Listen to Sir Ken Robinson

Almost a year ago, I posted a link to a TED lecture by Sir Ken Robinson on how schools kill creativity. Amanda Cockshutt of New Brunswick, Canada, sent me a link to a new talk by Robinson on “How our fast food education system is killing children.” You can watch it here.

And Rae Pica, at BAM radio, has a wonderful interview with him as well. You can listen to it here.

23 thoughts on “Listen to Sir Ken Robinson

  1. Though I love the emphasis on the damaging effects…the talk is about “failing” children, not killing them.

    Killing spirit perhaps though.


  2. Oh, that’s a good list FedUpMom…

    Last night I attended our school’s elementary spring concert. One song sung by the Grade 3/4 class was “Homework Blues”.
    Why should 8 and 9 year olds already be singing the blues about homework? I know it’s all tinged with humor, but it’s more sad than humorous to me.
    I just get the sense that parents and students alike are just resigned to it all….Grade 3 begins a school life of hell…better just get used to it.


  3. Wow, that reminds me of a musical put on by my daughter’s public school 5th grade. It was called “It’s Saturday!” and there were lyrics about how thrilled the kids were that the school week was over. So we’re teaching the kids that we expect them to hate school? Then we’re all going to laugh at their unhappiness? What the … ?

    Really, the message we’re sending to these kids is that we know they’re miserable and we don’t give a damn. Ugh.


  4. I feel the same way. The passivity of parents is the thing that’s driving me crazy. There are other parents who know how bugged I am and they were all looking at me while the song was being sung, wondering if I was going to explode or what.
    The old wisdom is that you shouldn’t scream until you get hit……old wisdom isn’t always so wise. It’s what’s gotten us down this homework road to start with.


  5. Psych Mom, they stole my ID!

    For my daughter’s 6th grade graduation, the students put on a show with the theme, your parents. My daughter performed solo and just wrote an ode to my husband and me which was unforgettable.

    Many of the other kids performed pieces on homework and staying up till 3am to complete it. Can’t remember how this related to us parents other than thanking us for allowing it. She never got MY permission to be that overloaded and most times, I didn’t allow late nights.

    The kids sang and moaned and wailed about homework and the parents thought it was hilarious. One parent even beamed, aren’t our children talented? Given 6th grade at that school lived up every bit to its reputation as the Killer Year, I was not amused.


  6. I could see “Homework Blues” being sung at the High School level, but Grade 3/4? I don’t recall much of the content of the verses, but I do recall the last refrain..something to the effect…”why does it have to follow me home?”

    Real toe tapping stuff.


  7. OK, here’s a link to the homework blues lyrics:

    For extra credit, find the misspelled word.

    This reminds me of a time when it was acceptable for a man to say to a woman, “You’re so cute when you’re angry!” Women found this frustrating, to say the least.

    Homework overload is a serious problem that affects thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of kids. Writing a cute little song and having the kids perform it is the opposite of taking the problem seriously. We’re telling the kids, “We know you’re unhappy — we think it’s amusing.”


  8. You’ll notice that the song and video repeats the usual claim that if kids weren’t doing homework they’d be watching tv and playing video games, which most people think is a waste of their time (that’s debatable, too.)

    But how about the exercise, social life and sleep that our kids give up to do all their homework?


  9. I’m not sure those are the same lyrics as our song because our school usually makes up their own words to songs….

    But the sentiment was the same.


  10. The staff at my daughter’s school also laughs at the sleep deprived teens who stagger through their doors every day. My daughter needed medication one afternoon so I came by at lunch. You know how obsessive schools are about a child swallowing a pill during lunch. In our county, a girl was suspended for two weeks for taking a prescription drug at school on her own. So when I bring the pill to school, I have to do it in the clinic under the vigilant eyes of the nurse who isn’t really a nurse. What do they think I will do? Feed her marijuana when no one’s looking? Right on school grounds? I have to meet my child in the clinic, my daughter cannot even run out to the car to get the pill from me.

