Academic journal article Reading & Writing

Imagination, Waldorf, and Critical Literacies: Possibilities for Transformative Education in Mainstream Schools

Academic journal article Reading & Writing

Imagination, Waldorf, and Critical Literacies: Possibilities for Transformative Education in Mainstream Schools

Article excerpt

'Our highest endeavor must be to develop free human beings who are able of themselves to impart purpose and direction to their lives.' - Rudolf Steiner


Imagine a world in which all human beings are actively engaged in imagining and working towards a better world, with a burning commitment to bringing change. Imagine a world in which each person seeks to understand the bigger picture and how their thoughts and actions are part of constructing global realities. Imagine a world in which actions are taken with consideration of their long-term impact and where everyone embraces their own agency in transforming systems of oppression, exploitation and inequity.

Is such a world possible? What is the role of education in working towards such a world? In what ways is this vision, both in its construction and in its attainment, connected to imagination and literacies?

This study explores the relationships between imagination, literacies and transformative education. Emerging from work of integrating imaginative, Waldorf-inspired approaches into mainstream Kenyan schools, this study explores how imagination can enhance the teaching and learning of government curriculum, while infusing early childhood learning experiences with a transformative orientation. It examines imaginative, Waldorf-inspired approaches in relationship to critical literacies and interrogates the (irreconcilable?) tensions between the convergent thinking demanded by government curriculum and the divergent thinking promoted through imagination and transformative pedagogies. While the focus of this study is on young children in pre-primary and early primary classes, the significance of imagination as a meaning-making faculty and its role in transformative education extend, in modified ways, to literacy learning across the lifespan.

Conceptual framework: Imagination and transformative education

Imagination is central to all learning - particularly any approach to education aspiring to challenge social reproduction and contribute to societal transformation. Imagination extends beyond the production of mental images, to include engagement with human experience and possibilities well beyond the domains of learners' own experience. As an extraordinary tool of meaning-making and of humanisation of abstract concepts, imagination is an essential part of the learning process, with far-reaching implications for pedagogy, curriculum, agency and identity. Here, we engage with Kieran Egan's constructs of imagination and its relevance to education, using Egan's work as a framework through which to approach the discussion of imagination and literacy education. From there, we explore relationships between imagination and transformative education, before turning our attention to some Kenyan schools that have dared to explore imaginative, Waldorf-inspired approaches to education in their teaching and learning of Kenyan government curriculum.

Kieran Egan, in his work Teaching as Storytelling, discusses the problematic ad hoc principles that many education methods are based on: the idea that children's learning proceeds from the concrete to the abstract, from the known to the unknown and from active manipulation to symbolic conceptualisation. Egan argues that these assumptions severely under-represent the abilities of children (Egan 1986). Egan's work focuses on the development of models of teaching and learning, which are fundamentally based on human beings' imaginative capabilities, celebrating children's imaginations in particular as 'the most powerful and energetic learning tools' (Egan 1986:2). His imagination-based models offer alternatives to dominant approaches to education globally, which tend to be based on a narrow range of children's logical thinking skills - the sorts of skills that are easily grasped and measured, quite unlike imagination.

In An Imaginative Approach to Teaching, Egan asserts that: 'Engaging the imagination is not a sugar-coated adjunct to learning; it is the very heart of learning. …

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