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Annotated captions of Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity in English

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tedtalks 00:00
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Good morning. How are you? It's been great, hasn't it?

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I've been blown away by the whole thing.

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00:15

In fact, I'm leaving. (Laughter)

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There have been three themes, haven't there,

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running through the conference, which are relevant

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to what I want to talk about.

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One is the extraordinary evidence of human creativity

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in all of the presentations that we've had

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and in all of the people here. Just the variety of it

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and the range of it. The second is that

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it's put us in a place where we have no idea what's going to happen,

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in terms of the future. No idea

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how this may play out.

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I have an interest in education --

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actually, what I find is everybody has an interest in education.

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Don't you? I find this very interesting.

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If you're at a dinner party, and you say

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you work in education --

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actually, you're not often at dinner parties, frankly, if you work in education.

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(Laughter) You're not asked.

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And you're never asked back, curiously. That's strange to me.

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But if you are, and you say to somebody,

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you know, they say, "What do you do?"

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and you say you work in education,

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you can see the blood run from their face. They're like,

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"Oh my God," you know, "Why me? My one night out all week." (Laughter)

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But if you ask about their education,

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they pin you to the wall. Because it's one of those things

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that goes deep with people, am I right?

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Like religion, and money and other things.

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I have a big interest in education, and I think we all do.

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We have a huge vested interest in it,

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partly because it's education that's meant to

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take us into this future that we can't grasp.

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If you think of it, children starting school this year

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will be retiring in 2065. Nobody has a clue --

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despite all the expertise that's been on parade for the past four days --

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what the world will look like

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in five years' time. And yet we're meant

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to be educating them for it. So the unpredictability, I think,

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is extraordinary.

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And the third part of this is that

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we've all agreed, nonetheless, on the

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really extraordinary capacities that children have --

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their capacities for innovation. I mean, Sirena last night was a marvel,

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wasn't she? Just seeing what she could do.

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And she's exceptional, but I think she's not, so to speak,

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exceptional in the whole of childhood.

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What you have there is a person of extraordinary dedication

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who found a talent. And my contention is,

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all kids have tremendous talents.

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And we squander them, pretty ruthlessly.

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So I want to talk about education and

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I want to talk about creativity. My contention is that

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creativity now is as important in education as literacy,

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and we should treat it with the same status.

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03:06

(Applause) Thank you. That was it, by the way.

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03:10

Thank you very much. (Laughter) So, 15 minutes left.

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Well, I was born ... no. (Laughter)

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I heard a great story recently -- I love telling it --

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of a little girl who was in a drawing lesson. She was six

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and she was at the back, drawing,

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and the teacher said this little girl hardly ever

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paid attention, and in this drawing lesson she did.

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The teacher was fascinated and she went over to her

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and she said, "What are you drawing?"

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And the girl said, "I'm drawing a picture of God."

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And the teacher said, "But nobody knows what God looks like."

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And the girl said, "They will in a minute."

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(Laughter)

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When my son was four in England --

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actually he was four everywhere, to be honest. (Laughter)

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If we're being strict about it, wherever he went, he was four that year.

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He was in the Nativity play.

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Do you remember the story? No, it was big.

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It was a big story. Mel Gibson did the sequel.

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You may have seen it: "Nativity II." But James got the part of Joseph,

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which we were thrilled about.

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We considered this to be one of the lead parts.

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We had the place crammed full of agents in T-shirts:

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"James Robinson IS Joseph!" (Laughter)

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He didn't have to speak, but you know the bit

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where the three kings come in. They come in bearing gifts,

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and they bring gold, frankincense and myrhh.

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This really happened. We were sitting there

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and I think they just went out of sequence,

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because we talked to the little boy afterward and we said,

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"You OK with that?" And he said, "Yeah, why? Was that wrong?"

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They just switched, that was it.

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Anyway, the three boys came in --

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four-year-olds with tea towels on their heads --

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and they put these boxes down,

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and the first boy said, "I bring you gold."

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And the second boy said, "I bring you myrhh."

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And the third boy said, "Frank sent this." (Laughter)

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What these things have in common is that kids will take a chance.

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If they don't know, they'll have a go.

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Am I right? They're not frightened of being wrong.

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Now, I don't mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative.

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What we do know is,

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if you're not prepared to be wrong,

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you'll never come up with anything original --

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if you're not prepared to be wrong. And by the time they get to be adults,

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most kids have lost that capacity.

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They have become frightened of being wrong.

