Sir Ken Robinson argues that education reform is not the answer, because it would mean simply reforming "a broken system." Robinson calls for an "education revolution" that battles against the "tyranny of common sense" which hypnotizes into believing certain untruths. He cites Abraham Lincoln, who said:
The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.
Robinson says we need to let go of our idea of a "linear narrative" - in which the college we attend determines our fate - and instead recognize the fact that we live - and learn - organically. He argues we have too limited a notion of "ability," and would do well to appreciate the diversity of talent and creativity, and encourage passion in our students as much as learning. The answer, he says, is to personalize education for the people you are teaching.
Robinson's talk is filled with great humor, as well as a particularly smart tale involving a student who wanted to be "just a fireman." It's a follow-up to his talk from 2006, in which he argues kids are "educated out of creativity."
The cynic in me keeps hearing the drumbeat of schools needing to tighten their belts like the rest of us hard-working Americans. We simply can't afford creative time in schools because it might cost too much in hard earned tax-payer money.
The former teacher in me knows better. I have seen what happens when you encourage a student to think and create instead of memorize. The scientist in me knows better too. I see the products of some of Minnesota's most creative minds daily. I know we can't afford NOT to encourage creativity in our schools.
But it's a lot easier to hold teachers accountable when they teach to a multiple choice test. It's a lot harder to hold teachers accountable when they demand creativity of students; when the products of learning isn't A, B, C, or D. Creative learning products are hard to grade, and often the grading is subjective. It would require our society to value teachers as the talented professionals that they should be, and trust their judgment as exerts in learning. The constraints on teaching must removed and the teachers encourage to be creative in their approaches. They need to be given the time and tools to get to know individual students. This would encourage student creativity and foster a love of learning.
Of course, this isn't the type of teaching you learn in teacher colleges. And it's expensive. You need more teachers and smaller student-teacher ratios. You need high quality teachers - the innovative type who easily leave the profession for more money because they are in demand. You get what you pay for. If you were to believe the politicians, tax-payers can't be asked to invest more in our creative future. But can we afford not to?
A number of years ago, I asked an online discussion group of potters and pottery educators, what, precisely do kids learn when they have arts curricula in school, and what do they lose, when the arts are taken away? There were an astonishing number of what we could call hard lessons and learning that goes on in the arts. Among them: open ended problem solving, application of values and value systems, dimensional thinking, social skills (especially theater), ability to critique without destroying, mechanical design (in dimensional arts), and it has been shown that relatively small amounts of exposure to the arts actually changes the brain structure of children.
I think that one of the mistakes "the arts" make in influencing educational standards is talking in terms of the subjective improvements that arts give us in our lives. Lots of research on this online and an easy search will turn up much more.
Alison and Tom - thanks so much for your thoughtful comments.
Alison - it sounds like you have been thinking about the pros and cons of this debate for a long time. I'd encourage you to think about writing/voicing a commentary for MPR news: