Sir Ken Robinson

Today’s post takes a break from building my own argument for a new approach to education technology, and responds instead to someone else’s.

This post is a detailed response to “Simon”, who posted a YouTube video to the ALT/NAACE discussion forum at http://schoolstech.org.uk/stimulus-questions/theme1-young-people/, commenting that “One of the most important things that you can watch is this video”.

I thought it would be worth responding in detail on this blog as Sir Ken is regarded by many as a forward-looking and inspirational thinker, who speaks at a number of important education technology conferences, both in the UK and the US.

I want to look in detail at Sir Ken’s views and explain why I think they are misguided and simplistic. I have typed out the text of his video below, so that I can respond to it in detail.

00:15

Every country on earth at the moment is reforming public education. There are two reasons for it:

The first of them is economic. People are trying to work out, how do we educate our children to take their place in the economies of the 21st century, given that we can’t anticipate what the economy will look like at the end of next week? As the recent turmoil is demonstrating.

Sir Ken says that “we can’t anticipate what the economy will look like at the end of next week”. You might say that that this is just a little excusable over-statement for rhetorical effect—but I suggest that it is more than that. It represents an important intellectual foundation for the whole of Sir Ken’s position to suggest that no-one really knows anything that is objectively true. And this is not only wrong but it is also corrosive of the whole academic enterprise, which has been so important to the intellectual and economic success of our common culture.

Good management—of a country or an enterprise—depends very largely on the ability to anticipate future events. The ability to predict the future lies at the heart of any claim to expertise (a doctor will predict how long you have to live, a civil engineer will predict whether a particular design of bridge will stand up, a rocket engineer will predict where a space ship will end up given a certain acceleration, Einstein predicted, against all common sense, the behaviour of objects travelling at very high speeds). Few predictions will be completely accurate, but the value of the expert lies in his or her ability to achieve an accuracy significantly higher than the non-expert. Some very complex systems, like the weather or the economy, may be difficult to predict. Some people are better at it than others (such is the nature of expertise), and those in power do not always listen or are not always able to discriminate between the expert and the non-expert (“as the recent turmoil is demonstrating”). But basic economic trends, like the rise of China and the Brick economies, the unsustainability of the euro, the likely trends for GDP, inflation or unemployment, are routinely predicted by many people with useful degrees of accuracy. It would seem strange that financial services and governments should spend so much time, money, and intellectual capital on prediction if the whole exercise is fruitless.

Much left-wing thinking has been influenced in recent decades by post-modernism, which, if you can get any clear statement of the theory at all, normally boils down to a type of relativism. This is the view that there is no such thing as absolute truth, but that everyone has their own “truth”, that everyone’s opinion is just as good as everyone else’s, and that complex systems such as Mathematics are tautological (i.e. circular or true by definition). The fact that experts can predict future events with a higher degree of accuracy than non-experts is a conclusive argument against this point of view, which is why no serious epistemologist regards relativism as intellectually sustainable.

00:42

The second is cultural. How do we educate our children so that they have a sense of cultural identity and we can pass on the cultural genes of our communities while being part of the process of globalization?

I suspect that Sir Ken has been hanging out too much with anti-globalisation protestors. I am not aware that questions of identity have played any significant part in the current debate in the UK. The dilemma is not that the NEETs of Birmingham and Glasgow will grow up confused as to whether they are British, German or Chinese—all of which increasingly share a common, globalised scientific and artistic culture—but that they will grow up with no access to high culture of any kind.

01:00

The problem is, they are trying to meet the future by doing what they did in the past…

This is a version of a rather facile argument, heard all too often, that we have got to do everything differently just because we are now modern or because we are live in the twenty-first century.

From its own perspective, every age is modern, yet human nature and the core academic virtues (literacy, numeracy, problem solving, teamwork) remain the same. Change for change’s sake is the motivating principle of the headless chicken. If change is needed, then we need to look carefully at why the old system is broken and what changes need to be made in order to make it better. In the film of Apollo 13, what appears to be a historically accurate script has the flight controller respond to “Houston, we have a problem” by saying “Now then people, let’s work the problem…let’s not make it worse by guessing”.

For any situation, there are many—often an infinite number—of possible changes which can be made. Normally, the great majority will make the situation worse and only a small minority will make the situation better. Change is almost always risky. It is therefore a sensible pattern of behaviour to carry on “doing what they did in the past” until the proposed change has been properly considered, and then to pilot those changes so that the effects of any unexpected, harmful consequences can be minimised.

The force of Sir Ken’s criticisms that people are continuing “doing what they did in the past” is whether he can propose changes which are clearly defined and justified. We will see by the end of the video whether he manages to do this.

01:06

…and on the way, they’re alienating millions of kids who don’t see any purpose in going to school.

Millions of kids may well be alienated—but let’s not jump to conclusions as to what is to blame for this. Millions of kids are also going through expensive private education, organized along broadly traditional lines, and are ending up by getting the top jobs. So what is the evidence that the problem lies with the traditional pedagogies and curricula? The evidence gleaned from a comparison of private and state education seems to indicate the opposite.

01:10

When we went to school, we were kept there with a story, which was if you worked hard and did well and got a college degree you would have a job. Our kids don’t believe that—and they’re right not to, by the way. You are better having a degree than not, but it’s not a guarantee any more.

This is a sleight-of-hand argument, based on a mis-representation of Sir Ken’s opponents and a mis-allocation of blame, wrapped together in a non sequitur. No-one ever said that getting a college degree would guarantee you a job: they said it would give you a better opportunity to get a good job. Laying aside the possibility of a life as a successful criminal, a Premiere League footballer, a protégé of Alan Sugar, or lottery winner, it still does. This is why the kids who do not accept the argument for working hard are wrong—and why Sir Ken is irresponsible to suggest otherwise.

It is true that college degrees no longer provide such a reliable qualification for good jobs as they used to; and while this is partly due to social and technological change, it is also very substantially due to the devaluation of higher education courses, initiated by the last government in their search for the kind of egalitarian education system which is apparently being advocated by Sir Ken. Get a good degree in Physics, Engineering or Mathematics today, and you’ll be sitting as comfortably as ever as far as the jobs market is concerned.

01:25

…and particularly not if the route to it marginalizes most of the things that you think are important about yourself.

It is true that good teaching means connecting with your pupils and their perspectives; but it also means showing them the route to becoming something more than they are at the moment. If you are a child with low aspirations, whose self-image is about acting tough outside the local newsagent, then “marginalizing [i.e. changing] most of the things that you think are important about yourself” is precisely what a good education ought to be doing.

01:30

Some people say we have to raise standards as if this is a breakthrough. Like really, yes, we should. Why would you lower them? I haven’t come an argument which persuades me of lowering them. But raising them—of course we should be raising them.

Sir Ken makes a fair point that talk of “standards” only makes sense if you are clear what “standards” you are talking about. In this respect, Sir Ken sets a challenge for himself: to declare his definition of high standards, explaining how it differs from the traditional view. We shall see, by the end of the video, whether he succeeds in meeting his own challenge.

01:47

The problem is that the current system of education was designed and conceived and structured for a different age. It was conceived in the intellectual culture of the enlightenment and in the economic circumstances of the industrial revolution. Before the middle of the nineteenth century, there were no systems of public education. Not really. You could get educated by Jesuits if you had the money. But public education, paid for out of taxation, compulsory to everyone and free at the point of delivery, that was a revolutionary idea. And many people objected to it: they said “It’s not possible for many street kids, working class kids to benefit from public education; they’re incapable of learning to read and write and why are we spending time on this?”

So Sir Ken lists two things that are wrong with the traditional model of “standards”, though he goes on to talk about three:

  1. that it is based on enlightenment culture;
  2. that it is based on industrial economics;
  3. that it is based on hierarchy and social inequality.

It should be noted that, contrary to the implication made in the video, neither social hierarchy nor inequality were aggravated by either the enlightenment or industrialization. Rather the opposite: many of the modern movements for liberation, better welfare, compulsory education and more social mobility were all introduced by an enlightened, liberal, industrial society. Pointing to minority who opposed these reforms is facile: there is always someone around who can be found to oppose anything. The fact that the changes were introduced at all is evidence enough that the weight of nineteenth-century opinion was in favour of them.

02:34

So there are also built into it a whole series of assumptions about social structure and capacity. It was driven by an economic imperative of the time.

And as Sir Ken started by saying, so is our own drive for educational reform driven by an economic imperative. I missed the bit where he made the argument that our society’s (and our individual students’) economic welfare should not be taken into account when we set our educational objectives.

02:43

But running right through it was an intellectual model of the mind. Which was essentially the enlightenment view of intelligence – that real intelligence consists in this capacity for a certain type of deductive reasoning and a knowledge of the classics, originally. What we come to think of as academic ability.

Sir Ken maintains that academic ability is no longer relevant. Before he presents his reasons for this, let me briefly outline my arguments in favour of academic ability.

  1. Deductive reasoning is the means by which we make the kind of complex, evidence-based choices that is the chief qualification for the most influential positions in society, whether you are looking at those who make policy in government, those who manage companies and public sector organisations; or those scientists and technologists who are so critical to our collective welfare.
  2. The skills of abstract, deductive reasoning are transferable, while more vocational training is typically more context-dependent. That is why top city firms tend to recruit physicists and classicists in preference to people who have done Business Studies.
  3. And finally, deductive reasoning is a key component of creative thinking, as defined (by Sir Ken himself) as the creation of “original ideas that have value” (my italics, see below). How are people meant to determine whether an original idea is likely to have value if  not through deductive reasoning?

03:02

And this is deep in the gene pool of public education – that there are really two types of people: academic and non-academic; smart people and non-smart people. And the consequence of that is that many brilliant people think they’re not, because they have been judged against this particular view of the mind.

Here are Sir Ken’s arguments against an academic curriculum as an objective. Joining the dots a little, he seems to suggest that there there are two:

  1. an academic curriculum is socially divisive;
  2. an academic curriculum narrows learning, ignoring many other skills that are important both to individuals and society.

The first is a poor reason; the second has some merit.

Education can provide equality of opportunity but not equality of outcome. As soon as you start to teach, some people will learn more than others. The demand for equality of outcome is incompatible with high aspiration. Egalitarian societies have tended to be oppressive and economically and culturally stagnant. Nor are attempts to impose equality generally successful—elites of some kind always emerge. In education, restricting the opportunities for the brightest children merely drives them to the private sector, decreasing social cohesion and equity, the opposite consequence to that intended.

The second reason against an academic curriculum is in one way the opposite of the first. Instead of trying to force everyone into the same mold, you should let a thousand flowers bloom. Most of us would sympathise with this aspiration and—to be fair to the current and previous governments, all have been talking about personalization for some time. Michael Gove’s championing of free schools and academies should do much to liberate schools from the dead hand of bureaucracy, allowing for experimentation with new pedagogies and curricula.

There are, however, a few caveats:

  1. personalization is difficult in an institutional environment and I don’t think the main problem has been mind-set, but rather the practicalities of delivering diverse curricula to a large population of children;
  2. governments and education suppliers cannot dictate the status of different qualifications—employers and university admissions tutors will continue to see noddy courses for what they are;
  3. we have already seen an excessive proliferation of low-quality, pseudo-vocational courses at A level and HE, which have provided an object lesson in this process—they have generally not been helpful to their students, who find, when they get onto the employment market, that these qualifications are poorly regarded.

Generally, what employers and top universities value are good academic qualifications. There are, however, other skills which industry is also demanding and schools are not doing so well at delivering: physical fitness, self-discipline and teamwork. It should be noted that these skills were highly prized in the traditional public school tradition (which always preferred the Captain of the First XV to the school swat). The problem has not lain in our traditional approaches to education but in recent educational innovations.

If Sir Ken believes that the “particular view of the mind” lying behind the current academic curriculum is flawed, then it is incumbent on him to describe an alternative view of the mind which would be more helpful. We shall see, by the end of the video, whether he succeeds in doing this.

03:19

so we have twin pillars: economic and intellectual. And my view is that this model has caused chaos in many people’s lives. It’s been great for some – there have been people who have benefitted wonderfully from it. But most people have not.

Here, Sir Ken returns here to an egalitarian stance.

03:36

Instead, they suffer this. This is a modern epidemic and it is as misplaced and it is as fictitious. This is the plague of ADHD. Now this is a map of the instance of ADHD in America – or prescriptions for ADHD. Don’t mistake me. I don’t mean to say there is no such thing as Attention Deficit Disorder. I am not qualified to say if there is such a thing – I know that the great majority of psychologists and pediatricians think there is such a thing. But it is still a matter of debate. What I do know for a fact is it is not an epidemic.  These kids are being medicated as routinely as we had our tonsils taken out. And on the same, whimsical basis and for the same reason: medical fashion. Our children are living in the most intensely stimulating period in the history of the earth. They’re being besieged by information and calls for their attention from every platform: computers, from i-phones, from advertising hoardings, from hundreds of television channels. And we’re penalizing them now for getting distracted. From what? Boring stuff, at school, for the most part.

ADHD might possibly be an indicator of difficulties with the curriculum, as suicide might possibly be taken as an indicator of the level of general unhappiness. But it is of course a grotesque overstatement to say that the people who are being failed by the current academic curriculum are, as a group, suffering from ADHD.

The conclusion that Sir Ken draws from this dubious logic repeats the argument at 01:06. If children are distracted and listless, then he suggests that should change the curriculum in order to catch their attention. It would be better, surely, to try a different pedagogical approach in order to engage them with a curriculum which should be selected on the basis of what will be most useful to the student, and not on the basis of what will be most appealing to them in their uneducated state.

04:54

It seems to me to be not a co-incidence, totally, that the incidence of ADHD has risen in parallel with the rise of standardized testing.

This is to reduce a complex social phenomenon to an simplistic, mono-causal explanation. I hope to write another post on the debate around testing. It is true that there are dangers to a regime which demotivates those who fail. On the other hand, it is surely impossible to maintain high standards (however these are defined) or to manage complex and expensive institutions without some kind of reliable way of monitoring performance.

