Coming to the conclusion of a Master’s program that stresses pedagogy (as separate from curriculum and assessment), I have become fairly interested in the ways that modern educational practices in the US have failed students. As a student in public schools, I never felt that I was taught anything of any great import; instead of learning how to learn and think critically, I was forced to memorize equations and produce crafty visual aides, like a mobile I once made of Odysseus in a high school honors class. And as I am of the age where as a married man I am expected to begin to procreate, it has become important to me to attempt to understand how I can prevent my children from suffering a similar fate.
After watching Sir Ken Robinson’s speech at the 2006 TED conference a week or so ago, I felt that he had struck a nerve. As a person who is excited by performing and creating, I was receptive to his ideas that such things are considered impractical by society and thus children are steered towards other, more acceptable, pursuits. A few days later, I picked up The Element, his book concerning the titular principle that all people will be happier and more fulfilled if they can find a passion for something and cultivate it, no matter what it may be.
With all his references to education in the speech, I expected Robinson to evaluate the educational system and offer a plan for change. Instead, this book should be labeled self-help, for it fits in that genre much more than it would one on education. I suppose it is unfair to fault the book for not living up to my expectations, yet it is rare that I am so disappointed with a work.
Essentially, we just receive an extended version of the TED speech. There are dozens more examples, yet none really seem to be all that enlightening. In fact, as Robinson notes, reading about a large number of healthy, successful people can leave those unhappy and unsuccessful, the targeted readers of such a book I would imagine, distressed. The ideas contained within the book are sound, as best as I can figure, but there wasn’t the sort of individualized, practical advice that is so common with self-help books, no plan to help bring the Element into one’s life by following a number of steps. Perhaps such a general aide would be unworkable, yet its absence felt a bit lacking.
Only in the final chapter of the book does Robinson really begin to critique the education system. However, this analysis is so generalized that it could have been written by anyone with a moderate knowledge of the standardized test culture that has revolutionized, in a bad way, the educational process.
While Ken Robinson does in fact demonstrate the need for cultivating the Element within our children, he fails to offer a path with which we can make this happen. That said, The Element was able to help me realize ways in which my own childhood was problematic in this regard, and as such I hope to be able to provide my children, or rather any children whose lives I am a part of, the sort of encouragement to pursue the things he/she is interested in.