The problem with schools isn’t that they work poorly. It’s that they work too well at doing the wrong thing.
Nine years after Ken Robinson delivered the most-watched TED talk of all time, the education expert is back with a book that answers the talk’s titular question, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”
Spoiler: Most schools, but not all.
In “Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education,” Robinson highlights the schools that have embraced the challenge of treating students as individuals, not as factory-made widgets.
Still, there is much work to be done.
Education uses uniform curricula with identical textbooks to prepare kids for the same tests at the end of the year. Too busy with formalities, kids miss out on actual learning.
If we want to transform the failing model, we need a new analogy for how that model is supposed to work, Robinson argues. We treat education like industrial manufacturing when, in reality, it’s closer to organic farming.
In farming, crop has different needs at different times in order to produce the greatest yield. Why not apply the process to education?
Robinson distills his solution of so-called “organic education” into four key principles:
Health: Promoting the development and well-being of the whole student, intellectually, physically, spiritually, and socially.
Ecology: Recognizing the vital interdependence of all of these aspects of development, within each student and the community as a whole.
Fairness: Cultivating the individual talents and potential of all students, whatever their circumstances and respects the roles and responsibilities of those who work with them.
Care: Creating optimum conditions for students’ development, based on compassion, experience, and practical wisdom.
‘All the science in the world’
So what does the combination of those four factors look like? A learning environment in which kids’ passions and differences are celebrated, in spite of the strict demands to teach toward a standardized test.
In practice, that begins on the front lines, with teachers getting excited about what’s important to their students.
Robinson offers the example of Smokey Road Middle School, located in Newnan, Georgia. The school saw a revolving door of principals before Dr. Laurie Barron showed up. In no time, Barron transformed the school’s entire approach by simply asking the teachers to connect with their students.
“I’ve got some teachers who couldn’t care less about football, but they’ll go to a football game and cheer on Bobby and then use Bobby in a science equation the next day,” Robinson quoted Barron as saying. “Bobby will do all the science in the world for that teacher.”
It’s a small gift of time and effort, but one that could end up making all the difference.
Unfortunately for today’s students, the grassroots revolution Robinson points to is slow-going. Schools have largely failed to change the analogy upon which they operate, either out of laziness, lack of creativity, or simply ignorance.
“If you design a system to do something specific, don’t be surprised if it does it,” Robinson writes. “If you run an education system based on standardization and conformity that suppresses individuality, imagination, and creativity, don’t be surprised if that’s what it does.”