Schools need diversity, not conformity, says Sir Ken Robinson

Sir Ken Robinson at NSBA's annual conference

Our schools no longer serve our children, according to creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson. “Our current system is based on the conformity principal,” he said. “But human life thrives on diversity.”

Robinson was the keynote speaker at NSBA’s second general session on Sunday. He told attendees that we are inherently diverse, born with “deep talents.” However, in schools, “we’ve become preoccupied with conformity.”

Our school systems were developed in the Industrial Revolution to meet the industrial economy, he said. “Schools’ DNA has the rhythms and pulses of industrial manufacturing.”

Our school system’s industrial roots are the reason that schools are more interested in conformity than creativity. Compliance — another industrial virtue — is also prized by schools. “Kids don’t come in standard shapes and their minds don’t either. Our real resource is the creative capacity of its people. Life is not linear, it’s organic.”

Robinson grew up in Liverpool, and he talked about the rise and fall of British Empire, noting that it was once the most power nation in the world. No one could have foreseen the events – including two world wars – that lead to its demise as a superpower.

“What is true for humans is true for communities, empires, countries, and the planet. Humans live in a flow and flux. Every empire goes down.”

“Empires grow and fall on basis of creativity, motivation, and passion, just like humans,” he continued. “It happens to companies, too.”

Robinson used the example of Kodak, who invented home photography by making a camera that anyone could use. It had a hugely booming business, but invested in film, a mistake in the age of digital photography.

“They’ve gone out of business – had their lunch stolen by Instagram,” he said. “They didn’t go out of business because people stopped taking pictures.”

School boards are a pivotal role in changing from the old industrial model. “Your role in stewarding and taking care of public education could not be more important. There’s no more important role for the future of country,” he said. “The great challenge we all face now is to reframe how we do it.”

Robinson said that instead of the factory metaphor, a better metaphor to embrace is farming. “In agriculture, you don’t make plants grow, you create conditions for growth. Plants grow themselves,” he said. Farming focuses on the soil, manufacturing focuses on the yield. Standardization is about the yield and competition. Children flourish if conditions of growth are right, if they feel loved, and if teachers are empowered and encouraged to learn, then we will have conditions for growth.

“School boards have an essential role here to create the right conditions,” he said. “It’s not your job to do it for them. You create the conditions for teaching and learning to flourish. We can’t guarantee what the future will look like. We never could.”

Also at the second General Session, the grand prize-winning Magna Award districts were honored by President of Sodexo School Services Steve Dunmore. For more about the Magna Awards, go to


Kathleen Vail|April 6th, 2014|Categories: NSBA Annual Conference 2014|Tags: , , , |

Leave a Reply