Why the arts must be in the curriculum

I am an avid follower of Sir Ken Robinson. I have read his book “The Element” , watched his TED Talks and as many other videos I could find of his on YouTube. I am one of his many friends on Facebook and yesterday I received this posting from that site:

  • ‎”@adam_voigt: If true, this is a decent step forward: Education takes a dramatic new course http://t.co/dqxsWyJR via” Gt news.

    Following the link led me to a really important development in Australian education and potentially a lead for the rest of the world.

    The link was to an article in “The Age” called “Education Takes a Dramatic New Course”

    The opening paragraph says it all:” For the first time, all Australian students will study dance, drama, media arts, music and the visual arts until year 10, under a draft new national curriculum released yesterday”.

    There is a powerful rationale for this, not to enhance the spiritual and emotional development of the child (although it will undoubtedly do this) but (to quote the report): ”Learning subject areas like music and drama inspires creativity, encourages young people to think critically, helps develop their sense of identity and can provide great benefits for learning in other core areas.”

    This is really important, the arts are not seen as an add-on that can benefit a few artistically minded individuals, a luxury to be appended to the curriculum core which has to be English (or the native language), mathematics, science and Physical Education. No, the arts are seen as a core area of study which gives children essential skills for becoming citizens in the 21st century.

    I would argue that the most important skill is creativity. The chance to develop our skills in the ability to “think outside the box”, “imagine the unimagined” and solve problems that do not follow a strict logic. These are skills that can make the difference between our species’ ability to survive and prosper on this planet.

    I once saw a “Last Night of the Proms” concert where the conductor gave a speech at the very end where he defended music as an essential skill in any modern educational system and not a luxury. He extended music to all of the arts and stated “we neglect the arts at our peril!”

    I am delighted that the Australian Government has recognised the importance of the arts in being a basic right and necessity in any 21st century school curriculum.

    I would go further than Sir Ken who stated that it would “be a decent step forward” I believe that it is an essential one. To read the actual draft arts curriculum go to: http://acara.edu.au/verve/_resources/DRAFT_Australian_Curriculum_The_Arts_Foundation_to_Year_10_July_2012.pdf

The need for genius

Cover of "The Genius in All of Us: Why Ev...

Cover via Amazon

I discovered an article from the B.B.C. called “Is There a Genius In All Of Us?”  The article was about a book by David Shenk called “The Genius In All Of Us“.

The book looks at a lot of recent studies that show intelligence to be a combination of genetics as well as environment and that the interaction of these two influences is effected by the amount of hard work that is put into developing skills that we may be born with or seek to develop but which will lay dormant if they are not worked upon.

In other words the old saying “genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration” is not too far from the mark.

The key thing is in discovering what it is that we want to develop. As the article says we are not all born to become Cristian Ronaldo and do amazing things with a football in front of thousands of fans. But then again Cristiano may have had an innate talent that was developed by his environment that celebrated and promoted soccer as against another sport that he may have had ability to develop in if he had worked as hard as he did to develop his skills in football.

I am, as readers of this blog will know, a great admirer of the work and writings of Sir Ken Robinson and in particular of his book “The Element” where he explains how we each need to find what our passion is and what thing we want to develop in our life.

If we find our passion then the hard work to develop our skills in it does not seem like a chore, but hard work there must be if we are to truly develop our talents to the full.

Shenk is right, we all have some sort of genius within us if we are able to find the thing that is our “element” and then work hard to develop it to the best of our ability. The tragedy is that, throughout history the majority of us have never found what our passion is or had the opportunity to develop it to the full.

The world is a poorer place because of all of that waste but more importantly, can we afford to not have the talents that we have within us developed to the full if we are to survive as a species in these traumatic times with the many challenges that we face ahead?

Guiding the work in progress

I saw this video mentioned on a post in Google+. It was to inspire teachers on the eve of World Teachers Day.

I found so much to agree with the ideas expressed ion the video. The child as a work in progress, the need to guide and nourish so that they can become the people they have the potential to be.

