Learning as a natural process
“We have to go from what is essentially an industrial model of education, a manufacturing model, which is based on linearity and conformity and batching people. We have to move to a model that is based more on principles of agriculture. We have to recognize that human flourishing is not a mechanical process; it’s an organic process. And you cannot predict the outcome of human development. All you can do, like a farmer, is create the conditions under which they will begin to flourish.”
This statement by Sir Ken Robinson lies at the core of the most significant change to educational thinking that has occurred in the last few decades.
Sir Ken Robinson passed away this week and we should take the opportunity to acknowledge the contribution of a profound educational theorist who made a lasting change to the way that we think about education globally.
Sir Ken shot to fame with his 2008 TED talk, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” This is the single most popular TED talk ever published and has been seen nearly 90 million times. In it he provoked so many of us to question the very premises that lie at the base of our educational systems and challenged us to explore alternatives which would more effectively harness and develop the passions of our students.
At the 2018 National Future Schools conference I had the great privilege of hearing Sir Ken discuss his ideas around learning, education and school. He rightly pointed out that we do each of these three no justice when we conflate them. He said that decoupling learning from our notions of schooling is vital in achieving more meaningful educational outcomes.
In this talk, Sir Ken detailed a litany of structural concerns that undermine the purpose of education. He argued that schools are often modelled around conformity, compliance and competition when in reality they should be focused on achieving the goal of “[enabling] students to understand the world around them and the talents within them so that they can become fulfilled individuals and active, compassionate citizens.”
Sir Ken focused his research on the environments that best nurture students to be inspired to participate in learning. He stated that we should conceive of learning as a natural process. He said that we do not “make” students learn. Rather, we provide the necessary environment that allows for this to occur. He returned to the agriculture metaphor and explained that like with fertile soil if we get a school’s culture right the learning will flourish. He pointed out that farmers do not make plants grow – the plants grow themselves. The farmer’s job is to create the best conditions for this to occur. So too, with teachers.
Sir Ken characterised the growth of plants as miraculous. He reminded us that likewise “teachers are in the miracle business and it is the best business we can be in.”