The Role of Education Today.

Inspired by his TED Talks I decided to buy the new edition of Out of Our Minds by Sir Ken Robinson and have spent the odd spare hour here and there over the past couple of days browsing through its pages. I use the word pages loosely and unsure of whether that’s still correct because I actually bought the Kindle edition (a saving of about £8 compared to the hardcover version and accessible instantly) but being over 30-years-old and like most others of my age group I straddle the old analogue world I was born in to with the digital world I’m forced to be part of with only a venere of understanding that any 3-year-old can see straight through without even having to Google it first.

Anyway, I’m 22% of the way through (the Kindle giving me information I never knew I even needed) and I’ve just finished reading about the roles of education. Found interestingly under the heading The Roles of Education on page 66 of the e-edition.

Sir Ken says:

“Education has three main roles: personal, cultural and economic. A great deal could be said about each of these, but let me boil them down here into three basic statements of purpose, which I think are relatively uncontentious:

  • Individual: to develop individual talents and sensibilities
  • Cultural: to deepen understanding of the world
  • Economic: to provide the skills required to earn a living and be economically productive.”

Through my work as a circus skills instructor I’ve noticed that, even in younger children, the last of the three is deemed the most relevant. Now I think its very important, and I’m sure every parent everywhere can’t wait for their own children to become economically productive and self sufficient, but I don’t think its any more important than either of the other two.

Without individual or cultural development a child will not grow to become a well rounded adult capable of navigating through a world that will be vastly different from the one we currently live in.

In fact I’d go so far as to say that a person needs to know who they are and what they bring to the various communities they belong to in order to be economically productive. Its great if you are good with numbers or able to build kitchens or plaster walls, but if you’re unable to relate to the world around you or even recognise the fact that you are in fact the greatest kitchen installer ever to walk the Earth you will not make a penny, cent or ruble from the money-making skills you possess.

Quite often I’ve had kids ask me why they need to learn how to juggle. They don’t see the point because they don’t want to work in a circus.

I used to think this was an excuse they’d use because learning to juggle is a difficult thing to do and they didn’t want to do it for that reason. But I started hearing these same questions from children who had actually learnt how to juggle, they just couldn’t see the point of their newly found skill.

Having done the job for a while and having been a hobbyest for even longer I’ve got many reasons for learning how to juggle tucked up my sleeve, something I’m sure will appear on this blog at some point in the future. But why was this question being asked at all?

The reason, I think, is the fact that these children have learnt that the reason they have gone to school is to learn stuff that will help them get a job in the future. This is, or at least should, be true. But it shouldn’t be the only reason they’ve gone to school. The fact that this question is being asked by primary school aged children suggests that from a very young age they are being brainwashed in to thinking that what they learn in school has to directly link to the jobs market in the future. And that anything else, like learning how to juggle, dance or play piano, is pointless unless they want to become a juggler, dancer or pianist.

The fact is none of us know what jobs are going to be available in the future. Who would have thought we’d have mobile telephones that can connect to the Internet 30-years ago? Who would have thought we’d have the Internet anywhere for that matter?

Its impossible to know what skills kids today will need to be able to work in a world 30-years from now. I’m sure science, maths, languages and technology (all things that education systems around the world prioritise) will still be useful. But the creativity, personal understanding of our own skills and the understanding of the wider world that’s learnt through activities like dance, music and other artistic endeavours need to have as much emphasis placed on them as those traditional subjects.

Without these skills children today won’t be able to carve their own path in the future.

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A quote from a teacher that really made me think:

“We (teachers) need to get our job right for our own sake if nothing else, because we’re the ones who’ll be retiring in to a World run by those who currently sit in our classrooms.”

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The ‘F’ Word!

No, not that word.

The ‘F’ word I’m talking about is the word fail. I hate it.

Well that’s not completely true, I don’t hate the word fail. It can be quite a useful word.

