Friday, July 22, 2011

Why American education has to reclaim its innovative edge

Last night I attended the first night of America's Imagination Summit. It was inspiring to see a room full of educators, museum professionals, artists, and business people engaged with thought leaders on what imagination is and why it's so important.

Most significant last night was Scott Nope-Brandon's call to action for us all to take the dialogues we are having at the summit and extend what we learn from each other to the wider education world to change and create the learning environments we need and want for our students.

Each of the speakers -- Sir Ken Robinson, Dr. Deepak Chopra, Vice-Admiral Michael Miller, and Disney Imagineering's Bruce Vaughn -- gave introductory remarks about imagination and its importance for our future as a species. This was followed by a panel discussion prompted by questions from the summit participants.

Sir Ken spoke eloquently and with great humor about imagination as a unique quality that differentiates the human species. He noted that it was our great imaginations that transformed the human race over its history, but particularly in the last few centuries. It led to many creative things, as well as many of the problems we face today in our futures -- such as with the environment. It is his belief that we will need to use that same imagination function to solve our pressing problems.

I had the chance to speak with him afterward for about five minutes, and mentioned that my cousin in Scotland and he had the chance to work on a project together years ago. He remembered him from the Scottish Arts Council and now Creative Scotland.

I also had a chance to ask a question that I wasn't able to ask during the panel. I asked whether the metaphors, culture, and language of education and society prevent us from being able to move forward with innovation and a focus on developing imagination and creativity. He thought this was an interesting question and very relevant. He said that this is why we require paradigm shifts to push things along.

I lamented that while accountability is necessary (a theme throughout the summit so far), the agencies of accountability -- in particular the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), which had a representative from the administration speak -- use old models to evaluate new approaches leading to the discouragement of creativity.

I was still glad to see DOE representatives there to hear what is going on in education and what some are trying to do to improve it. My hope is that the messages and learning from the summit will influence the level of imagination and openness that is brought to the evaluative process.

I hope to be able to catch up with Sir Ken again to continue the conversation we started. For now, I am off to more sessions and will update later this evening.