Imagination Is More Important Than Knowledge

Imagination Is More Important Than Knowledge

John Tan, CEO, Doyobi
March 11, 2022
2 min read

But Harder To Teach And Measure. So Schools Take The Easy Way Out.

Einstein famously said:

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.

Most of us, educators included, viscerally understand why it’s more important to imagine than to know. Yet, schools are almost entirely focused on knowledge. Granted, imagination is built on knowledge. It’s easier to imagine what else might be possible if you know what exists now. The Wright brothers used a gasoline powered internal combustion engine for the first aircraft they built in 1903. One might argue the Wright brothers would not have come up with the idea of a flying machine if the combustion engine didn’t already exist.

Nonetheless, the emphasis in school on teaching and testing for knowledge in this day and age is perplexing. Not that knowledge is not important, but why is it the be all and end all of what modern education is about?

Imagination is a skill and mindset like any other. It can be taught.

One argument for not teaching imagination in schools is that imagination is innate. Either you’re born with it, or you’re not. It cannot be taught. I think that’s nonsense. Imagination is no different than the ability to draw, play a musical instrument etc. We learn to imagine when we are challenged to ask questions, think about what is possible, and express those thoughts in words, sketches, pictures etc. Mass produced battery powered cars only existed in the mind of Elon Musk before Tesla factories started churning them out at scale. Harry Potter was the imagination of a struggling single mother on government benefits before being made into books, films and games. We do kids a disservice by telling them the Elon Musks and JK Rowlings of the world are one in a billion, individuals born with exceptional imagination.

Getting kids to imagine starts with not cramming their minds with useless knowledge.

Too much of education today is about telling kids what they need to know. Instead of forcing kids to remember facts and testing their ability to retain those facts, let’s give them the headspace to imagine. Anyone who has spent significant time with young children will tell you how good kids are at role playing, inventing and storytelling. Slowly but surely, they start to lose some of that as they leave kindergarten and enter elementary school. Teaching kids to retain their innate imagination and express their ideas is much harder than teaching them facts, but much more valuable for the kids and much more useful to humanity. It’s much harder for a school to do this with two thousand kids than for a parent to do this with two kids.

As parents, let’s keep encouraging our kids to ask questions, tell stories, and challenge the status quo. Almost all the modern day conveniences we enjoy today stemmed from somebody’s imagination. Humanity stops progressing when kids stop imagining.

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