What Sir Ken Got Wrong

“We are educating people out of their creativity”

Sir Ken Robinson


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.


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.

SKRElement          SKRfinding

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 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.’


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.


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.’


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.


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.


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.

About Joe Kirby

English teacher, Deputy Headteacher, Education blogger
This entry was posted in Education. Bookmark the permalink.

206 Responses to What Sir Ken Got Wrong

  1. Pingback: Responses to Sir Ken Robinson’s Education Paradigms Video | Scenes From The Battleground

  2. Great post. The worrying thing is how widespread his thinking has become. I was shown this video in a class of one of my units in a Masters of Educational Leadership.

    *Sorry to be pedantic but I think it’s spelt Dweck, not Dwek.

  3. cburke2012 says:

    I’ve been trying to collect my thoughts on this speech for two or three years, and you’ve managed to sum it all up in a single blog entry. Great job

  4. Reblogged this on Learning London and commented:
    A must-read for any educator who’s been touched by Sir Ken’s vision.

  5. damoward says:

    Yes agree with most of this; TED style presentations are all ego and presentation pizzazz and have their place (like an Inset on a Friday). There is a hierarchy of subjects and obviously we want all kids to be literate and numerate but many creative parents also highly value the ability to practise creativity (through music, dance or visual arts). Marginal gains in my subject (art and design) come from serendipity as well as being ‘helped to learn’ and rarely from the ability to put into words or quadratic equations. Empowerment can come from any subject success (outcomes, peer recognition and yes parental recognition) and this can help motivate the more ‘important’ subjects too as a knock on. There are too numerous examples to name of creative virtuoso whose lack of ability in literacy/numeracy dispels the idea that these are the basis for creativity.

  6. Iain Hall says:

    This has needed saying for a long time. Ken is an amazing speaker but has been an unfortunate ate distraction to our core business of empowering the disempowered through high quality academic education

  7. debrakidd says:

    Lots to comment on here Joe – I think a few things need clarifying. Robinson is not using the idea of talent being innate to suggest that some people have it and some people don’t but instead to say that we all have the potential and that drawing that potential out is the responsibility of education (both in and out of schooling). In this sense, Robinson’s view of finding that ‘element’ is very much in line with that of Syed, Coyle, Dweck and others.

    Secondly, while VAK and the like are spuriously simplistic and have rightly been attacked, Robinson is right in saying that it takes all kinds of abilities to make up a world. This interpretation is much more in line with Willingham’s distinction between a learning ‘style’ and an ability, which seems to me to be a much more sensible way of looking at things.

    Thirdly, Robinson’s assertion that schools inhibit creativity does have some research support – look at Paul Howard- Jones’ work on generative thinking, or the book that Robinson quotes on his video which is a wide reaching analysis of the reduction of this type of thinking in children as they go through school. Generative thinking, or possibility thinking, is highly innate, but creativity as you point out is much more complex.

    When we think of creativity, we need to consider the difference between the generative and playful kind that any parent will tell you children have in abundance and they kind you refer to here, and which concurs with Robinson’s NACCCE report findings, that creativity leads to outcomes that have value. In this way, we see for example, Einstein’s or Shakespeare’s creativity as a combination of generative thinking and knowledge. That knowledge, of course has to be acquired and mastered – often in school. But too often, the knowledge hook is missing; the deep work of creativity – that lost in the fog time – is lost in the pursuit of quick, Ofsted friendly progress gains and the fear of failure undermines the attempt to try something new. I have always read Robinson’s work as an attack on overly simplistic, objective orientated, measurable academic gains, rather than the pursuit of deep, purposeful and contextualised knowledge.

    He is also right, in my mind to point to the absurdity of subject hierarchies. Shakespeare was a dramatist – I doubt he would have supported the idea that Literature was better than Theatre. It would have been a ridiculous and false separation for him. Of course literacy and numeracy are important. You can’t be an actor without being literate. You would be hard pressed to manage an orchestra without numeracy skills. But literacy and numeracy are not the same as English and Maths. We need to keep that distinction in mind. Having said that, the quote that creativity is more important than literacy sounds absurd and is one of those soundbites designed to provoke without being substantiated. Mind you, I expect at a point of apocalypse, creativity might well be more important than literacy. Hopefully, we’ll never have to find out and it’s not really a scenario that should dictate our educational choices 😉

    Great Arts courses have to contextualise the works they examine. History, Geography, Literature, Philosophy and many ther subjects underpin the Arts. To say that knowledge exists in one set of subjects and is absent in another is simply not accurate.

    On the whole though, I think it is right and proper that we have this debate and many of your points are important and open up critical distinctions. It is not so simple as to be able to say ‘Robinson is wrong’ but perhaps better to say ‘We need to look at this more carefully’, which you have allowed us to do, so thank you.

    • Steph says:

      I agree. How helpful is it to create polarised debates a la The Jeremy Vine show? We do need to look at how our children are educated and at the same time consider the wider cultural question of what it means to be educated or get an education in this day and age. The exam focussed and results driven ‘sausage factory’ as Sir Ken puts it is clearly failing rather a lot of kids right now and as another response post from Ed Gold points out if he is completely wrong then why is this the case? It is a complex cultural problem (as the title of Robinson’s most famous talk/speech ‘Changing the Paradigms’ suggests) and I am glad that Ken Robinson’s voice is heard amongst all the others.

      • Fi says:

        I agree completely and study the stuff, Ken Robinson is for the most part correct. What is being taught at school is not what is required in workplaces. The workplace needs people to think creatively. Only having spent so many years mainly being told what to think and do and being fed with information, they use their memory 95% of the time, not their imaginations and unfortunately creativity requires we use this faculty of our minds. This is also hogwash about literacy and numeracy drives creativity, some of the main inventors of things that changed the world were created by people who were not well versed at either. School does knock creative thinking out of children, or at least it did through the industrial revolution. It may have changed, my experience it has not changed as quick as it needs to.

  8. MaggieD says:

    It’s the charisma that does it. Frank Smith, another charismatic and persuasive figure, managed to b*gger up the teaching of reading from the 1970s onwards on the strength of equally unevidenced theories.

    It’s an uphill job persuading adherents that evidence trumps ‘belief’. I wish you the best of British!

  9. Eddie Carron says:

    Ken Robinson is master of the sound byte and is an entertainer rather than an educator but he is a very successful entertainer who crafts his ‘spontaneous’ jokes with great care. We should not underestimate the importance of comedy in teaching. Those who follow the debates on atheism versus theism know that in these youtube dominated times, the educational impact of the sharp intellect of Richard Dawkins and the incisive wit of the late Chistopher Hitchens are at least matched if not surpassed by the comedic skills of Bill Maher..

  10. Pedro says:

    Dit is op From experience to meaning… herblogden reageerde:
    This week I spoke on a TEDx-conference. TED has delivered many heroes, maybe Ken Robinson is the most famous TED-speaker, still some of his ideas are maybe great sounding, but less correct than you think (and he’s a good rewriter of Rousseau).

  11. Ed Gold says:

    If you are right and Sir Ken is wrong, why are we losing so many kids? Our schools are failing are children. Their needs are not being meant, and at least 25% will not graduate. Of the remain 75%, how many have truly been educated? How about offering solutions instead of just knocking those that at least are contributing to the debate.

  12. Lauren Armstrong says:

    I am relieved, thankful!, that you and others are able to testify to the ill-logic in Sir Ken’s anti-education presentations. The education train-wreck, whose derailment began a century ago when “opinions” such as Sir Ken’s took precedence over logical thinking and scientifically-based evidence, is finally being disentangled and re-constructed by caring Educators, cognitive Scientists, and logical Thinkers. Actions and decisions based only on emotion and opinion will get us back off-track and impede the progess currently being made! (Sir Ken, would you consider sharing your earning$ with the hard-working teachers who must now work even harder to repair the train that your opinions, so charmingly presented, help to de-rail?)