05:00

Now these kids are being given Ritalin and Adderall and all manner of things – often quite dangerous drugs, to get them focused and calm them down. But according to this [map], attention deficit disorder increases as you travel east across the country. People start losing interest in Oklahoma, they can hardly think straight in Arkansas, and by the time they get to Washington, they’ve lost it completely. And there are separate reasons for that, I believe! It’s a fictitious epidemic.

I agree with the basic premise: that ADHD is a largely fictitious epidemic and the perception of ADHD is driven by social factors including perhaps:

  1. parental ambition;
  2. the large number of distractions available to children;
  3. the lack of exercise and poor diet.

But it is a massive and completely unwarranted step to conclude that the growth of the ADHD epidemic is the result of sticking to a conservative curriculum or the imposition of standardized tests. If he wanted to argue that either of these things were true, Sir Ken would need to show that the adherence to a conservative, academic curriculum and the imposition of standarized testing increased as you travelled east across the USA, while if there is any significant variation in these respects, I suspect that (with the exception of California) it would be likely to run in the opposite direction.

05:40

If you think of it, the arts – and I don’t say exclusively the arts, I think it is also true of science and of maths –  I say the arts particularly because they are the victims of this mentality. The arts especially address the idea of aesthetic experience. An aesthetic experience is one in which your senses are operating at their peak; when you are present in the current moment; when you’re resonating with the excitement of this thing that you’re experiencing; when you are fully alive. And anesthetic is when you shut your senses off and deaden yourself to what’s happening. And a lot of these drugs are that. We are getting our children through education by anaesthetizing them. And I think we should be doing the exact opposite. We shouldn’t be putting them to sleep – we should be waking them up…

If this is just about teaching children more effectively and not pumping them full of drugs, then who would disagree with that? But in the context of the video, Sir Ken seems to be saying that if children are distracted and listless, then we should change the curriculum in order to catch their attention; rather than trying to get their attention by improved pedagogy or addressing some of the other social problems in the environment. Again, it is the same argument as presented at 01:06.

06:30

…to what they have inside of themselves.

This falls back on a simplistic view of child development, driven by Piaget and child-centred education. It is simply not credible to suggest that the development of individual personality is driven by an internal road map, and is not overwhelmingly governed by interactions with the society around the growing child. We should be waking children up, not to what they have inside themselves which (apart from potential) is often not very much; but rather to the intellectually stimulating and economically useful wonders which form the intellectual and cultural traditions of our society.

06:33

But the model we have is this. We have a system of education which is modeled on the interests of industrialization and in the image of it.

A cheap shot and, moreover, inaccurate. The CBI is one of the strongest critics of the current UK education system, and what they are asking for is not obedient factory fodder but creative team-workers with self discipline and the basic academic base to allow them to pick up new skills rapidly. Increasingly, they have to look for immigrant workers to fill these jobs because young British people do not have the skills required.

06:43

I’ll give you a couple of examples. Schools are still pretty much organized along factory lines. Ringing bells, separate facilities, specialized into separate subjects.

More of the same. If Sir Ken really thinks that it is an example of capitalist oppression that girls and boys should have separate changing and toilet facilities, then I suggest he sets up his own free school and sees how long he lasts. The same goes for dividing the curriculum into separate subjects, at secondary level at least. It is not as if people haven’t been experimenting with cross-curricula subjects for many decades and finding that this is not a good way of developing high level academic skills.

06:53

We still educate children by batches: we put them through the system by age group. Why do we do that? Why is there this assumption that the most important thing kids have in common is how old they are. Its like the most important thing about them is their date of manufacture. Well I know kids that are much better than other kids at different disciplines; or at different times of the day; or better in smaller groups than in large groups; or sometimes they want to be on their own. If you are interested in the model of learning, you don’t start from this production line mentality.

I agree with the basic point here—but Sir Ken is wrong to blame the system of age-related cohorts on a “production line mentality”. I would suggest four reasons to stick with age-based cohorts, only the last of which I consider to be legitimate:

  1. the convenience of the administration (which has everything to do with excessive bureaucracy and nothing whatsoever to do with the influence of industry);
  2. the desire to avoid stigmatization and the appearance of excessive inequalities opening up between the most and least successful students;
  3. the failure to develop effective education technologies (the subject of this blog), which would support more flexible, personalized approaches;
  4. the difficulty of advancing children who may be academically able but socially and physically immature.

The exam system is obviously important here, but I would class this as a symptom rather than a cause of the underlying problem.

07:26

Its essentially about conformity and increasingly it’s increasingly about that as you look at the growth of standardized testing and standardized curricula – and it’s about standardization. I believe we have to go in the exact opposite direction. That’s what I mean about changing the paradigm.

I shall be getting onto standards as I develop the argument on this blog. A key point is that by standardizing some things, you stimulate diversity in others. It is the standard design of the three-pin-plug which allows the market to produce a diversity of electrical appliances. Similarly, a consistent standard for formal testing and examination allows for greater freedom in the provision of education (because if you don’t have confidence in the reliability of the test, then you have to maintain accountability by regulating educational provision directly). So it is simplistic to say you are for or against standardization. What Michael Gove  is in the process of doing is creating more freedom in the provision of education, which he can afford to do partly because he will tighten up standards of formal examination. In respect of ICT, he has also allowed at least a temporary free-for-all in the development of new curricula.

07:40

There’s a great study done recently about divergent thinking, published a couple of years ago. Divergent thinking isn’t the same thing as creativity. I define creativity as the process of having original ideas that have value. Divergent thinking isn’t a synonym but its an essential capacity for creativity. It’s the ability to see lots of possible answers to a question, lots of possible ways of interpreting a question, to think what Edward de Bono would probably call “laterally”, to think not just in linear or convergent ways. To seek multiple answers, not one.

It is not necessarily a virtue to seek multiple answers because, in the frequent cases where there is only one correct answer, seeking further answers will turn out to be a waste of time.

Many intellectual processes, like playing a game of chess, require the mind to work through multiple logical stages. If there are 10 possible options at each move in a game of chess, then after 10 moves (5 by white 5 by black) there will be a total of 10 billion permutations to consider. In most real-world situations, excessively divergent thinking is completely debilitating.

08:19

So there are tests for this. One COD example might be, people might be asked to say, how many uses can you think of for a paper clip. One of those routine questions. Most people might come up with 10 or 15. People who are good at this might come up with 200. And they’ll do that by saying, “well, could the paper clip be 200 foot tall and made out of foam rubber?” Like, does it have to be a paper clip as we know it, Jim?

Presumably, a paper clip has to be intended for the clipping of pieces of paper together, for which purpose a 200 foot piece of foam rubber is not ideally suited. This example shows why kindergarten children are so good at this kind of undisciplined thinking and why it is so poorly suited to the requirements of adult life.

08:41

Now there are tests for this and they gave them to 1,500 people – it was in a book called Break Point and Beyond and on the protocol of the test, if you scored above a certain level, you’d be considered to be a genius at divergent thinking. OK, so my question to you is, what percentage of people tested scored at “genius” level for divergent thinking? Now you need to know one more thing about them. These were kindergarten children. What do you think? 98%. Now the thing about this was it was a longitudinal study. So they re-tested the same children five years later, at age 8-10. What do you think? 50%. They re-tested them again five years later, ages 13-15. You can see a trend here, can’t you? Now, this tells an interesting story. Because you could have imagined it going the other way. You start off not being very good but you get better as you get older. But this shows two things. One is we all have this capacity; and 2. it mostly deteriorates.

By using the loaded word “genius” and talking about “getting better as you get older”, Sir Ken makes the presumption that this kind of thinking is beneficial for academic and practical life, when it quite plainly is not. The shedding of excessively divergent thought is a beneficial part of growing up.

Clearly some degree of divergent thinking is needed if we are going to have people who are able to challenge current orthodoxies. But such divergent thinking comes at a cost because it reduces the speed and efficiency with which less imaginative people are able to get on with their own lives, following tried-and-tested patterns of thought. Which is why many intellectuals are commonly satirized as bumbling fools, dithering, indecisive and impractical.

As in most of these things, (as Sir Ken would have realized if he had spent a little more time studying the classics) there is a virtuous middle way, both in the extent of divergent thinking required by a single individual, and within society more generally, amongst a particular class of divergent thinking intellectuals.

09:58

Now a lot of things have happened to these kids as they have grown up. But one of the most important things is that by now, they have become educated. They have spent ten years at school being told that there is one answer – it’s at the back…and don’t look, and don’t copy, because that’s cheating. I mean, outside schools, that’s called collaboration.

This is a parody of school. I found one of the most interesting parts of being a History teacher was teaching students to come up with original and yet carefully supported arguments in their essays, challenging the answer that they might have felt that they were expected to produce. This kind of original thought is highly prized by top universities—which is itself an indication that it is a very difficult thing to produce.

One prerequisite for coming up with “original ideas that have value” is accuracy. That is why you need to prepare the creative thinker by ensuring that, where there is a single correct answer, they can give it. You cannot say anything of value about sub-atomic physics unless you understand something about the current state of research. “Getting the right answer” is not antagonistic to creativity: it is a necessary prerequisite.

Collaboration is useful when individual members of the team are individually capable—and as producing capable individuals is the primary purpose of education, so assessment needs to be targeted at individuals, not groups. Working in a collaborative environment where the individual members of the team are not capable is never productive: in these circumstances, collaboration is normally used as a way of avoiding personal responsibility for failure.

In short, Sir Ken fails to recognise  that being creative is difficult.

10:20

This isn’t because teachers want it this way. It’s just because it happens this way. It’s because it is in the gene pool of education. We have to think differently about human capacity. We have to get over this old conception of academic, non-academic, abstract, theoretical, vocational, and see it for what it is: a myth.

Categories and generalisations always represent simplifications to some degree, as reality is infinitely variable and continuous. But it is the only way that we can represent and understand the world. The popular prejudice against generalization rests on a misunderstanding of the nature of knowledge. Generalisations are constantly made about people by business and governments, with useful results. As Bertrand Russel points out in Problems of Philosophy, every word in our language represents a generalization. Perhaps Sir Ken would say that every word in our language is a myth—but if you don’t start categorizing the world, then you cannot say anything about it or construct any rational argument. Which is presumably where Sir Ken, with his hostility to enlightenment thought, believes we should all end up.

10:45

Second, we have to recognize that most great learning happens in groups; that collaboration is the stuff of growth. If we atomize people and separate them and judge them separately, we form a kind of disjunction between them and their natural learning environment.

I would agree that social context forms an important impact on the motivation to learn. But it is wrong to say that learning necessarily happens through groups. It is true that we learn by interaction with an other—peers, teachers, media or environments; of these alternatives, it is not always obvious that your fellow school children are the best sources of learning. Our knowledge and skills are personal to ourselves. We can share them, but we cannot give them away. Ultimately we are born, we die, and we learn by ourselves.

11:00

And thirdly, it is crucially about the culture of our institutions: the habits of institutions and the habitats that they occupy.

Which begs the question: how should and could our institutions improve?

Conclusion

I have suggested that Sir Ken has set himself three challenges:

  1. at 01:00, to explain how he wants to change education;
  2. at 01:30, to define what he means by “raising standards”;
  3. at 03:02, to explain what model of the mind he regards as superior to the enlightenment view.

Apart from ending subject-specialisation, grouping by age, and getting boys and girls to share the same changing rooms, my best shot at summarizing Sir Ken’s recipe for schools is that he does not want them to impose on children their own views of what is good or bad, but let children grow according to their own lights, not trying to assess or judge the capacity of individuals, and treating everyone’s achievement as being of equal worth.

But it is not within the hands of educationalists to determine the esteem with which different achievements are viewed. As education ministers have repeatedly discovered, parity of esteem cannot be imposed. If the three musketeers had successfully made everyone a Marquis, all they would have achieved would be to destroy the esteem with which the title had previously been regarded.

Nor is it at all clear to me what sir Ken means by “raising standards” when he does not intend to judge anyone’s educational achievement at an individual level, or accept any objectively defined criterion against which such achievement might be measured. Sir Ken’s perception of education standards appears to be of a kind of non-standard.

As for a model of the mind which is superior to the enlightenment view, Sir Ken’s only suggestion seems to be that we promote an undisciplined, puerile form of divergent thinking, by which, when you ask someone for a paper clip, they bring you a 200 foot piece of foam rubber.

Sir Ken is a successful motivational speaker—but he does not appear to me to be much of a thinker. Although he does not discuss education technology directly in his video, he is frequently cited by people active in the education technology community. It is time we looked much more critically at these superficial arguments, which, unless they can be given much more substance, I hope and trust will not carry any weight in the current debate.


References

Ken Robinson Rebuttal is a guest post written by Scott Goodman, rebutting another of Sir Ken’s videos.
Becta's ICT markScrapping “ICT”, argued that the term “ICT” was no longer useful and should be scrapped. I did not know at the time that the Royal Society had published a report 5 days earlier which came to the same conclusion.
Detail of horse from Elgin marblesAristotle’s Saddlemaker makes the argument for education-specific software, based on a discussion of the relationship between ends and means found originally in Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics.
Home page, with a full listing of posts on this blog.

63 thoughts on “Sir Ken Robinson

  1. Crispin, I applaud your masterful critique of Sir Ken’s presentation!

    I have heard Sir Ken on several occasions and also watched several of his videos. Yes, but I would say entertaining rather than motivational – and I must applaud the graphicist who put the montage together. His presentation style is a studied combination of Bob Newhart, Alistair Cooke and Donald Clark. Initially I, too, like Simon, was mesmerised by his style much like a moth to a candle.

    However, as an innovator, teacher of problem solving and thus creativity I have repeatedly cringed at his arguments – which you have answered coherently.

    You suggest he sets himself three challenges. I would insert a fourth, but at the top of the list, that he gets into schools, without any pretense or bravado, and actually quietly looks at the good practice that *IS* going on in schools.

