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The Element: Necessity or Luxury?

In his talk, Ken Robinson talks about the necessity for diversity in education, and how the current model of education was originally designed to benefit the industrial revolution. One of the main points he makes, is that ‘education is not a mechanistic process and organisations are not mechanisms’. Making the point that it is more like an organism that flourishes under certain conditions and struggles under others. The analogy he uses is of education as a plant and the need for the right environment for the plant to thrive.

I completely agree with his viewpoint, and through my own personal experience know it to be true -at least for myself.  I grew up in India, and the rigid system of education he talks about is even more amplified there. I struggled to do well in school and was convinced that my abilities and  intelligence were subpar at the least. After graduating from high school I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to go to college in England and the transformation I felt in myself amazed me.   The environment was a lot more flexible and allowed me the opportunity to explore various different avenues which eventually led me to ITP.


While I have seen this work for myself I feel implementing this as a system can be extremely difficult. Its hard enough in the developed world, but in the developing world it is almost impossible. A lot of people look at education as a key that will unlock doors to a better quality of life. Learning hard skills that can help earn a decent living can be more valuable to some than real happiness from the work they do. This is not to say that they might achieve much greater success if they searched for what made them truly happy. I just feel that for a lot of people the struggles of daily life can leave little room for thinking about reaching your full potential in life. Which is understood.


So what do you think? How do you break that vicious circle of survival by educating the people and giving them the tools to succeed in life and still make a living?



4 comments to The Element: Necessity or Luxury?

  • Ben Kauffman

    I agree that there is a challenge to “exporting” a potentially Western ideal of Education to the developing or non-Western world. However, the approach Robinson espouses isn’t necessarily guided by the subject that is being taught, right? It seems more like a framework/environment for any discipline. Surya, do you think his approach wouldn’t work as well for hard skills?

    To me, the more challenging aspect of his ideas, which are spot on, is that education is not just the teaching of skills. The acquisition of raw skills is a small aspect of what we learn in school (especially before high school or college). We learn how to communicate, how to share, how to get along with others, how to deal with authority, etc. These values are highly dependent on family, community, and culture, which are more difficult to change.

  • Kathryn "Adee"

    I think the problem with our educational paradigm starts with our cultural views on what we call ‘alternate’ education. Even the term alternate sounds like a put down. I think our generation was told that if you go to school, get good grades, and then get into a good college, you will get a good job, buy a house, and live happily ever after. Ken Robinson argues that we need an organic model rather and a linear/sequential one. Sure, fine. I agree, but its pretty hard to change something so engrained in our culture.

    I think in many ways, the recession has helped begin a shift. Parents perhaps are now more likely to encourage their kid to learn a skill, or develop one that they show a natural ability or fondness for, rather than pushing them into a liberal arts college where they might not necessarily belong. Learning a skill like welding is 1) cheaper than a university education 2) can be learned by a teenager 3) has a better chance of turning into a job/livelihood than a degree in philosophy. My neighbor Steve used to live in South Brooklyn, in a huge house, and all of his neighbors were doctors and lawyers. Steve was a plumber. The doctors looked down on Steve and his blue collar profession… until one of them had a flooded bathroom in the middle of the night. Steve laughed when he told me the story and said, “They couldn’t doctor or lawyer that pipe back together.”

    Our generation has also experienced the failure of the sequential model more than our parents. Many of the students I have spoken with here at ITP have a degree in something, and then a laundry list of jobs that they have had since graduation that are a departure from their undergraduate trajectory. Some of us learned a new skill in order to get a job (or a better one). Some of us found something that made us happy and worked at it. Some of us realized they just plain hated the job they were supposed to have given their degree and skill set and did something about it. All of us applied to ITP and embraced a more organic model of education.

    Ken Robinson also spoke about the people that what they love, whatever that is, and are happy and successful because of it. These people are in their ‘element’. They were meant to do what they do, not just because they excel in that area, but because they also enjoy it. I know a few people like that. My father is a woodworker, by boyfriend is a chef. They are both doing quite well now, and I call them those jerks that love their jobs. They both tried the college thing and chose not to finish. My father knew he wanted to build furniture etc out of wood in high school. My dad also grew up in the time where high school still had a shop class. Brian on the other hand had a pretty gnarly few years in his early twenties and eventually met that one person who saw talent and sent him to culinary school. Both of them work their asses off because they want to, not just because they have to. Neither of them were forced to feel bad about their choice to not go to a university, and both of them learned a marketable skill.

  • Nancy

    In response to Surya…I wonder if it couldn’t be possible in the developing world ( maybe not a country as developed as much of India is) to not have to go through the education system designed for the Industrial Revolution-world… The needs for the information revolution world are so different.

    I don’t think Ken Robinson is poo-poohing skills but perhaps an expansion of what skills are needed beyond reading , writing and ‘rithmetic. Higher Order Thinking Skills (known as HOTS in Ed Speak): problem solving, ability to communicate thoughts in writing and orally, inference from texts, surfing data and interpretation of same…a certain comfort with numbers &some intuitions about them,etc. Katie’s dad and her BF have those skills, though they might not have learned them as such in schools.

    Happiness is the intersection of what you are good at and what you love to do, I am convinced of that. School should be able to expose us to things we never heard of –so we have a better chance of finding what we love. And also helping us get good at a variety of skills so we’ll be able to do what we want.
    Maybe we won’t need universities and grad schools in the future.. what do you think?..

  • Surya

    I certainly think there is some truth to that, we’ve already seen how the internet has disrupted our way of learning. It started of as a tool that we use to complement our current education model but in recent years through experiments like Khan Academy, Udacity and Code Academy even skeptics are starting to see how the internet can be a platform not just a tool to supplement the current education system. If this can be incorporated into the ‘regular’ system I think it might be the first step towards Kens new education paradigm. Students could browse and learn whatever interests them and at whatever degree of difficulty that suits them. An interesting feature of this new paradigm is that it puts a lot of the onus on the student. The resources are out there but you have to want to take advantage of them. One thing about the current education system is that you don’t really need passion to do well in it. Of course, if you are passionate that definitely helps but I’ve seen enough examples of people who just know how to work the system to their advantage but don’t necessarily learn anything while doing so. I hope a system where you drive your learning will help change that.

    Changing the education paradigm in the developing world definitely seems to be easier than the developed world because the systems in place aren’t as rigid. However, I do wonder if in todays day and age the students of this new paradigm would be at an inherent disadvantage. While we are moving away from the industrial revolution model in the developed world I think a lot of that model still exists in the developing world and Id be curious to see how changing that will affect the lives of the people in it. I don’t know if its accurate or not but an analogy that comes to mind is that of two kids applying for college, one who went to a regular high school and the other who has been home schooled. Is one of them at a disadvantage because they didnt follow the regular system? And can we really decide which of the two have had a better education?