Sunday, October 31, 2010

"Sir Ken": Creativity in our School System

For those of you who have seen the two Sir Ken Robinson TED talks, you must know that I felt very privileged to be able to hear him in person. Sir Ken spoke to a group of 300 educators, students, and parents on Thursday morning, October 21, at Van Tech in an event jointly sponsored by the VSB, Coquitlam School District, and Arts Umbrella. Born to a working class family in Liverpool, Sir Ken is now an internationally recognized consultant, speaker, and writer on education, creativity, and the importance of the arts. As an arts education professor at the University of Warwick in the UK, he wrote All Our Futures (also called "The Robinson Report") and Unlocking Creativity, both tying economic development to education for the creative imperative. He was knighted in 2003 for his work. He suggests that he offers the same serious message, as does John Cleese, when he says that creativity, the point where natural talent and personal passion meet, is both undervalued and ignored in our systems of schooling.

For those who haven't seen his TED talks, they make an excellent case for revolution and for putting Creativity back into education. [NOTE: If you haven't seen any of the TED talks, you may want to check these out: TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design. The talks by some of the world's most innovative people are never more than 20 minutes and often shorter -- one a week would be excellent self-directed lifelong learning!]


Ken Robinson Says Schools Kill Creativity (2006)

Sir Ken Robinson: Bring on the Learning Revolution! (2010)


Do take the time to watch the videos online or, at the very least, the amazing RSA animation Changing Educational Paradigms which is also to be found in the next posting.

From my notes:

Alluding to several significant studies and works, the case for a revolution in education is about what happens "on the ground." In metaphorical reference to Peter Brook's The Empty Space in which Brook describes what makes for powerful theatre, Robinson suggested that, in education, you can remove the "distractions of set, script, and costume," but you can't remove "the actor in place with an audience"; in our classrooms, everything is "noise" that distracts from the basic relationship of a teacher with students and willing consciousness.

Yet, we continue in a mass education system "invented to meet the needs of industrialism." Molecular biologist turned Buddhist Matthieu Ricard, in conversation with his father French philosopher Jean François Revel in a book entitled The Monk and the Philosopher, concludes that life is not linear and that it is subject to narrative imposition and on-going creation; that is, we create our lives and can, with the power of imagination, re-create them. The trouble is, education as we see it today is linear.

Nothing but the power of imagination put Las Vegas where it is: unlike other cities, there is no natural port, convergence of rivers, or abundant agricultural land. Imagination is the power of the mind to bring into presence that which is not present, like the past, for example, or a life outside your own, or the future. This capacity is what is uniquely human. Creativity is applied imagination; it is imagination in practice or at work. We create our cultures and the consequences of this power that we are imperilling existence as, for example, with climate change.

Locked as it is in 19th Century patterns, our world needs radical transformation: a revolution, in fact, as there are no precedents for the challenges we face; different thinking; and different behaviours. The problems are exacerbated by the fact that we don't recognize our limitations, our own cultural constraints to visual or other perceptions that influence what we can see. Shown a photo of a tiger in a jungle, the Westerners saw the tiger as reflects the culture of individualism and the Eastern world saw the context, the jungle, that Westerners tend to ignore.

Technology has dramatically changed our lives. Where our ancestors lived "local" lives, we have emigrated, and now the child teaches the parent. There are unpredictable circumstances for population growth. We have lots to learn and we have to put the power of creativity and imagination to work.

There are three basics that must underpin our understandings for capturing this power. First, the person: people learn and they have different talents and their own natural capacities. Second, culture: people must find their own culture of way of being or identity, and understand others' cultures. Third, the economy: the capacity for innovation will help to shape our world.

We are organic beings, Robinson reminds the audience. Using a Vegas metaphor, he suggests that, as Death Valley bloomed one year after many years of drought and then abundant rainfall, we too have the seeds of possibility just waiting for events to nourish and enliven them. While most management charts are simply mechanical diagrams, human organizations are "organic" compositions of people with feelings, relationships, and so on. In school cultures, people thrive in some environments, like those with great leaders and great teachers. These don't work with standardization and other ways schools have to "ride today's horse." Anaïs Nin captured the revolutionary thought poetically in her poem "Risk": And then the day came,/ when the risk/ to remain tight/ in a bud/ was more painful/ than the risk/ it took/ to blossom. Working with people, Robinson tells us, is "the miracle business."

Sir Ken concluded that there are many examples of schooling that works, that is un-schooling: you simply have to google "creative schools" and look to Finland, Singapore, and Canada. The "tipping point" or shift is happening. There is a move to think global / act local. Every classroom matters and the system, with the right policy framework, should work to "empower the ground." While governments feel a need to take control, they really need to let go and let people get on with it!

In response to a question afterwards, Sir Ken discussed the other Liverpudlian "Sir" Paul (McCartney), both now affiliated with the Liverpool Institute, resurrected from a school for boys, once attended by both McCartney and George Harrison, now a centre of learning and the performing arts. When asked about his experience of music instruction as a student at the school, McCartney described a teacher who put on a classical LP and shuffled off down the hall to have a smoke. McCartney did not do well in music, needless to say, nor did fellow student Harrison. So, there's a profound example of how one teacher who had two of the world's best-known musicians missed out completely on the chance to have a part in inspiring and nurturing their creative talents!

A gaggle of excited educators surrounded Sir Ken after his talk; there he was, the Justin Bieber of the baby-boomer set! That comment, by the way, was how I managed to spark up a short but delightful discussion with him ... creative, eh! It was, quite simply, a lovely and inspiring morning that nicely set off a weekend of professional development with more than 200 teacher-librarians in Kelowna.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Moira: I just wanted to compliment you on your resource blog. I'm glad my search for more about Sir Ken Robinson introduced me to your work. I am one of those who grew up challenged by the Vancouver school system in the 80s. I was often the creative individual who had trouble with the system because I did not have to work very hard to be strong academically, until the later years. As the years went on, the academic busywork kept me from my creative pursuits, and it took 20 years of unlearning to get me back into that place again. Sir Ken presents a lot of the ideas I shared with my friends over lunch. I'm glad to see an official source (VSB, Coquitlam, etc.) working to inspire schools to encourage more creativity. Cheers!