Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How should we view education in the 21st century?

RSA stands for the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce; they are a British organization who, according to their website, "has been a cradle for enlightenment thinking and a force for social progress." Whomever they are, they have taken the audio from several lectures by leading British thinkers and used cartooning to diagram the ideas presented in the lectures. The resulting videos are very cool. Here's a lecture on education in the 21st century by philosopher Ken Robinson. I am interested in the following two questions:

What idea did you find particularly interesting, or particularly controversial, from the lecture?

If you were to design a school for the 21st century, what features or values would you want it to include?


  1. Hi MR.AB!
    what i found the most interesting in this video was that it explained how the education has changed during the centuries, and how they viewed education, in the 18th century and 19th century, and how it was different from education in the 21th century.
    But, what really caught my attention was that society is arranged in two different positions, which would be the people that are intelectual, which are the people that have been educated and that are considered smart and get all the good jobs, and the ones that are not intelectual, which are the ones that have not been educated and that are not considered smart, so they dont get good jobs., and so, people think that people that are under this social positions they have to be or smart or dumb, based on what position they are in, so they never get to think that there are some non intelectual people that are smart, and deserb a better job.

    If I ever get to design my own school, i would not based it on the social positions that I mentioned before, it would be for all of those whom i know deserv the best education they could possibly have.
    But it will also be based on economic and cultural circumstances that the schools in the 21th century already include.

  2. I think what Ken Robinson is describing doesn't really pertain to public education. For example, the reason that children are educated in batches may have something to do with the Industrial Revolution mentality, but I imagine it has just as much to do with the fact that it would be impractical, if it were even possible, to determine for each and every student exactly what their aptitudes were, place them in classes with students with similar aptitudes (not even sure if that's a good idea anyway) and somehow maintain a cohesive school structure. What he describes is the ideal, but if it is being practiced at all, it is being practiced at private schools and difficult-to-get-into charter schools with little evidence that it can be "scaled up."

    I also question his assertion that "divergent thinking" is in peril because it seems to me that he does not hold true to his own description, which is that it is a necessary component of creativity, and creativity is the process of having original ideas that have value. I'm not sure how he derives the value of ideas, but one possible model is that an idea has to actually be practicable and address an actual need to be valuable. The reason I bring this up is that the test he describes (with the paper clip) in no way addresses this issue of value. I might be able to think of 200 uses of a paper clip, but none of them have value for me if they don't address a real need. So, for example, a paper clip can in fact be used as a fish-hook, but this is an idea of little value to me if I don't need to fish, or if I do need to fish but have something more suitable to use (like a fish-hook). I suppose the argument would be that one day this idea could be valuable in case of an apocalypse or if your plane crash lands in the Alaskan wilderness a la Hatchet, but by that standard, just about any idea could be valuable in some possible future and so his definition of creativity loses all meaning.

    This idea of assigning value to ideas is not at all trivial because I think his definition of creativity is a good one. The question, though, is how do you learn to assign value to ideas? How do you take the 200 ideas you have about paper clips and narrow them down to the 5 ideas that may actually be useful. The answer, it seems to me, is the very process of goal-oriented education that he goes out of his way to deplore. The great majority of the great thinkers in modern history were products of the very educational system that he argues is somehow insufficient for producing more great thinkers.

    In fact, his discussion of divergent thinking cuts against his own argument. He suggests -- rightly, I think -- that we are naturally good divergent thinkers. If so, it seems kind of silly to send people to school to learn what they already know. Ninety-eight percent of kindergarteners are genius divergent thinkers. What should school be about? Trying to get the other 2% to be genius divergent thinkers too?

    It is also worth saying that the decrease in divergent thinking as kids get older is a well-understood biological process that occurs regardless of whether children are or are not educated. It has a lot to do with changing levels of brain plasticity as well as the inevitable loss of brain cells as people age, so I find his suggestion that it's the educational system that produces this reduction in divergent thinking to be quite suspect.

  3. I think that the myth of the creative genius who is crushed by a system that doesn't understand her is really quite silly, and advancing the creation of more such geniuses as a goal for education is at best unhelpful and at worst positively damaging.

    Our creative geniuses have always been educated -- they didn't just sit around diverging until something brilliant happened. They were able to formulate concrete goals, work towards those goals with readily accepted tools and procedures and occasionally when they ran into difficulties, brainstorm ideas to overcome those difficulties. And they knew about those tools and procedures because they have been educated. Perhaps some have been self-educated, but there's nothing stopping children from self-educating today.

    The one area that I think Robinson is wholly accurate is that opportunities for distraction really have proliferated and that these distractions are a major challenge to education. But he's wrong when he suggests that these distractions are somehow more interesting than what's being taught in class. They're simply easier. More than anything, my worry is that our culture no longer views difficulty as valuable, challenge as noble, or failure as acceptable. This is in part the effect of a results-oriented education system, but it is also the result of a culture in which self-confidence is so absurdly easy to come by that any blow to the ego is seen as intolerable. Contrary to Robinson's assertion, our schools aren't full of students who feel that they can't succeed. American students rank #1 in self-confidence. Rather, our schools are full of students who are so anxious to be successful that as soon as they experience any kind of challenge, they shut off. Focusing on what is already easy for them is unlikely to change this dynamic.

  4. Wow, that is amazing. That is exactly why my sister and I homeschool, because we do not always learn in a standardized way.

    I found it very interesting that they revealed th downfalls of public education, or another way of looking at it.

    If I could have a school, it would be a small school, and every student would learn at their own pace.

  5. i dont know if this is related much, but, in my opinion, or in one of my philosophies, its that, nowadays, our learning has been intentionally limited, by the people who have power and money so other people wont have the chance to get more intelligent and maybe even more powerful than them. and, if this is true, and if this keeps on going on, our society and human intelligence and the technology leap will stop, as we will be getting dumber and dumber, instead of getting smarter. we are supposed to teach the young so they can be better than us and make a better and smarter future, instead of limiting their learning so they wont be better than you are. i really think this should stop. and also, the way they teach students nowadays, it has become inefficient, on the things they learn and also the system of their learning. i hope, that one day this changes to a better future and better learning for future generations..

  6. *i got this idea, and accepted it on one of my philosophies by a teacher i respect and learn from alot. my cello teacher Alfredo Mazariegos. *he explained to me once in one of the Korean Orchestra practice days which i have every wednesday about this idea which was part of his philosophy, and i got to realize that i agreed.

  7. Wow!!! I never thought of education as such a broad, interesting, and complete category compared to children nowadays. It is all true, I guess. This guy wrote and drew a whole lot during the presentation. Anyways, back then, parents didn't really pay much attention to how hyper, or excited their children were. Now, they do! And for one side of it, it's definitely good. Education should be more personal, and developed exclusively for a student; with a specialized program just for him/her. I totally agree with Morgan: having a school that allows students to learn at their own pace. Also, education has become more serious lately. It is hard to get a job after you graduate, even from college, like they said previously. Another thing that I want to point out is that I would really like to see that presentation on an iPhone. At the end, I didn't expect that. This is another evidence that education is advancing; and technology is one of the main causes of it.