By Tim Middleton
Imagine someone disagreeing with John Lennon’s classic anthem called, Imagine — it is not easy if you try. It became one of the world’s greatest ever single record and is still regularly played at major events, 50 years later. In truth, we do not need imagination to see all people living for today; many people currently live such lives. We are called to imagine there is no heaven or hell yet the same people will deem such places as already being figments of people’s imagination. To some degree what we imagine must already be there in order for us to imagine it, and once we have imagined it into reality we will need to imagine more. In fact, imagine if there was no imagination!
Albert Einstein, seen by many as one of the greatest geniuses in modern history, said that “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.” On another occasion he declared that “Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere” adding that “To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle requires creative imagination and marks real advances in science.” Imagination must be central to education.
That perhaps links up with what Napoleon Bonaparte is quoted as saying, that “Imagination rules the world”. It can certainly determine what can happen in the life of individual people, and thus can collectively determine what can happen in the world as a whole, but at the same time imagination rules evil minds, greedy minds, minds that wonder what they can get out of situations for themselves (not living as one as Lennon desired). Lennon urged us to “Imagine there’s no countries / It isn’t hard to do / Nothing to kill or die for” but that ignores the fact that there is much killing and dying that has nothing to do with countries or even religion. It will take more than imagination to achieve that.
Yet imagination is perhaps the first step to bringing in a better world. We have to see something before we can bring it into being; once it is in being we do not need imagination any longer but we need to believe in it for it to become a reality (which in its own way becomes a religion that Lennon does not want). Maria Montessori, who imagined an alternative view of education, based on the key principles of independence, observation, following the child, correcting the child, prepared environment and absorbent mind, explained that “Imagination does not become great until human beings, given the courage and the strength, use it to create.” Are we teaching children that?
The great artist and sculptor Michaelangelo once explained of one of his masterpieces that “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set it free.” Before he even began the task of creating the sculpture he imagined the figure, he saw it in the rock. We are often told that imagination sets us free; we hear people saying we must let our imagination run wild but we have to accept that it cannot be so wild that it will not return to the real world, in the same way that before we let a dog off the leash we need to be sure he will return to us when called. Our children must be helped to imagine.
If that is so, how might we let our imagination wander in relation to education? How can we create a better education system? Is there any real imagination in our education system, in our schools, in our teaching? Are we still stuck with the same old curriculum, the same old lessons, the same old textbooks? Imagine there is no pass; it is easy if you try. Imagine there is no fail; around us only try. Imagine all the children, living for tomorrow. Imagine no qualifications; I wonder if you can. Imagine no lust for power but rather the power of love.
JK Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter novels, has been noted to declare that “We have the power to imagine better.” If that is the case, then we must set to work and set free the angels in our midst in our schools, to enable them to travel everywhere. Imagine what we could do for this world if we only release the latent imagination in the children — no more war, greed, hunger. Is it easy if we try? They will be in heaven if they do imagine but they will be in hell if they do not. Imagine that!
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- Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS.
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