TED Talks ED

PBS joined together with TED to produce, what they called, their first TV show; a special section on Education:


All 5 of the student interviews (only 2 shown during this show) can be seen at:



I found it to be very intriguing, in both good and bad ways. The cast of characters was quite impressive, from students with poignant messages to retired teachers with very compelling tales; Bill Gates and Sir Ken Robinson in the same half hour (Anthony Cody would just have a ball). I found a lot of things I agree with, and only a small smattering of points I disagree with. While I “felt good” about the show, it is not clear what exactly I, as an audience member, am supposed to do. Perhaps what I hear from this show is Geoffrey Canada’s call, “Enough is enough!” We cannot abide suboptimal schools. For whatever reason. Let us be active and involved in making things better. Of course the eternal question is, What exactly do we do?


Following are my “cliff notes” of the video.

{All times below are bookmarks into the elapsed time of the TEDtalksED video}


Singer/songwriter/accomplished artist John Legend was the MC. He kicked things off by giving up the floor to Rita Pierson, a teacher of 30+ years and an administrator. I found Rita to be very likable, very persuasive and down-to-earth. She shared about how there is not great mystery why students struggle in school (2:30) – “poverty, low attendance, negative peer influences”. Despite all tribal knowledge, common sense and research, “[w]hat we rarely talk about these days is the value of human connectedness; relationships!” (2:43). As you probably know from my previous posts, this statement resonated very much with me. Why, or how, have we deviated from this most fundamental truth? In one of her anecdotal stories (5:45), she talked about she gave a student +2 for getting two questions out of twenty right. The student was confused, why did he get a smiley face? “-18 sucks all the life out of you, +2 says I ain’t all bad.” Ms. Pierson closed (7:30) by saying “we are educators; we are born to make a difference.” Wow!

Next John Legend introduced Chemistry teacher Dr. Ramsay McDonald. Dr. Ramsay (much cooler than Dr. McDonald *grin*) had an very (VERY) different presentation style. He cranked up the nerd factor, had synchronized video clips of blowing things up and doing experiments and exuded the eternal optimism of an idealist. He was all about Student Inquiry, flipping the classroom, creating an environment where students’ creativity can blossom and flourish. Even though I tend to like Inquiry in general, I do realize that Inquiry is not for everyone; it clearly works very well for some people (and some students).

We fade to a film clip featuring 16 year old Chinese Iranian Sharuz Gaehmi. This young adult amazed me with his intelligence and sharp observations about the environment around him. He acknowledges that the education system is broken (11:58) and “the administrative culture that focuses on standardized testing does us NO GOOD AT ALL.”  While I do not fully agree with all his statements, I give him credit for thinking about the the purpose and role of education; Sharuz believes the goal of  education is to provide opportunities.

Mr. Legend then introduced Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth. This teacher-turned-psychologist believes there is a substantial lack of correlation between abilities and IQ; yet, IQ is what we measure, whereas the former is much more difficult to ascertain. After observing cadets at Westpoint, spelling bees and other such competitions, she concludes (16:02) that one predictor of success is “Grit”; stamina, perseverance, like running a marathon as opposed to a sprint. Yet we know so little about it.

Another short film clip is shown, featuring Latina student Melissa Perez. Born and raised to Mexican parents in the Bronx, she tells a story about her journey and struggle through school. Having a baby girl when she was 17 radically changed her life.  Melissa talks about how she did not want to be lazy and live a certain low-expectation lifestyle for her daughter’s sake, and thus as motivated to finish school and make something of herself. She gives credit to a Math teacher for pushing her, challenging her, setting a high bar – this is exactly what Melissa needed to push forward through all the other obstacles facing her.

Mr. Legend quickly (*grin* watch the video, 21:20) introduces Bill Gates. Mr. Gates posits that teachers are missing a crucial piece for improvement – systematic feedback. While I personally think things like peer reviews can be a good thing, I have to question Mr. Gates $5 billion proposal to equip the nation’s schools for such deep tracking. Is this really a good thing? What do teachers think of it?

John Legend honored the next speaker with an inspired serenade (27:59). Geoffrey Canada makes an entrance as the self-titled “Angry Black Man.” He provokes a bit of laughter and a connection with the audience at the same time. His anger is rooted in how nothing has changed over the past 50 some years of teaching. “We have held on to a business plan that doesn’t care how many millions of kids fail” (30:03). Ouch! He gripes about how innovation is stifled by those who resist change, how innovators are labeled and shut down. At one point he asks why we keep doing the same things over and over again when the old ways obviously has flaws – this reminded me of a quote attributed to many famous people; “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Mr. Canada makes a strong final analogy about the defense of the nation; look at how much money we spend on the so-called “National Defense”, and then think about how better to ensure our safety than to have bright, smart minds?

