A leading expert in education and creativity told 750 mostly North Bay educators Monday to embrace the metaphor of agriculture as they work to reshape American schools.

The centralized, standardized, industrialized approach of the past decade — typified by what he called the ironically named No Child Left Behind Act — serves mainly to quash innovation and the realization of each individual student's unique talents, said Sir Ken Robinson.

In contrast, he said, cultivating conditions that engage students, that expose them broadly to arts, humanities and academics, and that promote innovation permit young people to blossom in ways that are special and open to possibility.

"People flourish under certain circumstances, and they wilt under others," said Robinson, 63, an internationally known speaker and author.

The British educator's insightful, sometimes hilarious talks on improving education and unleashing creativity have earned him international attention and accolades, as well knighthood in 2003. His prominence in the United States stems in part from his 2006 and 2010 TED Conference appearances, viewed by an estimated 200 million people in more than 150 countries.

A Los Angeles resident, he appeared Monday in the Jackson Theater at Sonoma Country Day School near Windsor as part of the new "ieSonoma- innovate/educate" initiative developed by the Sonoma County Office of Education, Sonoma State University, Sonoma Country Day and other private and public partners.

Many of his points echoed those made earlier by a panel of five entrepreneurial innovators who highlighted the value of learning to take risks and survive failure in finding success; the need for young people to experiment and invent; the importance of exposure to the world and the many paths people take; and the value of learning self-direction.

Teachers in the room — there was a waiting list of list 100 people — loudly murmured their agreement when Maker Media president Dale Dougherty referred to the "tactile deficit" in today's kids that has fueled the astronomical growth of his company's Maker Faires.

And they applauded ardently when venture capitalist Doug Barry, whose successes include Pandora Media, suggested the grip of standardized testing on America's classrooms had everyone working hard without advancing the country as much as other nations have proved is possible.

Robinson started with the premise that overly regulated, testing-oriented classrooms are based on the fallacy that producing students with a shared set of attributes is a desirable goal. The mistake is that it fails to account for individual passions and the unplanned, unpredictable course life takes.

What Robinson called "the testing culture" treats education like "a mechanical process, not a human process," he said. As a result, many students lose interest and walk away, or simply fail to realize their potential.

"We subscribe to a myth in education, which is that life is linear. It isn't," Robinson said. ".<th>.<th>. We create our own life."