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And we run our companies like this, by the way.

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We stigmatize mistakes. And we're now running

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national education systems where

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mistakes are the worst thing you can make.

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And the result is that we are educating people out of

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their creative capacities. Picasso once said this --

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he said that all children are born artists.

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The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up. I believe this passionately,

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that we don't grow into creativity,

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we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out if it.

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So why is this?

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I lived in Stratford-on-Avon until about five years ago.

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In fact, we moved from Stratford to Los Angeles.

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So you can imagine what a seamless transition that was.

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(Laughter) Actually,

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we lived in a place called Snitterfield,

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just outside Stratford, which is where

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Shakespeare's father was born. Are you struck by a new thought? I was.

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You don't think of Shakespeare having a father, do you?

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Do you? Because you don't think of

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Shakespeare being a child, do you?

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Shakespeare being seven? I never thought of it. I mean, he was

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seven at some point. He was in

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somebody's English class, wasn't he? How annoying would that be?

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(Laughter) "Must try harder." Being sent to bed by his dad, you know,

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to Shakespeare, "Go to bed, now,"

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to William Shakespeare, "and put the pencil down.

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And stop speaking like that. It's confusing everybody."

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(Laughter)

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Anyway, we moved from Stratford to Los Angeles,

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and I just want to say a word about the transition, actually.

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My son didn't want to come.

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I've got two kids. He's 21 now; my daughter's 16.

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He didn't want to come to Los Angeles. He loved it,

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but he had a girlfriend in England. This was the love of his life, Sarah.

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He'd known her for a month.

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Mind you, they'd had their fourth anniversary,

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because it's a long time when you're 16.

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Anyway, he was really upset on the plane,

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and he said, "I'll never find another girl like Sarah."

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And we were rather pleased about that, frankly,

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because she was the main reason we were leaving the country.

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(Laughter)

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But something strikes you when you move to America

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and when you travel around the world:

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Every education system on earth has the same hierarchy of subjects.

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Every one. Doesn't matter where you go.

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You'd think it would be otherwise, but it isn't.

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At the top are mathematics and languages,

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then the humanities, and the bottom are the arts.

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Everywhere on Earth.

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And in pretty much every system too,

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there's a hierarchy within the arts.

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Art and music are normally given a higher status in schools

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than drama and dance. There isn't an education system on the planet

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that teaches dance everyday to children

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the way we teach them mathematics. Why?

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Why not? I think this is rather important.

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I think math is very important, but so is dance.

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Children dance all the time if they're allowed to, we all do.

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We all have bodies, don't we? Did I miss a meeting?

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(Laughter) Truthfully, what happens is,

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as children grow up, we start to educate them

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progressively from the waist up. And then we focus on their heads.

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And slightly to one side.

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If you were to visit education, as an alien,

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and say "What's it for, public education?"

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I think you'd have to conclude -- if you look at the output,

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who really succeeds by this,

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who does everything that they should,

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who gets all the brownie points, who are the winners --

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I think you'd have to conclude the whole purpose of public education

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throughout the world

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is to produce university professors. Isn't it?

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They're the people who come out the top.

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And I used to be one, so there. (Laughter)

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And I like university professors, but you know,

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we shouldn't hold them up as the high-water mark of all human achievement.

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They're just a form of life,

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another form of life. But they're rather curious,

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and I say this out of affection for them.

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There's something curious about professors in my experience --

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not all of them, but typically -- they live in their heads.

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They live up there, and slightly to one side.

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They're disembodied, you know, in a kind of literal way.

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They look upon their body

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as a form of transport for their heads, don't they?

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(Laughter) It's a way of getting their head to meetings.

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If you want real evidence of out-of-body experiences,

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by the way, get yourself along to a residential conference

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of senior academics,

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and pop into the discotheque on the final night.

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(Laughter) And there you will see it -- grown men and women

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writhing uncontrollably, off the beat,

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waiting until it ends so they can go home and write a paper about it.

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Now our education system is predicated on the idea of academic ability.

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And there's a reason.

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The whole system was invented -- around the world, there were

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no public systems of education, really, before the 19th century.

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They all came into being

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to meet the needs of industrialism.

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So the hierarchy is rooted on two ideas.

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Number one, that the most useful subjects for work

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are at the top. So you were probably steered benignly away

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from things at school when you were a kid, things you liked,

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on the grounds that you would

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never get a job doing that. Is that right?

