Thursday, March 17, 2011

In my element

I attended a talk in London last night by creativity and education guru Sir Ken Robinson. If you've not heard of him or listened to any of his lectures, I implore you to do so. The man has a deep understanding of how we, as human beings, learn and how the current education system is failing our children. If you have the time, watch this splendid RSA animated version of one of his recent talks. It lasts around 12 minutes and when it was first put onto the net, it got half a million viewers in the first day.

Isn't he right? This whole idea of an academic/non-academic split is a nonsense perpetuated by an education system run by politicians. Politicians, incidentally, who have no background in teaching. As Sir Ken commented last night, the only qualification the current Education Minister has for his role is that he went to school: 'That's like making someone Health Minister, with complete control of the nation's hospitals and surgeries and aftercare services, solely because they once had their appendix out'. He spoke at length about the utility of education where kids are treated as product and schools as factories, and where the measures that make a school 'successful' are based on the numbers through the system and how much they retained on the way. He talked about 'cohorting' where kids are taught in batches by age rather than ability or aptitude, even though it's plainly obvious that kids don't always learn at the same rate.

He talked about the inflexibility of rigid systems and recounted a personal story from his schooldays. When he was doing his 'options' for what were then GCEs (O Levels) and CSEs, he was told that he couldn't do both Art and German. When he asked why not, he was told 'because of the timetabling we've designed on the grid'. He was then pushed towards German rather than Art because that was an 'academic' subject. And he was awful at it. His education was dictated not by his passions nor what he was good at but by an inflexible timetable. I had the same experience. At my school, I wasn't able to do Art, one of my two strongest subjects. Instead I had to choose between Music or Religious Ed. When it came to A Level, I was then told I couldn't do Art as I didn't have the O Level. Thankfully one of my art teachers came to the rescue and he persuaded the school management to let me do A Level as long as I did O Level at evening classes. I consequently did them simultaneously. I now work as an artist. All of the academic subjects I did have been of some use but have nowhere near the same importance in my life as the arts.

Of course, Sir Ken was also plugging a book. It's called The Element and I'd recommend you read it. It talks about finding the thing that makes you happy and which you're good at - both have to be present - and how being 'in your element' will make you a much happier and productive member of society. The book is littered with anecdotes from any number of extraordinary people telling their stories. Uplifting and fascinating.His other book Out of our minds is equally excellent.

To end with, here's another of Sir Ken's talks, this one for TED. It's excellent.

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