  13. In answer to Ed Gold, above, it is because most teachers have been conditioned by educational academe to think just like Sir Ken. Sir Ken is popular not because he is instructive, but because he echoes what most teachers have already been taught to believe. Educational academe has been feeding toxic ideas derived from progressivism into the public school system for over 100 years, supported by scandalous propaganda from teachers’ unions.

    This is why the only wrong sentence in the piece is the quoted line that non-teachers should have nothing to say about classroom practice. The few teachers who can overcome the operant conditioning toward inanity that has been masquerading as teacher training for 80-100 years since the inception of education faculties have the most support from non-teachers, and are being fought tooth and nail by the teacher establishment.

    Progressivism has political objectives that have nothing to do with an informed, capable, and independent-thinking population nor with the survival of democratic governance. It uses a purported interest in such things as creative thinking to create what are in fact drones who will react unthinkingly to the social justice agenda, including to give way to anyone holding a picket sign – no matter what claims it is held aloft in pursuit of. And in most cases, since 50 years or more, the picket sign is pushing the ideas represented by Sir Ken and the ideologues from whom he derives his approach. The link between educational mis-academe and teachers’ unions is growing tighter.

    As a result, most teachers are already practicing the drone-like quality of thought that the education establishment wants to instil in all of us. Relying only on teachers for input and for management of the education system is therefore just accelerating decline.

    But all of us are lucky that independent thought can and does evolve even from the educational Borg, and therein lie the seeds of hope. Thank you for this blog post.

  14. Wendy smith says:

    Creativity is not just about dance and drama. I know a lot of kids who have used their creativity and talents to be successful in many different careers ( that do not require a degree first) , even though they were bored, disaffected and lost in a school system that encouraged them to think they were not good enough, or worse not to think at all. They had and continue to have huge potential, but the school system did not recognise or build on it, because the system only recognises one way to succeed, through a hierarchical exam system.

    Ken Robinson’sideas are profound. They question the priorities we have decided to set in stone as the ones that will provide us with a successful and meaningful society. But look around, look in from a distance, we are stuck on a continuum that keeps repeating the same mistakes in a slightly different political form and nothing changes! He argues for learning and the potential within every child to learn and then learn some more because they own it, rather than continuing to blindly teach them stuff we think they absolutely need to know and can’t live without, before they can possibly do anything else.

    Those who beleive that there is a hierarchy and list of knowledge and skills that every single child in the universe has to complete before they can “pass go” and consider themselves to be a valued member of society are not really thinking about education at its most powerful and useful to humankind. Go and ask the adults who didn’t succeed academically in school, what kind of education they would have excelled in and see if it is the same as the sort the establishment think they needed and continue to believe is the only way.

    Educating each other shouldn’t and needn’t be this hard, so I hope Sir Ken and other passionate advocates of real education keep sharing ideas that might one day help us get off the treadmill that we have chained ourselves to and enable us to realise the talent in far more young people than now. It is simple if you really think about it!

    • cunningfox says:

      ‘Real education’ is precisely the academic skills that are listed in the blog: literacy, numeracy, knowledge. Without them, your creativity is so much playing in the dirt. Please don’t use weasel words to pretend that your brand of dumbing down is somehow the saviour of education, or even what education is supposed to be. It’s a denial of education, and a form of airy-fairy daydreaming that has destroyed the hopes of children the world over.

      • Trudgeteacher says:

        But can’t we have both? Ken has some valid points, in other areas I would not agree. I think we need to question why in creating a national curriculum we have not only divorced subjects from each other but cloned them all to be straitjacketed into levels and exam criteria?

  15. Wendy smith says:

    Errrr, of course real education includes literacy, numeracy and knowledge!!! ” it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it, that’s what gets REAL results! ” Far from dumbing down these core skills would belong to many more if we thought a little bit harder about the many different routes children could access them in the 21st century.
    Why are they weasel words? – genuine question , don’t know what you mean.

  16. Paul K. says:

    While I agree with the ‘Beware the Charismatic Speaker’ warning, it’s clear that Ken Robinson is not arguing against literacy and numeracy and the sciences. He is arguing that the arts are equally important, and by focusing – as we see all too clearly in UK educational policy – almost exclusively on promoting the STEM subjects as the key national prosperity, we are denying our children and young people their entitlement to the richness and opportunities that a fully rounded education can bring.

    My own experience of schools – both occasionally working in them and as a parent – is that, sadly, the often wonderful creativity and inspiration that occurs happens all too often DESPITE not BECAUSE OF. The evidence is mounting that there is something terribly misaligned about what we teach, the way we teach , and what we are told to teach.

  17. Interesting post. I enjoy busting authorities as much as anyone, yet I feel a bit uneasy about the way you treat good old Ken Robinson. Your arguments to expose Robinson as someone who does not know what he is talking about, i.e. education, are rather thin. If you want to criticize someone, it’s facts you need, not opinions. The volley of selective citations from Quigley, Bennett and Willingham merely serve to support your opinion that Robinson is wrong, but contain very few facts. In fact, when you read the actual publications by these authors, you will learn that their arguments are far more balanced than these citations suggest.

    I could not find anything in Willingham’s book to support your claim that talent is not innate. In fact, he mentions several instances of mathematical, musical and other talent, which I read as innate talent. Of course these talents would have gotten nowhere without practice. As far as I know, Robinson does not state anywhere that talent alone is enough to become sucessful. In his book The Element, he mentions several instances of people who practice very hard to develop their talents.

    Your mentioning Shakespeare is beside the point. Yes, he may have been in a traditional school (essentially different from modern schools, by the way). Yet, of all his classmates he was the only one to become William Shakespeare, the poet and playwright. What, if not innate talent got him there? And yes, hard work. Zimmer is another example that can easily be turned around. I happen to know several sons and daughters of professional musicians. Some have become successful musicians themselves. Others have not, despite hours of practice and their parents’ support. Obviously, some have a musical talent, other don’t.

    I agree with you that we should be wary of education critics who have not been teachers themselves. Yet, that does not necessarily mean that their ideas are wrong. It just means that we may take their advice and accept it if we can use it in the classroom and reject it if we can’t. I happen to find many of his ideas useful in my classes.

    You may argue that Robinson is overdoing it when he says that the curriculum stifles creativity. However, he is not far from reality as I perceive it. You cannot deny that education in our part of the world is centered around language and math. Standardized tests in the US and in the Netherlands (my country) almost exclusively focus on just this small part of what education should be about, resulting in test prep and a further narrowing of the curriculum.

    As a teacher of gifted and talented students, I am deeply worried that many kids, who start as curious and creative beings when they are young, lose their interest and motivation in learning when they get older. You cannot blame puberty for that, because outside school, many of them are very keen to learn the things they are interested in. Interest, then, is the key word here. After hours and hours of talking to underachieving gifted young people, I conclude that we do not offer them the education they deserve, challenging them to ask questions, find problems, figure out answers and solutions. In other words be creative.

    This is what appeals to me, in Robinson’s work, as an educator as well as a scientist: his call for a greater role of creativity in education. You did not convince me that his ideas are totally scientifically unfounded. You may not like them. You may have no use for creativity in your classes. Fine. I happen to find them inspiring, even if I don’t agree with everything he says. The students in my classes are happy with the creative challenges I offer them. And I am happy because, in this way, I can show them what science is really about: using your knowledge, skills, intelligence and creativity to solve problems that matter.

  18. stevemouldey says:

    The problem with utilising ‘selected quotes’ is you can conveniently ignore some of the main points. In The Element, Sir Ken quite clearly covers how aptitude is not enough, you also need the opportunities and right attitude to work on that talent. His sections on this actually made me write down “links with Gladwell on Mastery and Dweck on Mindset” in my notes.

    I agree that we shouldn’t just take what a charismatic speaker says for granted, but I completely disagree that by being charismatic we should ignore everything the speaker says. Rather than a critical wariness like Willingham’s post on this issue, you seem to have just reverted to answering an extreme with an extreme.

    The hierarchy of subjects is a ridiculous idea in this day and age. To say that you do not develop literacy or numeracy amongst a range of subjects is absurd. In fact for many students they may find it more effective to work on their numeracy in a technology context than in some maths classes. The subject hierarchy was developed to support a societal need in the late 19th Century. Surely questioning this in our changing times does not make you a radical or profoundly wrong?

  19. I did not find much that I liked in (your description of) Robinson’s ideas (I am not familiar with them first hand). That math should be more important than drama, e.g., is a given in my eyes.

    However, I must also voice some disagreement with your arguments:

    > 1. Talent is not innate
    > …
    > natural talent is a myth; it’s only dedicated, determined and disciplined practice that leads to great achievement.

    This will to some degree depend of what we mean by talent; however, it is abundantly clear, to the point of not being disputable, that innate talent is a major factor. Notably, IQ, one of the most important predictors of academic and intellectual achievement, is determined by genetics to a high degree and varies comparatively little over the life-time of the individual. Sprint success depends heavily on having fast-twitch muscle fibres. Etc.

    It is quite true that the in-born part is not enough to reach great achievements. However, with few exceptions it is still necessary—and becomes the more so, the higher the level of accomplishment. In addition, those of great in-born talent can, at low and medium levels, often get for free or very cheaply what the untalented have to work hard for.

    > 2. Multiple intelligences don’t exist

    I am myself tending towards IQ, g, or some related single factor being the core of the issue. However, it would be dangerous to rule out multiple intelligence so clearly at this stage. This especially since there can be legitimate reasons to divide abilities and their respective causes when multiple-intelligence is used not as an alternative to a single IQ measure or necessarily in Gardner’s original conception but as a more everyday term. The variation in verbal, mathematical, and spatial abilities is a well-established and uncontroversial phenomenon independent of overall IQ.

    > 3. Literacy and numeracy are the basis of creativity

    Literacy is the key to education and far more useful than e.g. dancing—no argument there. Whether it, let alone numeracy, is the basis for creativity is a very different question. As for “empowering” and variations, I know what you mean, but am uncertain whether the word is a good choice here. Possibly, “enabling”?

    > 4. Misbehaviour is more damaging than conformity

    Here there are several levels to consider. Yes, misbehaviour is bad for the class room. At the same time, the individual child might be better of if allowed to not conform—and a society too geared at conformity is not something to strive for. Particular dangers are when alleged misbehaviour is simply a state of being naturally different (as opposed to e.g. maliciously disturbing the class to get attention) or when misbehaviour and conformity are seen as opposites, which is not always true.

    > 5. Academic achievement is important, but unequal

    At least some of the differences in outcomes are not directly related to/caused by school. These include (both are not necessarily limited to):

    o Success and the quality private/public education are not necessarily in a direct causal relationship. Part of the difference can arise from e.g. networking, say that the parents have both the money for private schooling and the contacts to even the professional way of the off-spring or that the children’s own school-day contacts are beneficial later on.

    o Intellectual ability is to a considerable part genetic. Parents with successful academic and professional careers are like to be of above to considerably above average ability, are likely to have children of above average ability, and the children are similarly likely to have over-average success. (When we look at groups, not individuals.) In a standard pseudo-paradox, the more equal the external conditions are, the more noticeable this effect will be.

    o Parental attitudes and similar factors can have a considerable effect on the children’s interest and success in school—and these attitudes are quite negative in many “working class” homes, while the Ph.D. parent usually goes in the other direction.

    • Eddie Carron says:

      You write “IQ, one of the most important predictors of academic and intellectual achievement,”

      IQ is not and can never be, a predictor of intellectual achievement; it is a predictor of potential for being good at school work and that as they say, is a very different kettle of fish.

      • What do you base those claims on?

        To discount IQ as a factor for intellectual achievement is as wrong as discounting height in basket ball—more so, in fact, since IQ is likely relatively more important in comparison to other factors than height is. (A point I have elaborated on in the past: http://michaeleriksson.wordpress.com/2010/11/20/two-measures%e2%80%94both-alike-in-quackery/ )

        Meanwhile, the effect on success school work is likely to be smaller than you think—and growing smaller with time as school is increasingly dumbed-down: Even a fairly average IQ in combination with hard work can be enough to make a child highly successful in school, the standards on actual thinking being as low as they are. At the same time, those of high IQ can have problems with school because they are to bored or under-challenged, because the schooling is too geared at the average or slightly-below-average, or because many teachers react negatively too children who question them (which the intelligent are disproportionally likely to do).

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  21. Bob37 says:

    Someone once defined a consultant who can tell you 50 ways to make love but doesn’t know any women.

  22. karen mahon says:

    Reblogged this on disrupt learning! and commented:
    I just came across this article…it is nothing short of amazing. It’s a bit on the long side, compared with the nuggets we are accustomed to online, but well worth the read. Please take the time!

  23. karen mahon says:

    Wonderful piece. Thank you.

  24. Yes. Sir Ken is another empty shirt who sends us away feeling good. Not a single word about teaching kids to succeed with reading, math and study skills. More of the same I’m afraid – as are most of the eduspeaks on TED – at least they keep it to 18 minutes. That, in-and-of-itself, is a miracle.


  25. Ben Kestner says:

    This blog article started out badly for me when I read that Sir Ken is ” Spectacularly and gloriously wrong” I would have hoped for a more intelligent analysis of Sir Ken’s message and not a rant from an angry blogger. I have been a teacher in state schools in the UK and a head teacher abroad for 18 years and I do wholeheartedly support what Ken Robinson says about education.

    I have seen him speak live and have read many of his research and articles and I have NEVER heard him say that skills and knowledge were not important. I think some educators hear the work ‘creativity’ and they immediately assume this is at the expense of disciplines such as Maths and English. We know that Maths and English are extremely creative and important areas. We also know that practice is important for mastery. When did Ken Robinson ever say that it wasn’t?

    Ken Robinson, along with countless other reform advocates believes that the current system in the USA (where he and I live) and increasingly in the UK, which seems hell bent on copying the disastrous US model- High stakes testing, de-emphasis on creative subjects, the emphasis on ‘deliverology’- sir Michael Barber’s approach to management to name a few aspects, is flawed at best.

    Ken Robinsons has said that there are three principles upon which human life flourishes and they are contradicted by the conditions most teachers have to labour.
    (see ‘learning live’ interview with Sir Michael Barber) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B2sYZfxM2Hg

    1.Human Beings are naturally different and diverse. Education systems should not be based on conformity.

    2.Curiosity- children are natural learners- light the spark and they all learn (the dominant culture in education in the US is testing and instead of curiosity our children are taught compliance)

    3.Human life is inherintly creative

    Now who could argue with that?

    Of course most teachers believe this and do their best to help their students, but the systems in the US and UK as well as many other countries don’t allow teachers- (teaching is after all a highly creative profession) to realise these principles.

    I would be curious to know how long this blogger has been in teaching and his experience outside the system he is in. I find it deplorable that he should include a quote in his article which questions Ken Robinson’s authority to say the things he says based on him not having been a teacher. Ken Robinson has visited hundreds of schools and spoken to, I would guess thousands of teachers, students, policy makers and so on. He has been approached by many education authorities around the world to advise on education (way before his Ted Talk incidentally).

