Being Imaginative and
To create a new, peaceful world we need to think differently and employ
our imaginations to construct new images of our world, one in which we
are working together in sustainable and peace-building ways. We need to
construct new paradigms and allow our imaginations to be playful and
unlimited by our present thinking and systems.
Read children's stories:
For the past two centuries our
educational thinking has been influenced by many inspirational
peacemakers and educationalists such as Maria Montessori and
Both have left indelible marks not only upon any existing
understandings about teaching and learning but more significantly, upon
any understandings about the nature of peace.
Born in the province of Ancona, Italy, in 1870, and after graduating
from university Maria Montessori became Italy’s first female physician.
In 1906 she left her medical practice to work with a group of sixty
young children of working parents in the San Lorenzo district of Rome
and it was there she founded the Casa dei Bambini, or "Children's House"
that eventually led to the establishment of the Montessori Method of
Education. Her philosophies and methodologies continue to enrich
educational thinking. Her beliefs in relation to the importance of
learning environments being structured to nurture and stimulate each
child’s individual development have impacted upon thinking well beyond
traditional learning institutions. Montessori schools exist in many
countries throughout the world and they operate co-operatively. The
inherent, well designed structuring allows children to safely explore
and grow in their worlds, to learn to trust and respect life and their
own innate and unique abilities. She believed teachers needed to
encourage and trust that children could be guided by their own internal
wisdom (Seldin, date unknown).
“It is not the
child as a physical but as a psychic being that can provide a
strong impetus to the betterment of mankind.”
“The child is
both a hope and a promise for mankind.”
human beings to whom respect is due, superior to us by reason of
their innocence and of the greater possibilities of their future.”
“There is in
the soul of a child an impenetrable secret that is gradually
revealed as it develops.”
Therefore she requested that educators
endeavour to educate the hearts of children and allow the innate peace
loving spirit of each child to guide any teaching and learning, and
consequently assist in humanity’s quest to create peace. The challenge
for educational systems is to nurture this innate peace-building knowing
and allow it to affect thinking and action.
Sharing stories of hope and peace is
one way both adults and children are able to come together to explore
peace-building, learn to sustain peace and live it in every moment as
Gandhi, whose thinking was significantly guided by the writings of
Tolstoy, also stated:
“Be the change you
want to see in the world.”
Leo Tolstoy, the great eighteen century
Russian novelist, was led to believe by his older brother Nikolai, when
they were both children, that he had written the secret for universal
future happiness on a green stick that was buried at the edge of steep
valley in their native estate. Future unearthing of this particular
green stick and the subsequent revelation of the power of the words
inscribed upon it would ensure the entire world would be enveloped by
1997). Inspired by this imagery, Tolstoy created many literary gifts the
world has been fortunate to inherit. He also chose to focus his
attention upon education and offered ideas to create more spiritually
The story of the green stick was never translated into English. The
spirit of this enduring story, though, has inspired the creation of “The
Green Stick”, a newsletter published by P.E.A.C.E. (Project for
Ecological and Co-operative Education), that is a peace-building group
of committed European peace-builders and educators. The newsletter was
first published in 1998 at Orel University in Russia and it promoted
international exchanges of peace-building educational activities.
Professor Felix Litvin, of Orel University, has expanded upon his
understandings of the original green stick’s origin.
|“In 1878, Leo
Tolstoy started writing My Life. In 1892, an extract titled "My
First Reminiscences" was first published in a collection "To
Russian Mothers". Among other things, Tolstoy tells in it how,
when he was five, his elder brother Nikol'en'ka declared to his
young brothers that he knew a secret which would, when disclosed
to all people, make them all happy; there would be no diseases, no
troubles, nobody would be angry with anybody, and all people would
love each other.
"... the chief secret of how
to make all people trouble-free, never quarrelling or getting
angry - he had written that secret, he told us, on a green stick,
and that stick was buried by the roadside at the end of a ravine
in the Old Reserve, in the very place where I - as there must be
somewhere to bury my dead body - have asked, in memory of
Nikol'en'ka, to be put to rest.
