A Return to Imagination

I just listened to a interview with John Seely Brown and John Hagel on their new book, The Power of Pull, that got me thinking about imagination. One of the points that they made was that today’s students need to be able to imagine, that in an ever-changing world, they must be able to think beyond the world that they have now and imagine a different one. It is almost like going back to their early years of creating fantasy realms, where anything was possible. They need to move beyond what is and picture what could be.

This is such a challenge for teachers who were trained under a system that, in Brown and Hagel’s terms, “pushed” the given curriculum to the students whose job it was to receive and master it. What was necessary and even critical for success was known. It had been proven to work over previous decades and therefore should be passed along to the next generation. Much as hunter-gatherers trained their children to know the edible and inedible plants and the migration routes of critical herds, today’s teachers were trained in the vocabulary and knowledge of the 20th century, given the tools to succeed on SAT’s and MCAT’s, so that we could make our way in the world.

While there is definitely still a need for many of those skills, the reason for teaching them has shifted. It is no longer the case that simply following a given track, provided by a teacher, will necessarily lead to success. The goal posts are now moving, moving in ways that we not always apparent in the days and months ahead of time. What was relevant, even critical, for past generations may no longer be pertinent at all. Teachers now must not only teach their content area, but also begin to identify what has lastly value. This is a tremendous shift, one for which most of us were never trained.

One of the keys is to unlock our own imaginations, to remember what it was like to dream, to have no holds placed on what could be. As we allow ourselves to become learners again, to return to a place where we are not in control and there is not limit to the horizon, we may be able to guide our students in their own explorations. We must combine all of the wisdom that we have gained through our own experiences and learning with a renewed sense of wonder, so that we can direct and enhance the learning of our students.

As a middle school teacher, I want my students to dream their own dreams as well as be exposed to the dreams of others. I do not want them limited to the horizons of a teenager. As teachers, we need to constantly be broadening their exposure to new ways of thinking. While middle school passions may turn into lifetime ones, they may not, so we must help them continually access their own imaginations and share the imaginations of others with them. We need to not simply be “pushing” facts at them, but also be sharing and imagining together. Then, together, we can dream big dreams.

4 responses to “A Return to Imagination

  1. Your blog was both inspiring and informative. I agree that imagination is crucial because without developing it they will never be able to contribute anything new. Imagination is a skill that needs nourishment and it seems that everything surrounding students today is designed to even hinder their imaginations. With television and video games information is just handed to them without any really challenge. With the resent cuts in the arts it seems it is up to every teacher to integrate projects and activities that require the use of imagination.

  2. I wish there were many teachers like you out there. Your post was indeed encouraging to many educators. It is true that the school system pushes the educators to teach specific lessons to prepare the students for the state testing. With so much pressure, there is no room for other skills. I agree that imagination is the main focus that keeps us going. It is all thanks to imagination that there are so many creative people around us. They created useful technology to make our lives a better place.

  3. To start off, my name is Mattie Bearden and I am a student at the University of South Alabama. I am taking Dr. Strange’s EDM 310 course and we have been assigned teachers to comment on their blog. I will be posting a short summary of the comments that I will be making on your blog. You can view my blog at: http://brooksmattieedm310.blogspot.com/ or the class blog at: http://www.edm310.blogspot.com.
    Now, this is an amazing post! I completely agree with you that students need to be taught, but also guided toward sharing and imagination. I can not completely relate to this article simply for the fact that I am still in school and have not yet been trained to be a teacher. I do ,however, understand how this shift could be hard for those of you who HAVE been trained! Children, throughout all ages and grades need to be creative and teachers need that as well.
    Thank you for your time!

  4. Hi I am a student in EDM 310 and reading your post was very enlightening. I think that what you have shared in this post is the key in empowering students to become great men and women. Social norms and conventions are boundaries that limit mind, imagination, growth and development. Some times even certain aspects of education can do the same as far as limiting, but as you stated, imagination and creativity are key factors that destroys those limitations. When you think about all the great men and women that shaped history, they saw beyond the boundaries of their time and tapped into their imagination. From writers, inventors, artists, etc. I think this is the same with students in a class room. In order to remove the harness, teaching them to access their imagination will ensure that each individual will lead a successful life. Thanks for your post. I hope to take some of what you have learned and apply it to my classroom in the future.

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