What we need is not evolution, but a revolution in education by Lisa Nielsen

Sir Ken Robinson followed up his 2006 TED talk with another genius speech that captures so much of my thinking and writing here on The Innovative Educator blog. Not much has changed for the better in schools since Sir Ken Robinson convinced us that schools do indeed kill creativity. In this speech he makes the case for a radical shift from standardized schools to personalized learning. This does not mean everyone achieves the same personal mastery for the same standard tests and outcomes. Instead it means creating conditions where kids' natural talents can flourish.

Robinson explains that education dislocates many people from their natural talents. He goes on to say, what many of us working in schools already know. Reform is of no use anymore, because that’s simply improving a broken model. What we need is not evolution, but a revolution in education. It has to be transformed into something else.

He recognizes that innovation is hard because it means doing something that people don’t find very easy for the most part. It means challenging what we take for granted, things that we think are obvious. This is difficult to do when school systems dictate that all their employees implement the one vision handed down to them by the suspect Common Core Standards. Suspect because these standards, being adopted across the nation, stand to make the testing and publishing companies that created them billions of dollars. They also promote college for all which ultimately lines the pockets of many, leaving behind as carnage the graduates known today as generation debt.

Robinson points out that many of our ideas have been formed, not to meet the circumstances of this century, but to cope with the circumstances of previous centuries. He says that our minds are still hypnotized by them and we have to disenthrall ourselves of some of them.

He gives these examples.


He says one such example is the idea of linearity, meaning that it starts here, and you go through a track, and if you do everything right, you will end up set for the rest of your life. He shares that the pinnacle for education today is getting into college. Recognizing that we are obsessed with getting people to college he responds with this.

I don’t mean you shouldn’t go to college, but not everybody needs to go, and not everybody needs to go now. Maybe they go later, not right away.


Sir Ken says that we have sold ourselves into a fast food model of education. And it’s impoverishing our spirit and our energies as much as fast food is depleting our physical bodies. He suggests we recognize a couple of things.

One is that human talent is tremendously diverse and people have very different aptitudes. Forcing someone to take a subject like Algebra isn’t going to make them good at it. Instead it will enable you to see who has an aptitude for it. He shares a great example stating that he was given a guitar as a kid at about the same time Eric Clapton got his first guitar. As we all know, it worked out for Eric. For Sir Ken, not so much. I had the same experience with a piano. Despite years of lessons I can’t read music and can’t play the piano.

Another is a favorite topic of mine: PASSION, or that which excites our spirit and energy. He shares a point he makes in his book, “The Element” that often, people are good at things they don’t really care for. For instance, I may be very good at cleaning and doing the laundry, but I just don’t care for it. However, when I’m doing something that I love like reading, writing, talking to friends, or playing volleyball, an hour feels like five minutes. On the other hand if I’m emptying the dishwasher, five minutes feels like an hour.

Opting out of school

He goes onto explain the reason so many people are opting out of education. I was so excited to hear him use that phrase. When I created the “Teenagers Guide to Opting Out of School,” I wasn’t aware Sir Ken was using this language. It’s encouraging to learn that Sir Ken and I are on the same page here! He says kids are voting with their feet and leaving education because it doesn’t feed their spirit, it doesn’t feed their energy or their passion. These are exactly the reasons the guide was written. To provide teens with alternatives that do just that if traditional school is not fulfilling that need.

The change we need

Sir Ken explains that we have to move


An industrial model of education, a manufacturing model, which is based on linearity and conformity and batching people.


A model that is based more on principles of agriculture. We have to recognize that human flourishing is not a mechanical process, it’s an organic process.And you cannot predict the outcome of human development; all you can do, like a farmer, is create the conditions under which humans will begin to flourish. It’s about customizing to your circumstances, and personalizing education to the people you’re actually teaching.

Doing that he says is the answer to the future because it’s not about scaling a new solution; it’s about creating a movement in education in which people develop their own solutions, but with external support based on a personalized curriculum or what I like to call aPersonal Success Plan.”

Check out the video below to hear Sir Ken Robinson share these ideas in his latest TED Talk.

Lisa Nielsen is best known as creator of The Innovative Educator blog http://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.comand Transforming Education for the 21st Century learning network. Lisa is an outspoken and passionate advocate of innovative education. She is frequently covered by local and national media for her views on "Thinking Outside the Ban" and determining ways to harness the power of technology for instruction and providing a voice to educators and students. Based in New York City, Ms. Nielsen has worked for more than a decade in various capacities helping schools and districts to educate in innovative ways that will prepare students for 21st century success. Her first book, Teaching Generation Text, is set for a fall 2011 release. You can follow her on Twitter @InnovativeEdu.

Disclaimer: The information shared here is strictly that of the author and does not reflect the opinions or endorsement of her employer.