Firing imaginations

29th April 2011 at 01:00
Review of Out of Our Minds by Ken Robinson

Out of Our Minds

By Ken Robinson

Capstone pound;15.99

4 OUT OF 5

Back in 1998, Ken Robinson chaired a government-commissioned inquiry that found England's prescriptive education system was stifling the creativity of teachers and pupils.

Its report outlined the paradox at the heart of most education systems in the developed world in the latter part of the 20th century. This was a world where companies and organisations were competing in an economic and technological climate that appeared to be moving faster than ever. They urgently needed creative, innovative and flexible individuals but all too often couldn't find them.

Why was this? The first edition of Out of Our Minds in 2001 was Robinson's attempt to find answers. The "radically revised" 2011 version frames the debate about creativity and educational outcomes in a way that will surely resonate with many of Britain's education leaders, policymakers and politicians, as well as teachers, parents and pupils.

According to Robinson, instead of getting better, if anything, the situation today is worse. He argues that our approaches to education are stifling development of one of the most important capacities that young people now need to make their way in the demanding modern world: the power of creative thinking.

"All children start their school careers with sparkling imaginations, fertile minds and a willingness to take risks with what they think," he says. "Education is the system that's supposed to develop our natural abilities and enable us to make our way in the world. Instead, it is stifling the individual talents and abilities of too many students and killing their motivation to learn."

He argues that too many state education systems are trying to fix a problem that originates in schools and universities. Most people leave education with no idea what their real abilities are.

Rather refreshingly, Robinson refuses to blame teachers for the lack of creativity in schools. Instead, he argues that the fault lies with the linear school systems adopted by most developed nations, needlessly obsessed with rigid structures and hierarchies. The elevation of some disciplines over others only serves to reinforce outmoded assumptions of industrialism and offends the principle of diversity. He passionately puts the case for the arts, sciences, humanities, physical education, languages and mathematics having equal and central contributions to make to an individual's education and development.

With echoes of England's Rose Review into the primary curriculum, Robinson questions the validity of having separate subjects and makes the case for schools being allowed to base their curriculum on themes. Curriculums should be more personalised, he argues, stating that "learning happens in the minds and souls, not in the databases of multiple-choice tests".

I found myself in agreement with almost everything and am confident most teachers and school leaders will enjoy reading this inspiring, witty and engaging book.

Though masterly at identifying problems, Robinson is perhaps less effective in proposing concrete solutions. However, Out of Our Minds has the potential to be a real catalyst for system-wide change.


Sir Ken Robinson was director of the Arts in Schools project, then professor of arts education at Warwick University. He published the All Our Futures report on creativity and education in 1998, was knighted in 2003 and is now an international speaker and adviser on arts in education.

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