The 88th MediaSnackers podcast is honoured to feature Sir Ken Robinson.
(WORLD) The MediaSnackers podcast focusses on individuals, organisations or companies who are simply impressing us and which are crying out for more discussion.
Sir Ken Robinson is an internationally-renowned expert in the field of creativity and innovation for business and education.
0.40—2.00 cultivating creativity
2.01—4.38 advice about the changing nature of the world
4.39—7.42 talking to kids “properly”
7.43—15.08 opportunities vs disconnect (new media and technology)
15.09—17.39 vision of the future
Twice as long as usual because it’s Sir Ken Robinson!
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Ken Robinson: Okay. Well, I’m Ken Robinson. I’m a writer, a consultant now and a speaker on issues of education and innovation. I work a lot with education organizations. I work with corporate organizations around the world and I work with cultural organizations. And my big interest is in how you cultivate creativity and why you need to do that. I now live in Los Angeles, but work pretty much internationally around Europe, Asia and the States.
DK: Brilliant. Well, welcome, Ken. Thanks for giving up your time to speak to MediaSnackers. I was to ask you straight away a question which you’ve already touched upon about this cultivation of creativity. How can people do this and more importantly, why must they do this now?
Ken Robinson: Well, I think it’s vital that we cultivate creativity for various reasons. The principal one is the world is changing so quickly and so unpredictably, that for all of us were to make any sense of it and to engage in it properly in any way, we have to be firing in all cylinders. You know, we have to not only be open to change, but be willing to respond to it, to contribute to it and to be flexible and adaptable to it.
So, I think that a lot of people, in my experience really a vast majority of people, think they’re not creative. They think they aren’t able to think of new ideas in a very flexible way and that they think other people are creative, but they’re not. And my big mission, I suppose, is to convince people that everybody has profound creative abilities. The problem is for them to identify quite what they are and to know how to develop them. So, I work a lot with education systems on those issues and also with corporations.
DK: Brilliant. And you touched on then how the world has changed and, as you know, that’s the first line of MediaSnackers and we added on that there’s no t turning back you know, you’ve got to get with the program almost. And that sums it up. But what one piece of advice, then, would you give to a room of leaders or educators that you want them to take away, and why is that important?
Ken Robinson: Well, I think that we are living in times which are genuinely revolutionary. And what that means is, many things that people think are obvious and take for granted, may not be true. They may seem obvious, but they may not be true. In the middle ages, people took it absolutely for granted that the sun revolved around the Earth. They thought that was a completely obvious piece of common sense information. They could see it happening every day.
You know, they got up. They looked up in the sky and there it was rising and then falling. It was obvious the sun was moving and obvious that they weren’t. You know, they weren’t being flung off the planet. You know, as this thing spun out of control. It was actually common sense and it may have been common sense, but it wasn’t true. You could understand that with special information that the Earth was revolving around the sun. So, things that seem obvious often aren’t true.
And I think if you work in education, people often base their planning on assumptions they think are still true because they were true when they were younger. So, part of my advice to people always is, talk to young people properly. Try and understand the world they’re really living in because it’s a world that’s quite different, I think, from the one that any of us over 30. I’m a good bit over 30, I’m 57.
but anybody who’s really over thirty, grew up in a different world to the one that our kids are in. In some ways, the world they live in looks like ours. I don’t mean it’s completely and utterly different, but the big difference is their relationship with technology and particularly, their relationship with online communities; with networking, with generating content and socializing in that way. And I think a lot of adults look at the way kids are with computers and think that their relationship to computers is the sort of relationship we had with television when we were kids. You know, they were just sitting passively, taking all this stuff in. And the reality, I think, is much more that kids are being very active and productive and often very creative in the use of these technologies. But somebody described it recently as that these new technologies are the biggest generation gaps since rock and roll and I think that’s true. I think a lot of people over 30, over 40, think they know what these technologies are in as far as our kid’s cultural lives, but I don’t think we really do without speaking to them and hearing them.
DK: And it’s interesting you touch on that talk to kids properly, I think you said. What form would that take then? You know, I’ve done a lot of consultations in my kind of history and past and we talked briefly before I recorded this about that. But what do you mean by “talk to kids properly? ”
Ken Robinson: Well, I think that there’s a tendency to see new things in terms of old frameworks of ideas and traditionally, take education as a case in point. When we were growing up and going to school, school is where you found stuff out. You know, it’s actually the primary way in which you found things out. I mean outside the immediate family or the immediate neighborhood, it was the sort of education that you got connected and teachers were at their best, you know, and libraries, these are the source of knowledge and information and ideas and they acted as kind of curators. They were there to give you access to all this stuff.