It made me think though about how many teachers actually agree with these ideas and see themselves in the way that the teacher is portrayed in the video. I know that I have taken a journey as a teacher to reach the awareness that teaching is not about filling empty vessels. I have learnt that teaching is not about me and my performance on the “stage” in the classroom. I have learnt that every child has potential and that there is something inside of them that is screaming to get out be it a great sportsman, an artist, a scientist or a salesman.

My wife and I met friends at the weekend and they talked about their athlete daughter who had such a hard time in school because she was not conventionally “academic”. I spoke about my interest in the ideas of Sir Ken Robinson and told them I would send them a copy of his book “The Element“.

“It’s a shame I didn’t know you twenty years ago,” one of our friends said, in appreciation for my words in support for her struggle to get teachers to understand her daughter and her daughter’s needs.

“That would have done no good,” I said to her, “because I was a different person…a different teacher twenty years ago.”

Only when you realise just what can be achieved and just what part you really play in putting the jigsaw puzzle that is the child together can you really appreciate what the video is trying to express.

To all my great, hardworking colleagues out there… try to understand and have a great World Teachers Day.

Lost in Learning


The advantage of being snowed in (maybe the only one) is the chance to discover new things on the net.As I’ve said so many times, we never stop learning, which is why this blog is called my “Lifelong Learning” blog.Yesterday, I did what I often do as I dipped my toe yet again into the sea of information that is “out there” on the net. I did a search for lectures on learning. I was rewarded with an excellent list of 50 (yes 50!) lectures that covers all aspects of learning in the 21st century.The post was called “50 Fascinating Lectures On the Future of Education“.

The very first lecture on the list was by a young photographer called Eva Timothy and was delivered at the New England Institute of Art. It is about her wonderful collection of photographs which are all about Renaissance people who were themselves “lost in learning” and managed to transform their world.This is a wonderful talk because Eva is so enthusiastic about her subject which is the need for all of us to be learners and not to lose that spark within us that we have as children that is all about enquiry, curiosity, interest.Listening to Eva I was reminded so much of the talks of Sir Ken Robinson, particularly the part where he says that children are born creative and in fact it is schools that somehow kill the creativity within us.This was so marked to me as I travelled in a train through beautiful snowy landscapes the other day. There were two teenagers across from me who spoke in clipped sentences, mostly about girls and sex (they hadn’t got onto the rock n’roll and drugs yet). They ignored the scenery and they ignored everybody else. A young woman got onto the train with her very young child in a pushchair. The child noticed a discarded McDonald’s bag and asked if it was hers. She then looked around and made reference to the clothes people were wearing and the pretty view outside.This child was still “looking” with wonder at the world that she was in. I wonder if she will be like that in a few years time when school has got to her and told her how to write, how to paint, how to look (or not look).In this talk we see a young artist who has an artist’s eye for an image and a passion to express her love of learning.I was also fascinated by her talk about how, being born and bred in communist Bulgaria, she had to learn Russian at school but always had a dream to come to the United States and taught herself English by watching American films and listening to the B.B.C. on the radio.This is yet another example of how children will learn if they are inspired.There are many messages from this talk…. all I can say is that I was fortunate in having discovered it and would strongly recommend that you watch it.Also, if anyone from TED happens to read this post, I feel that Eva would make a wonderful speaker at a future TED Conference, which would give her the wider audience that I feel she so richly deserves.


Who Inspires You?


Image via Wikipedia

I have just uploaded my first Youtube video (above). I was compelled to actually take the step of going into the world of personal video after watching this video:

This video is part of a series of videos that can be seen on Youtube. People are asked who was their inspiration and they speak to the camera.At the end of the video they place a coin in the jar which is the thematic part of the videos. Unfortunately I forgot about this when I did mine!

I have found that there is a Twitter community that has been set up by merely putting a #sign in front of letters or a word. This community is called #inspires and a few days ago I sent out a tweet about this:

who #inspires you? For me it is Benjamin Zander and the possibilities of life as well as the beautiful music

I received a reply to my Tweet and the person as follows:

David Rogers
daviderogers David Rogers
@malcolmbellamy it’s a cliche by my mother #inspires me – she has endured immense hardship, yet she still gets up each day and smiles
I found this a wonderful reply and it made me think about what inspires others. Which is why I made my video and have now written this post. If you get the chance then please say in a few words (you have up to 140 characters) who inspires you and why on #inspires or maybe you can enter the world of video making like me and just point a video camera at yourself and say what you want to say. A lot of people will be interested to know.