    • Ray, Thank you for your kind comment, and also for slogging through the whole piece. I was not sure whether anyone would have the staying power!

      • I did and with a lot of interest. I am in a habit of trying to find a critique of something before accepting. I have just joined as instructor in a military school and one of my student who got very less mark in exam asked me that why am I being measured on my ability to answer questions rather than my abilities to fight in battle where I have already displayed excellence. I asked him to watch the animated RSA video of Sir Ken Robinson before I would discuss the issue (academic and non academic was my idea of explaining the problem to him). However before going to class, I thought to look for any critique on Ken Robinson to be adequately prepared for any Q&A and first I hit scott’s and now yours.
        Both of you have taken different approaches to refute Ken Robinson’s thesis. I would say that thesis has some merit that divergent thinking should not be curtailed. Infact, it is divergent thinking which saves us once things go tangent to plan. However, the purpose of an academic system is to create awareness of how to properly think laterally or divergently. We need to polish the art rather than shun it being useless for everyday life. Disruptive innovations were only possible due to divergent thinking.
        More than that, I generally agree with you and definitely think that careless generalizations and jokes with innuendos are dangerous to existing education system. Ken leaves specifics to the listener but still makes them believe that he is an expert. I must say a very good and informative rebuttal and I should probably find rebuttals for every TED talk from now on before getting impressed

        • Many thanks for the comment Farhan.

          I agree with you that there is considerable value in lateral or divergent thinking. My point is that it comes at a cost. Sometimes (I guess particularly in the military) you don’t want everyone to be saying “Hi Sergeant, I think we should do this in a different way based on a reappraisal of the ethical basis of this war” – sometimes you just want people to get on with the job or to think through a complex sequence of steps in a linear way.

          So it’s not that I think divergent thinking is wrong – but that being creative comes with a cost (often, tripping over your own shoe-laces). So we need to keep it in balance with other modes of thought. What I object to in Sir Ken’s talk is the way he represents the emergence of more disciplined types of thinking as a loss of genius.

          I really appreciate your comments on rebuttals and the value of debate. I often think that online recommender systems tends to encourage lemming-like thinking and that we need better ways to encourage debate.

          Crispin.

  2. I never thought I’d see Ken Robinson challenged!! What i disagree with the most is the definition of creativity being used. Creativity is being able to solve a problem within very real, given constraints ie getting Apollo 13 back to earth with only the stuff they had on board. All this rubbish about creative blah, blah misses this key ingredient – constraints/structure is what makes us creative. Education doesn’t need to teach creativity – it needs to provide the structure and constraints to enable creativity.

  3. Thanks wot works – both for your comments and for reading a long post. I very much agree with you about the importance of constraints.

    I think school can provide the *opportunity* for creativity, within a range of particular contexts (each context with particular constraints, as you say). And I would say that most types of competency will *require* a creative act in order to demonstrate the true mastery of the skill – so if you want to show mastery of carpentry, you make a bookcase rather than doing a multiple choice test. But I would agree with you that what is being taught and assessed is carpentry, and not some kind of abstract creative ability. Is that compatible with what you are saying?

    • Well, if ken talks a lot of waffle – which he does, reading a long post picking him up on it is not that arduous. Yes teaching and assessing carpentry is what we should be doing rather than this abstract concept of creativity. Even when people say they want to have creativity in the curriculum – it makes me uneasy. Creativity is not something to be taught, promoted or encouraged – it arises because of our appetite to solve problems.

    • @wot works: Getting there. But problem solving can be about using existing skills and materials in order to provide a solution, whereas the real creativity comes about when an original solution is produced. In terms of the illustration of an artist, however much one might study the techniques and subject matter of the great predecessors a copy is not creative. It is only when the artist develops his own style and procuces his own originals that we might describe him as being creative. Otherwise he is nothing more than a forger or at least a copyist.

  4. There is a serious difference between ‘making a bookcase’ and teaching a number of skills that may enable a student to make a bookcase. To me neither of these are about creativity in and of themselves. The creativity comes about through a process of discovery that there is a problem ie an untidy study. After looking at several possibilities the solution is what we might call a bookcase. But the essential creativity comes about, having identified the need, by designing the proportions, specifying the materials etc, and then making it. Quite simply, technology is about meeting human need. Or for the longer definition, ‘Technology is about using scientific, material and human resources in order to meet human need or purpose.’ – To me this is true creativity.

    • ray, isn’t creativity simply problem-solving? and we have endless pundits going on and on about how schools, curriculum, teachers etc should be creative, teach creativity, encourage creativity etc etc and ken is the most well-known face of that movement.

      • Ray says “Technology is about…meet[ing] human need or purpose”. Wot works says “Isn’t creativity simply problem solving?”. It sounds to me like you two are agreeing furiously with each other.

        The root of the creativity pundit problem, as I see it, is when they imagine that the act of creating new things invalidates the need to understand and master the old, or that a “creative curriculum” obviates the need to master all those tiresome skills and facts.

        If you follow the careers of great artists, they seem almost invariably to follow a path in which they are influenced by a succession of exemplars, and only having learned through imitation, develop as a mature artist a distinctive personal voice, in which the previous influences are still perceptible.

        • I think you three are missing the point of Sir Ken’s arguments by exaggerating his arguments into something he didn’t intend. I didn’t come away from that video thinking that he is advocating teaching creativity per se, but that he is simply advocating for not stifling the inherent and natural creativity we are all born with by being closed-minded about what learning is and how it needs to be done. But whether I am right and you are wrong or vice versa is neither here nor there when it comes to your definitions of creativity.

          If creativity was simply “meet[ing] human need or purpose” or “problem solving”, then if I had a problem because my kitchen sink was full of dirty dishes, would I be creative in washing the dishes? I think not. I think that Sir Ken’s definition (“the process of having original ideas that have value”) is closer to the mark. Creativity is in coming up with a new and more useful or valuable way of solving a problem or meeting a need than has been done before, i.e. inventing a new type of dishwasher, or something to that effect. And he is not equating divergent thinking and creativity, he is saying that divergent thinking is a prerequisite for creativity and that we are stifling divergent thinking and thus creativity in our current educational system.

          I agree with all of you that we also need to teach the collective knowledge of our cultural heritage because mastering a subject or skill area enables further creativity, but creativity can be achieved even by people with little to no formal education at all, it is not dependent on an academic education or formal training in a subject. In the area of the visual arts, Frida Kahlo is a prime example of someone who was never formally trained as a painter but is considered a master. Leonardo DaVinci is probably the most famous example of a self-taught, extremely creative, individual who was considered a scientific genius even though his formal training was in the arts. A whole list of autodidacts can be found here… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_autodidacts.

          The point I am trying to make and what I think Sir Ken was trying to say is that often our educational system stifles children’s talents when those talents lie in areas that we don’t value in our educational system. That is what I think he is saying needs to change and I would agree. Children should be given more opportunities to pursue areas of study that interest them rather than forced only to study the ones that someone else thinks are important. I’m not saying that everyone shouldn’t learn to read or be able to do basic math, but after a basic foundation, find out what drives that individual to want to learn and facilitate their learning in that area. I realize that this is a tall order, and much more easily said than done, but I think it is a goal worth striving for.

          • I completely agree with Betsynests interpretation and views, I would also like to add that that I agree with the first three of you that you can’t ‘teach’ creativity, however you can encourage creativity by providing challenges which don’t have a ‘single correct answer at the back’.

          • Finally, someone says what I have in mind since I started reading those comments..

            “I think you three are missing the point of Sir Ken’s arguments by exaggerating his arguments into something he didn’t intend.”

            Think of it as a photograph, if you exaggeratedly-looked at it or zoom-in 1000%, It will surely looked very wrong because it wasn’t meant to viewed that way.
            And yes, some people do that and call themselves “critique”. But I call them fault finder.

            ~
            I am a fan of Sir Ken Robinson, but I don’t agree to him 100%. And this maybe the reason why someone says “experts are clueless”. I listen to him maybe to have an idea of something I don’t understand, but I have to believe him, I have to think for myself.

            And as for Sir Crispin Weston, I can see your point and I don’t disagree with you or anyone. My only point is, you don’t have to prove that Sir Ken Robinson was wrong. the only thing you have to prove is that you’re right. Good luck to you, cheers bud!

            • Hi Jep,

              I agree with you when you say: “you don’t have to prove that Sir Ken Robinson was wrong. the only thing you have to prove is that you’re right”. There is a danger in getting trapped into a negative fight which is not going anywhere – and maybe the discussion around this post has got to that stage now.

              If you want to read some of my “positive” posts – then have a look at “Education’s coming revolution” (http://wp.me/p27xY2-8o), “What do we mean by ‘content’?” (http://wp.me/p27xY2-2N), “Aristotle’s saddlemaker” – the importance of software (http://wp.me/p27xY2-1d), or “Learning analytics for better learning content” (http://wp.me/p27xY2-2o) – with more to come soon.

              But when you are arguing against an established orthodoxy, it is still necessary to attack those people who have been very influential in establishing that orthodoxy. Otherwise, when you argue x, people will not even bother to read the arguments – they will just say “that’s rubbish, everyone knows that the truth is y – just read z”.

              I like your analogy with the zoom lens – but I think that zooming in is the right thing to do. It is so easy – at the wide angle level – to feel a warm glow from a general idea (as many of the party faithful I am sure feel a warm glow on returning home from some very dodgy torch-lit parade). The devil is in the detail – and that is where people who really want to do the right thing need to look.

              But there is a tension between behaviour designed to seek after truth (which joins in constructive debate as a way of clarifying the truth) and behaviour designed to maximise PR impact, which avoids debate as a potential source of reputational damage. If Sir Ken is in the former camp, why does he not come and debate these issues? I sent him an invitation a year ago but received no reply.

              All that said, at the beginning of my MOOCs post (December 2012), I made a new year’s resolution to spend more time in 2013 laying out my positive arguments. Attacking the existing orthodoxy was 2012’s project (this post on Sir Ken is dated January 2012).

              Crispin.

              • About the “ZOOM”, I’m not talking about the Lens, what I’m talking about is a photograph or a picture. Some people are just amazed by this photo, some might look in every detail, and there are some who looks deeper and was thinking like~ there must be something bad about this because nobody is perfect!
                Well, yeah there must be something bad about everything. One can never make an idea that is so perfect that no one will ever disagree.

                About Sir Ken’s response, unfortunately, We have no idea why He didn’t respond, maybe He is busy on something or maybe avoiding arguments. We don’t know. Maybe you should write Him again. I am one of the people who would be very excited about that conversation. But of course, I don’t want it to be an “argument” or “who’s right and who’s wrong”.

                Anyway, I’m looking forward on reading your posts, this sight seems pretty interesting. Good job! PS: sorry for my bad English 🙂

                -jep

                • Thanks Jep. Your English is very good and I completely agree with your chief point – the point of the debate should be to establish the truth, which will probably combine the perspective of all contributors. Thanks for your comments. Best, Crispin.

        • I think you three are missing the point of Sir Ken’s arguments by exaggerating his arguments into something he didn’t intend. I didn’t come away from that video thinking that he is advocating teaching creativity per se, but that he is simply advocating for not stifling the inherent and natural creativity we are all born with by being closed minded about what learning is and how it needs to be done. But whether I am right and you are wrong or vice versa is neither here nor there when it comes to your definitions of creativity.

          If creativity was simply “meet[ing] human need or purpose” or “problem solving”, then if I had a problem because my kitchen sink was full of dirty dishes, would I be creative in washing the dishes? I think not. I think that Sir Ken’s definition (“the process of having original ideas that have value”) is closer to the mark. Creativity is in coming up with a new and more useful or valuable way of solving a problem or meeting a need than has been done before, i.e. inventing a new type of dishwasher, or something to that effect. And he is not equating divergent thinking and creativity, he is saying that divergent thinking is a prerequisite for creativity and that we are stifling divergent thinking and thus creativity in our current educational system.

          I agree with all of you that we also need to teach the collective knowledge of our cultural heritage because mastering a subject or skill area enables further creativity, but creativity can be achieved even by people with little to no formal education at all, it is not dependent on an academic education or formal training in a subject. Just in the area of the visual arts, Frida Kahlo, is a prime example of someone who was never formally trained as a painter but is considered a master. Leonardo is probably the most famous example however of a self-taught, extremely creative, individual who was considered a scientific genius even though his formal training was in the arts. A whole list of autodidacts can be found here… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_autodidacts.

          The point I am trying to make and what I think Sir Ken was trying to say is that often our educational system stifles children’s talents when those talents lie in areas that we don’t value in our educational system. That is what I think he is saying needs to change and I would agree. Children should be given more opportunities to pursue areas of study that interest them rather than forced only to study the ones that someone else thinks are important. I’m not saying that everyone shouldn’t learn to read or be able to do basic math, but after a basic foundation, find out what drives that individual to want to learn and facilitate their learning in that area. I realize that this is a tall order, and much more easily said than done, but I think it is a goal worth striving for.

          • Betsynest – thank you for coming onto the blog to defend Sir Ken. It is very easy for this sort of conversation to attract only those who agree with the original post.

            I have to say that in Sir Ken’s most recent video, in which he gives a closing speech to the 2012 Learning Without Frontiers conference, he appears to deliver a much more balanced and thoughtful message. I think that in the video which I critique here, he got rather carried away by his own rhetoric – which we are all liable to do when we surround ourselves by people who agree with us. I am certainly sympathetic to the fundamental message as you articulate it, about diversity and creativity. The key point, though, is that enlightenment thought is not the enemy of diversity and creativity: it is their source. And that is a substantive and important point which really needs to be made, before the baby gets thrown out with the bathwater.

            I agree that divergent thinking is at least helpful when it comes to creativity – but I think it also comes at a cost. Which is why we have the Professor Brainstorm archetype, always tripping over his own shoelaces. I am all for teaching creativity – I am just somewhat suspicious of trivializing creativity and getting very excited because little Johnny has smeared some excrement on the wall. Real creativity is hard.