Well, now, kids have immense access to enormous amounts of information. They’re often much more nimble with the technologies than their teachers. They don’t have a problem getting hold of information. I think what they need more perhaps now, is mentoring about you know, how to make sense of this, how to act critically with it, how to form judgments and evolve values in relationship with these things that are coming at them so fast. So, I mean, literally, I think rather than teachers seeing themselves as the people who know and are the primary source of knowledge and their job as being to transmit this. I think teachers should be seen much more as kind of enablers, as facilitators or as mentors. And that does mean, if you’re mentoring anybody, you have to listen carefully, not just to the words they’re using, but what they’re fundamentally trying to say to you.
And at case in point, it seems to me, is that we get people and [inaudible]. I don’t know where you put the line really, but over 30, I guess, would work. You know, people anyway didn’t grow up with all this technology get into moral panics about kids pulling all their information out on MySpace you know or on Facebook you know, because there’s this image that the world is full of predators who are there trying to prey on them. Well, you know, there are predators out there. There always were and there are dangers; there always were. but our kids have a different attitude to it. You know, they don’t see the problem giving out personal information like this. I don’t mean their home address and their number, you know, but they’re you know, their worries and their concerns, publishing their diaries online, showing photographs online. And it’s an example I think of where we come to meet them with our own preconceptions and they have a complete different framework and wonder what it is quite that we’re worried about.
DK: Yeah, we –
Ken Robinson: I don’t mean to say that they’re completely right and that we’re completely wrong. I mean, adults do have something to offer a little bit. But there’s a dialog to be had and I just, that’s all I mean. I think we have to listen hard because they have things to teach us that we don’t know about.
DK: Yeah, and we take the view at MediaSnackers you know, all the things that are happening now, it’s very empowering for young people. Like, what other point in any generation ever in the history of the world, could young people have a global voice instantly and share their creativity instantly? No. None. And that’s a cool thing, surely, that’s a good thing. And you know, educational and all the other institutions to follow it should be reflecting that and that’s kind of – because we shared a stage in Portland recently, I know you keynoted the Reshape School Summit, which is just a great flavor, reshaping a school. I love that and one of our mantras that we were putting out there was education must be reflective of young people, what they’re doing. You know what I mean? And that’s the utilization of new media and technology, and you did bring up in one of your keynotes there the kind of issue of digital natives versus digital immigrants. And are opportunities really being missed here or is it just something that you know, that’s always going to happen? Young kids are always going to be with a disconnect with their parents or older generation?
Ken Robinson: Yeah. I mean, there’s always been a disconnect. I mean, I had a big disconnect with my father. I mean, I don’t mean in a bad way. I mean, we were really close. He was a fantastic guy. You know, but he was born in 1914 and you know, he lived through world wars, one as a kid and one as an adult, and then in the 1950’s, I was born in 1950 and rock and roll happened. And that was our big generation gap. You know, my father’s generation looked at us with you know, successfully rock and roll and then hippies and just wondered what in the hell we were up to and what was going on. I mean, they loved us, but they couldn’t follow us down that route. You know, and that’s not been the case with me and my kids. I mean, my kids are 18 and 22 and they’re as big into all the music I was into as I was at the time. You know, they’re into The Stones, The Beatles, Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, as well as all the stuff they’re also into that I know nothing about.
So, we don’t have that kind of cultural divide. I think I’m not unusual in that many people of my age and generation are kind of Boomers, show a lot of interest in our kids and I think in many ways we’re closer and more open to them culturally than our parent were to us. But when you come to digital technology, they’re on a different planet. You know, they live online in a way that people of my generation mainly don’t. I don’t mean none of us do, but mainly we don’t. We use it as a facility, but we don’t use it as our everyday form of conversation and networking.
There was a great little story I came across. It’s not a funny story. It’s just a right story, I think. I can’t remember quite where it came from, but it’s about you know, an old fish swimming along the river and as it swims along it passes two young fish going in the opposite direction, and tells them, “Good morning, boys. How’s the water? ” And they smile at him and swim on and they get a bit further down and this young fish turns to the other one and says, “What’s water? ” In hindsight because – and anyway, it’s what you say to our kids. You know, “How are you getting along with technology? ” I think, “How’d you mean? ” And this is just the stuff they do; this is oxygen, this is water to them. They don’t even know they’re doing it. So, it is a big generation gap.
We’re slightly, I think, it’s smart presenting which is digital natives, digital immigrants, with a lot of us, not all of us, predominantly though I think we speak digital as a second language and I think our kids speak it as a mother tongue. So, you know, there is that kind of divide and I think we just have to try and look across it. I don’t mean to say that they’ve evolved into a completely different species; they haven’t. but one of the things that does strike me is that our kids have a very creative relationship with the technology and it has broken down a lot of the old distinctions that we grew up with like production and consumption. They aren’t just consuming this stuff; they’re feeding it back, they’re remixing it. They’re using it as a form of expression.
