Sir Ken Robinson
34 ;e Costco Connection AUGUST 2012
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academic work and tends to demean practical
and vocational work as second-class options.
But the fact is that aptitude takes many different forms, and we have a view of it in education that is far too narrow and wasteful. In all
of these ways, the dominant culture of education is oriented toward the last century, not
the present one.
The challenges our children face now are
quite different from the ones that people faced
in the 19th century. The world is being transformed by digital technology. We have
surging population growth. There are
more and more demands on natural
resources. The world’s becoming more
interconnected, more complicated.
The life cycles of jobs and occupations
are getting shorter as innovation
increases. If we’re being honest and
serious about how we educate our kids,
we need to look at the real lives that
they’re leading now—the lives they’d like
to lead. That calls for a different sort of
education to the one that most of us came
through. Employers everywhere say, for
example, that they need people who are creative, who can work in teams, who can collaborate and innovate. Our current systems of
education do almost exactly the opposite.
CC: How well has the education system
served those who are now in the workforce?
KR: When I was working on The
Element, many of the people I spoke with
didn’t feel that they fitted in with the kind of
education they were having. That was true of
Matt Groening. He spent most of his time
doodling and drawing and doing cartoons all
over his books. He didn’t have a career plan in
mind; it was just something he did compulsively. Mick Fleetwood said that he was always
tapping and beating out rhythms on cushions,
and again, he said it wasn’t a very clear signal
that there was anything tremendously important going on; it was just something he compulsively did.
A lot of people I know went through education feeling unconnected to it. And that’s
really what The Element tries to illustrate. But
this isn’t just about the arts. My arguments
apply to science, technology and all other
areas of education too. The point is that there
should not be a single measure of ability or
interest. Human beings have a huge range of
talents and interests, and we need to take that
into account in education.
CC: Can you define what you mean by
finding one’s element for readers who haven’t
read your book The Element?
KR: The element is finding that point
where talent meets passion. Both are impor-
tant. If you’re in your element, you’re doing
something for which you have a natural apti-
tude. You get it. I’m not suggesting that you
have to be the best in the world or the best in
history, but you get it and you have a natural
feel for it.
CC: What about people who have a huge
passion for something but little or no aptitude for it?
KR: It’s hard to overestimate the importance of passion. There are people in all kinds
of fields who would consider themselves—
rightly or wrongly—to be only modestly talented in a particular area, but they’ve gone on
to do well in it, or thoroughly enjoy it, because
they have such a strong passion for it. Equally,
I know people who might be highly gifted in a
particular activity who have no real interest in
it. I think passion is the great driving force
here, and passion is the right word for it
because it is about loving something. If you’re
attracted to something, then you get energized
by doing it.
CC: Do you see examples of schools that
are doing a good job of teaching children the
skills they’ll need to succeed in today’s world?
KR: I do, and in my book Out of Our
Minds: Learning to Be Creative, I describe in
detail the kinds of changes I believe we have to
make and give examples of how they work.
The fact is that there are great schools
everywhere, but there is no single model or
type of school that should be adopted everywhere. This is one of the ways in which we
have to think differently about education.
Schools need to be customized to the needs of
the students who go to them and to the nature
of the communities that they are serving.