Thursday, October 27, 2016

Out of Our Minds by Ken Robinson

I was really excited to read this book because it's on creativity by Sir Ken Robinson, you know, that guy who gave the TED talk? But it was slightly different from my expectations, even though it was pretty interesting.

Rather than a treatise on how to be creative (like how Peak discussed not only how people develop their talents but gave concrete strategies), this book is a general discussion on creativity in schools, and how the current system of education, which was developed for a different time and purpose, is no longer sufficient or adequate. Towards the end, there are nine principals they recommend, but they aren't really actionable, in my opinion.

On the whole, I generally liked the book, but I noted two things that gave me pause:

One, the focus on the West. Even though the first chapter talks about how his work takes him all over the world, and that governments are all struggling with this problem (which made me think this would be a global discussion), the East barely appears. I see a few examples related to China, but I don't recall a country in Southeast Asia or any other country. The history of education is wholly focused on the West, and so are the people discussed. That was a little disappointing.

Two, a few mistaken anecdotes. I don't remember all of them, but I do remember the ones relating to Chinese culture. One was how steamed fish was still regarded as a "foreign" cuisine - that's not true, at least not in Singapore. Gang-zhen style steamed garoupa/other fish is considered Chinese (specifically: Cantonese). Perhaps the waiter was just explaining the origins? And in the next anecdote, Sir Ken Robinson talks about Zhou Enlai's famous statement on how in 1972, it was too soon to form an opinion about the French revolution 200 years. That's not true - Zhou Enlai was actually thinking of the May 1986 events. This isn't new, and it's a bit annoying to have the story perpetuated again and again.

If you're looking on a treatise about education that focuses on creativity, then this book is for you. It's very readable and full of small jokes. If you're looking for ways to be creative, though, you're out of luck.

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