And I think one of the big things is for me in education is this is it almost has coincided interestingly to me with what people consider to be a kind of epidemic of for example, attention deficit disorder. I find this absolutely exasperating. I don’t know how true it is now in the U.K. but it’s definitely true in America that a huge number of kids are being sedated with these ADHD drugs like Ritalin and Adderall to get them focused. Now, what strikes me about this is that our kids are growing up in one of the most intensively stimulating visual environments in the history of the Earth. You know, they have an instant contact with anybody else on the planet pretty much who has access to a computer. They’re being besieged with information from every platform, from televisions, iPods, handheld computers, from television screens, cinemas, recordings; everything is clamoring to get messages across to them. And in the middle of all this, we’re accusing them of getting distracted. Then we medicate them because they’re getting distracted. From what? Boring stuff.
In the middle of all this, you have education. Particularly it’s true here in America now, not keeping up with this, but standing (inaudible) and trying to prevent it. You know, so our kids are being increasingly subjected to narrower educational experiences in schools, standardized testing, more and more pressure to conform, at a time when every other system in the culture is telling them to be individual and to diverge and to be open. So, I think there is a real problem here of how formal education is meshing with the way the culture is moving. And I don’t mean to say we should just all jump on the bandwagon but there are issues here of cultural knowledge and cultural production, which we need to engage with and it isn’t just to go along with it. I think out kids need critical tools, they need to know how to make sense of all of this stuff. But in the meantime, you know, our education systems which tend to be in the control of in Mark Prensky sense, digital immigrants are risking trying to be kind of in denial about this. So, I think part of what we have to do is look seriously at how we can use these technologies as a positive educational medium. You know, we don’t want to keep saying to kids, you know, “If you don’t go and sit on that computer, you’re not going to have your dinner.” They go on their computers. They are compelled to go to the computers.
DK: Of course.
Ken Robinson: And it’s not because they find them tedious, it’s because they find them fascinating. And I think that’s a message to us about how we should start to rethink some of our process of education rather than seeing these things as distracting forces that are irrelevant to education. I think we have to engage them really fully and properly and I don’t think we’ll have learned how to do that yet. That’s one of the reasons we should talk to our kids.
DK: I totally agree and you know, young people today are creators, producers, and participants and in terms of youth work, I come from a youth work background, that’s what we strive to make kids or create opportunities to get them there. They’re there now and there is an issue about online oxygen, but the noise to signal ratio as well, but technology just augments what they are doing or what we can do with it as well. It’s not a, you know, it’s not a bandage and it’s not something to fear as well. It’s just something else to do and to make it quicker, faster, easier, sexier, whatever. But I want to ask you one more question to wrap up this interview. And I’d love to ask you what your vision of the future will be like for them in terms of if you had your way, so to speak; and be idealist as you want here, and you can create your utopia or vision of the future. In terms of education, and new media and technology, what would it be?
Ken Robinson: In relation to education?
Ken Robinson: Well, my guess is that we’ll always have something like schools. You know, buildings where people go because I do think that one of the downsides of the technology is that it reduces the amount of time people spend face to face. And there are inestimable advantages and benefits from working with people in the same room, in the same space, looking into their eyes and feeling present with people. And you know, for all the benefits I can see in technology, there are certainly ways in which we’re completely unsure of the long term effects on people’s social abilities, social skills and all that bind communities together. You know, we just don’t know what these long term effects are if they’re there at all.
So, I don’t envision a future for myself where we never have schools and buildings and teachers in them, but I think they’ll be completely transformed as they should be. At the moment, we tend to think of schools as almost like factories, as a separate facility where people are sent off you know, to be educated. And it’s a pretty close community ordinarily. So, in terms of education, I envision a future in which we have a much more broadly based curriculum that we have now. One which is much more evolutionary and open to new ideas and influences than we tend to have now. Curriculum in a form of teaching which is infused with technology because the thing is, these technologies that we’re so impressed by at the moment, are still primitive. I mean, five years down the line, ten years down the line from now, we’ll look back at all these things that we think are so groovy and we’ll think they’re just like old steam radios.
You know, this technology is getting more and more pervasive and more and more sophisticated and sensitive. So, it’s going to have a completely transformed us, I think on the culture and therefore, on how we actually educate them and how we should educate them. So, I can see a much broader more open type of curriculum. I think we’ll move beyond the point where we think that education is something that mainly happens to kids and we’ll see it as a lifelong resort. It’s beginning to happen, but I think we should start seeing education, not as a privilege, but as kind of a utility. You know, where people just drop in, find out the stuff they need, connect with people. So, it’s a much more open source in its way or working. And I want to see, myself, much closer connections between you know, education institutions and processes and cultural centers in communities.
DK: Okay. Yeah.
Ken Robinson: And also I think a much more dynamic relationship with business than we have just now.
DK: Definitely. Okay. Well, I just want to say thank you for giving up your time, Ken. It’s been a pleasure speaking to you and thanks for speaking to MediaSnackers.
Ken Robinson: Oh. It’s a pleasure. Thanks very much.