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.
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.
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.