Tuesday, December 16, 2008

TED Talk on Education

First, if you haven’t spent a significant amount of time on TED.com, you need to. Technology Education and Design (TED) is an annual event in California where some of the world’s leading thinkers share ideas about practically everything. All of these talks are available for free online.

One particularly riveting and hilarious TED talk (watch here) was given by Sir Ken Robinson on the topic of how schools kill creativity. Robinson argues that public education systems were designed at the dawn of the industrial revolution and governments structured the curriculum to meet the rapidly growing needs of the industrial system. This way of thinking about the purpose of education is still with us today, as evidenced by the consistent hierarchy of priorities in public education; math and languages at the top with music, art, and dance at the bottom. In other words, the skills most useful and marketable are the ones that are prioritized and rewarded at the expense of more creative pursuits.

Robinson goes on to say that in our rapidly changing world, creativity is as important as literacy and ought to be treated that way by our institutions. He states that all children are born artists and are relentlessly educated out of their creativity. Robinson asserts that if you are afraid of being wrong, you cannot come up with an original idea, which is the most basic component of creativity. Our current system is built on the stigmatization of mistakes, thus slowly deteriorating our willingness and ability to think creatively. I prefer a “fail often, fail early” approach.

I think Robinson is correct on two big points: 1) kids are typically not rewarded for creative endeavors early on and 2) the current education system is designed to churn out middle managers in major corporations. I have no problem with corporations as such, they are perfectly appropriate vehicles for doing business. What I am not sure of is whether our schools should be categorically designed and structured to meet the needs of industry.

What do you think? Do we need to seriously rethink the aims of education and institutionalize new priorities? Should we treat creativity as seriously as we do literacy?


Adam said...

If we can't teach kids to read, how on earth do we expect to be able to teach them to play musical instruments and do ballet? I agree with him that the education system in America needs some drastic changes. Do we even need a US Department of Education? Besides the creation of standardized tests that create unhealthy study and competitive environments and lower the bar for schools desperate for a buck, what exactly does ED do? Does anyone know?

On this matter, I'm with the Republicans. Here's my proposition for the ED budget of roughly $60 billion/year: make teaching a respectable institution again. Make teaching degrees more demanding and rewarding; this needs to be done in public colleges where most teachers receive their bachelors. Next, if you're going to start teachers at salaries around $30,000/yr and hold them to strict standards in classrooms where parents are increasingly demanding, promise those strong individuals who make it through their 3rd year a drastic salary increase. I'm talking $50-60,000/yr by your 4th year. We need to encourage more individuals with talents as great as our friends (Bryan, Ali, etc.) to teach. How many times have you heard, "I would teach if I could make a little money."?

Sorry I'm off topic, but I think we need to fix a whole lot more before we worry about whether or not kids can finger paint. You can encourage inquisitive and creative minds in reading and math just as much as you can in dance. That said, keep music in school; it was invaluable to my development as a well-rounded student.

Peter B said...

but creativity is not synonymous with finger painting right...? creativity is one specific way of thinking about and engaging with the world. I think we need to teach people how to think systematically (analytically) and creatively.. and that approach should be woven through all the aspects of teaching.

If people can break down (analytical) and build up (creative), then they will be much better students and much more capable when entering the 'real world'

the harder question is how one teaches analytical and creative thinking skills...

AC said...

Always bringing it back to India (please stop me one of these days), if anything exemplifies the use of education as a tool to churn out workers, the South Asian giant does. However, here it's a matter of necessity; there aren't social welfare systems in place to catch the "creative" should they fail to find jobs that put the bacon (er, veggie-bacon) on the table, so to speak.

The immediate response that came to mind through reading your post was: well, as nice as creativity is, and as important it is for development, it also seems more a luxury than a necessity to me. I agree with Adam, let's first figure out how to teach kids to read, write, and compute numbers, so that in case they ever suffer irreversible writer's block or break a leg (literally) on stage, they at least have the basic educational tools needed to survive in any society, or at least in ours.

Adam said...

My question wasn't rhetorical. Someone please tell me what ED does.