Sunday, July 20, 2008

On Changing Paradigms

I just finished watching Sir Ken Robinson's talk Changing Paradigms at the Royal Society for the encouragement of the Arts (via Will Richardson). Robinson is an engaging speaker and I highly recommend viewing his talk (it runs 55 mins). If you're more pressed for time, he did a TED talk 2 years ago which covers some of the same ground (and comes in at around 20 minutes).

Divergent Thinking

Robinson discusses divergent thinking, which he feels is a prerequisite for creative thinking. He refers to a longitudinal study where children were given a test on divergent thinking at ages 3 - 5 and then every 5 years for a number of years. Using the predetermined benchmark for "genius" in terms of divergent thinking, the results are startling, perhaps not in their trend, but in their magnitude. At ages 3 - 5 years 98% of the children scored at a genius level (I believe the sample size was 1500). It then rapidly dropped off (I can't locate the exact figures) until at adulthood those scoring at the genius level represent only 3% of the population.

Schools Kill the Creativity in Children

Robinson argues that schools kill the creativity in children, not on purpose, but they do it none-the-less and they do it systematically. He argues that our current school system, based on the industrial revolution no longer works. The industrial revolution needed a large number of workers with basic literacy and numeracy to work in the factories, a smaller number of more literate and numerate people were needed to manage the workers, and the top level of the hierarchy were those who would attend universities and become the doctors, lawyers, and leaders of industry. Today's societies and economies have different needs. We need creative thinkers to tackle the issues of increased urbanization, global warming, the incredible growth of the Earth's human population...

We should be encouraging creative thinking, we should be nurturing the talents that children have, we should not be aiming for conformity.

So How Do We Do That?

I think that Robinson makes some very compelling points, but I'm struggling with the practical aspects. I would love to see a school where they are free to abandon standardized testing, teach to the talents of the students, and group students based upon pedagogically sound reasons (not merely based upon birth dates). Then there is the on-going debate of what information is necessary for all our citizens to learn. If a student's talent is in visual arts, is there anything from the other subject areas that can be omitted so that they can fully pursue their talent? I do not want to come off as a naysayer--I really like Sir Robinson's ideas, I'm just having difficulty visualizing the system he proposes. Does project based learning address some of the issues he discusses? Perhaps I'll just have to read his books to get a better idea.

What Do You Think?

Do schools systematically kill creativity? Is there a way to revolutionize schools and education to promote creative thinking? How do you work toward it in your own sphere of influence?

As always, thanks for reading!

Image: Which one... ? by carf. Licensed under a Creative Commons, attribution non-commercial no derivatives license.