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By Julie Lays

Revolutionary times require revolutionary responses, Sir Ken Robinson told 3,000 or so attendees at the opening session of NCSL's 2014 Legislative Summit in Minneapolis yesterday. His revolutionary idea? That the right answer is the wrong approach.

Sir Ken RobinsonWith wit, humor and a little irony, Robinson said it's "absolutely fundamental we provide our kids with the education they need for the future." But how can we even know what the questions will be, let alone the  answers, when we live in an unpredictable world full of evolving technology and exploding populations? We can't, he said.

That's why we need to stop sucking the creativity out of children with today's ubiquitous standardized testing and obsession with ranking children and schools and education systems. Teach kids that there is only one way to solve a problem, one way to draw a picture, one way to tell a story etc, and they soon learn the route to success better darn be the "right" route everyone else takes, stifling their willingness to risk, to fail and thus their ability to be creative and innovative.

But it is exactly those skills--innovation, creativity, collaboration, imagination--that we will need to be able to address and solve the problems of tomorrow, he said. 

He illustrated his point with a simple triangle. Two groups of children produced varied responses with different instructions. The first group was given a piece of paper containing a drawing of a triangle that was clearly the beginnings of a roof on an unfinished house and told to finish the drawing "correctly" to earn a prize. The second group was handed a piece of paper with only the triangle and instructed just to finish the picture. Creativity may be subjective, but there was no problem seeing the difference (in the use of color, space, size and variety of subjects) between the two groups. There were audible gasps from the audience when the drawings were presented side by side. Point well made.

He went on to say creativity and innovation are not limited to the arts or only certain subject areas. We can all learn to turn a triangle unto a multiple-winged, colorful, flying prehistoric creature or continue being a square house.

Finland is one country doing this kind of education well, according to Robinson. Anyone for a field trip? Robinson's humor and charm kept us listening despite a somewhat wandering (or creative?) message. If you missed his presentation, no problem. NCSL's Director of Education, Julie Bell, conducted an interview with him that will appear in State Legislatures magazine soon.

Julie Lays is the editor of State Legislatures magazine. Email Julie.

Posted in: NCSL, Public Policy
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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.

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