Ken Robinson was a noted expert on creativity and its role in education. He died in 2020, leaving this synthesis of his work, which he was working on with his daughter Kate, half finished. She has seen it over the line, and it serves as a kind of memorial, as well as a summary of his ideas and their ongoing relevance.
The central idea of the book is that it is imagination that distinguishes humanity from the rest of life on earth. We create the worlds we inhabit, and can recreate them. Too many of our current systems are currently configured in ways that are self-destructive, driving environmental decline and failing to share the benefits of progress with everyone. Imagination will play a vital role in getting us out of this predicament, and so we need an education system that encourages creative thought.
That’s not the educational system we have, and Robinson & Robinson compare schools to factory farms that are geared towards the mass rearing of humans with good exam grades. This is a narrow view of a successful life – “a poor imitation of learning” oriented around the needs of the workplace and a legacy of the industrial revolution.
Schools would be better off structuring education around the core competencies needed for life today, which they name as curiosity, creativity, criticism, communication, collaboration, compassion, composure and citizenship.
The book is going to be most useful to educators, and helps to frame the role of education in confronting global challenges. It’s also useful to parents, and to students who might want more out of their schools. Since it’s short – clocking in at 113 pages – it’s also something that anyone could benefit from. It’s full of insights into what education is, and how it differs from learning. Or what a ‘system’ is, or how you find your calling in life. And I liked the way that the authors draw parallels between educational reform and regenerative agriculture, or ‘rewilding education’.
Imagine If… reads like the distillation of ideas that it is. There are so many ideas here, but it never feels heavy or dense. This is the result of a lifetime thinking about things, and working out the best way to express them.
“Despite the widely acknowledged, and frankly unignorable, changes societies around the world continue to experience, education systems generally remain rooted in the past. The answer is not simply to do more of what has always been done. The solutions we require are not in the rearview mirror. The challenge is not to reform our systems but to transform them. In order to effectively raise children who will thrive in the world they are inheriting, we must revolutionize education. “