Sunday, 17 October 2010

Why doesn't Ken Robinson say the words at the RSA?

Ooer. Ken Robinson's at the RSA!

Part of me is glad to see poster boy Ken aired at the RSA. If reservations about rigid schooling regimes are widely shared and up for discussion, I'm glad.

But part of me is deeply frustrated.

Because isn't one of the next steps of Ken's educational argument blindingly obvious? I've heard these ideas talked over a hundred times before, sitting around park benches, waiting for kids to finish workshops, standing in cold fields while a park ranger points at a moth.

His discussion clearly leads to home education. Indeed, those words could be dancing around on the RSA podium stark naked waving purple banners.

Yet no-one there mentions home education. Not as a model. Not as a route forward. Not as an option. Not even as a possibility! I find that amazing. And frustrating. Because the thoughts provided by Ken Robinson - regarding human behaviours, institutions and clapped out educational systems - are exactly the same ideas that led us directly to home educate our own children. And we're not alone. Thousands of people home educate for the reasons Ken mentions.

In other words, we actually DO what we THINK. We put ideas into practice. We talk the talk and walk the walk.

But Ken Robinson doesn't mention home education. Of course not. It would be ridiculous, wouldn't it?

If he dared, my guess is he would never be invited to the RSA.

My guess is, if he had mentioned home education, he would not be taken seriously at all. He'd be just another fringe voice not worthy of serious discussion. Despite the fact that the ideas promoted by Ken Robinson actually inform many home educators living their choices in life; despite the way home educators are indeed jumping up and down, pointing the way forward, showing you all the big fat educational sign GO THIS WAY. In fact, I might try doing the walk, stark naked with a purple banner, just to see if anyone says anything.

But Ken Robinson doesn't mention it. And no one says 'hey look, home educators are living the ideas he proposes. Why don't we treat them as pioneers? Why don't we seek their advice? Why don't we ask them what they notice about child development, learning, education, and fitness for society?'

No. I haven't heard anyone say that. I've heard teachers on education discussion lists say home education should be banned; the Labour Party work to bring us to heel; the NSPCC suggest we're abusing our kids; social services staff claim we hide away; Roger Bolton remind everyone we're evangelical nut cases, and Fern Britton say we don't live in normal society.

Why, why, why is that? Why is there this yawning gap between the ideas people will praise about education when they come from the platform at the RSA, and yet reject when they see them being put into practice by the home educators who live next door?

Those ideas raised by Ken Robinson are here, all around you, in the heart of the society. Down the local community hall, in the swimming pool, at the dance club, at the park, in the local libraries. We're not exactly difficult to find.

But I can think of plenty of answers to my question.

For a start, there's an inexplicable social prejudice towards home educators, fuelled by ignorance in politics and media. Mention you are a home educator and it immediately translates in the ears of some listeners as I am a Christian Evangelical Right Wing Home Schooler and I know how to use a cane. Or, I am a loony, worship the devil, beat my kids, and need locking up. Maybe, at best, I am a self sufficient goat-slaughtering liberal farm-based hippie and my daughter aged 11 got her PhD in Maths at Cambridge. You can supply your own stereotype. They're useful dumping grounds for prejudice and ignorance and help discount home education altogether.

Or maybe the public fails to see home education as pointing a potential route forward simply because of a failure of imagination. People can't imagine an educational future for massive numbers of children based on allowing children to follow through their passions, ideas, creativities and inquiries. Don't call it our shortcoming. That's the failing of your imaginations, ladies and gentlemen. As usual, the home education world is miles ahead of you. Yes, people can imagine different educational states. Bloody hell, even Grit can manage a fancy or two. It's not impossible.

But maybe I'm being cynical. Maybe politicians and journalists can drop their attitudes and open their ears. Maybe prejudices can be overcome. Maybe we can all help create a kinder, more creative future for kids informed by the ideas espoused by Ken Robinson. Maybe this government could go back, and pick up the one that Bully Balls and the Labour Government dumped; the Cambridge Primary Review.