            A keen autodidact is probably more educated than many people who go through the motions at the back of the class. I agree that it would be very nice if we could systematically encourage the great mass of children to become independent learners and have the same passion for learning as the great autodidacts – but I don’t see the evidence yet for the radically reformed system of education that delivers at scale such passion for learning better than a fairly traditional academic education, staffed by liberal teachers, knowledgeable about their subjects, and driven to motivate their students in the kinds of ways that you describe in your last paragraph.

            Let us try to do the difficult things, for sure. But the fact that we are aiming high should not be used as an excuse for doing things, in the name of good intentions, which actually cause more harm than good. We should not get carried away by our own rhetoric, saying what marvelous independent learners our children are, when all the majority are doing is cutting and pasting chunks of text off the internet, and recycling popular platitudes. We will not do them any favors by giving them independence before they can use it.

          • I am trying to reply to Crispin Westons point (August 31, 2012 at 11:39 pm ) below
            in response to your comment “systematically encourage the great mass of children to become independent learners and have the same passion for learning as the great autodidacts”
            I understood that Sir Ken was not interested in ANY system for the ‘great mass’ , but many systems to suit the diversity of the young persons interests, attention span, imagination, mathematical / artistic / spacial abilities etc.

      • Getting there. But problem solving can be about using existing skills and materials in order to provide a solution, whereas the real creativity comes about when an original solution is produced. In terms of the illustration of an artist, however much one might study the techniques and subject matter of the great predecessors a copy is not creative. It is only when the artist develops his own style and procuces his own originals that we might describe him as being creative. Otherwise he is nothing more than a forger or at least a copyist.

      • Ray, I agree with you that real creativity – in an artistic sense – happens when someone develops his or her own voice. In a more mechanical sense, it happens when you can solve your own problems and do not just imitate someone else’s solution or copy a pattern book.

        My point was that, to get to the point where you can show real creativity, you normally have to go through a conventional learning phase first, generally mastering relevant facts and imitating others.

        • in response to your comment “to get to the point where you can show real creativity, you normally have to go through a conventional learning phase first, mastering relevant facts and imitating others.” I disagree that the ability to master relevant facts is constrained to a ‘conventional learning phase’, if by ‘conventional’, you mean to be taught by someone else. You only have to watch the progression from the total dependence of an infant to the relative independence of a pre-schooler to realize that we are pre-programmed to curiosity, we investigate, observe, absorb and process information without any external encouragement. If the stimulus is there, curiosity is all the encouragement that an infant needs. And it is my opinion that if that mode of learning was not discouraged when we were young, “the great mass of children [would be] independent learners and have the same passion for learning as the great autodidacts” to quote your own phrase.

  5. Hello Crispin – just went to respond to your reply on Schoolstech and realised that I am now locked out of the first debate, but the point I wanted to make will make sense here as well. So here goes….

    Let me give you an analogy, the example is particular to mathematics but can be generalised for all curriculum subjects.

    I taught mathematics in a secondary school. I wanted to teach philosophy, and decided that mathematics was the closest I could get; it is after all a spin-off . Why did I want to teach maths? Mathematics affords unlimited possibilities for the construction of worlds based on rules of my own making, (or those derived from the real world)….what better way to pursue art and to create and make, to bring things into the world that without me would not have been, then in an abstract world that is not soiled or limited by the realities of the world in which we live. Like lego, mathematics for me is all about the elegance of well constructed solutions and proofs..

    The problem though is that the assessment of mathematics in schools provides little or no space for elegance and art. Questions in exams tend to be closed and limited in scope. The function of mathematics in schools is utilitarian. Its a means to an end and not an end in itself.

    And why is that? It is in part because open ended questions, elegance, art and CREATIVITY cannot be reliably assessed. For whatever reason, we cannot find absolute criteria for beauty. So whilst we might all agree that the closed questioning and multiple choice questioning in the context of creative activity (for which problem solving is a subset by the way) lacks VALIDITY, we put up with it because our assessment system has found no reliable method for its assessment: if I show you a mathematical proof, we are unlikely to find examiners who agree on the degree of elegance.

    Thus Crispin, my point on Schoolstech. What we measure is often deliberately limited to simplistic measurement of knowledge when technology now affords us the possibility of going beyond this. It should be expanded (notice I don’t say replaced) to include a measure of the creative process a student enters into, in whatever discipline they are being assessed; to show the development of an idea, abstract or otherwise, rather than simply the final product….to show the making of the bookcase and not just the finished piece. And the idea that assessment is constrained by an inverse relationship between reliability and validity can now be thrown out of the window, I have a mountain of data now from trials across the globe that shows that Adaptive Comparative Judgement provides an efficient mechanism for reliable assessment of evidence such as art, design, mathematical proofs etc etc.

    • Karim, I disagree.

      I have taught design and problem solving since 1963 and even before then, with visions of being an architect I had studied the history of architecture quite thoroughly. Your problem is in “What we measure…” – “limited to simplistic measurement of knowledge”. – No wonder some children find Mathematics boring! At 10 years old I was out measuring objects with a home-made theodolite and motivated enough to learn the first columns of my logs/anti-logs and tangents tables long before I was allowed a slide-rule.

      Over the years, both teaching design and Mathematics (my second subject) and since 1980 Information Technology my approach has always been the same. When I was studying Maths at ‘A’-level my teacher was quite happy to accept a 2/3 sentence answer rather than 2/3 pages of calculations – so long as my answer WAS elegant enough. I have thus always tried to be generous enough to recognise an elegant solution from my students and have had no problem of examiners disagreeing with my assessments.

  6. Ray,

    Thank you for your reply, though you say you disagree I am not really sure what it is you are disagreeing with. In my piece I basically argue that reliability is an issue in assessment (in general) and that validity has suffered as a consequence despite technology offering a solution . I do this by providing an example in mathematics, but could perhaps have more easily found examples in other subjects which are, by nature, more subjective: english writing would have been an easy one.

    In your reply you say that (sometime ago) your teacher was ‘quite happy’ with elegant solutions at A-Level (as was mine) and that you have in the past rewarded elegance in your teaching (as did I). On the face of it you seem to be saying that since no examiner disagreed with your assessments there is no problem with reliability in assessment in general…

    …I am quite happy to accept that there are great teachers like yourself who are happy to reward creativity, even in subjects such as mathematics. I believe, however, that you do so despite the assessment system not because of it.

    • Hi Karim,

      Sorry for my slow reply – been busy this last week.

      I did teach philosophy for a few years – but came at it from history and political thought, rather than through maths, which, according to Plato, is the correct and only route (as is borne out by examples such as Descartes and Bertrand Russell).

      I entirely agree with the importance of creativity in all subjects. My argument is that useful creativity is *dependent* on more traditional forms of knowledge, not opposed to it.

      My post on Sir Ken Robinson opposes a particular type of argument which states that “because not x, therefore y” or “because x, therefore not y” – which *assumes* that x and y are mutually exclusive, when this is very rarely the case (and not at all in the particular case we are discussing).

      So I do not accept at all that multiple choice lacks validity. It might be boring, certainly if used to excess. But it is an efficient way of testing basic knowledge (and often for absorbing basic knowledge), which is often a *prerequisite* for useful creativity.

      As a teacher, I found a very common experience, when looking at a piece of student creative product, was to think – “Blimey, there is almost nothing of any value at all in here. How can I get the student to understand the level of thought and analysis that I am looking for?” I don’t think the answer is always to ask for more acts of creativity.

      The problem with plagiarism is not that the 12 year old plagiarist is wicked – they cut and paste from the internet as in previous times they copied out of the book because they do not understand what it is to write original material, or how they can possibly do it. You don’t necessarily teach people to fly by pushing them off the edge of a cliff.

      In history, the creative act is writing an essay. As a teacher, I would generally give a straight knowledge test before setting an essay. If the students didn’t know the basic facts around a topic, then it was a complete waste of their time to get them to write an essay on it (and even more of a waste of the teacher’s time to mark it). Then there are intermediate stages, getting students to write short or scaffolded essays.

      So, instead of saying that a particular assessment technique is not valid, I would say that it may be inappropriate for a particular type of achievement and that we should of course be aiming for achievements which are up at the top of Bloom’s taxonomy, but that does not mean that we do not start down at the bottom, with knowledge recall.

      Re. your point on the lack of any absolute criteria for beauty, I do not entirely agree. The Greeks certainly thought that they had found such a thing and, although it is difficult to prove them right, I reckon that there is a surprising degree of consensus about beauty/elegance (we are all programmed to regard pretty similar types of human form beautiful, for example, and we all seem to like symmetry and simplicity). The existence of disagreements at the margin often masks the extent of the consensus in the middle.

      But the task of assessing answers to open questions is certainly much more challenging than assessing the answers to closed ones. It requires good examiners and a lot of moderation, which is labour intensive.

      I think one of the fundamental problems that our education system faces is that there are not enough good teachers and/or examiners to go around. That, in my view, is a reason to use mechanical and structured assessment where it *can* be used effectively, leaving open questions and creative projects as a summit activity.

      Your argument about adaptive comparative judgment seems to me to address precisely this question of how we can systematise moderation – I entirely agree with you. I think there may be some scope in using peer review in social networking environments to turn qualitative judgments into machine-readable, quantitative data (though of course this approach has problems too). All techniques have their problems, so the sensible approach is surely to use as many as possible, looking more carefully at cases where the evidence is not corroborative. This will be where good learning analytics (currently virtually non-existent) will have a huge part to play in transforming the effectiveness of our education.

      In summary, I entirely agree with your focus on process, creativity, and intelligent moderation systems, with the following provisos:

      1. education is a business in which costs and resourcing are critical issues. Do not waste your scarce expertise on marking creative processes for which the ground has not been properly prepared;

      2. because creative genius is what we are all aiming at (and always have been), this does not mean that you do not use a range of different techniques to get people up the mountainside (including unsexy things like transmitting knowledge);

      3. creativity and merit are not opposed—even though assessing originality and elegance are difficult, we need to do it and we should be careful not to reward creativity without merit because this blunts aspiration and expectation.

      • I am supposed to be doing homework right now, but I am really enjoying reading this post and all the associated comments. So I am going to limit my response to just one of your points…

        You said, “Re. your point on the lack of any absolute criteria for beauty, I do not entirely agree. The Greeks certainly thought that they had found such a thing and, although it is difficult to prove them right, I reckon that there is a surprising degree of consensus about beauty/elegance (we are all programmed to regard pretty similar types of human form beautiful, for example, and we all seem to like symmetry and simplicity). The existence of disagreements at the margin often masks the extent of the consensus in the middle.”

        I disagree completely. Do you think that the Greeks and the Mursi people of Africa would agree on what beauty is? Except for some very basic concepts like symmetry (as you pointed out) and maybe simplicity (but I might be able to argue with that one), beauty is highly cultural. While Americans tend to prefer extremely slim women, to the point of models becoming anorexic in order to maintain their careers, many latino cultures tend to idolize a more curvaceous figure. There are tons of examples. I don’t agree that the disagreements are only at the margin.

        Even if that were so, I am afraid that our modern educational system has succumbed to the “tyranny of the majority” that John Mill feared. Why should the consensus of the majority dictate the choices for all those in the minority? Why can’t we create a system that allows for dissent and differences and rather than trying to stifle them, instead values them as a mirror by which we can more adequately assess our own worldview?

        • Hi Betsynest – thanks for the comments. You say that you (therefore we) disagree completely but I am not sure we do. I agree with you that much of our sense of beauty is cultural – but all I say is that there most people and cultures seem to be fairly consistent in their appreciation even of something we assume to be as subjective as beauty. I suspect that much of our sense of beauty in fact reflects a sense of functionality (as in a good mate or a fertile valley or a socially beneficial moral code) and whether some characteristic is beneficial or not is something can be judged objectively.

          As for your plea for liberalism, I could not agree more. I too am an admirer of Mill – but I think that he would be the first to say that children are owed a duty of care and should not be entirely left to their own devices. Freedom depends on a sense of reason, education and disciplined will-power – abandoning a child to be enslaved by his/her own appetites is not to give them freedom. If you fail to educate a child by the time they reach seniority, then Mill would say that your time was up and, for better or for worse, they should be allowed to do what they like and suffer the consequences.

          Which is not to disagree with you that we should not allow (even encourage) dissent and difference, and encourage children to develop their creativity and originality. But that is not the same as saying that “anything goes”. I think a good liberal education is about striking the right balance between encouraging independence and giving the learner the core skills that they are going to need in that independent state.

          And I think we should all be constantly re-examining our own world views (which I do not think is the same as saying that we should not, in the meantime, continue to believe provisionally in our respective world views, or – which is the same thing – believe that some world views are better than others).

  7. After reading your excellent critique, I find myself wondering what the crux is. Some of the comments seem to lose themselves in details about standards, testing and definitions of creativity, and miss the crux. The crux (let me suggest) is a very simple image of education – what Ken called a metaphor in his TED talk on the learner revolution. That’s what you pick up on at 6.30, which connects with the agricultural metaphor he spells out in the other talk: teachers as farmers enabling their plant-students to flourish in their own particular ways (as opposed to teachers as directors of an educational assembly line) – with students realising something that is latent within them. Your criticism is spot on: Education at its best is not about creating space for individuals to surf the internet and muddle through on their own, rather it is about inspiring students with something beyond themselves. That calls for a very different metaphor: neither industrial nor agricultural.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Torn.

      I agree that we are dealing in nuances here – I would see it as a paradox. We live in a liberal society which tells us to be different and creative – and so we all try desperately to be different and creative in order to be obedient to the culture which we inevitably absorb with our breast-milk. I would also say that creativity is something of a myth – or at least an illusion created by the magician’s quick hands. What is really happening when someone appears to be creative is not that they are plucking some new idea out of the ether – but they are weaving together two different strands from our increasingly pluralistic and diverse cultural inheritance. Which is why creativity is so much easier in a liberal society. Study any great artist and you find that they typically go through imitative stages, finally finding their “own” voice when they have enough different influences under their belt in order to create novel combinations. Which is why I believe the child-centred fear of indoctrination is at least partly misplaced. Some degree of indoctrination/transmissive learning is inevitable and is ultimately the only route to genuine creativity.

