Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Dancing Into the Future

By virtue of a wonderful website called TED at www.ted.com, I recently viewed a speech by Sir Ken Robinson. Robinson is one of the world's most innovative thinkers around issues such as human development, creativity, education, and the future.

Robinson noted that national public education systems did not exist before the Industrial Revolution of the 19th Century. Public education was originally founded to educate for the factories and thus what was valued most was that which was useful for work. In order of importance we had (have) math, language, humanities, and the arts. The latter two could be scuttled with no hesitation when time or money was an issue.

Robinson told an insightful story about a woman named Gillian Lynne. Gillian was of elementary school age in the 1930s. She had difficulty sitting still and paying attention. This obviously led to trouble for Gillian. Eventually Gillian's mother was persuaded to take the child to a doctor.

After an examination and interview with Gillian and her mother, the doctor asked to speak to the mother alone. Before escorting Gillian's mother outside, he turned on the radio at his desk for Gillian to listen to while the adults were outside.

The doctor took the mother into the hallway and then back to the office door to peek in on Gillian who was at once out of her chair and dancing.

The doctor said to the mother, "Gillian is not sick. She is a dancer."

Gillian Lynne went on to become one of the most successful choreographers in history. She is responsible for the choreography in most of the Andrew Loyd Webber productions including "Cats" and "Phantom of the Opera".

Gillian would be more of a problem today than she was in the 1930s. Gillian would be a drag on standardized test scores, and of course dance is not math, it will not make us globally competitive.

The point of Robinson's speech and this rambling post is that we are still educating for the Industrial Revolution. We have thrown science into the mix with math and language to make us feel like we have modernized education, but we have not. In education we still dance to the tune played by powerful economic interests and kids who hear their own drummer are a still a problem. Complicating the entire situation is a drive by decision makers for accountability based on the same industrial notion of counting widgets.

The powerful interests have totally missed the mark. Their obsession is to prepare kids to be globally competitive. For kids like my son who just turned 13, they need to be more concerned about having a livable globe than being globally competitive.

We live on a finite planet with overwhelming challenges of population, climate change, water, food, and a world-wide economic system founded on the idea of infinite growth.

The kind of change we need is beyond a smart invention for a technological fix. The dancer probably has as much chance of leading us to the light as the scientist.

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