Thursday, March 28, 2013

On Seeing Sir Ken

not last night
My university brought Sir Ken Robinson to campus last night, as a cap to our community reading project and an invited lecture series. See: #SirKenGVSU for the twitter action; university coverage with audio; Dave's reflection on a math story he told.

Beforehand I was wondering how much would be new? I love his two TED talks and the RSA animation and overshare them with students, but you do notice recurring ideas. Appropriately. I also was wondering if he was tall - as he looks imposing in his TED videos. (He's not just not tall, it turns out.)

He's charming, funny and a natural performer. Really funny, like Ricky Gervais as an academic. Inspiring, too, and if you get a chance to see him, take it. He has new PBS special coming up, for his new book, and I will be watching.  He is a self-promoter, and has a robust ego, probably appropriately.

He incorporated his traditional messages:
  • creativity is important
  • all people are inherently creative
  • disbelieve the big three myths about creativity
    • creative people are the exception
    • creativity is only valid or valuable in the arts
    • your creativity is fixed
  • current education crushes creativity, or at least discourages it
  • people who find their element, the connection between their passion and their creativity,  are happier, healthier, more productive and have greater impact.
  • we cannot plan our career, as we have no idea what's coming
His new push was to create a culture of innovation. He seems to see stages of development of creativity:
He applied this mostly to education, talking about Finland and the Blue School (a school designed by the Blue Man Group), and a USC art history grad who went on to become an art evaluator for an auction house, traveling the world.

His upcoming book answers my disappointment with The Element. It's Finding Your Element on how to develop that connection. He also mentioned a major rewrite for the new edition of Out of Our Minds.

My struggles are that his stories, like the art school grad, Blue Men, Johnny Ivo, Nobel winning chemists, etc., confirm the myth of exceptionalism. They don't remind us of the students in our classrooms that we can't get to try. They also tend to wind up with 'and now they're famous and rich.' That is not going to happen for everyone. It can not. Why does his vision look like for me? For that student? (You know the one.) I was glad to hear the Blue Man story, too, because so many of his stories are of the individual, while much of what I know about creativity relies on collaboration.

I'm also left wondering why we can't convince our politicians and decision-makers of the value of this approach to education. Someone asked a question about that, sort of, and Sir Ken joked a response that boiled down to we don't know how. 

Yet, for a couple of hours last night at least, I felt like this is possible. And his encouragement for teachers who are trying to make this difference is very valuable. I was reminded of and consoled by the many teachers I know locally and through the mathtwitterblogosphere who are making these changes happen for real.

¡Viva la revoluciĆ³n!


  1. I would have loved to sit in the audience for that talk. I'll have to come back to find that audio when I have some time this weekend.

    Thanks for sharing this!

  2. I always like sharing that RSA animation of Sir Ken with others, but a chance to see him live would be so wonderful. Thanks for the recap, John.