Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ken Robinson's The Element Reveals a Higher Purpose for Schools

Back in February, I posted my thoughts on Ken Robinson's The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything after watching a video of his remarks on the book. Now that I have finished reading it, I recommend it to everyone thinks about the true purpose of education and wonders how to fulfill that purpose.

"The Element," says Robinson, "is the meeting point between natural aptitude and personal passion." When people are in their element, he says, "they find that time passes differently and that they are more alive, more centered, and more vibrant than at other times."

Robinson reveals the Element by telling the stories of people who found it. Invariably, those people succeeded in their careers and made a difference in the lives of others. For most, someone early in life recognized their aptitude or passion and provided opportunities for them to enter and grow in the Element. Many of them had to overcome indifference or resistance. Some, including Robinson himself, found the Element after, or perhaps even because of, disabilities or other circumstances most would call adversity. Although Robinson is best known for sharing examples of students whose lives were changed by the arts, the stories in this book reflect the diversity inherent in true success. Some people profiled found the Element through the arts but for others it was through other academic areas, as well as through athletics, entrepreneurship, cooking, philanthropy, and other pursuits.

With his trademark humor, Robinson weaves in the themes that he has been writing and speaking about for years. He debunks myths about creativity, such as the common view that it's a quality possessed by an elite few. He opposes the industrial model of education that promotes teaching to the test. He suggests doing away with the hierarchy of "subjects" in favor of a more fluid interplay across disciplines. He proposes that the curriculum be personalized, which entails more freedom for good teachers to work in their own Element. This book reinforces those themes, and makes the case that finding and nurturing the aptitudes and passions of each individual is the path to transformation and growth not only for education systems but also for all other aspects of human endeavor.

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