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TED2006

Ken Robinson: How schools kill creativity

February 25, 2006

Sir Ken Robinson makes an entertaining and profoundly moving case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity.

Ken Robinson - Author/educator
Creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson challenges the way we're educating our children. He champions a radical rethink of our school systems, to cultivate creativity and acknowledge multiple types of intelligence. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
Good morning. How are you?
00:24
(Laughter)
00:28
It's been great, hasn't it?
00:29
I've been blown away by the whole thing.
00:32
In fact, I'm leaving.
00:34
(Laughter)
00:36
There have been three themes
running through the conference
00:42
which are relevant
to what I want to talk about.
00:45
One is the extraordinary
evidence of human creativity
00:47
in all of the presentations that we've had
00:52
and in all of the people here.
00:54
Just the variety of it
and the range of it.
00:56
The second is
that it's put us in a place
01:00
where we have no idea
what's going to happen,
01:02
in terms of the future.
01:04
No idea how this may play out.
01:06
I have an interest in education.
01:09
Actually, what I find is everybody
has an interest in education.
01:10
Don't you?
01:15
I find this very interesting.
01:16
If you're at a dinner party,
01:17
and you say you work in education --
01:19
Actually, you're not often
at dinner parties, frankly.
01:21
(Laughter)
01:24
If you work in education,
you're not asked.
01:28
(Laughter)
01:31
And you're never asked back, curiously.
That's strange to me.
01:34
But if you are, and you say to somebody,
01:38
you know, they say, "What do you do?"
01:40
and you say you work in education,
01:42
you can see the blood run from their face.
01:44
They're like, "Oh my God,"
you know, "Why me?"
01:46
(Laughter)
01:48
"My one night out all week."
01:50
(Laughter)
01:51
But if you ask about their education,
they pin you to the wall.
01:54
Because it's one of those things
that goes deep with people, am I right?
01:57
Like religion, and money and other things.
02:01
So I have a big interest in education,
and I think we all do.
02:04
We have a huge vested interest in it,
02:08
partly because it's education
that's meant to take us into this future
02:10
that we can't grasp.
02:14
If you think of it,
children starting school this year
02:15
will be retiring in 2065.
02:19
Nobody has a clue,
02:24
despite all the expertise that's been
on parade for the past four days,
02:25
what the world will look like
in five years' time.
02:29
And yet we're meant
to be educating them for it.
02:32
So the unpredictability,
I think, is extraordinary.
02:34
And the third part of this
02:36
is that we've all agreed, nonetheless,
02:38
on the really extraordinary
capacities that children have --
02:40
their capacities for innovation.
02:45
I mean, Sirena last night
was a marvel, wasn't she?
02:48
Just seeing what she could do.
02:50
And she's exceptional, but I think
she's not, so to speak,
02:52
exceptional in the whole of childhood.
02:57
What you have there is a person
of extraordinary dedication
03:00
who found a talent.
03:03
And my contention is,
all kids have tremendous talents.
03:05
And we squander them, pretty ruthlessly.
03:07
So I want to talk about education
03:09
and I want to talk about creativity.
03:12
My contention is that creativity now
is as important in education as literacy,
03:13
and we should treat it
with the same status.
03:19
(Applause) Thank you.
03:22
(Applause)
03:24
That was it, by the way.
03:29
Thank you very much.
03:30
(Laughter)
03:31
So, 15 minutes left.
03:33
(Laughter)
03:35
Well, I was born... no.
03:38
(Laughter)
03:40
I heard a great story recently
-- I love telling it --
03:43
of a little girl
who was in a drawing lesson.
03:46
She was six, and she was
at the back, drawing,
03:49
and the teacher said this girl
hardly ever paid attention,
03:51
and in this drawing lesson, she did.
03:54
The teacher was fascinated.
03:55
She went over to her,
and she said, "What are you drawing?"
03:57
And the girl said, "I'm
drawing a picture of God."
04:00
And the teacher said, "But nobody
knows what God looks like."
04:03
And the girl said,
"They will, in a minute."
04:06
(Laughter)
04:09
When my son was four in England --
04:20
Actually, he was four
everywhere, to be honest.
04:23
(Laughter)
04:25
If we're being strict about it,
wherever he went, he was four that year.
04:27
He was in the Nativity play.
Do you remember the story?
04:30
(Laughter)
04:33
No, it was big, it was a big story.
04:34
Mel Gibson did the sequel,
you may have seen it.
04:36
(Laughter)
04:38
"Nativity II."
04:40
But James got the part of Joseph,
which we were thrilled about.
04:41
We considered this to be
one of the lead parts.
04:45
We had the place crammed
full of agents in T-shirts:
04:48
"James Robinson IS Joseph!" (Laughter)
04:50
He didn't have to speak,
04:53
but you know the bit
where the three kings come in?
04:54
They come in bearing gifts,
gold, frankincense and myrrh.
04:57
