Sir Ken Robinson likes to provoke thinking and challenge assumptions about teaching and learning, and he delivered the goods Monday in a talk at the Sonoma Country Day School.
The internationally recognized authority on creativity and innovation said schools are bogged down in “a culture of testing, testing, testing,” which is killing the spirit of teachers and students and inhibiting their future.
Robinson found a receptive audience of educators, students and business people Monday. It was part of the ieSonoma- innovate/educate initiative now in its fifth year developed by the Sonoma County Office of Education, Sonoma State University, Sonoma Country Day School and other private and public partners.
Testing, he said, has become an industry amounting to $16 billion in the United States in 2013. By comparison, he said, the National Football League is a $9 billion business.
But the obsession with testing is not confined just to the United States.
He showed a slide of a school in India where parents were lined up outside the windows waiting to hand “cheat sheets” to their children in the building who were taking standardized tests.
Robinson said young people have more capacity than the educational system recognizes.
“We have infantilized children. They can do far more than we give them credit for,” he said. “We kind of boxed them into the system.
“We must stop thinking about details and data and testing and political outcome. We have to start investing more deeply into the natural capacities and knack that people have.”
Videos of Robinson’s TED Talks are among the most viewed of the organization, seen by an estimated 300 million people in 150 countries. In 2003, he received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II for services to the arts.
His 2009 book, “Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything,” was a New York Times bestseller translated into 21 languages.
Robinson said the problem is not how to get young people energized to learn, but “how do we get them to dig deep into their powers of innovation and creativity.”
He said children are “learning organisms,” for example absorbing the complexity of language to speak all on their own by age two.
Kids love to learn, he said, “but not everyone likes to be educated.”
Robinson said he is all for schools. Most people, for example, need help with algebra and calculus, unless they are Isaac Newton.
But he said some of the rituals of education are obstructive.
He cited national statistics that show 20 percent of freshman students don’t graduate from high school.
But instead of referring to them as “dropouts,” he said “non-graduation” is a better term.
“They’re not fed up with learning. It’s because they’re fed up with school,” he said. “Dropout sounds like they failed the system. It’s more appropriate to say the system failed them.”
He said many leave the school system because it doesn’t jibe with their aspirations, nor does it seem relevant to them.
The mass education system, he said, was designed at the height of the industrial revolution “to produce people with a certain set of skills and attitudes and to support the growth of the industrial economy.”