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.