Watch the TEDTalk that inspired this post.
Sir Ken Robinson's world-renowned talk, "Do Schools Kill Creativity?" which is being featured on The Huffington Post's TEDWeekends represents a seismic shift in global thinking on both creativity and education. The reason this talk has been seen by over 200 million people can be summed up in one word: Truth.
People usually have an instinct for the truth and when they sense it they want to both embrace it for themselves and share it with others, which is why this TEDTalk went viral.
Through his writing, speaking, and educating Sir Ken, who has been a tremendous source of inspiration for me personally, has created a legacy. He has scored a triumph for all of the kids who were chastised or abandoned by the educational system simply because they didn't fit. When a square peg doesn't fit into a round hole people often tend to blame the peg, not the hole. Sir Ken's talk changed all that, and began getting people to begin looking at the round hole rather than the "square peg" kids.
Since "Do Schools Kill Creativity?" aired in 2006, scores of articles have been written, talks given and conferences attended (some of these by me) in an effort to reform the obviously defunct educational system and to elevate creativity to the same level as the other academic subjects. These are wonderful efforts, however, the essential part of Sir Ken's talk has nothing to do with creativity per se. It has everything to do with failure.
Most people tend to run from failure as though it were some kind of disease -- a life sentence. Yet, it is anything but that. In order to change the system, to help the "square peg" kids, our national conversation needs to be turned towards failure. We need to focus much of our efforts on how to allow our kids -- no, how to encourage our kids to take risks and yes, fail.
One of the reasons I have such a deep respect for engineers and architects (besides the fact that what I think they can do with their minds is amazing) is that the spend the bulk of their time talking about, thinking through, and learning from failures of the past. Mistakes are written in to their curriculum. They understand that they learn very little from buildings and bridges that stand up, and very much from those that fall down. In fact, one of my favorite self-help books (besides my own, of course) is not a self-help book at all. It is an engineering and design book written by civil engineer and historian Henry Petroski about the need to fail in order to succeed. Petroski recommends that limited failure early in your working life can be immensely helpful to your career trajectory. The takeaway message is that if you are not failing you are not trying.
The question is not whether we promote failure, by how to promote it without making it a farce.
One way to consider doing this is to shift away from an exclusively results-oriented educational system and towards a process approach to learning. If we must have grades at all perhaps they can be based on effort as well as results.
The way the current educational system is set up, students are generally rewarded only for what they produce, rather than how they produce. As a result, we have seen many students turn to cheating in order to get the highest grades.
But what if we changed that and teachers began evaluating students based on how hard they try as well as what their efforts yield. This is just one idea, but like all change, that's how it starts. If we can promote the idea of a process approach to learning that takes into account the initiative, adaptability and creativity of a students response to a problem, we might be able to give more students the opportunity to try new ideas, and fail, and then try again. If we do that, we might just be able to keep the "square peg" students engaged in the learning process -- and let me tell you -- from personal and professional experience, it is the "square peg" students who keep trying and striving against all odds that change the world for the better. And in that way, we all win.
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