Lately in class we have been using Sir Ken Robinson’s “3 Principles for Humans to Flourish” as a theme for assessing different policies in education. These three principles are 1) Humans are naturally different and diverse, 2) Humans are curious, and 3) The mind is inherently creative. In his Ted Talk, “How to escape education’s death valley,” Robinson addresses the root of problems in the education system and shows how our current system violates all three principles for human success.
Robinson’s main argument against our current education system is the fact that it focuses on standardizing and conforming all students and teachers into one rigid system. This point alone violates all three of his principles – if humans are all different, then why should we expect them to learn the same way? If they are curious, why compress that desire with scripted programs where no one is truly learning? If the human mind is creative, why is our focus limited to reading and math, while ignoring the arts, humanities, and sciences?
He also addresses the issue of testing… while there is no doubt that some form of testing is necessary, and if used in a diagnostic manner helpful, testing in US schools has become out of control. It is hindering students’ ability to learn and teachers’ ability to teach. It is taking away precious time from the classroom and for what? Are we even using the results that we glean from the tests? By attempting to standardize an entire country full of children, are we making them numbers and percentile scores instead of learners?
The root of the problem in the United State’s education system is that students are not engaged. Their lack of purpose in school leads to a stronger desire/convenience to drop out. Robinson used Finland as an example for a prime education system that has shown great success in test performance, yet the students are rarely tested. Instead of limiting education instruction to simply the material on the test (i.e. reading and math), Finland has an incredibly broad curriculum and no regular standardized tests. As a result of this, the students perform remarkably well on the tests and they have a very low drop out rate. The reason being is that the education system is catered to the students, creating an environment where they are engaged and learning. This example proves that in order for education to be successful, students must be LEARNING. Going to school does not equal learning, if the environment is not suitable for the students. When we deny students and teachers to opportunity to excel based off of their diversity, curiosity, and creativity, we are doing them a great disservice (and the test scores are still low!).
In conclusion, Robinson compared our education system to Death Valley. He said Death Valley almost never gets rain, and as a result, no life can survive in its terrain; however, several years ago, Death Valley miraculously received nearly seven inches of rain and the following spring the valley was covered in wild flowers! Death Valley was able to bloom and support life when the environment changed, proving it was only dormant, not completely dead. Our education system is the exact same – we will only be able to flourish when we change the circumstances and the environment of learning. This new environment must be a place where teachers can truly TEACH and where students are actually LEARNING. We need to give the power back to the teachers and out of the legislation, who are so far removed from the everyday problems of education. We need to reach students who are struggling immediately, not after they have dropped out. Most importantly, we need to treat students like the capable learners they are, not just as percentile ranks in a standardized score.