On Creativity – Train the Imagination

This year, my ELOB School team decided to return to our pedagogical “Roots” with the students by having everyone read speeches by and essays about Kurt Hahn. Directly following the session where we read and discussed the Seven Laws of Salem a student asked if we could do something more creative with our time.

“Absolutely!” I said, “You have the option, should you choose, to skip reading this next chapter and instead write a creative essay or article about Hahn’s visions for education that brings new understanding to a reader, links connections previously unrecognized, or gives modern examples of his ideas in practice. Conversely, you have the option to do some similar analysis with a different medium of communication: you may make a podcast or a posterboard flow chart, for example.

“Well, that’s not really what I meant,” she said, “I meant, like, something more fun.”

Luckily, I was able to ask the group to re-read The Fifth Law of Salem: Train the Imagination.

You must call it into action, otherwise it becomes atrophied like a muscle not in use. The power to resist the pressing stimulus of the hour and the moment cannot be acquired in later life; it often depends on the ability to visualize what you plan and hope and fear for the future. Self-indulgence is in many cases due to the lack of vision.

I would wager a guess the question from my student is a sentiment most teachers are familiar with – the idea of creative work being fun, spontaneous, and deriving from some outside muse bestowing upon you a gift of inspiration. I’ve written about creativity previously, but Hahn’s ideas are striking. “The power to resist the pressing stimulus of the hour” sounds more like Steven Pressfield’s take on creative work, as described in The War of Art – it sounds like training the imagination is about overcoming resistance, about intentionally not choosing to do the thing that feels pleasurable in the moment, but instead commit to writing for your long-term book project, or continuing to go out and shoot photos in constantly varying lights and angles for your blossoming photography studio.

Without a vision for your creative future and a commitment to the daily grind of getting there, creativity can’t happen on a large scale, and it becomes easy to fall into traps of pleasure instead. It is only after committing to the grind that creativity becomes fun, autotelic, and meaningful.

As educators, we have a responsibility to teach this metacognitive knowledge. Simply creating daily schedules and homeworks for students does not teach them that creativity takes commitment, because while they are committing to daily work, the only vision for the future of that work is ‘getting a grade’ at the end of it. That’s hardly a vision worth inspiring work.

How we teach this knowledge is more the question. Do we eliminate grades? Teach metacognition? Use project-based learning with individualized end-goals?

“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge,” thought Einstein. What is your vision for the future of creative education?

Cousins, E. (2008). Roots: From Expeditionary Learning to Outward Bound. Expeditionary Learning Schools Outward Bound.
Pressfield, S. (2012). The war of art: Break through the blocks and win your inner creative battles. Black Irish Books.

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