Sir Ken Robinson

Sir Ken Robinson, an expert in education and business issues, spoke Thursday to a special gathering of Blaine County School District employees.

    Sir Ken Robinson is an acclaimed international speaker on education and business, but Thursday morning at the Community Campus Performing Arts Theater in Hailey, he could have just been a self-deprecating Brit standing at the water cooler chatting about the Common Core. The 65-year-old Liverpool native got plenty of applause and a standing ovation after his morning speech.

    The speaker kicked off an all-day seminar for hundreds of Blaine County School District employees designed to get them talking about the district’s strategic plan as well as the start of the school year.

    Robinson talks about the importance of creativity and personalization in education—he gave a 2006 Ted Talk on the subject that got millions of viewers across the globe discussing education reform.

    The author of several books, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 2003 for services to the arts. He’s been on the New York Times best seller list, been named one of the leading business thinkers by the Thinkers50 list, works on creative and economic development for the Northern Ireland peace process and was an advisor to Singapore for creative consulting.

    His most recent book, “Creative Schools,” was the subject of a School District book club discussion. District Communications Director Heather Crocker said 60 staff members came to Superintendent GwenCarol Holmes’ house Tuesday to discuss the book.

    In his speech Thursday, Robinson likened education to agriculture: If the environmental factors are right, kids will learn on their own. And since every child is unique in their interests, talents and learning styles, it’s wrong to compartmentalize a national education strategy into a one-size-fits-all program.

    “To be born at all is a miracle,” he said.

    Robinson said education has been faltering for the past 30 years, and the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act added fuel to that failure in America. He moved with his family to Los Angeles just as that policy was being enacted, he said—as he, his wife and his children were grappling with cultural “myths” about Americans. They were told Americans don’t understand irony, he said, but the No Child Left Behind Act—which links funding with student performance on standardized tests—was teaching satire, since millions of children were left behind through the policy’s implementation.

    In his interactions across the country with school districts and its teachers and students, he said he realized that individual educators who catalyzed learning did so in spite of, not because of, the 2001 reforms.

    Internationally, Robinson said, many Asian counties had a similar policy of teaching to the test, but that trend is slowly fading from their curriculums.

    “I think the tide is beginning to turn,” he said.

    Children who grow up in a creatively nurturing environment and aren’t made to conform to a prescribed set of success markers, Robinson said, are more likely to grow up and find careers they are passionate about. He said he interviewed Paul McCartney about his childhood and discovered that his elementary-school music teacher didn’t think he had talent. Coincidentally, future bandmate George Harrison was in the same 1950s-era Liverpool class—and the teacher didn’t think he measured up either.

    “He had half The Beatles in his class and he missed it,” Robinson said.

    Great students make great teachers, he said—something he learned from the Dalai Lama. The American educational system encourages competition, which can derail collaboration, Robinson said.

    Robinson reminded the audience that our planet is in a state of flux—and it will take ingenuity for today’s children to survive. Great civilizations throughout history have crumbled, he said, and one day, America will lose its status as a superpower. A culture of consistency and conformity, he said, will not save us.

    “If the environment doesn’t get us, culture might,” he said.

    He said it’s the job of educators to set the scene for learning, and give kids the space to grow. Humans live in dual worlds: the inner, private world of our own making and the exterior world that we share with other people. He said the American educational system expects kids to reside only in the external world, without much thought given to their inner realm.

    Robinson left the audience with four goals: to foster economic, cultural, social and personal aspects of education. He said the practical aspect of kids’ growing up and earning their own living are important, but equally so are appreciation of diversity, compassion for others and an understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

    Creativity, he said, is seeing connections that enable us to solve problems—and that should be the cornerstone of education.

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