    So there I am, in the clinic, waiting for daughter. She was up very late the night before and of course I am concerned. When she arrives, I look her in the eye and gently ask, are you very tired? She looks like death warmed over, smiles wanly and assures me no (she’s lying). The nurse overhears us and starts laughing. On a different day, I drop off lunch in the office. I wait for my daughter because I need to make afternoon plans. When she shows up, I ask the same question, are you very tired? A volunteer parent overhears and chuckles. Oh, these kids, they work so hard, aren’t they something, she beams!

    I consider myself very funny actually, I really do have a sense of humor, a wicked one at that. But something escapes me. Where’s the joke? What is so darned funny about children who are seriously sleep deprived and could become ill, depressed, anxious and possibly even suicidal? Where’s the humor in all that?

    If your daughter has menstrual cramps, you have to come to school and leave some Aleve. If she pops one herself without you or the clinic dispensing, the punishment is swift and harsh. Why? What if on the very off chance your child just happened to share that pill with someone who was allergic? Oh, my, heaven forfend, what a tragedy!

    Homework overload and sleep deprivation are pervasive and injurious. On that health scare, not a peep. Administration either pretends the problem does not exist or laughs it off. But on the almost non existent chance that your child might just happen to share an Advil with someone who just happens to be allergic, who does not know it and will keel over, on that they are suddenly VERY VERY PROTECTIVE.. Because we care about the health of our children, they solemnly attest. Yea, right.

    About two years ago, there was some big uproar in the neighboring county. A group came to school and tried to teach the harmful messages of following blindly. They did an experiment with the kids which I thought was very clever. The instructor had one student chew a piece of gum. She then asked that girl to pass it on to someone else. The girl did as she was told and handed it to another student who popped the used gum into her mouth. Lesson? You never stopped to consider how unhealthy and stupid that was? It was about peer pressure, getting kids to think for themselves and teaching them to make decisions.

    Okay, maybe your reaction is ewwwww, as well. That’s fine, I have no problem with that. But I was struck again what a big hullabaloo they made over this. The outfit was fired. Outraged parents stormed the school. Emails went flying. The paper got right on it, it was a front page story.

    The lesson I came away with? If only we could fire up thousands of parents to be just as outraged over the real problems plaguing teens such as mine. It’s 12:39 am and she’s still up with homework. I shudder to think how this will shake out years from now. I’ll gladly trade. As disgusting as this might sound, I’d rather she chewed someone else’s gum at school if she could get nine and a half hours each night and her childhood back. That’s how desperate I am.


  11. I dunno, what bothers me about the “peer-pressure” demo is that it put the kids in an impossible situation. School is all about compliance, all the time. So you tell them to do something, they obediently do it because they’re good students, and then you turn around and say “Gotcha! That wasn’t really a good thing to do! You should have thought about it more!” These kids have spent years learning that the key to success is compliance with the teacher’s demands, and now all of a sudden you’re mocking them for complying with the teacher’s demand.

    What if one of the kids takes this seriously, and the next time the teacher sends them home with a pointless worksheet, turns to the teacher and says, “I’ve thought about this, and from my point of view this worksheet is a waste of time, and I choose not to do it.” How well would that work?

    It’s really offensive to tell the kids to resist peer pressure in an environment that has taught them to be doormats to teacher pressure. In my daughter’s public school, they had a program to reduce bullying. Any bullying incident would have been dealt with immediately — if the perpetrator was a child! My daughter was bullied by her teacher and there was no recourse. I had to take her out of the class, and I expect even that would have been much more difficult if we hadn’t started applying to private schools.

    You can’t have it both ways. You can’t suppress a child’s own thoughts and opinions for years and then expect them to make responsible choices with their peers.


  12. Excellent points, FedUpMom. I completely agree with all of them. I wrote that very late last night while my daughter could not be coaxed to stop writing that essay, due today (yes, another one, one after the other and next week nets several more) and was completely overtired. I’m letting her sleep in today. She was on the verge of collapse last night. My rebellion? I gave that as the reason for missing half the day, she’s sleeping in.

