. C. Meyers, they point to innate talent as what is required for greatness. We could also mention Olmo Silva that, in one of his books, has shown that “gathering expertise across various subjects does not increase the chances of becoming an entrepreneur”. We should ask Richard Branson and Alan Sugar for their comments.
    Strong academic achievement in private schools allow 96% to go to University (?? meaning?) – We know that almost 60% of graduated law students can’t find a job! This is a 60% that will be in serious financial debt for many years.
    With reference to effective learning is the author suggesting that school corporal punishment should be the “foundation” for good teaching? Perhaps we ought to give all children some medications like Risperidone, so that we could take care of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)!!! Problem solved. More non thinking (brain dead) morons coming from school and ready to “serve” society and very happy pharmaceutical companies making billions. This is the pathway to the future.
    This blog is very much a one-sided and somewhat ignorant argument. Andy Powell, CEO of independent education foundation Edge, said: “we need an education system that excites children”.
    I was talking to a young man the other day. He graduated with honours in European history from Canterbury University only one year ago. He didn’t know and never heard of the ‘1871- Paris Commune” or the Fabians, La Cagoule & Kalergi. Teaching is very selective.
    The Montessori philosophy saw that every child is a natural learner, if allowed to develop freely. Montessori (back in 1907) felt that it was the spiritual nature of children that could show adults the way to return to a more meaningful, holistic way of living. Encouraging children to aim high and make the most of their capabilities was also Kumon’s philosophy (amongst many others).
    Sir Ken got it right too, children need encouragement and not strict rules. Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards followed the dream he had as a child and reached the Olympic Games against all odds; the ‘establishment’ was very much against him.
    The way forward is to ignore this kind of blogs. We need to move towards effective reforms that will meet global demand and encourage children to have long term ambitions. Children should be more focused on the tools they need to fulfil their career aspiration – no matter if it is going to be a mechanic or an actress. Having a central aspiration may mean that children are more aware of both their strengths and weaknesses, and are able to ask for support when it is needed.

  25. Anna says:

    We used to joke that the way to solve the World Population Explosion, is to ask teachers to teach children about sex in school. Soon everybody will find it boring, dread it as a mindless chore and fear it. Most will be convinced they are not good at it.
    That is the truth that Ken Robinson is exposing.
    There have always been successful people, because in every system there will be good teachers who can make any system work and nurture talent.There was a time when good teachers were allowed to do so.
    However, now teachers are being made to conform. The good ones are being marginalised and reprimanded for not having performed the myriad of mindless non-educational tasks that keeps them busy. The bad ones thrive in an atmosphere where you can show you have performed all the meaningless little tasks. Anyone who questions the point of it all is shunned as a trouble maker.

  26. sime668 says:

    I found my talent for game design by sketching on paper. No literacy required.
    Arguing that disruption is a bigger problem than conformity does not take into account how a classroom situation might actually encourage disruption, nor does it take into consideration alternative environments for education.
    Talent is not achievement: the list you proposed is about authors who speak about how to achieve things. Sir Ken Robinson draws a clear distinction between accomplishing something and enjoying doing something.
    Multiple intelligences may or may not exist, but being in a state of “flow” when doing something and being painfully bored while doing something else does exist.
    I could go on.
    This article is obtuse and laughable. It’s a good thing that it Ken Robinson’s wikipedia page lists this article as criticism to his idea. It serves as further proof of his point.

  27. Rowena says:

    Robinson is just too confronting for this person. Let it go, be bold and courageous and realise that actually that traditional model with all its measures of what is “good” for us, including measures of literacy and numeracy, are not really the basis of the potential of a learner. Ken Robinson hits it on the head, and is why so many feel affronted by it. All he is saying is that the goal posts have shifted and so should we, especially the education system. Be brave, take the step, stop clinging on to the old and rapidly irrelevant mode of developing cognition within everyone.

  28. cburke2012 says:

    Great stuff Joe. Really well summarised and thought through. Spot on

  29. Ken is right, and he’s out there doing what he believes in instead of blogging and whining on his PC. The Latin word ‘educere’ means ‘to draw out’, not cram in; to encourage what’s within to emerge. If it’s already in there, what are we doing crushing it under tons of imported garbage? Ken’s criticising the cramming in that goes on today at the expense of aiding the drawing out. He’s supported in this by John Taylor Gatto, the prizewinning New York school teacher whose book ‘Dumbing Us Down’ could have been written by Ken, so harmonious are their ideas on the subject. To know what these men are talking about, modern teachers need to develop their spiritual natures. They’re clearly impoverished if they see Ken Robinson as being wrong. It peeves me to see great men ridiculed by mental pygmies with nothing of their own to contribute but envy.

