Sir Ken Robinson on the Power of the Imaginative Mind (Part Two) | Edutopia
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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Sir Ken Robinson on the Power of the Imaginative Mind (Part Two)

The creativity guru shares his vision for a new way of educating children. More to this story.
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Ken: You know, if somebody was to say to you, I can't read or write, you wouldn't understand them to be saying, I am incapable of this, I don't have the power for that. What you'd hear them saying is, I don't know how, I don't know what's involved, I haven't learned that. So when people say to me, I'm not creative, all I hear them saying is, I don't know how. I haven't discovered what's involved, I haven't learned it. And I believe our job as educators has to be to help them learn it.

There was a book published a few years ago, called, "Break Point, and Beyond," by a guy called George Land, and Beth Jarman. Now this book contained in it, the results of a study of divergent thinking. Divergent thinking is not the same thing as creativity, but it's a fundamental part of every creative process. It's the capacity to see connections, to see multiple answers to a problem, to think matrically, often to think in analogies or metaphors, to see many answers, not a single answer, and often, to reinterpret the question to generate more answers, to think-- to read the question differently. There are tests for divergent thinking, like there are for the sort of linear thinking that gets assessed in IQ tests. Paul Torrance and J. P. Guilford developed quite a few of these tests. So the study that George Land reported, and Beth Jarman, was of a series of tests that were given to 1,500 people, to assess their powers in divergent thinking. And on the protocol of the test, if you scored above a certain level, you'd be considered to be a genius at divergent thinking. So my question is, what percentage do you think, of the 1,500 people scored at genius level for divergent thinking? Now you need to know one more thing. These were kindergarten children, okay, three to five year olds. What do you think, what percentage? Ninety-five, okay. This is their result, 98. Now what was interesting was that this was a longitudinal study. So they retested the same children five years later, age of eight to ten, what do you think? Fifty, sixty? Yeah. Same children. They tested them again, five years later, the age of 13 to 15. What do you think?

Now there's a couple of things just, I want to quickly pull out of this. The first is that you might imagine it would be the other way around. That only a small group were capable, but people got better. What this indicates, and other studies come to similar conclusions, is that everybody, pretty much, is born with these extraordinary capacities to connect, to see patterns, possibilities, to ask questions, to reinterpret. So we all have it, but the second story is, it declines. Picasso said this about the arts. He said, all children are born artists, the problem is to remain an artist as we grow up. So it's something that recedes rather than something that develops. Now a lot of things have happened to these children in the ten years of the study, a lot of things have happened to them, but one of the things that I believe that's happened to them that's most significant, is by now they have become educated. You know, they've spent ten years at school being told there's one answer, and it's at the back, and don't look, because that's cheating, and don't copy from anybody else, because that's cheating, too. I mean, outside of schools, that's called collaboration, but inside school, it's not.

Now what I, I suppose, want to suggest is that these capacities, which are nascent in all of us, could be maintained and could be developed in the right circumstances and in the right conditions, but these are particular conditions. But the current system of education is not designed to do that, and in many ways, the pressures in education are working, even more firmly in the opposite direction. I mean, particularly the effects of standardized testing, and also the effects of narrowing the curriculum on what are thought to be the most important subjects in school. In America, for example, there's a big drive now to focus on what are called the STEM disciplines, science, technology, engineering and math. Now, they are really important, really important. But they are not all important. Other disciplines are just as important for children's rounded growth and development, economically and culturally, as those, and actually, the evidence is that those disciplines benefit most from a broad based approach to education.

Now one of the most fertile periods in human history was the Italian Renaissance. That did not come about be the Medicis had a math strategy, you know, buttressed by some standardized tests. You know, it became that because there was a fluid interaction of the experts in different disciplines in a culture that valued innovation for economic and cultural purposes. And in a way, we need to think of creating a new Renaissance. Most innovation comes by making connections between different ways of thinking. Great scientists think visually, great dancers often think mathematically, the current curriculum is siloed to an extraordinary extent, which stills the connections between disciplines which are at the heartbeat of a proper-- properly conceived form of creative education.

The three bits of education are the curriculum, assessment and pedagogy. Most reform movements focus on the curriculum and on assessment, believing they're the levers of change. Now we need a good curriculum framework, which is broad based and interdisciplinary, we need forms of assessment which lend themselves to sensitive appraisal of kids' achievements and their capacities. But the heart of education, the only way we'll ever reform education properly, is the bit that many reform movements leave out, which is pedagogy. You only ever improve schools by improving teaching, or teaching and learning. But we need these forms of pedagogy, supported by an expansive and creative use of the technologies that you're here to discuss over the next couple of days.

I live not far from a place called, Death Valley. Death Valley is the hottest place on earth, certainly in America. Not much grows there, because it doesn't rain. But in the winter of 2004-2005, it rained, seven inches of rain. And in the spring of 2005, something remarkable happened. The whole of Death Valley was covered, the floor of the valley was covered in spring flowers, as far as they eye could see, and people came from all over America to see this extraordinary display. What it showed was that Death Valley wasn't dead. It was asleep. What it needed were the conditions for growth, and when the conditions came, the growth came. And I believe this is exactly what we have to model in our schools. Children have immense natural capacities of innovation, of creative thinking, of alternative ways of seeing. They are deeply personal capacities, and great teaching has always been there to model, and to bring them out. But we need now to systematize these across whole systems, and not to see them as eccentric capacities which are the preserve of a few gifted teachers. Now modeling that is a 21st Century challenge.

Narrator: For more information on, What Works in Public Education, go to

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Produced and Directed by

  • Ken Ellis

Coordinating Producer:

  • Amy Erin Borovoy


  • Karen Sutherland

Production Assistant:

  • Neil Tan

Camera Crew:

  • Brian Cardello
  • Michael Sullivan
  • Tony Jensen

Sir Ken Robinson's remarks were recorded on April 10, 2008, at the Apple Education Leadership Summit, a gathering in San Francisco of more than one hundred school superintendents from around the world. Robinson is the author of Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative.

This video is the second part of a two-part presentation. To learn more, view the first part.

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