My Tribute to Sir Ken Robinson

I learned yesterday that Sir Ken Robinson, a person who served as a huge source of inspiration for me as an educator, had died on Friday after having recently been diagnosed with cancer. Sir Ken came into my life through his TED Talk, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?,” that to this day I think is the most widely watched TED Talk ever. He summed up so much of my educational philosophy in his 20-minute presentation, doing so with humor and poignancy, that when people asked what I thought about schools, I often suggested they simply watch his talk.

Several years ago, I had the honor of having dinner with Sir Ken when he was passing through Seattle on a book tour. We hit it off enough for him to give me his cell phone number, and soon thereafter he interviewed me for a book he was writing. I recommended him to be a keynote speaker at the annual Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO) conference, me serving as an advisory board member to AERO. He delivered another amazing address.

I actually didn’t know he was in town on the day we had dinner and the unfolding of how we met was a lesson in itself of following one’s inner voice and saying yes to opportunities. The next day I sat down to write about how the whole day had unfolded, later posting the story on my Facebook page. As a tribute to Sir Ken, I present that reflection here.

Thanks, Sir Ken. You will be missed and you will be remembered.

I had a magical experience on Thursday this week, one that I nearly missed. The end result was me sitting in a Seattle restaurant next to Sir Ken Robinson, he of the famous TED Talk on how schools are squelching creativity in children, he and I chatting as casually as if we were close friends. I walked him to the elevator of the hotel where he was staying, whereupon he handed me his business card, having indicated he’d like to learn more about PSCS. Now how did my evening end like this instead of me having just a typical Thursday, watching episodes of “The Office” and “30 Rock?”

Many of you know Steve, one of my co-workers at PSCS. Late Thursday morning, Steve learned from a couple of people that Sir Ken was right then being interviewed in the studio of a Seattle radio station. Surprised that he hadn’t known Sir Ken was in town, Steve discovered that Sir Ken was speaking at an intimate gathering in Seattle that night and that the coordinating host for the event was a former PSCS parent. Informing me of this, my first reaction was, I’m embarrassed to admit, this inner dialogue:

“But I really was looking forward to a quiet night at home. I mean, what chance am I going to have to actually meet Sir Ken? And even if I go to the event, which costs $50, I already am quite familiar with his message, as significant and important as it is. I doubt I’ll learn anything new.”

Not a lot of magic in that point of view.

Still, given that I did know the coordinator of the event and she might be able to swing an introduction, I decided to see if tickets were still available. I went online and found that ticket sales were closed so, considering the event was restricted to 100 people, I assumed the event was sold out.

“There,” I said to myself, “I’ve done my due diligence. Clearly, tickets are no longer available. That’s my message. I’m not intended to go. Now what’s the plot on 30 Rock?”

Still not a lot of magic in that attitude.

Several minutes passed and I’m busy at my desk, responding to email, chatting with students, a typical Thursday morning. But my thoughts kept returning to, “Sir Ken Robinson is in Seattle tonight. I know the person who is coordinating the event. Am I really more interested in television programs?” I decided to call to see if tickets were still available. I found the number for Kim Ricketts Book Events, the company hosting Sir Ken, Kim being the former PSCS parent. I called and a person answers, “Kim Ricketts Book Events, Kim speaking.” I stammer, “Kim, Kim Ricketts, you’re answering your own phone on a day you bring Sir Ken Robinson to town?”

It turns out her receptionist had stepped away from the phone for a split second (a bathroom break, perhaps?) so Kim just happened to pick it up. And after I said who I was, it was mere seconds before both Melinda, my wife, and I were on the guest list and Kim had promised to introduce Sir Ken to us.

A lot of magic is flowing now. I mean if Kim had not answered, I doubt the receptionist would have put me through to her, especially on such a busy day. And if I hadn’t talked to Kim myself, we would not have been put on the guest list, nor would Kim and I have reconnected, chatting a good 10 minutes about our families.

Anyway, to make a long story short, Kim was good to her word and introduced Melinda and me to Sir Ken before the event. He even referenced PSCS in his talk. And then Kim orchestrated it for me to be sitting next to him in a fancy Seattle restaurant for two hours, talking casually and about PSCS. And it was from the restaurant that we walked to the hotel elevator.

I still don’t know what happened on “The Office” or “30 Rock.”

Mindfulness = Magic.


PS – I woke up on Friday morning and told Melinda, “I just had the craziest dream. Last night you & I were sitting in a fancy Seattle restaurant with Sir Ken Robinson, the three of us sipping drinks and eating sushi.” Melinda said, “Weird. I had the same dream.”

4 thoughts on “My Tribute to Sir Ken Robinson

  1. Really cool story Andy! I have watched that ted talk many times. What a great personal connection to Sir Ken.
    Hope you’re doing well.

    Sent from the wilderness

  2. This talk really made me think. Instead of considering education as it relates to my children and grandchildren, Sir Ken Robinson’s talk, for some reason, made me consider my own education. I think my greatest abilities were to be found outside of those academic skills that were at the core of the curriculums at the schools I attended…especially the very rigorous academic prep school that I attended for grades 7-12. College was just a game for me to get through as quickly as possible. It honestly is only in my later adult years that I’m beginning to identify my real strengths and have come to realize their value. I think I began that journey of discovery through my relationship began with PSCS. I wish I could say that much of my education was just a waste, but in actuality, it was more destructive than that. Oh, would that I could have a do over! Instead, I have to hope that I’m having some influence with my grandchildren, now that I am a very wise old woman.

    1. Yes, Julie! You are a very wise old woman! Your comment made me think of this poem:

      by Jenny Joseph

      When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
      With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
      And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
      And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
      I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
      And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
      And run my stick along the public railings
      And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
      I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
      And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
      And learn to spit.

      You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
      And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
      Or only bread and pickle for a week
      And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

      But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
      And pay our rent and not swear in the street
      And set a good example for the children.
      We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

      But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
      So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
      When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

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