Cultivating Community / Cultivating Imagination:
Published article by Anne S. Perrah
in NCME National Reporter [with Suggested Quotations and Photo Captions]

Every child is the universe newly engaged in knowing itself into being.
Anne S. Perrah, Ph.D.

The secret of good teaching is to regard the child's intelligence
as a fertile field in which seeds may be sown,
to grow under the heat of a flaming imagination.

Maria Montessori
To Educate the Human Potential

Since the imagination arises from the child's contact with nature,
each child is a born ecologist. Thus: save the children
to save the imagination to save the planet."

James Hillman

Let us write a new story
of our journey to wholeness,
a new story expressed in our art,
shared in our songs, and lived in our lives;
a new story of a new beginning.

Sam Crowell, The Re-Enchantment of Learning

Imagination is an essential element in both our awareness
of the world and our attaching value to it.

Mary Warnock, Imagination

"Our children may be called upon
to substantially reinvent our culture
by changing our core assumptions
about what is real and true and meaningful."

Thom Hartmann, The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight

The role of education is to interest the child profoundly
in an activity to which he will give all his potential.

Maria Montessori, From Childhood to Adolescence

The highest poetic endeavor has as its inception
the child's need to be what he wants to understand,
and to express that knowledge in some outward form.

Edith Cobb, The Ecology of Imagination in Childhood

If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder...
he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it,
rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.

Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder

Cultivating Community / Cultivating Imagination

It begins for me with a story...

The story is of a father's love for his son and his commitment to help the boy through a terribly disempowering experience. His son had been diagnosed with ADD, and the negative way in which the "disorder" had been explained left the boy feeling confused, betrayed, and with his sense of self fairly shattered. This father set himself to the daunting task of learning everything available on the subject of Attention Deficit Disorder, for he was determined to find a positive way to help his son deal with this condition, to see himself again as a valued and valuable human being, with his self-esteem intact. The most fascinating part of this story for me was learning how this insightful and creative father used his imagination to achieve his goal for his son's well-being. This father is Thom Hartmann, the man who has become an internationally recognized author and lecturer on the subject of ADD/ADHD. In particular, Thom Hartmann is the author of the groundbreaking theory that has come to be widely recognized through the metaphor for ADD as "Hunters in a Farmer's World."

My own story tells how my fascination with creative ideas for cultivating imagination in children has led me to become deeply involved with Thom's world of Hunters and Farmers. Throughout my thirty-some years in Montessori, and as a perpetual student myself, there has been one perduring question driving my academic and philosophical pursuits: How do children discern or decide what it means to be a human being? And, thereby, how best to serve children in their process of world-making?

With my introduction to Montessori philosophy in the 1960s, I was set on fire with the force for good which is the legacy of Maria Montessori. Over the years, our "born to learn" children themselves have taught me to trust their innate intelligence, to honor their intense search for meaning, and to appreciate the value of their playful capacity for imaginal thinking. I have seen how readily the child will use a story like an imaginal field to think with, and I have witnessed how deeply real learning engages the child's whole being. As Dr. Montessori in her wisdom has taught us: "The role of education is to interest the child profoundly in an activity to which he will give all his potential."

I have become convinced over the years that Story is the very heart and soul of teaching; I have witnessed how deeply children resonate to the power of Story. I recall a pivotal moment in my own classroom, as I sat observing, listening unobtrusively to a group of children engaged in a lively process of casting themselves into a play they had created. Amid exuberant, insistent declarations of "I'm that! I'm that!" I recognized that this was the very same phenomenon I had observed when children watch a filmed story together. In this intense moment of epiphany I re-listened to the shouts from out of the mouths of these babes, and I realized that in this metaphoric move they were "casting" themselves into being! I was called back to the seminal book, The Ecology of Imagination in Childhood and Edith Cobb's words: "The highest poetic endeavor has as its inception the child's need to be what he wants to understand, and to express that knowledge in some outward form." A child needs to embody, to act upon, what he or she is learning. These prophetic words reaffirmed for me a premise from my own Master's in Education thesis: "Every child is the universe newly engaged in knowing itself into being."

