Back to School

In light back to school, the posts this week will have education as an underlying theme.

First up are some thoughts about TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) Talks, whose daily talks start back up on September 4th. TED is a private event (the entrance fee to the event can run up to $7,500) described as an elite ideas-sharing gathering, where intellectuals go to share innovative ideas in a traditional lecture format, their motto is “ideas worth spreading”. Expressing an idea in the form of a TED Talk is one of the ultimate validations for intellectuals, and is akin to the validation comics would get from getting invited over to Johnny Carson’s couch after a set. The signature of a good TED Talk is presenting a snappy, mind-blowing idea that the audience didn’t see coming, but kinda seems true once it is presented. Just look at any of the top 20 most viewed TED Talks, which have between 3,500,000 and 13,400,000 views, for that signature format. The TED crowd lives for jaw-dropping new information, exposure to new gadgets and breakthroughs, alarms about planetary threats, and above all, something that lifts the mind beyond the everyday and into a stratosphere where human potential exceeds boundaries. The TED conference, the TEDx spinoffs (it has been estimated that there are 42.6 billion TEDx events annually), and the online repository of the talks, have done a great job in getting important ideas, sources of inspiration, and examples of good work, to large, global audiences, and has been credited with relaunching the intellectual movement.

But the TED Talks are not without their critics. Recently they have been called out for placing more importance on the mind-blowing counter-intuitive ideas, than actual facts. Critics of the big-idea culture have argued that TED Talks devalue intellectual rigor at the expense of tricksy emotional and narrative devices, and as a result the “ideas worth spreading” become “ideas no footnotes can support.” And even with the emphasis sometimes being more on flashy presentation than on facts, there are still lots of talks that just don’t make the cut, here are the top 20 worst TED Talks according to Buzzfeed. Of note is that #6 on that worst-of list is also the most watched talk, Sir Ken Robinson’s talk on why the education system is killing student creativity.

In light of the universal appeal of education, TED launched its own spinoff TED-Ed. Ted-Ed combines short lessons from great teachers with high quality animation to create engaging videos for modern learners. The reason why Robinson’s talk is so popular, is no doubt due to the fact that most everyone has been exposed to the education system, and everyone has an opinion of it, and in the next couple of posts I will try and share some of my opinions of it.


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