Remembering Sir Ken Robinson, the educationalist who changed thinking on schools

Sir Ken Robinson died on August 21 of cancer at the age of 70.

Sir Ken Robinson giving presentation

Sir Ken Robinson

  • Robinson was a world-renowned educationalist who promoted creativity and more diverse and individualized curricula.
  • Robinson's 2006 TED Talk "Do Schools Kill Creativity?" remains the organization's most popular presentation.
  • He also authored five books and advised numerous organizations around the world.

Do schools kill creativity?

That was the central question of a wildly popular TED Talk given by Sir Ken Robinson, the world-renowned educationalist who argued for more holistic, diverse, and individualized schooling throughout his four-decade career. Robinson died of cancer on August 21 at age 70.

To those outside of education, Robinson is perhaps best known for that 2006 TED Talk, which remains the most popular TED video to date. In his presentation, Robinson argued that people don't "grow into creativity," but rather "we get educated out of it" by schools.

Robinson said the world's education systems are built upon a hierarchy that places mathematics and languages on top, and arts on bottom. This results in schools that are great at producing university professors. But dancers, painters and comedians? Not so much.

"And I like university professors, but, you know, we shouldn't hold them up as the high-water mark of all human achievement," said Robinson, who worked as a professor at Warwick University from 1989 to 2001.

The stifling nature of modern education may also contribute to what Robinson called the "crisis in our human resources." Robinson proposed that one of the reasons so many modern people feel disengaged, depressed, and anxious is because they're not pursuing goals or activities that put them in their element.

If schools prioritize certain pursuits over others, some people may never discover what their element is. In 2013, Robinson told Big Think:

"You can spend your whole life completely oblivious to some talent you may have because the opportunity never showed up for you to discover your resolve to develop it."

Robinson wasn't saying the world's problems would disappear if everybody found their passion, but that it could help reduce psychological suffering.

"My long-term conviction has always been that we all have deep talents, and the potential for engagement, and we should explore it."

One force that could make it harder for people to find their element is the modern education system's tendency to stigmatize mistakes. That's a problem, Robinson argued, because if you can't accept being wrong, original thinking becomes virtually impossible.

As such, Robinson argued we should move away from a standardized educational system that mines "our minds in the way that we strip-mine the Earth for a particular commodity," and toward one that encourages each individual's natural strengths and interests. In other words, schools are best framed as organic systems, not mechanical ones.

In his speeches and books, which include "The Element," "Out of Our Minds," "Creative Schools" and "You, Your Child, and School", Robinson promoted several key ideas on education:

  • Create a more diverse curriculum that focuses on individualization.
  • Teach kids in creative ways that encourage curiosity.
  • Find unique ways to awaken creativity within each student.

More holistic education

After growing up in a poor neighborhood in Liverpool, Robinson earned a Bachelor of Education degree at Bretton Hall College, which he said specialized in the performing arts, the humanities, and education. Robinson went on to chair Artswork, the UK's national youth arts development agency; become an advisor to multiple international arts and education organizations; and be knighted in 2003 for his service to the arts.

In a 2018 interview with Top Hat, Robinson said:

"I don't claim to have originated all the ideas and principles I promote. People have been arguing for them from ancient days. From the beginnings of mass education in the 18th and 19th centuries, there have been passionate advocates and practitioners of more holistic, humanitarian, progressive forms of education, which take account of the complex creatures we are and of the conditions in which we do best. I'm one of many who've taken up that torch. I continue to wave it because the need to act on these principles is becoming more urgent, not less. The nature of education is not an academic debate for me. We're dealing with people's lives and it's vital to get this right."

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This article was originally published by our sister site, Freethink.

For the first time, researchers appear to have effectively treated a genetic disorder by directly injecting a CRISPR therapy into patients' bloodstreams — overcoming one of the biggest hurdles to curing diseases with the gene editing technology.

The therapy appears to be astonishingly effective, editing nearly every cell in the liver to stop a disease-causing mutation.

The challenge: CRISPR gives us the ability to correct genetic mutations, and given that such mutations are responsible for more than 6,000 human diseases, the tech has the potential to dramatically improve human health.

One way to use CRISPR to treat diseases is to remove affected cells from a patient, edit out the mutation in the lab, and place the cells back in the body to replicate — that's how one team functionally cured people with the blood disorder sickle cell anemia, editing and then infusing bone marrow cells.

Bone marrow is a special case, though, and many mutations cause disease in organs that are harder to fix.

Another option is to insert the CRISPR system itself into the body so that it can make edits directly in the affected organs (that's only been attempted once, in an ongoing study in which people had a CRISPR therapy injected into their eyes to treat a rare vision disorder).

Injecting a CRISPR therapy right into the bloodstream has been a problem, though, because the therapy has to find the right cells to edit. An inherited mutation will be in the DNA of every cell of your body, but if it only causes disease in the liver, you don't want your therapy being used up in the pancreas or kidneys.

A new CRISPR therapy: Now, researchers from Intellia Therapeutics and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals have demonstrated for the first time that a CRISPR therapy delivered into the bloodstream can travel to desired tissues to make edits.

We can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically.


"This is a major milestone for patients," Jennifer Doudna, co-developer of CRISPR, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR.

"While these are early data, they show us that we can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically so far, which is being able to deliver it systemically and get it to the right place," she continued.

What they did: During a phase 1 clinical trial, Intellia researchers injected a CRISPR therapy dubbed NTLA-2001 into the bloodstreams of six people with a rare, potentially fatal genetic disorder called transthyretin amyloidosis.

The livers of people with transthyretin amyloidosis produce a destructive protein, and the CRISPR therapy was designed to target the gene that makes the protein and halt its production. After just one injection of NTLA-2001, the three patients given a higher dose saw their levels of the protein drop by 80% to 96%.

A better option: The CRISPR therapy produced only mild adverse effects and did lower the protein levels, but we don't know yet if the effect will be permanent. It'll also be a few months before we know if the therapy can alleviate the symptoms of transthyretin amyloidosis.

This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine.


If everything goes as hoped, though, NTLA-2001 could one day offer a better treatment option for transthyretin amyloidosis than a currently approved medication, patisiran, which only reduces toxic protein levels by 81% and must be injected regularly.

Looking ahead: Even more exciting than NTLA-2001's potential impact on transthyretin amyloidosis, though, is the knowledge that we may be able to use CRISPR injections to treat other genetic disorders that are difficult to target directly, such as heart or brain diseases.

"This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine," Fyodor Urnov, a UC Berkeley professor of genetics, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR. "We as a species are watching this remarkable new show called: our gene-edited future."