Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Element Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything
Authors: Ken Robinson PhD with Lou Aronica
Genre: Nonfiction, Psychology (self-actualization), Creativity
Publication: Viking, January 2009
Format: Hardcover book
ISBN: 978-0670020478
Full Retail Price: $25.95




My Star Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Summary Statement: Inspiring, Enlightening, Informative—Read It and Then Put the Advice Into Action!

I first learned of Sir Ken Robinson through watching his lecture “Do Schools Kill Creativity” free on the Internet last year (his talks have been viewed millions of times by people across the world). In that talk he mentions he was in the process of writing a book -- THE ELEMENT: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything -- is that book. I was thrilled to be able to attend a lecture, one of the first stops on the book tour to promote this book and was so inspired I bought the book immediately.

This book’s audience is every person in the world, every single one of us could benefit from reading and applying the information in this book. In addition to being about changes that a person can make in their own life during adulthood, the book also speaks to teachers and other adults who are involved in educating children. People interested in learning styles, learning disabilities, alternative education and education reform may be interested in this book. All types of artists and creative people may like to read THE ELEMENT.

The books starts off discussing children, how all children are unique, have certain interests and natural talents; have an inborn curiosity and a capacity to learn. Sadly, school is sometimes a place where some children are stifled and changed for the worse. Despite best intentions by society for children ‘to become educated’, the issues with designing a ‘one size fits all’ curriculum for mass institutional schools creates its own set of problems. In an effort to raise everyone’s educational level up, some fall through the cracks, or their square pegs don’t fit in the round holes. The way modern schooling is conducted damages some children. Attempts to educate all children to one standard plan does not allow all children with varying natural talents to shine. The very method of institutional schooling with its standard teaching and standardized testing not to mention the effects in American public schools of No Child Left Behind (when teachers are spending lots of class time teaching to the test or perfecting test taking skills) trains children to think there is only one right answer, therefore killing the creativity that was present within the child before they stepped foot in school. The book is a call for education reformation (transformation) but the author stops short before actionable suggestions are made (I suspect because the issue has been discussed ad nauseum by others over many years time, and still the system is still far from ideal). But, the ideas in the book may plant seeds of change within the minds of school teachers, administrators and parents, and perhaps others can come up with creative ideas on how to affect real change. If not, the individual can always use the advice in this book on themselves when they are teenagers or adults.

Discussed is the fact that children who were labeled with conditions such as ADD/ADHD or who are deemed learning disabled were made to feel they are broken, different (in a bad way), or stupid. We hear stories of some people who found passion in other areas of life that were not the focus in traditional schools (especially the arts) but wound up not just fulfilled but successful at their job, wealthy and with celebrity status, sometimes with their area of strength being directly from their ‘disability’. Somehow, the book manages to come off pro-teacher though, in no way is this book an attack on the teaching profession in general.

The book then shifts to a discussion of creativity and of the flow state (citing the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi ) and encourages everyone to find their creative selves. It is never too late. Adults can find their passion, in spite of any past negative experiences. We can use our passions to do creative work of our choosing, even in the spare time left over after our main work is completed (such as a full-time job to earn a paycheck) while provides a feeling of fulfillment that impacts their entire life in a positive way. Sir Ken Robinson seems to hope that all people would find their passion in life (including in mid-life or in one’s twilight years) and to not just focus on getting through life with a more basic survival mentality, bored and feeling empty inside but making ends meet (or living with large paychecks but still unhappy). Some people wind up finding a way to pursue their passion full time and can make a living from it too. These ideas are matched with many real life stories, many from personal interviews.

Advice on how to find one’s passion, how to quiet the voices of the naysayers, and how to find new support by finding one’s tribe is discussed. Attitude is very important as is seeking opportunities, not just relying on luck. Robinson outlines his steps to put these ideas into practical application. A thorough discussion of what creativity is and how to take practical steps to use creativity and make things happen is not just inspirational but makes it clear that all people can begin living a creative life at any time they choose to open their minds to the notion and commit to taking active steps to make it happen.

I absolutely loved the book!

The book was a fast and easy read. Research studies are cited to back up some of the information and statistics, so it is not just a book of opinion and personal theories. References are made to ideas contained in books written by others and my interest was piqued enough to go on to read those next.

I have a few criticisms about the book.

1. About two-third’s into the book I became bored of so many personal stories about celebrities or those who achieved personal wealth through pursuit of their passion (i.e. CEOs and others at the ‘top of the status chart’). It was a bit too much like “celebrity worship” or “rich people worship”, something I don’t do. He doesn’t just discuss happy musicians but tells the story of Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and Elvis—some of the biggest names in music history!

2. Some evidence for the over-emphasis on the rich and famous is that despite an entire chapter being about how ‘regular people’ can pursue their passion in one’s ‘spare time’ and feel fulfilled but never get rich or famous from what they do, there are not enough stories about that type of experience. I’m impressed and inspired by all kinds of success stories and I am sure that others are too.

3. There is a great discussion of "professional amateurs" (aka Pro-Am's) which is about some people being experts on a subject despite not getting paid to do learn or do that kind of work for pay, but the weird thing is that only two stories in the chapter feature happy people pursuing their passion that didn't wind up winning an award or becoming famous or transforming it into a full-time job/paid career!

A comment I'd like to make about Pro-Am's is that a perfect example are the Generation X mothers today (like me), who are college educated and had good careers, but left their careers to raise children then wound up using their extra time and energy to find their creativity and to pursue their passion. I can also say that of the past generations of women who society labeled as being 'just housewives' (assuming their lives were boring and unfulfilling), some actually had discovered their passion and were living it (like my mother and my grandmothers did).

A comment (not a complaint) I will share is that some of the advice is self-help advice common in a number of other, older books about self-actualization on the market. THE ELEMENT does have a different spin and twist—this was fine with me (because I feel that hearing good advice numerous times and from different sources is useful) but some readers who’ve read other books about self-help, attitude or self-actualization who want completely new and fresh ideas may be a little disappointed.

As a home educating parent who chose this path for my children for an ‘alternative education’ experience reason primarily, I will share that the book never discusses home education as a viable option for children who are suffering or not thriving in school, those with learning disabilities or whose natural talent for the arts are not being nurtured in mainstream public schools. Homeschooling parents will probably enjoy this book as the good messages contained in it can be applied in the homeschooling journey down the alternative education path.

The book is fantastic and inspirational. Read it and use the good advice it contains!



Related blog posts of mine:

Heard Sir Ken Robinson Lecture Last Night

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2 comments:

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Hi, Christine, I understand completely as I do the same thing. I read all of your entries, but may only stop to comment now and then. It is either because I have nothing to say at the moment, or that I would rather use my time reading that day, or that I have to think more about it. And if I have not read the book, I read book reviews and then go on line to see if I can learn more.

teesha said...

Wow...that is the most thorough review I've ever read on a book and truly appreciate you doing so. I will definitely check it out as I love reading books that will help me become a better person. Thanks for mentioning it. -teesha