How Modern Education Ruins Kids

The TED video above is the most widely viewed of their videos, nearly 12 million views. It poses a very interesting proposition about modern education. Sir Ken Robinson’s thesis is:

Creativity is as important in education as literacy, and it should be treated with the same status.

This rhymes true with Albert Einstein’s famous quote, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Sir Ken Robinson makes the case that the national education systems educate people out of creativity.

I was a public school teacher in the 90s. I like to think I was pretty good, but the system was difficult to work in. Wendy and I pulled our kids out and began homeschooling them. Though scary at first and filled with self-doubt, it was one of the best parenting decisions we ever made in our lives. We totally get what Robinson and Einstein meant.

And I believe most people do. They may not choose home education for their children, but most recognize the need to reestablish creativity in education. It’s no wonder that this video is TED’s most viewed. People get it. It’s the bureaucracy that doesn’t.

I have a profound thought on “creativity.” I believe that creativity is one trait that separates us from any other animal on the planet. We respond to the elements of creation as actors, not reactors. When it rains, all other animals run for shelter. We build shelters.

In fact, let me get spiritual on you. I call creativity an “image of God trait.” You may be familiar with the biblical pronouncement of mankind, that we were “created in the image of God.” It’s sort of a perplexing thought, but not when you think of what creativity is. We are creators, and that’s what we’re meant to do.

Yet the educational systems of the world do all they can to squash the creativity in children. As an educator myself, I have three responses to this:

  1. As Robinson advocates, treat creativity with the same status as literacy. Expect it, encourage it, reward it.
  2. Encourage disagreement. Debate and argumentation are good things. Teach kids to think, speak and persuade. Creativity will bloom from the discourse.
  3. Consider alternatives other than the expected public school option. Charter, private, tutor, home – these are all viable options available today.

In other words, refuse to be put into the box of the bureaucracy when considering the educational choice of your children. This not only goes for your personal family, but also for larger government and local community choices. “That’s the way it always has been” is a lousy policy plan. In fact – I believe Sir Ken Robinson would agree – such a strategy would be feeding the beast that kills creativity in our young people.

Watch the video. I’d love to hear what you think. Leave your comments below.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • I am a state school teacher as well. Whilst I do not agree with puling my own children (I have 11) out of state education, I can agree that creativity was for a while, stifled. Current moves in early years education in Wales (where I live) have thankfully undergone a massive shift thanks to the minister of education at the time, Jane Davidson travelling to Italy to watch the amazing Reggio Emilia Philosphy in practice in schools,as well as other more creative European systems. From these findings we have now The Foundation Phase which allows early years (up to 7 yrs) to learn through play and exploration, with the teachers as the facilitators and encouragers of childrens play. I welcomed these moves, as well as the development of ‘Forrest school’ in the 7-11 years ages where the children are taken out of school on a rota twice monthly to develop wilderness skills and outdoor appreciation. Schools have developed many after school activities now here, my children have choices from sewing, knitting, cookery, art, sports, music, dance to name but a few. Although I consider myself an excellent, all round teacher, I doubt if I could empart to them the same level of expertise i each of these that the teachers can . State schools have their flaws, yes, but I feel here things are on the change and my children’s creativity is now allowed to develop to a far greater degree than a few years ago. My degree is in Art, my children have all inherited my creativity so it is something I feel very strongly about.

    • Awesome comment. Thanks Fiona! And you have 11 children? I’m impressed.

      • I appear to be the only college lectuer, currently doing my Masters in Early Childhood who actually has a large family! 24 years- 16 month twins (second set)

        • When I was a teacher in the 1990s, I had the largest family in the entire school district: 5 kids. =)

          • My husband is an advisor, one of his schools is a Catholic High. We are not Catholics, but send our girls to a Catholic Girls school.In both schools we are triple the largest family! no one can believe we have so many, we have to show them photos!