What I hate is its current constant use to describe a mistake. And especially its constant use by children to describe their mistakes.

I first noticed it during one of my science shows where, being quite tired after a long three-hour drive, I dropped during my first attempt to juggle 6-balls. I heard a little whisper from within my audience of 7 to 11-year-olds of “ooo, fail”.

Fail?

I dropped a ball.

I’d made a mistake.

But I hadn’t failed.

I can juggle 6-balls. Hell, I can juggle 7!

I proceded to pick up the stray sphere and tried again, where I succeeded to juggle all six for about 18 throws and catches, a pretty good run I thought.

The rest of the show was mistake free and the kids loved it, as did the teachers. But that little whisper bothered me.

Later that day I ran a series of short juggling workshops where I teach juggling using chiffon scarves. They move a lot slower than other juggling props like clubs, rings or even balls and this in turn makes the whole learning process a little bit easier. During these workshops, of which there were five or six running for approximately 20-minutes in length each, I heard the word again. But this time not to describe something I’d done but to describe a missed catch by one of the kids themselves.

How is that a fail?

For most, if not all the children I saw that day, the juggling workshop was the first time they’d ever tried to juggle anything. I was the only person in that school who had arrived that morning already knowing how to manipulate three objects in a cascade pattern. So how can a child fail at something they don’t even know how to do yet?

More importantly, why did they feel they had to get it right immediately and if they didn’t get it right why was it seen as a fail?

What makes this worse is that this happened over 12-months ago and since then the use of the word fail has become increasingly more popular. Children as young as five are using it to describe a mistake.

FIVE!

WHAT!!!

Nobody knows anything at the age of five. Its only been three years since they learnt how to walk and communicate using language.

There are five-year-olds that haven’t figured out how to string full sentences together yet and nearly all of them have accidents when it comes to remembering to use the toilet.

Based on this need to get things right first time or else, if a kid wets themselves do we turn to them, point and say: “Oh, you failed kid. Might as well just give up now.”?

No we don’t. We don’t because it was an accident, a mistake, and they’re still learning.

It feels like these kids are putting themselves under a lot of pressure to succeed immediately. That they have to be good at something straight away otherwise they are failures.

But the thing is the majority of people haven’t a clue what they’re good at by the time they’re 21 let alone know what they’re good at by the time they are 11 or younger. As I write this I’m 32-years-old and its only just now that I’ve discovered my passion lies in education. That what I’m good at is inspiring and encouraging children to learn things. I love doing it. But the path I took to discover that is long and varied. As are most other people’s CVs.

Look at your own resume, the journey you took to get to where you are now isn’t an organised linear path. Its organic. Learning, I believe, is exactly the same. It takes time and it takes a different amount of time for each of us. Some kids learn to talk by the time they’re 2-years-old, but others take until they are 5 or sometimes longer. But, excluding any physical conditions, they learn how to do it and by the time they are ready to hit secondary school they’re communicating just as well as everyone else.

Those kids who didn’t learn to talk by the time they’re 2 or 3 haven’t failed though. They just haven’t learnt how to get it right by the time they are 2 or 3.

So why does this bother me so much?

Well, being prepared to get things wrong and fail is the only way we are able to learn and be creative. In fact I believe getting things wrong and making mistakes is the root of all creativity. If we’re unable to take risks and accept the simple fact that we are going to make mistakes then we are setting ourselves up for a life of zero creativity and ironically a life of true failure.

Failure to reach our full potential.

Do we honestly believe the great inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs of our time got it right first time? Of course they didn’t. They tried something and that something didn’t work so they made a few tweaks and tried it again. And they continued to do this until eventually they found they were able to get it right.

The only way James Dyson could have failed to invent the bag-less vacuum cleaner is if he’d given up trying to invent the bag-less vacuum cleaner. But he didn’t give up, he kept trying until he got it right and now the majority of us no longer have to deal with overfilled vacuum bags, which is quite simply brilliant.

