Sir Ken Robinson is like a rock-star of the educational world. I’ve always been very familiar with his TED Talks, which inspire creativity and education reform. I had not known that he also had published books on the very same issue until his first book, Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative was re-released earlier this year.
This led me to The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. The book begins by telling the story of a little girl named Gillian. Gillian had trouble staying on task in school. She fidgeted, daydreamed and was generally disruptive. The school thought Gillian must have a learning disability, and recommended she be sent to a school for children with special needs.
But when Gillian’s parents took her to see a psychologist to have her assessed, a magical thing happened. After listening to the mother’s concerns, and talking to Gillian, the psychologist pulled her mother out of the room for a few minutes, turned on the radio and left Gillian alone in the room with nothing but the music. And Gillian began to dance. “Gillian isn’t sick,” the psychologist said. “She’s a dancer. Take her to dance school.” The girl grew up to be Gillian Lynne, British dancer and choreographer of shows like Cats and Phantom of the Opera.
The book is full of stories like these – how people like Gillian, Paul McCartney, Arianna Huffington and others found their “element.” What’s most relevant here for educators is that often they found this element despite the school system, not because of it. Certainly there were a few instances of an inspired teacher helping them find their muse. But there were just as many instances of education standing in the way of their achievements.
While the book can usually be found in the self-help section of the bookstore, it has staggering implications for educators. Particularly that the kind of “intelligence” that we measure in our current school system through rote learning and standardized tests is just one of many different kinds of intelligences.
Robinson believes that public education promotes conformity, not creativity, and that the hierarchy of subjects (Maths and Sciences at the Top, Arts at the bottom), pressure for school performance on standardized assessments leaves behind students like Gillian who may be incredibly intelligent in a way our schools are just not equipped to assess.
I highly recommend all educators read this book. Not only will it inspire you to push for educational reform for your students, but it will help you better understand and appreciate the wide variety of intelligences you face in your classroom every day.
Not a reader? Check out his TED videos instead.