This really happened.
04:59
We were sitting there and I think
they just went out of sequence,
05:00
because we talked to the little boy
afterward and we said,
05:04
"You OK with that?" And he said,
"Yeah, why? Was that wrong?"
05:06
They just switched.
05:09
The three boys came in,
05:10
four-year-olds with tea towels
on their heads,
05:12
and they put these boxes down,
05:14
and the first boy said,
"I bring you gold."
05:15
And the second boy said,
"I bring you myrrh."
05:17
And the third boy said, "Frank sent this."
05:20
(Laughter)
05:22
What these things have in common
is that kids will take a chance.
05:34
If they don't know, they'll have a go.
05:37
Am I right? They're not
frightened of being wrong.
05:40
I don't mean to say that being wrong
is the same thing as being creative.
05:44
What we do know is,
if you're not prepared to be wrong,
05:48
you'll never come up
with anything original --
05:52
if you're not prepared to be wrong.
05:54
And by the time they get to be adults,
most kids have lost that capacity.
05:56
They have become
frightened of being wrong.
06:01
And we run our companies like this.
06:03
We stigmatize mistakes.
06:05
And we're now running
national education systems
06:07
where mistakes are the worst
thing you can make.
06:09
And the result is that
we are educating people
06:12
out of their creative capacities.
06:15
Picasso once said this, he said
that all children are born artists.
06:18
The problem is to remain an artist
as we grow up.
06:22
I believe this passionately,
that we don't grow into creativity,
06:25
we grow out of it.
06:29
Or rather, we get educated out if it.
06:30
So why is this?
06:33
I lived in Stratford-on-Avon
until about five years ago.
06:34
In fact, we moved
from Stratford to Los Angeles.
06:38
So you can imagine
what a seamless transition that was.
06:41
(Laughter)
06:44
Actually, we lived in a place
called Snitterfield,
06:46
just outside Stratford,
06:48
which is where
Shakespeare's father was born.
06:49
Are you struck by a new thought? I was.
06:52
You don't think of Shakespeare
having a father, do you?
06:54
Do you? Because you don't think
of Shakespeare being a child, do you?
06:57
Shakespeare being seven?
07:01
I never thought of it.
07:02
I mean, he was seven at some point.
07:03
He was in somebody's
English class, wasn't he?
07:05
(Laughter)
07:07
How annoying would that be?
07:14
(Laughter)
07:16
"Must try harder."
07:23
(Laughter)
07:24
Being sent to bed by his dad, you know,
to Shakespeare, "Go to bed, now!
07:28
And put the pencil down."
07:32
(Laughter)
07:34
"And stop speaking like that."
07:35
(Laughter)
07:37
"It's confusing everybody."
07:41
(Laughter)
07:42
Anyway, we moved
from Stratford to Los Angeles,
07:47
and I just want to say a word
about the transition.
07:53
My son didn't want to come.
07:55
I've got two kids;
he's 21 now, my daughter's 16.
07:57
He didn't want to come to Los Angeles.
08:00
He loved it, but he had
a girlfriend in England.
08:02
This was the love of his life, Sarah.
08:05
He'd known her for a month.
08:08
(Laughter)
08:10
Mind you, they'd had
their fourth anniversary,
08:11
because it's a long time when you're 16.
08:13
He was really upset on the plane,
08:16
he said, "I'll never find
another girl like Sarah."
08:18
And we were rather pleased
about that, frankly --
08:20
(Laughter)
08:23
Because she was the main reason
we were leaving the country.
08:31
(Laughter)
08:34
But something strikes you
when you move to America
08:40
and travel around the world:
08:42
Every education system on Earth
has the same hierarchy of subjects.
08:43
Every one. Doesn't matter where you go.
08:47
You'd think it would be
otherwise, but it isn't.
08:49
At the top are mathematics and languages,
08:51
then the humanities,
and at the bottom are the arts.
08:53
Everywhere on Earth.
08:56
And in pretty much every system too,
there's a hierarchy within the arts.
08:57
Art and music are normally
given a higher status in schools
09:01
than drama and dance.
09:04
There isn't an education
system on the planet
09:05
that teaches dance everyday to children
09:07
the way we teach them mathematics. Why?
09:09
Why not? I think this is rather important.
09:12
I think math is very
important, but so is dance.
09:15
Children dance all the time
if they're allowed to, we all do.
09:17
We all have bodies, don't we?
Did I miss a meeting?
09:20
(Laughter)
09:23
Truthfully, what happens is,
as children grow up,
09:26
we start to educate them progressively
from the waist up.
09:28
And then we focus on their heads.
09:31
And slightly to one side.
09:33
If you were to visit
education, as an alien,
09:35
and say "What's it for, public education?"
09:38
I think you'd have to conclude,
if you look at the output,
09:41
who really succeeds by this,
09:43
who does everything that they should,
09:45
who gets all the brownie
points, who are the winners --
09:47
I think you'd have to conclude
the whole purpose of public education
09:49
throughout the world
09:53
is to produce university professors.
09:54
Isn't it?
09:56
They're the people who come out the top.
09:57
And I used to be one, so there.
09:59
(Laughter)
10:01
