The Problem with TED Talks (and often the short-sided neo-colonialist solutions they offer)
The problem with TED Talks is that they often elevate the speaker, along with the idea, to a place of power where we seldom get a chance to offer criticism. TED Talks are the megaphones in the midst of a conversation.
I am not opposed to platforms for sharing ideas. I am not opposed to experts offering advice. I’m not against someone offering a new idea and starting a dialogue. Yet, that’s not how TED Talks work. They tend to be sales pitches, offering ideas that will fix humanity. Often, they offer simplistic solutions with glamorous stories.
Yet, that’s not even the real issue. The bigger problem is in the way people react to them. TED Talks become a sort of Secular Scripture offering a script to fix humanity. It is as if the TED Talk itself is a text we need to use to validate our ideas. When I tweet about vulnerability, someone will be quick to send a link to a TED Talk. If I question whether students can truly be entirely self-directed (especially in the realm of reading), someone tweets me Mitra’s TED Talk on minimally invasive learning. When I question the nature of creativity and the role of limitations in fostering it, the first response is nearly always Sir Ken Robinson’s famous TED Talk.
But what happens when the TED Talks offer bad ideas? A few examples come to mind.
Gates offered his solutions to fix Africa with a heavy dose of White Man’s Burden and a million mosquito nets. I talked with someone from Africa who said, “Malaria won’t be fixed with nets. The solution is economic development, political stability and a view of Africa that doesn’t marginalize the people.”
Speaking of Africa, it turns out Negroponte was wrong as well. Dropping off two hundred dollar laptops and leaving kids alone didn’t magically create the innovation needed to pull the continent out of poverty. It turns out education and community development are a little more complicated.
On the topic of education, people jumped at the Khan Academy after a TED Talk. Instantly, the Khan-style of flipped classroom became the next big thing in education. That’s right. Badly recorded blackboard lessons were going to revolutionize schools forever.
Paul Romer’s TED Talk on the first charter city sounded great, but talk to the people in Honduras experiencing the neo-colonialism and the absolute lack of growth that the city was supposed to offer. How well is it working out for them right now?
My point is not that TED Talks are bad, but that we need to watch them with a critical eye. Yes, there are some great ideas. True, many of the ideas are certainly worth sharing. The problem is that, while it is important to have ideas worth sharing, it is equally important that we analyze, criticize and contextualize those ideas.
One of the smartest things I’ve read on the internets in awhile.
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- misterbartmiller said: I think it’s fair to warn against TED as dogma. Those talks should start conversations, not end them.
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