SAD PERFORMANCE statistics and the alarming number of AD PERFORMANCE statistics and the alarming number of high school dropouts and unemployed young people make it easy to feel despondent about the current state of affairs in edu- cation. Sir Ken Robinson, an internationally recognized leader in the development of education, creativity and innovation, brings much-needed inspiration to the subject. With wry humor and a sharp wit, he passionately argues not for reform, but for what he calls a revolution in education.
Robinson, who grew up in Liverpool and is professor
emeritus of education at the University of Warwick in the UK,
believes we need to rethink education from the ground up. To
this end, he works with governments in Europe, Asia and the
U.S., and with international agencies, Fortune 500 companies
and cultural organizations.
In 1998, Robinson led a national commission on creativity,
education and the economy for the UK government. His report,
All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education, was published
to wide acclaim in 1999. He was a key figure in developing a
strategy for creative and economic development as part of the
peace process in Northern Ireland, and has also advised the
Singapore government. In 2003 he received a knighthood from
Queen Elizabeth II for his services to the arts.
Robinson’s ideas resonate with listeners and readers in all
sectors. In 2006, he gave a speech, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”
at a conference. The speech was posted on the Internet and has
subsequently been seen by an estimated 300 million people. It’s
peppered with standout quotes, such as “If you’re not prepared
to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original,” and
“We run companies where we stigmatize mistakes.” His books
The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything
(Penguin/Viking, 2009) and Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be
Creative (Capstone/Wiley, 2011) are popular. The Element is a
New York Times best-seller and has been translated into 23 languages. He’s just written a new book, tentatively titled Finding
Your Element, due out next year.
The Costco Connection recently spoke with Robinson via
telephone at his house in Los Angeles to discuss creativity, intelligence and education.
The Costco Connection: In your lectures and books,
you point out that, very often, young children believe they’re
creative, but most adults don’t. What happens?
Ken Robinson: Several things happen. One is that as
children get older, they become more socially aware and consequently more self-conscious. It’s why very young children are
happy to believe that there’s a Father Christmas, and 12-year-
olds aren’t. They get hit by issues of plausibility at that point.
Really? He takes presents to every house in the world? In one
night? Are you serious? As we age, people also tend to become
more self-critical. We begin doubting ourselves and our capabilities. So part of what happens is the ordinary process of maturation and getting older.
But a big institutional reason that adults often believe they’re
not creative is education. Being creative has all kinds of manifestations. It’s not just in the arts. It’s not just in music or dance or
theater or writing or painting, though it is in all of those things.
You can be creative at anything. You can be creative in business.
You can be creative in technology and science—in anything that
involves your intelligence. But being creative, which is about
having original ideas, requires actual skills in the fields in which
you’re working—and an openness of mind, a willingness to
explore, a confidence in your imagination, a willingness to try
things out and make mistakes and try again.
What happens in education, too often and increasingly,
I’m sorry to say, is that a dampening culture of standardization
gets brought in. The curriculum tends to become very narrow.
There are all kinds of opportunities that we could make available to kids that we don’t. So, if you happen to be a young Matt
Groening [creator of The Simpsons] or Mick Fleetwood [drum-mer of the rock group Fleetwood Mac], and you happen to be
interested in art or music, and the curriculum excludes these
subjects, you may never discover that these are things that you
could be good at.
Conformity and standardization and sitting still and doing
multiple-choice questions and being tested at the end—these
features of education are inimical to the kind of original thinking and confident imaginations that underpin real innovation.
I think as we get older our expectations shift and education
tends to suppress some of the basic aptitudes and attitudes that
underpin real creative work. The result is that adults end up
thinking they’re not very creative.
CONTINUED ON PAGE 34
CC: So, if the current education system hampers creativity,
which you’ve just explained is key to innovation in any field,
then what needs to change?
KR: The current systems of education were developed in
the 19th century to meet the needs of the Industrial Revolution,
and it shows itself in two ways. One is in the organizational
culture of education, which for the most part is very regimented.
It’s organized a bit like an assembly line. Children are divided
into age groups, for example, as if the most important thing they
have in common is their date of manufacture. Why? We don’t
do that in families or in the general community. It’s done in
schools for reasons of organizational efficiency, not for effective
We divide each day up into 40-minute periods, for the same
reason. And then the day is divided into separate subjects. We
have standardized testing at the end of it. It’s very much like an
industrial process, and it’s not an accident, because our systems
of mass education were developed in the 19th century to meet
the needs of the new industrial economies and they were
designed for efficiency, like other systems of mass production.
Second, our education systems are overlaid with a particular intellectual culture, which is promoted by the needs of the
universities. This culture gives a premium to certain types of
AUGUST 2012 ;e Costco Connection 33