The Imagination Network

Image by Jane Hoffer

What do Disney, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ), and the U.S. Army have in common? Representatives from all three organizations appeared at America’s Imagination Summit, the education event that Lincoln Center Institute (LCI) hosted in New York City this past July. Their presence was not arbitrary; rather, I believe that the dynamic intersection of such diverse influencers can lead to change in our country’s schools.

The change I speak of involves imagination, creativity, and innovation. These skills, crucial to America’s competitiveness and sustainability in the 21st century, must be imparted to our young people. We at LCI held the Imagination Summit to communicate this message, and the fact that the teaching of imagination isn’t at odds with content standards. The education discussion doesn’t have to be one of “either/or.” Students may acquire the imaginative thinking skills they need for personal and professional success while gaining essential content knowledge, with the two existing in a symbiotic relationship.

Many in education agree on these points, and yet our national system remains mostly inert in this area. So what is to be done? As the leader of an arts-and-education institute for over 15 years, I can attest that traditional strategies, such as lobbying legislators for funding, are not enough to produce the type of change I’ve described. And that’s where Disney, NCJFCJ, and the U.S. Army come in.

Those organizations were not the only unlikely bedfellows represented at America’s Imagination Summit; the list also included the Center for BrainHealth, the Council on Competitiveness, NASA, and the U.S. Naval Academy, among others. They were all brought together by the knowledge that imagination, creativity, and innovation are urgently needed in their sectors, and by the mutual conviction that these skills ought to be part of what our kids—the next generation of workers and leaders—learn in their classrooms.

It may seem counterintuitive, but I feel that this kind of education reform, focused on developing students’ imaginative capacities, will come about largely as a result of forces outside of education. When the worlds of business, government, science, and technology, to name a few, interact with one another, issue a common call for 21st-century learning, and exert their collective influence, change will become far more likely. But this requires the forging of unexpected and unprecedented alliances—exactly what LCI tried to achieve at the Summit. Indeed, the most intriguing collaborator I can envision for LCI right now is the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Why? Its line of work requires imagination, which we know how to teach; and DHS would no doubt expand our thinking on the subject. Together, we could make a powerful statement in favor of new curricula that foster this critical skill.

The coalition-building that LCI began at the Imagination Summit continues. The next milestone on the horizon is a policy meeting with the Department of Education that will take place in 2012 in Washington, D.C.

People tend to take normative pedagogy for granted. Students are taught the core subjects and tested on them, and imaginative development is seen as the province of arts courses (which are often the first to be cut in difficult times). But imagine if, instead, there were a fluid exchange of content and methodology, built around the organizing concepts of imagination, creativity, and innovation. Students would meet standards and, at the same time, learn how to be better thinkers and more innovative citizens.

An increasing number of individuals and organizations from across the societal spectrum are coming to share this vision of American education, and they have the potential to help make it a reality. All they need is each other’s partnership.

This post previously appeared on the Celebration of Teaching & Learning‘s EdBlog.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: