Musings on Culture

Alejandra de Leiva's Blog

Sir Ken Robinson’s “The Element” and the education revolution

Sir Ken Robinson, The Element

I’ve just finished reading the book The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, by internationally recognized thinker on education and creativity Sir Ken Robinson. I had previously been inspired by some of his talks: his famous speech at the TED conference in 2006 Do schools kill creativity?, one of the most viewed of all TED Talks so far; another TED Talk, Bring on the learning revolution! and his lecture Changing Education Paradigms, at the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce), that was adapted into an animation.

Sir Robinson proclaims that current school systems are outdated because they are still modelled on the needs of the Industrial Revolution to provide well-trained, skilled labor force. The system of mass education is based on standardization: all children learn the same, in separate subjects, at the same time and in the same way, “a bit like an assembly line”, Robinson says. This system values some forms of intelligence (analytical) over others (emotional, artistic), ignoring that human talents are diverse.

In the Knowledge Society, divergent thinking and creativity are much more important skills to develop. Robinson calls for a shift to a more holistic, personalised and interdisciplinary model that creates the conditions to allow schoolkids to discover their individual talents and to exercise their autonomy. It is demonstrated that children are more eager to learn when their interests and talents are put at the center of attention, and when they are allowed to explore, create and discover on their own.

The book was published in 2009. The Element is that place “where we allow our skills to match our passions”. According to Robinson, “education should be one of the main processes that take us to the Element”. But standardized education is too narrow and prevents many children to find their true passions and talents. Robinson explains in this book the cases of several successful people from very different disciplines whose talents were unnoticed at school. He calls for systems that foster a personalised curriculum, embrace creativity and multidisciplinarity, and go beyond the traditional and artificial hierarchy of subjects.

Some of my favourite quotes from The Element:

“When people place themselves in situations that lead to their being in the zone, they tap into a primal source of energy.”

“The Element is about discovering your self, and you can’t do this if you’re trapped in a compulsion to conform. You can’t be yourself in a swarm.”

“Learning happens in the minds and souls of individuals –not in the databases of multiple-choice tests.”

“Great teachers have always understood that the real role is not to teach subjects but to teach students.”

And from Bring on the learning revolution!:

“We have to move to a model that is based more on principles of agriculture. We have to recognize that human flourishing is not a mechanical process; it’s an organic process. And you cannot predict the outcome of human development. All you can do, like a farmer, is create the conditions under which they will begin to flourish.”

“We have sold ourselves into a fast food model of education, and it’s impoverishing our spirit and our energies as much as fast food is depleting our physical bodies.”

So, if you’re looking for an inspirational read, I would highly recommend you The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything.

Additionally, I would also like to recommend you the documentary film The Forbidden Education (Argentina, 2012), which I recently saw. It documents diverse alternative systems of education like the Montessori method, free education, new active schools, Waldorf education, progressive education, etc. The ideas it explores has many parallels with the change Sir Ken Robinson is advocating. The film can be downloaded for free on the official website. Worth a watch!

La educacion prohibida

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