From the Editor: Imagining Change

Fall 2019

By Stan Izen

The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.—Albert Einstein
I am beginning a crusade to convince teachers to emphasize imagination more in their classrooms. Certainly, many teachers mention imagination from time to time; English teachers may assign readings in fantasy or magical realism, but, by and large, school curricula ask students to engage with the world as it is. We study the past in our history classes, read literature that is already written, learn mathematical and scientific truths previously proven, and come to appreciate existing art and music.  

I’m not saying that this is wrong; it is obviously important to learn about the world around us. But, if we are to help our students cope with the future, their future, they need to be able to imagine things differently than they are. I don’t think the only goal of education should be to preserve things as they are. Progress requires change, and to effect change, one must have a lively, no-holds-barred imagination that allows one to envision how the world might be. And an active imagination doesn’t just happen for most people; imagination or creativity, inventiveness, inspiration, originality—whatever you want to call it—must be cultivated.

History tells us that advancement comes from daring to be different, from shaking things up, and from imagining our government, beliefs, and lives in fundamentally new ways. This is not a simple, straightforward task for educators. Most of us, and I include myself, are not very imaginative. Rather than depend on the few individuals whom nature has blessed with farsightedness, I think our schools have to help prepare more students to be more imaginative and to have vision.  

How do we do this? I think that students have to use their imagination repeatedly in order to expand and grow it, like building a muscle. So, more school assignments need to require creative thinking. Some examples:
  • Asking science students to imagine how the laws of science might function if the Earth were cubic, ovoid, or some shape other than spherical
  • Requiring English students to write short stories set in worlds wildly different from our own
  • Having art students create abstract paintings and sculpture
  • Asking math students to study number systems other than decimal and to figure out how some of the basic rules of decimal math would be modified
  • Having social studies students devise new constitutions, new maps, new international organizations, and discuss their pros and cons
I will make a bold statement here and say that the vast majority of educators believe it is their job to educate students to fit in nicely with the world. This is a guarantee that the world will be preserved pretty much as is. Our school curricula should focus less on keeping the world as it is and incorporate more imaginative assignments that will allow our students to memorize less and dream more.

Note to Our Readers

Because of the overwhelming number of submissions to our spring issue on Culturally Responsive Pedagogy, we have held over two articles on that theme for this issue. They lead off this issue. We hope you enjoy them and the rest of our terrific essays. As always, we are eager to hear from our readers. Send comments and responses to
Stan Izen

Stan Izen is the editor of Independent Teacher Magazine.