Convention News Online
April 2011

Sir Ken Robinson entertains—taking jabs at our crazed industrial culture—at his own expense. You’re laughing away until you’re brought up short, realizing he’s held a mirror inches from your face: a startling reflection. And while you catch your breath, you realize he’s showing you how to see.

In his keynote address, “Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative,” during the NAESP convention’s first General Session, Robinson began by apologizing for the long resume in his introduction, wonderfully recited by Florida fifth grader Ann Marie Pannyotte. “Wasn’t she great?” he said. “I couldn’t have done that at her age. ... Not sure I can do it at my age now.”

Robinson transitioned to explaining how education hasn’t kept pace with the rapid changes society is experiencing. “The world is moving so quickly that it is hard to keep track of everything,” he said. “Our education system has forgotten its purpose and has not kept pace and changed with the world.”

Robinson stated that many governments seem convinced that we can push farther back to the past, polishing an old, outdated system and it will get better. We rigidly seem to believe education can be made to face the future by strengthening aspects of the past:

  • Narrowing curriculum;
  • Focusing on a small group of disciplines;
  • Developing an unrelenting culture of testing; and
  • Mistrusting teachers and requiring education be directed by the legislature.

That last item, Robinson explained, has demoralized teaching professionals. “Good generals do not turn their weapons on their own troops,” he said, to which attendees responded with loud applause.

A reversal of priorities is what’s needed, Robinson said. We are living in times of revolution when things are happening for which there is no historical precedent. There needs to be an equal global revolution in education; education needs to be based on a different set of principles—“not different principals,” he told the audience. Creativity needs to be promoted in a way that really helps organizations adapt and change, Robinson added. We need to make education personal.

Presenting a theater/education analogy, Robinson proposed that each is solely about a relationship: Theater is the relationship between an actor on a stage and someone watching, while the heart of education is the relationship between a learner and a teacher. Anything else is an addition, he said, explaining that education has become encrusted with such additions as national policies, union rights, building codes, interests of publishing companies, the testing industry, international comparisons, and reforms attempting to standardize education. The result is that education is being made “teacher proof.”

Through relationships, educators need to help students find their “element”—find the thing for which they have natural aptitude and that they love to do, and then help them bring that into their lives, Robinson explained. We can’t put our children’s lives on hold while we figure education out, he said. We need to act now. In our schools, educators must find and use the latitude they can within the current legislation. Kids do not go to school at the state Capitol, Robinson explained. To them, their principals are the department of education.

All great principals are in their element, Robinson told the standing-room only crowd. We need standards, Robinson concurs; however, the future lies not in standardizing, but in personalizing and empowering each individual. To paraphrase Robinson’s closing quote from Anais Nin, the pain of containing energy and creativity is greater than the effort it would take to release and harvest it.

Olivia Gault

View pictures from the first General Session.

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