Creating a Climate of Possibility from Education’s Death Valley.

In the USA, 60% of children drop out of high school (in some areas this figure is as high as 80%). And these statistics don’t count all those who stay in school and are disengaged in education. In the UK the drop-out rate is lower at around 20% for uner 16’s, but still high enough to be a cause for concern.

Although Ken Robinson doesn’t frame it quite in this way, most formal education systems in the West currently still follow the old Industrial Growth Society model. He describes it as mechanistic and a command and control system and is clear to point out the 3 life-serving principles that are not currently served by most formal education systems in the West:

  • Human beings are naturally different and diverse. In contrast, our education is based on conformity). A real education needs to be much more diverse than we currently offer most children. Children prosper best when their diverse talents are celebrated.
  • Curiosity. When we honour and allow this, children are natural learners. Ken Robinson describes curiosity as the ‘Engine of achievement’. The role of teachers is then to stimulate this curiosity. It’s a creative role not a ‘delivery system’. Sadly, the dominant culture is one of testing, whereas testing should be a diagnostic procedure only. It contests that it should support learning, not obstruct it, otherwise all that is encouraged is compliance.
  • Human life is inherently creative. Ken Robinson calls this the ‘common currency of being a human being’. From a spiritual perspective, some would say this is a Divine imperative.  One role of education is to awaken and develop creativity. Our education system cultivates conformity.

Apparently, there are some high performing education systems in the world, for example in Finland, and what they do differently is:

  • Individualise teaching and learning
  • Attribute a high status to the teaching profession and regard teacher training andcontinued professional development as an investment.
  • Devolve responsibility to school level for getting the job done. There is no central command and control.

Rather than a mechanistic process, Ken Robinson asserts that education is a human system  and needs to be person-centred. He reminds us that every person who  ‘ drops out’ has  their own reasons – valid reasons.

He highlights that so-called ‘Alternative Education Programmes’ (designed to get children back into High School) have the following characteristics in common:

  • Personalised
  • Strong support for the teachers
  • Close links with the community
  • A broad and diverse curriculum
  • Involve students in the community outside of school as well as engaging in education inside it.

The obvious question is then why is this the alternative system, since it’s a system that clearly works when the current one doesn’t? If it were mainstream, then there’d be no need for such ‘alternative programmes.’

And where does Death Valley come into this? Death Valley is the hottest, driest place in America. Normally, nothing grows there. However, in the Winter of 2009, it rained heavily. By the Spring of 2010, the whole floor of the valley was carpeted in flowers –  proof that Death Valley isn’t actually dead. It’s just dormant. If the conditions are right, what’s dormant will spring to life. Ken Robinson reminds us that our formal schooling system harbours similarly wonderful potentials. Rather than ‘command and control’, he says, we need ‘climate control’ – to transform to a climate of possibility for our children.


4 Responses to Creating a Climate of Possibility from Education’s Death Valley.

  1. Rajani May 29, 2013 at 1:48 pm #


    It isn’t Norway but Finland which is dong some great work in Education. ( even in his talk Sir Ken mentioned Finland) . In Norway, it’s mostly the European systems and expats follow either British or American schools which are private and not sure how they fare..

  2. Sally May 29, 2013 at 2:46 pm #

    Thanks for the info and for pointing out my error Rajani. I’ll amend the reference.

  3. Judy July 6, 2013 at 12:22 am #

    Ken Robinson is a great speaker and had some very valid and moving points. Having recently moved my youngest son from the local High School to a private school I can see that he is exactly right. The private school puts a lot of emphasis on music, art, humanities and sports, and provides endless clubs and activities for the kids to participate in. They celebrate learning and achievement, and teachers spark the kids interest. The change we have seen in our son is astounding. He is happy and motivated and driven to do and learn more outside school.

    Primary schools have some leeway for encouraging the kids and have a broad subject base, but I feel that the High Schools are so large that it is like ‘battery-farmed’ education.

    I wish I had seen this talk years ago, because then I may have understood how to help my older kids more. Ken Robinson is not only enjoyable to watch, but very understandable. His message is very clear and strong and just fits with what we know about ourselves and our kids.

    Thanks Sally

  4. Sally July 8, 2013 at 2:37 pm #

    Glad you enjoyed it Judy and good to hear that your youngest son is happy with his new school.

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