Bring on the learning revolution! | Ken Robinson

Bring on the learning revolution! | Ken Robinson

November 26, 2019 99 By Stanley Isaacs


I was here four years ago, and I remember, at the time, that the talks weren’t put online. I think they were given
to TEDsters in a box, a box set of DVDs, which they put on their shelves,
where they are now. (Laughter) And actually, Chris called me
a week after I’d given my talk, and said, “We’re going to start putting them online.
Can we put yours online?” And I said, “Sure.” And four years later, it’s been downloaded four million times. So I suppose you could multiply that
by 20 or something to get the number
of people who’ve seen it. And, as Chris says, there is
a hunger for videos of me. (Laughter) (Applause) Don’t you feel? (Laughter) So, this whole event
has been an elaborate build-up to me doing another one
for you, so here it is. (Laughter) Al Gore spoke at the TED conference
I spoke at four years ago and talked about the climate crisis. And I referenced that
at the end of my last talk. So I want to pick up from there because I only had 18 minutes, frankly. (Laughter) So, as I was saying — (Laughter) You see, he’s right. I mean, there is a major
climate crisis, obviously, and I think if people don’t believe it,
they should get out more. (Laughter) But I believe there is
a second climate crisis, which is as severe, which has the same origins, and that we have to deal with
with the same urgency. And you may say, by the way, “Look, I’m good. I have one climate crisis,
I don’t really need the second one.” (Laughter) But this is a crisis of,
not natural resources — though I believe that’s true — but a crisis of human resources. I believe fundamentally, as many speakers have said
during the past few days, that we make very poor use of our talents. Very many people go
through their whole lives having no real sense
of what their talents may be, or if they have any to speak of. I meet all kinds of people who don’t think
they’re really good at anything. Actually, I kind of divide the world
into two groups now. Jeremy Bentham, the great
utilitarian philosopher, once spiked this argument. He said, “There are two types
of people in this world: those who divide the world into two types and those who do not.” (Laughter) Well, I do. (Laughter) I meet all kinds of people
who don’t enjoy what they do. They simply go through their lives
getting on with it. They get no great pleasure
from what they do. They endure it rather than enjoy it, and wait for the weekend. But I also meet people who love what they do
and couldn’t imagine doing anything else. If you said, “Don’t do this anymore,” they’d wonder what you’re talking about. It isn’t what they do, it’s who they are. They say, “But this is me, you know. It would be foolish to abandon this, because it speaks
to my most authentic self.” And it’s not true of enough people. In fact, on the contrary, I think
it’s still true of a minority of people. And I think there are many
possible explanations for it. And high among them is education, because education, in a way, dislocates very many people
from their natural talents. And human resources
are like natural resources; they’re often buried deep. You have to go looking for them, they’re not just lying around
on the surface. You have to create the circumstances
where they show themselves. And you might imagine
education would be the way that happens, but too often, it’s not. Every education system in the world
is being reformed at the moment and it’s not enough. Reform is no use anymore, because that’s simply improving
a broken model. What we need — and the word’s been used
many times in the past few days — is not evolution, but a revolution in education. This has to be transformed
into something else. (Applause) One of the real challenges
is to innovate fundamentally in education. Innovation is hard, because it means doing something
that people don’t find very easy, for the most part. It means challenging
what we take for granted, things that we think are obvious. The great problem for reform
or transformation is the tyranny of common sense. Things that people think, “It can’t be done differently,
that’s how it’s done.” I came across a great quote recently
from Abraham Lincoln, who I thought you’d be pleased
to have quoted at this point. (Laughter) He said this in December 1862
to the second annual meeting of Congress. I ought to explain that I have no idea
what was happening at the time. We don’t teach
American history in Britain. (Laughter) We suppress it.
