Sir Ken Rocks FETC in Orlando

by Charles Sosnik 

I’ve often referred to Sir Ken Robinson as a rock star. In education, there is no larger celebrity. And even though I’ve seen his TED Talks and interviews with Dr. Rod Berger and others, there is nothing like seeing Sir Ken in person. He was the keynote address this week at FETC 2018 in Orlando.

There’s not a lot I can compare to the Sir Ken experience because it’s unlike any other. In 1981, I blew off my exams to hitch-hike to New Orleans to see the Stones at the Superdome. There were 90,500 people at the show, then the largest indoor crowd ever to be assembled. It was electric. Mick trained for 6 months before the tour, running five miles a day. His energy at the concert was amazing. It was an experience. 37 years later and it is still with me. Because I blew off my exams, I failed three classes and had to make them up. It was worth it.

I have a feeling that if I live 37 more years, the Sir Ken keynote address will still be with me. He played before an audience of 10,000 at FETC, and in 10 years of covering education conferences of all kinds, it was the largest crowd I have ever seen for any education address. From the moment Sir Ken climbed onto the stage, the crowd went crazy. He was greeted by a standing ovation – an ovation of utter respect. And then he started. If you’ve never seen Sir Ken, he has a unique speaking style that blends brilliance, self-deprecating humor, and sincere passion. I watched the crowd of teachers and administrators, and everyone had the same experience – as if Sir Ken was speaking to each one of us personally. He is a unique talent and he cares deeply about the same things I care deeply about. That connects us in a very personal way – in this case, all 10,000 of us.

Perhaps the most powerful thing about the Sir Ken keynote address was the fact that he gave credence and even permission to the ideas that are almost universally held among educators at this point. The focus on testing and test scores is absurd. Kids need to play because that is how they develop and learn. If you get kids interested in something, all you have to do is get out of their way – you can’t stop them from learning. All the truths we hold to be self-evident; but, yet, they aren’t because we’re all working in a system that is antiquated and operates with self-protections that serve to perpetuate the madness. And there, in the midst of the madness is Sir Ken Robinson, helping us to understand that we can make the changes, and it is okay to stand up and demand a better future for our children.

In 1968, my mother was a political activist and she made sure her kids were part of the action. I remember marching on Washington as a child with my mom and my two sisters and about 100,000 others. We carried signs and chanted phrases like “We shall overcome.” It was powerful and it made a difference and things did change. There are times in history when you need to stand up and change the world for the better. I think we are at a similar crossroads. There are parts of the world where equal access to education is the defining social issue of our time – even parts of our own country. As educators, we all know the things that need to be done. Voices like Sir Ken are helping to herald the way. And gatherings like the Future of Education Technology conference, here in Orlando, are offering the vision and tools to create a better future for our children.

I’ve been to FETC a number of times over the years. But there is a new vibe here. As I talk to people, I hear comments like “the conference is more sophisticated,” “it has grown up” and “the programming is very strong.” I would agree. This year’s FETC conference seems transformed – it is one of the best conferences I have ever attended, and true to its name, it really does offer programming and events that ask the questions we need to answer for the future of our kids and our world. Having Sir Ken was phenomenal. He was a perfect fit. Like Sammy and Dean before him, he killed last night. You should have been there.