By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
Sir Ken Robinson, a pioneering educationist, has died at 70 years old, The Guardian reported. Robinson long championed the idea that creativity was key in children’s education, going against the popular idea that language and arithmetic are far more important. Educational systems often come under fire.
The Guardian has detailed the life of the influential—and sometimes controversial—educational expert Sir Ken Robinson, who died of cancer at the age of 70. “Robinson was largely ignored by politicians of both main parties as he insisted that the policy of successive UK governments—that literacy and numeracy should predominate—was a false priority,” the obituary said.
“Reputedly one lesson can change the course of a pupil’s career; Robinson became an exemplar of the much rarer idea that one speech can change a teacher’s whole trajectory. It was an off-the-cuff, 19-minute address without notes at a TED (technology, entertainment, and design) educational conference in California in 2006 that propelled him to something approaching worldwide celebrity within and beyond education.”
Robinson’s ideas confronted the school system as a whole. Education often comes under fire for the failures of many aspects of life.
Those “Darn Fool Kids” Never Learn
“Americans have been publicly and repeatedly saying for more than a century that our students are—very bluntly—lazy, unprepared, incompetent, and unproductive,” said Dr. Alexander W. Wiseman, Associate Professor of Comparative and International Education at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. “Evidence of this, although we could doubt the quality of the evidence, is reported in several academic articles and scholarly books.”
Dr. Wiseman mentioned the work of a prominent education intellectual and commentator named Richard Rothstein. Rothstein has studied over a century’s worth of popular and public discourse about American education and he found that the public has never had a “honeymoon period” with the educational system.
“Blaming schools for the failures of youth, and for society, and for the economy has always been in fashion in the United States—and quite frankly, around the world,” Dr. Wiseman said. “In line with this, Rothstein illustrates one extreme example after another about how teachers and schools have been blamed for being inefficient, amateurish, wasteful, and sloppy.”
Dr. Wiseman cited examples from 1908 to 1961, the most recent of which coming from a report by the Council for Basic Education. This report showed that in 1961, one-third of ninth graders couldn’t read above a second- or third-grade level.
Despite the doom and gloom that seem to come from our opinion on education, Dr. Wiseman noted a curious factor in an annual public poll done by the Gallup Poll organization and the education honor society Phi Delta Kappa.
“Participants are asked many different questions about education, but one set of questions in particular is asked year after year: People are asked to give a grade to education in the United States, ranging from A for excellence to F for failing,” Dr. Wiseman said.
“When asked to grade the nation’s schools, people give largely Cs, Ds, and Fs. In other words, the public perception is that education in the United States as a whole is below average or failing. When asked to grade the schools in their own school district—where perhaps they live—people give largely Bs and Cs.”
Unsurprisingly, when they grade the school their own child attends, most people give it an A or a B. But it can’t be possible that all the schools are below average if everyone believes their own is doing an above average job, so what gives?
“What this shows is that there is misinformation, perhaps, or misperceptions about education in the United States, especially at the national level,” Dr. Wiseman said.
He was quick to add that not everything in American education works great, nor were the complaints about it entirely false. However, it does show that when it comes to understanding education at a national level, we all have a lot to learn.
Dr. Alexander W. Wiseman contributed to this article. Dr. Wiseman is an Associate Professor of Comparative and International Education at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. He received his PhD in both Comparative and International Education and Educational Theory and Policy from The Pennsylvania State University.