      Whether or not you accept that view of the world, I think that the interesting question is not whether we should teach creativity – of course we should and that is what education has always tried to do – but how. If you want a metaphor, I would suggest the hand-loom weaver – nicely positioned between agricultural and industrial societies!

      • Let me just express the point you have just made in the language of philosophy: unfreedom is a condition for the possibility of freedom. The ultra romantic pseudo revolutionaries imagine that the child is born free and we have to tread very, very carefully to avoid “invading” on that freedom (Sugata Mitra calls his granny-teaching minimally invasive education, as if non-revolutionary teachers are evil invaders on the hallowed ground of infantile liberty – a massively dubious metaphor). Your example of the artist is perfect (and one wonders why Sir Ken did not use that as his metaphor – heaps better than the image of the student as potato). The artist must submit to the strictures of a tradition first before being able to find the power to go beyond it.

        • Please consider a group of people who have been deaf since birth discussing the best way to teach and assess music. If a person does not understand the creative process, is not open to the possibilities of universal consciousness, does not understand that a person without any previous knowledge or experience of a subject, can suddenly be enlightened, then they are not really in a position to judge what is the most fertile environment for these occurrences.

          • Sorry, Spira, I don’t follow what you are saying there. I am just agreeing with Mr Weston when he says, “It is simply not credible to suggest that the development of individual personality is driven by an internal road map, and is not overwhelmingly governed by interactions with the society around the growing child.” I don’t think he is doubting, and I am not doubting the possibilities of universal consciousness or the occurence of life-changing experiences on our various roads to Damascus. I don’t think we are the deaf trying to pontificate about music, as you seem to be saying. The point is, I think, that in a group of 30 children, if left to themselves, one might suddenly be enlightened. A teacher feels an obligation to create the most fertile environment in which (hopefully) the majority of the group will be enlightened. It is hard work.

          • My comment was in response to your comment ‘The artist must submit to the strictures of a tradition first before being able to find the power to go beyond it’
            This view and your agreement with Mr. Westons point “It is simply not credible to suggest….” which you quoted in your response
            suggest to me that you do not understand the creative process. I would suggest that the interactions with the society around the growing child are indeed vital, but that these interactions are often stifled in a classroom environment. I would further suggest that in order to process the information gleaned by these interactions, the student will need a time and space for quiet reflection, which could be aided with intelligent questions from the teachers, and finally creativity can be stimulated with a highly interesting project (interesting to the student).
            my main concern with education is the apparently acceptable view, that as long as the majority is being educated, the teacher (and the system) is succeeding. Having been one who was not in the majority, I was very curious and sociable, therefore I absorbed an immense amount of information from interactions within society, however when forced to sit still and listen to /read reams of information that did not grab my attention or stimulate my curiosity, my minds desire for processing the information that I’d picked up in ‘real life’ swamped my ability to concentrate on the unstimulating material of the classroom world. I was labelled as a daydreamer and written off. In todays system, I would probably have been diagnosed with ADD and drugged.
            It appears to me that to be a successful student, (i.e. to get high marks in exams) One needs to be able to disengage their creativity (to allow them to focus) and learn by rote.
            students who are very creative, who find it difficult to focus, or to memorize non-stimulating data are not given a suitable environment to excel, yet they are the very ones who have the potential/imagination to change the world.

  8. OK, Crispin, first of all, when you call for a “reasoned debate”, then there is no space for snide remarks such as “I suspect that Sir Ken has been hanging out too much with anti-globalisation protestors.” Right off the bat you more or less demonstrate that you are still hanging out in the proverbial sandbox and don’t have too much tolerance for people who think differently. By the way, I should mention that your disdain for other perspectives – a few sentences later you criticize the approach of the so-called postmodernists – comes through load and clear. It would appear to me that Sir Ken is spot on with his analysis: the “old paradigm” – the one you have obviously been socialized to use, Crispin – is that there are two types of people, “smart people and non-smart people”, and you clearly believe that you belong to the former batch, right? Anti-globalists and postmodernists, in contrast, are non-smart because they don’t understand how the world really works. Let me just say this: the concept of a flat world has served us beautifully until now, but now that we have evidence that the world is round, I would say let’s go with the new theories. As a modernist scholar, you surely appreciate the fact that theories and world views are regularly overturned, yet it is disappointing that you don’t proactively predict the demise of the modernist position, as if it were the ultimate position in the development of humanity.

    You use the word “serious” in your text, more specifically, you indirectly call yourself a “serious epistemologist”. There’s actually another video on TED in which Paula Scher talks about the difference between “serious” and “solemn”. Her basic message is that children, exuding creativity, are very serious in their undertakings, while adults tend to be solemn, and very rarely serious (this is perhaps along the lines of Sir Ken’s point that the capacity for divergent thinking seems to decrease as children move through school). You see, it’s very funny how you mention a couple of times in the response section that you are pleasantly surprised that readers got through your long blog entry (again, your surprise and appreciation is sweetly condescending — most people today can’t read more than a Twitter text, right?). But the problem is not its length but rather its solemnity. Slinging trite, haughty generalizations like “serious epistemologist” or “the whole academic enterprise, which has been so important to the intellectual and economic success of our common culture” through cyberspace is solemn — very solemn. What’s more: we sometimes need to generalize, but you can’t accuse Sir Ken of arguing in ways we’ve “heard all too often” when you are guilty of doing the same.

    OK, Crispin, may I turn the tables on you? Perhaps much like the kid “acting tough outside the local newsagent”, I feel like you are the one who is “acting tough” inside the thick walls of the Ivory Tower. You write in one of your responses that it is important to re-examine your world views. How would you feel if someone came in to break you, to marginalize most of the things that you think are important about yourself? How do you know that your aspirations are even half as high as they could be? Or are you only following the path of least resistance? How do you even know that you are “educated”? Are you capable of learning? Really learning? I would side with the likes of Chris Argyris in saying that some/many/most intelligent people are incapable of genuine learning. And funny thing: just the other day I had an interesting conversation with a colleague about the academic discipline History in German-speaking countries and how it is bounded by a whole range of “must nots”, and hence, how there is relatively little advancement (I am not in a position to say to what extent this is true). Could you — as a History teacher in the UK (among other things) — prove the opposite: what was the last paradigm shift you made? Or maybe: what was the greatest paradigm shift you underwent during your formal education and as a direct result of that education?

    Here’s something else you wrote: “This kind of original thought is highly prized by top universities…” — more solemnity, Crispin. I’ve been there and in many cases such marketing slogans are no more than a thin facade. Why don’t we get beyond such talk? Bloom’s taxonomy — now you’re talking! I mean, OK, your thinking that “Level 1: Knowledge” comes first is utterly conservative and “flat world”, so you know a shift is imminent; you know you need to look for something new. Just jump to the opposite end and say that “Level 6: Evaluation” MUST come first. That’s serious! That’s risky! That’s daring! There is of course a good reason why Bloom’s Level 6 has to come first: it is only at this level that a learner can see the reason why he/she is learning, and it is only at this level that it makes sense to do the things at all the other levels, like gathering information and defining terms. I’d love to see a couple of the essays your students wrote for your History class. Would that somehow be possible? Let’s see some of this serious magic in their argumentation. Maybe you already have part of the answer for how education can be transformed; you can make the things that Sir Ken barely touched on more concrete.

    To be continued…

    • Amazing! What an inspiring comment thread this is. I thought Crispins reasoning (and attacks!) to be sound, but so are yours. I’m really excited to see Crispin’s response. I hope he didn’t get very offendend.

  9. Crispin, how about a you-can-talk-the-talk-but-can-you-walk-the-walk-the-walk challenge? You wrote — if I understood you correctly — that you ask your students to argue from a different perspective, i.e., “challenging the answer that they might have felt that they were expected to produce”. So instead of playing the doubting game, play the believing game. If you think that Sir Ken’s arguments are superficial, then find a way to bolster them. I know you are busy, so I wouldn’t ask you to do this as a “busy exercise for homework”; do it for publication. Even better: do it to overhaul the way we do education. Maybe Sir Ken is on to something, we just need to push the envelope together.

    • Hi Alex,

      I do not think that it is such a disreputable thing to be seen hanging around with anti-globalisation protestors. In London, the Dean of St Pauls was regularly guilty of this misdemeanour. So if in well over 5,000 words this is the worst sort of knocking copy that I am guilty of, then I think I have kept my nose fairly clean. Rather cleaner, in fact, than either yourself or Sir Ken.

      The point is not whether one uses the odd, mild jibe but whether one backs these up with substantive arguments. In this case, the substantive point that I make (and to which you do not respond) is that Sir Ken is merely trying to latch on to a fashionable protest vote, when globalisation actually has nothing to do with his main argument.

      With respect to the rest of your paragraph about my disdain for those who disagree with me, I suggest that to the contrary I demonstrate a great respect for my opponents. I show it by the very fact that I bother to write this post at all, and by the way that I go through his speech paragraph by paragraph, constructing a careful, evidence-based argument. In my response to comments, I have emphasised my respect for (a) his good intentions in wanting to promote diversity and creativity, and (b) his more recent statements – see my recent reply to Betsynest:

      “I have to say that in Sir Ken’s most recent video, in which he gives a closing speech to the 2012 Learning Without Frontiers conference, he appears to deliver a much more balanced and thoughtful message. I think that in the video which I critique here, he got rather carried away by his own rhetoric – which we are all liable to do when we surround ourselves by people who agree with us. I am certainly sympathetic to the fundamental message as you articulate it, about diversity and creativity.”

      Is that disdainful?

      Regarding the argument about post-modernism, I think your position illustrates very nicely my point. I do not deny or my opponents the right to make their arguments or disrupt them in any way – it is that I *disagree* with them, I think they are *wrong*. That is very different from disdain. You may mock me for talking about “the academic enterprise” – but I make no apologies for pointing out that if you cannot disagree robustly with someone without being accused of a moral offense, then academic discourse becomes a persecuted activity.

      I *respect* my opponents precisely *because* I argue against them. I assume that they have the ability to think for themselves, are responsible for taking their current positions and are capable of changing their minds in the future. Sometimes it appears that you do not have this belief. In your eyes, I have been “socialised” into thinking the way I do – I am a kind of automaton who cannot help himself and has been unlucky enough to have been brought up in the “modernist” camp (I never said anything about being a modernist – I am in no-one’s camp, I think for myself, and I regularly change my mind on the basis of discussions with others). I am not clear whether you apply the same sort of determinism to yourself – or only to those which whom you disagree?

      From your perspective, if the automaton produces any arguments to support his position, these are intended only to cover his prejudices in a cloak of respectability. Perhaps that is why, when I suggest that the ability of experts to make predictions is a conclusive argument against post-modernist relativism, you do not respond to this point in any way. It is not disdainful to argue against someone: it is disdainful to think their arguments are not worth responding to.

      Regarding “serious epistemologists”, I never claim to be one myself – but have on several occasions heard Philosophy Professors e.g. on the radio complaining about the unthinking relativism with which many students come to them, generally as a result of teaching at secondary level. I agree that this is an unsubstantiated generalisation – but it is an aside which I never claim to be important to my argument. The argument that I make is the one about prediction – and that is what you choose to ignore.

      You are keen on Bloom’s taxonomy (“Now you’re talking!”), arguing that we should start with the most advanced skills (e.g. evaluation) and then work down to the simpler ones (e.g. knowledge). Risky and daring as you say. But you can’t assume all the kudos of being a risk-taking dare-devil just by saying you are going to trek through the Amazon and not actually doing it. The whole point of Bloom’s taxonomy, according to my understanding and Wikipedia’s, is that “learning at the higher levels is dependent on having attained prerequisite knowledge and skills at lower levels”. So the argument you have to make is that it is *possible* for someone to perform useful evaluations without any understanding or knowledge. As far as I can see, you have set yourself a tough challenge there and I shall be interested to see how you get on.

      As for your challenge to me, Alex, I am very happy to respond to that.

      I applaud Sir Ken’s call for creativity and diversity and as I said in my reply to Betsynest, I warm much more to the “new Sir Ken”, as comes over in the more recent LWF video. I do not think that the places that we all want to get to are so radically different from each other – it is just that we may have different ideas of the ways of getting there. I think this is good news because “what works” is subject to empirical evidence and therefore these are types of disagreement that can be resolved.

      My case – in brief – is this.

      1. Technology has a significant part to play in breaking the institutional rigidities and allowing a greater degree of efficiency of means and personalisation of ends than traditional approaches.

      2. Technology has failed to have much impact so far, for a variety of reasons including:

      2a we are only now reaching a variety of technical thresholds – like 1:1 computer ratios – that make it’s application to education viable;

      2b “the project” has been managed by an inefficient bureaucracy (in the UK, by Becta);

      2c which has generally assumed that innovation would be led by teachers (who do not have the means of doing so), rather than industry (which is needed to create education-specific software);

      2d that under the bureaucratic management (see 2b), the industry (see 2c) has become uncompetitive and uninnovative – a mirror image of the bureaucracy that it serves.

      3 That a key lever for change in the situation described in (2) is better standards for interoperability, allowing developers to create innovative and ultimately disruptive technologies, that will drive institutional change, while allowing these technologies to share data and otherwise integrate with other systems.