And I like university
professors, but you know,
10:04
we shouldn't hold them up
10:07
as the high-water mark
of all human achievement.
10:09
They're just a form of life,
10:12
another form of life.
10:14
But they're rather curious, and I say this
out of affection for them.
10:15
There's something curious
about professors in my experience --
10:18
not all of them, but typically,
they live in their heads.
10:21
They live up there,
and slightly to one side.
10:24
They're disembodied, you know,
in a kind of literal way.
10:27
They look upon their body as a form
of transport for their heads.
10:30
(Laughter)
10:34
Don't they?
10:40
It's a way of getting
their head to meetings.
10:41
(Laughter)
10:43
If you want real evidence
of out-of-body experiences,
10:49
get yourself along to a residential
conference of senior academics,
10:52
and pop into the discotheque
on the final night.
10:56
(Laughter)
10:58
And there, you will see it.
11:01
Grown men and women
writhing uncontrollably, off the beat.
11:02
(Laughter)
11:07
Waiting until it ends so they can
go home and write a paper about it.
11:09
(Laughter)
11:13
Our education system is predicated
on the idea of academic ability.
11:15
And there's a reason.
11:19
Around the world, there were
no public systems of education,
11:20
really, before the 19th century.
11:23
They all came into being
to meet the needs of industrialism.
11:26
So the hierarchy is rooted on two ideas.
11:29
Number one, that the most useful
subjects for work are at the top.
11:31
So you were
probably steered benignly away
11:36
from things at school when you
were a kid, things you liked,
11:38
on the grounds that you would
never get a job doing that. Is that right?
11:41
Don't do music, you're not
going to be a musician;
11:44
don't do art, you won't be an artist.
11:46
Benign advice -- now, profoundly mistaken.
11:48
The whole world
is engulfed in a revolution.
11:52
And the second is academic ability,
11:54
which has really come to dominate
our view of intelligence,
11:56
because the universities designed
the system in their image.
11:59
If you think of it, the whole system
of public education around the world
12:02
is a protracted process
of university entrance.
12:05
And the consequence
is that many highly-talented,
12:08
brilliant, creative
people think they're not,
12:10
because the thing
they were good at at school
12:12
wasn't valued,
or was actually stigmatized.
12:15
And I think we can't afford
to go on that way.
12:17
In the next 30 years, according to UNESCO,
12:19
more people worldwide will be graduating
12:22
through education
than since the beginning of history.
12:25
More people, and it's the combination
of all the things we've talked about --
12:27
technology and its transformation
effect on work, and demography
12:31
and the huge explosion in population.
12:34
Suddenly, degrees aren't worth anything.
12:36
Isn't that true?
12:39
When I was a student,
if you had a degree, you had a job.
12:40
If you didn't have a job,
it's because you didn't want one.
12:43
And I didn't want one, frankly. (Laughter)
12:46
But now kids with degrees
12:49
are often heading home
to carry on playing video games,
12:53
because you need an MA where
the previous job required a BA,
12:56
and now you need a PhD for the other.
12:59
It's a process of academic inflation.
13:01
And it indicates the whole
structure of education
13:03
is shifting beneath our feet.
13:05
We need to radically rethink
our view of intelligence.
13:06
We know three things about intelligence.
13:09
One, it's diverse.
13:11
We think about the world in all the ways
that we experience it.
13:12
We think visually, we think in sound,
we think kinesthetically.
13:15
We think in abstract terms,
we think in movement.
13:18
Secondly, intelligence is dynamic.
13:21
If you look at the interactions
of a human brain,
13:23
as we heard yesterday
from a number of presentations,
13:26
intelligence is wonderfully interactive.
13:29
The brain isn't divided into compartments.
13:31
In fact, creativity --
which I define as the process
13:33
of having original ideas
that have value --
13:37
more often than not comes about
through the interaction
13:39
of different disciplinary
ways of seeing things.
13:42
By the way, there's a shaft of nerves
that joins the two halves of the brain
13:46
called the corpus callosum.
13:50
It's thicker in women.
13:51
Following off from Helen yesterday,
13:53
this is probably why women
are better at multi-tasking.
13:54
Because you are, aren't you?
13:58
There's a raft of research,
but I know it from my personal life.
13:59
If my wife is cooking a meal at home --
which is not often, thankfully.
14:03
(Laughter)
14:09
No, she's good at some things,
but if she's cooking,
14:11
she's dealing with people on the phone,
14:14
she's talking to the kids,
she's painting the ceiling,
14:16
she's doing open-heart surgery over here.
14:18
If I'm cooking, the door
is shut, the kids are out,
14:22
the phone's on the hook,
if she comes in I get annoyed.
14:25
I say, "Terry, please,
I'm trying to fry an egg in here."
14:28
(Laughter)
14:31
"Give me a break."
14:38
(Laughter)
14:39