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Don't do music, you're not going to be a musician;

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don't do art, you won't be an artist.

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Benign advice -- now, profoundly mistaken. The whole world

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is engulfed in a revolution.

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And the second is academic ability, which has really come to dominate

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our view of intelligence,

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because the universities designed the system in their image.

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If you think of it, the whole system

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of public education around the world is a protracted process

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of university entrance.

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And the consequence is that many highly talented,

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brilliant, creative people think they're not,

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because the thing they were good at at school

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wasn't valued, or was actually stigmatized.

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And I think we can't afford to go on that way.

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In the next 30 years, according to UNESCO,

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more people worldwide will be graduating

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through education than since the beginning of history.

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More people, and it's the combination

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of all the things we've talked about --

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technology and its transformation effect on work, and demography

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and the huge explosion in population.

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Suddenly, degrees aren't worth anything. Isn't that true?

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When I was a student, if you had a degree, you had a job.

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If you didn't have a job it's because you didn't want one.

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And I didn't want one, frankly. (Laughter)

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But now kids with degrees are often

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heading home to carry on playing video games,

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because you need an MA where the previous job required a BA,

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and now you need a PhD for the other.

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It's a process of academic inflation.

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And it indicates the whole structure of education

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is shifting beneath our feet. We need to radically rethink

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our view of intelligence.

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We know three things about intelligence.

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One, it's diverse. We think about the world in all the ways

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that we experience it. We think visually,

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we think in sound, we think kinesthetically.

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We think in abstract terms, we think in movement.

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Secondly, intelligence is dynamic.

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If you look at the interactions of a human brain, as we heard

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yesterday from a number of presentations,

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intelligence is wonderfully interactive.

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The brain isn't divided into compartments.

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In fact, creativity -- which I define as the process

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of having original ideas that have value --

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more often than not comes about through the interaction

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of different disciplinary ways of seeing things.

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The brain is intentionally -- by the way,

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there's a shaft of nerves that joins the two halves of the brain

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called the corpus callosum. It's thicker in women.

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Following off from Helen yesterday, I think

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this is probably why women are better at multi-tasking.

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Because you are, aren't you?

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There's a raft of research, but I know it from my personal life.

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If my wife is cooking a meal at home --

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which is not often, thankfully. (Laughter)

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But you know, she's doing -- no, she's good at some things --

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but if she's cooking, you know,

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she's dealing with people on the phone,

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she's talking to the kids, she's painting the ceiling,

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she's doing open-heart surgery over here.

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If I'm cooking, the door is shut, the kids are out,

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the phone's on the hook, if she comes in I get annoyed.

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I say, "Terry, please, I'm trying to fry an egg in here. Give me a break." (Laughter)

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Actually, you know that old philosophical thing,

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if a tree falls in a forest and nobody hears it,

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did it happen? Remember that old chestnut?

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I saw a great t-shirt really recently which said, "If a man speaks his mind

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in a forest, and no woman hears him,

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is he still wrong?" (Laughter)

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And the third thing about intelligence is,

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it's distinct. I'm doing a new book at the moment

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called "Epiphany," which is based on a series of

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interviews with people about how they discovered

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their talent. I'm fascinated by how people got to be there.

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It's really prompted by a conversation I had

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with a wonderful woman who maybe most people

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have never heard of; she's called Gillian Lynne --

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have you heard of her? Some have. She's a choreographer

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and everybody knows her work.

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She did "Cats" and "Phantom of the Opera."

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She's wonderful. I used to be on the board of the Royal Ballet in England,

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as you can see.

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Anyway, Gillian and I had lunch one day and I said,

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"Gillian, how'd you get to be a dancer?" And she said

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it was interesting; when she was at school,

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she was really hopeless. And the school, in the '30s,

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wrote to her parents and said, "We think

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Gillian has a learning disorder." She couldn't concentrate;

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she was fidgeting. I think now they'd say

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she had ADHD. Wouldn't you? But this was the 1930s,

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and ADHD hadn't been invented at this point.

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It wasn't an available condition. (Laughter)

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People weren't aware they could have that.

