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  • Thank you very much.

  • I moved to America 12 years ago

  • with my wife Terry and our two kids.

  • Actually, truthfully, we moved to Los Angeles -- (Laughter) --

  • thinking we were moving to America,

  • but anyway, it's a short plane ride from Los Angeles

  • to America.

  • I got here 12 years ago,

  • and when I got here, I was told various things,

  • like, "Americans don't get irony."

  • Have you come across this idea?

  • It's not true. I've traveled the whole length and breadth of this country.

  • I have found no evidence that Americans don't get irony.

  • It's one of those cultural myths,

  • like, "The British are reserved."

  • I don't know why people think this.

  • We've invaded every country we've encountered.

  • (Laughter)

  • But it's not true Americans don't get irony,

  • but I just want you to know that that's what people

  • are saying about you behind your back.

  • You know, so when you leave living rooms in Europe,

  • people say, thankfully, nobody was ironic in your presence.

  • But I knew that Americans get irony

  • when I came across that legislation No Child Left Behind.

  • Because whoever thought of that title gets irony,

  • don't they, because --

  • (Laughter) (Applause) —

  • because it's leaving millions of children behind.

  • Now I can see that's not a very attractive name for legislation:

  • Millions of Children Left Behind. I can see that.

  • What's the plan? Well, we propose

  • to leave millions of children behind,

  • and here's how it's going to work.

  • And it's working beautifully.

  • In some parts of the country,

  • 60 percent of kids drop out of high school.

  • In the Native American communities,

  • it's 80 percent of kids.

  • If we halved that number, one estimate is

  • it would create a net gain to the U.S. economy

  • over 10 years of nearly a trillion dollars.

  • From an economic point of view,

  • this is good math, isn't it, that we should do this?

  • It actually costs an enormous amount

  • to mop up the damage from the dropout crisis.

  • But the dropout crisis is just the tip of an iceberg.

  • What it doesn't count are all the kids who are in school

  • but being disengaged from it, who don't enjoy it,

  • who don't get any real benefit from it.

  • And the reason is

  • not that we're not spending enough money.

  • America spends more money on education

  • than most other countries.

  • Class sizes are smaller than in many countries.

  • And there are hundreds of initiatives every year

  • to try and improve education.

  • The trouble is, it's all going in the wrong direction.

  • There are three principles

  • on which human life flourishes,

  • and they are contradicted by the culture of education

  • under which most teachers have to labor

  • and most students have to endure.

  • The first is this, that human beings

  • are naturally different and diverse.

  • Can I ask you, how many of you

  • have got children of your own?

  • Okay. Or grandchildren.

  • How about two children or more? Right.

  • And the rest of you have seen such children.

  • (Laughter)

  • Small people wandering about.

  • I will make you a bet,

  • and I am confident that I will win the bet.

  • If you've got two children or more,

  • I bet you they are completely different from each other.

  • Aren't they? Aren't they? (Applause)

  • You would never confuse them, would you?

  • Like, "Which one are you? Remind me.

  • Your mother and I are going to introduce

  • some color-coding system, so we don't get confused."

  • Education under No Child Left Behind

  • is based on not diversity but conformity.

  • What schools are encouraged to do is to find out

  • what kids can do across a very narrow spectrum of achievement.

  • One of the effects of No Child Left Behind

  • has been to narrow the focus

  • onto the so-called STEM disciplines. They're very important.

  • I'm not here to argue against science and math.

  • On the contrary, they're necessary but they're not sufficient.

  • A real education has to give equal weight

  • to the arts, the humanities, to physical education.

  • An awful lot of kids, sorry, thank you — (Applause) —

  • One estimate in America currently is that

  • something like 10 percent of kids, getting on that way,

  • are being diagnosed with various conditions

  • under the broad title of attention deficit disorder.

  • ADHD. I'm not saying there's no such thing.

  • I just don't believe it's an epidemic like this.

  • If you sit kids down, hour after hour,

  • doing low-grade clerical work,

  • don't be surprised if they start to fidget, you know?

  • (Laughter) (Applause)

  • Children are not, for the most part,

  • suffering from a psychological condition.

  • They're suffering from childhood. (Laughter)

  • And I know this because I spent my early life

  • as a child. I went through the whole thing.

  • Kids prosper best with a broad curriculum

  • that celebrates their various talents,

  • not just a small range of them.

  • And by the way, the arts aren't just important

  • because they improve math scores.

  • They're important because they speak to parts

  • of children's being which are otherwise untouched.

  • The second, thank you — (Applause)

  • The second principle that drives human life flourishing

  • is curiosity.

  • If you can light the spark of curiosity in a child,

  • they will learn without any further assistance, very often.

  • Children are natural learners.

  • It's a real achievement to put that particular ability out,

  • or to stifle it.

  • Curiosity is the engine of achievement.

  • Now the reason I say this is because

  • one of the effects of the current culture here, if I can say so,

  • has been to de-professionalize teachers.

