Schools do a really good job at creating…

… university professors.

This is Ken Robinson’s talk at TED back in 2006. I’d come across this video many times but never sat down to watch it. Maybe I hate sitting still for twenty minutes listening to someone else. I was surprised how little content was in the talk, but I found this worth watching for a couple of reasons. Firstly Ken Robinson is just hilarious. I liked the talk about the childhood of the choreographer and the comments on ADHD, although this is a bad example since it suffers from survivor bias – if you’re going to mention that she’s a multi-millionaire you have to balance the choreographer of Cats with the thousands of choreographers that don’t make enough money to pay income tax.



For me the biggest take-away was the description that the point of schooling was to create university professors. For the last few weeks I’ve been thinking about what was wrong with schooling and other mechanisms that could provide what school was missing, but this is the first time I’ve seen something that says what schooling does. I’ve read John Taylor Gatto before and I’ve heard the lines about schools existing to provide obedient workers to industry but that didn’t match well with my own childhood. I never fitted in the ‘trained for industry’ bucket. For me, Ken’s line that schools were designed to select university professors worked better. Looked at in that light, schools do a reasonable job. I certainly felt pushed that way at every stage.

This reminds me of when I went to a barbecue with the Maths department at Macquarie University where some the professors were talking to me about becoming a mathematician. It was in the summer holidays between second year and third year. But how did I get invited to a Maths staff barbecue? I was the only undergrad there. I think it was because I’d just won the Maths prize and the CompSci prize and they wanted me to think about studying for a PhD with them and not those evil CompSci folk.

That leaves me with the question of how to use this education system for university professors. At what point do your kids step off the conveyor belt? Do they even step on in the first place?


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