  30. karencornelius says:

    I take issue with most of your counter arguments. From my perspective Sir Ken may well not have it perfect, but his story is closer to right, and far more compelling.
    Two examples of the challenges I have:
    – Sir Ken talks about divergent thinking deteriorating throughout the school years. This, he correctly points out, is just one aspect of creativity.
    – Point 4 – in fact, misbehaviour can largely be attributed to the poor pedagogy and lack of differentiation that come from conformity in schools. Our young people need a vastly new approach if they’re to be ready for the world beyond school.

  31. whitey757 says:

    Whilst it covers a number of elements of Robinson’s talk with brief rebuttal, the essence of what you present resonates with me. I love all things innovation in education, however, Robinson has built an empire based on simplistic, emotive and shallow arguments. Should we be surprised in our 5-second attention- span era that it has swept the world? Of course not. In fact the simpler the argument, the wider the audience it reaches. And of course the cartoon helps to no end.
    Bringing creativity back into view inside a stale, stuffy, regimented and sterile British classroom is a wonderful message to preach and having taught there, it should be hollered from the rooftops. However when he builds so much based on a girl’s enjoyment of dance and subsequent success as a dancer and uses that to downplay other elements of education, he reflects his own ignorance of school and classroom life.
    I too felt the massive absence of credible, manageable and achievable alternatives to back up his manifesto. The IB, Steiner, Montessori and Reggio are at least organised forms of alternatives. There will be shortcomings there also, but the effort to create reform and change is present.
    Schools have changed to no end in the past 10 years and it’s my view that his message is already outdated- if it was ever as relevant as people made it out to be.

    • ” … when he builds so much based on a girl’s enjoyment of dance and subsequent success as a dancer and uses that to downplay other elements of education, he reflects his own ignorance of school and classroom life.”
      ___________________________________________________________________________

      I had teachers at school who said things like this, Whitey757. They were in the majority. Rather than what you claim, Sir Ken reflected the ignorance of those who treat dance as irrelevant and science/math as the end-all Here’s a rare teacher I respect: John Taylor Gatto, award-winning New York teacher, author of “Dumbing Us Down: (USA).
      “I hoped to become a living refutation to the cult of anointed expertise that has poisoned every aspect of our liberties. Time we were done with this thing. This was once a land where every sane person knew how to build a shelter, grow food and entertain one another. Now we’ve been rendered permanent children. It’s the architects of forced schooling who are responsible for that.”
      Nothing makes me puke more than hearing mediocre teachers justifying the damage their arrogant ignorance masquerading as expertise has caused around the world.
      As Gatto says: Time we were done with this thing, and Ken Robinson is a lighthouse pointing the way. The rest of you need to taken out back and horsewhipped, you shameless bastards.
      .

  32. A couple of points. Firstly, the argument against the corpus callosum doesn’t contradict Sir Ken’s claim that women multitask better than men. His conjecture about how they do so may indeed be wrong, but they still do multitask better, don’t they? Where’s the evidence contradicting his actual claim? Secondly, if the current methods of schooling are so good, some explanation of the very high illiteracy and innumeracy levels would seem to be needed.

  33. Nick Heap says:

    Have a look at this video https://youtu.be/NxPnvJE0V2E about Sudbury Valley School which shows how many of Sir Ken’s ideas work out in practice. When children can choose what they want to learn they choose, difficult, not easy things and do it with creativity, passion and grace.

  34. Ian Connel says:

    Thank you so much for writing this. The first time I heard the Sir Ken RSA all I could think was “snake oil.” It was so much marketing garbage. Anybody who defends him has never wrote a book, or painted a decent painting, or won a state championship game, or any other true act of creation. Creativity is a summation of work, not a magical incident that is stymied by learning.

    • Maxwell Downham says:

      With his own brand of snake oil, Ian Connel has gone quite a distance towards validating the points Sir Ken makes about the evils of our clapped-out Postmodern education (if we may call it that). I have not only written a book but I’ve published several, and not one of them contains a grammatical clanger like your “… has never wrote a book.” Creativity is NOT a summation of work, Ian. It IS a magical act that is stymied by learning. Believe Einstein if you want it from the horse’s mouth: “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.” Knowledge is no doubt important, but it’s not a substitute for creativity (imagination expressed or manifested). You’re a victim of what you defend, Ian. Remember what Sartre said about that: “I despise people who praise their executioners.” I’d bone up on my grammar and persuasion technique before I ventured into the water with sharks like us. This is serious stuff we’re dealing with here.

  35. ogbonna kelechi Kennedy says:

    I have seen some mad idiot s,saying that ken is wrong ,maybe u guyz have been indoctrinated beyond human imagination- if look at education from the stand point of view , it’s Latin word ” edu ere ” essentially means ” to bring out ,what lays dormant in human entity “so school is rubbish ,by using testing and grading on people – study books like Louis L’Amour “education of the wandering a man” didn’t researchers prove that the the more u test, d less creative become ” bolm which Einstein called his successor ,once said ” the ability to peciev and think different, is batter Dan knowledge gained” Ralph Waldo Emerson said ” what u learn in schools is not education but a mean to it” Malcolm x never studied pass grade eight but More educated more Dan ten thousand professors join together” he said not because u hav university and college degree is that u have education”—– Maya Angelo once said ” my mother said be intolerant of ignorance, but understanding of illiteracy, because some people unable to go to school are more intelligent and. educated than a college professor ,,,so doz who said ken is wrong are monkeys, stupid and fools.

