Ken Robinson on Creativity, Assessment, and De-industrializing Education

August 20, 2009

in Learning,Process,Thinking

TED and Reddit recently ran an online poll to select questions for an interview with Ken Robinson. Here are a few snippets of his responses, with my own emphases in bold, for enhanced skimming:

“The basis of my argument is: creativity isn’t a specific activity; it’s a quality of things we do.

“The idea is you have to make the idea of creativity clear and operational. Like we have done with literacy.

On well-roundedness versus specialization:

“Schools and universities are built upon different forms of knowledge, and the way we most commonly think about them is as subjects.

And I think subjects is a poor idea, really, for the kind of work I’m interested to promote, because it suggests that the world is definable into entirely different sorts of content or subject matter.”

“I want, really, to get away from the idea of subjects and I think disciplines is a much better idea. A discipline suggests something which is a kind of an amalgam, a mixture of concepts, of practical skills, of techniques, of ideas, of data. I mean, mathematics isn’t really a subject. It’s a whole series of different sorts of disciplines. And I think that’s true of music. Music isn’t really a subject, but practicing music involves extraordinary levels — different levels — of ideas, of practical skills, of sensibility.”

On the process-view of education:

“The larger argument about this is that when I say public education arose in response to industrialism, it also developed in the image of industrialism. If you look at public education systems in their general shape, they are manufacturing processes. And a lot of it happens — we separate people by age, it’s a very linear process, very focused on certain types of outcome. And standardized testing is, in a way, the grand example of the industrial method of education. It’s not there to identify what individuals can do. It’s there to look at things to which they conform.”

“I don’t think there’s a kid in America, or anywhere in the world, who gets out of bed in the morning wondering what they can do to raise their state’s reading standards. They get out of bed, if they’re motivated, by their own interests and their own development. So I think we should be doing the opposite. I think we should be personalizing everything in schools. We should be looking at ways of making education relevant to each individual child. And there’s no other way of improving standards. Actually, there’s no other way of doing it on the grand scale.”

Doing, not just thinking:

“…in our culture, doing practical things is disparaged in education. It’s all about getting into a university and doing theoretical things. But the world turns on people being able to do things, not just think about doing things. And practical skills, like music and design, are intensely demanding.”

On providing feedback:

“So one thing she has to do is to make a dress. Well, it sounds easy, but try doing it. It’s extremely taxing to do it. But what was interesting was that the assessment that came back was very detailed. It referred to very specific things that she was doing about seams and cloth and pockets and buttonholes and the lay of the nap in the cloth. It was broken down into probably 30 very specific comments on the details of what she’d done. And it was a really helpful process of assessment. But if she’s had the thing and then just got a B for it, you’d think, “Well now, what do I do with that information?”

So, if assessment is textured and finely-grained, and is supportive and diagnostic, I’m all for it. If it’s coarse and simplistic and judgmental and uninformative, then it seems to me always to be negative and have the wrong sort of effects in education.”

Protecting personalization from creeping standardization:

“The things I’m talking about are not, it seems to me, eccentric or new. It’s not whimsy and its not a fad. From the beginning of public education, there have been people looking for alternative ways of doing things, better ways of thinking about organizing our institutions. More responsible ways of engaging children in their own learning. Kids are not widgets. Students are living, breathing people who will only learn if they are engaged properly. We have a responsibility to the development of all the students in the system. It’s important for them, the health of our communities and the strength of our economies.”

On engaging curiosity:

“Professional mathematicians have such a cornucopia of fascinating puzzles, questions, proposals and conundrums. A great math teacher really has endless opportunities to stimulate kids minds and get them engaged with things they’d probably never thought about before. Rather than just giving them techniques.

It’s like what’s too often done with music lessons; kids spend too much time learning scales rather than doing anything interesting. But if you get them right away learning the joy of making music, they’ll want to learn how to do it properly after that.”

Idea generation — and the development of taste and discernment:

“…an equally important part for every creative process is to act critically on the ideas you’re coming up with. To evaluate them. That’s why I define creativity, in the TEDTalk, as the process of having original ideas that have value. You have to figure out which ideas are good and bad. Which work and which don’t. Which are worthwhile and which ones are not. Then, of course, it raises the old question of whose criteria you’re using and whose values you’re operating, and that’s a part of the conversation. Being creative isn’t just about blowing off new ideas. It’s about critical judgment, as well.”

Collaboration:

“An awful lot of creative work doesn’t happen individually. It happens with people interacting with other people. The most powerful engines of creative thinking are groups. And the reason that’s true is because a great group models the human mind: it’s diverse, it’s dynamic, it’s distinctive. So, knowing how to form groups, how to get groups to work, how long to leave them doing it is a core skill of good teachers.”

Experimentation and contemplation:

“The second is to look outwardly. To try things you may not have tried for a long time, or have never tried but wanted to. Put yourself in the way of things. If you’ve never been to a science museum, go to one. If you’ve never been to an opera, go to one. If you’ve never read certain kinds of books, try them. If you always drive a certain way to work, try another way. If there’s some place you haven’t been yet, go there. Expose yourself to possibilities. See what begins to chime with you. My point about being in the element is some people make a living doing it, and others don’t. Some don’t want to. But it’s about finding your own personal element. And the more people are able to do that, the more enriched their lives become, and the more enriched the lives are of those people who are in contact with them.

It’s something that we all should do, and something that we all can do.”

There’s a should I can get behind!

Read the entire interview here.

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