    Stop bashing educators who are trying to reform a system which clearly excludes thousands of kids. The education system in place in many countries works perfectly for what it was designed for- the industrial age- it does not work so well for the age we live in now.

    There are so many alternative school models which have been proven to help kids of all ages and backgrounds. I have personal experience of a system (to name but one of hundreds) called ‘Big Picture Learning’ http://www.bigpicture.org which help 96-100% of their students get to college through learning on a deeply personalised level.

    I myself have left the education system I was in and have moved to the States to set up my own school from scratch. http://www.experienceacademy.wordpress.com. I could not put my daughter, who is six through a broken system.

  26. Teresa says:

    As an educator, I agree with Ken Robinson that curriculum stifles creativity. Children need a holistic education to develop their full potential. The cause of the persistent students’ underachievement is not Ken Robinson but an obsolete education system based on rigid conformity.

  27. 4c3d says:

    The battle to control and shape education continues. The past has, according to some, been successful for the few and ignored the talents of the many. Those who represent the world of work, and at times of study, have pointed to key failings in the systems we have now and have had in the past. There is reluctance to listen to ideas for the future. Those in the system point to the lack of experience of those outside the system who would influence it in an effort to discredit their ideas or views.

    There is a battle waging with those presently in control unwilling to give ground to those who would challenge their ideas and yet whilst this battles goes on many of our young people are passing through the system like ghosts on a battle field, lost and without voice.
    It is hard not to “hear” Robinson’s concerns and the concerns of others as just that. It is hard to acknowledge new ideas as symptoms of wanting something better. It is hard to stop doing what has not resulted in success because you believe in it being right. None of this moves us forward though.

    Attacking each other, arguing among ourselves, and trying to discredit each other are actions that are distracting us from the real challenge we face. We have not got education right but we have all got ideas how to make it right. I do not believe one side has all the answers and is right about every aspect and so the only intelligent and logical way forward is to start with an open mind and be prepared to listen and learn from each other. This “he said, she said” approach is way below the level those truly interested in education should be thinking at.
    Before you decide which side of the fence I am on or look for ways of discrediting my comments (if you do ask yourself, what are you afraid of?) I will declare my interest. It is simple; I want the best for our young people and I base my ideas and conclusions on over 3 decades of teaching and significant research and maintain an open mind. When I find something that works I write about it, I tell others and let them make up their mind.

    Here is my work, review and comment as you wish but be prepared to listen and hear what I have to say.

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  29. wiltwhatman says:

    It’s upliffing to have the hollow idol of Ken Robinson;s TED talking sounded out with a rational hammer.

    What struck me, initially, about his Ted Talks was the near complete and absolute absence of evidence. The main thrust of what he had to say was grounded in uncontextualised and incomplete anecdote, and, as a basis for reform, is woefully lacking.

    Deciding on good, viable, efficient and effective educational solutions is difficult, nuanced, and immensely hard work. Robinson’s characterisations are glib, surface, and charmingly uncomplicated. He seems to fill in with comedy where he needs evidence, anecdote where he needs substance, and uplifting banter where there needs to be focused, and evidence driven critical thinking.

    He uses rhetoric instead of evidence to persuade us of his points, and crude emotional manipulation to weight his arguments.

    It’s depressing to see the amount of influence his work has wielded.

    I’m not saying I have issues with creativity ( and I think Ken’s definition of creativity and example set is incredibly narrow, exclusive, and reductive). I’m not saying the Arts are unimportant (though the idea that everyone should be taught creative dance is as straightjacketing as the idea that we should all learn Latin). I’m not saying our current systems are perfect ( though I refute Sir Ken’s inference that a lack of perfection in the current system is a reason to destroy it wholesale and run with his unreferenced, non evidence backed rhetorical car crash). I’m not saying taking the student and their needs into account in designing education is wrong (though, after 50 years of deployment, the fact that there is absolutely no evidence to indicate learning styles exist, or have any effect on how people learn, and comparisons between learning styles and traditional methods show no results bump for learning styles at all indicate, fairly clearly, that anyone still punting them as a solution is wrong).

    I’m not saying that children are incapable of learning, or being motivated. But, again, there is huge ample evidence that novice learners in contexts that are instruction based, and have worked examples, and access to expertise that is imparted in well structured ways, outperform unstructured learning environemnts. Novices learn more, they learn faster, they give up less, and retain longer than in contexts such as discovery learning, or unsupported problem based learning. I’m aware this doesn;t sound as seductive as Sir Ken’s spiel.

    I am saying that Ken Robinson is the wrong person to lead educational reform. I wouldn’t put my money in a bank run by PT Barnum, no matter charming the patter. I’d want something with more substance than an ersatz pizazz to place my trust and money in. The fact that education is so much more important means that we must be, consequently, much more cautious about who we put our trust in to form/reform it.

  30. loga says:

    Bonjour. Just give my opinion on the topic . I am French so please don’t pay attention to my grammatical mistakes. I still working to improve my English 🙂 Overall, Yes i do agree with Sir Ken but partially. He is just wrong on point. Creativity is just not restricted in arts .I think creativity is everywhere.For example at mathematics who is my favorite course, what i like the most it’s the fact for one answer you can find multiple imaginative ways at the same time who guide you to the answer. That is why i enjoy maths. Personally,the right answer itself is not important. The action for me to found for an response not one but several ways who help me to solve the problem. I will give a basic demonstration.It is like to say the only way to obtain the number 4 is by addition of the number 2 twice. 2+2=4 is it really the only way? no of course! Possible other ways …Subtraction, multiplication, division or exponential function .7-3=4 or 1×4=4 or 400%=4 or 2²=4 . Even if you choose addition only you can play with so many numbers who lead you to the solution.
    In this case you have to use your brain deeply to look for all the possibilities available .You need a good sense of logic and exploration specially who is a main characteristic of Creativity and imagination. To the people who believe than maths it is just only about logic and no creativity involve in the process of thinking as 2+2 =4 without no doubt. But that is not always the case. Creativity do not obey to logic. Maths are logic and illogic at the same time! Example of 2/3=0.66 Logically It looks correct But it is really accurate without no doubt? No! why? because this operation has not a concrete result like the addition of the number 2 by himself.
    This series of numbers has no end. So we use a short version of this series because it is more practical to use in the way to simplify the calculation. Many people tend to forget but maths and sciences are also a part of the liberal arts.(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberal_arts_education). I don’t know why today people make them apart. School teaches people how to get a job but not how to create a job. That is a huge difference. Because when you are told what to do, what kind of protocol you have to conform it is more easy to do than to follow your own path. I do enjoy taking courses at school but he is DAMN right. people are not prepared to fail . Many persons are afraid to take risks.You can put big numbers on academic charts aka straight A students,Make a good employee later,have nice wages , become a doctor, a lawyer, in short words whatever who’s relative to all the “noble” professions. But a the end of the day,you are just a part of a system who says “one size fits all”. Yes, it is may be secure in the sense that you follow the “rules” by having a diploma, going to college and other stuff. Unfortunately,there is no major achievement you have made by creating jobs.School should allow and give the freedom to all this types of creative mind the right to flourish not to make them looks like the mere mortal .And for that you need pure creativity. The word itself has several meanings but the main purpose is the same.Transformation. Innovation is the key for the years to come. Of course the academic system is not perfect as nothing in our society.In the past, History are always illustrate all the great innovators in all the aspects of our society never really found their place in the “system” .

