Monday, August 08, 2005
The importance of imagination
Imagination is a word that doesn’t feature strongly in official documents – they seem to prefer words like innovation and flexibility. But developing imagination at any level is vital if we are to develop creative individuals and a creative society.
A guest on National Radio said that while Descartes wrote ‘I think, therefore I am’, he should have said, 'I imagine, therefore I am’.
Imagination is a unique human ability that allows us to plan ahead, to create alternatives, to invent things and, in the process, imagine ourselves as seekers of new ideas.
Such an identity should be the right of all students but too often their learning is limited to what we already know rather than what together we can imagine.
Imagination works best in tandem with a passion because when a passion to know takes over imagination runs free. There is nothing objective about passion and imagination but, on later refection, new ideas can be developed and if necessary proved. Even Einstein worked in this way,imagining things and then later getting on with the proof. For artists it is the way they work.
All this is foreign of course to technocrats and planners!
Imagination allows us to reshape and transform our immediate experience and even to move into the realm of pure fantasy. Often it is not even possible to define outcomes – another worry for those locked in a planning mentality. But imagination is needed to interpret any experience, to read, and to communicate with those who are different from us. We need it in our conversations to imagine what others are thinking or to consider what other might do next.
Imagination was first recorded by our ancestors in their dark caves – as it is used by the very youngest children today who are finding ways to express their imagination. All too often in our classrooms students need to imagine is severely restricted by teachers whose own imagination is limited by imposed demands to plan and to prove what they are teaching.
It is imagination that allows us to develop a sense of others and how to interpret their feelings – it is this faculty that those who experience autism have most trouble with. Imagination develops in students a positive future vocabulary with students using such phrases as ‘it might be’, ‘it could be’, I wonder what will happen if?’; it allows students to imagine future scenarios by means of mental rehearsals.
Imagination is the key for our future evolution if we are to discover better possibilities for our existence. Schools are the ideal places to develop this imaginative mindset. Einstein, long ago, worried that modern education would kill the gift of curiosity and imagination. He would be more worried today with the recent current standardized curriculums.
We need to consider carefully how to develop the imagination of our students.