Blog van Tom_Bennett ( 8-8-2014 Kritiek op Sir Ken Robinson)
This week, BBC Radio 4 treats us to a series that might well
be very interesting indeed. The Educators, every Wednesday at 4pm GMT, looks at
some of the most influential names in the education landscape today. Week 1:
Sir Ken Robinson. Oh boy.
Sir Ken is, without a doubt, the nicest guy with whom I
frequently completely disagree. His avuncular, jocular TED talks and his
ability to simultaneously convey bemused surprise and weary dismay at the state
of education, makes him a popular, if unlikely, revolutionary. He's a digital
John the Baptist, railing against the Herods of factory schooling. He's kind,
witty and literate. He is fantasy dinner party bait. He's also impressively
wrong about what schools are actually like, and, therefore, how we should improve
them. Apart from those two things, we are of a piece (I'll express an interest
in this programme I'm in it, somewhere, railing against the cult of Ken,
pointing out the emperor is naked, but still a really nice guy).
I've written more about the Sir Ken phenomena here and here.
You can also read more about his views by reading the story in today's copy of
He believes in children, but don't we all? He values
creativity, but who doesn't? Who would stand on a platform against it? All that
we differ on is method. He says creativity is something we can teach in schools
and I say how do we know? How do we measure it? No one has ever agreed on a
method, or an assessment method, and many (me, for instance) say it can't even
be taught in any way that resembles how we teach.
He deserves his place in the list of the 21st-century's most
prominent educationalists because of what he represents more than the influence
he has had. The salon revolutions he encourages have been represented and
embodied for many years before the RSA decided to animate his lecture. The cry
that children are crushed by a system that doesn't care is as old as the
Enlightenment. This ancient enmity between rationalism and romanticism, between
the forces of order and reason and the fluid armies of idea-space, is a
mythical battle in contemporary classrooms.
If anyone has a mind to, a visit to a school will reveal the
reverse to be quite true: that classrooms, far from being battery farms where
children are clipped and de-beaked into automata, are frequently bastions of
group work, discovery learning and freethinking libertarianism. The model he
presupposes last enjoyed mainstream acceptance round about the time of Tom
Brown's School Days. Since the 1960s onwards (and earlier, in many pockets of
education) progressive ideas such as those Sir Ken champions have become part
of the DNA of everyday schooling. Which isn't to say that it predominates
everywhere, but merely that it certainly has enjoyed popular status. See: what
Sir Ken evangelises as revolution has been the establishment orthodoxy for
several decades. He isn't Moses. He's Pharoah.
As to the curriculum: why, his dystopian Cassandra stance is
even more at odds with real schools. Every school I have ever visited has
bounced with compulsory drama, expressive arts, art, design and technology,
music and those are merely the subjects that are intrinsically and obviously
creative and expressive. What about large segments of the English curriculum,
creative writing assignments and role plays and poems threaded through the
whole curriculum like veins in blue cheese? Even given the contemporary trend
towards the holy grails of good passes in English and maths, the claim that
schools are Soylent Green factories is patently, obviously nonsense.
The dance equivalence argument is also worrying. You walk on
booby-trapped eggshells when you criticise a subject, but I will put a delicate
toe into this one: while I genuflect with a mixture of awe and envy at those
who can call the American Smooth and pirouette their friend, to claim that
dance is of equivalent importance to, say, literacy is like comparing advice
from Herodotus with a magic 8-ball. On what grounds is this possibly true?
Certainly not utility. It's like listening to someone watch Footloose while
smoking furiously on a crack pipe: "We have to save dance! THEY'RE KILLING
DANCE LET THE PEOPLE DANCE."
There are some aspects of school that are boring and
authoritarian, but try and run one that isn't and still teaches them anything.
However, this doesn't mean schools are prisons or the easy, obvious slur of the
Pink Floyd mincing machines. Schools, despite their mild-mannered and often
anodyne appearances, are dream factories, where children of all backgrounds are
given the opportunity to become the architects of their own destinies. Some of
it's a bit dull. Some of it will fascinate and inspire. Some of it is,
"you need to know this", and some of it is, "what do you
think?". There is often a good deal of dance. And if there isn't, there
are other ways for caterpillars to become butterflies. To say that schools
don't offer these things is probably a bit of an insult to schools and the hard
work that teachers do.