#Take5 #55 Beyond Our Ken: A Farewell to Ken Robinson

This #Take5 post is brought to you from Tim Hinchcliffe. Previously of Keele and the ALDinHE Steering and Comms Groups, Tim now works with AdvanceHE.

The consequence is that many brilliant people think that they are not: An obituary to Sir Ken Robinson

“His work was my call to arms, his work still is my call to arms. Ken’s focus may have been compulsory education but his intent was universal.”

Education does not have many popular culture icons but Sir Ken Robinson, the educator who was passionate about the creativity of children, was one of them. Learning Developers help students decode the system as is, to make sense of it, and to unleash their potential. I believe that this professional philosophy is attuned to Robinson’s core beliefs about education.

12 minutes of your time

Perhaps Robinson’s most well-known piece of work is the TEDx talk “Do schools kill creativity?”. It has been viewed more than 69 million times; that’s enough for every single one of the 66 million people in the UK to have seen it once, and I wish that they had. But if I really could get everyone to watch just one video about education it would be another of Ken’s talks, an RSA animate “Changing Educational Paradigms”. In just shy of 12 minutes Robinson charismatically slaloms through a whole host of issues with our education system. Working alongside students, Learning Developers – and all lecturers – tackle the consequences of these issues every day.

Eden Project
Eden Project

Our education system makes massive assumptions about social capacity, and this includes higher education. Your capacity for deductive reasoning or ability to retain and recall a catalogue of facts or ‘knowledge’ have traditionally been seen as indicators of intelligence, or at least academic intelligence. This division between academic and non-academic (now where have we heard that before?!) means that “many brilliant people think that they are not”. Learning Developers know that it is not what you know but what you can do with what you know that matters, and we work alongside students to help them understand this.

The Conformity Conundrum OR The Robinson Orthodoxy

As Robinson points out, our children are bombarded with a whole range of stimuli and then penalised for being distracted. We numb them to their environment in order to get them through education, as though it were something to be endured, rather than encouraging learners to embrace this stimuli-laden world as their classroom.

When I first watched the RSA animate as a new educator this point gave me pause for thought. Do Learning Developers reinforce this numbness, for example by painstakingly helping students navigate disjointed and uninspiring assignment briefs? How might we act as emancipatory agents from the very system in which we are sited? This tension between facilitating short term ‘success’ – i.e. attainment and conformity – vs instilling a love for leaning and of love of thy self is a key tension between successive waves of learning development.

In my consciousness I’m stuck in the immediacy of today; dealing with the issues as they manifest before me, each screaming for attention. But in my subconscious I am off with Ken and the students redrawing education as it should be. That is the power of Ken Robinson, he connects with the principled educator deep within us all.

Every time I hear one of his talks my mind gurgles before settling into a slow rumination, whilst my heart thuds with excitement about all the positive change that I might make happen. Yes, the day-to-day grind pulls you back in eventually but once your conscience catches onto this state-of-mind then that is the time for another shot of Robinson; only this shot is not to dull your senses, it is to awaken them! The Robinson Orthodoxy is what education desperately needed, but despite a 243 page government commission the lack of political will from successive government education ministers meant that it never stood a chance.

This way Eden?

I suspect like many working in learning development, I had rejected the notion of belonging to a single academic discipline – regardless of the harm it might cause to my career – and so it was only natural that when I did step into the disciplinary fray I was drawn to teaching sustainability. A nomadic or transdisciplinary endeavour (depending on my mood) that allowed me to occupy some of the traditional space of an academic without having to strictly conform to tribal mentalities. So imagine my delight when it was Sir Ken who fronted and wrote the “world’s largest lesson”, a way to teach children (and frankly everybody) about the UN Sustainability Goals. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise; Ken was an ambassador for the Eden Project “an educational charity [that] connects us with each other and the living world, exploring how we can work towards a better future”. I was fortunate enough to visit the Eden Project in August of last year, less than a week before his passing.

You see, connections to Sir Ken Robinson have a habit of popping up in my life and I am a better person for it. His work was my call to arms, his work still is my call to arms. Ken’s focus may have been compulsory education but his intent was universal.

Kenneth Robinson, born 4 March 1950, died 21 August 2020.

Bio/Blurb: Tim Hinchcliffe is a Senior Adviser in Learning and Teaching at Advance HE, where he specialises in curriculum design, high impact pedagogies and inclusive practice. Prior to this he was Head of Curriculum Development and Head of Student Learning (LD in other words), and a Fellow in Sustainability at Keele University.

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