“We are getting our children through education by anesthetizing them. We shouldn’t be putting them to sleep. We should be waking them up.”

Thanks to teacher Jordan Kohanim for alerting me to this very entertaining and enlightening video by education innovator Sir Ken Robinson.

Robinson addresses the problems with our production line mentality of educating “children by batches…why is there this assumption that the most important thing children have in common is how old they are…it is like the most important thing about them was their date of manufacture.”

“They have spent 10 years at school and been told there is one answer and it’s in the back and don’t look,” says Robinson.

He criticizes the American embrace of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, noting that diagnoses have risen in tandem with the rise of standardized testing and prescriptions for ADHD drugs increase as you travel east across the United States.

“People start losing interest in Oklahoma,” he says. “They can hardly think straight in Arkansas and, by the time they get to Washington, they’ve lost it completely. It’s a fictitious epidemic.”

“We are getting our children through education by anesthetizing them. And I think we should be doing the complete opposite,” he says  “We shouldn’t be putting them to sleep. We should be waking them up to what they have inside of themselves.”

Enjoy the video:

24 comments Add your comment

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Bruce Kendall

October 19th, 2010
3:07 am

I am not alone!

David Sims

October 19th, 2010
5:59 am

Waking the students up. I can see how it might begin….

History teacher: Today we will learn about the impact on modern societies, especially in regard to their economic systems, by the rise and domination of the Rothschild banking family, and related families, since the 18th century. We will also discuss the Medieval model, the so-called “goldsmith swindle,” which served as the model for the monetized debt currencies that are presently in use in all first-world countries.

MS Man

October 19th, 2010
6:26 am

Policy makers at the central office level, the school board level, and the state level need to see more and read more of Sir Ken’s work and then remove the barriers they put in place to truly meeting the needs, interests, and abilities of students. Sir Ken also talks about schools destroying creativity in students. His TED talk is particularly inspirational. The problem, it seems, is that no one is willing to actually make the changes in mindset that he proposes because the industrial/institutional model and organizaing structure of schools is tied to too many dollars and provides too much support for parents. Imagine if schools were about learning (really as a primary focus) and not about the unwritten social contract to provide childcare for parents so they can go to work and maybe get a little learning done if you’re lucky….

I am a teacher

October 19th, 2010
6:36 am

Helping students pass an easy test and great teaching are not mutually exclusive. I don’t, for the life of me, know why teachers on this blog seem to think they are.

drew (former teacher)

October 19th, 2010
6:37 am

Entertaining, enlightening, and true!

Unfortunately, at present, there is no way to move from the old paradigm to this new paradigm. The educational infrastructure (i.e., the status quo) is simply too big, too powerful and too entrenched to be reformed. Has there really been ANY significant reform in education in the last 50 years? All we can do is “tweak” the system (tweak = new buzzwords, “new” strategies, new technology, new hoops to jump through…). The “system” has embraced testing as the end all of education. If it’s not tested, it’s not important. And tests don’t like divergent thinking.

We possess the technology to completely re-invent education, but the current system does not have the capacity (or desire) to move from the old paradigm to a new one. Education will not get the reform it needs until the current system is completely bankrupt, and the majority of students are educated privately. But have hope…that day is coming.


October 19th, 2010
8:08 am

My son was diagnosed with ADHD 3 years ago and we put him on the drugs. His personality completely changed. So we took him off the drugs. I never thought he had ADHD because he could focus on thing tha interested him. I now homeschool my children and I am using the same method that was used in public school – it’s all I know. We spend a lot of time on math, LA, science, geography, social studies and history. They also have band and spanish classes. I want to change what I am doing but I feel that my kids will not learn everything they “need” to know. I enjoyed the video and am going to make it a goal to change the way I am working with my kids. I teach them, give them assignements, we go over them and we go on to the next thing (if they are ready). Thanks for having this video on your blog today. I am going to reasearch more what was said and work in implementing it into our days!


October 19th, 2010
8:49 am

I have 2 conflicting thoughts about this article. First, I agree that we often do not engage kids to learn.However, some parts of learning– memorizing multiplication tables, for example ( Oh, how I hated that!) are necessary and are not always fun. Education should be a mix– give them activities that engage but also do not gloss over the fact that some work, though tedious, is part of life. As for teaching and test scores– I Am A Teacher is correct– it does not have to be boring but often the school disgtrict makes it so by not giving enough time to assign engaging activities that foster higher level thinking skills. There is fault on both sides.True education is a blend of all of these and much more– the part of not holding back kids who are ready to move on or pushing kids ahead who are not ready for it. One sizse fits all rarely works with clothing and almost never works with TRUE education and teaching..

come on son

October 19th, 2010
10:28 am

Balance is the key but is difficult. There are some basic lessons that must be learned before “exciting” activiities can be utilized. You have to learn how to “read music” before you can “jam with the band”.


