Sunday, October 24, 2010

Two Posts in Two Days! (Sir Ken's fault)

I know, hard to believe.

I had yesterday's post on the back burner for a while, but couldn't post it because I hadn't uploaded the pictures yet.  You know how it is.

obligatory picture from

But I wanted to talk about going to see Sir Ken Robinson last Thursday.  My excellent administrator, Lisa, arranged for me and three other teachers to go.  As you may know, Ken Robinson is my guru for this journey I am presently on (see ).  In my quest to make learning more relevant for my students, I frequently refer to the words and ideas of Sir Ken.  So you can imagine my joy when I found out I was going to see him.  It was about equal to the excitement I felt when my buddy got tickets through lottery to see the Who in 1980.  How could he possibly live up to the expectations given hype like that?  Well, he did.  He was as profound and as witty as he is in his videos and writing.  Perhaps he is even more impressive because he was doing it live, without any notes, and feeding off the feedback from the audience.  There were quite a few technical glitches at the beginning (mics that didn't work, a projector that shone right into his face, a crying baby), but he rode them and even worked them into his presentation.  He relaxed the audience, not the other way around.

What Can You Subtract and Still Have Education?
One real a-ha moment was when Sir Ken was talking about theatre director Peter Brook, who asked, "What can you subtract and still have threatre?"  You don't really need lights or curtains or makeup or costumes or even a stage for that matter.  All you really need is an actor and an audience.  Sir Ken said that we need to apply this analogy to education because all we really need is a teacher and some students.  He added that we shouldn't add anything else unless it improves education

I thought this was profound for two reasons.  First, it emphasizes the crucial relationship between the teacher and the students.  In schools, it is that relationship that is fundamental beyond everything else.  Extrapolating, it also points to an individualized style of education and learning. 

Second, the statement shows how much excess garbage we put into education that does nothing to improve it.  When my niece was four years old, we all went on a family vacation to Hawaii.  When we went again, about five years later, she remembered nothing from the first trip.  I bring this up because it makes me wonder why we cram so many useless, arbitrary facts into young minds when it will not improve their lives or minds in any significant way, and there is a strong chance they won't remember it anyway.  If my niece couldn't remember the glorious time we had in Hawaii, is it really that important for her to learn to differentiate the abdomen from the thorax of a Monarch butterfly?

The things we need to teach students are things that are important and useful to them.  One of the ways to gauge that importance is how much they use that idea or skill every day.  And I am not necessarily talking about the school day, but their lives outside of school especially.  We do a good job of teaching kids the game of school.  They learn the rules and can usually play pretty well, but does that game apply to life outside of school?  When you talk to people on the street, do you raise your hand?  Is there someone to tell you that you got the right answer or thought the right thought?  When you ride your bike or read a book, can you tell that you did it well or can you just enjoy the experience for itself?

Bring on the Revolution!
We need an education system that reflects the complexities of life, but one that also makes us focus on what is important.  The education system we have today isn't different that the one we had two hundred years ago.  Accountants use computers to keep their books and doctors don't use leeches anymore (well, not in great numbers anyway), so why do teachers use the same methods from centuries ago, ones that we know are archaic?  In his TEDTalk ( ), Sir Ken Robinson speaks of a revolution that is necessary in education.  Like Peter Brook's theatre analogy, it centres on the essential and necessary parts of education and eschews the superfluous or counterproductive.  I think that life should be like that: helping us to focus on what is important to our lives and getting rid of anything that takes us away from that goal.  So shouldn't our education system mirror what our lives should be about? 

P.S. Check out the animated version of some of Sir Ken's ideas.
I actually found it a little distracting (having seen his TEDTalk first), but it highlights some new ideas and might be good to show parents.

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