Deconstructing Ken Robinson’s TED Talks On Education & Creativity




Ken Robinson is one of history’s greatest thinkers on education. We unpack him over a range of episodes on the With Joe Wehbe Podcast starting with episode #247 (Go here for the podcast, and here for the weekly summary). 


While we unpack notes from his book ‘Out of Our Minds’ in this post, today we deconstruct this three amazing TED Talks, including talk no. 1 which remains the most viewed TED Talk of all time!







TED TALK No. 1 — Do Schools Kill Creativity?


Do schools kill creativity?


We have no idea how the future will play out… and everyone has an interest in education.


Education is meant to take us into this future we can’t grasp.

We all agree on the capabilities of young people. ‘My contention is that all kids have tremendous talents and we squander them… quite ruthlessly’.


He argues that creativity is as important in education as literacy.

First story — little girl who never pays attention focused on drawing in the back of a classroom drawing God. Teacher: ‘But no one knows what Gods look like?’ the girl says ‘they will in a minute!’


Second story — his son who was in a nativity play at high school. The children playing the three wise men come out: the first one says ‘this is gold’, the second says ‘this is myrrh’ and the third says ‘frank sent this’. The moral of the story is that kids aren’t afraid to be wrong. If they don’t know the answer, they’ll have a go.


‘If you’re not prepared to be wrong you’ll never come up with anything original’. And when they become adults this capacity is lost, we’re running our companies and our society this way.

Picasso — ‘all children are born artists, the challenge is remaining an artist as you grow up’.


The hierarchy of subjects


The strange dominance of mathematics at the top and dance at the bottom. We start educating people from the waste up and then to one part of the brain.


Produce university professors seems the point of education. He used to be one and he says they tend to live in their heads, and they’re quite disembodied. ‘Their body is just a way to move their heads’.

He argues systems weren’t around before the 19th century, which is why academic ability dominates our view of intelligence. It was designed in the image of university.


For this reason people everywhere do not think they’re creative.

Degrees are declining in value over time, ‘academic inflation’ is happening.


We need to radically rethink our view of intelligence


  1. It’s diverse — all the ways we think about the world are true. Abstract thinking, feeling, not just the academic form.
  2. It’s dynamic — it’s interactive, brain is not a set of compartments. Robinson defines creativity as ability to come up with new ideas and this is an inter-disciplinary process.
  3. It’s distinct — cites the Gillian Lyne Story.


The Gillian Lynne Story — how ADHD is used to imprison young geniuses


She was hopeless at school and couldn’t concentrate. They would have said she had ADHD if they had the option back then.

Went to see a doctor and at the end, he sends her outside to talk to her mother. He turned on the radio, then said to stand and watch. Gillian, aged seven, begun dancing.


The doctor turned to the mother and said ‘Mrs. Lynne, Gillian is not sick, she’s a dancer. Take her to dance school.’ And they did. Gillian said this was like nothing on earth… ‘they were people like me’.

This touches my heart, stirs emotion and brings a tear to my eye. It makes me think about Constant Student, where the very aim is that people have this feeling, and finally get permission to be the person they love.


Gillian Lynne was the choreographer for timeless masterpieces like Cats and The Phantom of the Opera. I watched the Phantom of the Opera for the first time when I was fourteen with my parents, and have watched it a further four times since. It is my favorite story ever told — I’m connected to Gillian Lynne and her work, she created an experience that shaped my life in a small way.


What would have happened if they put the straight jacked of ADHD on her? Some people have to move to think and we pathologise them.


Education has mined our minds the way mining has stripped the earth of its resources


We need to rethink the fundamental principles on which we’re educating our children.

“if all insects on Earth disappeared, within 50 years all life on Earth would end. If all human beings disappeared from the Earth, within 50 years all forms of life would flourish” — Jonas Salk


We celebrate the gift of the human imagination, we need to avert the scenarios discussed today.


TED TALK No. 2 — How To Escape Education’s Death Valley


Bring on the learning revolution


Begins talking about the dropout crisis from school, but says this is the tip of the iceberg because it doesn’t factor in the people in school who are disengaged.

