Coming of age in the ‘60s and ‘70s, I occasionally got the impression that certain members of the anti-establishment community thought that they were the first people ever to protest a government, and that their methods were utterly unique and had no historical precedent. In retrospect, I think some of the radical movements of the time might have met with greater success had they been more conscious of the continua of which they were a part. When you’re deeply involved with a set of ideas, it’s important to know not only where you stand, but also who came before you and who else is doing what you’re doing. I’m speaking to myself and my colleagues at Lincoln Center Institute now, and to all educators who support our work. What can we do better?
LCI espouses a very specific philosophy of imaginative learning through aesthetic education built around ten Capacities for Imaginative Learning. Our teaching artists and the educators with whom they partner effectively implement this practice in classrooms year in, year out. But we mustn’t let the time and effort we’ve invested in these concepts lead us toward complacency or toward taking too personally challenges to our philosophy.
The ultimate goal right now—as I see it, at least—is to infuse America’s classrooms with a culture of imagination. To serve this goal, we at the Institute have embarked on our own journey of “questioning” (one of the Capacities): Where does our theory of imaginative learning come from? What did our foundational thinkers say? Who else has done what we do? What relevant research has taken place? Are there thinkers and practitioners outside “the field” whose work we should consider? We have asked all of these questions during the past few years, and it is vital that we challenge our thinking continually as the process evolves. And it is not enough anymore to practice our philosophy at the micro level, crucial as that is; we’ve got to remember that we’re part of a network of advocates for imaginative education, and be willing to learn from both the past and our contemporaries.
On the other hand, we shouldn’t be afraid to spread the wealth, as the saying goes. I still remember the meeting at LCI when we first settled on the Capacities. Someone at the table remarked that we were going to have to make a decision—to either hide and protect these terrific ideas or let them loose in the world, knowing that they might be misunderstood, distorted, or misused. Obviously, we chose the latter alternative, in the hope that the Capacities would be strong enough to survive the vagaries of the marketplace of ideas. I’ve never regretted this. I believe the power of any concept is its replicability, and I’m not ashamed to “market” LCI’s version of imaginative learning if I think it will positively impact those American classrooms.
I suppose what I’m really talking about here is openness—receptivity and generosity. The big picture, so to speak, has to do with enriching American students’ imaginations and improving the quality of their educations. LCI has done phenomenal work in this regard, if I may so myself, but we’re only one part of that expanding picture.
To be continued…
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