Teaching Toward Utopia: Promise, Provocation, and Pain in Pedagogies of Radical Imagination
Myers, Tamara Lyn
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A review of literature about education for social justice revealed that while imagination is frequently invoked as one of the pedagogical goals toward which radical educators aim, its nature and processes by which it might grow are under-theorized. Furthermore, scant attention is given to the challenges that educators face in their work when imagination is integral to their efforts. This inquiry began with two key assumptions: first, that the goal of creating a more just social world is shared widely among radical educators, although the shape of this visionary world is contested, and, second, that imagination plays a vital role in bringing desired change about. This study engaged a group of 25 radical social justice educators who share these assumptions and whose efforts take shape in diverse contexts in conversations about their educational ideas and practices. This project had three areas of focus: the significance of radical imagination in the pedagogical and political work of social justice educators, the specific strategies they use to nurture it and the reasons underpinning their choices, and the difficulties they face in their efforts. The overarching purposes of the project were to construct theoretical and practical frameworks and to explore the significance of pedagogies of radical imagination for social justice education in light of the field's transformative aims. The substantive chapters of the dissertation elaborate three main lessons I draw from the research conversations, some of which confirm dominant themes in related scholarly literature and others that challenge them. First, while conversations confirmed that one important way educators conceive of the kind of imagination needed in social change work is as a capacity to envision horizons of social-political possibility in new ways, they also illustrate that imagination can be conceived as an aspect of both perception of existing realities and embodied action, modes highly relevant to learning for social justice and enacting change that warrant further consideration. Second, conversations affirmed the unique roles the arts can play in cultivating imagination, but illuminated a variety of other pedagogical strategies that can be used to provoke the imaginative modes my research partners spoke about. Third, the study challenges a prevailing idea among its supporters that imagination necessarily builds inspiration and hope by outlining significant and painful struggles my research partners say they - and those with whom they work - face in working to foster radical imagination. Looking across the dissertation process as a whole, I make two further arguments. I identify a set of creative tensions radical educators face in their pedagogical work. I also argue that as a field of inquiry and practice education for social justice is at its most potent when its varied transformative aims are kept directly in view as animating forces for our individual and collective efforts. In the dissertation's "Afterwords," I reflect on the personal significance of this project in the context of my life story, teaching, and activism. Beyond the goal of contributing to the small but excellent body of movement-relevant theories of radical imagination, my overarching goal in this project is to help generate knowledge that can support the development of a broader range of imaginative practices among radical educators and more intentional and effective teaching and learning within social justice movements.
- Education - Seattle