Sir Ken for Secretary of Education

I’d like to offer some advice to whoever will be the next president President Obama*…

Appoint Ken Robinson your Secretary of Education.

I’m fairly sure that most people who stop by this space have seen his outstanding talk from the 2006 TED conference. If not, stop reading this and go watch.

Sir Ken was recently presented with the Benjamin Franklin Medal from the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA)** and I listened to the ceremony during my commute this week.

Most of Robinson’s formal talk used themes and ideas from his TED talk (but is still excellent) but a large part of the argument that we could use his leadership at the national level comes in the Q&A that follows.

In that discussion, he identifies the path to real school reform by looking at quality control in the “catering” industry (restaurants on this side of the pond).

There are two models of quality control, quality assurance in the catering business. One of them is standardizing and that’s the model that informs the growth of the fast food industry.

So, if you have a favorite fast food outlet, you know which ever one you go to, wherever it happens to be, it will be exactly what you’re expecting and exactly the same as all the other ones.

It’s all horrible but it’s guaranteed.

The other model is like the Michelin Guide or the Zagat guide. What they do is establish a criteria for excellence, very high standards, much higher than those of the fast food people.

But they don’t tell you how to do it, they don’t tell you what to put on the menu, they don’t tell you who to hire, and they don’t tell you what the place should look like.

The way they figure out if you’re any good is they send people who know all about it to see if you’re doing it. And if you’re doing it you’re in the guide and if you’re not, you’re not.

And the result of this is that every one of these restaurants is great, and they’re all different. And they’re different because they use local produce, appeal to local markets, local circumstances and are customized.

I believe this is the only answer for the future. We have to recognize the heart of education improvement is improving the experience individual learners and treating each school individually and not as a mass.

There isn’t a kid in the country who will get out of bed wondering how to improve the nations reading standards. They will get out of bed to improve their reading. It’s a very personal business.

At the very least, listen to the last twenty minutes for why his view of public education is one we sorely need in the US.

Oh, and don’t worry about the British accent. Robinson lives in Los Angeles, as he reminds his audience several times during his talk.

[Thanks to Ewan for the link]

* That’s called hope! :-)

** And isn’t it interesting that a British royal society has an award named after a man considered a leader of the revolution against the 18th century English government.

4 Comments Sir Ken for Secretary of Education

  1. Dave

    I just watched Ken Robinson’s TED talk…what? I guess I was expecting something like Lessig — a planned, high-quality speech. Robinson said one or two interesting ideas and put in some tired but fun jokes (that completely killed in a room full of innovators?)

    His Wikipedia article tells me that he’s done some influential writings on arts in schools and that he sits on lots of advisory committees. I can’t wrap my mind around the discrepancy between the picture painted by you & the WP article and the somewhat lackluster TED talk.

  2. Tim

    Maybe it’s just me, but I found Robinson’s talk at TED to be one of the most inspiring presentations about education I’ve ever heard. Lessig’s TED talk was also excellent but comparing them is difficult since each person had a different objective.

    Not long after watching Robinson at TED for the first time I read his book Out of Our Minds in which he expands on the idea that we greatly limit student learning by narrowing our curriculum to just a couple of subject and ignore the creative talents kids develop early in life. It’s a view of the American education system that I agree with.

  3. Pingback: TED Prize » Blog Archive » What’s the best thing about being Sir Ken Robinson?

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