"And, as I believed then that
there exists the green stick on which was written that which was
to do away with all the evil in people and to give them the
supreme good, so I believe even now that that truth exists and
that it will be disclosed to people and give them what it
As Montessori and
Gandhi have suggested, focussing on educating the heart rather than the
mind, perhaps we can together with our children, find Tolstoy’s elusive
In search of the
can assist in this search. Two beautifully retold Chinese folk tales
that were used as part of a Studies of Asia focus based upon China with
year 4 students spontaneously, without any prior planning, became the
initiators of a search.
Dragon” by Yvonne Winer
Hamilton Books Sydney 1998)
This is not only an
ancient Chinese tale beautifully retold, with vividly clear and
colourful imagery, but the story is intrinsically a story of hope. It
evokes the power of dreaming.
It begins with the words:
"High in the
mountains, where mists hang like spider webs spun across the peaks,
lived a dream dragon. On silent nights she tumbled into the dreams of
the people in a remote village."
Immediately we are
captured and absorbed by the unfolding story. We are all dreamers who
love to dream. The dream dragon enters the dreams of the old folk and in
their dreaming she guarded their village and kept it safe from enemies.
For the parents in their dreaming she protected the children from wild
animals and for the children and she became a magical storyteller and
the children dreamed peacefully. Until one night the dream dragon did
not come. The people in the village became very anxious and the children
wondered who would tell them stories. The people believed their village
would no longer be safe. But the villagers got together and decided they
wanted their dream dragon to return. What they chose to do was certainly
molimo. The healing music and activities the people chose to undertake
healed their village which then in turn healed its people. The story
also ends happily with everyone winning and the dream dragon again
enters the dreams of all the villagers, especially those of the
children. Once again they could dream of stories with happy endings that
all begun with:
upon a time there was a dream dragon...."
The happy ending in
this story does involve everyone winning but also there are many other
essential peace-building elements inherent in this beautiful story.
There is no violence, killing or death. The villagers peacefully
responded to their problem and instead of choosing war the villagers
chose to work together and create molimo. People held their faith that
the dragon would return. There was always hope.
Critical questions to explore with
|What different dreams did the dream
dragon help the villagers dream at night? |
|What happened to cause distress
amongst the villagers? |
|What happened as a consequence to
the village? |
|What did the villagers decide to do
about their situation? |
|Did the dream dragon return to their
|Does the story have a happy
win-win ending? |
Creative questions to explore with
|Do you think the dream dragon really
|Why do you think the princess didn’t
have to slay a dragon? |
|What other things could have been
included in the test? |
|Do you think the dragon was brave
and like other dragons? |
|Do you think all dragons would like
to hear stories? |
|What would you have done if the
dragon had captured you? |
|Do you think the princess should
have tried to escape? |
|How else could the story have ended
with win-win? |
This story was read to
the students, quite unintentionally, on the day after the September 11th
anniversary. Immediately the students recognised the people of New York
had also lost their dream dragon. They pondered ways in which they could
help the peace dragon return. They decided to create their own dream
dragon stories for the children of New York. As the original story
unfolded it was revealed that the villagers created their own molimo to
entice the dragon back into their dreams so the people of New York could
perhaps do likewise. Just as the old people of the village wove a dream
dragon in brightly coloured cloth or the parents of the village children
decided to capture the dragon in the music they played or as the
children decided they should tell their own stories to capture her
again, the students wove their own special tale to help inspire the
people of New York. The students retold their own stories creating their
own versions of molimo to share with the children of New York via
These heart-felt words,
structured so clearly and innocently by each student, revealed that each
innately understood the meaning of peace and even how to create it in
their own lives. Their words were not prompted, just freely expressed.
Their words were true molimo.
Context: Studies of
Task: to create a peace-building story about a dragon who needs
to return to New York to help heal the wounds and bring faith and hope
back to the people.
and creatively had captured his own dream dragon within his story and he
had captured it also for the children of New York. William’s story
inspired hope for peace.
The children recognised
the importance of believing that peace would return again to the people
of New York and innately knew how to make it happen.
Tolstoy wrote vividly
about peace and war. He stated:
“War is so unjust
and ugly that all who wage it must try to stifle
the voice of
conscience within themselves.”
deliver messages of hope, and they involve happy endings in which
everyone wins, but there is another essential element that is
particularly represented in the following story. Dr Martin Luther King
Jr understood that peace was a process not an outcome and stated:
“Peace is not
merely a distant goal that we seek,
but a means by
which we arrive at that goal.”
