Paradigm Shifts in Education: Thomas Kuhn and Ken Robinson

“Nobody has a clue – despite all the expertise that’s been on parade for the past four days – what the world will look like in five years’ time. And yet we’re meant to be educating them for it. So the unpredictability, I think, is extraordinary.”

Sir Ken Robinson, TED Talk, Do Schools Kill Creativity, 2006 0:56 (View the transcript here)

WARNING-page0001This quote comes from the most watched TED talk of all time with thirty million views at current count. (That is eight million views more than the next most watched TED Talk.)  There is one sense in which it is fair to say that this statement is self-evident or universally true. That is, we never know what the future is going to look like and one of the biggest mistakes we could make is to assume that we do. This normal accumulation and progression of knowledge is not what I believe Robinson is talking about. The key to understanding this statement could come in another quote from the same talk, “the whole world is engulfed in a revolution.” This revolution one could equate to a paradigms shift in Thomas Kuhn’s sense of the term.  In brief, prior to Kuhn’s narrative or theory of scientific progress the prevailing view of scientific progress was one where knowledge accumulated, mistakes would be identified and corrected and knowledge would continually grow. There will be changes and corrections in the future but things will continue to progress along rather predictable lines. In Kuhn’s model, as scientific knowledge accumulates eventually there comes a time when new knowledge cannot be fit in with the preceding body of knowledge. The preceding body of knowledge and the new knowledge become ‘incomprehensible’ to each other and a revolution of thought, understanding, narrative and practice happens.

Kuhn’s prime example is found in his book The Copernican Revolution where he argues, that the discovery that the Earth orbits the Sun fundamentally contradicted the Medieval narrative that the Earth was the centre of the universe and this fact was believed to reflect the fact that humans were the prime focus of God’s attention, having been made in his image and all. There was the whole Ptolemaic astronomy  to explain how this picture of the universe worked. When the discoveries of Kepler, Copernicus, Galileo and others accumulated, the picture of the universe drawn from their findings led to a view that was fundamental incomprehensible with the medieval view.  This triggered a revolution of the Enlightenment.

Accessed through The Creative Commons.  Photo Credit, Tim Wilson, 2010 http://www.flickr.com/photos/timwilson/5238535722/in/photolist-4rrjFS-8YRP78-8KqVhd-nWn3U4-61e2YL-8YRP4i-eRAAC6-8hEZUX-mo6ZcN-61kKao-mo6YVf-4roGB6-4roGAi-eRAJvP-aiMukm-7CQYJ9-eK48As-93iqR3-8YUSaq-Hp9XF-66dedQ-66ddUG-66dcYh-66ddiE-668YDg-66deyU-5G2d8z-cY8mi9-7FY7Ja-8ZHXQr-ehezvu-9FYEM6-9FYEA6-6rtfr1-bFJJ5c-ebCo7F-pXCdP-7Fzvej-pDGBCo-6rp7Rv-4hdcti-dhuoVc-9Fb953-6rLf7L-mjGwEK-7EZNoF-e3sav3-7D2B83-61efd1-8U1dYz

Accessed through The Creative Commons. Photo Credit, Tim Wilson, 2010 http://goo.gl/MwZfd2

That is, I would argue, the sense of “revolution” that Sir Ken Robinson refers to and is the reason why “nobody has a clue… what the world will look like in five years’ time.” The emerging narrative will be incomprehensible with the past. I think he is still overstating it when he uses the time frame five years, for effect I am sure, because we do have an idea – for one thing computers will get smaller and more easily integrated into daily classroom practice. (In fact, Robinson made this statement nine years ago in 2006, four years before the release of the I Pad.)

 

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