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From iPhone to Inspiration

October 23, 2009

I often wake up early and can’t get back to sleep. I try, but my mind fills with things I don’t want to forget, and it’s better to turn on the light and write than to stare into the darkness and be overwhelmed by the increasing anxiety of potential forgetfulness. This morning, I really wanted to get back to sleep, so I tried to think of trivialities, like why the icons on my new iPhone jiggle. I relaxed, knowing that I could Google© this question when I thought of it again.

Then I started thinking about how many other kinds of information are readily available if we need them. I turned on the light and began to look: causes of the War of 1812, .27 seconds to get 13,700,000 results; why the sky is blue, .27 seconds for 120,000,000 potential answers; how to use a semi-colon (do you mean semicolon?), .33 seconds for 11,400,000 helpful hints; rainforest devastation, .13 seconds for 631,000 hits filled with images, facts, and opinions. When this much information is quite literally at the fingertips of anyone with access to a computer and the internet, what should schools be teaching and testing?

Albert Einstein said that imagination is more important than knowledge. I think about his words often since there is sometimes a disconnect between what is taught and assessed in schools and what I believe to be the true purposes of education. I can certainly agree that some kinds of knowledge are crucial for every student: reading, writing, some mathematics, the ability to evaluate and discriminate among information sources (remember that it takes less than a second to access millions of possible sources), and other basic skills required for life—human beingness and citizenship, for example—and further study.

This morning before I turned on the light, I thought about how schools might be different if they gave equal emphasis to skills of application, creative connection, innovation, and imagination as well as how difficult it would be to assess these things. Because school and teachers are so familiar to each of us from years of experience in classrooms, I am not the only one with an opinion about what should be taught whether it’s kindergarten or graduate school. Regardless of whether we are education experts or simply current or former students, it can be very difficult to discriminate between what is necessary for us personally and what might work if it was implemented for everyone.

Try this experiment yourself: ask five people what they think schools should teach and why. Try to move them beyond the basic skills since there isn’t much disagreement about these. As you listen to their answers, think about what your own responses would be. And then remember, regardless of what a school emphasizes, through your purposeful intention, you can create your own learning experiences too.

The iPhone jiggle? It took .33 seconds to get 46,800 results. You can look it up yourself.

Imagine you are designing a college or university. What courses would be in your core curriculum? What kinds of choices would students have? What skills, attitudes, knowledge, and other kinds of learning would you want graduates of your school to have? How would students demonstrate their learning?

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand. • Albert Einstein

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