I'd be glad of it, truly. I have sad memories of the faces I have seen walking into school each day, year on terrible year. So, maybe, it will come true. Schools will not crush creativity; they will not divide, standardise to a norm, prevent play, medicate for control, arbitrate on failure, pressurise, drive kids to suicide, bring families to their knees, create unhappiness, and end in unsuitability for employment. Maybe they can be places we'd all want to go.

You can hope, right? Even if a system woken up and changed would have to be acceptable to corporates, and would have to be supported by the political will to achieve it. You can always hope.

But please bear something in mind. People are already living these ideas. You won't see us on the stage at the RSA. But we're showing you a way. Don't dismiss it. Those ideas are home education.


Deb said...

Oh my gosh, I have wondered these exact same things! Do they not SEE what they are saying? Do they not see US?

I once got into a debate with an over-educated friend of mine (PhD in Educational Psychology of all things) and after listening to all the tiresome, typical anti-homeschooling rubbish (I expected better from someone so educated. Plus notice the word "rubbish" as I am working on my foreign language skills. Soon I shall be just as fluent in British as I am in Canadian.)

ANYway, I said that I find it interesting that what educational psychologists would term "best learning practices" can be very effectively implemented by home schoolers because of our very low student-teacher/mentor ratio.

Their OWN research supports it! But, they remain blind, insistent that they try to fix something that is inherently unfixable because it is, in fact, operating exactly as it is supposed to.

Potty Mummy said...

Bloody hell. That is - I'm lost for words. Thankyou grit for directing me to this. It is astounding. ASTOUNDING! I am going to send the link to this at the RSA to everyone I know in the hope that finally people will start to ask questions.

Firebird said...

I think you've probably got the answer, he doesn't mention HE because he would be dismissed if he did. Yes, we're walking the walk and proving that what he's talking about would work, but we are the untouchables, the enemy because we've stepped outside the system. The majority of those working inside it can't see beyond the fact of our rejection of their world, our 'otherness'. We can't possibly have anything to offer because we have rejected what they have to offer. The loss is theirs, and all the children still inside the system. Sad.

Baz said...

I've watched a couple of Ken's talks on TED, and had mixed feelings about them for just that reason. The ideas he talks about make so much sense, but he still seems tied to the context of school. Perhaps this is not because of his beliefs, but those of his audience.

Mieke said...

I know for sure I'm not the only one who has written and emailed to Sir Ken on several occasions, stating exactly this. I have personally written to him four times in the past two years. Up to now no response. Whatever the/his reasons are, it doesn't stop me from using what he says, whenever and wherever I think it's useful.

Raquel said...

I emailed him Mieke. Not a dicky bird!

Kelly said...

Thank you for saying this out loud, Grit. I have been thinking these same thoughts myself. And thanks Mieke and Raquel, for trying to get a response from him on this issue. I'm most curious that he is not responding. We had a similar case in Canada with a writer named Paul Kropp, who wrote about how important it is to read aloud to children, and then turned around and trashed home education publicly. Seems to be a profound disconnect here.

Rebecca said...

Hi Grit et al.

Kelly was telling me about Grit's post and wondering what I thought about Sir Ken in light of Grit's comments... so I thought I'd share my perspective (for those who care to hear it).

I truly think that Ken Robinson is bigger than home education. His ideas are bigger than home education. His hopes and dreams are bigger than home education. His audience is bigger than home educators (and we are anything but a homogeneous group in terms of our educational philosophies!).

Sir Ken is asking for educational reform on a massive scale based on his philosophical ideals about learning. I perceive his talks as preparing the ground for some Very Big Change to occur by helping conventionally educated people think differently about education. He's so very good at this and people are listening. I think we can be encouraged by what he says rather than discouraged by what he doesn't say.

He does mention home education at his 2nd TEDTalk. He mentions it as one of the many possible ways to support individualized education. I don't get the sense that he's slighting home education -- at all.