October 19th, 2010
10:43 am

I love Sir Ken’s approach. I wish schools were more open to the ideas of teaching kids to learn instead of all this stuff to make adults happy. If you were truly convinced that your child was learning and expanding his/her ability to think and figure things out, standardized tests would not be the focus.

Yes they all need the basics of reading, writing, & arithmetic, BUT there are many ways to get them there. We should not accept any answer as correct due to over creative math, but we should have the capacity to teach without squeezing the creativity out of students. For example, I think you could do a much better job of teaching jocks through
lessons that pull information from sports channels (like these).

We need to have a future lookng view in education. My kids are more likely to have a job I have never heard of 40 years from now than one that existed 40 years ago. Even in traditional good jobs there are doctors working with robots to do surgery and lawyers arguing over what old laws mean in the face of new technologies (like facebook privacy and what to do with DNA & stem cells.)

I think we need more schools that are teaching & innovating like this one in NY that focuses on teaching through digital tools.

You have to meet people where they are and move them in a positive direction to embed an interest in learning within them.


October 19th, 2010
10:45 am

Sometimes the quicker route to learning to read music is jamming with the band in the early stages of development. That’s where some of the new tools are useful.


October 19th, 2010
10:58 am

Long ago, kids learned multiplication by sitting in class and doing large group response only.

In the 1970s we got multiplication rock on Saturday morning TV.

Nowdays, it might be a video game where you have to shoot the next multiple to score.

Maybe it’s a $1 calculator where the student keeps punching + the same number to fill out your own multiplication table.

As society advances there are probably more ways to teach the same thing.

I just hope the teacher has the freedom (and time) to try different things.


October 19th, 2010
11:11 am

Maureen this was very informative. I’m going to bring it up tonight during our Charter System meeting. That ought to be fun.

Do a piece on SACS and why they went after Clayton, DeKalb and now Atlanta Schools. For whatever reason they didn’t bother Fulton Schools when we tried to get there assistance with the meddling BOE.

mystery poster

October 19th, 2010
11:51 am

OK, I’ll be the first to bring this up (and I say this as the parent of a learning-disabled student):

One reason we have bored kids to death is the inclusion mandate. When you are always catering to the lower-ability students, the ones at the middle and at the top are bored to tears. Differentiated learning nearly IMPOSSIBLE to achieve with such a wide spectrum of abilities in each class.

Also, the lower-ability kids aren’t dumb. They know they’re behind everyone else and, contrary to the popular view, it does NOT do their self-esteem any good to be put in classes above their level.

Here’s a bold idea: challenge ALL kids at their own level to bring them up.

mystery poster

October 19th, 2010
11:52 am

Differentiated learning *is* nearly IMPOSSIBLE to achieve with such a wide spectrum of abilities in each class.


October 19th, 2010
1:07 pm

mystery poster – you state your vision of ability grouping so well. It’s not that there are smart students and not-so-smart students. All students have different abilities. Right on!


October 19th, 2010
1:57 pm

While I like the idea of waking up sleeping students, there are a number of medical conditions that prevent normal education progress. We need school screening and referral (up to and including barring the student from school until the problem is dealt with) for medical/dental/vision/psych disabilities and problems. We need school nurses either resident for the large schools or making rounds for the school districts.

Urban schools serve the proletariat and underclass. We have a significant problem with medical neglect of children by their screwed up parents. There needs to be some effort on the part of the schools to quickly and efficiently catch and prevent students with ongoing child neglect of these issues.

So if they need glasses they’d better have them, dental treatment for rotting teeth, ditto. And yes, Rx’s for the psychotic and other disorders that improve with treatment. And the kids should not be permitted back into the school unless and until these things are done.

An elderly relative is a retired special ed teacher. She had classrooms full of (mainly black) drug babies, some with profound brain damage. You’d better believe they were on prescriptions. The seizures were a real nuisance if not controlled. And the HIV meds were considered real important also. So was proper diapering for 10 year olds This is what some of our public school teachers deal with every day..

Bad can get real bad sometimes.

Ivan Cohen

October 19th, 2010
2:35 pm

The 21st century is here, yet the educational system seems to still be stuck in 19th century. Reading, Writing and Arithmetic along with Science and History. Problem is that these subjects were taught to me in isolation and I still had to face the outside world when the dismissal bell rang in the afternoon. The dots never got connected. Is a person really educated if he or she can regurgitate answers on a standard test? Everybody is not going to get the opportunity to prove if they’re smarter than a 5th grader or on Jeopardy. How much mileage will one get talking about geography at a social gathering? Thank you to the individual who alluded to the policy makers, because unless they see the light readers we can count on reading another blog regarding the same subject 50 years from now.


October 19th, 2010
4:40 pm

I knew that differentiated learning within one classroom was a bogus goal when my son’s 2nd grade teacher said she could not challege my son because he was too advanced and she did not have time to go to the 4th and 5th grade teachers to collect enough busy work for him. As a result, he became a discipline problem for her. What was I supposed to do with that information!?

another comment

October 19th, 2010
7:00 pm

The real problem is the boredom created by the block schedule Cobb County has instituted in High School. 4 ninety minute classes a semester that are suppose to cover a full year worth of work. First, most teachers can not teach a full 90 minutes and run out of steam about 40-50 minutes in. Only the science lab teachers have enough to keep them going and interested. 2. The students don’t have the attention span to stay awake and concentrate. This crazy schedule allows no study halls or computer labs where students normally got their homework and studing done.

Teach?Burdened w/pre/post tests,paperwork & deadlines.Half of Dkalb teachers don't care, other half are stuck w/ the spineless,venting/whining,taking punishment..bending over, "please sir may I have another" quote Ole Guy

October 19th, 2010
7:45 pm

In the perfect world, that would work. Here’s another “expert” and his take on the educational system. Reality….we live industrialized nations, the governments and businesspeople formed this model. We, in the schools/classroom force the reading and writing on your children, that you cannot/will not do at home. We teach them to read, write, and calculate, you, the parents teach them the other ancillary/exploratory stuff. He’s talking about apples and oranges…..different areas of education all bundled into one. Students are group by age levels, usually, age levels aligns with ability/maturity.
Rambling nonsense….the British public school system is awful, because of their land space and history (and of course other major factors), they ignore many vocational training in the school system, and simply pass the students on until they get to 16, where school is not mandatory.
Yes, let’s just, at all levels, let students do whatever is fun for them, all the hands on activity they would like to do, until they get to 18, and then let them out of school. Or should we choose their careers for them.
If these parents would expose their children to things, other than the television, and all other digital gadgets, and spend time with their children, then maybe they would be better rounded.
He thinks that because of his British accent, people would buy that nonsense.

Wonderful video

October 19th, 2010
8:16 pm

If you are thrilled at the concept of opening yourselves up to different views of education and how we got here, be sure to go to http://www.johntaylorgatto.com. He was once the NY State teacher of the year and has studied the history of “public” education in america since its beginning.

This gentleman has some great insights into the problem but clearly he offers little in the way of solutions in this short piece.

But he hits the nail on the head at the end when he identifies the primary barrier and that is the entrenched government education establishment itself. The other posters who have commented on this have correctly pointed out that the system WILL NEVER change because too many are profitting from the way things are today.

That is why the solution MUST involve the end of government involvement in education and the reestablishment of a completely free and competitive marketplace in education. Only the free market can adequately respond to the true variations we all have in our mechanisms of learning. A top-down structured bureaucracy can never do this. The free market is an ever-changing thing that responds to the variation inherent in human existence. Such a structure is far too unstable to those who seek government employment for stability, great retirement packages, set schedules, summers off, job security and the like. Those in administration and at the top of the bureaucratic food chain cannot survive in a world or marketplace that demands that the student or the parent (in other words, the customer) be placed at the seat of highest priority.

He may consider the advent of taxpayer funded education for the masses to be a product of the enlightenment, but such a structure inevitably reduces education to a political football that is controlled by all the wrong economic forces. Certainly at the time the limited availability of communication, printed material, etc. made private education or even diverse home schooling more difficult, but none of those limitations exist today and the government model is clearly an abject failure. He also fails to appreciate the way the public education model was designed by the Germans as a mechanism to produce little more than worker bees for german industrialists, obedient warriors for the gernman imperial state, and compliant taxpayers for the german socialist model. Those same benefits were envisioned when the model was brought to the US. He clearly understands the problem but lacks the economic wisdom to understand how to extricate ourselves from our current dillemma and to establish the proper conditions under which a system of his vision can flourish.


October 19th, 2010
8:19 pm

Enter your comments here

David S

October 19th, 2010
8:28 pm

We cannot expect any responsibility on the part of parents when we demand none (and have not for many decades).

We subsidize having children with tax credits, college saving credits, welfare, food stamps, school lunches, AFDC, “free” government schooling (well, practically free), and many other government programs or subsidies. From the minute of conception there is someone from the government who has a job (and thus an incentive) to provide assitance as an entitlement. If you look back in our history the fewer the programs the greater the personal responsibility taken by both individuals and parents alike.

Only a free market would force personal responsibility again. Government rules never will. There will always be someone who will step up and vote to remove responsibility and to give that job to a prospective voter. That’s how the relationship works. The one who doesn’t have to be responsible can also be counted on for a vote as well. The political government solution will never achieve the goal because the goal of government is to MAKE everyone dependent on the government.

And of course let’s not foget the role that Big Pharma contributions to the education establishment have in promoting the drugging of america’s school children. It is not a coincidence.