You know, this is our policy. (Laughter) No doubt, something fascinating
was happening then, which the Americans among us
will be aware of. But he said this: “The dogmas of the quiet past
are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion
is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion.” I love that. Not rise to it, rise with it. “As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.” I love that word, “disenthrall.” You know what it means? That there are ideas
that all of us are enthralled to, which we simply take for granted
as the natural order of things, the way things are. And many of our ideas have been formed, not to meet the circumstances
of this century, but to cope with the circumstances
of previous centuries. But our minds
are still hypnotized by them, and we have to disenthrall ourselves
of some of them. Now, doing this is easier said than done. It’s very hard to know, by the way,
what it is you take for granted. And the reason
is that you take it for granted. (Laughter) Let me ask you something
you may take for granted. How many of you here
are over the age of 25? That’s not what you take for granted,
I’m sure you’re familiar with that. Are there any people here
under the age of 25? Great. Now, those over 25, could you put your hands up
if you’re wearing your wristwatch? Now that’s a great deal of us, isn’t it? Ask a room full of teenagers
the same thing. Teenagers do not wear wristwatches. I don’t mean they can’t, they just often choose not to. And the reason is we were brought up
in a pre-digital culture, those of us over 25. And so for us,
if you want to know the time, you have to wear something to tell it. Kids now live in a world
which is digitized, and the time, for them, is everywhere. They see no reason to do this. And by the way, you don’t need either; it’s just that you’ve always done it
and you carry on doing it. My daughter never wears a watch,
my daughter Kate, who’s 20. She doesn’t see the point. As she says, “It’s a single-function device.” (Laughter) “Like, how lame is that?” And I say, “No, no,
it tells the date as well.” (Laughter) “It has multiple functions.” (Laughter) But, you see, there are things
we’re enthralled to in education. A couple of examples. One of them is the idea of linearity: that it starts here
and you go through a track and if you do everything right, you will end up set
for the rest of your life. Everybody who’s spoken at TED
has told us implicitly, or sometimes explicitly,
a different story: that life is not linear; it’s organic. We create our lives symbiotically as we explore our talents in relation to the circumstances
they help to create for us. But, you know, we have become obsessed
with this linear narrative. And probably the pinnacle for education
is getting you to college. I think we are obsessed
with getting people to college. Certain sorts of college. I don’t mean you shouldn’t go,
but not everybody needs to go, or go now. Maybe they go later, not right away. And I was up in San Francisco
a while ago doing a book signing. There was this guy buying a book,
he was in his 30s. I said, “What do you do?” And he said, “I’m a fireman.” I asked, “How long
have you been a fireman?” “Always. I’ve always been a fireman.” “Well, when did you decide?”
He said, “As a kid. Actually, it was
a problem for me at school, because at school,
everybody wanted to be a fireman.” (Laughter) He said, “But I wanted to be a fireman.” And he said, “When I got
to the senior year of school, my teachers didn’t take it seriously. This one teacher didn’t take it seriously. He said I was throwing my life away if that’s all I chose to do with it; that I should go to college, I should
become a professional person, that I had great potential and I was wasting my talent to do that.” He said, “It was humiliating. It was in front of the whole class
and I felt dreadful. But it’s what I wanted,
and as soon as I left school, I applied to the fire service
and I was accepted. You know, I was thinking
about that guy recently, just a few minutes ago when you
were speaking, about this teacher, because six months ago, I saved his life.” (Laughter) He said, “He was in a car wreck,
and I pulled him out, gave him CPR, and I saved his wife’s life as well.” He said, “I think he thinks
better of me now.” (Laughter) (Applause) You know, to me, human communities depend
upon a diversity of talent, not a singular conception of ability. And at the heart of our challenges — (Applause) At the heart of the challenge is to reconstitute our sense of ability
and of intelligence. This linearity thing is a problem. When I arrived in L.A.
