Listening but not Hearing

ken_robinson.jpg This week at the National Governors Association Annual Meeting in Charleston, South Carolina the final session focused on education, creativity and innovation. C-Span televised the keynote by Sir Ken Robinson and I made sure to watch as he is one educational reformer with a message worth hearing.

Sir Ken Robinson, now a senior advisor to the J. Paul Getty Trust in Los Angeles, was knighted in 2003 for his commitment to creativity and education. For four years he was director of The Arts in Schools Project, a major initiative to improve teaching of the arts in his native land, and in 1998 he was appointed by the government to chair the National Advisory Committee on Creative & Cultural Education, the largest-ever inquiry into the importance of creativity in education and the economy. Since joining the Getty Trust, he has written a wonderful book on creativity, Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative, and crossed the country speaking to a variety of audiences. He is a fantastic speaker, humorous, but with a tremendous grasp of his subject. Although a video of his speech to the governors is available here, I would recommend watching a similar speech given at a TED conference this July. The content of the speech is pretty much the same, but the TED video is much more watchable. If fact, you can download it, which is preperable to streaming.

In his speech, Robinson made a number of important points about education and creativity. He pointed out that the current curriculum is based on an antiquated hierarchical “factory model” with mathematics and language at the top, then science and humanities. Relegated to the marginalized status of “electives” are art, music and dance. Thanks to the demands of No Child Left Behind, the arts are not just marginalized, they are being eliminated from the school curriculum at an alarming rate. Robinson makes the very persuasive argument that this hierarchy might have made sense in an industrial economy, but, in today’s economy, creativity is as fundamental as literacy and numeracy. He attacked the high stakes standardized testing mania that results in a “one size fits all” educational system.

The Governors listened, laughed at the jokes and applauded at the appropriate times during the speech, but, at the end of the day, supported an initiative “Innovation America” that focused exclusively on math, science, technology and engineering.

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