Lectures for a New Year: Our Broken Educational System

This week I'll bring you the best RSA talks -- a series of lectures a bit like TED from the UK. First up, an "RSA Animate" talk -- a whiteboard drawing done by hand (although edited a bit to speed it up), along with the audio from a lecture by Sir Ken Robinson. The lecture, like all of Robinson's work, discusses what's wrong with our educational system, at a deep level -- in a very brief talk, he lays out a cogent argument that our educational system is predicated on systems of thought that are hundreds of years out of date, and thus fundamentally flawed. The whole thing is very active -- it moves rapidly, is full of jokes, and is just eleven minutes long. But at the same time, there's a lot to dig into here. If you enjoy this, you'll also like Robinson's talk highlighted last week, How Schools Fail Creative Kids, or the hour-long source lecture that this animation was based on (see below).

Topics: how our public education system is inherently a revolutionary idea, but from several centuries back; the Enlightenment view of intelligence; what a load of crap this "particular view of the mind" is; a map of ADHD prescriptions; the hierarchy of educational disciplines; schools as factories.

For: everyone who has ever been to school.

Further Reading

Sir Ken wrote a book on this topic: Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative. I haven’t read it, but the Amazon reviews are pretty glowing. He also wrote The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. See below for another lecture by Sir Ken, which was the source material for this RSA Animate video.


This video is edited down from a much longer talk (see below). A full transcript of the longer talk is quite interesting, though may be confusing if you're trying to map it to this particular video. A good transcript of the RSA Animate video is also available, though it's not integrated directly into the YouTube video above.

Bonus Points

The original lecture (about an hour long) by Sir Ken is embedded below. The audio starts out a little quiet, but is cleaned up starting a few minutes in. Enjoy!

Suggest a Lecture

Got a favorite lecture? Is it online in some video format? Leave a comment and we’ll check it out!

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Growing Up With Headphones May Not Damage Kids’ Hearing
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A study published in the American Medical Association's JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery finds no increase in child and adolescent hearing loss despite a rise in headphone and earbud use.

"Hearing impairment in children is a major public health burden given its impact on early speech and language development, and subsequently on academic and workforce performance later in life," the authors write. "Even mild levels of hearing loss have been found to negatively affect educational outcomes and social functioning."

As portable music players continue to grow in popularity, parents, doctors, and researchers have begun to worry that all the music pouring directly into kids' ears could be damaging their health. It seems a reasonable enough concern, and some studies on American kids' hearing have identified more hearing loss.

To take a closer look, researchers at the University of California-San Francisco analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), collected from 1988 to 2010. They reviewed records from 7036 kids and teens between the ages of 12 and 19, checking each participant's hearing tests against their exposure to noise.

As expected, the authors write, they did find a gradual increase in headphone use and other "recreational noise exposure." And they did see an uptick in hearing loss from 1988 to 2008 from 17 percent to 22.5 percent. But after that, the trend seemed to reverse, sinking all the way down to 15.2 percent—lower than 1988 levels. They also found no significant relationship between noise exposure and hearing loss.

The results were not uniform; some groups of kids were worse off than others. Participants who identified as nonwhite, and those of lower socioeconomic status, were more likely to have hearing problems, but the researchers can't say for sure why that is. "Ongoing monitoring of hearing loss in this population is necessary," they write, "to elucidate long-term trends and identify targets for intervention."

Before you go wild blasting music, we should mention that this study has some major limitations. Hearing loss and other data points were not measured the same way through the entire data collection period. Participants had to self-report things like hearing loss and health care use—elements that are routinely under-reported in surveys. As with just about any health research, more studies are still needed to confirm these findings.

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Weather Watch
NASA Figures Out Why When It Rains, It (Sometimes) Drizzles
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What’s the difference between drizzle and rain? It has to do with updrafts, according to new research by NASA scientists into the previously unexplained phenomenon of why drizzle occurs where it does.

The answer, published in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, could help improve how weather and climate models treat rainfall, making predictions more accurate.

Previously, climate researchers thought that drizzle could be explained by the presence of aerosols in the atmosphere. The microscopic particles are present in greater quantities over land than over the ocean, and by that logic, there should be more drizzle over land than over the ocean. But that's not the case, as Hanii Takahashi and her colleagues at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory found. Instead, whether or not rain becomes full droplets or stays as a fine drizzle depends on updrafts—a warm current of air that rises from the ground.

Stronger updrafts keep drizzle droplets (which are four times smaller than a raindrop) floating inside a cloud longer, allowing them to grow into full-sized rain drops that fall to the ground in the splatters we all know and love. In weaker updrafts, though, the precipitation falls before the drops form, as that light drizzle. That explains why it drizzles more over the ocean than over land—because updrafts are weaker over the ocean. A low-lying cloud over the ocean is more likely to produce drizzle than a low-lying cloud over land, which will probably produce rain.

This could have an impact on climate modeling as well as short-term weather forecasts. Current models make it difficult to model future surface temperatures of the Earth while still maintaining accurate projections about the amount of precipitation. Right now, most models that project realistic surface temperatures predict an unrealistic amount of drizzle in the future, according to a NASA statement. This finding could bring those predictions back down to a more realistic level.


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