Chris Alexander

On Engineering

TED: Schools Kill Creativity

2nd September, 2009

Recently I’ve been getting into the Podcasts on my iPod when I make my way to work in the morning and when I need to chill out a bit at home. Usually they’re informative and entertaining, but yesterday I watched this talk by Ken Robinson entitled “Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity”.

The title is immediately caught my attention, as such a striking statement against the education that has (or seems to, at least) done me well so far.

Here’s the video to check out before I go into what I think of what he says.


The first thing the podcast starts with is Robinson’s brilliant sense of humour - a trait that kept me genuinely laughing out loud while I was watching it (I bet that made my housemates happy late at night).

First of all, I think he makes an excellent point how education is expected to prepare people for the future that we cannot ever predict - 2065 (as he says) is a long way away, and innovations even in the narrow field that I am studying are coming so fast that we could have swarms of walking robots walking around in an “I, Robot”-esque world, or made little or no progress (relatively) in the field.

“[My son] was in the Nativity play. Do you remember the story? No, it’s big, it’s a big story. Mel Gibson did the sequel, you may have seen it.” - genius.

His argument is essentially that education trains people not to try, just because they may be wrong. His point that companies, and now national education systems across the world, stigmatise being wrong, and therefore “educate” children out of it. He uses a quote from Picasso to illustrate this:

All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.

“[Shakespeare’s Dad to Shakespeare]: Go to bed, now! And put the pencil down. And stop speaking like that. It’s confusing everybody!” - also, genius.

Robinson goes on to list the hierarchy of subjects he found in just about every education system in the world:

Then, The Arts are further broken down into:

His point that no education system in the world teaches children dance every day just as they are taught Maths every day, and it is a valid one. His excellent story about to demonstrate this is excellent too. Now I’m not one for drama or dance (but I am for music), but people should be given the chance to succeed at what they enjoy and what they are good at. Fortunately I was able to do that in my education, but I know not everyone gets that opportunity, which is unfortunate.

I’ll leave it to you in the comments do discuss his proposition that university professors’ bodies are simply transport mechanisms for their brains - “They look at [their bodies] as a way of getting their heads to meetings”. The disco joke made me laugh though :)

I think his statement that it used to be (university degree === job) , and that it is no longer the case, is entirely true. Having a degree no longer gives you a right to a job, and employers are looking for so much more than just a degree. Experience, who you are, what you did in addition to your education and so much more now plays a part in getting a job.

Fundamentally, he suggests a completely re-think how we define intelligence, which is long overdue.

Even if you’re not interested in this topic in the slightest, I recommend you watch this presentation for the fantastic delivery, or just for the laughs.