My mother often says all children are geniuses until they go to school. I was reminded of her nugget of wisdom listening to a talk by Sir Ken Robinson on TED.com the other day.
TED is an acronym for Technology. Education. Design.
Add the .com and you’ll find yourself in a breathtaking place peopled by the greatest minds on the planet, sharing their genius in every imaginable discipline.
Billed as “Ideas worth spreading. Inspired talks by the world’s greatest thinkers and doers.”
Overflowing with innovation and creativity, annual four-day TED conferences in Monterey, California – “the ultimate brain spa” – began in 1984.
So far, 50 million TED talkers have shared their unique perspectives worldwide. Free for the clicking at TED.com.
Robinson is one of the top 10.
In 2006, in his riveting 19 minute and 29 second chat, Robinson discussed how our global approach to education leaches the inherent creativity out of impressionable, audacious, often gifted young people.
Witty, potent, enchanting, with an uncanny resemblance to Michael Caine, Robinson speaks intimately, as if he’s sitting at your kitchen table over a cup of tea.
“Every education system on earth has the same hierarchy of subjects,” he says. “At the top are mathematics and languages, then the humanities and at the bottom are the arts. In every system, too, there’s a hierarchy within the arts – art and music are given a higher status in schools than drama and dance."
Robinson is fascinated by how people discover their talents and he's writing a book called Epiphany, inspired by a woman named Gillian Lynne, who choreographed many musicals and ballets including “CATS” and “Phantom of the Opera.”
How did she become a dancer?
“When Gillian was at school, she was really hopeless,” Robinson said. "Her teachers thought she had a learning disorder. She couldn’t concentrate. She was fidgety.
"I think now, they’d say she had ADHD, but this was in the 1930s and ADHD hadn’t been invented. It wasn’t an available condition. People weren’t aware they could have that.”
At the age of eight, Gillian’s mother took her to a specialist. For 20 minutes, she sat on her hands while her mother talked to this man about all the problems her daughter was having at school.
Finally, the doctor wanted to speak to her mother privately. He told Gillian to wait in his office and turned on the radio. After they left the office, the doctor said to her mother, “Just stand there and watch her.”
Gillian was on her feet moving to the music.
“Mrs. Lynne,” the doctor said. “Gillian isn’t sick. She’s a dancer. Take her to a dance school.”
That’s what happened.
“I can’t tell you how wonderful it was,” Lynne told Robinson over lunch. “I walked into this room and it was filled with people like me. People who couldn’t sit still. People who had to move to think.” They did ballet, jazz, tap, modern, contemporary.
Eventually, she auditioned for the Royal Ballet School, became a soloist, had a wonderful career, graduated and founded her own school. Met Andrew Lloyd Webber and has been responsible for some of the greatest musical theatre in history. She’s given pleasure to millions and she’s a multimillionaire.
“Somebody else might have put her on medication and told her to calm down.”
Here’s where mental health comes in.
Today, the new paradigm for ADHD is that it’s possibly childhood bipolar disorder – a serious diagnosis of a mental illness never given to children until relatively recently. Many children with symptoms that look like ADHD are given cocktails of powerful anti-psychotics and anti-anxiety drugs, not intended for or tested in children.
So think of it. If a child doesn’t conform, cannot concentrate, is fidgety in school, maybe she’s not sick or “disordered” at all.
Maybe calming her down with drugs will drain away her creativity. Her uniqueness. Her genius.
I, too, was hopeless in school. Because I was "histrionic," I was sent to drama classes when I was nine years old. I failed grade 11 English Composition because I didn't follow the rules. Never graduated from grade 13, though with grade 12, I was eligible for community college. I graduated with Seneca's highest award so it was easy to get into university. The point is, the instant I left the public school system, I blossomed because I could be myself and follow my muse! I was encouraged and supported, not made to feel there was something wrong with me. Mind you, that was 40 years ago.
Maybe today's school system is sick. Maybe education as we know it is simply not reaching the little geniuses that loved creating castles out of cardboard boxes and spinning extraordinary tales of wonder out of their bold, bright, innocent little pre-school imaginations.
Something to ponder on this last day of the school year.
Happy, healthy summer.