Saturday, May 11, 2013

Life after Death Valley - Will education ever bloom in a new spring?



Always enjoy Ken Robinson's talks. Concerned though that progress in education seems to be so terribly slow, especially in this part of Europe. I've seen some excellent experiments where students were set homework which involved looking at great lectures on line (from MIT, Stanford and TED) and this was then discussed in class the following week. Unfortunately those experiments were not here. As Ken points out,


Curiosity is the engine of achievement. Now the reason I say this is because one of the effects of the current culture here, if I can say so, has been to de-professionalize teachers.There is no system in the world or any school in the country that is better than its teachers.Teachers are the lifeblood of the success of schools. But teaching is a creative profession.Teaching, properly conceived, is not a delivery system. You know, you're not there just to pass on received information. Great teachers do that, but what great teachers also do is mentor, stimulate, provoke, engage. You see, in the end, education is about learning. If there's no learning going on, there's no education going on. And people can spend an awful lot of time discussing education without ever discussing learning. The whole point of education is to get people to learn.

Full transcript of the talk is below.



Education under No Child Left Behind is based on not diversity but conformity. What schools are encouraged to do is to find out what kids can do across a very narrow spectrum of achievement. One of the effects of No Child Left Behind has been to narrow the focusonto the so-called STEM disciplines. They're very important. I'm not here to argue against science and math. On the contrary, they're necessary but they're not sufficient. A real education has to give equal weight to the arts, the humanities, to physical education. An awful lot of kids, sorry, thank you — (Applause) — One estimate in America currently is that something like 10 percent of kids, getting on that way, are being diagnosed with various conditions under the broad title of attention deficit disorder. ADHD. I'm not saying there's no such thing. I just don't believe it's an epidemic like this. If you sit kids down, hour after hour,doing low-grade clerical work, don't be surprised if they start to fidget, you know? (Laughter) (Applause) Children are not, for the most part, suffering from a psychological condition.They're suffering from childhood. (Laughter) And I know this because I spent my early life as a child. I went through the whole thing. Kids prosper best with a broad curriculum that celebrates their various talents, not just a small range of them. And by the way, the arts aren't just important because they improve math scores. They're important because they speak to parts of children's being which are otherwise untouched.
The second principle that drives human life flourishing is curiosity. If you can light the spark of curiosity in a child, they will learn without any further assistance, very often. Children are natural learners. It's a real achievement to put that particular ability out, or to stifle it.Curiosity is the engine of achievement. Now the reason I say this is because one of the effects of the current culture here, if I can say so, has been to de-professionalize teachers.There is no system in the world or any school in the country that is better than its teachers.Teachers are the lifeblood of the success of schools. But teaching is a creative profession.Teaching, properly conceived, is not a delivery system. You know, you're not there just to pass on received information. Great teachers do that, but what great teachers also do is mentor, stimulate, provoke, engage. You see, in the end, education is about learning. If there's no learning going on, there's no education going on. And people can spend an awful lot of time discussing education without ever discussing learning. The whole point of education is to get people to learn.
But all that should support learning. It shouldn't obstruct it, which of course it often does. So in place of curiosity, what we have is a culture of compliance. Our children and teachers are encouraged to follow routine algorithms rather than to excite that power of imagination and curiosity. And the third principle is this: that human life is inherently creative. It's why we all have different résumés. We create our lives, and we can recreate them as we go through them. It's the common currency of being a human being. It's why human culture is so interesting and diverse and dynamic. I mean, other animals may well have imaginations and creativity, but it's not so much in evidence, is it, as ours? I mean, you may have a dog. And your dog may get depressed. You know, but it doesn't listen to Radiohead, does it?(Laughter) And sit staring out the window with a bottle of Jack Daniels. (Laughter)
The point is that education is not a mechanical system. It's a human system. It's about people, people who either do want to learn or don't want to learn. Every student who drops out of school has a reason for it which is rooted in their own biography. They may find it boring. They may find it irrelevant. They may find that it's at odds with the life they're living outside of school. There are trends, but the stories are always unique. I was at a meeting recently in Los Angeles of -- they're called alternative education programs. These are programs designed to get kids back into education. They have certain common features.They're very personalized. They have strong support for the teachers, close links with the community and a broad and diverse curriculum, and often programs which involve studentsoutside school as well as inside school. And they work. What's interesting to me is, these are called "alternative education." You know? And all the evidence from around the world is,if we all did that, there'd be no need for the alternative. (Applause)
Not far from where I live is a place called Death Valley. Death Valley is the hottest, driest place in America, and nothing grows there. Nothing grows there because it doesn't rain.Hence, Death Valley. In the winter of 2004, it rained in Death Valley. Seven inches of rain fell over a very short period. And in the spring of 2005, there was a phenomenon. The whole floor of Death Valley was carpeted in flowers for a while. What it proved is this: that Death Valley isn't dead. It's dormant. Right beneath the surface are these seeds of possibilitywaiting for the right conditions to come about, and with organic systems, if the conditions are right, life is inevitable. It happens all the time. You take an area, a school, a district, you change the conditions, give people a different sense of possibility, a different set of expectations, a broader range of opportunities, you cherish and value the relationships between teachers and learners, you offer people the discretion to be creative and to innovate in what they do, and schools that were once bereft spring to life.
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