  • There is no system in the world

  • or any school in the country

  • that is better than its teachers.

  • Teachers are the lifeblood of the success of schools.

  • But teaching is a creative profession.

  • Teaching, properly conceived, is not a delivery system.

  • You know, you're not there just to pass on received information.

  • Great teachers do that,

  • but what great teachers also do is mentor,

  • stimulate, provoke, engage.

  • You see, in the end, education is about learning.

  • If there's no learning going on,

  • there's no education going on.

  • And people can spend an awful lot of time

  • discussing education without ever discussing learning.

  • The whole point of education is to get people to learn.

  • A friend of mine, an old friend -- actually very old,

  • he's dead. (Laughter)

  • That's as old as it gets, I'm afraid.

  • But a wonderful guy he was, wonderful philosopher.

  • He used to talk about the difference between the task

  • and achievement senses of verbs.

  • You know, you can be engaged in the activity of something,

  • but not really be achieving it,

  • like dieting. It's a very good example, you know.

  • There he is. He's dieting. Is he losing any weight? Not really.

  • Teaching is a word like that.

  • You can say, "There's Deborah, she's in room 34, she's teaching."

  • But if nobody's learning anything,

  • she may be engaged in the task of teaching

  • but not actually fulfilling it.

  • The role of a teacher is to facilitate learning. That's it.

  • And part of the problem is, I think,

  • that the dominant culture of education has come to focus

  • on not teaching and learning, but testing.

  • Now, testing is important. Standardized tests have a place.

  • But they should not be the dominant culture of education.

  • They should be diagnostic. They should help.

  • (Applause)

  • If I go for a medical examination,

  • I want some standardized tests. I do.

  • You know, I want to know what my cholesterol level is

  • compared to everybody else's on a standard scale.

  • I don't want to be told on some scale

  • my doctor invented in the car.

  • "Your cholesterol is what I call Level Orange."

  • "Really? Is that good?""We don't know."

  • But all that should support learning. It shouldn't obstruct it,

  • which of course it often does.

  • So in place of curiosity, what we have

  • is a culture of compliance.

  • Our children and teachers are encouraged

  • to follow routine algorithms

  • rather than to excite that power of imagination and curiosity.

  • And the third principle is this:

  • that human life is inherently creative.

  • It's why we all have differentsumés.

  • We create our lives,

  • and we can recreate them as we go through them.

  • It's the common currency of being a human being.

  • It's why human culture is so interesting and diverse

  • and dynamic.

  • I mean, other animals may well have imaginations

  • and creativity, but it's not so much in evidence,

  • is it, as ours?

  • I mean, you may have a dog.

  • And your dog may get depressed.

  • You know, but it doesn't listen to Radiohead, does it?

  • (Laughter)

  • And sit staring out the window with a bottle of Jack Daniels.

  • (Laughter)

  • And you say, "Would you like to come for a walk?"

  • He says, "No, I'm fine.

  • You go. I'll wait. But take pictures."

  • We all create our own lives through this restless process

  • of imagining alternatives and possibilities,

  • and what one of the roles of education

  • is to awaken and develop these powers of creativity.

  • Instead, what we have is a culture of standardization.

  • Now, it doesn't have to be that way. It really doesn't.

  • Finland regularly comes out on top

  • in math, science and reading.

  • Now, we only know that's what they do well at

  • because that's all that's being tested currently.

  • That's one of the problems of the test.

  • They don't look for other things that matter just as much.

  • The thing about work in Finland is this:

  • they don't obsess about those disciplines.

  • They have a very broad approach to education

  • which includes humanities, physical education, the arts.

  • Second, there is no standardized testing in Finland.

  • I mean, there's a bit,

  • but it's not what gets people up in the morning.

  • It's not what keeps them at their desks.

  • And the third thing, and I was at a meeting recently

  • with some people from Finland, actual Finnish people,

  • and somebody from the American system

  • was saying to the people in Finland,

  • "What do you do about the dropout rate in Finland?"

  • And they all looked a bit bemused, and said,

  • "Well, we don't have one.

  • Why would you drop out?

  • If people are in trouble, we get to them quite quickly

  • and help them and we support them."

  • Now people always say, "Well, you know,

  • you can't compare Finland to America."

  • No. I think there's a population

  • of around five million in Finland.

  • But you can compare it to a state in America.

  • Many states in America have fewer people in them than that.

  • I mean, I've been to some states in America

  • and I was the only person there. (Laughter)

  • Really. Really. I was asked to lock up when I left.

  • (Laughter)

  • But what all the high-performing systems in the world do

  • is currently what is not evident, sadly,

  • across the systems in America -- I mean, as a whole.

  • One is this: They individualize teaching and learning.

  • They recognize that it's students who are learning

  • and the system has to engage them, their curiosity,

  • their individuality, and their creativity.

  • That's how you get them to learn.

  • The second is that they attribute a very high status

  • to the teaching profession.

  • They recognize that you can't improve education