education learning

Encouraging students to flourish

TED Talk – Ken Robinson: How to escape education’s death valley

Another great presentation from Ken Robinson where he talks about how the current design of school systems ignore the principles that encourage children to flourish.

If you sit kids down hour after hour doing low-grade clerical work, don’t be surprised if they start to fidget. Children are not, for the most part, suffering from a psychological condition. They’re suffering from “childhood”…Kids prosper best with a broad curriculum that celebrates their various talents.

Robinson begins by highlighting that the dropout rate is a significant problem in American education as a way to begin the conversation about engaging learners in order to prevent this from happening. He suggests that there are three principles that encourage human flourishing, which are contradicted in current approaches to education:

  1. Human beings are naturally diverse, but schools are based on conformity within a narrow scope of subject choice
  2. Children will learn with no other intervention simply by lighting a spark of curiosity within them, but it’s been replaced by a culture of compliance
  3. Life is inherently creative and education should awaken creativity within us, but schools cultivate standardisation

There are conditions under which people thrive and the school system currently does not create those conditions. In fact, it seems to be designed to specifically work against them. This creates a space where students are not motivated to stay in school and they drop out, the rate of which is up to 60% in some parts of America. There is an enormous loss of economic potential when children don’t finish school, as well as the cost of repairing the damage caused by children not finishing school. Spending money in education makes sense not only from a moral and social point of view, but also from an economic point of view. We need to understand that spending money to upgrade schools by valuing teachers and improving facilities is not a cost, it’s an investment. When teachers are given the authority to make decisions about how best to create positive learning environments in their classrooms, students learn better.

Teaching is a creative profession. Teaching, if properly conceived, is not a delivery system. You’re not there to pass on information.


Can curiosity survive formal education?

3004769-poster-1280-my-email-exchange-aaron-swartz-shows-original-thinkerI came across this interview with Aaron Swartz on the Fast Company site, where the following question was presented to Aaron:

“You did a lot of important things at a very young age, could you describe a few of them? And how do you see and would explain that? Talent, inspiration, curiosity, hard work? Is there something that you would think that other kids who would like to follow your steps should know?”

His response:

“When I was a kid, I thought a lot about what made me different from the other kids. I don’t think I was smarter than them and I certainly wasn’t more talented. And I definitely can’t claim I was a harder worker — I’ve never worked particularly hard, I’ve always just tried doing things I find fun. Instead, what I concluded was that I was more curious — but not because I had been born that way. If you watch little kids, they are intensely curious, always exploring and trying to figure out how things work. The problem is that school drives all that curiosity out. Instead of letting you explore things for yourself, it tells you that you have to read these particular books and answer these particular questions. And if you try to do something else instead, you’ll get in trouble. Very few people’s curiosity can survive that.”

I think this echoes a lot of what Ken Robinson said about how schools kill creativity, as well as Einstein’s quote: “It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education”. How can we work to create learning spaces that stimulate curiosity, instead of dulling it? How do we rekindle the curiosity that all children are born with, and which dies out as they progress through school? What would a curriculum look like, where curiosity was valued and encouraged? Where students could explore aspects of the programme that scratched a personal itch?

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TEDx Johanessburg (session 1) – Iain Thomas

The first session at TEDx Johannesburg began with Iain Thomas, the author of ambiguous micro stories at I wrote this for you. Here’s the site tagline, which is great:
“I need you to understand something. I wrote this for you. I wrote this for you and only you. Everyone else who reads it, doesn’t get it. They may think they get it, but they don’t. This is the sign you’ve been looking for. You were meant to read these words.” Apparently there is a whole ecosystem of micro-story writers, this is the first I’ve heard of it.  I love the idea.

“We are a generation that consumes media in smaller and smaller chunks.”  I think of Twitter and the effect it has on my own concentration / focus / reflection?  It’s difficult to identify relevant data from an endless stream, focus on it, extract meaningful information and make use of that.  Should I slow down?  How?  Why?  Can I afford to?

Iain creates very short stories by leaving out the small details (e.g. age, gender, etc.) and having the reader fill in the gaps.  “There’s no story I can tell you that’s more powerful than the one you tell yourself”.

“We are not the unique snowflakes we are told we are, we are all of us the same.”  I love this sentence.  It makes me feel like I’m a part of something bigger, but at the same time I think that each of us is unique.  But the aggregation of the whole “flattens” us out and makes the sum of the parts seem more uniform.  I like the idea of simplicity (the group) through complexity (the individual).

“This is your life and it’s ending one minute at a time” (from Fight club).  Inspiring quote to motivate one to get on with it.

“I don’t care how many fish there are in the sea, I don’t want fish, I want you.”  I came across a variation of this a few years ago (I forget where)…I don’t care how many fish there are in the sea, if I’m a mackerel and you’re a herring, it won’t help either of us.

Iain Thomas at TEDx Johannesburg

Iain got me thinking about stories and the important role of stories in our lives.  We all learned through stories when we were younger, and then for some reason, most of us stop telling them.  Maybe it has something to do with the creativity that’s “educated” out of us (Sir Ken Robinson).  I remember growing up fascinated with fables, myths and science fiction, yet most of what I read now is either academic or non-fiction.   I just finished reading Randy Pausch’sThe last lecture“, based on his last lecture at Carnegie Mellon, where he also talks about the importance of stories in our lives.

I like the idea of using stories as vehicles that we can use to carry concepts and principles.  Kind of like sneaking the idea in there, or learning without realising that you’re learning.  I often tell my students that their patient documentation can be thought of as a story…the story of this patient and their condition/injury.  Just like a story has a logical sequence and structure (beginning, middle and end), so too should an assessment have structure.  What are the logical patterns we can use to best convey the story of this patient and our role as physiotherapists in that story?

For the past few months I’ve been trying to get my head around the idea of complexity through simplicity, and this concept of ambiguous micro-stories seems to resonate with that idea.  It’s something that I worked hard on for my doctoral proposal, although I based it on a variation of one of Einstein’s quotes that “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler”.  For me, Iain’s stories fall into this category of creating stories that can be incredibly complex, but only through incredible simplification.