Schools Kill Creativity – Sir Ken Robinson

I attended the Educause 2013 conference at the Anaheim Convention Center (October 15 to 18). It’s an education IT product and innovation gathering. I will share with you snippets of what I thought was most interesting in the next few submissions. I will focus on the keynote speaker today: Sir Ken Robinson. He is best known as having delivered the number ONE most viewed TED talk presentation ever: Sir Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity (2006): 19,698,951 Views

Sir Ken asked 3 questions:


Innovation stems from imagination and creativity. Imagination gives humans the capacity to dream up great ideas, and creativity allows them to enact them—to prove the value of those ideas. Of course, values are subjective. “Whose values do you apply when you’re judging creative work?” Robinson asks, noting that misunderstandings between cultures often involve one culture applying its values to the other.

Works of great value have, in the past, been initially ridiculed. Take, for instance, Edison’s invention of the phonograph. He wasn’t interested in recording music—he was trying to create a system for recording messages on the telephone, which nobody understood at the time why they would want to do that. When somebody proposed the idea for using it to play recorded music, he, likewise, didn’t understand why they’d want to do that. In a single example, the wrong sets of values were being applied in two different instances.

Are disruptive learning models being viewed with the right set of values?


Just as you have to know what values to apply to innovation, you must ask the right questions in order to spark the creativity that breeds it. In an example shown on the screens at either side of the stage, children were presented with an image of a triangle on an otherwise blank sheet of paper and told to finish the painting “the right way” to receive a point. Most children (80%) played it safe and drew a simple house, using an average of only two colors. When presented with the same sheet of paper and instructed only to complete the painting, the children’s images became more complex and creative, incorporating an average of five colors.

“One of the things we have to recognize about innovation and creativity is that creativity most often comes when people ask a different type of question,” Robinson said.

High levels of unemployed or under-employed graduates and ballooning student loan debt point to a significant change in the established model. The old model of “If you work hard and go to college, you will have a job for the rest of your life and everything will be great” simply isn’t true anymore, Robinson said—and not because kids aren’t as smart or hardworking as previous generations, but, at least in part, because the model has shifted.

“We need to recognize the citadel has been stormed here,” he said, referring to the ready online availability of many things kids want to learn and the declining value of a college degree. Referencing Anais Nin, Robinson suggests that the tipping point has been reached where education professionals must adapt and adopt a new model or face worse consequences. In order to innovate, they can’t take for granted that they know what the question is and accept living with an old answer.

“Even if we get it right and we meet these challenges, we still won’t be able to predict the future, but we will have a future and it will be a future worth living in.”

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