But it seems our children believe this to not be the case. If you listen to their conversations and to the words they are choosing to use it seems they believe they have to get things right first time, and if they don’t they have failed.

What’s worse is this is breeding a generation of children who are scared to even try something even once. They look at a task, believe it to be too difficult and so don’t even attempt it through fear of being labeled a failure.

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My favourite TED speaker… To date.

Sir Ken Robinson is by far my favourite TED speaker. There are others who come close, but what he says and the way he thinks about education and the need for change within education mirrors many of my own thoughts and ideas.

If you’ve not seen his talks or even know who he is then you should take a 20-minute break, grab a coffee and hit the link below. You’ll be magically transported to his TED profile where you can find out more info and watch his videos.

For those who want even more of Sir Ken, I’ve also included links to his RSA lecture, website and wikipedia page. All worth more than a casual glance.

Enjoy…

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From Performer to Teacher: The first steps on a long journey.

Hello, welcome to my very first blog.

Well, I say first blog. I’ve attempted to write blogs before, but after a few posts I’d get bored or find that I didn’t have all that much to say and so they have all gone by-the-by.

My name is Roslyn Walker and I’m an entertainer… At least most people think that’s who I am and what I do.

My professional name, or stage name, is Roslyn Walker. Its not the name I was given by my parents, its not the name on my driving licence or on my passport and my wife isn’t Mrs Walker. But its what most people call me, at least at the moment, so for now its the name I’ll continue to use on this blog and within my professional life.

I’m in the process of making some huge changes within my career and this blog is my way of tracking and sharing those changes. I could say I’m doing it to help other people, and if it does that’ll be phenomenal, but I honestly don’t know if people will care much for my journey or even where my journey will ultimately take me. I’m at the beginning of something new, at least its new for me, and if anyone wants to follow along you are most welcome.

If you’re going to come with me in to the future then you’ll probably need to know where I started. Of course you might not care either way, but I’m going to give you a potted history none-the-less.

I started my working life in 1998 working for a now nonexistent company (at least in the UK) called Dave & Busters. I was there for a few months before leaving to join the bar team at TGI Fridays, where I was able to use my juggling skills (acquired from five-years at circus school) to flip, bounce and balance bottles and bar equipment as I served guests.

My time at Fridays was a fun one, but I couldn’t see myself mixing drinks for the rest of my life so I went in search of greater things. This led me to mainland Europe, Germany to be precise, where unexpectedly I ended up working as a flair bartender.

Another year passed and I returned to the UK and being jobless I was willing to take pretty much anything that came my way. And what came my way was yet another series of bar jobs. Starting off in a backstreet strip joint (not my finest hour) and ending up at Bank, which was at the time Birmingham’s premier cocktail bar.

I was good at my job, enjoyed it, but it wasn’t right. So I started a part-time college course that led me to doing a journalism degree. Quite how I got there I’m unsure. It wasn’t my intention when I started college, it just kind of happened.

After graduating in 2007 I was determined not to end up back behind the bar and apart from a two-week period in January 2010 where I ended up working for B@1 in Covent Garden I’ve managed to survive from performing work, which if you’d told my 15-year-old self that I’d be able to make a living from juggling and performing magic I’d have been the happiest person ever to walk the Earth.

But the 29-year-old me in 2010 wasn’t happy. I wanted to do something that I felt was more worthwhile.

And in September of that year my wish came true. After teaming up with my father-in-law’s company, Shooting Stars Circus Skills, they marketed my new school show Forces & Motion: A Circus Science.

Three years on and the show is doing better than ever. I absolutely love performing it, but I’ve also found that its caused new questions to manifest itself within my mind. Little cerebral itches that I have to scratch.

What happens when the kids go back to the classroom after the show ends?

What if I was in the classroom after the show ends?

What if I was always in the classroom?

What if I was their teacher?

Hmm… What if I was their teacher?

The only way to find out is to do it.

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