Actually, do you know
that old philosophical thing,
14:41
if a tree falls in a forest
and nobody hears it, did it happen?
14:43
Remember that old chestnut?
14:47
I saw a great t-shirt
recently, which said,
14:48
"If a man speaks his mind
in a forest, and no woman hears him,
14:51
is he still wrong?"
14:55
(Laughter)
14:56
And the third thing about intelligence is,
15:03
it's distinct.
15:06
I'm doing a new book at the moment
called "Epiphany,"
15:07
which is based on a series
of interviews with people
15:10
about how they discovered their talent.
15:12
I'm fascinated
by how people got to be there.
15:14
It's really prompted by a conversation
I had with a wonderful woman
15:16
who maybe most people
have never heard of, Gillian Lynne.
15:20
Have you heard of her? Some have.
15:22
She's a choreographer,
and everybody knows her work.
15:24
She did "Cats" and "Phantom of the Opera."
15:27
She's wonderful.
15:29
I used to be on the board
of The Royal Ballet,
15:30
as you can see.
15:32
Anyway, Gillian and I had
lunch one day and I said,
15:33
"How did you get to be a dancer?"
15:36
It was interesting.
15:37
When she was at school,
she was really hopeless.
15:39
And the school, in the '30s,
wrote to her parents and said,
15:41
"We think Gillian
has a learning disorder."
15:45
She couldn't concentrate;
she was fidgeting.
15:47
I think now they'd say she had ADHD.
Wouldn't you?
15:49
But this was the 1930s, and ADHD
hadn't been invented at this point.
15:52
It wasn't an available condition.
15:56
(Laughter)
15:59
People weren't aware they could have that.
16:01
(Laughter)
16:03
Anyway, she went to see this specialist.
16:06
So, this oak-paneled room,
and she was there with her mother,
16:10
and she was led and sat
on this chair at the end,
16:14
and she sat on her hands for 20 minutes
while this man talked to her mother
16:16
about the problems
Gillian was having at school.
16:20
Because she was disturbing people;
her homework was always late; and so on,
16:22
little kid of eight.
16:26
In the end, the doctor
went and sat next to Gillian, and said,
16:27
"I've listened to all these
things your mother's told me,
16:30
I need to speak to her privately.
16:33
Wait here. We'll be back;
we won't be very long,"
16:34
and they went and left her.
16:37
But as they went out of the room,
16:39
he turned on the radio
that was sitting on his desk.
16:41
And when they got out, he said to her
mother, "Just stand and watch her."
16:44
And the minute they left the room,
16:48
she was on her feet, moving to the music.
16:51
And they watched for a few minutes
and he turned to her mother and said,
16:53
"Mrs. Lynne, Gillian
isn't sick; she's a dancer.
16:57
Take her to a dance school."
17:01
I said, "What happened?"
17:03
She said, "She did. I can't tell you
how wonderful it was.
17:05
We walked in this room
and it was full of people like me.
17:08
People who couldn't sit still.
17:10
People who had to move to think."
Who had to move to think.
17:13
They did ballet, they did tap, jazz;
they did modern; they did contemporary.
17:17
She was eventually auditioned
for the Royal Ballet School;
17:21
she became a soloist; she had
a wonderful career at the Royal Ballet.
17:24
She eventually graduated
from the Royal Ballet School,
17:27
founded the Gillian Lynne Dance Company,
17:30
met Andrew Lloyd Webber.
17:32
She's been responsible for
17:33
some of the most successful
musical theater productions in history,
17:35
she's given pleasure to millions,
and she's a multi-millionaire.
17:38
Somebody else might have put her
on medication and told her to calm down.
17:41
(Applause)
17:45
What I think it comes to is this:
17:52
Al Gore spoke the other night
17:54
about ecology and the revolution
that was triggered by Rachel Carson.
17:56
I believe our only hope for the future
18:01
is to adopt a new conception
of human ecology,
18:03
one in which we start
to reconstitute our conception
18:07
of the richness of human capacity.
18:10
Our education system has mined our minds
18:12
in the way that we strip-mine the earth:
for a particular commodity.
18:15
And for the future, it won't serve us.
18:19
We have to rethink
the fundamental principles
18:21
on which we're educating our children.
18:24
There was a wonderful quote
by Jonas Salk, who said,
18:26
"If all the insects
were to disappear from the Earth,
18:28
within 50 years all life
on Earth would end.
18:33
If all human beings
disappeared from the Earth,
18:37
within 50 years all forms
of life would flourish."
18:40
And he's right.
18:44
What TED celebrates is the gift
of the human imagination.
18:46
We have to be careful now
18:50
that we use this gift wisely
18:52
and that we avert some of the scenarios
that we've talked about.
18:54
And the only way we'll do it is by seeing
our creative capacities
18:58
for the richness they are
19:02
and seeing our children
for the hope that they are.
19:03
And our task is to educate
their whole being,
19:06
so they can face this future.
19:09
By the way -- we may not see this future,
19:10
but they will.
19:13
And our job is to help them
make something of it.
19:14
Thank you very much.
19:17
(Applause)
19:18

