Jennifer Gidley

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Imaginative Education brings Ecological Thinking to Life

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By Dr. Jennifer M. Gidley 

Published on ImaginEd: Education that Inspires. 28th September 2016.

All education is the development of genius… The three factors of genius are the habit of action, the vivid imagination, and the discipline of judgment. Alfred North Whitehead 1916

When we offer children a lifeless, stale education, we not only destroy their vitality, but we dumb them down. Through industrial era excesses we have altered the biosphere to the extent that our planetary homeland may in the foreseeable future become inhospitable for human habitation. Climate crisis is recognised as a global geo-political issue. How can young people be expected to contend with such catastrophic futures? How can we turn around dead, stale thinking, awaken ecological thinking and bring education back to life?

Evolution of consciousness research tells us that 19th century mechanistic thinking is giving way to more life enhancing thinking. In the early 20th century Whitehead’s process philosophy, Einstein’s relativity and quantum physics turned Newton’s building block universe on its head. Is education keeping up?

A few well-known educational pioneers made significant contributions to overhauling the factory model of education and breathing life into it. The ideas of Maria Montessori in Italy, Rudolf Steiner in Germany, John Dewey in the USA and Sri Aurobindo in India are still alive today globally. But they have remained relatively marginalised. How can the best of these ideas be spread?

Several contemporary educational approaches can help to shift static concepts to living thinking. One of the most important is Kieran Egan’s imaginative education. I first met Kieran at the “Imagination and Education Conference” (2009) in Australia, after completing my PhD on evolution of consciousness and its importance for education. I became particularly interested in his five developmental stages of imaginative education: somatic, mythic, romantic, philosophic and ironic. It synergised wonderfully with Jean Gebser’s structures of consciousness: archaic, magical, mythic, mental and integral.

Australian advocate of imagination in education, Bernie Neville, compared Egan’s stages with both Gebser’s structures of consciousness and psychologist Robert Kegan’s orders of consciousness. I discuss this in detail in Postformal Education, in Chapter 9: “Pedagogical Life: A Sustaining Force.”

Other contemporary educators who believe imagination plays a crucial role in transforming education include Jack Miller from Canada, Ron Miller from the United States and Thomas Nielsen from Australia.

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Life and its metaphors are also emphasised in ecological, environmental and sustainability education. David Jardine talks about developing “ecological imagination” in young people. Similarly, ecopedagogy grew out of the First Earth Summit in Brazil in 1992 under the influence of Paulo Freire’s critical pedagogy. In addition to its home in Latin America, ecopedagogy is thriving in Bulgaria through the influence of young sociologist, Stefan Grigorov.

Futures studies and foresight education, with their links to sustainability and citizenship education, play a vital role in ecological awareness. They help develop a sense of responsibility for long-term futures of life on our planet, the survival of our companion species and life itself. Futures education with young people may involve workshops in which the young people imagine possible, alternative and desirable futures, before creating the action plans that empower them to create their preferred futures.

We can also encourage life-enhancing values and increase vitality through promoting pedagogical life in simple practical ways. We can ground children in nature through gardening, creative handwork, and following daily and seasonal cycles, rather than mechanical clock time. In the 1980s I founded a school with a very innovative curriculum. I want to share two examples of how we used a playful, imaginative approach with young children to lay foundations for science theory in high school.

In the first project, with the help of an alternative energy expert, we designed and built a swing set that used the children’s kinetic energy to turn on a light bulb. At a time when renewable energy was still a relatively new idea, to the children this was pure magic. And yet it was a magic that they had created with their own energy, while they were playing! In a second project we built a stone mound with a water wheel on top that, when operating, poured water down through a sculpted waterfall into a pond nestled into a sandpit beside a see-saw (teeter-totter). When children rode the see-saw, their kinetic energy pumped water up, turning the water wheel and pouring water down through the flow forms. In both these projects the children were empowered to experience their own kinetic energy being transformed into another kind of energy. Through imaginative play, they were learning the fundamentals of physics, which they would later learn about conceptually in high school physics.