  • RickStevens

    There are a number of things that I could post about here, but I’ll try to keep it as brief and coherent as possible. I spent 10 years in private education in the Chicago suburbs, most of which were at one of the best Christian schools in the country. When my son was 5, he attended one of the feeder schools for kindergarten. At that point, my wife and I had absolutely NO INTENTION of homeschooling our kids. About midway through that first year, we felt God telling us to move and we didn’t know where we would be. Because of now knowing where we were headed, we thought “Yeah, homeschooling would probably be best because we don’t know how we would pay for tuition at another private school, we don’t know if there are any good ones around and we’re certainly not putting the kids in public school. I guess we’ll try homeschooling for now.” As God’s providence would show, homeschooling our kids is not just a “for now” thing. I ended up teaching in the public school system in Colorado Springs for 5 years and really got an inside look at how poorly the system performs. Not that there aren’t people who really do care (because there are), but one very telling aspect of the failed system is that, of the 5 teachers with whom I shared an office, 4 of us homeschool(ed) our kids. I love Ken Robinson’s passion and his vision for what education can be. In order to fully implement this sort of vision into reality, the entire system needs broken down and rebuilt. My former students in the public system did not have their “creativity muscles” strengthened throughout most of then tenure as students, and that is an indictment on the system as a whole. Bureaucracy does a great injustice to education and even though I’m out of the classroom setting as a public school instructor, my hope is that one day, some day, the “powers that be” actually get it right. Not just for the sake of being a “conservative” or “liberal” but for the sake of the country’s future. On the first day of class, I always wrote this on the board: My job is not to teach you WHAT to think; my job is to teach you HOW to think.

    • We share similar paths. Your testimony is awesome! Thanks for adding so much to this topic.

  • Jim

    It saddens me to hear public school teachers denigrated this way. And my kids, who attend public school, are by no means “ruined.”

    Once your kids are grown and self-sufficient, I think THEN you will be qualified to speak about successful educational systems.

    • So you disagree with what Sir Ken is saying? Ok. But I don’t think he was denigrating teachers at all. I think his analysis on creativity was meant to encourage them, not “denigrate” them.

      I have 4 adult children, BTW.

    • RickStevens

      As a former public educator (and educator in private and college settings as well), I never felt that Sir Ken was taking a shot at me. While the system itself is far from what one could call a success, there are always success stories of those who went through the system. There are a myriad of ingredients that go into that success, from solid teachers to creative curriculum opportunities to parental involvement. There cannot be one “thing” that is wholly responsible for success or for failure. What Sir Ken has pointed out is that many time, through various bureaucratic and financial decisions, it is often the creativity that is removed from the classroom for the sake of “standardization”.

  • Nina

    I have a degree in education. Depending on where we lived and the needs of our children, we used private school (for preschool and kindergarten), homeschooled or the public schools.

    If anything, “one size does not fit all”. Schools vary in quality around the country. High school students who are not going on to college need better education in the trades instead of being forced to sit through college prep courses they struggle through.

    Our oldest had an excellent high school education when we lived in Colorado, the foundation for her success in college and later as an engineer and researcher. We had the deepest respect for the educators at her high school- the chemistry teachers and math teachers who could have taken positions in industry that would have paid far more. The art teacher provided a haven, an outlet for creativity. The speaker in the video is correct- we need to encourage that in our students. Gifts in sport, drama, music, etc are not as recognized or cultivated as they should be in this country.

    While my daughter did not attend the Classical Academy in D20, I knew parents who sent their children there who were so pleased with the solid educational foundation.

    For my daughter, the most important aspect of her school experience in D20 was that she was able to advance through her coursework more quickly and go directly over to UCCS for further chemistry and calculus coursework in the afternoons.

    But I can say that as one of my children flourished, the other one had as much success as a high strung terrier being trained as a seeing eye dog. No matter how much time and effort was put in, the results were not there. He simply didn’t fit what was offered. A friend’s son was also struggling and I thought of that boy while I watched the TED talk. Her son’s only outlet, the one thing that got him out of bed in the morning, was drama. And when his grades dropped, the school decided that the best way to correct him was to kick him out of the school play and he circled downward in despair. That soul-destroying technique is exactly what shouldn’t be done to kids in public schools.

    To sum my thoughts- there’s no one-size-fits-all. Currently I am reading about schooling that works in other countries and I am most intrigued by Finland’s method of teacher training as well as refusing to teach-to-the-tests and yet their children are well educated.

    • VERY insightful comment, Nina. My heart breaks for the boy kept from drama. Reminds me of Dead Poet’s Society. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.