I have been doing some research lately on education. I have come across this series of TED talks by Sir Ken Robinson which are fascinating (if you’re into this stuff)! He is a British educator living in L.A., who has been called a creativity expert. He’s written some books and has a blog, but I haven’t read those (yet). I’ve only listened to him talk. He is gifted speaker who has profound insight into the problems of our educational system here in the US and other countries in the Western world. He is also very funny!
Here are a few of my takeaways and favorite quotes from the talks that have made me think deeply about the important role of the teacher and how difficult that job can be. Sir Ken says that:
“Teaching is a creative profession.”
Teachers are mentors, they are there to stimulate, provoke, engage, and facilitate learning. But because of the amount of standardized tests that have been mandated by our government, teachers — rather than excite curiosity — are having to be compliant. He goes on to say:
“One role of education is to awaken and develop creativity. Instead, we have a culture of standardization.”
I feel that I have just began to wrap my head around the testing issue. I have three kids in the public school system. One is in high school, one is in middle school, and one is in elementary school. I worry about my middle schooler the most because she is the one who least fits the mold of “student”. Her natural talents have become lost because she is working so hard at just keeping up. School is hard for her and we are trying to figure out why it’s so difficult. But when we do figure it out, I feel that it’s not just our responsibility at home to develop her passions and talents, it has to be a joint effort with her school. We need to work together to develop her creativity (which she has in spades) and focus on her strengths.
Sir Ken says:
“We are educating children out of their creative capacities.”
I dream of a school system where theatre and singing (my daughter’s passions) are equally as important as math. Sir Ken goes on to say:
“Many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not. Because the thing they were good at at school wasn’t valued or was actually stigmatized.”
My thoughts exactly!
Then Sir Ken Robinson said this in one of his talks:
“Curiosity is the engine of achievement.”
To evoke curiosity in children is the gift of a good teacher. However, it has become very hard for teachers to find enough time in their day to dig deep into the subject matter in an exciting way. They are stuck “teaching to the test”. With my daughter (that creative middle schooler), I feel that the rush of the school day and the cramming in of work has left her feeling disconnected with her teachers. Not only that, sitting down all day with the lack of body movement has been a huge detriment. She is a kinesthetic learner who needs to move to learn. She now calls school “prison”. She’s lost her curiosity, and this breaks my heart.
Am I to tell her that this is it? I wish I didn’t have to, but we don’t have the means to send her to private school so we really do have to make things work within the public school system. Her struggles will be part of her story, I suppose. They will shape her into whoever she might become. For better or for worse.
What I really want, though, is for things to be different. For her school experience to be something that I’ve only read about. Like in Finland, for example. They created a brand new school system from scratch 40 years ago. They began to base their education on equality so that they could make sure to develop everyone’s potential. They realized that children need more than just academics. In Finland, their school days are shorter, their outdoor play is longer (75 minutes per day), they teach life skills classes throughout the day (like cooking, sewing, health and sports) and have a heavy focus on the arts. There is just one standardized test at the age of 16, and they have a 93% high school graduation rate.
It gets even more interesting. In Finland, 43% of kids who graduate high school go to vocational school, and there is no stigma attached to this path. Finland says that they are investing in their children. Their economy needs all types of people and that everyone has worth.
But the real reason for Finland’s success is found in their teachers. Teachers in Finland are viewed with the same regard as doctors and lawyers. In fact, 25% of students choose to go into the teaching profession, but only about 10% get accepted into the Master’s program. Teachers also get a high level of support in the classroom, and they are allowed to create their own curriculums and even their own grading systems. It is this autonomy and freedom that not only allows for creativity, but helps them build strong relationships with their students because they are focused on developing their strengths.
I know people here are sometimes weary of the Finland vs. US comparison, especially because Finland is a small country with socialistic characteristics (all education including college is free). But I do think there are some lessons that can be taken away from their remarkable progress. As Sir Ken put it so eloquently, as he compared the success of a school system to that of agriculture:
“With organic systems, if the conditions are right, life is inevitable. It happens all the time. You take an area, a school, a district, and you change the conditions and give people a different sense of possibility, a different set of expectations, a broader range of opportunity, you cherish and value the relationship between teachers and learners, you offer people discretion to be creative and innovate in what they do – schools that were once bereft spring to life.”
He believes that change is possible, but there needs to be a movement. If enough people move, it can be a revolution!
Which brings me to the quote above, the one about treading softly. I love this one because it reminds me that there is a world in which our children live that we know very little about. It’s a world in which they dream about their future. We might know their dreams, but we might not. Maybe they don’t even know them yet. Maybe they are just building memories and finding their passion. What we do know is that it is a creative world, because humans are inherently creative. I mean, we all create our own lives, don’t we? And every life is different and unique. No two are the same.
Our educational system, however, is based on sameness. It follows a linear path rather than an organic one. Sir Ken says:
“The reason so many people are opting out of education is because it doesn’t feed their spirit, their energy or their passion.”
Feeding the spirit is such a wonderful phrase. It reminds me of why I care so much about “the arts” and “creativity” in school. Sir Ken goes on to say this other poignant sentence:
“The arts aren’t just important because they improve math scores, they are important because they speak to parts of children’s being which are otherwise untouched.”
How very true.
Sir Ken is known best for this quote (it has been traveling about Pinterest and Facebook lately):
“Creativity is as important in eduction as literacy.”
Do you agree?
There is a reason I continue to put out art supplies and invitations to create in my home, and it’s to remind my kids that in this house we value creativity as much as academics. Maybe even more than. It’s the best I can do to feed their spirits, and to help them understand that their lives are not typical. Their lives are original.
Here are Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talks, in order:
Do Schools Kill Creativity? (2007)
Thanks for reading this, and please comment if you have anything to add or share.