Professor Ken Robinson, who died in August of this year, was one of the best-known and creative thinkers on education of the last 50 years. I have been meaning to write a few words about him and his influence since he passed in the summer, and the present moment seems a good one as we continue to adapt to the world, we have created in response to COVID-19.
What makes me think about Ken Robinson was his tireless support of teachers in the profession from kindergarten to grad school. He sought to free us from the shackles placed upon us by those who use education for political purposes. He did this time-and-again by using witty and entertaining critiques of the absurdities created by those who apply reductive and wrong-headed policies to the complex world of teaching and learning. This example, animated by the Royal Society for Arts, is a terrific introduction to the way Ken Robinson thought: youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U
I share with Ken Robinson the honor of working in the U.S. and, like him, I am grateful to and deeply fond of my hosts. He and I also had careers at the University of Warwick – albeit in different decades – and my commitment to a belief in an education that values an interdisciplinary mix of STEM subjects and the Arts and Humanities comes directly from his influence. Sadly, for me, this is where our similarities end as Ken Robinson was a revered international figure in his field, a person of huge influence, and a truly great communicator. Watching him this morning as I prepared to write this piece I felt awed by his down-to-earth style, his erudition, and his perfect comic timing. The short lecture, ‘How to Escape Education’s Death Valley’ is an example: teachthought.com/education/how-to-escape-educations-death-valley
In it, curiosity and compliance are contrasted. Curiosity is the foundation of learning, and as Professor Robinson argues in the clip, "teaching, properly conceived, is not a delivery system," and "the role of a teacher is to facilitate learning. That’s it."
The enemies of curiosity are compliance and standardization, and testing is the practical manifestation of these two phenomena. Whilst Robinson accepts that it’s important to know where you might be on a standardized scale, we often have the balance wrong. Too frequently our activities are geared towards high-stakes tests to which we teach without thought of "the restless process of imagining alternatives and possibilities" that are fundamental to us as human beings. Creativity, in other words, is stifled.
Robinson does not spare administrators in his analysis. Bureaucracies, he says, reinforce the status quo when they should be "creating a climate of possibility." And finally, as we approach the end of a deeply challenging semester and as you move into a less frenetic period, I plead that you reflect on the possibilities our changed circumstances might have that might allow our students to free their creativity.
Happy holidays from the CTT.