Education as we know it doesn't work

I feel like I wasted large parts of my childhood by going through the “standard” British education system. It wasn’t really until I went to university, and even then not until my second year, that I felt like I was doing something productive. I should sprinkle those statements with a note pointing out that my memories of my childhood are few so I don’t entirely trust the impression I have of that period, but the overwhelming recollection I have is of being bored and uninterested in most of what I was being asked to do.

Now that you know that you’ll probably be more able to appreciate my appreciation of the following video…

I can’t adequately express how much I think every single person on the planet needs to watch that video. Aside from the awesome animation style (see more of this on the Cognitive Media site), the way Ken Robinson describes the assembly line style of education that we consider to be normal is dead on.

We’ve applied the “advances” of the industrial revolution to education, and it doesn’t work. It’s like building a machine to make bowling pins out of Bonsai trees. Sure, you can make it work, but in doing so you remove all the parts of the tree that make it so interesting. You take something full of variation and character, and strip it of everything that’s different by pointing it out and labelling it as unwanted. That’s what we’re doing to our kids.

A little while ago I posted the following video of Sir Ken’s talk from a TED conference in 2006. In this talk he puts forward the idea that schools kill creativity.

I agree completely. I’ve seen it. I’ve experienced it. I’ve fought against it.

Now, a lot of you reading this are probably thinking that I blame the teachers. After all, they’re the key figure in kids’ school experiences. But no, I don’t. My family has a strong educational theme, both in the present and in the past, and I see a lot of teachers struggling against the constraints the system puts on them. The result-focused measurement of educational performance is imposed by the system along with a one-size-fits-all curriculum (albeit with minor allowable variations), which leaves little room for mainstream schools and teachers to cater for the wide spectrum of skill levels and learning styles that you find in any typical school.

One fairly recent phenomenon that he mentions in both talks is the emergence and explosion of ADHD. I believe ADHD exists, but it’s not what they say it is. It’s not a mental deficiency. It’s not a disease. It’s boredom.

A good friend once introduced me to a simple but mind-blowing idea. Most of the time, telling kids off when they “misbehave” is like being cross with a fly for landing on your food. They’re not doing it with malicious intent, they’re just behaving out of instinct. You’re basically telling them off for not behaving like an adult. The ironic thing is that by telling them off you’re teaching them how to get your attention, so they repeat it, often finding it funny the more irate you appear to be. This leads you to frustration which will commonly result in the cycle repeating. Thus begins the “normal” parent-child relationship.

ADHD is no different. ADHD is what “professionals” have taken to labeling kids who don’t do well in the one-size-fits-all school system. Just because a kid can’t sit still for hours on end listening to someone telling them the answers so their school can get good results, doesn’t mean they’re sick.

(Yes, I said “so their school can get good results” and I meant it!)

Take, for example, Clifford Stoll. I love this guy. He epitomises the way kids want to be; the way kids are. The way we spend years conditioning our kids to regard as “bad behaviour”.

Make sure you watch it to the end and pay attention to how animated he is when he tells the story at the end. Note how that expression moves from his body to his voice when he gets to the point of the story.

Isn’t he great? The world excites him, and he’s not afraid to show it. He clearly has difficulty focusing on anything that doesn’t interest him. Throughout that 18 minute talk he jumps from subject to subject and emotion to emotion, barely stopping to take a breath. If I ever have kids I hope they’re just as fantastic as he is.

I titled this post “Education as we know it doesn’t work” and it’s missing a key part of the point. It does work if you want the society we have, but if you want a society where everyone is considered valuable regardless of their contribution, and creativity in all its forms is celebrated not stifled, education as we know it does not work.

One size does not fit all, it never has, and I hope to [insert deity here] it never will!