      I do not just sit around making this argument, but have worked on trying to improve these interoperability standards, which are an essential prerequisite for an open market in education technology. I have been doing this pretty consistently for the last fifteen years, often in the face of an unhelpful if not deliberately obstructive bureaucracy, and with the exception of one Becta-led project in 2009-10, without being paid. In 2007, I set up SALTIS (www.saltis.org) which is constituted as a working group of BESA. I am currently also Chairman of IST43, the British Standard Institute’s expert committee for technology in learning, education and training. At the moment, I am waiting for my plane home from Korea, where I have been attending a 9 day conference of SC36 – the ISO/IEC committee for technology in LET, where I am making significant contributions to standards on e-porfolio, competency definition, e-textbook, and have committed to support a new standard on virtual experiments. I am flying home tomorrow and on Monday will be visiting a government agency to try and persuade them to get involved in our work. So I have quite a lot of homework already.

      As for the homework that you have set me: when I get home, I shall be making a further post, listing what I regard as the key data standards that we need. In the meantime, I have tried to articulate my argument on other posts in this blog.

      Crispin.

      • Alex seems to be pretty correct – since you immediately start of attacking him in your response. You seem pretty closed minded and maybe a bit self righteous. the foundation of Ken’s arguments is not so much about creativity but catering for an accommodating the vast range if individual differences between people. Valuing the individual. We know that standardised teaching practices fail to do this.

        • Kelvin, I don’t see that there is anything wrong with criticising a position that you disagree with – that is surely the nature of debate, which is surely the best way at improving our grasp of the truth, whether in the context of law, politics or academia. It is what both you Alex and you do, and I certainly do not complain. And I cannot see the logic of the argument which says that Alex must be correct *because* I criticise him. That seems a very bizarre argument.

          If all Ken is saying is that we should value the individual, foster diversity and creativity and improve current teaching methods – then I would be right behind him. In fact, I cannot think of anyone who wouldn’t. These are platitudes.

          It is generally very easy to get agreement that something is unsatisfactory (in this case, some aspects of current teaching practices). It is much more difficult to get agreement about what should replace it. With respect to the status quo, there are only two options (pro or anti), but with respect to alternatives, the possibilities are much more various. That is one reason why revolutions commonly fall apart into mass bickering after their initial success in getting rid of the bad guys.

          It is a dangerous argument which says “Because of x (which is so uncontentious that anyone who disagrees with it would be regarded as some kind of social outcast) therefore y” – if one cannot argue against the “therefore y” bit because everyone is so enthusiastic about the truth of “x”.

          If you do not like my style of argument and if you doubt that Sir Ken’s argument might cause damage, I would be interested in your views of Scott Goodman’s rebuttal of another of Sir Ken’s talks at https://edtechnow.net/ken-robinson-rebuttal/, a piece “which originated as a long letter to [his] daughter, who had sent [him] the link to Robinson’s talk as part of her justification for ending her post secondary studies”.

      • First of all, Happy New Year to all!

        So, Crispin, now I’m a bit flummoxed. I just read your other post “What do we mean by content?” (03 April 2012). A very interesting post. Are you paradigm shifting? I did ask you for an example of a genuine paradigm shift you have undergone in your life, but in your response above you only gave me “I regularly change my mind on the basis of discussions with others”. Correct me if I’m wrong, but in some ways the things you write in “What do we mean by content?” seem to contradict what you are saying here. Let me give you my favorite examples.

        In this post and the responses you spend quite bit of time on the “predicting the future” point. I didn’t spend much time responding to this point because I guess there are enough counter-examples that show that even visionary experts can be completely wrong with their so-called predictions. Instead, I would rather take a look at what you write in “Content”: “But anyone who believes in the importance of innovation will say, to the contrary, that we hope that in ten years time that we will have ended up somewhere really surprising, that no-one could have predicted.” For me, the latter statement is inspirational and completely different from the argument you attempt to build up in this post. Is there a difference for you? Now tell me, why is it so important for humankind to end up somewhere “surprising”? If we can answer this question, we might have the answer to why God or Mother Nature or whoever gave us the ability to learn.

        The belief in knowledge is a modernist position, and yes, we have been socialized to believe in the knowledge society. So what does it mean when you write in your article “Content” that “Unknown is better”?! Wow! Let’s put the two concepts together: The unknowledge society is better. Sounds radical! Sounds good, very good. But we would have to contemplate what that means; in any case, it would have absolutely nothing to do with the modernist practices of filling knowledge gaps or learning for the sake of learning, I suppose.

        Speaking about learning for learning’s sake, in this post you wrote: “Our knowledge and skills are personal to ourselves. We can share them, but we cannot give them away. Ultimately we are born, we die, and we learn by ourselves.” What is really interesting for me is that you fight for interoperationability in education technology, yet you seem to suggest when it comes to human learning, we operate as islands. What would the equivalent of interoperationability be in human terms? Interpersonal communication? Wouldn’t education, too, need to focus on some form of interoperationability among its participants? That’s why I love the fact that in “Content” you boldly challenge the assumption that “content and community are opposed to one another”. With your counter-assumption, you clearly make a paradigm shift into the realm of situation cognition.

        In this regard, may I just point you to a book chapter that shifted my perspective? It is actually available on the Internet in a draft version: William J. Clancey. 1997. The conceptual nature of knowledge, situations, and activity. In: P. Feltovich, R. Hoffman & K. Ford. (eds). Human and Machine Expertise in Context, Menlo Park, CA: The AAAI Press. 247-291.

        Crispin, when I thought about Clancey’s (1997) chapter, I realized that on your blog site you don’t write about artificial intelligence (I did a quick search for the term on your site). Wouldn’t AI be necessary for technology in education to be truly effective?

        With regard to Bloom’s taxonomy, why do you say that I have set myself a tough challenge and that you are interested in seeing how I get on, when in fact you’ve set yourself the same challenge in “Content”? You wrote: “And as any educationalist knows, learning does not proceed through the dissemination of information. Otherwise, all we would have had to have done would have been to lock children up in a room with a good quality encyclopedia. That would have been just too easy. Learning proceeds through activity (we learn by doing) and it is the activities which reference (and require the manipulation of) information.” Yes, as you say, learning is driven by activity and not information! So now all we have to do is develop purposeful activities in learning contexts, right?

        Sorry, I have to sign off abruptly. I’ll be back…

        • In regard to the “interoperationability” of people, today I may have chanced upon an interesting path to follow. Daniel Siegel (UCLA) has developed a concept he calls “interpersonal neurobiology”. I’ll have to look into that.

        • Hello Alex, Sorry for the slow response. Have been catching up over the new year.

          I am all for paradigm shifts – but of course of the right sort. The devil is in the detail. My argument has been that it is not the job of the service provider (in this case, teachers) to argue about the *ends* of the service being provided (in this case, the aims of education) – but it *is* the role of the service provider to decide on the best *means* of delivering the service that is being demanded by the customer (parents, government, students, employers etc…). And of course, when it comes to choosing the means, you have to choose ones that work.

          I do not think that I contradict myself on the “predicting the future” point. The argument I am making against relativism is that it is *possible* to predict the future. It does not have to be with 100% accuracy, in all situations or over long time periods; it just has to be with a higher degree of accuracy than could be accounted for by chance. That is enough to show that there must be such a thing as true knowledge that has some sort of correspondence with reality, and that knowledge is not just something made up by ourselves.

          I am pleased that you liked ‘What do we mean by “content”?’ post (https://edtechnow.net/2012/04/03/what-do-we-mean-by-content/). It is one of my articles that address a rather more concrete issue, which has been generally less widely read than my high-level policy or personality-based articles. While I suggest that *we* cannot predict the future over 10 years, I do not mean that *I* could not have a go at predicting this future (with what success would remain to be seen, of course). The point is that there is no consensus over what the future will look like (or at least, the consensus that we do have is not very helpful). So I am *hoping* for developments that will be unexpected.

          It is perhaps similar to predicting the weather. Over long periods, this is impossible because the dynamics are of the so-called “chaotic” kind, meaning that very small variations in input conditions lead to large variations in output conditions (the flapping of a butterfly’s wings causing a storm). But this does not mean that, over shorter periods of time, fairly good predictions cannot still be made, which is the sign that there is a body of expertise at work.

          There is also a point about humility and hubris. Claiming to be able to predict the future sounds arrogant and if everything is predictable, things become a bit boring. We all like to be surprised, even caught out – this is a sign that we are still learning. My argument that prediction is *possible* does not mean that I or anyone else can read the future reliably and in every circumstance. It is only if you value the truth (and your capacity for finding it) that you can also recognise your fallibility in not always getting it right. It is no accident that the Soviet Union – based on a relativistic, Marxist doctrine – turned quickly to tyranny. Without absolute truth, there was no legitimate basis on which to criticise the regime. My position is that we should try to get things right (allowing that such a thing is possible) – while recognising that we will often get things wrong and welcoming these failures as opportunities to learn and improve ourselves. Being able to predict nothing is as dull as being able to predict everything – you will never be surprised because you won’t have any expectations.

          On your “no man is an island” paragraph – I completely agree with this perspective – and the ability for us to have this sort of conversation over the internet is a revolution in increasing the potential for networking and constructive debate. The difficulty comes in the nature of the relationship between the networked nodes. An efficient network (like the brain, perhaps – I like the idea of “interpersonal neurobiology”) has many individual but highly communicative nodes. The problem with currently popular models of consensus and collaboration is that the nodes lose their individuality. This is like an engine rusting up. The separate parts lose their individuality and the engine stops working. Individuality and connectivity are not opposed to one another.

          You ask about AI. I think it is very important – but it has not been relevant to the arguments that I have been making in 2012, which have been to do with the aims of education technology. In 2013, I want to progress to looking in more detail at data interoperability. Even then, I would see AI as a technique that would be used in individual software applications. These would be enabled by the sort of data interoperability that I am advocating – but how to apply AI to a particular application would not directly be my concern. In passing, though, I think two applications that occur to me are (1) machine analysis of free text answers, (2) the analysis of different learning outcomes and using these to map student competencies in a way which predicts future performance; and (3) the analysis of how successful different learning activities are at achieving different learning objectives, given different learning contexts.

          Finally, re. Blooms taxonomy, what I was arguing against was the idea that you could teach creativity *without* first teaching knowledge. This does not mean that I advocate teaching knowledge without then proceeding to getting the students to doing something with that knowledge. The – probably rather feeble – analogy that occurs to me is that first the student has to pick up some balls (acquiring relevant knowledge) and then practice juggling (higher order skills). The first without the second is pointless; the second without the first is impossible.

          I often think that most disagreements result from people misunderstanding what the other guy is saying – and quite often misunderstanding what you are actually saying yourself. So the act of debating often turns into a process of clarification. I look forward to our future conversation.

  10. https://edtechnow.net/2012/01/20/sir-ken-robinson/

    Short response: Robinson’s idea is that we should somehow change the model of education to push students to pursue things that they have a talent for or a passion for. The rationale for change is that our current model is failing a large percentage of students, in that it isn’t adequately preparing them to find work upon graduation. Instead of looking at those who are succeeding in the current model and saying, “everyone should be able to do what they’re doing,” we need to rethink the role and purpose of education in society.

    Long response: I came back to see Robinson’s video after a while and stumbled on this critique. I agree with you that technology is important to the future of education. That is why I felt the need to comment on this blog, and also why it’s funny to me that we saw the same video and came away with such different interpretations. First things first, you should have critiqued the full lecture: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCbdS4hSa0s.

    The video does what it’s supposed to: 1) it raises awareness to issues in education, 2) it makes a case for making reforms, and 3) it gets people interested to learn more. You disparage Robinson for not providing solutions, yet you do not even acknowledge that there is a significant problem.

    The video is a sample of a lecture trying to open up debate and address the need for revolution/significant reform in education. It also supports the importance of maintaining the role of the arts in education. Robinson wasn’t making a proposal for what the revolution needs to be, but he was saying that it will need to encompass the non-traditional talents students might have that are currently neglected in school (for example, dance). He also says we need to engage students more because our current society is more stimulating and distracting than ever before.

    A great example of how the world has changed is that a previous commenter talked about learning advanced math concepts by measuring things as a child. Very few children today would find that more interesting than tv, computers, video games, or a wide variety of other activities that are easily accessible to kids. Education is losing to entertainment in the battle for students’ attention. Furthermore, the commenter describes an issue with education…he learned because he was self-motivated and went beyond the curriculum. There are many students who do not have the internal drive or external support system to do the same. At the same time, students are expected to be responsible for more information faster than ever before. If they don’t succeed in school, it will be difficult to find work that can support them. The world has changed. Changing education is not change for change’s sake.

    Your critique infers and assumes a lot based on what was actually said and the context in which it was said. For example, from the outset you argue that Robinson’s position is: “that no-one really knows anything that is objectively true,” and that this belief is the foundation for many of his positions. You have to connect a lot of invisible dots to get to that point. Based on what was actually said, his position suggests that there is more than one way of thinking and succeeding in life, and that we are limiting those options for students through education.

    Also, the comment you’re critiquing there specifically has to do with the fact that the future of 1st world economies is evolving and difficult to predict, and not some abstract ideology Robinson is presenting. We recently experienced a global economic crisis due to experts not being able to accurately predict or regulate our economies. More jobs are getting outsourced to developing nations where the work can be done cheaper. Blue collar jobs are less capable of supporting an individual or family than in the past. So his point has some validity.

    Our economic model and landscape has changed, but our schools have not adapted. This is an era where it’s difficult to find work without a high school diploma, and it’s still difficult to find work with a college degree. A lot of students are not succeeding at school, and even those that do are increasingly unsuccessful at finding work that utilizes what they have learned.

    There are a couple of points where you misrepresent Robinson’s position. For example, you state in regard to him talking about those who opposed public education during its outset: “Pointing to minority who opposed these reforms is facile: there is always someone around who can be found to oppose anything. The fact that the changes were introduced at all is evidence enough that the weight of nineteenth-century opinion was in favour of them.”

    This reaction makes me think you didn’t even watch the full lecture. Robinson remarks that public education at that time was a revolution. He’s not agreeing with the people who opposed it, he’s implying that they were wrong for making assumptions about social structure and capacity. He goes on to say that we need another revolution because our economy is shifting away from masses of laborers, a small group of administrators, and an elite group of planners/decision makers. Our new economies require that more than an elite minority of students to succeed in school because education has become a requirement for work. He adds that we need to find ways to embrace more than just cognitive skills in the classroom, and give students who aren’t as academically inclined opportunities to learn what they are good at and support in developing those skills.

