Thursday, March 6, 2008

Sir Ken Robinson on Education

Sir Ken Robinson was the keynote speaker Thursday, February 28 in New York at the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) Annual Conference. For those of us who got to hear him, what a delight! His dry wit and humor balances the gravity of his message. His basic message in is briefest form is this:

-the future is upon us right now and what we do about it matters.
-creativity is a critical skill for 21st century competence.
-Kids are naturally creative; schools seems to drain kids of their creativity.

As a beginning place to start to the process of changing schools and the environment they engender, Sir Ken suggests we alter how we think in the broadest sense about our schools; he suggests we change our school metaphor from the factory to the living, dynamic, ever-changing organism. It seems like a simple thought, perhaps even a simplistic thought. But, with some reflection and with effort to fill in some thought gaps, let me add something connecting thoughts and guiding questions.

How are factories in general faring in today's economy? Think about GM and all of its integrated production facilities and its current state of affairs, for one.
How quickly do factories adapt to evidenced need in the marketplace?
What mindset and basic assumptions govern the culture and systems at factories?
What new factory business is present in today's culture and marketplace? Where is factory business migrating to?
Are the prominent, energetic companies today less product-oriented and more idea and information oriented? Think about Google, Yahoo, Facebook, My Space, the whole "Wikinomics" boom -- is there much likelihood that this type of industry (information and idea production) is a passing fad?
Are we teaching our kids to produce ideas?
Of what use is a new metaphor or a new way of thinking about our schools? How does a new metaphor expand our thinking and understanding?

Let me offer the words of Peter Senge, social scientist and philosopher, author of Presence, to introduce the power of the living organism as a apt metaphor.

How does a tree come from a tiny seed?

It’s common to say that trees come from seeds. But how can a tiny seed create a huge tree? Seeds do not contain the resources needed to grow a tree. These must come from the medium or the environment within which the tree grows. But, the seed does provide something that is crucial: a place where the whole of the tree starts to form. As resources such as water and nutrients are drawn in, the seed organizes the process that generates growth. In a sense, the seed is a gateway through which the future possibility of the living tree emerges.

Changing the way we think as individuals and organizations about the future and how best to prepare for it is the first action step needed. Leading our thoughts and the thoughts of the people we work with in schools -- asking new questions, developing new metaphorical understanding -- is the seed that begets the possibility of the future. The seed, or school leadership, is crucial in directing our organizations to sustainable futures. But, as Senge describes, the seed is only half of the process. The seed cannot survive and grow without a seedbed that accepts and nurtures it. To me, this is our big dual challenge. To re-consider and re-fine the needs of the future. Quantifying that forms the seed. Then, we must plant that seed with its powerful ideas and their potential into a culture that is accepting, embracing, and nurturing. The seed is activated by the nourishment and caretaking of the culture. A toxic seedbed does not hold the future possibility of a living thing.

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