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Education in the Media, Student Voices

Bring on the Learning Revolution

(Cross-posted from Life’s about the Journey)

In Sir Ken Robinson’s second most notable TED talk, Bring on the Learning Revolution, he talks of a 2nd climate crisis. One as severe as the one coupled with global warming, but not a crisis of environmental resources. Rather, a crisis of human resources. He says that we poorly use talents- people endure life rather than enjoy it. You can do what you love and in these cases what you do springs out of who you are. Sadly this is only true for a minority of people. According to Sir Ken Robinson, education is one of the major reasons why most people don’t do what they love. Because, education “dislocates many people from their natural talents.” These talents, says Robinson, “you have to looking for them, they’re not just lying around.” One’s talent, or talents, need to be searched for and discovered, a job that education ought to fill. Unfortunately, too often, it doesn’t.

All across the world, education systems are attempting reform. But, Sir Robinson believes that “reform is no use anymore. Because that’s simply improving a broken model.” What he calls for is a revolution that transforms the system into something new. “Not evolution, but a revolution!”

Sir Robinson’s education revolution aims to put innovation fundamentally at the core, to help us do what is difficult and challenge what we take for granted. Robinson quotes Abraham Lincoln as saying, “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.”

I think that’s a brilliant quote, and highly fitting to the occasion. In this new era, we must get a new set of standards, and we must move with the times, not merely after the fact. As this scenario is new, we must adapt and think of new ideas. Finally, we must let go of the ideas that we take for granted and thus save our country from the education crisis that befalls it.

Robinson goes on to talk about the outdatedness of our system, saying that  “there are ideas that all of us are enthralled to which we take for granted. And many of these ideas have been formed, not to meet the circumstances of this century but to cope with the circumstances of previous centuries, but our minds are still hypnotized with them. [Therefore,] we have to disenthrall ourselves of some of them.” In education, according to Sir Ken Robinson, one such idea we harbor, is linearity- that if we stay on the right track, it’s a bee line to success. But life is not linear, life is organic- we “create life with our talents in relation to our experiences.” Education linearity is shown with our so-called obsession with college. Robinson says “not everybody needs to go and not everybody needs to go now.” Yet college seems to be the pinnacle of many people’s education goals.

He goes on to say “Human communities depend upon our diversity of talent not our singular conception of ability.” The key challenge is reconstructing our sense of ability, which is hampered by this linearity- “A 3 year old is NOT half a 6 year old…”

Robinson then throws out another provocative idea- “We base our education system on the fast food model, where everything is standardized. It’s impoverishing our spirits and energies as much as fast food on our bodies.” To escape this model, we ought to reject conformity and embrace customization. After all around individuality is part of our DNA. “Human talent is tremendously diverse; People have very different aptitudes…. But it’s not only about that, it’s about passion, and what excites are spirit and our energy.” Which of course takes us back to one of his earlier points, the goal of doing what you love. And according to Sir Robinson, the reason many people are opting out of education is because school fails to “feed the students’ spirits, their energy or their passion(s).”

I asked myself: How can schools transform into a passion fueling institution? What if students were allowed to pick all of their courses (and choose their level for the core subjects: english (or some form of lit course), a science, and a math course)? Would that help? What then would the role of school be? Research supports the idea that our current education system is in the business of creating factory workers. But what we need are innovators, not machine people.

Robinson has his own ideas on how we can reach this innovative school model. In his opinion, if we based our school on the agricultural system, students would be given the right conditions to grow and then be left mostly to their own devices. (Sign me up!) He says that making a successfully school model is about “customizing them to your circumstances and personalizing education for the people who are actually being taught… It’s not about scaling a new solution, it’s about creating a new movement in education, where people develop their own solutions but with external support, based on a personalized system.”

Towards the end of his talk, Robinson touches upon a point that resonates strongly with me: technology. I believe that just as technology has transformed the way we interact in the real world, it can play an important role in transforming another area- education. Sir Ken Robinson says that with technology and extraordinary teachers, we “provide an opportunity to revolutionize education.”

So what are we waiting for?? “Bring on the Learning Revolution!!”


8 thoughts on “Bring on the Learning Revolution

  1. As over-used as the phrase “flip” is, I think the key to learning is putting the learner in charge; would we keep courses – or would educators be in charge of customizing education – in a truly flipped system?

    I don’t know. I would like to think we have the patience to watch kids learn to learn in an environment that reflects their interests and inquiries, but I know from my own experience that I have trouble letting go of “teaching” if I think kids aren’t “learning” enough. The boss mentality in schools – even the idea of single leadershis – needs abandonment.

    How would you imagine a school without courses?

    All the best,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | June 3, 2012, 9:57 am
    • I think its not so much that school wouldn’t have courses but that the courses wouldn’t be all regulated and that you could have a class for something abnormal and atypical…like blogging or cooking or practical science (an experiment/lab based course), that student could enroll in out of genuine interest. The downfalls to such an idea are that often resources are limited and that with the opportunity to choose their own classes, there is the risk that students would not have a basic grasp of necessary concepts. It could work like some colleges, where they choose an area of interest and have to take a few required classes to have a base and then choose outside that…problem is, often the requirements outnumber the choice opportunities. Just some things to think about….

      But if school was course-less, I think it could be a guided teacher-supervised session using the technology we possess to learn any one thing for a decent chunk of time. I read an article a little while ago about a student who spent I think 4-5 hours a day learning one new thing. What if school was like that? Imagine how much more we could absorb! And if a certain idea or concept intrigued you, you could spend more in depth time on it.