So in order to live the
dream of peace, even daring to dream it as Dr Martin Luther King Jr did,
stories shared need to honour our peace-building dreaming.
Dreaming of peace
The next story explores
the power of dreaming but examines the nature of dreamers.
“Wan Hu is in the Stars” by
(Tambourine Books NY 1995)
This is one story
that empowers children to dream. Jennifer's book is very magical. It
gives permission to dream. The story of Wan Hu was an original story
that was inspired by a Chinese legend and it has been beautifully
retold. Wan Hu lived in a village near Beijing. He was absent-minded and
did not pay any attention to the things the other villagers felt were
important. He would wear only one shoe and a copper rice pot on his
head, or give greetings to pigs, and keep his parasol unfolded when it
rained. All Wan Hu seemed interested in was the heavens. He merely
wanted to know how the stars hung in the heavens and he was prepared to
try anything to find the answer to his question even though his choices
were quite absurd.
His crazy attempts
failed but on one night as he was watching the firecrackers being lit
for the celebrations for the emperor's mother's birthday an idea popped
into his head. Wan Hu decided that he would tie forty seven firecrackers
to a bamboo chair, then tie himself to the chair and light the
firecrackers. Yes what utter foolishness! Wan Hu was never seen or heard
of again. As the villagers looked at the heavens at night a blaze of
stars shaped like a lotus flower, similar to the flower Wan Hu used to
wear on his robe, shone above his house. Perhaps he did achieve his
goal. Wan Hu was foolish and he dreamed impossible dreams. But many once
considered the dreams of Gandhi and Dr King to be foolish also. As with
the story of the dream dragon, Wan Hu might inspire dreaming, a dreaming
of a peaceful world. It is a story that teaches openness to new ideas
and possibilities. It is a story that teaches dreaming of big impossible
dreams and teases the imagination. It is most importantly a story that
focusses attention beyond the day to day and helps us move beyond
to explore with children
What was different
about Wan Hu?
What did he dream of
Were his attempts at
reaching the stars successful?
What did the
villagers believe happened to Wan Hu?
What do you think
happened to Wan Hu?
Does the story have a
happy win-win ending?
to explore with children
Do you think Wan Hu
Do you ever day
How would you have
found out the answer to Wan Hu’s question?
What do you think the
stars are made?
What question about
the universe would you like answered?
How else could the
story have ended with win-win?
Context: Studies of
Asia year 4: China
Task: to retell (using the guiding main points if you want to)
then create other endings for this story? Did Wan Hu really die? What
happy ending can be created to finish this story????
scaffolding was provided to build the story around if the students
required it. In the group many possibilities were explored before the
individual writing task began. Although many students considered Wan Hu
to be insane they did recognise the validity of his desire and his
determination to achieve his dream.
Hu was a dreamer who dreamed of travelling to the stars.
His friend the gardener had an idea.
Wan Hu tried harnessing birds that fly high in the sky.
From the rocket makers he bought 47 rockets.
Wan Hu was never seen or heard of again.
imaginations exploded and they created wonderful endings to this story.
Henry revealed his
appreciation for Wan Hu’s quest as being worthwhile yet ended his
version simply not needing to elaborate being the dream being fulfilled.
Nathi has revealed a
greater appreciation for the creative power of dreaming and defined
achievement in terms of fame and being able to answer one of life’s
Vinay presented the
most mature of understandings revealing his insight into the powerful
dreaming done by indigenous Australians and their interpretations of
creation and the meaning of life.
As each child shared
their story with others each gained an understanding not only of each
other’s awareness levels but more significantly of the limitless
possibilities of magical and imaginative happy endings.
2003 was the 50th
anniversary year of the death of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. Although he
died seeking his dream's fulfilment, his hopes and desires for peace
live on. Perhaps if we all could dream a little more like Dr Martin
Luther King Jr or Mahatma Gandhi, dream of peace, dream of how we could
create it, then we also might be able to achieve our goal of creating a
peaceful world. Powerful imaginations are vital to peace-building.
Perhaps we all need to
honour and cherish the “Wan Hu” in each of us?
Leo Tolstoy (1828 – 1910) was a Russian writer who Although he
was born into nobility, who spent much of his life as a champion of
Russia's peasant class, notably in the field of education.. Retrieved
November 28, 2008 from