Friday, November 22, 2013

challenging Sir Ken Robinson

Creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson challenges the way we're educating our children. He champions a radical rethink of our school systems, to cultivate creativity and acknowledge multiple types of intelligence.
- Speakers Ken Robinson: Author/educator
There is not just one but many Sir Ken Robinson TED talks about how the industrial model of schooling is killing creativity in our youth. Everyone loves to hear a story of a maverick but creative individual, such as Albert Einstein, who hated school and went on to demonstrate their genius. "Imagination is more important than knowledge", etc. As TED says there is "deep resonance" with this message.

Sir Ken's passionate polemic has now been challenged. Sir Ken is very popular, much loved but wrong. It's also important to drill down into the details of this argument. This corresponds to meme 5 Creativity of my current research (DI_indigenous_memes) Here are some links, with extracts:
Robinson pegs the current system as a product of the Enlightenment, but curiously the word “Romanticism” never comes up. Romanticism was an intellectual movement of the second half of the 18th century that arose in response to the rationalism of the Enlightenment. It elevated emotion and feeling, and also emphasized the sublimity of Nature and all things natural.

Indeed, Romanticism gained strength in reaction to the Industrial revolution, the very movement that Robinson criticizes as an inspiration of our erroneous education paradigm.

Romantic views of education, typified by Pestalozzi and Rousseau, emphasize personal experience as crucial, and decry the sublimation of the individual to conformity. More generally, progressive educators from the early 20th century to the present have emphasized instruction that follows the child’s interests, includes more real-world tasks, and more group work.

So Robinson is not suggesting a revolutionary, entirely new approach. In fact he’s tapping a very rich, very old vein of thought.

It’s not important to me that he fails to acknowledge his intellectual forbears. It’s important to me that he fails to acknowledge that many many people have tried to create schools inspired by these ideals before. A few were spectacular, inspiring successes. Most crashed and burned. And, as is so common, what made the successes work well seemed difficult to pin down, and dashed attempts to replicate the success elsewhere.

I want Robinson to tell me what’s going to make things different this time around.
Willingham: Is a paradigm shift really needed?
On reflection, creativity appears to me a grittier, tougher process than such talks imply. Thousands of hours of ‘deliberate practice’ enable creativity. It is not all ‘flow’ or organic personalisation. For example, repeating the rules of grammar with sometimes deadening repetition can actually create the mastery required for playful creativity and rule breaking. Sir Ken likely scripted and practised his apparently spontaneously witty talk over and over to create his seeming carefree confidence and fluency. The pleasure of finding ‘flow’ is replaced by the dull but reassuring knowledge that perseverance could help make a difference, in a ‘factory model’ school or not.
Why we should mistrust Sir Ken Robinson
People like Robinson seem to believe that our jobs as educators is to uncover the talents and aptitudes personal to each child, and then to elevate them. This assumes that such aptitudes exist, uncovered, undiscovered, like statues of David buried in cold lava, and our jobs are to be archaeologists of character. Who buries these statues? What fairy hand blesses each child with gifts, and then challenges its guardians with discovering them? What immortal hand or eye?
- The Second Coming of Ken Robinson- but he's not the messiah
1. Talent is not innate

A growing body of research shows that talent isn’t innate, waiting passively like a tooth ready to be extracted. Research collated in books from Malcolm Gladwell, Carol Dweck, Matthew Syed, Daniel Coyle, Geoff Colvin, Daniel Willingham, Doug Lemov and Paul Tough show that natural talent is a myth; it’s only dedicated, determined and disciplined practice that leads to great achievement.

2. Multiple intelligences don’t exist

Dan Willingham has summarised the research and shown that learning styles do not exist; on multiple intelligences, ‘for scientists, this theory of the mind is almost certainly incorrect’: ‘The fact that the theory is an inaccurate description of the mind makes it likely that the more closely an application draws on the theory, the less likely the application is to be effective. All in all, educators would likely do well to turn their time and attention elsewhere.’

3. Literacy and numeracy are the basis of creativity

In the UK, 17% of school leavers leave school functionally illiterate, and 22% leave school functionally innumerate. Ask any parent what they would prefer: that their child left school unable to read, write or add up but able to dance and draw creatively, or unable to dance or draw creatively but able to read, write or add up. The reason why there’s a hierarchy of subjects is because some are more empowering than others. If you can’t read, you can’t learn much else. If you can’t do arithmetic, you can’t become a teacher, doctor, engineer, scientist, plumber or electrician. Numeracy and literacy are complex evolutionary applications of civilisation; they take a great deal of time, practice and expert guidance to master, so we dedicate a lot of time to them in school, and rightly so. Sir Ken is wrong when he says children do not need to be helped to learn, for the most part: children do need to be helped to learn – every teacher knows that. We don’t dedicate so much time to dancing and drawing because they don’t disempower you so much if you can’t do them.

4. Misbehaviour is more damaging than conformity

In any classroom, without compliance with instructions, no one learns anything. Disruptive behaviour is chronic, particularly in the most challenging schools. The problem for many teachers is not so much conformity, but rather pervasive disruption to teaching. Self-discipline is not an evil weed to be uprooted, but the foundation for effective learning. But then again, Sir Ken has not been teacher in a tough school – nor any primary or secondary school at all.

5. Academic achievement is important, but unequal

Strong academic achievement in private schools allow 96% to go to University, and in the UK commandeer 70% of the jobs as high court judges, 54% of the jobs as doctors and 51% of the jobs as journalists, despite only educating 7% of children. Yet only 16% of the poorest pupils go to University, due to persistent academic underachievement. It’s no good Sir Ken disparaging the education system’s focus on academic ability; closing the gap in academic attainment is vital for social mobility, social equity and social justice in this country.

6. Subject knowledge is vital for critical and creative skills

Decades of scientific research shows the importance of broad and domain-specific knowledge for reading, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. So it’s no good Sir Ken disparaging subject-based curricula. All over the world, mastering subject disciplines is the route to success. It’s no coincidence, no middle-class industrial Victorian conspiracy that China, South Korea, Canada and Scandanavia all organise their systems like this, as global expert Tim Oates explains: ‘In all high-performing systems, the fundamentals of subjects are strongly emphasised, have substantial time allocation, and are the focus of considerable attention’. It’s the most effective way of organising teaching and learning, because, as Daisy Christodoulou explains: ‘thinking skills are subject-specific; our working memories are limited and easily overloaded by distractions; and pupils are novices,’ not experts, and so require expert guidance.
What Sir Ken Got Wrong
I don’t completely agree with all of Pragmatic Education’s arguments (referring to the link above)
  • Intelligence may not be malleable. You can learn more knowledge, and that can come from practice. It’s not clear that fluid intelligence is improved with practice.
  • Learning styles don’t seem to exist. Multiple intelligences? I don’t think that the answer is as clear there.
  • Creativity comes from knowing things. Literacy and numeracy are great ways of coming to know things. It’s a bit strong to say that creativity comes from literacy and numeracy.
  • There are lots of reasons why rich kids are unequal to poor kids (see the issue about poverty and cognitive function.) Cultural knowledge is just part of it.
But 90% — I think he gets what’s wrong with Sir Ken’s arguments. What Sir Ken Got Wrong, and what the blogger got wrong too
Note: I haven't replicated the links in quotes from the above blogs. Many of these links are valuable. You will need to visit the original blogs if you want to research this further.

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