Finally, creative school architecture is an increasingly popular way to stimulate children’s creativity and imagination – to help them “to think outside the square”. Creative school architecture is iconic to Steiner/Waldorf schooling, but has now become a benchmark for top international schools in Scandinavia, Japan, Korea and elsewhere. Examples include a colourful kindergarten in Tromso, Norway (left) and Dae-Eun Elementary School, Seoul, South Korea.

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To read more about Jennifer’s ideas on Imaginative Education:

The ideas in this short article are developed and discussed in detail, along with the latest developmental psychology and education research and practice, in Jennifer’s new book:

Postformal Education: A Philosophy for Complex Futures (Springer, 2016).

See also Jennifer’s Amazon Author page & Website.

 

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How do Screen-agers find their own Voice?

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By Dr. Jennifer M. Gidley

[This short blog is an entrée to Chapter 11: “Pedagogical Voice: An Empowering Force” in Postformal Education: A Philosophy for Complex Futures. Available at: http://www.springer.com/us/book/9783319290683]

In this electronic age of ‘voice’-mail, ‘chat’-rooms, and ‘talking’ computers, perhaps the least valued of evolutionary forces is the human voice itself. Yet without its presence, little children cannot even learn to speak.

No matter where we live in the world today the human voice is mediated by technology. Children born in the last 15-20 years in affluent countries have never known a world without communication technologies of all kinds. Even in remote African villages, television has replaced the grandmother in the role of family storyteller, and the mobile phone is replacing face-to-face conversation everywhere. The number of mobile phones is approaching five billion globally and by 2020 is expected to exceed the number of humans living on the planet.

So what does that have to do with education or the raising of children? Even an education that is caring, lively and wise will fail in the long run if young people are not empowered to find their voices.

Marshall MacLuhan claimed decades ago that every advance in technology dulls a former human capacity. The increasing reliance of young people on the sound-bytes of the media and the truncated “spelling” of mobile phone text messages, as their primary modes of communication, dramatically limits the richness of their language development. Recent Australian Institute of Family Studies research found that Australian children are spending on average far more than the recommended 2-hour daily limit in front of screens.

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There is growing evidence that children who are overexposed to screen-mediated forms of communication from an early age become increasingly disconnected from the world around them and become disempowered. A growing number of kindergarten children have delayed language, arguably linked to reduction in real human-voice contact. We do not yet know the long-term effects of this mediated lifestyle, but we do know that “digital detox” vacations are an emerging form of tourism.

What we are witnessing is an educational time bomb that will explode in coming decades unless we rehumanise our relationship to voice and language.

By contrast, a live human educator telling children stories or facilitating Socratic dialogues with adolescents offers the rich nuances of voice, intonation, eye contact, gestures, facial expression, body language, emotional response and soul warmth. The mode and content of language that we expose children to not only creates the foundations of their language, but also their thinking-patterns and worldviews. Put simply, for young people, having a voice is empowering.

In Chapter 10 of Postformal Education called “Pedagogical Voice: An Empowering Force”, I introduce a number of educational approaches that empower children and young people. I use the term pedagogical voice to include postformal developments in language and linguistics, speech education, the range of voices of teachers and children, education in awareness of sound and silence, and the empowerment that comes with “finding one’s voice.”

The educational theories and practices that develop language awareness include postmodern and poststructuralist approaches; aesthetic, artistic and poetic methods; and critical, postcolonial, global and planetary pedagogies. This may sound very complex and theoretical, but in Chapter 10 of Postformal Education I also discuss practical ways to develop in young people critical thinking, awareness of the power that lies in language, and the empowerment that comes with finding their voice.

In our noise-polluted urban worlds it is a huge challenge to draw conscious attention to sounds in a practical way. You can start with an educational environment where spoken human language is valued over electronic voices for young children. Poems, singing, drama and natural conversation are all vocal methods that can greatly benefit the development of written language. We can also add chanting, oration, re-telling stories, tongue twisters and word play. Learning a second or third language is invaluable for enhancing sound awareness, and ability to see things from multiple perspectives, not to mention expanding awareness of the cultural other.

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All of these theories and practices, and more, are introduced and discussed in Chapter 10 of Postformal Education: A Philosophy for Complex Futures (Springer, Netherlands) published August 2016.

Both eBook and Hardback are available to purchase from August 2016.

See also my Amazon Author page.

Photo Credits: All images were freely available under the Creative Commons.

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