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Is "Imagination More Important than Knowledge"?
by Brad

When we bring Einstein into the dialogue, it always gets interesting. He’s the source of endless interesting and pithy quotes and, at our recent professional day, our keynote speaker, Dr. Bruce Bearisto, brought him to my attention again.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Albert Einstein argued this and, by doing so, he gives me (and other teachers) a challenge. We tend to feel a bit more comfortable with the tangible, the knowledge we can impart.

Teachers have been imparting knowledge for a long long time. Because we often know things that others do not, teachers have been able to provide that knowledge, test students on their ability to remember it and, in the best cases, their ability to manipulate it and create something new.

As an English teacher, I am now informed by a curriculum that argues more for the “how” than the “what.” This is a refreshing change. But it is scary too. In a world of smart phones, where remembering a phone number is a lost art (and besides, how can one remember so many numbers anyway?), and one where a student informs me that a film I refer to is available on YouTube about ten seconds after my comment in class (by checking his iPhone of course), how can I argue that I am the sole keeper of the knowledge?

I’m not. Google is, and Wikipedia and Watson, the supercomputer that beat out the two best Jeopardy players of the past two decades—easily, hands down, without a problem!

Where humans still have an edge is in imagination. Where does that knowledge lead us? What do we do with the things we know? And, sometimes, as in the case when the CEO of Sony Corporation asked his engineers to design a portable music player, we need to have imagination that precedes the knowledge of how to do it. The engineers answered with the first Walkman. Can you imagine a world without white earbuds in every ear?

Or one where your smartphone recognizes faces, gives you a link to a person’s online profile, warns you about people before you’ve even met them? Give us a year or two and that’s a reality, too.

Coming back to our keynote speaker, Dr. Bearisto, I found myself agreeing wholeheartedly with his notion that we have absolutely no way of knowing what our world will be like in five years, never mind in ten or twenty. And, if we cannot know it, then I agree that what we need to do is prepare students’ imaginations for a challenge beyond anything we’ve ever seen before.

The lions in Africa are nearly gone. Polar bears are mating with grizzlies on land. Storm rains are seven percent more intense. Droughts are more frequent. Humans demand freedom in the Middle East. Peak oil is just around the corner.

Can we imagine solutions? That is our task if humanity is to survive. As a teacher, I hope to provide my students with the ability to see the world clearly, to communicate ideas to others, to imagine how things might be and, finally, to use their imaginations to improve our lives.

Yes, I must conclude: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”



(February 20, 2011)

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