Changing education paradigms: a personal reflection

The RSA Talks are  excellent. They bring   great talks by brilliant speakers about fascinating subjects and rivals TED Talks in its interest level and power.

I am, as those of you who follow my blog will know, a great fan and supporter of the ideas of Sir Ken Robinson. I have made quite a few blog postings about his work (see the Tag on this post).

This shortened version of a talk that he gave as recipient of the 2008 Benjamin Franklin Medal at the Royal Society of Arts (henceforth just RSA) is wonderfully animated as are all of the RSAnimate series of videos (if you haven’t seen them then I suggest that you look them up, there are excellent ones from David Crystal‘s talk and also Daniel Pink‘s).

In the talk Sir Ken talks about the fact that we have moved into a new world which needs collaboration and creativity and that the present education system is rushing backwards towards a now defunct industrial model of education which gave us schools that look like factories and have bells that keep students to strict timings throughout the day, a curriculum that is about instruction by a “sage on the stage”  and that segregate students by the accident of their birth or as Sir Ken so wonderfully puts it “according to their date of manufacture”.

This week I had the pleasure of accompanying a group of Polish teachers from the town that is twinned with Southend-On-Sea where I work, Sopot. We were showing them a few of our schools to give them an idea about how the English education system works (I say English as against Scottish since they had been on a study visit to Scotland last year and the two education systems run differently).

I have reported about the first day in an earlier blog (“Banging Our Own Drum”). The second day we went to a local secondary school called Futures College. This has students of 11-16 in it and has now had a brand new £19 milion  college put up that is serving students from across the whole area of Southend and South-East Essex and has been built to work within the school for lessons to their 14-16 year olds as well as being a resource for apprentices in a large number of craft and commercial skill areas.

The differences between the two parts of the school couldn’t be more marked. In the college there were young people occupied at brick laying, carpentry and hairdressing. There was a busy learning atmosphere. There were expert adults who were there to advise and guide but no direct teaching with a black or whiteboard and there was a free flowing space. In the large open area canteen there were computers which students could use which by-passed the Council’s strict censorship of sites such as Facebook and Twitter and allowed the students to use the social media that they use in their “outside school” life. In this canteen  mobile phones could be used freely and therefore the students did not feel the need to break the prohibition of their use during their “learning time”.

The teachers and myself witnessed an atmosphere of busy learning with young people who were following their passion which may have been for carving of wood or producing a wonderful hair design.

We then walked back to the older school buildings. There was the closed classrooms and the dark corridors. We witnessed a French lesson with a cheerful teacher (who was actually French) teaching a group of Year 7 pupils. She told them to recall last week’s lesson.. that we always make the adjective fit the gender of the word.. so therefore we had une porte bleue and that this stayed the same for the plural which we add the “s”.. so we get des portes bleues.

The children ranged from interested and occupied (“thank you for taking a learning risk” she said to one student for a good answer) to bored and staring at walls or at us visitors trying to be invisible at the back of the classroom!

It struck me that Sir Ken’s words about what we need to move away from and towards were starkly present in this one school.  The journey we need to take is from the Victorian factory building that is the old school building to the bright, open and student-interest centred environment that is the new college.

I am not suggesting that there is a limitless pool of money that can create new school buildings throughout Britain or the rest of the world… but we need to think about how we can change and use the buildings that we have at present to facilitate this new paradigm. We need to allow mobile phones to be used as a learning tool, we need to discourage segregation by age and we need to think about boxing our students in and having them work to particular timings.

I also think we need to take in new developments such as Karl Fisch‘s idea of turning the approach to school work on it’s head and making videos for the students to look at in their own time at home (he uploads them to Youtube) and then get the children to work through the ideas in school.

We do need to encourage collaboration (and not call it “cheating” as Sir Ken says in his talk) and we need to allow students to follow their passions and interest and not dictate to them what we feel they need.

