The Pedagogy of the Imagination

An interdisciplinary symposium

Tuesday, March 4, 2008
4:00 -- 7:00 p.m.
Rose Art Museum
Brandeis University

Co-conveners: Mark Auslander, Cultural Production; Dirck Roosevelt, Master of Arts in Teaching

Co-sponsors: Master of Arts in Teaching/Education Program, MA Program in Cultural Production, Rose Art Museum, Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education, Office of the Dean of Arts & Sciences

  • Keynote address, 4:15: Michael Armstrong, author (Children Writing Stories, 2006, etc.), educator, independent scholar.

  • Anticipated participants include: Mark Auslander (Anthropology, Cultural Production), Robin Dash (Making Art, Education) Cathy Draine (Cultural Production), Jane Hale (Romance Studies), Dirck Roosevelt (Education, Master of Arts in Teaching), Ellen Schattschneider (Anthropology, Cultural Production), Andreas Teuber (Philosophy).

  • Reception to follow.

What could happen if the profoundly human impulse to make -- to build, create, conjure up, fashion, fabricate, knit, join, assemble, suppose, imagine -- were drawn from the margins to the center of the educational enterprise?

In this era of fearfulness and grim competitive striving, certainties going bankrupt, educational discourse reduced to hollow insistence on "accountability," what larger, more fertile and unruly image of the play of mind on mind on world -- of thinking, presuming that the only education with which a free society ought to concern itself would aim first of all to foster thinking -- might appear, if imagination were at the center?

Inspired by Italo Calvino's wish for "some possible pedagogy of the imagination," by Leo Tolstoy's subversive educational experiments, and by his own lifetime of experience as a teacher, school head, and student of children's thinking, especially their literary thinking, Michael Armstrong will deliver the keynote address on the theme of the pedagogy of the imagination, about which he has said:

The inextricability of thought and making, that is to say, the integrity of poetic understanding, has radical implications for education, as Tolstoy foresaw. Creativity moves to the centre of the curriculum. It is neither the end for which education prepares us nor a decorative accompaniment to the acquisition of knowledge and skill but fundamental to the process of learning at every age.

Set within the compelling, unsettling, imaginative affordances of Rose Art Museum guest curators' Margaret Evangeline and Dominique Nahas' exhibition, "Empires and Environments," this interdisciplinary symposium invites consideration of the possibilities and difficulties of conceiving of imagination as the generative force and the justification of educational work at all levels and in all contexts. The symposium suggests that, regardless of setting -- community center or university seminar, 3rd grade public school classroom or art museum -- that one definition of educational justice might be, precisely, the concrete presumption of and provision for the learner's capacity to make, to re-arrange, re-combine, re-fashion the world in some way that may yet prove necessary.

Michael Armstrong is a remarkable observer, scholar of childhood, and student of verbal artistry. He is the author of Closely Observed Children (1980) and Children Writing Stories (2006). He has taught at every level from infant school through university, including 18 years as headteacher of Harwell Primary School in Oxfordhsire, UK. He is currently a visiting professor at the Breadloaf School of English and is a recurrent visitor to Harvard's Project Zero and Lawrence MA public schools.

The symposium should be of interest to educators from kindergarten through graduate school, writers and artists in all media, and students and scholars in all disciplines, but especially those concerned with narrative, creativity, cognition, and educational processes of all sorts.

Suggested readings:

Armstrong, M. (1980). Closely observed children: The diary of a primary classroom. London: Writers and Readers Publishing/Chamelon.

Armstrong, M. (2006). Children writing stories. London: Open University Press (McGraw-Hill Education).

Calvino, I. (1988). Six memos for the next millennium. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Carini, P. F. (2001). Starting strong: A different look at children, schools, and standards. New York: Teachers College Press.

Dewey, J. (1934). Art as experience. New York: Minton, Balch.

Du Bois, W. E. B. (1986). Of the meaning of progress (In The souls of black folk). In Writings. New York: Library of America (405 – 414). (Original work published 1903.)

Richardson, E. S. (1964). In the early world. New York: Pantheon/Random House.

Roosevelt, D. (1998). "There the kid was, stranded in a car": Reading the fictions of children as if they mattered. Curriculum Inquiry, 28(1), 81-111.

Roosevelt, D. (1998). "Unsuspected literatures": Public school classrooms as laboratories for the creation of democratic culture. Theory into Practice, 37(4), 271-279.

Scarry, E. (1985). The body in pain: The making and unmaking of the world. New York: Oxford.

Tolstoy, L. (1982). Should we teach the peasant children to write, or should they teach us? (A. Pinch, Trans.). In A. Pinch & M. Armstrong (Eds.), Tolstoy on education: Tolstoy's educational writings 1861-1862. Rutherford NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University/Associated University Presses. (Original work published 1862.)

Winnicott, D. W. (1971). Playing and reality. London and New York: Tavistock/Routledge.