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  32. I agree at point 1 and 6, but I think the “evidence” in the argument 2-5 does not relate to the core argument, and need to be discussed more. ogilje

  33. Eddie Carron says:

    Michael wrote “What do you base those claims on? To discount IQ as a factor for intellectual achievement is as wrong as discounting height in basket ball”

    I did not of course discount IQ as a FACTOR in educational achievement but suggested that its main value is a “PREDICTOR of potential for being good at school work” and I base this on having been a headteacher in a multidisciplinary assessment team for many years. Having a high IQ suggests that a child could do well in school work but is no guarantee that a child WILL do well in school work. Additionally, being good at school work is no guarantee of success in the work place. As the effectiveness of schools is increasingly measured by their ‘exam passing’ record, it is perfectly easy for a parent to engage private tutors who can virtually ensure that a child with an IQ in the average band will achieve top grades in most subjects.

    • I still see no argument why IQ would be unimportant for intellectual achievement.: Being a headteacher may give you the ability to judge IQ’s effect on school work (and here you appear to have a very similar position to my own). It does not automatically give you the ability to judge its effect (or lack there of) on other areas.

      In addition, your claim that IQ would be important for school work but not for intellectual achievement borders on the paradoxical: While we likely agree that the two are very far from being identical, success at school work will, all other factors equal, have at least a minor positive influence on intellectual achievement. At the same time, some cognitive skills that benefit school work also benefit intellectual achievement (including reasoning, meta-resoning, critical thinking, …—with some reservations for the odd destructive teacher who punishes such skills). Consequently, if a considerable positive effect of IQ on school work is granted, then some positive effect on intellectual achievement follows almost by necessity.

      • Eddie Carron says:

        There seems to be some difficulty in communicating here. I am NOT saying IQ is unimportant in academic or intellectual achievement – I am challenging the view that IQ is an accurate PREDICTOR of academic achievement and claiming that it is only a good indicator of academic POTENTIAL. IF IQ was a good predictor of achievement we could say that everyone with an IQ in excess of say 140 would achieve great things academically yet that is manifestly not the case. We can say with some certainty that a person with a high IQ has the potential to be good a school work – beyond that any claim would be highly speculative.
        In addition to my research work, I take on four private pupils by SKYPE at any one time – these are children, often with high IQs who are struggling with basic educational skills. If these children do not receive appropriate intervention, the chances are that they will leave school with no GCSEs whatsoever.
        Almost on a daily basis, i receive requests from parents or grandparents (two thus far today) for advice about a child with high academic potential who is seriously underachieving in educational basics.
        IQ is a determining factor in achievement and a good predictor of achievement potential but it is not a good predictor of achievment.

      • It is in the nature of predictors that they rarely allow fool-proof predictions. A definite conclusion about someone with an IQ of 140 (cf. your example) is not possible—but a clear statement about increased/decreased likelihood in an all-other-factors-equal situation is. This is all that it takes. (Indeed, in formalized frameworks in statistics, it is possible to have predictor variables that end up with no predictive power at all.) As is, IQ is “one of the most important predictors” (to quote my original comment)—a claim that does not mean that it would be a fool-proof predictor, the only predictor, or even the most important single predictor. (The same applies to height in basket ball, fast-twitch muscle-fibres in sprinting, and many, many other cases.)

        A few further remarks to your latest comment:

        o You seem to focus heavily on school children (which is quite understandable in light of both the original post and your profession). However, the relative importance of IQ is considerably lower at this level of education than it is when we look at the university level, which in turn is lower than its importance for who gets a professorship, etc. Your experiences are therefore likely to underestimate the overall effects.

        o I deliberately differ between academic and intellectual achievement: It is quite possible (and fairly common) to achieve something intellectually outside of academics.

        o Even at high ability, we have to consider matters like personal interest: Someone of high IQ who is not in academics need not in anyway be a failure, but may simply have made other life-choices.

      • Eddie Carron says:

        With respect, I disagree with your statement that ” It is in the nature of predictors that they rarely allow fool-proof predictions” I would claim that an IQ of 140 very strongly suggests, every proves, a very considerable potential for being good at school work. There is of course, good correlation between IQ and both academic and intellectual achievement but when dealing with an individual, a high IQ could in no way be used as a valid predictor of future scholastic achievement. A high IQ does however, considering the component sub-scores which contribute to IQ, almost certainly suggest a potential for scholastic success but in my experience – no more than that.
        Even at high POTENTIAL we have to consider a great many other personal and social attributes. I daresay there are many slum dwellers in Calcutta with very high IQ with virtually no possibility of achieving any let alone high, scholastic achievement.

      • Without a doubt IQ is an even strong predictor of potential—so far you are correct.

        However, I fear that you do not quite understand the concept of a predictor or a prediction: A prediction does not in anyway have to be fool-proof where an individual case is concerned. Consider as analogies predictions of weather or of sporting events. To some approximation a prediction is a qualified guess as to what will happen, while a predictor is a variable that allows such a guess.

      • Eddie Carron says:

        I believe, rightly or wrongly, that I have a very full understanding of the word ‘prediction’ Weather scientists stopped using the term ‘weather prediction’ decades ago in favour of the term ‘weather forecast’ for what I believe are obvious reasons. IQ does not ‘guess at’ academic achievement – it describes potential for being good at school work. High IQ is no guarantee that a child will achieve great things at school – it is however a measured guarantee that the child has the potential ability to do well in school work.
        I thing we have exhausted the subject. Neither of us have succeeded in changing the other’s view of the value of IQ.
        Thanks anyway for your comments.

      • I am sorry, but you cannot have it both ways: Either you do not understand what a prediction is or you do not understand IQ. Which is the case, I honestly cannot say for sure, but from your descriptions I would tend to “prediction” being the problem. I do note, however, that it is wrong to limit IQ to school work only—it has effects on many other areas.

        I admit that I have little hope in changing your mind, but then other readers may benefit more from another view point.

  34. Did anyone read this? http://www.wired.com/business/2013/10/free-thinkers/

    It certainly provides some light evidential ammunition for Team Sir Ken…

    • Articles like that one in Wired mag bug me, big time. As much as Sir Ken does. Their core flaw is that they talk about education as if it were not something that someone buys and pays for, and that someone is paid to deliver. Sure, it is great to just let kids learn on their own. Sure, teachers can just be guides on the side, facilitators, etc. But when you are paying teachers for something – and you can be damned sure that the Wired magazine editors paid the writer on the basis of specified, not freely selected, content – that something has to be defined. So when I take my kids to ballet lessons, or violin lessons, I don’t expect them to come home being able to ride a unicycle. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it isn’t what was on the invoice. The question that looms over child-driven education, and over child-centred education, is: on what basis would the general public pay for that? And for parents, the issue is: why am I giving up my time with my child to hand them over to you, the teacher, if they are only going to do with you what they could do at home – pursue their own interests?

      And as with Alfie Kohn, the real issue is in the contrast between what is being recommended, and what is being done. Alfie sits people down in a room, charges them a fee, and makes them listen passively for an hour – telling them to let their students take the lead. http://websofsubstance.wordpress.com/2013/11/01/the-kohn-manifesto/

      Whenever Pestalozzi is cited, parents and teachers both need to beware: Petalozzi worked with orphans. Rousseau worked with an imaginary child, having handed his own 5 over to an orphanage (poetic, yes? If the timing had worked out, Pestalozzi would be theorizing with Rousseau’s kids).

      The Wired article does inadvertently hit on one key issue: unleashing kids’ curiousity and letting them explore is valid pedagogy in a school setting IF WHAT THEY ARE GETTING INSTEAD IS USELESS. Ironically, I don’t think the Mexican teacher was being useless. Boring yes, but not useless. The tools the kids subsequently used to explore were no doubt gained in those boring years.

      Funniest thing? I bet this writer, editor, and perhaps Sir Ken himself often go out for coffee. And what is required of the staff at the coffee house? Why, to show up on time, follow the rules, and don’t spend the whole day chatting with customers.

