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Lead from the Start: March 2009

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Toys Dinosaurs and Sir Kenneth Robinson

My son has a lucky dinosaur. He keeps it in his sock drawer and pulls it out when we play board games. His mother says that when she found it she "knew it was his lucky dinosaur." We have started to move him towards considering that maybe HE is lucky. I think he is starting to believe us.

I hope he starts to internalize this idea because it may help him find his bliss. I say this because being "lucky" is one of those ephemeral traits that seem to surround successful people. I just finished reading The Element by Sir Kenneth Robinson and turns out that being "lucky" is one of the traits that can help you find and inhabit your "element." Luck is the ability to be open to opportunities, to act on opportunities, and to turn misfortune into opportunity.

When we start to describe luck this way it becomes much less about superstition and much more of a creative skill. It is this type of thinking that Sir Ken Robinson is known for exploring.

Reading The Element is like reading a transcript of the conversation between your heart, your head, and your education. Only this time, your heart wins the argument. Ken Robinson tells us all the things that we told ourselves before we were "tracked" or Myers-Briggs'ed into groups for easier classification. This time though, your heart has some heavy-duty research behind its case.

In The Element, Robinson argues that schooling, as a system, is like a machine that dehumanizes kids by trying to stuff them into boxes instead of helping them to find their potential as human beings. He says schooling is all about society and not about the kids. Through stories of many exceptional people, Robinson describes what might have happened if famous and successful people had listened to their parents, or their teachers, or their Myers-Briggs for that matter.

If so-and-so had listened to the teacher who said, "You’re good at ____ so you should become a ____," they never would have become the creator of The Simpsons or the author of The Alchemist or the winner of the 1970 Nobel Prize for Economics. The key is that these individuals discovered their true passion, realized their aptitude, and stuck to it, sometimes in the face of their education and in spite of a community or a society that didn't buy it.

The trouble with schooling, according to The Element, is that schools do not ask the right questions. Schools today are built on the question, "How smart are you?" Robinson says we should be asking, "How are you smart?"

TheelementIf schools were organized around identifying and supporting students' finding their "element," teaching and learning would look much different than it does now. "The Element is the meeting point of natural aptitude and personal passion," he concludes.

I have to say I can relate to this book. There is this feeling I get when I am painting and sometimes when I am teaching. Actually, it is not so much a feeling as place I feel like I inhabit. This feeling of being in flow. It seems to be a state that almost all people are able to reach. But in society there is a meta-story that seems false to me about what creativity is and means. Many times creativity is seen as a gift from a higher power, something out of the ordinary.

In Robinson's view, creativity is what happens when aptitude and passion find each other. It is what students will need to tap into in order to be successful in the unknown future. Robinson says "it would be wise" to support students in identifying and pursuing their element, rather than a particular career or a set of marketable skills, because the only thing we can be sure of is that the future will be different than the world we live in today.