All teachers and parents would agree that imagination is important for education.

But are we really talking about the same thing when we use the term “imagination”?

Since imagination is a notoriously multifaceted concept, it is possible to focus on any aspect of it to suit one’s educational outlook. Therefore, more imagination in education could mean more technologies in the classroom as well as less; more hands-on activities as well as more virtual activities; more collaboration among students as well as more individual work; more play as well as more academic rigor. (By the way, none of these needs to be an either/or question.) This makes me wonder whether we share anything beyond a general image of imagination – imagination being a convenient catchword to express our general discontent about our schools.

In order to have a coherent idea of Imaginative Education and the role of imagination in education in general, we need to engage in a philosophical dialogue on what imagination is and why it is important for education, and examine our views on what curriculums, activities, and materials are more likely to engage and nurture students’ imaginations. I hope you’ll join me in this important dialogue.  Use the contact form on this page to get started.

Moderator: Dr. Keiichi Takaya obtained his Ph.D. from Simon Fraser University in 2004. His research interests are in philosophy and history of education, such as the history of educational practices that highlight the role of imagination, particularly in the progressive era, and the Pestalozzian movement and the development of normal schools in North America. He teaches English and Education at Kokugakuin University in Tokyo, Japan.

Question Of The Month: Engage

From a philosophical perspective, what is imagination’s role in learning?

2 replies
  1. Stephen Hurley
    Stephen Hurley says:

    Love this idea for a deeper dive into imagination. And I very much appreciate this opening provocation.

    My first thought is that we may need to separate the idea of learning from the idea of schooling. In thinking about this, I’m thinking about learning in both school-based and non-school contexts. I say that because I believe that, quite often, schools don’t always provide the space to exercise their imaginations.

    In my own learning, imagination has allowed me to play with multiple possibilities without having to enact them in the physical world. In this sense, imagination can be a type of virtual playground for ideas. It has allowed me to become curious, play with emergent choices and even role play scenarios. (There have, in fact, been times when I don’t have to show up for the party that I’ve planned because I’ve had several versions of the event in my imagination ahead of time. The actual event could never be as exciting!)

    I’m going to open with that idea and look forward to the discussion!

  2. Keiichi
    Keiichi says:

    Thanks Stephen for the first posting, and welcome to the discussion board.

    I agree with your distinction between learning and schooling. But this leads me to a further question; is schooling inherently anti-imagination?

    I don’t think it necessarily is, but some aspects of schooling are quite inhibitive of students’ exercising imagination. (I, again, agree with your point that schools don’t often provide the space to exercise imagination.)

    Imagination, as you say, enables and encourages us to play with multiple possibilities. But learning in school typically requires us to adopt a specific way to approach a question, accept one definite answer, etc. As such, it does not give us room to entertain multiple possibilities, and it is not quite accommodating our willing suspension of belief (the opposite of S. T. Coleridge’s “willing suspension of disbelief”).

    An example. When I learned in 7th grade (in Japan) that a negative times a negative was a positive, I felt odd, or didn’t feel it make sense (a positive times a positive is a positive, and a positive times a negative is a negative – they made sense to me). I didn’t, however, linger with that question at that time, and just figured it was much easier simply to accept it as a fact/rule. And my simply accepting whatever was taught by my math teacher worked for the moment, but I fell behind in time. I suppose it was because all I did was to memorize equations, etc. to get by (to survive homework and exams) without understanding the reasoning and logic behind them; simply stated, I didn’t learn to think mathematically. But the way things are taught and learning is evaluated in school somehow forces students to take my type of approach; in many cases, it is much easier to simply accept whatever is given by the teacher or the textbook than to live with questions.


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