      All of it comprises lies told to kids about what adult life is like. Adult life does not comprise just following your interests and dreams, and this is not some nasty manifestation of capitalist greed, but a biological reality of raising your own children in turn: when your interest is in sleeping, you still have to get up to feed and change the baby. And instead of chatting on Twitter, you should be making eye contact with and yakking to your child, and facilitating the next skill that they’ve almost got ahold of – which, if you give yourself up to them, might be the most rewarding and enjoyable moments of your life. And you know, children (and spouses) want to eat every. single. day. three. times. I wonder who feeds Sir Ken, and whether his or her creativity is boundlessly satisfied by the task.

      • Eddie Carron says:

        Part of the problem here is that we are a profession whose technical terms are either poorly defined or not defined at all and this makes effective communication well nigh impossible. My own focus is on promoting literacy skills among children who have been failed by a phonics treadmill which takes no account of their individuality yet to which they are likely to remain unproductively chained for many years. In spite of this, there is no professionally agreed definition of the word ‘reading’ – everyone just ‘knows’ what it means yet in reality it means different things to different people. In many discussions about ‘reading’ the participants are often talking about completely different activities. Imagine the chaos there would be in medicine if doctors did not use a system of professionally agreed definitions – that’s precisely the chaos we have in Education.

        There is also no clear appreciation of the word ‘teaching.’ In many discussions about what teaching is and how it is done, it is obvious that some participants have very different ideas of what teaching is.

        In my own area of endeavour, my target pupils are either non or near-non readers and my aim is to teach them how to read. I know that in order to learn to read, children have to master phonics; children who can read competently have mastered phonics and children who can’t read competently have not. It really is that simple therefore solving the problem should be equally simple but between 15%-19% of children leave school unable to read and write with confidence every year!

        The route I choose to use in my ‘teaching’ is indeed that of the facilitator; it is called perceptual learning – no ritual teaching is involved – there is nothing to be remembered therefore nothing to be forgotten – the same strategy that is used by the highly successful commercial teaching organisations such as Rosetta Stone who teach language by the simple act of using these languages – no ritual ‘teaching’ is involved.

        I do no ‘teaching’ in the conventional sense of the word – I offer no programmes of work that children must fit into – no linear learning of tables or lists – learning is an organic process which in the right circumstances, just happens. I see my role as being to provide the circumstances in which the ‘learning’ takes place and the evidence for this is the fact that the children do learn to read fluently in spite of the fact that no ‘teaching’ tool place.


      • In response to Eddie:
        You have nailed a very important point in your first sentence and also named the crux of the problem, and then gone on to illustrate how it occurs. Thank you, I think.

        The crux of the problem is the definition of the word “profession.” Teaching is not remotely, in the legal sense of the word, a profession. Teachers are not liable for their work. It is that simple. Professions have historically worked in entrepreneurial settings, where liability is natural and occurs colloquially in the village even if it not legally pursued: “I’m not using that vet again, he can’t tell one end of a dog from the other!”

        Public school* teachers do not work in entrepreneurial settings. They work in highly bureaucratic enterprises where they are protected from liability from the outcomes of their work by at least three layers of impenetrable administrative policy. I call it triply-indentured work, but the fact is, it is also triple protection. And never mind liability; teaching has worked politically and administratively to render itself utterly immune to even feedback from any possible source. The one source to which they remain vulnerable – democratically elected and liable political leaders – well, should such a source actually seek to ACT on the effects of teaching’s insularity, well, anywhere in the world you will hear hatred and howls of outrage. This from an occupation that is embracing the teaching of tolerance and diversity in the name of social justice, but I digress.

        What you have written about reading in your comment is mostly exactly the kind of language that serves to exacerbate the problem you have named in your first sentence. And that, in turn, exacerbates the problem of professional status. It is not possible to hold someone liable for how they do work that you cannot define, ergo, such language keeps teaching from functioning as a profession. What you may not appreciate is that such language and the muddy thoughts it expresses are deliberately implanted into the occupation to sustain its apparent mysticism AND THUS ITS IMMUNITY TO FEEDBACK. So, if you can’t explain your work and its outcomes better than that, you also can’t be doing the critical self-analysis that a profession undertakes, individually and collectively, to protect the public from violating the vulnerability that is inherent in the role of client.

        The vulnerability is also inherent in trusting teachers. As individuals, we give you our children. As a society, we give you our youth, our future, our own old age (to you we give pensions that most of us don’t have). But instead of collectively undertaking NOT to exploit our vulnerability, teachers collectively undertake TO exploit it, and one of the ways in which they do so is to set their own goals for their work, make them sound like what the public wants, and eliminate any barriers to achieving them.

        The overall belief system in the teaching occupation is that no one but teachers has any right to make any decisions in public education; I’ve heard the vision described as “a teacher-regulated public good.” You’ll appreciate, no doubt, that a literate, critically-thinking public is anathema to that vision, which is why teaching is learning’s worst enemy. Three things are required for this vision to be realized (and, once realized, sustained): 1) that parents continue to deliver their children to the system 2) that taxpayers continue to fork over the dough; 3) that politicians spend the dough as told to by teaching without asking what outcomes they’re paying for.

        That the words “art” and “calling” are often used to describe teaching is on its own enough to forego any claim to professionalism, but in point of fact, teaching functions mostly as a cult, with educational academe positioned as the mystical cult leader from which these ideas and the language that supports them emanate.

        We are all blessed that there are enough independent minds wandering through education with scientific proclivities and the ability to recognize behavioural patterns that some discussion of teaching content and skill actually takes place. We are all equally blessed (and no, I’m not religious, but can’t think of a better word for the luck that creates human diversity of thought) that those independent minds have the capacity to speak out.

        Have you ever stopped to realize that teachers are not educated in the way they are taught to teach children? Your fearless thought leaders put you through university with a ruthless mission to inculcate compliance to the collective belief system, and once you are working, your fearless thought leaders speak to you both directly and indirectly through their comments in media, their seminars and meetings, newsletters and picket signs, none of which encourages you to think for yourself, and all of which constitutes an effective propaganda campaign that teaches teachers to see themselves as part of a cult where no one but your fellow believers can be trusted.

        There are professions that successfully work in the political bureaucracy and remain professions. Let’s take engineers, many of whom work to build public infrastructure, for example. Municipal engineers have not become a cult because they do not seek to take over the decision-making that sets their work. The decision of where to put a bridge is one that, to some extent at least, is subject to the democratic process, involving election, political opposition, and public input. Municipal engineers do what professionals do, which is apply their skills TO A PURPOSE DICTATED BY THE CLIENT.

        Not one element of the education clientele – governments, taxpayers, employers, or parents – has ever asked for the obfuscation of “reading” into some bizarre individual pursuit that constitutes a personal relationship with written words and their meanings. Before the advent of university-based teacher training, everyone knew what “reading” meant and a lot of people knew how to do it – it was almost folk knowledge; people taught each other. Now we talk about it in terms that disguise what it even is, and we have a gargantuan illiteracy problem. This is created by the teaching occupation as it has permitted itself to evolve, and this illustrates further that teaching is NOT a profession.

        *I’m never quite sure if the term “public school” is used the same way in the UK as in North America – I mean to refer to publicly funded, freely provided, government run schools where attendance is to some extent at least compulsory.

      • Eddie Carron says:

        Thank you for your very erudite response. There are certainly anomalies both in the education system and in the language we use to describe it. I think the term ‘profession’ has been devalued over time to a point that it would require redefinition. Your definition does indeed apply when used to describe the oldest profession in the world but has increasingly been changed by the practise of misusing it to enhance the status of a number of ‘occupations’ I personally use it to described those of us who teach by inclination – a desire to teach, rather than out of necessity or a lack of will to explore other possibilities.

