I can think of more than a few of my high school teachers who would’ve spent the entirety of the Ken Robinson keynote video scoffing. Some of his accusations–such as that schools are killers of creativity, and that our current education system is largely ineffective for preparing students for their futures–are weighty. As a teacher, I can see how his viewpoints might be offensive (especially if your philosophies and strategies align with those he most heavily criticizes.) As a student who’s not far removed from the system myself, I can see, with more clarity, how much truth is in those statements. Yes, I’ve witnessed and been horrified by many of Robinson’s critiques of the school system as we know it, such as its tendency of promoting a “production-line mentality” and the increasing lack of certainty that accompanies a bachelor’s degree. More than anything, though, I found myself agreeing with Robinson’s suggestions for how to correct the problems he sees. Like Robinson, I strongly believe in the value of divergent thinking and of frequent and intentional opportunities for collaboration (which he dubs “the stuff of growth”, and to which I concur); in fact, these are two of the primary reasons I’m pursuing a career in teaching English.
A post on the incredibly valuable edutechnicallyspeaking.wordpress.com (which can be found here) recognizes many of the same strengths in Robinson’s argument. The post quotes Robinson in saying that “every human life is different, distinct and unrepeatable” and reiterates his point that education should be more tailored to individuality, and that a lack of this is a major part of what sets students up for inevitable failure in the system. Near the conclusion of her post, the author leaves readers with this thought: “What is your goal in education? You have to know what you’re trying to get out of it before you get started.” This, along with Robinson’s call to action, forced me to think more deeply about Robinson’s message and how it might apply to me.
Initially, the realist (and admitted occasional cynic) in me began to question the plausibility of implementing Robinson’s philosophies and ideas. The reality of our education system (and of our workforce, and our economy, and really our world as a whole) lends itself to a system rooted in standardization; Robinson suggests that we ought to “go in the exact opposite direction” of that. A deviation that drastic is doubtful, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t hold his ideals closely and allow them to influence my own philosophy. Yes, we have to prepare our students for tests that will impact their futures, whether we like it or not. Yes, a certain degree of creativity and subjectivity is lost in that process. But like most others, this situation is not black and white. There are ways to structure this necessary learning in a way that’s also conducive to divergent thinking and personal growth. At the end of the day, we must always remember what’s really important, and keep that at the forefront of our teaching. So what, exactly, is my goal? I want to prepare my students to be the most successful human beings they can be, and only a fraction of that involves testing or scores of any kind. Above all, I want my students to be able to think for themselves, defend their beliefs, and create lives that make them feel proud, fulfilled and capable. With the structure of our modern education system, this won’t be easy to do, but because I also had plenty of teachers who thought like Ken Robinson, I feel confident that I’m up to the challenge.