Book Recommendation: The Element by Ken Robinson, Ph. D.

The premise of this book is that each one of us has a unique Element or even Elements that will satisfy our minds and bodies and give us a sense of fulfillment and happiness in life.  If we are able to find this Element, we will be able to find satisfaction with our lives. 

The first chapters of the book focus on the definition of words like intelligence and creativity and how society has limited the use of these words to specific situations and persons.  Therefore, many people do not consider themselves as intelligent because they did not do well on standardized tests. Conversely, people who do well on standardized tests may consider themselves intelligent even if they have not achieved success or fulfillment in their lives.  Creativity has also been limited in definition to people who are artists or authors by trade, rather than widening that definition to include all who use their abilities in a variety of ways to achieve their goals.  The author seems to state that widening our definition of these words will help us to re-define our paths to success.

Another issue that this book discusses is the problem of finding others to help and mentor you in your Element.  He speaks directly of the fact that “Many people don’t find their Element because they don’t have the encouragement of the confidence to step outside their established circle of relationships.” Although those around us may genuinely care for us, they do not necessarily know what will make our lives happiest or most meaningful.  It takes courage to step outside of the expectations that others set for us.

The last chapters of this book really spoke to me.  Chapter 7, “Do You Feel Lucky?” focused on the value of a positive, confident outlook in achieving success.  This is an idea I have tried to share with many people throughout my adult life, and it is stated far better here than anything I have been able to say.  It is so important to have confidence in a good outcome when going into a project.  A negative outlook guarantees failure.  Summarizing findings from the book The Luck Factor by Richard Wiseman, Dr. Robinson states that “lucky people tend to expect to be lucky, creating a series of self-fulfilling prophecies because they go into the world anticipating a positive outcome. “ And, “lucky people have an attitude that allows them to turn bad luck to good.  They don’t allow ill fortune to overwhelm them, and they move quickly to take control of the situation when it isn’t going well for them.”  I would like to read this chapter to people who through the years have accused me of just being “lucky!”

In Chapter 10, “For Love or Money,” examples are cited of people who became amateurs in certain professions instead of making that profession a source of income.  The author discusses how the word amateur actually means a lover of something, and how being a real amateur can bring one pleasure and satisfaction in life.  This really went along well with his ideas about it being never too late to find fulfillment in your Element.

The other chapter that I felt all homeschoolers should read was Chapter 11 on education.  The author describes standard public education as factory-style education, with each teacher installing one bit of knowledge, bound by bells, batches of students and time schedules.  He advocates an individualized approach to education that would allow individuals to pursue their interests and learn toward real world application.  He recommends a “Michelin model,” holding schools to very high standards but not standardizing schools.  Reading about some of the schools he recommends, I couldn’t help but think of Dewey’s educational approach again, and also the difficulty of actually implementing this approach within limits of a public system.  Luckily, as homeschoolers we need not be bound by concerns of what others will think or funding and are able to give each child an individualized education if we are ready to make the effort to do so.

This book, along with two others I have read recently–How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer and How to Live On 24 Hours a Day by Arnold Bennett, has given me much food for thought on how I am focusing my time to make the best use of my talents and interests.  As a parent, I realize that although providing for my children’s education is important, the best I can do for them is to give a good example of fulfilling my own potential at the same time.  These books gave both encouragement and direction in that regard.  The Michelangelo quote in the afterword of this book really made me ask, “Am I aiming high enough for myself?”

“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”

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