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This Tuesday, at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Center, Sir Ken Robinson spoke at Ringling College Library Association’s Town Hall. The Liverpool-born Sir Robinson is known as an expert on creativity and innovation and is the author of the New York Times best sellers The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything and Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life. He holds the record for the most-watched speaker for the TED Talk video series, with over 50 million total views.

In front of a packed audience, with dry, self-effacing British wit, he warmed up with jokes about the “King Lear-like storm” the night before. When he got into the meat of his talk, he began by asking the audience if they were doing now what they expected to be doing when they were 15 years old. His point was that we should allow for flexibility in our educational system, which he thinks should transform from a narrow, homogenized structure to a more personalized and customized system.

Robinson zeroed in on testing, which he considers the bane of modern American education, and railed against the testing industry, which makes more than 16 billion dollars a year. He noted that over a quarter of America’s students don’t finish high school, and he believes that fault lies not with the students, but with the system. He’s concerned that America is moving away from what made it a nation of creative innovators in the first place. Just as Asian nations such as China and South Korea are recognizing the importance of the arts and open-ended education, we are creating a more narrowly regimented system.

I was taken by surprise by Sir Robinson’s sympathy for Millennials (my generation). The audience was nearly all baby boomers or retirees, but he pleaded with his listeners to understand the difficulties recent graduates face.

The only disappointment was that Sir Ken Robinson did not leave us with more specific suggestions as to how to fix our current predicament. But perhaps that is in line with his beliefs that people should be left with room and encouragement to figure it out on our own.

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