The concept of imagination, with its potential to contribute to education, is attracting increasing interest as humanity faces major challenges such as migration and climate change. Imagination is expected to enlarge the mentality of human beings and help to find new solutions to global problems. However, educational thinkers have different understandings of what imagination and imaginative thought can actually contribute to. Imagination is the mental ability to visualize what may lie beyond the immediate situation and to “see” things that are not present. It is a central element of meaning creation in education—in the relationship between mental pictures and reality, between humans and the outside world, and between the past and the future. Imagination is a way of seeing, a happening in the here and now. No single specific definition of imagination exists, and this term is used in a variety of ways. Because it is so evasive, the idea of imagination has been contested and questioned, so its meaning depends on the theory and context with which it is associated. Many educational theories simply neglect the concept of imagination, or limit its meaning to common fantasizing and playfulness, whereas others give imagination a central role in the processes of understanding and learning. The socially and politically emancipating dimension of imagination has been emphasized, as has its moral significance and relation to self-formation and education. Some thinkers argue that education should not be satisfied with developing students’ ability to think imaginatively, create a narrative and develop social imagination; rather, it needs to intentionally raise young people to “live imaginatively”—that is, to live a rich life with an open mind, being ready to think in new ways and change their habits when former ways of thinking prove untenable for moral and ethical reasons. Despite these differences of opinion, the value of imagination in education is undeniable. Yet questions remain: How does “bad fantasy” differ from “good imagination,” and what are the educational consequences of such a distinction? How can imagination be a common ground in education, and how can it be a liminal space or topos for the different perspectives of children and adults in that area? How can imagination be part of a greater social responsibility and a way of life?
Imagination and Education
Moira von Wright
Chinese Occidentalism and Educational Tour
How Western education was constructed and could be employed to help develop modern Chinese education was an important vehicle for understanding the development of education in China, as well as the broader discourse of Occidentalism in China. Since the mid-19th century, the traditional Chinese worldview “all under heaven” became gradually disrupted. The new image of the West until the 1920s in China overlapped with the image of modernization, and from the image of the West, Chinese scholars conceived Chinese national goals. Education was considered by Chinese scholars and governments to be a tool to realize national modernization as well as a symbol of modernization. Sending educators and officials to Western countries was a popular method then in China to find references for Chinese domestic educational reform. The discourses of Western education articulated by these Chinese who had personal experiences abroad and had a close engagement with the West hence were authorized to describe an authentic Western education, and they thus contributed to the discourses of Occidentalism in China. Although with different social and political backgrounds, Chinese scholars all described education to be the foundational basis of Western countries and constructed direct connections between education and desired social progress, without considering other factors that influenced social progress. Those scholars contributed to the discourse of education as bearing the burden of providing social progress. They also established gaps between Western and Chinese education. One such gap was that Western education represented the international tendencies and model, while Chinese attempts to modernize education were portrayed as being in their infancy, suggesting China should learn from the West. The other gap was that Western education was essentialized as being more substantial and having successfully achieved modernization, while Chinese achievement in modern education was considered to be superficial and to have purportedly missed the essence of modernization. By contending that Chinese modern education missed the essence of modernization, Chinese scholar-officials and educators in the early decades of the 20th century established their opposition to the previous way of organizing modern education in China. However, establishing the gaps between Western education and Chinese education meant emphasizing not the immutability of Western education, but rather the dynamic character of Western education and the orientation of Chinese education. Such a discourse on Western education was part of a type of discourse on Occidentalism in China during the early decades of the 20th century and served to promote domestic reform—the West and China were different, but modernization was universally available to China.