The Element, cover

The Element provides reasons why many young people under achieve and disengage from education. Using real life examples it suggests an alternative educational approach that works with an individual's passions.

Review of The Element and its Creative Educational Approach

Ken Robinson provides an illuminating insight into the narrow view society has of intelligence. He goes on to argue for a more enlightened view of individual capability. He shows how many of the most successful people in all fields from the arts to sport and business succeeded despite their, or more correctly the system’s, failure in a traditional academic setting.

The Element and its Components

Robinson’s Element is where natural aptitude meets personal passion. It is about doing the thing one loves. Its features are aptitude and passion and the conditions are attitude and opportunity or as Robinson describes it: “The sequence goes something like this: I get; I love it; I want it; Where is it?”.

The idea is extended and explored through chapters covering:

  • Think Differently – the wide range of human capability and “intelligence”
  • Beyond Imagining – individual and group imagination and creativity
  • In the Zone – total focus and stopped time when following one's Element
  • Finding Your Tribe – the importance of being with people who share the passion
  • What Will They Think? – overcoming the social, personal and cultural constraints
  • Do You Feel Lucky? – attitude and aptitude can create the opportunity
  • Somebody Help Me – the importance of inspirational teachers, mentors and peers
  • Is It Too Late? – finding the Element can happen at any age
  • For Love or Money – can often be followed while earning a living, or money may not matter
  • Making the Grade – the reform of education to prevent conformity stifling creativity

Each chapter is supported with frequent case studies of well known people who made it through breaking the shackles of tradition education, social deprivation or family constraints. In some case they found their Element despite very serious hardship, even abuse.

A Fresh Approach to Education for the Modern World

In a world where the developed economies are increasingly knowledge based and dependent on information and innovation they still have education systems appropriate to the needs of an early 20th or even 19th century industrial economy, Ken Robinson makes a strong case for a new approach to education that addresses the wider range of individual capability than the traditional rigid academic definition of success. He makes the case for encouraging and supporting creativity in a way that will put people in their Element, to the benefit of the whole person and wider society.

As well as finding their Element many of the people featured in The Element’s case studies improved their more traditional achievements.

Time to Revisit Real World Examples?

There are examples of schools where ideas similar to those of Ken Robinson have been adopted. Possibly best known is Summerhill which was founded by A S Neil in 1921. It may not require pupils to attend classes but it encourages creativity and responsibility. Puplis choose which classes they attend and so find their own Element. The school had to fight the authorities who favoured a traditional approach which, as The Element suggest, fails so many young people. The UK authorities now recognise that the Summerhill approach works.

A Personal Story

This book matched the reviewer's experience. He did, mostly, quite well in a traditional academic environment. After being sent down from Durham University the writer subsequently got an Open University degree despite only attending compulsory tutorials. He realised he was better at learning than being taught. He built his career and wide range of expertise through personal study.

Ken Robinson's alternative approach would have suited the reviewer very well.

Inspiring and Gives Hope for People of All Ages

This is not a how-to self-improvement book but an argument for new thinking in education and society’s expectations. Supported by frequent case studies the pace of the writing is fast and at times a bit relentless However The Element is not a demanding read and it makes a strong case.

However It is a personally inspirational book that challenges received wisdom about education in an effective way. With a difficult jobs market and structural change moving industry to the Far East now is the time for governments to be less prescriptive and to encourage and support a more enlightened approach to the education and development of all people, especially the young.

It is possible to find one’s Element at any age and indeed even to have more than one over a lifetime, sometimes at the same time. As Ken Robinson shows personal development need not be a one-off process that stops on leaving school. With increased longevity there is always time to find one’s passion as did Paul McCartney and Sir Richard Branson.

The Author

Sir Ken Robinson was knighted for his work in education and the arts in 2003 and in 2008 was awarded the Benjamin Franklin Medal by the Royal Society of Arts for energising public discourse about human progress.He works across the world with governments and business leading on creativity, innovation and the development of human capacity

The Element, (2009, ISBN: 9780141045252) by Ken Robinson with Lou Aronica is published by Penguin in paperback at £9.99.


First appeared on Suite101

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