Thoughts on Sir Ken Robinson, Changing the Metaphor of Education

Sir Ken Robinson

At the beginning of October, I was fortunate to hear Sir Ken Robinson as one of the keynote speakers at the 2016 California STEM Symposium in Anaheim. This two-day conference consisted of over 3,000 teachers, coaches, and administrators sharing a collection of integrative ideas in the interdisciplinary area of STEM education. The underlying emphasis of this symposium is always related to innovation, excitement, and engagement for both teachers and students alike. Sir Ken Robinson, is an acclaimed educational researcher, author, and TED talk guru. He has spent an extraordinary amount of time and effort thinking about how children learn and the future of education in the U.S., topics that I am certainly interested in exploring within the AIMS Center.

Robinson has several important ideas that he conveyed to us during his brief presentation. He made the point of emphasizing that there is a big difference between learning and education. In the U.S. we have a paradox in that children are extraordinary learning organisms and for the most part come “pre-wired” with a tremendous appetite for learning. But even though kids love to learn, not all of

them like to be educated in the fashion of our current traditional approach. His contention is that our current system has been historically based on the industrial revolution model – a linear model that promotes efficiency, uniformity, and consistence.

Robinson goes as far as to relate our current educational system to industrialized agriculture, where we have mechanized the process so that land can be cultivated quickly involving a monoculture crop. What is important above all is quantity of the product instead of its quality. In the process of mass production,

industrial agriculture pollutes the water and destroys the soil causing a long term environmental devastation. His contention is that in education we have become preoccupied and obsessed with yield, output and standardization just like industrial agriculture. We as a nation have lost site of the natural process of teaching and have eroded the culture of learning within our educational system. Being from a Midwestern farming background I have a significant connection with the image he portrays of our educational system. Sir Ken Robinson contends that it is time that we change the metaphor and see education as more of an organic farming process – one in which, instead of destroying the soil, we put our emphasis into the health and sustainability of the soil and the quality, not quantity, of the final product.

I agree that we need to emphasize the natural process of learning and the ability to sustain that process for the student as well as the teacher. Learning is a natural process for all of us and we need to, at all levels of education, provide the conditions that will allow our students to naturally flourish. We need to find ways to understand how our children learn and what makes them want to learn.  Only then can we create the optimum conditions where this type of learning can take place.


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