TED Conversations

Erik Richardson

Teacher, Richardson Ideaworks, Inc.


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There should be an equivalent to the Nobel Prize for education.

As I heard a brilliant speaker say once: if we can fix the problems in education, then that will, in turn, fix most of the other problems. That is profound, and it speaks to the fact that the better education system we create, the more medical and scientific and even peaceful innovations our future scientists and activists will come up with.

What is more, I think Dean Kamen should be the first recipient. His creation of the FIRST robotics program is a piece of exemplary science. Far too much - in fact most - of discussion about education policy and practice is mired in theory and abstract research debates. Kamen has run an experiment to ground his claims, and it has been replicated over and over proving it as a core approach to re-engaging our kids in learning.

In 30 years, the number of leading scientists, innovators, and researchers who can point to their experiences in the FIRST program as a keystone of their success will be staggering.

  • Jul 5 2012: I completely agree. Recognition for educational advancement is severely lacking. If only they skipped the Nobel Prize and made them Head of Education of the country they reside. It seems the people who head up these systems are there more and more from politics rather than performance.
    • Jul 5 2012: Precisely. But then... you might ruin a great teacher by turning them into an Administrator. A conundrum indeed.
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    Jul 4 2012: I have a great impression of FIRST robotics, except that it is accessible only to those who can raise a serious amount of money and find mentors to work with the team. On a broader scale it is great news for kids that science starting at the grade school level now tends to be inquiry-based, even though it runs on something of a shoestring budget in many or most public school districts.
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      Jul 4 2012: Yeah, you're in the heart of it, Fritzie. I do recognize the limits of the approach, because even the incredibly generous corporations who help to sponsor FIRST and the individual teams only have a finite pool of money. At the same time, part of the genius of the overall program is that Dean found a way around the legislative black hole that prevents meaningful change from ever happening from inside the educational system.

      The solution to entropy is input from outside the system. :-D
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        Jul 4 2012: It's difficult, because investments of time, imagination, and resources outside schools may actually displace energy that might otherwise have been directed to schools. This talent drain potentially further cripples impoverished school districts.
        But I absolutely understand the reluctance of passionate, commited people to pour heart and soul into what they may see as a strait-jacket of bureaucracy, rigidity, and politics.
        I see tremendous growth in education outside the system, which is a powerful magnet for the talented, resourceful, and stifled. I know I have lent professional, financial, and personal support to a variety of these high quality educational enterprises outside the system.
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    Jul 5 2012: You know I am always an advocate for education reform...Think of who should be eligible, one should also question what kind of reform we really need! That answer is the curricula that we have traditionalized is now prehistoric in comparison to what the future has in store for the next generation!

    An education with the foundationalism around building children's mind to the fullest cognitive ability they can; in critical thinking, analytical practice, problem solving, memory building, and tolerance of fellow man... 6 subjects for 18 years is dumb founded - why not 12 subjects (6 different a day)? 3 month break? Why not 3 one month breaks? The person who is the prime factor in the shift of education systems.. is the person that deserves more than a Nobel Prize...
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      Jul 6 2012: Some interesting points, Nicholas. Easy enough to put them into different priority piles - for instance, if we keep teaching the same curriculum, it makes minimal difference how we divide up the year (some, but not much).

      Part of the hope is that the prize would prompt a shorter cycle of innovation with more emphasis on results and less emphasis on theory.

      In terms of subjects and preparing students for tomorrow, I think we need to make learning/education itself into one of the subjects students learn. They should understand a certain amount of stuff about how/why some approaches work better, how to approach material from different learning styles, and some basic models for how learning, retention, and so on work. That will prepare them to teach themselves, since whatever we teach them will be outdated anywhere from before they enter K5 to within 5 years of leaving high school.
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        Jul 6 2012: Innovation would follow the recognition that the theory is going to be or should be implicated. Either way, someone enhancing or re-crafting the education system of this country should be rewarded by more than just a prize of high accord.

        Well there is a lot more now to place into education theory that is being develop in cognitive studies! Consider, instead of teaching one part of the brain we design games/programs that enable multiple cognitive abilities to be enhanced - let children play these games. While we teach them discipline in martial arts as a subject in school, and basic logical and ethical conundrums in decision making. As they get older introduce more variety to the topics they learn to keep information new and more exciting! Learning the same 6 subjects for 16 years... Sounds like torture. New Jersey drop out rates at like 17 or 18 percent.. 1 out of ten kids have problems learning? No, they are just bored!

        Ranting... for nothing, lol, self education though should be part of the foundationalism, no question. Love ideas of critical thought! "The art of being right" is critical thinking... To look at the problem in multiple perspectives is a difficult thing to do as a philosophical practice towards investigating the world - in order to never be wrong...
  • Jul 4 2012: I disagree. There should be a much more meaningful award for a great teacher than The Nobel Prize. Otherwise, a deserving educator might never be recognized because of their failure to pander sufficiently.
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    Jul 4 2012: Good questions, Bob. To start, I would dig into the process used in the other prizes. This would help resolve various questions like whether the institution where the innovator/researcher works gets part of the award.

    As far as your question about what kind of person gets it, I think it would/should lean much more toward the scale of impact - i.e., Kamen or Gates, than the particular classroom teacher.

    With regard to which of those people get it - Kamen or Robinson or Gates, etc.—again, I think this could be handled by imitation of the other awards, with a committee evaluating the candidates and reaching a consensus.

    I will be more than happy to sit on the committee that hammers out the details once I find someone to fund the annual award. :-D
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    Jul 4 2012: Erik, On the surface this sounds like a great idea for much needed rewards for a profession that has lost its glamor. However, I have the problem in deciding who is eligable. Would this just be classroom instructors. Elementry, secondary, college, where is the line for eligability. There are prizes for science, medicine, the arts, so would this be to those who contribute to education and are not instructors. Would Solomon Khan be eligable as he has provided a system that has helped millions or Bill Gates who funded the site with Google. How about Sir Ken Roninson who was a instructor but is a strong voice for education world wide.

    We have many different teacher of the year awards at all levels. The advantage would go to the instructor who has the advantage of funding as has been pointed out in the FIRST program. It still boils down to money at some point.

    The choice would ultimately go to either the teacher who does the best at a "poor" school or the instructor who has all of the tools, money, and support of a private school.

    Then there is a question of the $100,000 awarded. Would it go to the teacher or the school?

    Lots of questions that need to be addressed. The eligability critera would be a bear to pound out. This would be a case of NOT making many people happy.

    All the best. Bob.
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    Jul 4 2012: This is a fabulous idea and i hope that someone funds it. It would do so much good!