    But the parents weren’t storming the school to make the point you just made. They focused solely on the health hazards of sharing gum. I would have appreciated an essay such as yours, decrying the compliance angle. I just wish the masses got just as outraged over sleep deprivation, which is a far more serious pervasive problem. That it’s not being address was my major point. We deal with it every single day, it’s impossible to ignore.


  13. That it’s not being addressed, meant to say. Look how sloppy I am on sleep deprivation. Hello, teachers, are you listening? When children stay up late to finish homework, they cannot fully attend the next day. They can’t focus when they come home so homework takes even longer and they are up later. Teachers, can you not see the vicious cycle?

    PsychMom, I did what you did too. In third grade, I received a call from the assistant director. She asked, are you aware your daughter has not done any homework this week? (I still chuckle at that. No, you dunce, I’m not aware.Where does she think I am all evening?).

    Yes, I’m aware, I chirped. The woman was slightly taken aback and paused, as if to wonder. So if you are aware, then______________?

    Oh, she’s doing something really creative in her room, I gushed. She’s designed a boarding school for all her dolls. She teaches them, writes lesson plans and assigns homework! She even sends home stern notes when the dolls don’t do it!

    But she isn’t doing any of her own homework, the director protested. Yea, I know, I sighed. But the dolls are!


  14. FedUpMom, regarding bullying. I remember several parents on a homeschool list responding to the bullying problems at school by stating, some of the biggest bullies were the teachers!

    I’m sorry if I don’t see all teachers as defenseless saints. Experience has taught me otherwise.


  15. Homework Blues — absolutely, I see your point too. I think we’re seeing the long shadow of Puritanism. It’s very hard to convince middle-class Americans that there might be such a thing as too much work, not enough leisure, not enough sleep.

    There was an article in the NYTimes recently claiming that giving your child mac ‘n’ cheese is as bad as giving them a cigarette. Some “expert” claims that the fat and salt will set up a “hedonic cycle” that will get them addicted! A helpful reader sent in a recipe for “broccoli soup” that consists of broccoli, water, and salt. Yum yum. Everyone seems to be comfortable with the idea that it’s wrong to get pleasure from eating, and that ideally food should be taken as a medicine.

    When will we see the scientific studies proving that overwork, stress, and not enough leisure lead to heart disease? How about the study proving that homework overload and not enough time outside is destroying our children?

    I’m still hopeful that the economic collapse and high unemployment will lead to changes in our toxic culture.


  16. I’m not that tuned into the American situation but hasn’t Mr. Obama signed things that will make the American education situation even worse? Merit pay…NCLB ad infinitum….things like that?

    I’m with you FedUpMom….we’re sending our kids into a crazy world. The least we can do is stand up for them in the face of all this pressure and take some of it off their shoulders.


  17. To HomeworkBlues, I’m sure I’ll get the same calls from the Grade 3 teacher next year as well. There are “consequences” to not doing your homework…I almost can’t wait to hear what they are.


  18. I think it’s funny that we call each other names like PsychMom, FedUpMom, HomeworkBlues. Maybe we should just assign ourselves a number? (JUST kidding! Play on our culture).

    PsychMom, when you get that stern call, humor them as I did. My big regret is I didn’t do it enough. My daughter was in private when I got that call. I have a lot of fun with it now but of course the core situation wasn’t funny.

    Some teacher will chime in, but she’s only checking in, she doesn’t know you, she doesn’t know if you are involved or if your kid is home alone watching tv all afternoon. Except she did know us and our family. I met with her before the school year began and my husband was out of work that year. He used his new found free time (when he wasn’t doggedly looking for a new job) to volunteer regularly at the school and he served on the board. She knew we were involved caring passionate parents.