This is the changed paradigm that Sir Ken talks about and I know in my mind that it is where we have to go (and I feel we will go in the future). This has been my own personal reflection on how I have caught a glimpse of it in practice and why I continue to shout about it in my blog. Thank you for reading this.

The Identity Day

I have just had the privilege of looking at a podcast of a presentation given at the 2010 Reform Symposium by George Couros.

George is the Principal of Forest Green School, located in Stony Plain, Alberta, Canada.

The presentation was about the school’s “Identity Day” which was an opportunity for all adults and children in the school to set up a display and present to parents, friends, indeed anyone who turned up, about their “passion”.

The presentation can be found at http://reformsymposium.com/blog/2010/08/05/podcast-george-couros/

This was a brilliant idea. George starts from the premise of getting to know the students. He said the day was emotional and that he personally discovered some things about his students that he never knew like one quiet girl who turned out to be a BMX biker! I also loved the slightly difficult child who has a passion for cowboys and told everyone all about his interest dressed in a great cowboy hat!

I feel that this is so important. I am reminded of a story that a colleague told me once about a child in her class who had to be cajoled by his fellow students to come up and tell them that he had just become the Junior Champion Ballroom Dancer for the U.K.!

My experience was of a child in my class who had just won a U.K. Under 12’s Golf Championship when he was barely ten years old!

This idea of allowing the children to express their passions and tell them what makes them excited (or indeed proud, as in the example of the Inuit native Canadians who showed examples of their heritage and culture) is a wonderful one and more schools should be having days like this.

I am, as those who know this blog will know, a great fan of Sir Ken Robinson and his ideas about children finding their passion  which he wrote about in the book “The Element”. In the book he tells the story of Bart Conner and how he found his passion one day when he went into a gymnasium and felt like he was in heaven. Young Bart was to become a great gymnast and to win Gold medals at the Olympic Games and later go on to marry Nadia Comeneci, the great Rumanian gymnast and together they now help coach disabled children to participate in gymnastics  in Oklahoma.

I wonder what Bart would have made of an “Identity Day” at his school. I wonder if his teachers realised his great passion for gymnastics and that he expressed himself best in a physical way? I am sure that the children of Forest Green school are now known for their interests and their passions…as George says it is the basis of understanding them and what makes them tick and of helping them to learn.

I would love to see more schools trying this idea out. I would think it would make an excellent thing to do at the beginning of the school year (i.e. now). It was actually held towards the end of the school year. It was such a great success that they intend to repeat it again in the next academic year.

George himself presented about his love for the L.A. Laker basketball team. He says that next time he will show another of his passions and no doubt many of his students and staff will as well and they will get to know each other even better.

Well done George, in your honour I’m putting a “Lakers” badge picture in this post!

In your element

I have been a supporter of Sir Ken Robinson and his ideas ever since I saw his seminal TED Talk of 2006 (for a full introduction to the man and his ideas see his excellent new website: http://sirkenrobinson.com/).

In the book “The Element” he talks about the way that we each have within us the thing  that represents  the “real you”. This thing is so much a part of you that if you are consumed with doing it for a living for example work will not feel like work at all.

He tells the stories of the rich and famous as well as the not so rich who have “discovered their element”. Sometimes it is very moving to read the words in his book and realise that these people have achieved something very important in life… the ability to do what their “inner self” (soul?) is telling them they should do. My favourite story from his book is about the fireman who as a child always wanted to be a fireman and had a teacher who decried this ambition. Years later that self same teacher was in a motor accident and his life was saved by the young man who had indeed become the fireman he had always wanted to be (who also saved the teacher’s wife as well).

A couple of days ago the Advanced (A)  Level results were published here in the U.K. My seventeen year old niece received her results and they were not good. Her parents were understandably upset as they had harboured ideas of their child following so many others into higher education. My niece though had other ideas.

My wife had sent her a text stating that whatever the situation we still loved her and hoped for her only the best. She replied by saying that we should not worry, that she had definite plans. She has always loved dress designing and making. Her mother paid one thousand pounds last year for an advanced sewing machine. She had made a stunning “Prom Dress” for her end of year dance that was the envy of many of her fellow students and was well thought of by her teachers.

