Sir Ken of TEDalot on Play and Learning
By Alex Smith of Playgroundology
(Reposted from Playgroundology)
Earlier this spring, Sir Ken (Robinson) shared his views on education with an appreciative audience in Halifax, Nova Scotia – home of PlayGroundology. Now that I’ve seen and heard him in the flesh, I feel I can get away with just Sir Ken. I was one of the 1,000 in attendance who enjoyed an accomplished and entertaining critic of conventional wisdom about education and creativity. No props, no notes, plenty of humourous asides and always an à propos anecdote.
At the conclusion of the 90 minute story that held the crowd rapt, there was time for a couple of questions. I piped up and got first at bats for myself and the readers of PlayGroundology with this one I had been eager to ask:
How important is the role of play in learning?
For the next five minutes or so, Sir Ken spoke to a question that he had likely heard and certainly considered previously. What follows is the minimally edited response. Thanks Sir Ken, may millions more be inspired by your experience and informed by your passion.
It’s fundamental. I talk a lot as you know about creativity. I didn’t want to get into all that again today particularly because of the nature of this conference. There are three key terms when we come to think about play. The first is imagination, the second is creativity and the third is innovation.
Imagination, I believe, is what fundamentally sets us apart from the rest of life on earth – very little does truthfully. I think we overplay the differences between ourselves and everything else. Our life is short and organic like everything else. We come into groovy buildings like this and persuade ourselves we’re different but we’re not. But we are in this respect. Human beings have powerful imaginations. By imagination I mean the ability to bring into mind things that aren’t present to our senses.
So with imagination you can revisit the past, you can enter into other peoples’ consciousness empathetically – you can imagine what it would be like to be them – and you can anticipate the future. It’s what it is for everything that counts as distinctively human. It’s not a single power, it’s a mix of all different powers that come together and we call it such. But the thing is you can be imaginative all day long and never do anything.
To be creative you have to do something. Creativity is very practical. I think of it as applied imagination, putting your imagination to work.
There are lots of misconceptions about that and we can talk about that. My point is that the power to imagine and the impulse to create, to make things is the birthright of humanity. It’s why we are as we are. It’s why we don’t just live in buildings we’ve made, we inhabit conceptual structures that we’ve evolved.
Play for young people is actually essential. It’s a way in which they literally flex their muscles.
It amazes me how quickly and how often we forget that we are embodied, that we see the world the way do because we live in these bodies. If we were all 18′ tall with eyes at the sides of our head it would look very different to us. Dogs hear different frequencies and birds smell things we don’t smell. We see the world as it is because we’re built the way we are. We are embodied, we’re not just brains on a stick.
Our children go to school in their bodies. Play is one of the ways they flex them, explore them, understand them, connect to other people. We also live in virtual worlds that are the result of our imaginations. They need the ability to exercise that too. You see you can’t get to all the things we value – creativity in business, in work, in social systems, in the arts and the sciences if your imagination has atrophied.
It’s the same, the exact analogy for me with athletics. The Olympics are happening this year. If you want to take part in the Olympics then you better practice. There’s no point in saying I want to take part in the 100 metres and I won’t do anything in the meantime – I’ll just show up. I have high hopes. Well good luck with that. If you’re going to be an athlete, you have to exercise your body. If you want to be creative you have to exercise your mind, your consciousness, your spirit. It’s fundamental to me.
Play, there’s different ways of defining it but broadly speaking play is an end in itself. It’s not directed to a larger purpose.
I don’t want a system of playing schools where you get 15 minutes to do it then we test for a score. You just play because it’s interesting, enjoyable and pleasurable. You do it for that reason and no other reason. And it’s no coincidence that we go on to talk about playing sports, playing instruments because at the heart of it there’s this possibility of creative fulfillment that lies at the centre. I see it is a fundamental. It strikes me as a disaster that we’re excluding it from kindergartens, from elementary school and from high schools and colleges too.