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Education Reform Won’t Work Anymore

By Oliver DeMille

We Need a Transformation!

A Review of Ken Robinson’s Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative

This is an excellent book. Here are some of Robinson’s main points:

We are living in a time of global change, whether we admit it or not.

“As the world spins faster and faster, organizations everywhere say they need people who can think creatively, communicate and work in teams: people who are flexible and quick to adapt. Too often they say they can’t find them. Why not?”

Young children think they are creative; most adults think they aren’t creative. What causes the change over time?

The truth is that our educational system does a lot of harm to some of our most needed abilities and qualities. “Some of the most successful people in the world did not do well at school…. Many succeeded only after they had recovered from their education.”

With education so vital to advanced post-industrial society, why is it that the legacy of education now seems to include a reduction in creativity, initiative and innovation in so many people? And what can be done about it?

Robinson addresses these questions head on:

“Current approaches to education and training are hobbled by assumptions about intelligence and creativity that have squandered the talents and stifled the creative confidence of untold numbers of people.”

I was interested to note that people haven’t lost their creativity or creative ability, just their “confidence” in these abilities. Many adults are also out of the habit of using their creativeness. In my view, the conveyor-belt model of learning has caused this result in the lives of most people.


“This waste stems partly from an obsession with certain types of academic ability [e.g. rote memorization, early academic success rather than lasting academic interest, etc.] and from a preoccupation with standardized testing. The waste of talent is not deliberate. Most educators have a deep commitment to helping students do their best….

“The waste of talent may not be deliberate but it is systemic. It is systemic, because public education is a system, and it is based on deep-seated assumptions that are no longer true.”

The challenge is that given this systemic, structural reality in our educational models, the time for reform is past. “The challenge now is to transform them.”

Robinson writes:

“As Thomas Friedman, author of the World is Flat, puts it, ‘Those who are waiting for this recession to end so someone can again hand them work could have a long wait…. Those who have the ability to imagine new services and new opportunities and new ways to recruit work…are the new Untouchables. Those with the imagination to invent smarter ways to do old jobs, energy-saving ways to provide new services, new ways to attract old customers or new ways to combine existing technologies will thrive….

“Our schools have a doubly hard task, not just improving reading, writing and arithmetic but entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity.’”

Top global business and public sector leaders “overwhelmingly agree,” Robinson notes, “that the single most important leadership competency for organizations to deal with [the] growing complexity is creativity.”

“All over the world, governments are pouring vast resources into education reform. In the process, policy makers typically narrow the curriculum to emphasize a small group of subjects, tie schools up in a culture of standardized testing and limit the discretion of educators to make professional judgments about how and what to teach. These reforms are typically stifling the very skills and qualities that are essential to meet the challenges we face: creativity, cultural understanding, communication, collaboration and problem solving.”

“The challenge now is to transform education systems into something better suited to the real needs of the 21st century. At the heart of this transformation there has to be a radically different view of human intelligence and creativity.”

Robinson’s solutions:

  • Increase access to education
  • Change the way we educate
  • Help students learn to ask more questions
  • Promote a diversity of subjects, talents and interests
  • Increase exposure to the arts and sciences
  • Rethink disability as deep ability in something
  • Personalize and individualize
  • Help students become their best selves rather than emphasize fitting in
  • Stop penalizing individuality
  • Stop penalizing mistakes; promote mistakes as essential to the creative process and positive to learning
  • Teach across the academic fields and remove barriers between topics of knowledge
  • Officially make feelings as important to learning as thinking
  • Make authenticity a key part of learning
  • Stop acting as if life and learning are linear
  • Restructure schools and businesses to encourage creativity
  • Fund creativity, and give people time to be creative
  • Allow each school to be unique
  • Use new technologies to help individualize the education of each student
  • Help the student be the primary creator of her own program
  • Be creative and flexible with the schedule; great learning is the thing, not some list of rules, schedules and plans

This is a truly excellent list of educational transformations. This book is as important to America as Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind, Hirsch’s Cultural Literacy, or my own book A Thomas Jefferson Education—or at least it should be. Every educator, political official and parent should deeply consider how to apply the reforms it suggests. This is more than a great book, it is a necessary book.

If Robinson’s book has a weakness, it is that he gives too little attention to the role of teachers. He mentions how important teachers are, but in my opinion he doesn’t go far enough. The reality is that teachers are the lynchpin in all education and educational reforms. If you have a great teacher in the room with your student, you’ll watch the young person experience improved and eventually great education. If not, you won’t. It really is this simple.

Great teaching results in great learning, because great teachers inspire students to engage the act of getting a great education for themselves. Such education always increases creativity, innovation, imagination and initiative. Great teachers bring great education. Period. Even with all the changes listed above, without great teachers, very little real change will occur. With great teachers, however, such reforms will naturally catalyze a genuine transformation.

Maybe Robinson’s next book will be on how to be a great teacher. If we implement the suggestions he made in Out of Our Minds, even in our homes or a school where we have influence, we will be ready when such teachers come along.



Oliver DeMille is the founder and former president of George Wythe University, a co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of TJEd Online.

He is the author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

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  1. Bonnie Jones says

    Thank you. 🙂

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