What is learning human being all about? I am deeply called to explore the mystery that Richard Steinpach pointed to when he said, "A mystery still surrounds the coming-into-being of man." And, as Dr. Montessori has helped us to see, this mystery is not limited to the physical side of our being; rather, it encompasses the spiritual and more, to discern being human. Convinced that the whole child, in order to thrive as fully and authentically human, must have a direct, ongoing and reciprocal engagement with Nature, I committed myself to pursuing this essential inter-connectedness within the frame of Cultivating Childhood's Imagination: Exploring the Imaginal Fields of Childhood for my doctoral dissertation at Pacifica Graduate Institute.

We need to listen to our children, I proposed. We need their sense of wonder, their fresh eyes and their curious minds; we need their stories. We need their open hearts to help us imagine together a viable future for the world. They need the freedom with our blessing to honor their innate awareness of the spiritual, numinous aspects of life, and permission to experience and express their true nature. In the book, The Re-Enchantment of Learning: Sam Crowell quotes a Chinese proverb: "If you want to know the world, look inside your heart." Sam invites:

Let us write a new story
of our journey to wholeness,
a new story expressed in our art,
shared in our songs,
and lived in our lives;
a new story of a new beginning.

Sam Crowell

Island-Hopping Around the World... and Back Home Again

My story's route to Thom Hartmann took a rather circuitous pathway: around the world! At NCME's National Conference in San Diego, I had shared ideas about expanding on the "Imaginary Island" work as given to us by Dr. Montessori. I had suggested the exploration of the idea that when we approach the subject of Islands from the principle that "everything is connected to everything", we find that Islands can be a literal as well as figurative "jumping off place" for exploring our world and, at the same time, exploring many different ways of learning.

The Island as metaphor can function for us as a microcosm of our idea of World. In this sort of "bite-sized" piece of real estate, we can provide our children with many opportunities for trying out their working theories of reality, for testing their ideas, checking out their hypotheses and their stories, of how the World works, opportunities for exercising their languaging and thinking skills through questioning, comparison and contrast, drawing conclusions, and for creative imagination. Within the thematic context of The Island we can introduce our children to virtually everything from tectonic plates to technology, from basic land forms to the Fundamental Needs of the Human Family, from magma to magic! As we begin to see, The Island is no small thing...

Each child in our care is a little "island" of potential, as is each one of us connected and interdependent in crucial, essential ways to all of others, for life. This is so profound a truth that many of us hear it echoed at every turn. So, it is from this perspective, from this context, that we approach "The Island": it has the potential to do service to much more than providing an interesting Geography lesson, or a pleasant diversion for a Summer School afternoon.

In my workshop, I asked the participants to consider: Who are we inviting children to be in the world? How are we helping our children to learn, to discern or decide what it means to be a child in this world? What it means to be a human being? Because, somewhere inside every lesson, every experience of the child, that is the primary lesson being taught. I believe that the more conscious we remain of this meta-reality, the greater service we can be to our children and to our world. I find that whenever we as learning facilitators ask ourselves how we may best serve the child's understanding of the community of life, then what we offer our children goes deeper, and resonates with who they really are, and who they came here to be. We have been blessed with the immeasurable side benefit of this way of teaching: the inherent joy of being with children in love with learning and with life.

The feedback I received from my "Islands" workshop let me know that I had reached a deep core of resonance with other Montessori teachers. A "volcanic" vision like that can really catch fire... and it did! I read another book, and my life has been on fire ever since!

The Evolution of an Idea: Hunters’ Island / Farmers’ Island

The book that contributed immeasurably to the evolution of my "Islands" story was ADD: A Different Perception, by Thom Hartmann. It was here that I read how it all began with Thom's personal experience of his own son being diagnosed with the "disease" as if it were a Ritalin deficiency! Over time, Thom's research clearly indicated that, while there are many differing views of ADD, the cardinal indicators of ADD are distractibility, impulsivity, risk-taking or need for high stimulation, and a distorted time-sense.

However, what Thom came up with in response to his son's situation was nothing short of brilliant: a powerful metaphor from out of the Story of the Agricultural Revolution that began some twelve thousand years ago. The Scientific American article Thom was reading one night explained how this shift from hunting / gathering to farming transformed human society. He was suddenly thunderstruck with the significance of this story, and how it related to his growing understanding of those indicators of ADD. He sat straight up in bed, and said to his wife:

"People with ADD are descendants of hunters! They'd have to be constantly scanning their environment, looking for food, and for

threats to them: that's distractibility. They'd have to make instant decisions and act on them without a second's thought... which is impulsivity. And they'd have to love the high-stimulation and risk-filled

environment of the hunting field."

