What I'm Reading: The Element

I have watched Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk, “Do Schools Kill Creativity”, several times. If you haven’t seen it for yourself, click HERE to give it a view. As someone who initially started university majoring in elementary education and someone who taught English in a preschool in Korea, perhaps I was pulled in by my experiences but no matter your personal interests, we all have had experiences in schooling as a student and given that the model of education hasn’t much changed in over one hundred years in the United States and Great Britain, I think it’s safe to say there are notable similarities. It’s an industrial effort in which students are churned out to be productive members of society based on, well, production. But the Industrial Revolution has long since passed and, according to Robinson in The Element, the way we educate our children should have kept up with the times.

Robinson defines "The Element" as the “meeting point between natural aptitude and personal passion” - not just what you’re good at but what you like to do which I feel is an important distinction to make. Another important point he makes right from the off is that we ask too often how intelligent someone is rather than asking how is someone intelligent which is closely related to how someone learns. I remember during my infancy and childhood courses at the University of Hawai’i, there was an emphasis on how many senses were being stimulated in a child’s learning environment and their ability to retain information. If information was read, it was not as easily converted into a long-term memory as it was if it was seen and heard. Also, the application of that information is important. If a child has no established association with the lesson and its application to the real world, their brain may dismiss it as irrelevant information and delete it like Sherlock. Raise your hand if even as an adult you’re guilty of this. This inhibits students from being able to identify what their Element is, the opportunities that arise from recognizing it, and the happiness that can be experienced as a result.

So, what’s the solution? It’s actually solutions. Plural. I won’t get too into detail about them because I do hope that you’ll pick up this book but here are the main suggestions:

  • Encourage children’s interests and identify natural skills at the beginning of their education or when they first start to show distinct preferences in subject matter or learning styles.

  • Identify the impact culture has on the learning environment. I do want to present another personal example with this one. My pre-cal teacher my senior year loved to compare us to our Korean peers, reminding us of their tendency to excel in subjects like math in science whereas American students struggled. He seemed to forget with each mention that Korean students also suffer from staggeringly high suicide rates because of the pressure placed on them to succeed in Korean society. This hardly makes for a positive educational experience. But the impact of culture doesn’t need to be negative. In Hawai’i and Tahiti, there are immersion schools where the native tongue of the culture is the official language within its borders and cultural practices are used to teach other skills such as math and science. It’s that practical application I mentioned before. I would also suggest that in situations of “multiple layers of cultural identity”, those layers be sources of inspiration for lessons.

  • Do away with the hierarchy of subjects and current standardized testing. Yes, STEM is important. But referring back to the question of “How are you intelligent?”, the establishment of science, technology, engineering, and math as the most important subjects in school could alienate students with aptitudes in other areas such as music, art, history, or English. Effectively, leaving them behind. (See what I did there?) However, the subjects relegated to the bottom of the totem pole could strengthen students’ performance in the subjects at the top. I also think social skills should be included in the list of subjects but we can discuss that at a later time if you like.

  • An integrated, holistic curriculum. Are there even defined “subjects”? This piggybacks off the previous point and to my point about stimulating multiple senses. We have a tendency to think of scholastic subjects as entirely different entities but that is not the case. Robinson uses the examples of his wife, Terry, who was a drama teacher at a school in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Liverpool when they met, Reggio schools, and Grange primary. They start on page 238. You’re welcome.

  • Invest in teachers. I don’t feel like I need to elaborate on this. It should be a no-brainer. If it isn’t, send me an email.

Like in his TED Talk, Robinson begins his points with an anecdote or two. I am a fan of this method because I believe it makes the information to follow, which includes statistics and scientific research, easier to understand because they become relatable. If you’re not someone who like to hear stories and wants to get down to the numbers then, this book is not for you. Nor is this blog entry. Don’t worry, I’m not offended. You’ve read this far, anyway.

Something that caught me by surprise was just how many times I found myself marking post-it flags with “LOA” because I felt that not only was an idea applicable to education and to career satisfaction but to life and the Law of Attraction in general. Because of his TED Talk, I knew I would run into it but not as much. For example, Robinson goes into detail about the creative process, creativity’s power to connect  us with our intuition and subconscious minds, as well as how as a result, people who discover and live in their Element have a tendency to be “luckier” and become “especially adept at creating, noticing, and acting upon... opportunities when they arise” which those who are familiar with the Law of Attraction already might call “being in the vortex” or neuroscientists would call “flow”.

Consider: Because Robinson proposes changes to the education systems of the western world to develop an interrelated, holistic curriculum starting from the time kids start school, could we, as Nobel Peace Prize-winning economist Dr. Paul Samuelson says, result in turning “underachievers into happy warriors”?

I think we could.

Click HERE to order your copy of The Element by Sir Ken Robinson or visit your local bookstore.