Author – Anya Frolova, translated from the original Russian article
Ken Robinson, a revolutionary in education, passed away recently. It turns out that in the Russian-speaking space he is not as popular as abroad, and many people working in the field of education here are not familiar with his works and ideas. Thus, I’ve decided to describe some of his main ideas and share my thoughts on this matter. But first, a few words about Sir Robinson himself. All his life Sir Robinson worked in education – he was a teacher, headmaster, and university lecturer. He chaired the UK Government’s commission on creativity, education and economics, advised government agencies, civil society organizations and the largest companies in the world, dealt with issues on creative thinking, the development of creativity and the education revolution. One of his TED Talks became the most popular in the history of the TED Talks and has been viewed several tens of millions of times. Several of his books have been published in Russian.
Two big themes that Sir Robinson regularly raised in his speeches and works are the necessity for school reform and developing creative thinking, talent and imagination among children. Both of these topics are undoubtedly directly related, one stems from the other, but in this article we will dwell on one of them in more detail.
Children know how to take risks. They know how to, and they do take risks. Moreover, the younger they are, the less developed is a fear of error, since this fear in children is actually developed by adult influences. How many times have you seen or even participated in a Purimshpiel where young children participate as actors? From year to year, celebrating the holiday of Purim, we put the same story on display. The script is always written in advance and the children have to memorize the text. If one of the actors confuses a line, it could lead to disappointed looks from adults or, at best, soothing hugs after the performance, as if saying “it’s okay that it didn’t work out.” They are trying to keep the child from being upset, yet, in reality, nothing terrible really happened! By giving concerned looks and patting them on the shoulder soothingly (I’m sure adults do so sincerely and with the best intentions,) we transmit huge anxieties that can stay with the child for a long time. We also leave no room for improvisation. Why? Do we not believe they will be able to fill in the pauses where they forget the script? Maybe it’s worth spending time on a deeper study of their roles and immersion in the character, rather than cramming them with someone else’s text?
It is not out of nowhere that I mention the Purimshpiel – as I am thinking of one of the most beautiful, funny and sincere performances I have ever seen take place in a Jewish kindergarten a few years ago. In the middle of the stage, Haman and Mordechai both became confused and, for a second, lost their lines, so, they began to improvise their lines so perfectly, based on their understanding of the roles, that they were the most sincere Haman and Mordechai I have ever seen on stage! The audience, giggling at the unexpected appearance of comedy in the plot, couldn’t help cracking up at their improv and, it seems, were absolutely satisfied with what was happening. Do we honestly think that parents, teachers and other students who have come to a children’s play expect to see a brilliant dramatic play without pauses? I doubt it very much. So what are we afraid of, why are we limiting children in creative spaces?
Children fantasize. Children fantasize absolutely brilliantly, yet we often drive their fantasies into ever more narrow frameworks. Robinson, in one of his speeches, talks about an experiment in which children were tested for divergent logic – the ability to think outside the box. The experiment showed that at preschool age 98% of subjects reached the level of “genius of divergent logic”. After a couple of years at school, only 50% of the subjects reached this level, and after a few years – 32%. The example clearly shows that, for many, school is a bottleneck for their creativity and ability to think non-linearly.
History knows many examples when talent was able to break through the paving stones of the social norms invented by adults for children, but imagine how many people of all ages have been unable to overcome these obstacles, instead having their talents buried under piles of papers.
In conclusion, I would like to quote Sir Robinson, thereby slightly opening the curtain on the topic of reforming the education system and how my thoughts relate to it:
“The problem is not at all in the teachers, but in the fact that this happens by itself, it is in the genes of the education system. We need to change the point of view of the human mind, stop dividing children into capable and incapable, and knowledge into abstract, theoretical and professional … By assessing the abilities of each person individually, dividing students, we create a kind of barrier between them and the natural learning environment. It is also necessary to change the very structure of educational institutions and the attitude towards students.”