    Your main point of contention seems to be that children need basic skills before learning creativity, so the core of what has been done in the past is essential. However, many students are not learning those basic skills sufficiently. This is not new, but what is new is that those skills have become mandatory for even lower level jobs. Then what is the solution? Teach students harder or longer or faster?

    Robinson is saying that it might be better to teach creativity (which he believes humans have an inherent affinity for) as a foundation for a student’s education. This will get them thinking from an early age about how to connect what they learn to what they want to do and vice-versa. Students who excel at the traditional parts of school can still follow a traditional path, but those who do not can find a place in society that utilizes their talents. The idea is that everyone will succeed at something if they’re working at something they care about and see value in. It’s not about creating an egalitarian society, it’s about creating a functional one. Everyone succeeding doesn’t mean that everyone is at the same level, there’s plenty of room for students to achieve at different levels. We just need to do our best so that everyone is achieving in some way that will allow them to become productive members of society.

    With that said, what are your current thoughts on the video, or what Robinson says in his lectures?

  11. Dear Spam Handler,

    Many thanks for your extensive comment – I am afraid that you get an even more extensive response.

    If Robinson is just saying what you say in your short response, then I would agree with him. Our society is increasingly diverse and there are many different routes to success and happiness, and one of the primary responsibilities of the school teacher is to find out what their pupils are good at. What could be more satisfying for a teacher than to see a pupil find themselves soar (like Jonathan Livingstone Seagull)? Who could disagree with the desirability of success, enthusiasm and confidence?

    But it is all very well to get carried away with the feel-good rhetoric. In practice, this is difficult and I would add a couple of caveats.

    1. Although the world is diverse, there are some core skills. There is not a lot you can do without the three Rs, an ability to solve problems and work with other people. If you diversify too early without addressing that core, you are very unlikely to be doing your students any favours in terms of employment prospects.

    2. Whatever you do, you have to do it well. One of the ways in which our education system might be failing large numbers of its students is in letting them walk away with the impression that the world owes them a living (or, increasingly, that the world owes them success and fame). In my observation, this leads to unrealistic expectations which are not a good recipe for long-term happiness. You do not do anyone any favours by over-praising or over-promising. There is no real success without hard work and an ability to master adversity. Too much praise also quickly becomes boring and demoralizing because it suggests that there is nothing much greater to aspire to than what can be achieved easily.

    I am all for reform – but it is easy to agree on that. The hard bit is to agree on what sort of reform, and even harder to find out how to deliver that reform effectively.

    Your long response:

    I am a bit flummoxed by your first paragraph. I respond to the video, not to what you think “it’s supposed to do”. And I would say that the video clearly does very much more than (a) raise awareness (b) make a case for reform and (c) get people interested. It presents a very definite theory of *what* has gone wrong and outlines a way of solving it.

    You say in the same paragraph that I “do not even acknowledge that there is a significant problem”. Well, the very first line of my post is “Today’s post takes a break from building my own argument for a new approach to education technology, and responds instead to someone else’s”. So I make it clear that I too am an advocate of educational reform (my views on which are expressed extensively elsewhere on my blog) but, as the last line of my post before the conclusion makes clear, the question I am addressing in this particular post is not *whether* education needs to reform but “how should and could our institutions improve?” In asking that question, I acknowledge that they need to.

    I agree with you that “education is losing to entertainment”. But it does not follow that we must therefore make education more entertaining by dropping the hard bits like maths, which “very few children today would find that more interesting than tv, computers, video games, or a wide variety of other activities that are easily accessible to kids”. The people who are developing new audio visual and information technologies are the ones who have mastered maths – not the ones who sit around playing with the toys. When people advocate “21st century skills”, they imply that traditional subjects like maths and Literacy are no longer relevant. They could not be more wrong. In the long talk (which you are right, I had not seen), Sir Ken suggests fairly early on that operas, the Olympic Games, theatres and buildings are all acts of imagination, making no mention of the skill (including science, maths and technology) that goes into these achievements.

    Re. my accusation that Robinson’s position is basically relativist. Let me suggest a scale of fundamental attitudes towards truth:
    * dogmatism (only one truth that is worth knowing)
    * liberalism (many truths worth knowing – for me, this is the virtuous middle way)
    * relativism (make up your own truth).

    I am a liberal. I am all for people doing different things and exploring and arguing the case for different approaches – but for any particular objective that you want to aim for, some means of getting there will be better than others and often one way will prove best (or one answer will prove to be right).

    When Sir Ken states that “we can’t anticipate what the economy will look like at the end of next week” he denies the existence of a whole branch of knowledge (economics). If economics confers no powers of prediction, then it is worthless. When he praises divergent thinking as “the ability to see lots of possible answers to a question”, he does not even consider the possibility that, where there *is* only one correct answer to a question, divergent thinking might be a very undesirable quality.

    It is not that Sir Ken says “I am a relativist” – but it is fair to point out that many of the positions that he takes suggest a relativist point of view.

    With regards to the recent economic bust, I think there were plenty of experts who predicted it. The problem was more with the democratic politicians who were addicted to delivering prosperity to their electorates on the back of borrowed money. In our system it is the politicians, not the experts, who are responsible for regulating the economy.

    Re. the point about nineteenth century reforms, one of Sir Ken’s central points is that our current education system is made to serve the needs of an industrial society, that an industrial society requires factory fodder, and he supports this contention by pointing to the nineteenth century opposition to universal education. My point that Sir Ken’s interpretation of history is wrong: it was the agricultural landowner, not the industrial factory owner, that generally opposed universal education; it is industry that requires an increasingly educated workforce and has coincided with increasingly liberal values. Today in the UK, the Confederation of British Industry is constantly bemoaning the lack of skilled workers, as more recently has Eric Schmidt of Google (in a speech which has led to a fundamental re-examination of our teaching of technology). And it is industry that is increasingly personalizing our lifestyle. Sir Ken’s argument that industry means conformity is also completely wrong.

    You may say that this is nothing to do with Sir Ken’s educational argument – but these references to the Industrial Revolution, to the Enlightenment, to ADHD and Global Warming are all part of Sir Ken’s rather scattergun argument – and the whole point of justifying your position is that, if your justification doesn’t add up, then neither should anyone take too seriously the position you were advocating.

    You represent my views fairly as being that “children need basic skills before learning creativity” – except that I would go further – advanced forms of creativity requires advanced forms of knowledge: the two are not opposed but interdependent. It is not only dancers who are creative: mathematicians, scientists and engineers are also creative; and if you look at the career of any artist, I could almost guarantee that you will find periods in their early career where their work is broadly imitative, before they branch out and find their own voice. I would argue that artists find originality by weaving together a multiplicity of influences that they have subjected themselves to (i.e. acquiring knowledge).

    So I agree with the need for creativity and diversity, I agree that our current education system is failing, I agree that in a knowledge economy and an age of increasingly rapid change, better education is becoming increasingly important, and that our conservative education institutions are (by and large) failing to respond to that challenge. The question is to decide in exactly *what* ways our education system is failing and then *how* to solve these problems.

    My next post will address this general question – but let me offer a brief synopsis of my argument. We only attempted (at least in the UK) to deliver a universal, broadly academic education to the age of 16 in the last third of the 20th century. We tried to do it using a tradition, craft-based model of teaching, in which you shut a teacher in a room with 20-30 students and let them get on and work their magic. The main problem was that there were never enough sufficiently highly qualified teachers to deliver the curriculum to a sufficiently high standard, and this was aggravated by the lack of cultural receptivity of children whose parents were not themselves educated, a cultural hostility to education which is further aggravated (as you suggest) by the increasingly constant diet of entertainment.

    My answers depend on the proper application of education technology.

    I think we would all agree that the answer to the cultural problems is in promoting an increasingly personalized education system. In a traditional institution, this is very difficult to do, just at the level of timetabling. More diversity requires more teachers and you don’t even have enough good teachers to cover the basics well. What has happened in the UK is a proliferation of “vocational” courses that lead nowhere and do a major disservice to those who are tempted to sign up for them. Technology can help manage diversity, both administratively and by allowing remote tuition, while at the same time tightening up on assessment to make sure that the promotion of diversity does not end up as a race to the bottom.

    That leaves the fundamental problem (insufficient supply of good teachers) which can also be addressed by education technology – not in the sense that computers should replace the need for good teaching, but in the sense that computers can increase the productivity of teachers and make much better use of what is a scarce resource. Increasing the productivity of teachers allows the best to be paid better, raising the status and the pay of the profession and attracting better quality entrants. This means systematizing education and treating pedagogy less as an art and, in the words of a prominent British academic, Professor Diana Laurillard, more as a “design science”.

    So my argument is that what we need in western education systems is a *more* systematic (“industrial”, if you like) approach, not less.

    But let me write this post before you respond in full.

    Many thanks again for your comment. We may disagree on some things but if, as you suggest, Sir Ken’s objective was to stimulate debate on education reform, then I think that the fact of this discussion is itself evidence that he succeeded!

    Best, Crispin.

    • Thank you for such a detailed response. I prefer them to short ones. I appreciate your article and wanted to present an opposing view. I think our thoughts are closer than I presented (I had read through the blog and have a general idea of what you advocate), but wanted to make sure you’d respond so I called you out a little more than I normally would. I’ll respond to your responses:

      1. There is not a lot you can do without the three Rs, an ability to solve problems and work with other people.

      While this is certainly more true today, I don’t think it’s always been true. For example, I know people with excellent mechanical skills, whose opinion I value highly, who have low literacy and math skills. While they are fine because they have established positions, I do not think they would be able to find similar jobs in the current market if they were starting out because they are “unqualified.” So while I agree the 3 Rs are essential, I also think it’s important to consider what people CAN do if it becomes apparent they struggle in the traditional path.

      2. Whatever you do, you have to do it well. One of the ways in which our education system might be failing large numbers of its students is in letting them walk away with the impression that the world owes them a living (or, increasingly, that the world owes them success and fame).

      This is a societal issue that has to do with entitlement. I think education had a part in creating it because students have grown up believing that if they continue along in school, everything will fall into place. However, I don’t think the solution to this problem is reform, but rather setting realistic expectations for students. I have met a number of students who want to become doctors and lawyers until I say “that’s great, here’s what you have to do…” A few get more motivated by knowing what it takes, but most say that it’s a lot of work, which opens up the discussion to more realistic possibilities depending on the type of lifestyle they wish to have and amount of work their willing to devote.

      I disagree with you in that I think we do need to make education more entertaining. There is very little that’s more exciting than learning, and if that’s not being communicated we should change our methods of delivery. I think there is a lot we in the education field can learn by playing around with toys. Many of them are incredibly complex and teach a variety of skills, which can be altered to whatever we want students to learn. Whereas I mentioned the poster who learned with a ruler, I learned beyond my grade level and sharpened my skills at a young age playing Super Munchers and MindMaze on Encarta.

      As far as Robinson being a relativist, I think he’s trying to present something on the other end of the spectrum of what’s being currently done, and taking hard stances on left to emphasize his points. Divergent thinking may not be the useful for adults, but Robinson brings it up because he says it’s a prerequisite to creativity; and students are required to be creative upon graduating to a much higher degree than ever before. Also, I don’t think he’s going so far as to say economics is worthless, but that it’s not flawless*.

      I am putting Robinson’s position as industry meant conformity and no longer does. The reason it no longer means conformity is because as you said, “it is industry that requires an increasingly educated workforce and has coincided with increasingly liberal values.” So Robinson is coming to the same conclusion that we need to rethink how we’re teaching, but from a different angle.

      Robinson has an obvious bias towards dance and theater, but I think his perspective that we need to foster creativity is a valuable one. The majority of talented artists I have known are now architects, engineers, programmers, and graphic designers, so I don’t think creativity is limited to dance, music, and theater. However, I do believe that you can teach creativity before or in conjunction with essential knowledge.

      As an English language teacher this is apparent in my classes. I enjoy presenting problems that students must figure out without the use of their dominant language and before they have all of the skills required. In being forced to use the basic English language skills they’ve acquired, along with non-linguistic forms communications, students need to use whatever they have to solve a problem. These activities are more valuable than the lectures I give on parts of speech or sentence composition because students become engaged, and realize how much they already know and why they need to learn more. It then becomes easier for them to make the connection to the lectures because they want to learn more, and because they understand the context in which the knowledge they are learning can be used.

      In ESL/EAL/ESOL classes this authentic approach is necessary. Learning English is vital to students’ success in English speaking countries. Thus, a lot of activities for the beginner students (when I have control over what happens) revolve around building their communicative base and motivating them to learn, before building their academic skills. I don’t think this happens as much in other classes, and I see students who have the ability solve problems from a textbook without the ability to apply what they are learning to real-world situations. These are older students, so if the idea is that college is supposed to prepare students to begin creative thinking, we’re starting way too late and failing those who aren’t at a level to continue their education beyond secondary education.

      In the US, as far as I know, there hasn’t been a proliferation of vocational courses that have led to nowhere. In fact, one thing Obama has recently pushed for is more vocational and technical programs that train people to do specific jobs and don’t require a four year degree. And good vocational programs should lead somewhere. That’s a flaw in execution, and not a flaw in the logic that vocational programs can provide jobs and careers for students who are less academically inclined. If vocational programs have become a haven for students who need to do less work, then that needs to change.

      I completely agree with you on the importance of technology in education (why I commented on the blog). I’m still in the process of exploring education, and probably won’t have definitive ideas on how to implement technology for a few years. However, I definitely believe there is a lot that can be learned from video games and social media in terms of what engages students and what types of activities they prefer.