        I think the terms ‘education’ and ‘schooling’ have also come to be used interchangeably when in reality their meanings could not be more different. As teachers we are involved in schooling and working in an environment in which the gap between ‘educating’ and ‘schooling’ becomes ever wider.

        My personal interests and focus are much narrower than yours. I am concerned with the foundations of schooling which is the stage at which the basic educational skills are taught – ie the stage in which children should acquire the tools the will need to succeed in the balance of their school experience. This is perhaps the one part of children’s lives where ‘education’ and ‘schooling’ overlap because the basic educational skills of literacy, numeracy etc are fundamental to both. It is thereafter that the two diverge exponentially!

        You commented “Before the advent of university-based teacher training, everyone knew what “reading” meant and a lot of people knew how to do it – it was almost folk knowledge; people taught each other. ” This is quite misleading – everyone didn’t know what ‘reading’ meant (adn they still don’t) and when you say ‘lots of people’ could read, you are again being mischievous because the reality is that only a minority could read and while some people undoubtedly did teach others, this utopian concept still left the majority illiterate and therefore unable to access the thoughts of others via literature.

        My particular concern is the 15%-19% who fail to acquire reading skills by Year 2 (Grade 2 or P1) because we know from unimpeachable data that these same children will arrive at secondary school and ultimately leave school quite unnecessarily, unable to read and write with confidence. In the UK, this problem is confronted by government decree, with a phonics treadmill which makes no allowances for individuality, yet to which those who are failed by it, must (because is it government decree) remain unproductively chained to it for years. No one thing does more to cause disaffection in schools than this one act of stupidity.

        My personal reaction to this embraces a strategy pioneered by Dr Phil Kellman who runs the Human Perception Laboratory at UCLA. This employs a highly successful technique call perceptual learning which involves no ritual teaching – it is the organic learning approach used by commercial language teaching organisations such as Rosetta Stone.

        Regrettably, I am ill-equipped to confront the great issues facing education and must confine myself to the practical and more mundane. Nevertheless, I find your comments challenging and interesting and hope you will continue to contribute to the debate.


      • I appreciate your willingness to read challenging information.

        The irony here is that my inquiry into the teaching occupation began with an exposure to the use of something you likely despise: Siegfried Engelmann’s Direct Instruction (Reading Mastery), and the realization that the difficulties to which you refer, children not getting the basic reading skill they need for the rest of schooling, are entirely avoidable. I applied my skill set – communications, behaviour analysis, scientific method – and my experience as a health care professional to the task of figuring out how teachers were being duped into “creating need” rather than actually teaching what are, after all, comparatively simple skills that have been successfully taught since phonetic writing was invented. Almost twenty years later, I have a hypothesis – part of it is in my comment above.

        So I share with you, actually, a pretty single-minded focus on that part of the school experience. And also, I agree with you about the uses of the words “school” and “education” and am sorry if I muddied the waters there.

        I was not familiar with Rosetta Stone or with Kellman, so have just been browsing there a bit. And from the material I’ve read over the years about reading instruction, I’m afraid it seems to me that there is a total disconnect between what you say your interests are and how you teach. First, immersion teaching and organic learning may work for things like language, which are organic, but writing and reading are not organic and to expect students to discern them on their own seems to me like expecting someone to organically learn to drive by immersing themselves in traffic (to be blunt, which I hope you don’t mind).

        Second, while I have no quarrel with Kellman’s work, which looks entirely scientifically valid to me on a casual read-through, I have seen no evidence tying his work to successful reading instruction and have, in fact, seen some evidence to disprove a movement that ties children’s reading failures to visual attributes. Not sure if the latter interventions derive from Kellman’s work or not, mind you. But I did browse all the references on line at Kellman’s site and found only one that referred to reading, done in 1979:

        Click to access baron_treiman_wilf_kellman_1979.pdf

        I actually find this study, and particularly the background material, quite interesting. And it seems to me again that it contradicts what you suggest of your methods. What kind of results are you in fact getting with your students? How do you evaluate whether what you do is working any better than the students could do alone without you in the room? Those are the questions that professionals ask themselves every day. As such, by the way, it is not at all inconceivable that many teachers approach their work in a professional manner. That does not make it a profession overall. In place of that, I hear from you some of the code words that are used to cover up the deliberate failure to actively and effectively teach reading and writing: “phonics treadmill” “individuality” “ritual teaching” and the blaming of government. Professionals don’t shift blame, they take responsibility. And to do so, you have to measure your impact.

        As for the history of reading, I have seen several sources that evaluate the history of literacy, not just from evaluations but from records such as publication runs of popular books in the day, and then there are the records of reading problems such as “dyslexia” as they began to emerge only after universal public schooling came into being. It seems quite clear that competent literacy has dropped, and that reading problems have escalated. In addition to reading, however, there was also a great deal of oral reading and memorization, so in fact the reach of literature was much greater than it is now.

        One book on the subject of learning reading that I really enjoy is The Open Door: When writers first learned to read, by Steven Gilbar

      • Eddie Carron says:

        You wrote “comparatively simple skills that have been successfully taught since phonetic writing was invented”
        A common misconception I’m afraid. In 1939 when all men were conscripted into the armed forces at the beginning of WW2, it was discovered that 1 in 5 could not read the instructions on the massively dangerous munitions they were expected to use against our enemies. The situation today is not all that much different.
        You wrote “Almost twenty years later, I have a hypothesis” After retiring as a head teacher, I too have a hypothesis as do literally thousands of other teachers and yet 100,000+m children leave school every year unable to read and write confidently.
        You wrote “I agree with you about the uses of the words “school” and “education” and am sorry if I muddied the waters there.” Again, you are not alone, these two words are widely misused.
        On Perceptual Learning and Phil Kellmans’ work at UCLA – most of what we learn in life was not learned in school; it was learning perceptually after leaving school. All animal learned behaviour is acquired perceptually because animals don’t go to school and if they don’t learn perceptually – their species becomes extinct!
        How children learn to read organically and perceptually is not only explained but demonstrated on my website at http://community.tes.co.uk/perceptual_learning_in_action/b/weblog/archive/2013/05/11/perceptual-learning.aspx

        Kellman’s work now focuses almost exclusively on maths and science teaching. It is mainly in the UK that PL is used to tackle literacy skills when ritual phonics teaching fails as unimpeachable data shows, it so often does. My own continuing work is much more recent than that which you refer to.
        You wrote¨ What kind of results are you in fact getting with your students? How do you evaluate whether what you do is working any better than the students could do alone without you in the room?
        Other than a small international group which I teach by SKYE I no longer teach in a classroom. Instead, I conduct practical research projects, developing and using perceptual learning modules collectively called The Literacy Toolbox.
        You wrote” , it is not at all inconceivable that many teachers approach their work in a professional manner.” Most not ‘many’ teachers approach their work conscientiously – but they no longer decide either what is taught or how it is taught – that is prescribed for them even down to government sponsored computerised lessons which take no account of individuality.

        You wrote “, I have seen several sources that evaluate the history of literacy, not just from evaluations but from records such as publication runs of popular books in the day, and then there are the records of reading problems such as “dyslexia” as they began to emerge only after universal public schooling came into being.”
        Since dyslexia is a difficulty which principally manifests itself in a small proportion of children’s failure to learn to read – it is hardly surprising that it only emerged when the teaching of reading became wholesale.
        Governments, teachers, parents, stupid children and even society itself have all been ‘blamed’ at one time or another for our atrocious literacy standards. I take no part in the blame game – teachers work damned hard for their pittance. When they succeed in getting ‘little Johnny’ through his exams it’s because ‘little Johnny’ is a genius: when he fails to get through is exams it’s because the teachers are rubbish – thus it is and ever will remain so.
        Unimpeachable national data shows that the significant percentage of children who fail to learn to read confidently at age 6 will enter their secondary schooling unable to read confidently and will ultimately leave school unable to read and write confidently. My response to this reality is a practical one – I conduct practical research focused exclusively on this small percentage of children who have been failed by a phonics treadmill and incredibly, when an alternative approach is used – they do learn.
        This should become clear if you take a look at the website which is quite shore.

