In his thought provoking and entertaining TED Talk, Sir Ken Robinson (speaker, international advisor on education, and author of The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything) argues that schools stifle creativity by focusing too much on only a few of the human mind’s many kinds of intelligence. While not specifically related to language learning, I think Sir Ken Robinson’s suggestions about educational reform apply across all fields of study, especially skill-based subjects like foreign language.
Here’s my favorite excerpt from the talk:
We know three things about intelligence: One, it’s diverse, we think about the world in all the ways we experience it. We think visually, we think in sound, we think kinesthetically. We think in abstract terms, we think in movement. Secondly, intelligence is dynamic. If you look at the interactions of a human brain, as we heard yesterday from a number of presentations, intelligence is wonderfully interactive. The brain isn’t divided into compartments. In fact, creativity, which I define as the process of having original ideas that have value, more often than not comes about through the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things. The brain is intentionally by the way, there’s a shaft of nerves that joins the two halves of the brain called the corpus collosum, and it’s thicker in women. Following on from Helen yesterday, I think this is probably why women are better at multitasking, because you are, aren’t you, there’s a raft of research, but I know it from my personal life.
If my wife is cooking a meal at home, which is not often, thankfully, but you know, she’s doing (oh, she’s good at some things) but if she’s cooking, you know, she’s dealing with people on the phone, she’s talking to the kids, she’s painting the ceiling, she’s doing open-heart surgery over here; if I’m cooking, the door is shut, the kids are out, the phone’s on the hook, if she comes in I get annoyed, I say “Terry, please, I’m trying to fry an egg in here, give me a break.” (You know that old philosophical thing, if a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, did it happen, remember that old chestnut, I saw a great T-shirt recently that said, “If a man speaks his mind in a forest, and no woman hears him, is he still wrong?”)
And the third thing about intelligence is, it’s distinct. I’m doing a new book at the moment called Epiphany which is based on a series of interviews with people about how they discovered their talent. I’m fascinated by how people got to be there. It’s really prompted by a conversation I had with a wonderful woman who maybe most people have never heard of, she’s called Gillian Lynne, have you heard of her? Some have. She’s a choreographer and everybody knows her work. She did Cats, and Phantom of the Opera, she’s wonderful. I used to be on the board of the Royal Ballet, in England, as you can see, and Gillian and I had lunch one day and I said Gillian, how’d you get to be a dancer? And she said it was interesting, when she was at school, she was really hopeless. And the school, in the 30s, wrote her parents and said, “We think Gillian has a learning disorder.” She couldn’t concentrate, she was fidgeting. I think now they’d say she had ADHD. Wouldn’t you? But this was the 1930s and ADHD hadn’t been invented at this point. It wasn’t an available condition. People weren’t aware they could have that.