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Is it time to rethink the purpose of education?

Imagine you could reinvent America’s education system block by block.

What would it look like? How would our priorities change? How would you measure school and student success?

We all have ideas about what it would take to perfect, or to save, America’s public schools. The solutions invariably range from better funding to new classroom design to stronger accountability, and so on.

Sir Ken Robinson has a few ideas, too, apparently.

The education expert and TED-talk darling says perhaps the best way to improve public education is to rethink its purpose. Speaking in front of the Big Picture Learning Big Bang conference Robinson recently outlined what he thinks is the ideal education system. His comments, as reported by Mind/Shift in this article, are rehashed below.

The bottom line? Education’s main purpose should be to inspire creativity, says Robinson.

Start from the beginning
To create a solution, you have to first understand the problem, says Robinson.

He contends that the core aims of our current public education system are out-of-whack. Specifically, that the system is based on conformity and compliance. This approach limits diversity and forces students into one-size intellectual boxes.

Robinson says the demand for compliance has led to a blinder-like obsession with rote academic work. Though he stops short of denying the importance of traditional academics in education, Robinson says schools can and should provide more.

“There’s much more to human intelligence than a certain sort of academic work,” Robinson says. “If you get preoccupied by a certain type of achievement then you don’t even look for other things people might be good at.”

This focus on conformity and compliance has led to an over-emphasis on testing, says Robinson, something a lot of educators griped about during the days of NCLB.

Get creative
But if we can agree that there is too much conformity, too much testing, in K12 education, what can be done to fix it?

Robinson suggests rewriting the very definition of the word. Education, he says, should “enable students to understand the world around them, and the talents within them, so that they can become fulfilled individuals and active, compassionate citizens.”

That means teaching students to tap into their individual talents, and focusing on the skills of the individual and how they can contribute to the whole.

Robinson likens today’s education system to the farming industry. What started out as small farms growing organic crops has grown into a multi-billion dollar business that emphasizes output, with no real consideration for the process by which that output is achieved.

We over-emphasize the output of schools—through graduation rates, through test scores, through college admissions—rather than emphasize the unique path and contributions of individual students, he says.

“Great schools enrich the entire neighborhood, the entire ecosystem,” Robinson told attendees.

Robinson himself acknowledges that the educational ecosystem isn’t likely to change overnight. But well-meaning educators can do more to push their students forward. This hasn’t happened in a lot of schools because a lot of educators are set in their ways, he says.

How does your school or district encourage creativity in education? Tell us in the comments.

Are you considering changing your approach to classroom education this school year? Here’s one way to ensure your students and community members are on board with that plan.