On 21st August, Sir Ken Robinson died after a short illness. Many teachers and parents will know the name and reflect on the huge loss to our world communities, and the direct impact his work had on individual children and families.
For those that are unfamiliar with the name, there will always be a legacy to research and inform our parenting practice. Perhaps his biggest influence was to question the role of schooling and how it may in fact stifle the very nature of our children’s creativity. The biography quotes “His 2006 talk, “Do Schools Kill Creativity” has been viewed online over 60 million times and seen by an estimated 380 million people in 160 countries.” Perhaps you were one of the viewers? I certainly was and for me, it opened up a very real explanation for what was lacking in mainstream UK education. 14 years on, have we experienced change?
Sir Ken’s latest book is entitled “You, Your Child, and School: Navigating Your Way to the Best Education (Viking, 2018)” and is described as “an essential read for all parents to help get their children the education they really need for a happy and productive life.” What parent doesn’t want their child or children to have a “happy and productive life”. His work is richly researched and perfectly presented to help us all reconsider how our children are educated outside of the family; but it also poses questions for our own ways of bringing up our children.
For many of us the ‘best’ moments are when our children do something we weren’t expecting, in Ken Robinson’s words “kids will take a chance. If they don’t know, they’ll have a go….. They’re not frightened of being wrong. I don’t mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. What we do know is, if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original…. 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. 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.”
I wonder if, 14 years on, we now have a greater capacity as parents and teachers to encourage the risk taking required to be creative, and the ability to ignore incorrect as wrong, instead celebrating the effort and ingenuity?
In 2009, in his book The Element; Ken recounts a story that many of us may have heard, but worth re-printing - “An elementary school teacher was giving a drawing class to a group of six-year-old children. At the back of the classroom sat a little girl who normally didn’t pay much attention in school. In the drawing class she did. For more than twenty minutes, the girl sat with her arms curled around her paper, totally absorbed in what she was doing. The teacher found this fascinating. Eventually, she asked the girl what she was drawing. Without looking up, the girl said, “I’m drawing a picture of God.” Surprised, the teacher said, “But nobody knows what God looks like.” The girl said, “They will in a minute.” *
In a similar vein I can recall a defining moment for myself, some years before I was pregnant. I was shadowing a Sunday School Teacher to see if this was my passion! The teacher expertly opened the session with the typical how was your week question to the children. Each one answered in a similar way “I played football”; “we went to the shops and mummy bought me some shoes” etc. etc. Each time the teacher thanked the child and moved on without comment. Then one little girl said, “we went to the park and I saw Jesus”. At this point I got very excited and was itching to find out more; but alas, the Sunday School Teacher thanked her and moved on…….I felt sad that this opportunity to really get inside the mind and experience of the young child was lost and wondered why. Would I miss opportunities like that? It was a defining moment because then and there I committed to never really saying someone was wrong or had made up a truth; I would explore and try to understand, including if and when I ever had children of my own.
I have of course failed, being human, failure is a necessity! But on the whole I look back and am pleased that the moments when students and my own daughter have come up with an answer that one might pop into the ‘incorrect’ box, I have mostly taken the time to explore – to open up the conversation and to allow the space for creativity to emerge. One downside is that I am not sure the UK curriculum has followed suit. Testing and placing students in categories of grades has in Ken Robinson’s terms ‘stifled’ our own children’s creativity. That’s not only sad but it stifles our children’s adulthood too. Did it stifle our adulthood?
So, as we pay tribute to a great thinker and influencer, perhaps we can reflect on our own response when our children say or do something that wasn’t expected or may not be ‘right’. Slip into the Now and be fully present to experience their world in that moment – listen carefully, gently ask questions and allow our children to lead us to new areas of ‘knowledge’; see what they can teach us; in this way we may all lead happier and more productive lives.
* The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything