Posted by: crudbasher | April 27, 2012

A Night With Sir Ken Robinson and Rafe Esquith

Greetings my loyal readers! 🙂

I’m back from vacation. One of the reasons I went up to Virginia besides to visit family was to see a presentation by Sir Ken Robinson and Rafe Esquith on the education system in the US. (I really want to thank my brother for getting us tickets!) It was in a series of lectures called the Richmond Forum. Each man spoke for about 45 min, then the audience was able to submit questions for a short Q&A. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to really take notes during the talk but I remember a lot of the main ideas. Here’s my report.

The theater was nice. I figured it could hold about 2000 people or so but it was only about 80% full. The problem was that most of the seats were held by season ticket holders so if they don’t come there really isn’t a way to sell those tickets. As a result, some friends of mine couldn’t go because they couldn’t get tickets.

Sir Ken Robinson

The talk got underway with Sir Ken delivering his trademark blend of insightful observations and very dry British humor. I have seen pretty much all of his videos online so really there wasn’t a whole lot new. I did however listen carefully to see if I could determine if he thought the mass education system could be salvaged.

Well from what I can determine he didn’t suggest any alternatives. His main focus was that creativity has been suffering in public schools (I agree). He also criticized the way that schools divide up learning into separate subjects (I agree too).

Overall, while I enjoyed his talk as always, he didn’t really hit me with anything new. In a way, his focus is mainly on what is wrong, and not as much on how to fix it. Still, that is extremely valuable and can’t be said enough times.

The other speaker was Rafe Esquith. I had not heard of him before but I figured that to be on the same stage as Sir Ken you had to be pretty awesome too. He was.

Rafe Esquith

He has been a public school teacher in a poor neighborhood in Los Angeles. As he put it, in his classroom you can’t use the water fountain because it isn’t safe and the classroom next door to his is sealed and condemned. Despite this, he manages to perform a miracle with his 5th grade classes. Each year his kids learn a musical instrument, perform a complete work of Shakespeare and stage a rock concert. They come in early each day (by choice) and stay after school. Rafe doesn’t have a desk in the classroom. Most of the time he said he just stands in the corners and only intervenes when the students need some help. Overall they teach themselves. Why? They do it because they love learning.

Imagine that: a class in public school where the students love learning. It’s much too complicated to try to explain how he does this but I found a video online that is pretty much the same talk he gave to us. It’s highly enjoyable and inspiring!

So what did I talk away from Rafe’s talk? He achieves what he does with his students despite the system, not because of it. He spoke quite a lot about how the administration is always fretting about him because he isn’t teaching to the test. He told this amusing story. An inspector came from the district to audit his class in some way. She said that he was required to provide 1 hour a day of “special lessons”. In other words, not lecturing. He informed her that his whole day was done that way. She just couldn’t figure that out. lol

He seems to have a blend of enthusiasm, plus energy and inventiveness coupled with the fact he is unafraid of the system. In the Q&A he was asked by a new teacher how they can be like him. He told them to wait a few years before making waves. This tells me the system is hostile to his brand of (effective) teaching.

It’s quite a story. Apparently there have been several movies made about his classroom as well. I’ll have to get them from Netflix. (look for Hobart Shakespeareans)

Overall I really enjoyed my night listening to these two fascinating teachers. It didn’t really change my thinking on anything but that is ok. On my continuing journey to try to foresee changes in education it’s nice to see I am heading in the right direction.

BTW – We were told there that the whole thing will be broadcast on NPR on May 5th. I don’t know exactly what that means but I will be looking out for it.




  1. Hello,
    I enjoyed reading your post. I knew Sir Ken Robinson (ED talks) and I also think he’s a great communicator and has fascinating ideas. I did not know Rafe Squith but I’ll definetly have a look at the video and listen carefully.
    You said how he manages to be a great teacher DESPITE the system, interesting. I really think that in order to be a good teacher you have to LOVE what you do, that makes a huge difference. My admiration and respect for all the school teachers, really, it’s not an easy job.

    • I completely agree. Being a public school teacher has to be one of the hardest jobs. The real question is why? I know that there are few things more rewarding than seeing a child make a connection to something you are teaching so that’s not it. It breaks my heart to see how many really good teachers leave because of the BS they have to put up with from the system itself. That’s what I think Rafe was talking about.

      Thanks so much for commenting!!

  2. Andrew,

    Thanks for sharing that video. It actually gave me some hope!


  3. Do you know any more about when the talk will be broadcast on NPR (today or tomorrow?) I have asked Rafe (he’s a friend) but he doesn’t know. I thought you might have learned more.

    • Unfortunately I have not been able to find any more info on this. What happened at the event was the person doing the intro said he thought it was going to be broadcast on npr on May 5th. The way he said it led me to believe that he was just told this and was passing it along. I don’t think he knew anything else but what he was told. Who knows how valid that information was or even if things have changed. I’ll definitely keep looking for it and will post if I can find it online. If you get a chance, please tell Rafe I was deeply impressed by his story and wish him well. Thanks for stopping by Heidi!

      • Hi, we’ve done some digging and it appears that in los Angeles it will be airing at 3 p.m. on our LOCAL NPR station. I don’t know where you live but you might try checking your local NPR station to see if it’s playing there also. (This is tomorrow, Sunday May 6th.)

        I can tell you that from spending many hours in his classroom just watching him teach, Rafe is every bit as good a teacher as you might have guessed, and what he accomplishes with kids who have come up through our very inadequate public schools is little short of miraculous. Stop by his classroom sometime when you’re in L.A. and you’ll see what I mean.

      • I wasn’t able to find it locally here. I wonder if it will show up online somewhere? Well, thank you for giving me a heads up Heidi!

  4. […] lately. I’ve had something on my mind but when I saw this I just had to blog about it. I have written before about seeing Rafe Esquith in person and how impressed I was with his way of reaching his students. He takes low income kids […]

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