IMAGINATION Needed More Than Ever in Education Re-Start

For the foreseeable future, schooling as people have understood it for decades, is furloughed. That means, for administrators, teachers, parents and students, what they had come to understand as educational practice – excepting last spring – is being replaced by something different. 

Realistically, the health risks from large-scale gatherings facing every person entering a school in the coming weeks are potentially severe, and no one will sanction wide-ranging illness and worse for children, teaching staff or support staff. And so education, and a majority of K-12 students, will again likely be going home this fall for another experience of online learning, as it did during the emergency phase of the pandemic last spring. 

For this coming re-opening phase – even if it means students divvy up their ‘class’ time between home and in-person schooling – educational praxis needs to ‘level up’ on what it did, or did not do, during the emergency phase last spring. In that furlough, when schools shuttered and ‘everything went online’, we’ve now heard from many who experienced it that results were wide-ranging, from acceptable to abysmal. 

Imagination is Key

As this is being written, a thousand thousand school administrators and educators are finding themselves in the same position as Winston Churchill when he was facing down the Nazi invasion of Europe and, potentially, Great Britain. HIs odds of successfully confronting this challenge were considered minuscule by pundits and adversaries. 

Winston Churchill invoked his imagination in the face of enormous challenges. So, too, does education need to rely on imagination to respond effectively to the challenges faced by the Covid-19 pandemic.

But Churchill gained the upper hand in meeting and successfully overcoming this challenge through relying on his imagination. Where so many others saw only bleakness, Churchill envisioned opportunity, and we know how that story ended. Excepting some regrettable events, the Nazis were held from invading Great Britain and ultimately defeated. 

Imagination has no less a role to play in meeting today’s challenges by administrators and educators. 

The problem with consigning K-12 education to imaginative measures is its own history, in which imagination has fared poorly. Mainly, for the past century, education has been a top-down exercise in management control guiding everything from teacher training to classroom behaviour to curriculum content to grading and advancement. 

As I’ve learned the hard way, little incentive has been provided for innovating in education. But innovating is precisely what is called for now.  And it’s going to take a ‘wartime footing’ sensibility to sanction and support innovative responses to ‘education in the time of Covid-19’. 

Wartime footing means any and every idea can land on the table and be considered for implementation. In this challenge, everyone’s a potential ‘Churchill’. 

To do this, educators and administrators, students and parents need to have some confidence they can bring their ideas to the table without fear of censure or dismissal by desk jockeys who think they know better. 

No one knows better than those on the front lines right now – educators, administrators,  support staff, students and parents – what might be a good idea to support student learning while minimizing health risks across the board. All ideas deserve a fair hearing. 

An imaginative response changes the narrative about approaches to learning, about how parents might be enlisted to support their child’s education, about enlisting community resources and leveraging real-world issues and problems to stimulate learning. About looking beyond some of the limiting constraints conventional schooling has unwittingly imposed on our innate learning proclivities and creative genius. 

Human imagination has persevered and overcome challenging odds before – many times, actually – and we can do it again. 

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