      Technology will only increase production once teachers have learned how to utilize it, which could be a bumpy road. The transition to technology will be difficult for many current practitioners because they are not tech savvy, and learning new technology will mean added work. As far as attracting more qualified entrants, if the work demands increase (which is happening) and the pay stays the same, it will take time. I agree that education should be a “design science” (if that means we need to approach educating students in a more logical and systematic way). However, I do not think that a system can be applied universally internationally or “intra-nationally” because the nuances of each school district require different forms of instruction.

      I appreciate your blog and will definitely be checking in.

      * “In our system it is the politicians, not the experts, who are responsible for regulating the economy.” This is different across the pond. The collapse had more to do with the private sector taking high-risks with people’s money and having no plan for when people started defaulting (unless cashing out during the recession was the plan), than politicians regulating the economy.

      • Delighted to be called out – a good debate strikes me as much more entertaining and productive than a rush to consensus (even if, as you say, one normally finds that you agree on much more than you originally thought).

        1. Maybe there is a reason for the trend, as jobs increasingly require better communications skills. And although I agree with you, I suspect that the less literate workers were always fairly low in the pecking order, even if they did very valuable things (e.g. mechanics). Sometimes someone worked their way up within an organisation, getting to a management position “through the hawsepipe” as the navy had it. Perhaps the increasing mobility of the job market (requiring successful people to go through formal recruitment processes more often) militates against this. So when you say “it’s important to consider what people CAN do if it becomes apparent they struggle in the traditional path”, I completely agree, while emphasising the fact that they should carry on with a the academic core so long as they are making progress and it is bearable.

        2. “I disagree with you in that I think we do need to make education more entertaining”. Yes – I think we can converge here. The point about pleasure is that different people get pleasure in different things: some people get pleasure in being cruel, others get pleasure in being altruistic. The role of the educator is therefore to encourage the right sort of pleasures (e.g. satisfaction in a job well done) and the ability to defer gratification. And that might mean leading students in the right direction by laying a trail of breadcrumbs, giving them some slightly less elevated pleasures long the way. And any account of pleasure should not leave out the importance of being cared for and respected. I would still put entertainment in the lower half of the “taxonomy of pleasure” because it smacks to me of passivity, while I reckon the higher pleasures are participative.

        I agree with you on creativity, the importance of play, and personalisation. I also think that half of Robinson’s interest is dance is to do with physical activity. In an academic sphere, creativity is by definition closely tied to intellectual activity and knowledge – which disadvantages those who do not have those skills. Technology and engineering is another sort of field in which creativity can be manifested. Self-confidence is a vital ingredient of flourishing and so it is absolutely right that schools should cast the net widely when looking for how an individual student can shine. Good teachers have always known this. The traditional English public (i.e. private) school placed a heavy emphasis on sports, both because of the need (especially in teenage boys) to express themselves physically and because of the opportunity to find self-confidence in a variety of places.

        I also completely agree with you about the melding of theoretical and applicative studies. I think that the pendulum can swing too far in either direction and the knack must be to find the right middle way. I think showing how the same skill or piece of knowledge can be applied to a wide variety of circumstances is also really important in generalising mastery – otherwise, like one of Pavlov’s dogs, the student will only apply the understanding in response to the stimulus of the same circumstance in which it was originally learnt.

        I agree with your comments about vocational education. It was a poor UK implementation that I was grumbling about – and we are now having another go at it.

        Also agree about video games and social media. My disagreement with the communities that promote these approaches is what I see as interesting is the paradigm – the lessons that can be learnt, as you put it, from commercial games. This does not mean that you can just transplant “Call of duty” and Facebook into the classroom and hope to improve learning – you need to apply the abstract principles to new forms of software.

        You say “Technology will only increase production once teachers have learned how to utilize it, which could be a bumpy road”. I don’t disagree entirely, but I think this problem has been overrated. Commercial software developers place an increasing emphasis on ease of use. But our approach to Technology Enhanced Learning has generally been “to appropriate everybody else’s technologies for all the different facets that we need in the teaching and learning transaction” (Diana Laurillard quoted on my previous post at https://edtechnow.net/2012/01/25/aristotles-saddle-maker/. Adapting generic software to educational purposes is formidably difficult. So my recipe is to give teachers proven, education-specific software and perhaps a little training, rather than generic software and training which will in those circumstances never be enough.

        Good education-specific technology must save teachers time. In my view, that principle is as fundamental as the realization that water runs downhill.

        “However, I do not think that a system can be applied universally internationally or “intra-nationally” because the nuances of each school district require different forms of instruction”. Again, maybe this seems to me to be a question of balance/nuance and not an absolute difference. I would look to the “design science” for some basic principles, to software and other technology to encapsulate those principles in a reusable (but also adaptable) form; and to teachers to apply those principles/technologies in a way that is appropriate to the local context. I think the notion of “blending” technology with traditional teaching is critical. My point is therefore, not that everyone should be teaching from the same script, but that the abstract principles of the “design science” – and the associated technologies – need to be sorted out as a first step.

        “The collapse had more to do with the private sector taking high-risks with people’s money and having no plan for when people started defaulting”. I am no economist – but I suspect that part of the reason why the private sector behaved so badly was that the politicians manufactured an extended boom by setting interest rates unnaturally low, the effect of which is that private sector banks were not subject to realistic market disciplines. If the police stop prosecuting petty theft then you cannot entirely blame the people who get drawn into theft – the regulator needs to create a system with the correct incentives (again, recognising that water flows downhill). Even if you are right and the blame lay in the private sector, there is still a difference between expertise and power. If something went wrong, then maybe the fault lies not with the principle of expertise, but with a bunch of guys who were not quite as expert as they liked to think. The answer, I believe, lies in the design of good systems in which expertise is not taken for granted but is constantly tested.

        My take-away from our interesting conversation is that we need to zoom in on the details of how to establish abstract design principles that also permit application in different contexts, how technology and face-to-face teaching are blended, and how you balance automation with the level of flexibility and control required by professional practitioners. I will try and move the blog in those directions.

        And many thanks again for calling me out – though (disappointingly perhaps) I don’t think any blood was drawn on either side…

  12. Pingback: K. Robinson & Ed Tech Now: A “R.C. task” to give you food for thought | Profesores de inglés: Oposiciones y demás…

  13. Pingback: “Changing Education Paradigms” | The General Paper

  14. A masterful takedown, and much needed. There is far too much uncritical adulation of Ken Robinson. He’s a good speaker with a populist’s knack of articulating the disquiet many of us feel about the current education system, without actually proposing a meaningful vision of an alternative. I do particularly appreciate, though, that you also gave credit where due, and resisted the temptation to attack him indiscriminately.

    • Thank you Ian – particularly for your point about the need for constructive criticism. I think that there is much in Sir Ken’s basic instincts to agree with. What frustrates me about the current intellectual culture is the unwillingness to engage in a constructive dialogue – because it is only through such a dialogue that the criticism really becomes constructive and everyone starts to address the real issues.

      I don’t know where in the world you are – but in the UK at least, the evidence is fairly strong that such constructive dialogue does not happen anywhere in educationalist academia. See my reference to the Tooley Report at https://edtechnow.net/2013/11/10/wheel. Ultimately, one can’t blame Sir Ken for being passionate about his views, for being a consummate speaker, and for carving out a profitable reputation for himself – but you can certainly blame academia, which has done absolutely nothing to challenge his rather flaky theories. That, in my view, is the real scandal. And it is not just Sir Ken – it is Stephen Heppell, Marc Prensky, Sugara Mitra, etc.: as far as education technology is concerned, we live in the age of the leech doctor.

      You may also be interested in the guest post on this blog by Scott Goodman, at https://edtechnow.net/ken-robinson-rebuttal/, which is a very thoughtful piece which has attracted a long comment thread.

      Thanks again for the comment. Much appreciated. Crispin.

      PS. I like the look of http://yacapaca.wordpress.com/ – would be interested – vis a vis your most recent post – in discussing criterion referencing / measuring capability with you some time.

      • > PS. I like the look of http://yacapaca.wordpress.com/ – would be interested – vis a vis your most recent post – in discussing criterion referencing / measuring capability with you some time.

        Please do! Here or there. Criterion referencing is a topic close to my heart. It’s a complete con in high stakes assessment, of course, but for low stakes ongoing assessments at KS3 it’s a very valuable tool that is well-worth retaining.

        • I am preparing a talk for Online Educa Berlin on “Measuring capability – cornerstone of the new pedagogy”. So it may not be till next month that I can crystalize my thoughts sufficiently to prompt a useful discussion. But in brief, I think there are some interesting distinctions between “criterion referencing” and “defining capabilities”. I agree both that criterion referencing at summative level has been a con, and that in practice the general approach is a very important one. The conversation that I look forward to having is about squaring that circle between utility and reliability. Crispin.

  15. Hi,

    I was researching about education and chanced upon your blog. I am 18 years old and i am currently a student.I liked the way you took a part Sir Ken Robinson’s argument and everything looked good on your post.On a superficial level.Why?Well, while i do agree with some of your arguments regarding “production line mentality” and how adopting it will be more convenient for social institutions to function more efficiently, you seem too keen on undermining all his points. Now, now, that isn’t a very good thing, especially when all his points are true on a certain level. One example is when you said that “being creative is difficult”. Yes.You are exactly spot on.Why does this happen?As we are educated and conformed to the rigid academic syllabus, our sense of divergent thinking is diminished, thus making creativity something so difficult to attain for the masses who go through this strict education system(this is the basis of his argument). If we lack creativity, that means we lack the ability to be inventive and innovative. Hence, i find it ironic that you agree with him indirectly through your obvious effort to disagree with him.

    Secondly, you claimed that his “argument of academic curriculum being socially divisive is poor”.Why?I do think its well-founded.Just come to Singapore.We follow the Britain’s educational system which has led to a great income inequality here. Those who are branded as “failures” in classrooms are unable to get good jobs and end up being on the lower level of the social ladder, when actually,this situation could have been the fault of the education system for not having the efficiency to accommodate their other talents or nurture their existing potential. Personalisation of social institutions is possible but difficult.In can exist as a long-term goal and we all should create the foundation for achieving this goal and ensure that education celebrates a broad variety of talents, as Sir Ken Robinson once said. If you think its an “unrealistic” aim, then you can’t be more wrong because in this age of rapidly advancing technology, nothing is unrealistic anymore. There’s a possibility but we have to find it instead of grumbling that its “unrealistic”.

    Its sad that you wrote such a long post only to show that it lacks credibility and good judgement. It is almost as if your post was driven by a personal vengeance to debunk Sir Ken Robinson’s views.Lastly, while i do agree with you that he didn’t provide any explicit solutions, he planted the seed that educational reforms are not being very effective anymore. He took the initiative to make us more aware, and its up to the following generation to ensure that its not wasted for a better education in the world.

    • Hello farhanah,

      Thanks very much for your comment.

      I agree with you that our current education system does not work very well and I spend a lot of my own time trying to contribute constructively to the debate about how it should be improved. And I agree about the huge importance of creativity – so you are right that there are some points in Sir Ken’s position with which I agree, implicitly and from time to time, explicitly.

      But it is easy to point out what doesn’t work very well – much harder to propose solutions. Revolutionary movements are commonly made up of many different factions who all agree that they want to get rid of the current government but all start disagreeing when it comes to deciding what to do instead. So I don’t think it is enough to attack the current system, and I am not sure why I should be wrong to criticise Sir Ken, when he himself spends so much time criticising others. I believe contested debate is useful – and the real reason why no constructive discussion has occurred has been that Sir Ken has chosen not to come and have that constructive discussion with those of us who criticise him.

      I agree that new technology makes a lot of things possible that were previously unrealistic. But I never used the word “unrealistic” in that context. I said that, while it was good to give people high expectations, it was not helpful to give them unrealistic expectations of their own life chances, if these are almost inevitably going to be dashed. In the UK, we have seen a steady *decline* in social mobility as we have moved away from an emphasis on the academic curriculum in state schools, so while we tell more and more poor children that they can become lawyers, fewer and fewer of them do in practice.

      I do agree, however, that old fashioned, pass/fail exams are divisive and damaging to people’s opportunities to find fulfilment. The world is broad, I believe, and there are many opportunities to find success in many different ways. But nearly all of them, I believe, require hard work and discipline (something that I am sure Sir Ken would agree with) and most of them require a core academic foundation. That is why one of the most improved countries in the lates PISA tests was Germany, which has recently placed a greater emphasis on academic studies.

      I am not advocating that UK and the US should follow the Asian countries into high-pressure, highly selective systems. I think there is a middle way, in which there is breadth, personalisation and creativity as well as rigour. What I am saying in this post is that I don’t think the sort of rather rhetorical attacks that Sir Ken makes on enlightenment thinking is the right approach to finding that middle way.

      Thanks again for your comment. I think that we probably agree on more than we disagree.
      Crispin.

  16. My comment is in regard to:
    10:45
    “Second, we have to recognize that most great learning happens in groups; that collaboration is the stuff of growth. If we atomize people and separate them and judge them separately, we form a kind of disjunction between them and their natural learning environment.”

    Balance is needed between learning in groups and learning individually. Many great thinkers are introverts (NOT a bad thing) and do great work while alone. Bridges between the collaborators and individual thinkers are therefore required. (More on this in “Quiet” by Susan Cain.) TY!

    • Thank you Sheryl. I completely agree that we need a balance between groups and individual learning. While group-work may provide the motivation and, if working well, the cross-fertilization of ideas, individual work teaches perseverance and may be necessary for originality.

  17. Pingback: Forward thinking and inspirational? Or misguided and simplistic? | The Compass Point

  18. Thank you for your thorough dissection of Ken Robinson’s TED talk, it is taken as gospel in the “new” teaching community and those I call “MRPs” (Malditos Relativistas Postmodernos or Damned Postmodern Relativists). The main idea that was making noise in my brain was the argument that we were assured that if we got a degree we would certainly get a job. This was never the case. Saying the contrary only serves to take away any motivation for studying that our students could have. I came across your article because we were invited to some talks and in preparation we should watch one of Ken’s talks.
    Best regards,
    Fernando

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