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Ken Robinson - Author/educator
Creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson challenges the way we're educating our children. He champions a radical rethink of our school systems, to cultivate creativity and acknowledge multiple types of intelligence.

Why you should listen

Why don't we get the best out of people? Sir Ken Robinson argues that it's because we've been educated to become good workers, rather than creative thinkers. Students with restless minds and bodies -- far from being cultivated for their energy and curiosity -- are ignored or even stigmatized, with terrible consequences. "We are educating people out of their creativity," Robinson says. It's a message with deep resonance. Robinson's TED Talk has been distributed widely around the Web since its release in June 2006. The most popular words framing blog posts on his talk? "Everyone should watch this."

A visionary cultural leader, Sir Ken led the British government's 1998 advisory committee on creative and cultural education, a massive inquiry into the significance of creativity in the educational system and the economy, and was knighted in 2003 for his achievements. His 2009 book, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, is a New York Times bestseller and has been translated into 21 languages. A 10th anniversary edition of his classic work on creativity and innovation, Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative, was published in 2011. His 2013 book, Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life, is a practical guide that answers questions about finding your personal Element. In his latest book, Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education, he argues for an end to our outmoded industrial educational system and proposes a highly personalized, organic approach that draws on today’s unprecedented technological and professional resources to engage all students.

The original video is available on TED.com
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