At 35 minutes into the video, we are graced by a poetic oration performed by Malcolm London, a 19 year old winner of the “Louder than a bomb” poetry contest. His statement is that schools are training grounds; and they are not failing in their purpose at all, for their purpose is to train children to chase after a flawed American Dream. He implies that schools, in that light, are very successful.

Mr. Legend next brings Pearl Arredondo to the floor (37:50), a young teacher who helped to establish a innovative and controversial new school within the Los Angeles Unified School District. Ms. Arredondo explains how she struggled through school, how it was hard for her to connect and be educated. She felt compelled to make a change; so after obtaining her teaching credentials, she went back to the same middle school she so struggled with. After seeing how the system makes it hard for teachers to excel, she was able to collaborate with the school district and the stakeholders to create a new school environment, much like a charter school. She boasts how they were able to hire the teachers they wanted and set the curriculum they needed. Their work paid off by raising the test scores higher than any other school in the district.

The capstone of the show is the final speaker, Sir Ken Robinson (45:25). Gotta love the British humor. 🙂 Sir Robinson, as always, is entertaining to listen to, while at the same time his points our solid and the result of much thinking. His first point is that many wonderful things are happening in our country despite the dominant culture of learning, not because of it. He makes a witty stab about “Alternative Education” – if it is working, why is it “alternative”? Sir Robinson posits that kids thrive best in a broad and diverse curriculum, and that children are natural learners with ingrained curiosity and will learn without any formal educational system at all. He states that the current dominant culture of learning focuses more on testing, not learning. His final point is that human life is inherently creative. Don’t squash it. He concludes by encouraging us to be a part of a movement, a revolution. He doesn’t exactly elaborate.


2 Responses to “TED Talks ED”

  1. pattsi Says:

    Thank you for having the patience to watch the whole program and take notes. Truth on my part is that I just could not stay with 60 minutes of motivational spin from a very, highly selected group of people when there is no plan for a follow up plan for continuing this fast paced marketing menu. There is another video on the internet of a TED talk given by Geoffrey Canada that is more rah, rah, but very little insights as to the bumps in the road to success and how the bumps were solved. Without that type of information how can we pass along case studies to help cause a rolling thunder change. A major take away is that these people are doing exactly what they do not like happening in education today–ice skating across information, no depth, no support scaffolding, let alone long term support processes toward change, creating solid models and best practices toward educational change.
    Why not structure locally small groups to systematically take these ideas, write scenarios as to how each one can be captured and integrated into Unit 4, present these scenarios to the new board, meet with members of the board and administration to move some of the scenarios from paper to reality, etc.

  2. Karen Says:

    You may want a ‘creative’ accountant, but, probably not a ‘creative’ surgeon. ‘Creative’ in a 6 year-old sense, that is. Such ‘creativity’ is a cognitive stage passed through on to higher-level cognitive functioning. Never lose sight of what’s possible through the eyes of a child, but, do maintain focus on the bigger picture of ‘reality,’ so to speak. I guess I just bristle at the promotion of ‘natural’ learning seemingly over structured bombarding (stimulation) of the brain to establish neural pathways, or something. Base-ten is not innate. Important systems of knowledge derived from ‘natural’ learning have been handed down to us. Yet, proponents of ‘natural’ learning seem to imply that every student should journey out (in an unfocused pokey puppy way) to invent the wheel again, so to speak, through highly inefficient ‘natural’ learning. I don’t want my kids being left to their own means to educate themselves. Has their creativity suffered? No. Natural cognitive maturation might serve to ‘package’ it differently, but, that’s a good thing (cognitive maturation).

    ‘…her child was bringing home a lot fewer novels and more “Time magazine for kids” — a reflection of the English standards’ emphasis on “informational texts” …’
    ‘Time’ mag for kids. Such a low-demand format. Can you imagine such a thing being an actual part of the curriculum in places like Japan?

    Why stop there. How about silly putty and comics. It would be so creative to combine art, graphic design, fine-motor sensory stimulation, and ‘literature’ all in one lesson. If you open the windows during the lesson, I am sure you could work in a brilliant olfactory stimulation component to said ‘lesson.’ Never mind. I think silly putty still smells today.

    My solution? Old school. You can get a pretty good deal on some pretty good textbooks. I’ve got a bit of a stash going. Go phonics!

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