Sir Ken Robinson: Bring on The Learning Revolution at TED Talk Conference (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of educator and creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk presentation: Bring on The Learning Revolution. This event occurred in February 2010.

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Sir Ken Robinson – Educator/Author

I was here four years ago, and I remember at the time that the talks weren’t put online. I think they were given to TEDsters in a box, a box set of DVDs, which they put on their shelves, where they are now.

And actually, Chris called me a week after I’d given my talk, and said, “We’re going to start putting them online. Can we put yours online?”

And I said, “Sure.”

And four years later, as I said it’s been seen by — it’s been downloaded four million times. So I suppose you could multiply that by 20 or something to get the number of people who’ve seen it. And, as Chris says, there is a hunger for videos of me. Don’t you feel?

So, this whole event has been an elaborate build-up to me doing another one for you, so here it is.

Al Gore spoke at the TED conference I spoke at four years ago and talked about the climate crisis. And I referenced that at the end of my last talk. So I want to pick up from there because I only had 18 minutes, frankly. So, as I was saying —

You see, he’s right. I mean, there is a major climate crisis, obviously, and I think if people don’t believe it, they should get out more. But I believe there is a second climate crisis, which is as severe, which has the same origins, and that we have to deal with with the same urgency. And I mean by this — you may say, by the way, “Look, I’m good. I have one climate crisis, I don’t really need the second one.”

But this is a crisis of, not natural resources — though I believe that’s true — but a crisis of human resources. I believe fundamentally, as many speakers have said during the past few days, that we make very poor use of our talents. Very many people go through their whole lives having no real sense of what their talents may be, or if they have any to speak of.

I meet all kinds of people who don’t think they’re really good at anything. Actually, I kind of divide the world into two groups now. Jeremy Bentham, the great utilitarian philosopher, once spiked this argument. He said, “There are two types of people in this world: those who divide the world into two types and those who do not.” Well, I do.

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And I meet all kinds of people who don’t enjoy what they do. They simply go through their lives getting on with it. They get no great pleasure from what they do. They endure it rather than enjoy it, and wait for the weekend.

But I also meet people who love what they do and couldn’t imagine doing anything else. If you said, “Don’t do this anymore,” they’d wonder what you’re talking about. Because it isn’t what they do, it’s who they are. They say, “But this is me, you know. It would be foolish for me to abandon this, because it speaks to my most authentic self.” And it’s not true of enough people.

In fact, on the contrary, I think it’s still true of a minority of people. And I think there are many possible explanations for it. And high among them is education, because education, in a way, dislocates very many people from their natural talents. And human resources are like natural resources; they’re often buried deep. You have to go looking for them, they’re not just lying around on the surface. You have to create the circumstances where they show themselves. And you might imagine education would be the way that happens, but too often, it’s not.


Every education system in the world is being reformed at the moment and it’s not enough. Reform is no use anymore, because that’s simply improving a broken model. What we need — and the word’s been used many times in the past few days — is not evolution, but a revolution in education. This has to be transformed into something else.

One of the real challenges is to innovate fundamentally in education. Innovation is hard, because it means doing something that people don’t find very easy, for the most part. It means challenging what we take for granted, things that we think are obvious.

The great problem for reform or transformation is the tyranny of common sense. Things that people think, “Well, it can’t be done any other way because that’s the way it’s done.” I came across a great quote recently from Abraham Lincoln, who I thought you’d be pleased to have quoted at this point. He said this in December 1862 to the second annual meeting of Congress. I ought to explain that I have no idea what was happening at the time. We don’t teach American history in Britain. We suppress it. You know, this is our policy.

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So no doubt, something fascinating was happening in December 1862 which the Americans among us will be aware of. But he said this: “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion.” I love that. Not rise to it, rise with it. “As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”

I love that word, “disenthrall.” You know what it means? That there are ideas that all of us are enthralled to, which we simply take for granted as the natural order of things, the way things are. And many of our ideas have been formed, not to meet the circumstances of this century, but to cope with the circumstances of previous centuries. But our minds are still hypnotized by them, and we have to disenthrall ourselves of some of them.

Now, doing this is easier said than done. It’s very hard to know, by the way, what it is you take for granted. And the reason is that you take it for granted. So let me ask you something you may take for granted. How many of you here are over the age of 25? That’s not what I think you take for granted, I’m sure you’re familiar with that already, but — are there any people here under the age of 25? Great.

Now, those over 25, could you put your hands up if you’re wearing your wristwatch? Now that’s a great deal of us, isn’t it? Ask a room full of teenagers the same thing. Teenagers do not wear wristwatches. I don’t mean they can’t, they just often choose not to. And the reason is, you see that we were brought up in a pre-digital culture, those of us over 25. And so for us, if you want to know the time, you have to wear something to tell it.

Kids now live in a world which is digitized, and the time for them is everywhere. They see no reason to do this. And by the way, you don’t need to do it either; it’s just that you’ve always done it and you carry on doing it. My daughter never wears a watch, my daughter Kate, who’s 20, she doesn’t see the point. As she says, “It’s a single-function device. Like, how lame is that?”

And I say, “No, no, it tells the date as well. It has multiple functions.”