      • I just want to say that I am really enjoying all of the debates that the original post about Sir Ken has set off. As a relatively inexperienced teacher (7 years) who has nevertheless engaged with a wide range of students (from pre-primary up to Year 12), many of whom have had diagnosed learning disabilities, I have frequently oscillated between the theoretical poles of direct instruction and indirect instruction. What I am learning is that, as with many things in life, the complex and crucial subject of written language apprehension is anything but black and white.

        However, thanks to the wealth of work that’s going on at the moment, and lively discussions such as those in these comments, it’s clear that we are improving our collective understanding of the manifold greys between these poles.

        Keep up the great work!

      • Learning London, I’m afraid that, however promising the avenue for discussion was that you opened by posting the Wired article, we have now been sucked into the vortex of repetitive misunderstanding and are circling the drain to the hole where discussion only drives participants further into their belief systems and those whose positions don’t hold up under logic begin to present black as white if that is what it takes to reinforce their own beliefs: http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/10/30/daniel-kahneman-intuition/ If it’s working for you, Eddie, I’m happy for you and your students. You’re a remarkably articulate and perceptive guy.

      • I may be misunderstanding you, but I’m not so sure about that Karin; I, for one, am keeping an open mind and (slowly) digesting all of the points of view being expressed.

        As a footnote I can’t resist adding that I’m a big fan of Kahneman’s work, but let’s not forget that his observations don’t constitute absolute laws of psychology, only trends. As such, their prevalence varies from person to person and culture to culture. The way I see things, the human mind is ungraspable. Once we think we’ve pinned it down, another side slips out and we lunge to try and pin that part down.

        Although we may never succeed in grasping the mind absolutely, the fun is in the struggle. That’s why I’m here anyway!

  35. Pingback: Sir Ken Robinson – hvad er meningen? | innovativeteacher

  36. Interesting. I love Ken Robinson’s talk on schools killing creativity. On a much simpler level, the first programs usually cut from our education system are the arts and physical education. At least in North America that is the case. They are looked upon as a luxury or perhaps a fun hobby… something that is deemed to be of little importance. Yet, I could not imagine a world without music, dance, or drama. I find paintings to be a thing of great beauty and a photograph can speak volumes without the benefit of text.
    I am of the personal belief that talent is innate in all of us, but does need to be fostered so that an individual can reach his or her potential. I am a dancer by trade and had a natural talent for the art form. However, I also had to train extremely hard to achieve the level of success that I did. Not unlike any mathematician or scientist. I am not famous, but am a working artist in Canada. I’ve had the good fortune to work with many interesting and creative individuals, and my work has enabled me to travel to many wonderful destinations. That in itself has been a wonderful education and a pretty interesting life. I have met many individuals just like the one’s Ken Robinson references in his Ted Talk, who because of lack of support both emotionally and financially, were not confident in going out and pursuing their dreams. I’ve also met many wonderful, highly educated professionals who hate what they do and are only doing it because of family pressure when they were young. What kind of life is that? To this day, I am so thankful that I had a wonderful support system in my mother and father. Without their support, I may have ended up in some cubicle somewhere, doing some job that had little or nothing to do, as to where my talent lies.
    The bottom line for me was simple, dance is what I was good at. It’s where I lived. It’s what made me want to wake up in the morning and get out and make something of myself. I was mediocre at both math and science, and although I did well in english and had a flare for story telling, dance is where my heart was. I hate the fact that to this day, there are people who are still of the opinion that a job in the arts is not a real job.
    I also love the fact that when their is a global crisis, artists are usually the first people to step up to the plate to lend a hand. A fantastic example of this would be Bono. Ironically, we have these highly educated people on Wall Street who basically put the U.S. economy in the toilet. The lesson here, at least to me is simple, you can have all the education in the world and still lack basic wisdom and compassion for your fellow man.
    Here’s the thing, there’s black and white, and a hundred shades of grey in the middle. I don’t think there is one definitive answer to this debate. I just feel fortunate that when I was a young boy and told my mother that I wanted to take tap dancing lessons, she had the good sense to agree.

  37. Pingback: Sir Ken Robinson – et indlæg i debatten | Mariannes Blog

  38. Pedro says:

    I just wrote a blogpost on the question if schools actually kill creativity based on R. Keith Sawyer’s book on the science of human innovation, ‘Explaining Creativity’. The answer is nuanced to say the least. Check: http://theeconomyofmeaning.com/2013/11/09/does-school-kill-creativity/

  39. I also love the fact that when their is a global crisis, artists are usually the first people to step up to the plate to lend a hand. A fantastic example of this would be Bono. Ironically, we have these highly educated people on Wall Street who basically put the U.S. economy in the toilet. The lesson here, at least to me is simple, you can have all the education in the world and still lack basic wisdom and compassion for your fellow man.dental intrumenteDentalausrüstungZahnarzt Instrumente

  40. Pingback: What Sir Ken Got Wrong, and what the blogger got wrong too | Computing Education Blog

  41. Claudia says:

    As a student who has had her talents suppressed because of the way teachers treat students I agree with Ken. If you were to look at his ideas from a pupil’s perspective then you would be able to understand how the education system is wrong.

  42. gurjendersihe2012 says:

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  43. Pingback: Books, bloggers & metablogs: The Blogosphere in 2013 | Pragmatic Education

  44. Torn Halves says:

    You make a convincing case against Ken Robinson from the perspective of the pragmatic educationalist. But there is a problem (is there not?) with the pragmatic discourse in that it cuts itself off from any reflection upon the ends of education. Ken’s appeal rests not on his scientific thoroughness (and as you indicate, he may well not have a leg to stand on), but on his idealism. He taps into a desire for an idealistic image of education, and he sketches the idea of an education that is all about the liberation of the child.

    In a way, Ken is right about the need for a certain idealism. There is need for a broader debate about the ends of education. The problem in Ken’s case is that as he presents it all too sketchily liberation is a simple matter of getting the teachers to stand back and let the explosion of talent happen.

    Paolo Freire tried to develop an education that would liberate the oppressed. Ken suggests an education that will liberate…who?…from what? As soon as we ask the question we see that Ken has no understanding (or does not convey one) of what liberation consists in. The problem is the same as the one even more evident in Sugata Mitra’s TED talk about education and empire. Empire was Victorian. The schools we have are remnants of the Victorian Dark Ages. But this narrative implies that the age of empire is over. We are all liberated now. The only task left is to liberate the students from the remnants of the Victorian era that prevail in their schooling. But this just indicates the shallowness of the thinking about freedom. What does freedom consist in? And only if we have a provisional grasp of that, can we begin to sketch what an education for liberation might look like.

    We argue the case for this line of thinking in the post below:


  45. Pingback: Creativity, Sir Ken Robinson, and Our Faulty Substrata | Amateur Robot Writers Guild

  46. Cam says:

    You’re point about having math in education is of course valid. However, Ken’s ideology is that education should help children find their “Element” in a manner to achieve their dreams. Now, if you make a well-ranged list of possible dream activities and/or occupations, I highly doubt math would be an outlier. BTW, I love math and physics. I enjoy them very much. I’m simply stating a point.

  47. Pingback: Why Your Child May Need a Liberal Arts Education to Succeed | SD Nuggets™

  48. Pingback: Creativity, Sir Ken Robinson, and Our Faulty Substrata | Jake Roberson

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