about nine years ago, I came across a policy statement — very well-intentioned — which said, “College
begins in kindergarten.” No, it doesn’t. (Laughter) It doesn’t. If we had time,
I could go into this, but we don’t. (Laughter) Kindergarten begins in kindergarten. (Laughter) A friend of mine once said, “A three year-old
is not half a six year-old.” (Laughter) (Applause) They’re three. But as we just heard in this last session, there’s such competition now
to get into kindergarten — to get to the right kindergarten — that people are being interviewed
for it at three. Kids sitting in front
of unimpressed panels, you know, with their resumes — (Laughter) Flicking through and saying,
“What, this is it?” (Laughter) (Applause) “You’ve been around
for 36 months, and this is it?” (Laughter) “You’ve achieved nothing — commit. (Laughter) Spent the first six months
breastfeeding, I can see.” (Laughter) See, it’s outrageous as a conception. The other big issue is conformity. We have built our education systems
on the model of fast food. This is something Jamie Oliver
talked about the other day. There are two models
of quality assurance in catering. One is fast food,
where everything is standardized. The other is like Zagat
and Michelin restaurants, where everything is not standardized, they’re customized to local circumstances. And we have sold ourselves
into a fast-food model of education, and it’s impoverishing
our spirit and our energies as much as fast food is depleting
our physical bodies. (Applause) We have to recognize
a couple of things here. One is that human talent
is tremendously diverse. People have very different aptitudes. I worked out recently
that I was given a guitar as a kid at about the same time
that Eric Clapton got his first guitar. (Laughter) It worked out for Eric,
that’s all I’m saying. (Laughter) In a way — it did not for me. I could not get this thing to work no matter how often
or how hard I blew into it. It just wouldn’t work. (Laughter) But it’s not only about that. It’s about passion. Often, people are good at things
they don’t really care for. It’s about passion, and what excites
our spirit and our energy. And if you’re doing the thing
that you love to do, that you’re good at, time takes a different course entirely. My wife’s just finished writing a novel, and I think it’s a great book, but she disappears for hours on end. You know this, if you’re doing
something you love, an hour feels like five minutes. If you’re doing something
that doesn’t resonate with your spirit, five minutes feels like an hour. And the reason so many people
are opting out of education is because it doesn’t feed their spirit, it doesn’t feed their energy
or their passion. So I think we have to change metaphors. We have to go from what is essentially
an industrial model of education, a manufacturing model, which is based on linearity
and conformity and batching people. We have to move to a model that is based more
on principles of agriculture. We have to recognize that human flourishing
is not a mechanical process; it’s an organic process. And you cannot predict
the outcome of human development. All you can do, like a farmer,
is create the conditions under which they will begin to flourish. So when we look at reforming
education and transforming it, it isn’t like cloning a system. There are great ones,
like KIPP’s; it’s a great system. There are many great models. It’s about customizing
to your circumstances and personalizing education
to the people you’re actually teaching. And doing that, I think,
is the answer to the future because it’s not
about scaling a new solution; it’s about creating
a movement in education in which people develop
their own solutions, but with external support
based on a personalized curriculum. Now in this room, there are people who represent
extraordinary resources in business, in multimedia, in the Internet. These technologies, combined with the extraordinary
talents of teachers, provide an opportunity
to revolutionize education. And I urge you to get involved in it because it’s vital, not just to ourselves,
but to the future of our children. But we have to change
from the industrial model to an agricultural model, where each school can be
flourishing tomorrow. That’s where children experience life. Or at home, if that’s what they choose, to be educated
with their families or friends. There’s been a lot of talk about dreams
over the course of these few days. And I wanted to just very quickly — I was very struck
by Natalie Merchant’s songs last night, recovering old poems. I wanted to read you
a quick, very short poem from W. B. Yeats,
who some of you may know. He wrote this to his love, Maud Gonne, and he was bewailing the fact that he couldn’t really give her
what he thought she wanted from him. And he says, “I’ve got something else,
but it may not be for you.” He says this: “Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths, Enwrought with gold and silver light, The blue and the dim and the dark cloths Of night and light and the half-light, I would spread the cloths under your feet: But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.” And every day, everywhere, our children spread
their dreams beneath our feet. And we should tread softly. Thank you. (Applause) Thank you very much. (Applause) Thank you. (Applause)