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Anyway, she went to see this specialist. So, this oak-paneled room,

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and she was there with her mother,

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and she was led and sat on this chair at the end,

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and she sat on her hands for 20 minutes while

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15:53

this man talked to her mother about all

tedtalks 15:53
15:57

the problems Gillian was having at school. And at the end of it --

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15:59

because she was disturbing people;

tedtalks 15:59
16:01

her homework was always late; and so on,

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16:04

little kid of eight -- in the end, the doctor went and sat

tedtalks 16:04
16:06

next to Gillian and said, "Gillian,

tedtalks 16:06
16:08

I've listened to all these things that your mother's

tedtalks 16:08
16:10

told me, and I need to speak to her privately."

tedtalks 16:10
16:13

He said, "Wait here. We'll be back; we won't be very long,"

tedtalks 16:13
16:15

and they went and left her.

tedtalks 16:15
16:17

But as they went out the room, he turned on the radio

tedtalks 16:17
16:19

that was sitting on his desk. And when they

tedtalks 16:19
16:21

got out the room, he said to her mother,

tedtalks 16:21
16:24

"Just stand and watch her." And the minute they left the room,

tedtalks 16:24
16:28

she said, she was on her feet, moving to the music.

tedtalks 16:28
16:30

And they watched for a few minutes

tedtalks 16:30
16:33

and he turned to her mother and said,

tedtalks 16:33
16:37

"Mrs. Lynne, Gillian isn't sick; she's a dancer.

tedtalks 16:37
16:39

Take her to a dance school."

tedtalks 16:39
16:41

I said, "What happened?"

tedtalks 16:41
16:44

She said, "She did. I can't tell you how wonderful it was.

tedtalks 16:44
16:46

We walked in this room and it was full of

tedtalks 16:46
16:49

people like me. People who couldn't sit still.

tedtalks 16:49
16:52

People who had to move to think." Who had to move to think.

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16:54

They did ballet; they did tap; they did jazz;

tedtalks 16:54
16:56

they did modern; they did contemporary.

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16:59

She was eventually auditioned for the Royal Ballet School;

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17:01

she became a soloist; she had a wonderful career

tedtalks 17:01
17:03

at the Royal Ballet. She eventually graduated

tedtalks 17:03
17:05

from the Royal Ballet School and

tedtalks 17:05
17:08

founded her own company -- the Gillian Lynne Dance Company --

tedtalks 17:08
17:11

met Andrew Lloyd Weber. She's been responsible for

tedtalks 17:11
17:13

some of the most successful musical theater

tedtalks 17:13
17:18

productions in history; she's given pleasure to millions;

tedtalks 17:18
17:21

and she's a multi-millionaire. Somebody else

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17:25

might have put her on medication and told her

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17:27

to calm down.

tedtalks 17:27
17:30

Now, I think ... (Applause) What I think it comes to is this:

tedtalks 17:30
17:32

Al Gore spoke the other night

tedtalks 17:32
17:35

about ecology and the revolution that was triggered by Rachel Carson.

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17:39

I believe our only hope for the future

tedtalks 17:39
17:42

is to adopt a new conception of human ecology,

tedtalks 17:42
17:46

one in which we start to reconstitute our conception

tedtalks 17:46
17:48

of the richness of human capacity.

tedtalks 17:48
17:52

Our education system has mined our minds in the way

tedtalks 17:52
17:54

that we strip-mine the earth: for a particular commodity.

tedtalks 17:54
17:57

And for the future, it won't serve us.

tedtalks 17:57
18:00

We have to rethink the fundamental principles

tedtalks 18:00
18:02

on which we're educating our children. There was

tedtalks 18:02
18:06

a wonderful quote by Jonas Salk, who said, "If all the insects

tedtalks 18:06
18:09

were to disappear from the earth,

tedtalks 18:09
18:12

within 50 years all life on Earth would end.

tedtalks 18:12
18:15

If all human beings disappeared from the earth,

tedtalks 18:15
18:19

within 50 years all forms of life would flourish."

tedtalks 18:19
18:21

And he's right.

tedtalks 18:21
18:24

What TED celebrates is the gift of the human imagination.

tedtalks 18:24
18:28

We have to be careful now that we use this gift

tedtalks 18:28
18:31

wisely and that we avert some of the scenarios

tedtalks 18:31
18:34

that we've talked about. And the only way

tedtalks 18:35
18:38

we'll do it is by seeing our creative capacities

tedtalks 18:38
18:40

for the richness they are and seeing

tedtalks 18:40
18:43

our children for the hope that they are. And our task

tedtalks 18:43
18:46

is to educate their whole being, so they can face this future.

tedtalks 18:46
18:49

By the way -- we may not see this future,

tedtalks 18:49
18:52

but they will. And our job is to help

tedtalks 18:52
18:54

them make something of it. Thank you very much.