For those familiar with Ken Robinson's TED Talks and previous writings on creativity and education, there will be few surprises in this timely new offering. What Robinson and Aronica continue successfully to do is to challenge at the deepest levels our assumptions about education and learning. There is always a thinly veiled streak of anarchism about Robinson's ideas which echoes past educational thinkers like Godwin in the eighteenth century and Tolstoy in the nineteenth. This is a book to gladden the heart of any budding thinker who wants to raise their view of education beyond the tired present cul-de-sac thinking of comprehensive versus grammar or free school versus mainstream. Robinson and Aronica clear away these tired arguments and help us to free our thinking from what Miller (2010) described as the 'cultural trance' under which we labour and to see education in terms of new heights of possibility.
Robinson & Aronica boldly state their underlying philosophical approach so that the reader is left in no doubt that at the very heart of any education system should be the idea that every individual is valued for their uniqueness. This means that each learner has the right to self-determination; every student has the potential to evolve and live a fulfilled life, and every person carries with them a civic responsibility which must fully respect others.
The authors make clear in their introductory pages that there are four basic purposes of education: personal, cultural, social and economic. They explain each of these in turn throughout the book and align them with the overall aim of education as they see it, 'To enable students to understand the world around them and the talents within them so that they can become fulfilled individuals and active, compassionate citizens' (p. xvi).
The role for individual practitioners is also made clear. If you are a teacher, 'you are the system'. The authors exhort those responsible for the education of students to make changes within their practice and institutions, press for a rethinking of the overall systems they work within, and to engage with the wider global world around them. They call for 'radical innovation' which goes beyond simply 'tinkering around the edges' of the present industrial system of schooling. They argue for a change in thinking on how we live and relate to each other as both countries in the global context and local communities.
In each of the ten chapters that follow, the urgency of this message is palpable and is delivered with clarity and challenge. For example, in chapter 5 we read that teachers should 'Teach like your hair's on fire' (p. 97), and are challenged to consider the thought that if we really believe that children are 'natural learners' why do they need teachers at all? (p. 102). For teachers labouring under the present regimes of micromanagement in our present school-effectiveness-dominated models these questions might seem irrelevant. However, Robinson and Aronica do see a vitally important role for the committed teacher to engage, enable, expect and empower learners. Great teachers fulfil three essential purposes for their students: to inspire them with their own passion; to foster in them the confidence to develop the skills and knowledge they need to become independent learners; and to enable them to inquire, ask questions, develop skills, in short, to allow creativity in thinking to flow.
The curriculum too is given a radical rethink, with a competency-based approach being recommended for schools to facilitate. Few would argue with the need for schools to exhibit the characteristic purposes of promoting diversity, depth and dynamism, but some might take exception to assuming a democratic approach as outlined on p. 152. Ultimately the approach advocated is one of personalised learning in which the individual is seen as a unique curious and autonomous learner who is facilitated and inspired by the educators they come in contact with. On p. 256 we are reminded that 'effective education is always a balance between rigor and freedom, tradition and innovation, the individual and the group, theory and practice, the inner world and the outer world'. Education and learning is a complex process closely intertwined with politics. Robinson and Aronica remind us, however, of Gandhi's quote that in order to be change agents, we must ourselves be the change. Reading this book may inspire you to do just that, or at the very least raise some serious doubts and questions about our present approaches to schooling.
Review by Graham Robertson (2017) 'Creative Schools'. Research in Teacher Education. Vol 7 (No.1).