Lots of money is spent on education… it’s all going in the wrong direction.


There are three principles on which human life flourishes and they are contradicted by education today, by the conditions most teachers must labor.


Firstly — Human beings are naturally different and diverse


Makes the point that every set of siblings in the world are completely different from one another. Education is based on conformity. Find what kids can do across a very narrow spectrum of abilities.

What we call ADHD is children suffering from a condition called childhood. Kids benefit from a broad spectrum — the arts are important because they speak to a part of the child’s being that are otherwise untouched.


Secondly — Curiosity


If you can light the spark of curiosity in a child, they’ll learn without any further assistance very often. Children are natural learners.

‘Curiosity is the engine of achievement’.


Speaks of the movement to de-professionalise teachers. He argues that teaching is a creative profession, not a delivery system. They mentor, stimulate, provoke and engage.

Education is about learning. If there’s no learning going on, there’s no education going on!


There’s a difference between being engaged in teaching and actually helping people learn. The culture of education has become focused on testing.

Instead of curiosity, we have compliance. Teachers are given routine algorithms.


Third — Human life is inherently creative


We create our lives as we go through it.

One of the roles of education should be to awaken our powers of creativity.


He points to Finland — and we can only measure what is tested — they don’t obsess on the disciplines of math and science.


There is no standardised testing — only a very little bit of it. They attribute a very high status to the teaching profession and they individualise the education experience. They also devolve responsibility to the school level to get the job done.


Education is treated like an industrial process


It’s not a mechanical system, it’s about people.


Pokes fun at the need for ‘alternative education’


What we call alternative education is in fact the very thing it should be, not an ‘alternative’.


The Death Valley metaphor


He lives not far from Death Valley, a place where nothing grows because it never rains. Except in 2004 it did rain — 7 inches. Then in Spring of 2005 something remarkable happened…

Flowers sprouted across the entire valley. It was not dead, it’s dormant.


Beneath the surface there are seeds of possibility — they just need the conditions.


TED TALK No. 3 — Bring On The Learning Revolution


How to escape education’s death valley


We have a climate crisis at the same time as a human crisis. We make very poor use of our talents.


He meets lots of people who think they’re not good at anything. He meets lots of people who ‘get on with it’ in life and don’t enjoy it. They endure it and wait for the weekend.

Also meets people who love what they do. It’s not true of enough people.


Believes education is high among the reasons — it dislocates people from their many talents. Human talents, like natural resources often lie very deep. Not easily sat on the surface.

Every educational system in the world is being reformed at the moment, and it’s not enough. Reform is no use anymore because that is simply improving a broken model. What we need is not evolution, but a revolution in education. This has to be transformed into something else.

The Challenge


We need to transform things we think are obvious, ideas that are locked into common sense.


He quotes Abraham Lincoln:

The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise — with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.


He makes the point around watches. People over the age of twenty five often where watches, but young people don’t because their phones tell time. Other people still carry watches out of habit.

There are things we are enthralled to in education — the first of which is linearity. That you do everything right along the way you end up at a successful point. For example, obsession with going to college.


The Fireman Story


Met a fireman who was laughed at during schooling years, told he should go to college by his teachers so he wouldn’t waste his abilities.

Six months earlier he saved one of these teachers’ lives, and his wife’s life.

Human communities depend on a diversity of talent and abilities.


The Linearity Problem


‘College begins in kindegarten’ saw once in reform memo. No it doesn’t!

But now there’s competition to get into kindegarten, children are being interviewed. They’re interviewing three-year-olds! Robinson jokes about the poor resume’s of these toddlers.

Compares it to fast food — we have a fast food model of education.


If you’re doing something you love, time changes


Has to feed their spirit — if you love what you’re doing, time disappears. When you hate it, five minutes feels like five hours.

Human flourishing is an organic process, not a mechanical process.

On Dreams


W.B. Yeats to Maud Gonne, bewailing the fact he couldn’t really give her what she wanted. He wrote this, which Robinson reads out.

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,

Enwrought with golden and silver light,

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths

Of night and light and the half-light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet:

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

His final warning — tread softly — we tread on the dreams of our children.

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