Google+ bakers and astronauts: Imagine, Chapter 5 : The Outsider

20 August 2012

Imagine, Chapter 5 : The Outsider

People often talk about the "innocence" of children.  It is assumed that most children are blind to the negative things about the world, and how everything fits into the big picture.

In Chapter 5 of Imagine, Jonah Lehrer explores "the outsider", and he likens children's uninhibited creative endeavors to their inexperience with rejection and judgement.  He shares the thoughts of UC-Davis psychologist Dean Simonton, writing that "youth benefit from their outsider status - they're innocent and ignorant, which makes them more willing to embrace radical new ideas" (p. 124).

We have all seen and heard young children's "radical new ideas".  Young children solve their problems so differently than we would.  For example, this summer, we were playing a game of wolf and chicken at camp.  The game is exactly like sharks and minnows, with the animal names altered to reflect more of a farm and garden theme.  One little boy was very upset at being tagged and needing to be a wolf during the next round, so he created the role of "magic chicken" -  a chicken who cannot be turned into a wolf.  There was one designated magic chicken each round.  I even got a turn, designated by the boy who made up the rule.  It was accepted easily by the group.  Adults would not accept such an illogical idea, but children are, by nature, more accepting, more open, and less judgmental.  This is something that we cherish, and for those of us who follow a child-centered persuasion in the classroom, it is incredibly valuable and necessary for teaching and learning.

A little more food for thought:  Lehrer muses a bit on insiders versus outsiders in our society:

Although we live in a world that worships insiders, it turns out that gaining such experience takes a toll on creativity.  To struggle at anything is to become too familiar with it, memorizing details and internalizing flaws.  It doesn't matter whether you're designing a city park or a shoot-'em-up video game, whether you're choreographing a bellet or a business conference: you must constantly try to forget what you already know" (p. 132).

This strikes me as incredibly relevant to the teaching process.  The idea of planning, in my mind, is quite different than before.  I can't fill out a teacher's plan book, although I've tried.  We have to try and be outsiders a bit, looking at the classroom, the centers, the materials, and more through a new lens - or else each year looks exactly like the one before, regardless of what the children want, need, or care about.  We owe it to children to be creative, and think about the experiences we want to foster with open minds.  I couldn't help but think about this in terms of Reggio Emilia, where an artist, not a teacher, runs the atelier, or studio.  For those of you that are familiar with Reggio Emilia, does this strike you as true?  That there is a benefit of having an outsider, on the inside?

I hope you'll share your thoughts - please feel free to share your thoughts on restriction to what I've proposed!

We'll be discussing Chapter 6 on Thursday, so keep reading!


  1. i do think that the ability to have teachers and atelierista collaborate brings this element — both because you have a outsider’s view of what is happening (as each comments on the other’s work in their own space or with their own small groups) but also because the questions and comments you get sometimes boost you into seeing things from a new perspective — letting you, for a moment, get a slightly outside view.

  2. Thanks for chiming in, Lori - yes, those "outsider" positions are so important for both the children to get different perspectives, and the teachers, also! It is so easy for us to box ourselves in creatively.


Thanks so much for joining the conversation!

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