Here's the TED link:

Bring on the Revolution

And here's the snippet of his reference to home education that shows up at 16:12.

"... or at home if that's where they choose to be educated with their families and their friends"

He's clearly not in the business of slagging home education (as per Kelly's example). But I suspect he's aware that many people will not choose home education for their children, for whatever reason. It seems he considers it one option out of many.

I personally feel that Sir Ken is a fantastic advocate for children and learning and I'm happy he's out there saying what he's saying, even if he's not specifically an advocate for home education (I have still 20 minutes of the full RSA talk to listen to, but I'm okay with what I've heard thus far). I suspect our advocates need to continue to rise from our own ranks.

I'm not sure completely reasonable to expect non-homeschoolers to be champions of homeschooling. We are lucky in our John Taylor Gattos and our Peter Grays... but they seem to be the exceptions... and even then, they are primarily about educational reform, not home education.

Rebecca said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Big mamma frog said...

Yep I'm with you on that one Grit. Often peeked at these videos and thought - yeah! That's what we do! why isn't anyone shouting this out?! I've always hoped that Ken might somehow be a great asset to us, a little trojan horse in the world of conventional education. Sigh.

But, to be fair, John Holt's early books were mostly about improving the conditions of learning within the school environment. It wasn't til later that he really thought outside the box and saw that the only way his ideas could truly work would be outside of the coercive school environment.

Mieke said...

Ha! I came back here to post a link to "Bring on the revolution", only to find that Rebecca had already done it - and said pretty much what I wanted to say (but in better English ;) ).
As I said elsewhere, not all home educators educate to Sir Ken's model. But there's nothing stopping those of us who *do*, to refer to his talks and say: "This is what we are already doing".
Also there are schools who use his model and have been using it for quite some time.
I am very grateful that someone with the standing and recognition of Sir Ken Robinson can stand up and say "my thing" to such a large audience, and be taken seriously.

Grit said...

hi people, thank you for your comments.

I would not expect KR to be a champion of home ed. I seriously don't expect him to sing it from the rsa platform (although i'm glad he mentions it elsewhere).

what i find odd is how little home ed is seen as a model that can be scaled up, and how little reference is made to it, as if it has nothing of value to add to the debate about creating large scale paradigm shift.

worse, home ed is discouraged from taking part. i imagine the same journalists who 'see the light' when kr speaks, are the same ill-informed people who dash off insulting copy about home education.

i genuinely do not understand why there is a disconnect: i have met many people who think kr is right, yet look at the negative press under badman. what is going on there?

I think home ed has something to offer the debate.

More, I think home ed can drive and inform change in schools.

There are supported home-based solutions and flexi-school solutions already working around the country. the general public doesn't hear about them; the schools don't shout about them. they are the result of parents pushing for more options.

but schools could introduce and scale up these solutions; they could offer them alongside full-time onsite education to parents.

schools are what people make of them. they could offer much more than they do, if they were supported financially and politically. they truth is, they are not.

There are voices still (in government? in the civil service? in corporate?) who do not want to see schools widen the choice, nor for the educational landscape to open out. They will actively work against it. I don't know why. In this blog, I only guess.

Gweipo said...

For your non UK readers - what is the RSA?

Grit said...

hi gweipo! you are right. soon i will be all c u l8r, atm and afaik. i should know better; the education world is stuffed with nonsensical acronyms i spent several years deriding.

the RSA is the 'Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce' which is why it's easier to write RSA. A front page is

i do not know how best to describe the RSA without putting my foot in it somewhere; their scope is wide, but i think of them as a good place to go for talking about how ideas about society might be followed through in practice.

matthew taylor is chief executive. i sometimes use his blog as an accessible point to rsa thinkings and doings.


liveotherwise said...

I did get a tweet out of Sir Ken when I tweeted at him during Badman, but never managed to make a connection :( While I appreciate he doesn't want to come off totally bonkers, and has very important things to say, it would be nice to feel that he does respect ppl doing the stuff he talks about enough to answer them occasionally.