Is Education Limiting Imagination?

Credit: Youtube

Recently, a friend shared a post on one of my many whatsapp groups which I happily ignored as I glanced at its length till another friend, whose opinion matters commented on the post. Her comment got me reading the longish text which turned out to be a story- “The Little Boy” by Helen Buckley. A mandatory read for all parents and educators across the globe.

A little boy goes to school and his teacher announces that the class was going to draw. The boy cannot contain his excitement and begins to draw from a plethora of images that run through his mind when he is stopped by the teacher who says they were going to draw a flower. His enthusiasm doesn’t get dampened, instead, he pulls out his pink, orange and blue crayons and begins his work when the teacher stops him and turns to draw a red flower with a green stem. She now asks the class to draw. The little boy liked his flower more but he keeps that to himself and begins to draw what the teacher taught them. Days later the teacher announces that they were going to make things with clay. The boy is thrilled. He loved clay modeling. He would make airplanes and…Just as he was about to start he was stopped and the teacher said that they were going to make a dish. The boy gleefully began making different dishes of myriad shapes when the teacher stopped him and showed the class how to make a single deep dish. The boy liked his dishes more but quietly rolled it all into one big ball and made a single deep dish like his teacher made. This trend carried on till the boy’s parents moved to another city and he had to go to another school. Here the teacher announced that they were going to draw and so the little boy sat and waited till the teacher asked him why he wasn’t drawing. The little boy asks her what he must draw to which she replied that he could draw whatever he wanted. So he asked her if he could draw a flower and when she nodded he asked her if he could use any colour. She said yes and he began drawing a red flower with a green stem.

I had moist eyes when I read this story and a pang of guilt too. Don’t we all set norms for children thinking it is the best thing to do and not realizing how limiting we are! That is how we were taught and that is how we teach! If we defend the teacher for her green stem, how do we justify the dish? Education has to be a happy mix of reality and imagination. I remember being tortured during my school days with Maths. I never understood it in school and my father would teach a different but easy method which my teacher wouldn’t accept. Caught between the two of them I used to be in tears confusing both methods and getting nowhere! Finally, I didn’t even want to understand; I didn’t want to be unhappy either and I needed those marks and so I had the distinction of learning Maths by rote!

In the process of growing up and getting into the rut of our lives, even the best of us tend to leave our beautiful fairytale dreams (not the achieving something in our lives variety) aside and brush them off as silly, immature stuff. That is the reason why the “JK Rowlings” are so few and far between. Most of us prune our imagination to meet societal norms. I face it when I write. I find that my sense of responsibility eats into my fun factor when I write.

An English author of a non English speaking country said during my visit to the literary festival two years ago that when we write children books we must write as children and not as adults writing for children. Unfortunately, this pearl of wisdom came after I painstakingly completed my book of short stories for kids (yet to see the light of day) which was not written as a child and which had a moral. I know that this format is also needed because we do need to teach children right from wrong but it shouldn’t be because that is all we can write.

Knowledge is important but it is a facet of education. Yes, stems are green though the petals may vary in colour. The teacher could have got the children to observe flowers and their green stems but given them the freedom to create different kinds of petals, in a riot of colours. Education is all encompassing and has many dimensions. Education can and should never be limiting. It should broaden our horizons and let us think freely. If our forefathers had no imagination, where would we be? Not everything we envisage will be a success but if we don’t dream beyond set patterns, we will surely stagnate.

I have been mulling over this story by Helen Buckley since I read it and I cannot thank her enough for her insight. I thank my friends too who brought this to my attention. If only, I had read it when my kids were little, I may have been more conscious while bringing them up. As parents, we do our best to give our children a wholesome life but sometimes we overlook little things by ensuring that they do what we were told to do. It is never too late though to learn and unlearn-the very reason why the blog is called just that!



  1. I couldnt agree more..... I happen to have witnessed the crushing effect of our restrictive education system first hand.
    My daughter was born with a prodigious talent for numbers. Before she could frame complete sentences she could add any 2 single digit numbers in her head. But when she began school the teachers were having none of that rubbish. They forced her to count on her fingers and slow down the lightning speed of her mental calculations. I wonder sometimes if she would merely be excellent at Math if no one had told her how slow to go....
    While there is a framework within which all of us need to function socially (for which certain norms need to be drilled into children), there should be no restrictions on their mental growth and expansion.
    Lord alone knows how many frontiers we have stopped short of simply because we refused to allow our children to reach them.
    I pray things improve with the many new styles of education I see coming up all over these days. Children are brighter and less restricted in newer generations and I wish them luck in the flights of their mind and imagination.

    1. That is sad indeed but we do come across it in different ways...and yet there are some teachers who inspire in us a willingness to learn and tell us no matter what we do during the process of our learning, it is not wrong but another opportunity to the Art teacher in Jsm...she was awesome and my daughter and I loved her class...I would've turned out good if I went beyond that one class!!

  2. I agree, we do it as parents too, though I would like to think that our generation is better at giving their chosen style of wings to our children than our parents generation.


    1. It's true that we give our kids a lot more choice than we got Mini but that's all because our kids have more exposure than we did and tend to question, which we never did. Yet, there are a number of times out of exasperation, if nothing else, my explanation to a stubborn "why?" has been a final "...because I say so"!!

  3. So so so true and pertinent!!!! Social conditioning.. Sometimes more a bane than a boon.. So well written, Precise, Concise and Crisp!!! Loved it...

    1. Thank you Tox... :) You must be a hit though...I've seen you with my kids...since you need room to let your creativity flow, you indulge others as well...I still remember you and Bhowkoo on a clay modelling spree!! :D

  4. Natural manuring and feeds in small shipments for the little budding seedlings!!!


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