June 16, 2020 / 2 comments
My foreword for ‘Artscapers: being and becoming creative’
Here is the foreword I wrote for the just published, and utterly brilliant. ‘Artscapers: being and becoming creative‘. It is the work of Cambridge Curiosity and Imagination, who you may have read about in ‘From What Is to What If’. The book is amazing, I highly recommend it. Here’s what I wrote:
“I write a lot about climate change, and spending time immersed in climate science can be a heartbreaking experience. But I have to say that as I researched the book I recently published on imagination, ‘From What Is to What If’, researching the chapter on education was almost as depressing. The devaluing, the exclusion, the belittling of the imagination in our present day education system borders on the criminal.
I spoke to headteachers who had lost all of their funding for the arts. Trainee teachers who were leaving their course after a few months as their training seemed to run counter to what they had imagined in terms of creating the conditions for an imaginative education. Brave pioneers trying to carve out a niche for the imagination in a world that places it way down a list of priorities that it really should sit at the top of.
It seems to me that in these times of turbulent and rapid change, imagination is our most powerful tool. Described by John Dewey as our “ability to see things as if they could be otherwise”, it is vital to our finding a way forward. We need to imagine a new world before we can create it. Indeed, I would argue that one of the imagination’s key roles is in helping us to be able to long for a low carbon, more resilient, more connected future.
Longing is a powerful world. It aches. It yearns. Unless we can create that longing, or what some call ‘memories of the future’, there is no way we will ever create a world beyond business as usual. And the kind of education system we offer our children, and the degree to which it feeds and inspires the imagination, is vital. As Sir Ken Robinson puts it:
“If you design a system to do something specific, don’t be surprised if it does it. If you run an education system based on standardisation and conformity that suppresses individuality, imagination and creativity, don’t be surprised if that’s what it does”.
It was that journey, of trying to find those renegades of the imagination working either within, alongside, or beyond the education system, that led to me to the authors of this book you are holding in your hands. Cambridge Curiosity and Imagination. They had me at the name. I interviewed Ruth Sapsed, and I was hooked. Their work, their approach, captured exactly what I felt was missing from the wider education system. They work with, as their name suggests, curiosity and imagination, but also with awe, and magic and wonder, as this book so beautifully captures.
I love the quotes in these pages from a participant in one of their workshops, who reflected that having taken part “there’s a new strand in your brain. You see things other people didn’t”. I was intrigued with the idea of having a “new strand in your brain”. We all need one of those. What if the purpose of our education system was to equip us with such a strand? What if young people left school at 18 feeling like anything was possible? What if our education taught us how to reimagine and then rebuild the world? What if it included as much time outdoors as indoors? What if we felt competent to turn our hand to anything? What if school was like an art school?
The work of Artscapers moves me greatly. As you will see, their work celebrates the imaginative lives of young people, and steps fully into those lives and listens. It is patient, gentle and infinitely respectful of those inner worlds that the larger world treats with such disdain. It involves teachers as well as children.
The thought I would invite you to bear in mind as you read it is how it would be if all of our education system were based on the manifesto that opens this book:
- Be free
- Imagine anything
- Have fun
- Know anyone can do it, there are no wrong answers
- Share and talk
- Not rush
- Try things out and experiment – make a mess
- See that art is everywhere
- Keep trying
- Move around, be comfortable
- Be brave and trust
What would maths and science classes taught like this look like? How would IT classes, design, geography, physics be taught if rooted in those principles? What would it look like, feel like and sound like to walk into a school that was based on this? What would it be like to be a student in such a school? How much less anxious, how much more valued, connected, heard and spacious would you feel?
Once you have read this book, allow yourself to dream. What if this work, this approach, these ideas, were not confined to the margins, but were the new mainstream? The climate emergency demands that our education system nurtures young people equipped to be able to question and reimagine everything. The seeds of what that looks like can be found here. Please spread this book and the ideas it contains far and wide.
In these pages you will find something glorious, splendid and deeply familiar, but for too long marginalised and forgotten, blinking awake. Don’t avoid its gaze, rather allow yourself to fall in love with it, to trust what you discover and allow yourself to be transported by it. This is a precious gift, and I am deeply grateful for it.
Rob Hopkins. March 2020.