Friday, May 1, 2009

The Element

Ken Robinson is a fantastic speaker with some challenging ideas about education. His new book, The Element, captures that speaking style to give readers, I guess the best word for it is, inspiration. The idea of the book is that everyone has their element and that they need to find it and if you think it is too late, think again. The idea is an interesting one and a hopeful one and Robinson peppers his various elements to finding your element with stories of the famous or pretty famous and how they got to be that way and were very happy about it (including himself). To me, who, frankly, has pretty much found his element, the book was not too useful but it did get me thinking about how I might help my kids find theirs. The message being: don't throw roadblocks in their way.

The biggest roadblock appears to be our educational system -- namely, its pedagogy. All the focus on reading, testing and measurable academic achievement does not really add up to finding one's element especially, if, as is likely, it can not be found by such objective means. So as a parent you question why you think these things are important and down weight them. Not that I need any help in that mind you. Here in Victoria, my two eldest kids will soon by sitting for three days (!) of tests for Grades 3 and 5 respectively. These arose out of the demands of parents to know more about what is going on with their children's education but Robinson would see it as the problem rather than a road to the solution.

I want my kids to try hard for these exams. Why? Because they are there. We are going to get some sort of report and I prefer them to be on the high end tail than the low end. And if they get there I'll put the test aside and go on. Interestingly, I'll do exactly the same thing if they don't get there. I know more about my kids and their abilities than any test can give and I will assert that knowledge and ignore the rest. So, based on that line of thought, the test is useless to me and it is likely that the 'in school' lead up to it, not to mention the tests themselves, are costly. I should be outraged and do something about it. But on the long list of things I want to fight about the 'system' this is on the low end.

The Element is a quick read and, indeed, has more in common with Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell (my review of that is here) in theme although it is, somewhat ironically, more journalistic than evidence-based. I'm not sure that everyone has an element and let alone will be able to find it. But as a goal for moving on with one's life, it is not a bad idea to think that they have and they will.