Monday, August 10, 2009

The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, by Ken Robinson with Lou Aronica

I've long had a theory about education. It goes something like this. At the age of around 13, young students should undergo some kind of test to figure out what their hobbies are and where their natural abilities lie.

So, if someone is good at sport, then their education should be tailored more to subjects like physical fitness, health, diet etc. In short, they should lean more towards studying a basket of subjects that would help them find employment in that area.

While doing this, they should continue to study English and Mathematics as the bread and butter of their education. However, while studying English this doesn't necessarily mean they should study Jane Austen. Let's face it, some people will never get much benefit from studying Jane Austen, especially boys who are natural sportsmen. To me, this just seems unrealistic, and as long as students are proficient in writing and reading English, who cares about Austen? (Don't get me wrong, I love Jane Austen. I just think it's unreasonable to expect some people to share my admiration for her novels.)

I say this because I feel that I wasted a lot of years in school, and am convinced that had I left school at 13 it wouldn't have made much difference to my future prospects.

Sir Ken Robinson, in this book, The Element, has a roughly similar theme to what I outlined above. He says education needs to move away from standardised testing to a more customised education model.

We need to take a different approach to measuring intelligence and ability. We need to recognise there are different types of intelligence. Being able to add two plus two and get four is one type of intelligence. But also, being given a piece of clay and being able to create a plate or a cup is another type of intelligence.

Seeing creative possibilities is another form of intelligence again.

Ken Robinson says when teaching young students we should try to identify what their natural talents are and encourage them, trying to turn that talent into a career. Moreover, he says the future economy is going to rely on creative types who can dream up new ideas. Climate change, the new technologies that it will demand, is a prime example of this. In a recent essay by our own prime minister, Kevin Rudd, he highlights how education can improve the GDP of nations.

This book is not all about education, although that is a prime focus for Robinson. More generally, the theme of the book is how when we mix what our natural aptitude is with what we're passionate about, we are 'in our 'element'. It goes without saying, we're also very happy in this state.

This sounds easy enough, but unfortunately there can be many obstacles to finding one's natural 'element'. Some are social. Disapproving family or unsupportive and unenthusiastic friends. Robinson sites studies that show how we overwhelmingly 'go with the flow', agreeing with people when they are clearly wrong, just to fit in. If a group says black is white, we will agree with the group because social pressure to conform is so strong. Scary, huh?

Other obstacles are, surprisingly enough, in the education system itself. Students are discouraged from following their natural 'element' by teachers and the education bureaucracy.

The Element you would put under the heading of 'self-help'. It's clear and well written. I'd recommend it to parents who have a child struggling in school, people who are bored with their jobs and looking for a new career, or simply anyone who finds their life in a bit of a rut and is looking for a new direction. As Robinson refreshingly says, it's never too late in life to discover your 'element'.

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