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Sir Ken Robinson and healthy food

December 18, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

“Had I the heavens embroidered cloths, Enwrought with gold and silver light, The blue and the dim and the dark cloths of night and light and the half-light, I would spread the cloths under your feet; But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.” ~ W.B. Yeats

“And every day, everywhere, our children spread their dreams beneath our feet. And we should tread softly.” ~ Sir Ken Robinson

Image credit: Jamie Oliver (TED 2010)

Recently, I ran into a blog post from a middle school teacher who asked his students to explain how would they reform school. A noble idea to be commended! — you might say. That’s what I thought too, but then I saw the answers, including:

  • Better cafeteria food with real ingredients
  • A monthly educational field trip
  • iPads, netbooks or laptops in classes
  • More freedom in terms of leaving to use the restroom, eating a snack or getting a drink of water, etc.

Something feels wrong! Of course, there were some great ideas in the complete list — like more electives, feedback instead of marks, and community service once a week — but somehow the list suggested that all of the problems with the current education system can be resolved if we buy few iPads, stop making kids suffer with a full bladder till the end of the lesson and throw in a field trip or two?!

Looking at the list made me remember a lesson I learned in my career in software development — and somehow always forget and need to re-learn: Users (don’t!) always know what is best for them! Sometimes it takes someone from outside to notice what they’re doing wrong and show them alternative ways.

Photo credit: Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution

I suggested this in the comments of the post, using The Matrix as a metaphor to provoke feedback, but somehow it went ignored by all the educators commending the author for a job well done and suggesting that “All the crap being forced on [the teachers] at the moment is missing the point, because they are basing it on the broad (and incorrect) assumption that teachers aren’t up to the job.” I empathize with the pressure on teachers and strongly believe they’re part of the solution, but I doubt the solution is as simple as the list suggests.

The sad part about this story is that the comment of a student suggesting that “schools should give students a little more freedom in the way they learn subjects from the start” … that “schools should stop giving ‘busy work,’ because a ton of extremely easy homework problems take time away from the harder ones” … that “students should go at their own pace and be grouped by level instead of age” … etc. went ignored as well!

Almost a year ago, I watched Jamie Oliver, a famous British chef, talking at TED 2010 about the problems with food in America. He urged the audience to join him in starting a food revolution that would educate and empower people, kids in particular, to cook and fight obesity.

Jamie Oliver’s wish @ TED 2010

To start the movement he was wishing for, he went to Huntington, West Virginia, in 2008 named “The Unheltiest City in America” and engaged with the schools, the parents, the media and everyone he could force to listen to him, while broadcasting his efforts to the American audience in a reality show format.

Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution

As a parent, it was heartbreaking to hear the stories of the kids and the families suffering from obesity and diabetes. In particular, it was unbearable to hear Jamie saying that “This is a first generation of kids expected to live a shorter life than their parents!”

Photo credit: Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution

The solution, as Jamie recognized, is to address ALL factors that are contributing to the problem: Home, School, Main St. — as he puts it. He then goes on to start engaging with school cooks, principals and teachers … with parents and families … with media, businesses and the community — educating them about food and inspiring them to pass on the knowledge and empower people to take action in fighting obesity.

As Jamie was presenting at TED 2010, someone else was watching from the audience, while awaiting his turn to call for a revolution the next day — Sir Ken Robinson wanted to bring on a learning revolution!

Sir Ken Robinson’s call for Learning Revolution @ TED 2010

It took me a while to realize how much in common do SKR and the Naked Chef have — after all, introducing healthy food in schools doesn’t seem to have much to do with our children’s learning experience, except maybe through boosting IQ with a spoonful of fish oil ;-).

It was not until the blog post I mentioned at the beginning and my Matrix metaphor provoked thoughts that made me think about my experience with users of the different software applications I’ve been building in the past years.

Photo credit: Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution

Whenever me or my team didn’t ask the users for input, our software was received with mistrust and often rejected as not satisfying their needs. On the other hand, trying to build a software by blindly listening to our users led us to build something that often closely mimicked what the users did previously with pen & paper “technology” or whatever previous ways of working they were used to — just a flashier way of running the same inefficient processes!

It took a while to learn how to balance between the two extremes and often that required someone from the “outside” to poke at the requirements and the specifications to show us and the users what needs to change if we’re to improve efficiency.

This is what Sir Ken and Jamie are doing — and doing it right at that! They have been outside long enough to understand what is wrong with the things they’re fighting to change. They understand that reforms and evolutionary changes are not enough, but transformation must take place.

Most importantly, they understand that the solution involves many actors and groups and they need to be enlightened and inspired to take action themselves — as many of these actors have been inside for too long to realize they need help!

Sir Ken Robinson – Changing Education Paradigms

I believe we need to listen to both Jamie and Sir Ken and pay close attention. They’re both dealing with a human resources crisis, one outright lethal and the other debilitating. Sir Ken suggests that this crisis may be of equal, if not greater importance than the climate crisis and I think he’s right. If we can have any hope to solve the later, we need plenty of the former, but not the kind that was equipped for the industrial age, rather a new breed that thinks critically and creatively, is plenty curious and not afraid to explore, is hungry to learn about the world around them!

If you feel odd sensation you’ve already met this new breed, I can assure you that you did! If you are a parent or uncle/ant or grandparent, just look at your children, nephews and nieces. If you’re a caregiver or a teacher, just look at your pupils. If you are none of the previous, but still concerned about the future, just look around you and notice the youth brimming with energy, eager to take on the challenge to rule this world when we’re too old or simply gone!

The next time you decide to plan their future, make sure you tread softly, as it may be their dream you’re squashing with your actions — and they won’t even realize that until it is too late!

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  1. December 23, 2010 at 8:06 am

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