TED Comes to Television and Goes to School

The great popularity of TED talks is one of the most encouraging signs that, despite our fossilized school systems, humanity still wants to learn. No one is assigned to watch TED talks. We watch them because they often present a compelling learning experience that excites and entertains. While such experiences sometimes occur in “the dominant education culture” of modern schooling, they occur “in spite of that culture, and not because of it.”

Those quotes are from the final segment of a series of TED talks on education that aired this week on PBS thanks to the New York member station, WNET. The speaker was Ken Robinson, and if you’ve never seen one of his lectures, you’re missing out.

Some highlights of the show:

Management consultant, turned teacher, turned research psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth on the prime importance of Grit in academic and life success. Duckworth explains that Grit is in fact a stronger predictor of such success than IQ—which is interesting because it echoes some very old and it seems mostly forgotten research by Edward Webb, a doctoral student of the intelligence measurement pioneer Charles Spearman. Spearman coined the term “g factor” for the strong intercorrelation that each individual shows across a diverse range of mental tests. It is this g that IQ tests attempt to measure. To make a long story short, Webb went looking for a bunch of personality traits that were also correlated with g. He failed. Instead, he found a completely separate set of intercorrelated traits, which he called w (for “Will”), that basically amount to what Duckworth refers to as Grit. Four of the those w traits were: perseverance, kindness on principle, trustworthiness, and conscientiousness. [For more on this, see Arthur Jensen’s “The g Factor”.] Duckworth’s segment begins at 13:30.

Geoffrey Canada is eloquent about the need to simultaneously encourage innovation and abandon failed approaches; and Ken Robinson is equally so on the failure of the dominant approach to schooling to promote a diversity of methods and curricula, or to stimulate curiosity and creativity, due to its excessive reliance on centralized command-and-control. Of course both of the preceding observations are consistent with the fact that markets are better than monopolies in providing products and services, in education as in other fields, but it’s not clear that either speaker would put the matter in those terms.

And for the artistically inclined, there’s a quite good young poet, 19-year-old Malcolm London, at the 35 minute mark, and a lovely rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors” by the host, singer John Legend, at 41:58.