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Dr. Grauer's Column - Sir Ken Robinson Has Died

Sir Ken Robinson Has Died

“Imagination is the source of every form of human achievement. And it's the one thing that I believe we are systematically jeopardizing in the way we educate our children and ourselves.”
― Sir Ken Robinson

I’m stunned. We just received the news that Sir Ken Robinson has died of cancer. This was not the break in pandemic news I’ve been looking for.

Sir Ken has been a great supporter of alternative education, authentic education, non-boring education, non-standard education, and humorous education for many years, and he was a role model for me.  Sir Ken was the real thing, a one of a kind, and filled with so much life and wit it’s surrealistic to imagine him dead.  

Sir Ken Robinson and Dr. Stuart Grauer - 2019

Kenneth Robinson launched a TED Talk in 2015 called “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” and it became the most viewed TED Talk in history (watch it if you are ready for a treat). In the five years since that talk, things have gotten worse, student and teacher creativity continues to wither along with boredom and loneliness. I know, because I correspond with parents and teachers all over the country and hear or read their stories … and it is being documented in every relevant publication I see. (Luckily, happily, in part due to Robinson’s inspiration, none of this is true at The Grauer School.)

Sir Ken and I were the same age, but he obviously did way more. Amazingly for me, as a point of pride, I was even on the same bill as he at a conference on Long Island once, and whenever I listened to him I felt like he said something I wanted to express. His book, “The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything,” was on our teachers’ reading list this summer and if every family looking at college placement of a student would read it, we would be in the best shape we’ve ever been in. In it, he said:

“The fact is that given the challenges we face, education doesn't need to be reformed -- it needs to be transformed. The key to this transformation is not to standardize education, but to personalize it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions.”

I hope that sounds like a little school I know!

But he said so many enlightened things. Professionals in our field pretty much all associate Sir Ken with our discussion of how education today increases student boredom, loneliness, anxiety, and the loss of student curiosity, and replaces things like intrinsic motivation and joy with the pursuit of test scores. I believe he stimulated massive, subsequent research in these areas. For instance, National Association of Independent Schools published, “The Frenzied College Admission Race is Making Our Children Sick,” an issue that they had not covered a decade earlier. To Grauer aficionados, Robinson’s work has always sounded like hearing from a wise old friend, it made you feel good, and it always made you smile. Here is his website: http://sirkenrobinson.com

He was a teacher always equally concerned with the development of the mind, body, and spirit, all three, as a matter of course, but wicked funny. The last time I saw him, the introducer said, “And so we are all deeply honored to be here with Sir Ken Robinson, and Sir Ken came out and opened with, “Yes, it’s true, being here with me really is a great honor for you all.” It was for me. 

In his book The Element, he noted, “What you do for yourself dies with you when you leave this world, what you do for others lives on forever.” I plan on bringing forth ideas like this in my life and work. Your energy is still here, Sir Ken.


Obituary for Sir Ken Robinson, The Guardian, August 26, 2020.

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Sir Ken Robinson and Dr. Stuart Grauer - 2019

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