Tribute to the late Sir Ken Robinson, education reformer whose 2006 TED Talk remains the most popular

I’ve been involved in education all my professional life, since my early 20s, and I’ve done a lot with systems reforms, with governments, school districts, different countries. And it’s all been empowered by the same set of principles, which is reduced to the fact that I think our systems are outmoded. They make poor use of people’s talents. And we can’t afford that socially, culturally or economically anymore. We do need to think very differently about how we educate kids. …

Governments at the state and federal level have taken the reins of education in a very significant sort of way. It began in this country with the [1983] report in the Reagan administration, “A Nation at Risk,” when there was this massive concern that, as they put it, schools in this country were “drowning in a rising tide of mediocrity.” No Child Left Behind [2002] was part of that, too. So everyone knows education is important and governments have got deeply involved in trying to fix it. My argument is that it is important to fix it, it is important for not only economic reasons and all the other reasons. But strategies the governments around the world have adopted for the most part, including this one, have been completely back to front, and have been actually entirely counterproductive.

If you look at measures that No Child Left Behind was intended to be judged by … this whole standards movement has been at best a very partial success but in other ways a catastrophic [failure]. … We have got and have had appalling high levels of non-graduation, terrible rates of turnovers and resignations among teachers and principals, and a profession that has been in many ways demoralized by the whole process. … And what lies behind that is the standards movement. It’s well-intentioned to raise standards, but the mistake it makes is that it fails to recognize that education is not a mechanical impersonal process that can improved by tweaking standards and regularly testing. … It’s a human process. It’s real people going through the system, and whether the system takes into account who they are, what engages them, isn’t incidental. It is the core of what education is.

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