Imagining conference aims to trigger advanced learning

July 08, 2004, vol. 30, no. 6
By Carol Thorbes



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Would soldiers who torture and degrade their prisoners be less likely to commit atrocities if they had some preconception of themselves committing such acts, and the consequences of them?

Nel Noddings, a Lee Jacks professor emerita from Stanford University and a former public school teacher, administrator and curriculum developer, believes they would.

Noddings will deliver a lecture on the value of imagination in moral education at the second annual International Conference on Imagination and Education, July 14-17 at Vancouver's Coast Plaza hotel.

Organized by the imaginative education research group (IERG) in SFU's faculty of education, the conference will feature seven major speakers and 100 presentations.

It is expected to draw about 300 scholars, students, administrators, policymakers and educators worldwide to examine the role of imagination in teaching and learning.

IERG founder and education professor Kieran Egan is the first researcher to demonstrate how imaginative activities trigger progressively advanced learning, based on cognitive skills.

IERG develops curriculum resources and educational tools that jumpstart learning through imagination.

In her lecture, Imagining the Worst, Noddings will argue that “we need to imagine ourselves not only as a victim but, more powerfully, as perpetrator” to achieve our best.

“The best example is seen in the recent events in Iraq,” offers Noddings, who has written extensively about the correlation between imagination and learning in everything from the ethics of care to mathematical problem solving. “The young people who committed the horrible crimes against prisoners in Iraq would probably have been reasonably good citizens if they had not been exposed to the pressures of war and the unexpected role of prison guards. We should teach high school students the lessons we have learned from every war. The least we can do for our kids is to inform them that the loss of moral identity is a possibility every bit as likely as the loss of life or limb.”

Noddings will also hold a lecture about her research and talk with invited graduate students and faculty at the Burnaby campus on July 15 at an event separate from the conference.

Roland Case, a professor of curriculum and social studies at SFU, will talk about nurturing the imagination through critical thinking.

Case is the co-founder of an association of 30 school districts,
post-secondary institutions and teaching organizations developing teaching practices and materials to cultivate critical thinking.

He cites several reasons why critical thinking is lacking in the current education system.

“The pressure to prepare students for system-wide exams that often measure only basic factual knowledge and the adage that we teach as we were taught are two impediments to teaching students to think critically,” says Case.

To find out more about conference events and a pre-conference workshop on IERG's imaginative teaching model see: www.sfu.ca/conferences/ierg2004

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