Not The Point

Sir Ken Robinson’s work on education and creativity has changed the world. His TED talks have been seen by hundreds of millions of people, and his words, ideas and humour have impacted so many more. His first TED Talk, “Do schools kill creativity?” was a revelation to me when I saw it for the first time, shortly after I finished my PhD. I’ve listened to it so many times since then that I think there are parts I could perform if I were of a mind to.

I was listening to it again the other day, when a passage jumped out at me. From the transcript:

If you were to visit education as an alien and say “What’s it for, public education?” I think you’d have to conclude, if you look at the output, who really succeeds by this, who does everything they should, who gets all the brownie points, who are the winners — I think you’d have to conclude the whole purpose of public education throughout the world is to produce university professors. Isn’t it? They’re the people who come out the top. And I used to be one, so there.

And I like university professors, but, you know, we shouldn’t hold them up as the high-water mark of all human achievement. They’re just a form of life. Another form of life.

And of course he’s right, the point of education isn’t to make university professors. There are important elements in any system or idea. They might be crucial, but they’re not the point. In many situations we often mistake something important for the point.

Yes, the viva is important, but it’s not the point of the PhD process.