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The Element

After a few relaxing days of reading, I can now personally attest to the qualitative arguments behind Ken Robinson's The Element.  If you have seen any of his lectures on TED, uploaded here or across the web, you'll find he's been thinking about this book for much longer than he admits in the actual text.  Some of his lectures are literally word for word from this provocative book - and they should be.  His ease of writing style makes the sometimes complicated ideas clear and concise to which any layman or adolescent could easily access.  Humor is also used to great effect.  Robinson has used his own creativity to dupe us into learning without us knowing as it happens, which is after all, the entire premise of his life work on creativity. It is the fuel to which learning requires to kindle the mind and ultimately, warm the human soul.

Laced throughout the book are the personal stories of some very creative people from all sorts of industries, both popular and academic.  Individuals like Matt Groening, Paul Samuelson, Susan Jeffers, Paul McCartney and many more recall their struggles and frustrations in their home country's bureaucratic and clinical education systems.  Robinson explains the vital importance of allowing students to use their many talents to learn what they must to be competitive, remain interested in life-long learning and find their niche in life.   I found his arguments in favor of the professional amateur (PRO-AM) quite convincing.  His ideas about their cultural importance both as a forum of non-typical learning and as a cultural moral regulator are well received.

Robinson makes a strong case against passive learning.  Watching television, he points out, is a prime example of the sort of things we should avoid because it does little to stimulate creative ideas and more often than not, suffocates them.  Leisurely pursuits are a sort of lowest common mental denominator and only help society to fester mediocrity.  There are much better ways to exercise your mind with activities you actually feel passionate about, whatever those might be.  Examples range from art to dancing to logic to computer science to crew rowing and many others.  These subjects are then connected back to the personal stories of those creative persons mentioned earlier to great effect.  He inspires us to go out and do!

Robinson explains how the West has been influenced by the production mentality of the 19th century and the Industrial Revolution.  He breaks down the individual parts of our educational systems with their factory-like progressions of grade level, alarmed shift changes, age lots and its inability to dynamically adjust to the unique, individual needs of its students.  He shows us when and how this system was originally conceived at the close of the Enlightenment two centuries ago.  Robinson warns, I believe correctly, that our educational systems struggle to properly foster creative, original thinking - the type of which we so badly require in our unpredictable and dramatically shifting global economy.  He accordingly chastises political leaders, lobbyists and naysayers for trying to solve current, pressing cultural issues with the failed educational experiment of the past century.

Robinson leaves us on a high note and wisely reminds us that the far majority of human enterprises are accessible to us throughout our entire lives and that we have the keen ability to grow and mature at nearly any age.  Our minds and creative cores do not have an expiration date and can be tapped, encouraged and blossom for the benefit of ourselves and each other.  We have the opportunity to discover new passions and come to understand our place in the world almost without limit.  We only need to make the choice to seek out others like us with similar interests to kindle our passions and re-light the world anew.