The impression that I get: Sir Ken at #EducationFest

Okay, I wasn’t there. It was a Friday so I was, you know, teaching lessons and that. Therefore, what follows is just an impression I have from Sir Ken Robinson’s speech at The Sunday Times Festival of Education 2015. The impression I get is from comments on Twitter. Comments such as these:

So what is the impression I get from Sir Ken’s speech? Well, it’s that he is charming and clever and has the crowd in the palm of his hands. But it’s also that he seems to avoid committing to saying anything concrete, anything substantial. I’m not sure that he confronts any scrutiny or challenge to his ideas. The impression that I get is basically this:

Oh, and apparently he also said this:

Oops. Naughty me.

But he’s right. This is an ad hominem. And I’m happy to be corrected on my impression. Please comment and put me right.

12 thoughts on “The impression that I get: Sir Ken at #EducationFest”

  1. I wouldn’t say Sir Ken is a Houdini. He is an ally for moving education in a direction that I believe is more meaningful and relevant for students and teachers. He may not have all the answers (does anyone?), but he is charismatic and is able to reach a wide audience of people that are important to change in education, parents.

    1. What is in the current curriculum/ school experience that isn’t relevant and meaningful? I can think of an enormous amount. What would get rid of/change?

  2. You haven’t made an ad hominem attack; you’ve made a criticism of Sir Ken’s lack of concrete, workable proposals. He has apparently attractive big ideas, but he cannot offer any practical help to teachers at the chalkface. Progressives often offer platitudes and then leap to saying ‘and this is how we get there’ without any substantial proof.

    We mustn’t be shy of vigorous criticism of unproven innovations that claim to be magic bullets. They can do, and have done, huge damage to education in our country.

  3. Hi there, here are some two-cents: Many people point me to Ken Robinson’s work because of my writing and stance on Education. They do this because they’re so enthusiastic about his speeches. Enthusiasm is good and enthusiasm is sparked in many because of the way Ken shows those of us who think we are alone in questioning the way schooling is done that we’re not alone. We see someone else speaking publicly (using all the best public speaking techniques) about these topics and he’s not heckled, but given more stages.

    Questions; that’s all he offers. I don’t think he tries to pretend to offer anything else? But after we’ve gotten over the initial buzz of ‘not feeling like the only one to have these questions’ it’s time to ask ‘what next’ …and this is where Ken does not go, as is very often pointed out. This shortfall can be frustrating, leading us to wonder; who is he to question schooling without having any answers?! Totally natural to attack the attacker who doesn’t being a better plan.

    Thing is, if his speeches were not remarkable then many people now working and thinking about education on large scales may not have been inspired to do so. Without his name on the Festival’s speaker-list the conference would not have been so large, and there would have been less opportunity for new connections within the world of education. So, I personally don’t care if people are moved to action (reflection, writing, conversation) for love or hate of Mr Robinson. I believe what’s important is that now we have a bigger conversation than we’d otherwise have if he had never stepped onto a stage.

  4. When I first critiqued Sir Ken Robinson, in January 2012 ( one of the first comments (from wot works) was “I never thought I’d see Ken Robinson challenged!!” It is good to see that there now seems to be something close to an open season on Sir Ken Robinson.

    What strikes me as being most significant about the Ken Robinson phenomenon is how phenomenally popular he is with teachers. If it is true that he is talking vacuous nonsense, then what does this say about the professionalism of teachers, who flock to follow him?

    I am interested to hear that Sir Ken is making a play of defending himself against ad hominem attacks. I don’t think he understands any more about ad hominem than he does about creativity. My piece (link above) and that of Scott Goodman, also on my blog at, are carefully argued critiques of his argument – the very opposite of ad hominem, But in 3 years, Sir Ken has made no response to these criticisms, either mine or anyone else’s. He merely continues to spout the same old nonsense, using the force of his popularity to steamroller any criticism, as if none had ever been made.

    Avoiding ad hominem is about playing the ball, not the man – but if there isn’t a ball, or if every time you take away the ball, the opposing player just takes out another ball and carries on dribbling, then you are obviously not playing football at all – you are in a wrestling match, and in those circumstances, ad hominem is perfectly justified.

    Shelly says that what matters to her is that she strongly believes that Sir Ken is right and that he is charismatic. Well, I can think of a number of charismatic orators with large followings of devoted believers who turned out to be very wrong indeed.

    If teachers are ever to aspire to the status of a true profession, they must look to reasoned and contested argument, not charisma and trust in the strength of their beliefs.

    And it is time that respectable conferences stopped playing the populist card by inviting crowd pleasers like Sir Ken, without insisting that he provide a reasoned defence against the increasingly widespread opposition to what he is saying. There is something dishonest and disreputable about providing platforms to people who are not prepared to defend their positions against legitimate criticism.


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