You are in the miracle business — the best business to be in


The education system needs an overhaul, Sir Ken Robinson says, and educators can help. We’re in the miracle business, the best business to be in. (Public domain image via Word Swag)

The system is getting in the way.

Sir Ken Robinson has counseled education leaders all over the world. He’s seen what works and what doesn’t. And there’s a lot we can do in the United States — and in other countries — to improve.

Take standardization and competition. We’re mass-producing lessons and units for the masses, and we’re pitting student against student, school against school, country against country. (Have you seen the PISA rankings?)

It’s just not working, Sir Ken told the audience at the MACUL Conference in Detroit, Michigan, and it’s time for an overhaul.

Seeing Sir Ken in person was the stuff of bucket lists for me. I’ve watched his TED Talks over and over. (In fact, his video “Do schools kill creativity?” is a staple of a sketchnoting session I do at conferences.) A post about his most motivational quotes was one of my early blog posts on this blog.

He gave a rousing call to action for educators, reminding us that it’s not up to someone else to effect change. It’s up to us.

“Don’t think someone is the system. You are the system,” he said.

Here’s my sketchnote of the presentation:

Sir Ken keynote

Sir Ken laid out a better plan for education. He said education should be …

  • Social: Education should enable young people to become active and compassionate citizens.
  • Personal: Education should enable young people to engage with the world within them as well as the world around them.
  • Economic: Education should enable students to become economically responsible and independent.
  • Cultural: Education should enable students to understand and appreciate their own cultures and to respect the diversity of others.

When he touched on “Personal” in the list above, he reminded us that there are two worlds in a student’s life: the world within them and the world around them. The world within them has to do with how they feel, how they are motivated, what their dreams are. The world around them has to do with the people, places and events in the world.

“Schools are more focused on the world around children than the world inside of children,” he said.

Standardized testing is doing more harm than good, he said. He pointed to a situation in Hong Kong, where parents sign their children up for a training program so they can pass tests to get into the best kindergarten programs.

“We’ve lost our minds, haven’t we?” he said.

The No Child Left Behind program required testing but provided no specifics for how it would be done. The result: testing is a $16 billion business, bigger than the NFL ($9 billion) and the cinema ($11.2 billion). Plus, it hasn’t shown a positive effect on achievement but rather has had a dreadful effect on motivation and engagement.

“It’s a busted flush,” he said.

See and hear Sir Ken talking about testing in the Periscope video below:

Sir Ken Robinson talks creative schools at #macul17! #ditchbook #tlap

To close, Sir Ken likened the education system to farming. Organic farming focuses on using the natural rhythms of nature and systems of composting and fertilizing to help plants grow. If you create natural environments for growth, the whole thing goes right, he said.

Organic farming focuses on the soil. Industrial farming focuses on the size and yield of the crop.

He compared farming to education. “We’ve created these unnatural institutions and have expected students to learn in them,” he said. We’ve been focusing on the output, the yield, test results and competition.

To improve, we don’t need to make the old system more efficient. We need to reinvent the system. To start, we’ve got to get the culture right, much like creating the right soil conditions in farming.

“Have a rich mix of arts, humanities, academics, vocational, links for community, links for the parents,” he said. “Get that mix right, and all the other stuff will take care of itself. It will and it does.”

When you get the conditions right, plant growth is a miracle, he said.

“If you get the conditions right, miracles happen. If you say it’s a miracle, it sounds as if it’s an occasional, rare thing. The truth is in education, they happen every day. You are in the miracle business, and it’s the best business you can be in.

See the final inspiration from Sir Ken’s keynote in the video below.

[reminder]What do we need to do to help students thrive in a better education system? What can we do ourselves?[/reminder]