Tuesdays with TED: Sir Ken Robinson, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”

One of  the first TED talks made available online in 2006, Sir Ken Robinson’s “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” remains the most-watched talk on the TED.com website. In addition to the speaker’s excellent rhetorical techniques (which, indeed, have helped set the tone for many future TED and TEDx events), the subject matter, if anything, rings even truer now than it did a decade ago.

Robinson builds his speech on the themes that, in his opinion, the whole conference shares:

  1. The extraordinary range and variety of human creativity
  2. The impossibility of knowing what the world will be like even five years into the future
  3. The innate capacities children have for innovation and creativity

He asserts:

All kids have tremendous talents. And we squander them, pretty ruthlessly… My contention is that creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.

After telling two humorous anecdotes about the fearlessness of children to be wrong, Robinson concludes:

You’ll never come up with anything original — if you’re not prepared to be wrong. And by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong. And we run our companies like this, by the way. We stigmatize mistakes. And we’re now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make. And the result is that we are educating people out of their creative capacities.

While many other TED talks have discussed the variety observed within educational environments around the world, Robinson focuses on the hierarchy of subjects that he finds universal within them: that mathematics and languages (the subjects that supposedly make a person employable) are at the top of the hierarchy, and the arts on the bottom. Even within the arts, he notes, drama and dance rank below art and music.

Don’t do music, you’re not going to be a musician; don’t do art, you won’t be an artist. Benign advice — now, profoundly mistaken. The whole world is engulfed in a revolution. And the second is academic ability, which has really come to dominate our view of intelligence, because the universities designed the system in their image. If you think of it, the whole system of public education around the world is a protracted process of university entrance. And the consequence is that many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not, because the thing they were good at at school wasn’t valued, or was actually stigmatized. And I think we can’t afford to go on that way.

Robinson tells the thought-provoking story of Gillian Lynne, who, as a child, performed poorly academically until a doctor suggested taking her to a dance school, where she met other people like herself, “who had to move to think.” The story concludes:

She was eventually auditioned for the Royal Ballet School; she became a soloist; she had a wonderful career at the Royal Ballet. She eventually graduated from the Royal Ballet School and founded her own company — the Gillian Lynne Dance Company — met Andrew Lloyd Weber. She’s been responsible for some of the most successful musical theater productions in history; she’s given pleasure to millions; and she’s a multi-millionaire. Somebody else might have put her on medication and told her to calm down.

All in all, we would have to agree that the 20-minute talk does deserve its place of prominence among the TED collection. Robinson explores his topic in further detail in his book, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything [library]. He has also given several more TED talks, which we will eventually feature here.

Stop the World

 

Remember WinMX? In that period when I switched from an anti-internet holdout to a wannabe webmonkey, WinMX was THE P2P to install. I missed the original Napster by a few months, and then later LimeWire and Kazaa made piracy all spammy and spendy, but for a few brief years, WinMX was a fabulous, clean interface well-suited for dialup. It had a setting where you could have it turn off the computer when the last download finished, so I would start a whole bunch of files downloading, go to bed, and when I woke up there would be new wonderful music waiting for me. And occasionally a message from a file-sharer. More than once it was: “Are you the Evangeline Los Lobos sang about?” Ah, the good old days, before that girl from Lost ruined my favorite nom de internet.

The selection was hit-or-miss, of course, as even then people were collecting singles more than full albums, and much (if not most) of the user base was non-US, so spellings varied widely. I often put in keywords rather than artist names–most frequently “Russian.” WinMX didn’t support Cyrillic, so some folks would throw that one word at the start of a string of question marks. It was so much fun to see what it turned out to be.

One time I downloaded a file called “Stop the World I Want to Get Off – Glorious Russian,” which turned out to be a track from a musical. Not my cup of tea, but the title of the opus stuck with me. I suppose it’s a less-twee way of saying we’re captive on the carousel of time. (I can’t listen to Joni. I respect her abilities as a writer and musician, but in an enjoyment-free kind of way.)

Stop the world, I want to get off. The sense that things are careening out of control… other people have that? And write musicals about it? It’s comforting, if a little embarrassing, to realize that even one’s most disquieting feelings are commonplace and perhaps so melodramatic as to be banal.

But still, fight or flight… flight wins, every time. There is so much going on in the world that there is hardly time to process, and the manner in which it is processed makes one shake one’s head, or just shudder. Election years in particular seem to showcase the meanest side of humankind. Stop the world, indeed.

 

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Deeply Shallow

A few days ago, I finally finished Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. The fact that it took me so long to read a book about typewriters, the internet, psychology, and other things I love probably proves Carr’s point better than anything I can write here. So here are some excerpts:

From chapter “The Church of Google”:

Google is neither God nor Satan, and if there shadows in the Googleplex they’re no more than the delusions of grandeur. What’s disturbing about the company’s founders is not their boyish desire to create an amazingly cool machine that will be able to outthink its creators, but the pinched conception of the human mind that gives rise to such a desire.

From “Search, Memory”:

“‘Learning how to think’ really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think,” said the novelist David Foster Wallace in a commencement address at Kenyon College in 2005. “It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.” To give up that control is to be left with “the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.” …Wallace knew with special urgency the stakes involved in how we choose, or fail to choose, to focus our mind. We cede control over our attention at our own peril.

….In a recent essay, the playwright Richard Foreman eloquently described what’s at stake. “I come from a tradition of Western culture,” he wrote, “in which the ideal (my ideal) was the complex, dense and “cathedral-like” structure of the highly educated and articulate personality—a man or woman who carried inside themselves a personally constructed and unique version of the entire heritage of the West.” But now, he continued, “I see within us all (myself included) the replacement of complex inner density with a new kind of self—evolving under the pressure of information overload and the technology of the “instantly available.” As we are drained of our “inner repertory of dense cultural inheritance,” Foreman concluded, we risk turning into “pancake people—spread wide and thin as we connect with that vast network of information accessed by the mere touch of a button.”

One quibble I have is that Carr consistently refers to his subject as “The Net.” Not “the internet,” as something so amorphous and omnipresent has surely ceased to be a proper noun. Not even “the Web” for a little variety. Nope, it’s always “The Net” and I always think of this:

And then I wonder how Carr neglected to mention that the internet also damages your life when your identity gets stolen in Mexico and everything hinges on copying a file to a floppy disk.

Sandra tried to warn us back in 1995. And we didn’t listen.

I haven’t laughed this hard in a long time…

http://garfieldminusgarfield.net/

The site description:

Who would have guessed that when you remove Garfield from the Garfield comic strips, the result is an even better comic about schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life? Friends, meet Jon Arbuckle. Let’s laugh and learn with him on a journey deep into the tortured mind of an isolated young everyman as he fights a losing battle against loneliness in a quiet American suburb.

Seriously, folks, it’s funny and beautiful and sad. Check it out.