Vail Daily column: A rock star in education
September 13, 2016
If the field of education had the equivalent of a rock star, Sir Ken Robinson would be it. And, through a partnership between the Vail Symposium and Eagle County Schools, this rock star (of sorts) is coming to Eagle County on Oct. 14 at the Battle Mountain High School auditorium.
Robinson's vision of a future in education in which the abundance of human talent is valued and nurtured resonates deeply with those who were taught by school that they weren't very smart — only to learn later in life that school was wrong.
Robinson's influential TED talks have been viewed by literally tens of millions around the globe. While not as many views as the last popular Miley Cyrus video, as Robinson notes, he doesn't twerk.
What Robinson does is lay out a scathing critique of the current education model and the damage that the standards movement has exacted on millions of kids.
The problem, according to Robinson, is that schools are organized according to an outdated factory model. Of course, factories have their purpose and value when it comes to efficiency and delivering a standardized product. But, when it comes to the development of human beings, the factory model and its accompanying obsession with standardization devalues all but a very narrow set of skills.
The factory model of education focuses on a fixed set of skills, learned in a specific way, and then demonstrated through standardized testing. Put another way, the schools most of us attended only valued certain academic subjects — things like reading, math, science, and social studies. The content of these subjects was determined by experts and organized into separate packets of learning. The assessment of these subjects is done in isolation and under tightly controlled conditions.
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Some students have thrived in this system. But for millions upon millions of others, it was a frustrating and demoralizing experience.
The problem, according to Robinson, is that the rest of the world doesn't operate this way. In the real world, problems don't come segregated by discipline. You don't have issues in which you can only use math, or science or reading. For most problems — at least the important ones — you have to reach across disciplines and use the knowledge together in creating a solution.
The way we have measured knowledge, according to Robinson, is also part of the problem. Standardized tests reward one for answering a problem in one way, arrived at in isolation. In reality, for most meaningful problems there is an abundance of creative options for how a problem could be solved. And, in almost all circumstances, the work on these real world problems happens in teams — collaboratively working with others.
As an alternative to the factory, Robinson asks us to consider a different metaphor — the farm. In organic farming, four key values are adhered to. For Robinson, these are the same values we should be applying to education.
• Health: Promoting the development and well-being of the whole student, intellectually, physically, spiritually and socially.
• Ecology: Recognizing the vital interdependence of all these aspects of development, within each student and the community as a whole.
• Fairness: Cultivating the individual talents and potential of all students, whatever their circumstances, and respects the roles and responsibilities of those who work with them.
• Care: Creating optimum conditions for students' development, based on compassion, experience and practical wisdom.
Robinson will deliver the keynote address at Educate!: a program presented by Eagle County Schools and the Vail Symposium on Oct. 14 at Battle Mountain High School. In addition to Sir Robinson, the event will feature a stellar panel of Colorado educators to discuss the ongoing funding issues in the Centennial state. A limited number of seats are available, but you can enter the lottery for an opportunity to purchase tickets by visiting the Vail Symposium's website at http://www.vailsymposium.org/th_event/educate.
On behalf of Eagle County Schools, we're proud to bring a program of this caliber to our community and we are thankful for the support of the Vail Symposium for making it possible. Get your tickets early — this event will sell out!
Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.