She replied to us that she had decided that she was going to go into her own business that she would design her own dresses and make them. She knew what she wanted to do and she was not at all thrown by her lack of academic success.

I was elated by her reply. Here was an example in my own life of what Sir Ken had been saying in his book. Here was someone who knew what she wanted to do and she felt no fear in attempting to go out into the big wide world and try and design her dresses and then sell them. Maybe she will not succeed but that is not the point. She is doing what she is good at and what is her element. She will enjoy what she does, it will not really feel like work to her and who knows she may well be the most successful student in her current year group at school!

I compared her experience to my own when I was discussing events with my wife. I had also come up against the dreaded brick wall of examination failure at the age of eighteen. Unlike my niece I had been groomed to be an academic success and go on to higher education. I had “failed” and now I was stuck with what to do next. I had no real idea about what my element was. I had not been given the chance to explore anything other than a narrow range of academic study whilst at my Grammar School. I had loved writing as a hobby whilst in my teenage years but had been dissuaded from attempting to make a career from writing as “there are too many failed writers out there” (to quote my father when we had discussed this when I was about fifteen).

I therefore reached a similar point in my life as my niece has just reached but I was lost. I did not know what to do and did not have the same kind of conviction that she has that, make or break, it is worth doing. I had not realised what my element was and I took a similar path to many people in retaking my exams, passing them and then going on to university.

Sir Ken says there are many people now and in the past who could greatly contribute to our economies and indeed to our culture but never get the chance. This is why I am so proud of my niece and why I think that the book, “The Element” is one of the most important books that has come out in the field of education and human endeavour in the past few years. If you haven’t read it I would urge you to…as Sir Ken says, it might just change your life or the life of someone who you care about.

Sir Ken Robinson’s latest TED Talk

Sir Ken Robinson
Image by eschipul via Flickr

Below you can see the latest Talk at TED from Sir Ken Robinson.

I am, as you will note if you search through the contents of this blog, a big fan of TED Talks and a big fan of Sir Ken Robinson.

I will be honest and say that, in my opinion, having seen a number of Sir ken’s talks and downloaded a couple  of them for this blog, I did not regard this talk as his best yet.

Having said that, if you hadn’t seen any of his previous talks or read his excellent book “The Element” (which I reviewed in an earlier posting) this would be considered a really good talk. It has his usual brand of dry humour as well as a deep passion that is delivered in the low-key manner that we British often manage to produce when we are trying not to show our real emotions.

The emotion does come out though in the very last part of the talk with the wonderful reading of the poem by W.B. Yeats…. in fact, because it is understated throughout the rest of the talk it is difficult not to feel very emotional when he ends with the statement… “tread softly because you are treading on our children’s dreams”.

This is a call for a new system of education that breaks away from the factory system that developed in Victorian times. I do not like the term he uses of an agricultural system…. as it may bring back memories of a pre-industrial age and it is not supposed to be that… I prefer his own phrase of an organic approach to education.

Once again, thank you Sir ken for saying what so  many of us think and feel and being the champion for creativity in the classroom. Your ideas have influenced many educators and the TED talks are bringing them to a wider audience. This is one revolution that we will win!

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Why teaching is not like making motorcars

Yet another short but brilliant video by Sir Ken Robinson. He says it all very succinctly. Those who follow this blog will know that I have already saved two Ken Robinson videos, one from a TED Talk and another, slightly longer from his talk at NYSCATE in 2009.I would strongly recommend that you try and see the longer videos if you have been moved or interested by his words in this short video. I would also try and get hold of his book “The Element” which is one of the best books on education that I have read in a very long time.I loved the analogy he uses of children to plants and the statement he makes about the best teachers being those who provide the environment for growth. Perhaps the more we think of children as plants that need to be nurtured and less as things (like motor cars) to be produced for future use the better we might become in our quest to create an education system that will really allow our children to fulfil their true potential (in whatever field that may happen to be).I was glad that he mentioned the pressures that we put our children under with constant testing and exams.. he is so right…. no education system should create such tension that our children feel ill and sometimes commit suicide… this must be stopped!


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