  36. James Clark says:

    Having watched the video and read rebuttals, it would appear most of the arguments against Sir Ken are misplaced and come from a deep misunderstanding of what he is actually saying. The hierarchy of subjects exists because society has a priority system geared towards industry and money. Nonconformity doesnt mean misbehaving in class, it means not studying exactly what we are told to fit the trend. The view is one that takes in a broader and more forward looking view of society, and those criticising it, I would sugges, are happy to remain in a system that has lead to global economic meltdown and a devision between the “haves” and “have nots”

  37. Pingback: The Miracle Business: Why Ken Robinson Matters – maelstrom

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  39. Paul Kleiman says:

    I’ve read and watched this thread grow with interest ( and also some alarm) since it first appeared. I’ve avoided commenting till now as I have to declare an interest: I know and have worked with Ken Robinson before he rose to fame via his TED talk. Whether you agree with him or not, you cannot dismiss his track record in education and claim he knows little or nothing about it. The “snake-oil salesman” comment says more about the writer than the object of their scorn. You also should not judge the man and his work based on an 18 minute TEDtalk that is as much about entertainment as it is about the serious matter of education.

    My field of research and work is creativity in education and I tend to come down on Ken’s side of the argument. But as those are already well covered, instead I’d point colleagues to an interesting article about the Finnish education system (regularly at the top of the international PISA test tables). Start school at 7 years. The preceding years focused on structured play and creativity. And when they get to school….

    From the article:
    “As UK educational policy becomes more narrow and centrally prescribed, Finland devolves more power to teachers and pupils to design and direct learning. Teachers are well paid, well-trained (they must complete a five-year specialist degree), respected by parents and valued and trusted by politicians. There is no Ofsted-style inspection of schools and teachers, but a system of self-assessment. Educational policy and teaching is heavily research-based.

    “Worried that its sliding Pisa scores reflected a complacency in its schools, national curriculum changes were introduced this year: these now devote more time to art and crafts. Creativity is the watchword. Core competences include “learning-to learn”, multiliteracy, digital skills and entrepreneurship. At the heart of the new curriculum, the National Board of Education says unashamedly, is the “joy of learning.”

    I would assume Ken Robinson would approve.

    • Maxwell Downham says:

      Well said, Paul Kleiman. What Sir Ken is talking about is the need to make an urgent turn-around in the process or re-barbarisation and robotisation that’s at work in world societies. We’ve heard a lot in this blog from advocates of the dehumanisation of humanity. That in itself is proof enough that Ken got it right. It’s unfortunate for us all that there’s so little cause for optimism. We’re at the wrong end of the Age of Enlightenment. Everything is cyclical, and it’s clear enough to me that we’re entering a new Dark Age. Too many of us welcome the idea of becoming fake humans, as Sartre, Fromm, Laing and so many other luminaries warned. The instigators of this blog will get satisfaction from knowing thein team will ‘win’ in what Bertrand Russell called the competition to become the criminal and not the victim.

  40. Dave Serpell-Stevens says:

    The piece neatly illustrates the spluttering apoplexy with which Sir Ken’s ideas are greeted by those whose own single dimensional world view has been shaped forever by the very system he is questioning. . I have worked in the field of autism for thirty years and have seen first hand the misery wrought amongst those who think and learn in a very different way. The system explicitly advocates conformity and standardisation, and increasingly attracts practitioners who cannot think outside the box when confronted with students who do not meet their spurious definition of the norm. The catastrophic results wreaked on those who don’t fit the mould is neatly summarised in a quote from the autistic author Paul Collins; ‘Autists are the ultimate square pegs, and the problem with pounding a square peg into a round hole is not that the hammering is hard work; its that you are destroying the peg’. Incidentally, behaviour is never random, and what may be termed challenging behaviour is often the last resort of those ‘square pegs’ for whom education is experienced as a daily regimen of confusion, humiliation, anxiety, anger and fear. Conversely the benefit of nurturing and accomodating those same ‘square pegs’ is that latent talents are unlocked, more people follow their passion, and every once in a while one of the beneficiaries comes up with, for example, the Theory of Relativity or ‘Guernica’.

  41. Mick says:

    Standardisation, conformity and assessment are the foundation of modern civilisation. It promotes function and stability. It is true that creativity is how society progresses but in 99% (sic) of cases functionality is what sustains us. If one wonders why creativity is suppressed in education, well it’s deliberate. Does this prepare children for an uncertain future? no. either does illiteracy. Why do 60% of children fail and the rest under achieve, boredom and it’s deliberate.

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