So You Say You Want A Revolution?

You know the power of words. We pass through periods dominated by this or that word — it may be development, or it may be competition, or education, or purity or efficiency or even sanctity. It is the word of the time.

— Joseph Conrad, Chance

A change is stealing over the educational world. I feel it in my water. The time of rigour, standards and excellence is past. The time of creativity, personalised curricula and and exam-factory approaches.

In other words, Sir Ken Robinson’s star is in the ascendant. Or so it would seem, at least from Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt’s review of Sir Ken’s book.

He quotes Sir Ken:

Our school systems are now a matrix of organisational rituals and intellectual habits that do not adequately reflect the great variety of talents of the students who attend them. Because they conflict with these systems, too many students think that they are the problem; that they are not intelligent, or must have difficulties in learning.

H’mm. Based on this extract, this is vintage Sir Ken — and also a textbook case of the informal logical fallacy known as prejudicial language: emotive terms are used to link value and moral goodness to an acceptance of the proposition. It might even be true in certain instances — but as general description of our current schools system . . . in my experience, nah.

Rather worryingly (for me), Tristram Hunt finds this thesis “compelling”. We are, apparently,

currently operating a Fordist model of mass education that is failing to prepare young people for the dramatic socioeconomic demands of the digital age.

‘Fordist’, no less. Sounds bad, doesn’t it? Mass production bad, bespoke craftsmanship good followed by the reassuringly familiar Shift Happens! trope.

To me, this is not redolent of a rabble of rowdy revolutionaries so much as a middle class stitch up. It’s as if the Bolsheviks stormed the Winter Palace in order to get hold of the fish knives and forks. Or, possibly, they stormed IKEA instead. And when I say ‘stormed’ I mean ‘strolled purposefully towards the organic juicer section’.

I suspect that Sir Ken is a Roussean Romantic at heart: his ideal world would be a misty moorland populated by heroic Heathcliff-clones stomping, shouting and being Creative with a capital ‘C’; a world where no-one has to empty the bins, or build or maintain the ‘Fordist’ industrial infrastructure upon which so much romantic posturing depends.

13 thoughts on “So You Say You Want A Revolution?

  1. chrismwparsons April 26, 2015 / 3:11 pm

    As I have blogged elsewhere (link at bottom), I have big problems with the notion that the ‘Big C’ Creativity which can actually be described as innovation, and a means to salvation for humanity in a time of population and technological runaway, is best arrived at through the ‘small c’ creativity which Sir Ken is pushing to become legion through our education system.

    I have started reading his new book, and intend to give it a real close-up in a future post. It could well be that he will join all the dots for me, and if he does, then I will certainly write as such. Unfortunately, it’s someway down my list of ‘to-does’ at present !

    • e=mc2andallthat April 26, 2015 / 3:22 pm

      I think Sir Ken is always about the big C. I actually agree with him that the arts are an indispensable part of a complete education. What I don’t get is the proposed shape of an educational system in his mind. He seems stronger on what’s wrong rather than on specific proposals on how to put things right — at least, that’s the impression I got from reading him.

      • chrismwparsons April 26, 2015 / 3:39 pm

        I entirely agree – The broad, arts-integrated curriculum can only be a good thing, and I think he is right that we are going to have to be quicker and smarter than ever before to catch and address problems unfolding in the world, and we might indeed need a different model of education. However, I’m just not sure the creative schools idea places the emphasis in the right way. I’d best not say much more though until I’ve read the new book!

      • Kate Rauner April 28, 2015 / 3:21 pm

        Here in America the education system has been “in crisis” all my life. Every couple years some new format or curriculum is touted as the perfect cure for our modern world, then seems to disappear, never to be heard from again. Finland seems to get a lot of press as “the model”. But we remain”in crisis.”

      • e=mc2andallthat April 28, 2015 / 8:05 pm

        Same over here. Education is a highly charged political issue. What is curious is the peculiar circularity of things: some new concerns are reminiscent of things that happened 20 years ago when I started my career! BTW, have you come across “The Martian” by Andy Weir? I found it a hugely enjoyable sf read.

      • e=mc2andallthat April 28, 2015 / 8:10 pm

        Finland is often praised here too — while the politicians usually do the exact diametric opposite of what the Finns actually do . . .

  2. ijstock April 26, 2015 / 6:06 pm

    Yes but…! I’m glad to read the three comments above – because I too think that creative/artistic activity is an indispensable part of the whole. Without it, exam-factory schools would be even more soulless.

    But there is a world of difference between learning what is needed to develop one’s artistic and cultural self and the woolly world of unfocussed ‘creativity’ that it is often confused with.

    My worry at present is that a return to a left-leaning government would signal the re-empowerment of The Blob. Even though I can’t stomach much more of the current lot, I think the loss of the recent resurgence in traditional educational values would be a great loss.

    • e=mc2andallthat April 26, 2015 / 6:38 pm

      I genuinely think the resurgence of traditional educational values is here to stay, or at least I hope so. And to be fair to Tristram Hunt, his article did have have some encouraging statements in that respect. My fear is that Sir Ken is himself a member of The Blob par excellence, a powerful spokesman for woolly, unfocused ‘creativity’

  3. teachwell April 26, 2015 / 8:14 pm

    I think it is fair to say that TED talks are for rich people who want to hear ‘dynamic talkers’ and Ken is certainly one of them. The one thing I would take away from him is that we need to value other subjects more. Shovelling english and maths down the throat of children for an hour each day is not working and certainly many children develop literacy and numeracy skills through other subjects, so killing the time spent on them is an nonsense (how much maths is there in music for example!!). I know that my writing in history was better than in english per se but it helped me to develop my literacy skills in both. I want fewer genres for literacy and as much of the maths curriculum as possible to be taught elsewhere (why are we bothering to teach data handling in numeracy?).

    Creativity and innovation comes from a firm base of existing knowledge and this seems to be forgotten from people who are into utopian ideas of being creative. Their idea of being creative is doing what you feel like and so it not based on thinking at all it seems!!

    • e=mc2andallthat April 26, 2015 / 8:29 pm

      I wholeheartedly agree. Sir Ken is right that the arts can and should be an indispensable part of education. However, it is not always clear (at least to me) how he envisages putting his ideas into actual practice. Malcolm Muggeridge claimed that one of his TV producers used to hold a card saying “Be controversial!” while he was on air. In the end, for all his enthusiasm and TED views, Sir Ken is simply standing on the educational sidelines holding up a card saying “Be creative!”

  4. teachwell April 26, 2015 / 8:31 pm

    To be rid of the snake oil sellers in education……

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