      But I think the idea of no single leadership is a good one; A classroom where everyone works to learn together could be a very beneficial and productive environment. In one of my classes, we had a day where the teachers left us to make our own decisions- We knew what we needed to accomplish and set out to do it. Unfortunately, the first time it was mass chaos and we accomplished very little, mainly because we spent a lot of time trying to elect a leader of the masses…. It was a very “Lord of the Flies”-esque setting (minus the gore). The second time however, we managed to split into mini groups and tackle tasks that way, in smaller cooperative groups, with no one leader and our teachers as guides and resources. It was rather satisfying but I feel like it may not be always sustainable… Worth a shot though!

      Posted by Tara S | June 3, 2012, 11:30 am
  2. I have been thinking along the Noam Chomskyian line that education was created to for the purposes of indoctrination (even in the greatest of democracies, if such things exist), mass subjugation in the interests of the propertied and the labour requirements of the Industrial Revolution. Today In many educational institutions – the MITs, the IITs and IIMs of the world – business, science and technology faculties thrive, as students put their material ambitions first. Humanities and the Arts are not given enough emphasis. Disciplines like Philosophy are relegated as arcane, obscure and not profit-centred. That was not the case in the early history of education.

    There needs to be a greater intersection between the Humanities and the Sciences. Do Science students study some Philosophy which would outline the earlier history of science and knowledge in the Enlightenment period and put the discipline within a historical context? Or are we creating singular engineers and technologists pushing their own wagons of scientific determination? Are students taught cultural contexts, general critical thinking skills and tools for inquiry?

    As a student, I suppose I learnt best (eventually) when my teachers were inefficient and examination boards clung to their curriculi and examiners to their answer scripts. When I was old enough, I learnt to think for myself to learn that my teachers were merely going through the motions of teaching and cramming in a syllabus, instead of stimulating independent thought and learning. I picked up the skills to think for myself, be it social theory or online web applications by taking the gauntlet with a goal to do the best in my assessments.

    In summary, I would suggest a curriculum which enables students’ choices of skills and knowledge they’d be interested in; collaborative work in teams; independent research and experimentation and critical inquiry. Teachers must be inspirational, and students interested and teachable. And less formal sit-down examinations geared towards rote learning where possible.

    Posted by MediaTantrik | June 4, 2012, 3:30 am
  3. Hi Tara,

    I agree with so much of what you point to in Robinson’s TED talk. He is a wise man who couches important and insightful messages in such an engaging humorous delivery. I think this gives him the capacity to reach a much larger audience than many colleagues and predecessors. If you haven’t already done so, I also recommend his books – where he’s able to go a little deeper into some of these concepts. I also really like his RSA Animate video on Youtube:

    The one metaphor you cite that I think needs a little fleshing out is agriculture. I think it’s somewhat ironic to use agriculture as the positive analogue for education when you consider the absolute horrors of agribusiness – Cargill, ADM, etc. Vast scale, industrialized monocropping, massive pesticide, herbicide, fungicide application, environmental degradation, inhumane and unforgivable animal treatment, genetic engineering and modification with terrible consequences, massive deforestation, Etc. The fact that one is growing food in no way implies that one is caring for the diverse needs of the individual organism being grown (or anything else – the community, the environment, the workers, human health – except PROFIT$) Farming, like any other activity, taken to its modernist extremes, guided by western values of overconsumption and maximum profit within the free market is disastrous.

    So what would be a better metaphor for where Robinson is going here? I’ve written before about the analogy of holistic education to permaculture. Permaculture includes an emphasis on small scale, sustainability, focus on edges and margins, diversity, design with care to the ecosystem in which you exist, focus on the ways in which the plants (and animals) interrelate, more design and less management, in general. Etc. Ron Miller was interested in this parallel a few years back as well.

    Thanks for your post.

    Posted by Paul Freedman | June 4, 2012, 9:28 am
  4. Tara,

    I agree that a significant shift or alteration is needed. I am curious as to whether you see any parallels between an education revolution now and that which seemed to catch on around the time John Dewey’s line of thinking first caught on?

    Posted by Brent Snavely | June 5, 2012, 8:04 am
  5. Surely Mr Freedman is right: The agriculture metaphor sucks. Personally I want to challenge and inspire my students. I can’t see myself as a farmer tending a field of potatoes.

    Mr Snavelly is also right: Is this actually a revolution? The critique of the industrial model of education goes back a long way.

    Sir Ken says we need a new metaphor. I am not so sure. Suggestion: We need a clear view of where we are going as a society first, and then we can sort out the priorities in education. Sir Ken avoids the bigger issue of our view of the future, prefering instead to focus on the individual and his or her talents, which makes it all sound so thoroughly unobjectionable, but what has actually been motivating him since the 1999 report “All Our Futures” is the idea of getting education up to speed so that it is better able to service an economy that has lost its productive base. We can’t keep the factories open any longer, but we can invent and design and write songs and make films that sell all over the world. This is education for business in a post-industrial economy. Dewey’s book was called “Democracy and Education.” Sir Ken’s equally child-centred book would have to be called “Business and Education.” That broader view of the purpose of education needs to be spelled out and argued for. That’s what we need; not a dubious metaphor.

    Posted by Torn Halves | September 3, 2012, 8:12 am


  1. Pingback: Bring on the Learning Revolution « Cooperative Catalyst | SteveB's Social Learning Scoop | - June 3, 2012

  2. Pingback: Sir Ken Robinson: Bring on the Education Revolution! « Live - June 6, 2012

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