    Why did she call? Knee jerk reaction. She was young, much younger than my husband and me and had just adopted a small child. She called because she simply thought that’s what she was supposed to do. Homework is assigned, you must do it, there will be consequences if you don’t, end of story. Our country has been doing homework in earnest since before the 1950’s, it’s what we do, it’s as American as apple pie and it must get done.

    I humored her by showing her that what my daughter was doing at home was far more creative than the worksheets the school was sending home. I didn’t have to bug my girl to create that doll school, she came up with that all on her own.

    My greatest regret today is not that I didn’t crack the homework whip more often but that I didn’t crack it less. Much less.

    I’m older and wiser now, been around the block a few times. And have seen the research. It’s time to abolish this nonsense and admit once and for all, as you write, PsychMom, that this is a relic from another century.It’s antiquated and outmoded and why are teachers clinging to it so fiercely? Because without homework it puts the onus on the school to get it done there.

    Homework might have had good intentions, good beginnings, but its original intent is lost and distorted. Homework has taken on a life of its own, it’s like a cancer that keeps spreading and we can’t seem to figure out a way to control it. It’s time to eradicate its harmful effects. We have enough research now on children, how they learn and whether homework is even necessary (research says it’s not in elementary). We know conclusively, via research and anecdotes that homework causes far more harm than good.

    Once upon a time, teachers actually explained why it was assigned. Now they no longer do, at least not in high school. In high school, I feel as if teachers have forgotten those students have a home. Home becomes the dumping ground on which to toss anything that didn’t get done at school. Instead of the high minded “practice” excuse we hear so often, it’s just an extension of the curriculum. Our children are up late and miss school the next day. It’s as if they no longer have time to go to school, so burdened are they with major assignments, all done at home. Where is a student supposed to find the time to plow through that mound of work if she actually attends school all day?

    I have an open mind, I’m willing to listen. So talk. Harris Cooper says two hours of daily high school homework should do it. But what happens when it’s six, seven, eight? And all weekends? When it spins out of control, as we hear from so many teens on this blog, and there’s no one watching to keep it in check. Who do you talk to? Who do you go to?

    I like the line in the film “Race to Nowhere,” where he says, if we are going to get off this treadmill, we are going to get off of it together.” I’d love if my school got together with parents and explained homework. Why they feel it’s important and how to set reasonable limits. But we aren’t even having this collaborative discussion.


  19. Yes, we are a vocal trio!
    The Homework Ban-digo’s.

    My child is in a small private school too…and I think I know who the teachers will be next year and I know what the tradition has been. Our school is totally different in so many ways…really, it’s just this homework thing that is a hold over from some old habit really. I just read Alfie Kohn’s article on Progressive schools. Our school meets every criterion he sets for a progressive school, except on the idea of no homework. I think the teachers at our school would say that their homework is relevant and that they want it to be meaningful. But it’s also daily and arbitrary and there are consequences if a child doesn’t do it…all things that don’t fit with the otherwise excellent theme study approach. It boogles my mind as to why it’s held onto and defended as necessary, “to get them ready for middle school”. It’s the old “responsibility and discipline” line.

    But I’m watching and listening and I will try to remember your advice about maintaining a sense of humor about it. I know I’m already a bit of a pain on the topic, but that live wire, I call my daughter….I want her to stay that way.


  20. Hi, I am so glad I finally located other ‘fans’ of Sir Ken Robinson and his ideas. I used to be a machine operator in the engineering industry the in north of England. That was 25 years ago. Since that time, I have been to university, got two degrees to help me teach my language, and have taught English in 7 different countries. I have two books published, had a plethora of other stuff published, and a ton of writing unpublished or on blogs. At school, my ability to write was encouraged, but of course, coming from a working class family, i had to get an apprenticeship – writing had to wait. Think how fortunate I am to find myself ‘in the zone’, doing what I love – writing.

    Sir Ken is absolutely right about education – we need to throw out the Gradgrind model and infuse our youngsters with our own enthusiasm.
    Many, many thanks
    Rob Fielding


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