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The Web of Imagination: What John Lennon, Daniel Pink and Maria Montessori Have Taught Me

December 8th is the birthday of my dear brother Joe – the second oldest of five.  December 8th also happens to be the anniversary of the death of one of my heroes, John Lennon. Last December was the 30th anniversary of his tragic passing.

I admired John Lennon for his commitment to world harmony and peace, which never wavered throughout his life. Lennon said that the songs that were most meaningful to him were the ones he wrote that directly expressed his sentiments on life and the problems of the world.  He said, “There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.”

There two other touchstones of John Lennon’s life and work that have been particularly important in shaping my own educational philosophy– his belief in the power of the imagination and his trust that children had great wisdom and insight to offer the adult world.

When I founded the Oneness-Family School, I wanted to create an inspiring and fun environment for children that would stimulate their imaginations.  From the design of the classrooms to the methods of instruction, I wanted to foster the natural awe with which children are born.  I also wanted to create a place where children could be children and be happy and safe.

Perhaps no creation of John Lennon epitomizes his believe in the generative power of the imagination than his song “Imagine.”

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world.

You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one.

It turns out that what Lennon intuitively knew about the value of imagination is now being borne out by modern research.  In his bestselling book, “A Whole New Mind,” Daniel Pink talks about how “right brain” thinking is becoming more and more important in our quickly changing and interconnected world.  In fact, the subtitle of the Pink’s book is “Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future.”

Pink says, “R-Directed (right brain) thinking is suddenly grabbing the wheel, stepping on the gas, and determining where we’re going and how we’ll get there.  L-Directed (left brain) aptitudes – the sorts of things measured by the SAT and deployed by CPA’s – are still necessary.  But they’re no longer sufficient. Instead, the R-Directed aptitudes so often disdained and dismissed – artistry, empathy, taking the long view, pursing the transcendent – will increasingly determine who soars and who stumbles.  It’s a dizzying – but ultimately inspiring – change.”

In designing the curriculum at the Oneness-Family School, my vision is to create a learning framework that encourages students to make connections across subject areas and to ask natural and important questions.  I also designed a direct and constant link between the arts and academics – between the creative/right- and logical/left-parts of the brain.

Pink sites a plethora of research and documented trends to back up his conclusions.  What John Lennon sang about, social thinkers like Daniel Pink are articulating as a major, cultural shift taking place right before our eyes.

There is one other aspect of John Lennon’s legacy that has pollinated my own thinking – his childlike approach to life and his appreciation for the gifts of children. He said, “When I was 5-years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy.’ They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”

Children don’t have to define happiness; they live it. They know what happiness is when they feel it. For children, happiness is it’s own definition, but as they get older they get told that happiness is conditional – dependent on something else – money, status or other rewards.  This is where we adults can often get off track.

According to Maria Montessori, “All other methods of education have taken the work of certain adults as their point of departure and have sought to educate or teach the child according to programs dictated by adults.  For my part, I believe that the child himself must be the pivot of his own education – not the child as people ordinarily think of him but rather his innermost soul.”

John Lennon’s commitment to peace and harmony, his belief in and practice of imagination, and his childlike approach to life have helped lead me down a path of following my own heart and of helping children follow theirs. The threads linking John Lennon, Maria Montessori, Daniel Pink – and me – are like the fibers of a finely crafted web that I am now beginning see more clearly – as if in the light of a new day.

OK  – one more John Lennon quote for the road:

Reality leaves a lot to the imagination

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