"What are you talking about?" she said.

"ADD!" I said, waving my hands. "It's only a flaw if you're in a society of farmers!"

And from that powerful insight Thom Hartmann went on to develop his metaphor of "Hunters in a Farmer's World." In the years that have followed since that originating insight, there has been more and more support from the scientific community for the soundness of these original observations and theories. What really struck me, when I met Thom earlier this year and heard him speak about "Hunters and Farmers" was to hear how he exercised his intuitive and imaginative faculties to explore the possibilities of this rich and deep story. Thom asked himself, "I wonder, what would it have been like, back in those days of hunting and gathering, before the time of agriculture...?" Thom put himself in that story, in the cultural context of those times, and what he learned there and brought back has been a great boon for us all. I wonder what it's like...

Part of the harsh reality surrounding ADD that Thom points out in his book is this: "But we today are not a society of hunters, raiders, and warriors. We are [a society of] farmers, office- and factory-workers. [Note: The "Farmer" traits are more than likely to be delineated as "purposeful, steady, dependable, organized, patient, team player, careful, good with detail"] We are not a society of hunters. Therefore, we punish and discourage hunter and warrior behavior in our children and adults. When people grow up being punished for being the way they are, they become damaged."

I became fascinated, even passionate about Thom's work, and I began reading everything of his (and those works he recommended) that I could get my hands on. My fascination did have a practical side. Over the last few decades of teaching, I have seen more and more of these "special" children, boys and girls alike, coming to us, and I am not aware of a Montessori course that incorporates specific training for dealing with the challenges of the ADD child in the Montessori environment. In a world where life is honored and held as sacred, there can be no "throw-away" people. I had the feeling I was not alone in wanting positive and practical information about how to serve these precious children in our classrooms and on our playgrounds. Montessori's own prime directive came to my aid: honor and follow the child. So, I asked the children!

One memorable afternoon, I sat outside with a group of children, four to seven year-olds, and I asked them to tell me: what do you think it would be like to be a really good hunter? How would it feel to be a "hunter?" And I asked them the same kinds of questions about being a "farmer." I simply recorded their responses.

After we had reviewed the children's ideas of hunters and farmers, I invited them to play an Imagination Game. I asked them to imagine that there are two islands. On one of these islands, there live only hunters, and on the other, only farmers. Then I asked them to decide — individually [beyond group / peer influence]— on which island he or she would like to live. The results were remarkable, for the children quite readily sorted themselves into "hunters" and "farmers" in ways that demonstrated clearly for me that they know who they are. They know who they are!

Then things got really exciting around our school! From that original inquiry a story began to arise spontaneously, out of "the child's need to be what he wants to understand." When the children extended their "Hunter's Island / Farmer's Island" Story out onto the playground, I asked a partner teacher, Mary Kate Land, to assist me in recording the unfolding creation stories of the two islands. Mary Kate hung out as the recorder in our garden area which had quickly been designated as "Farmer's Island," and I went to "live" on "Hunter's Island," the grassy mound near the animals at the far end of the playground. Quickly, every imaginable area of the curriculum began to organically weave itself into the project as the two groups of children explored all the ramifications of creating a sustainable community of life for their respective islands. The children's ingenuity, tenacity, and mindfulness were marvelous to witness.

In stark contrast to our children's "Imaginary Islands," there have been the "survival" island shows on popular television. Louise Hartmann and I were having a robust discussion on this cultural phenomenon, and we mused together, wouldn't it be worthwhile to create a "Survivor's Island" Game for children, only this would be a game in which the "win" would come when the island worked for everyone, with nobody "kicked off" or left out? We agreed that this is the kind of world we need to build toward: a world in which the focus is on the balance of nature, compassionate intelligence and respect for the whole community of life is held as crucial for a viable future for the planet.

One amazing result of this process has been over time the construction of two beautiful Folded Spiral books, one for each of the two Islands. The other fascinating and gratifying development has been that these two islands of "People," each with their own separate genesis — their own "Creation Story," their own "People's Story" — have now begun to communicate, to visit and trade. We are witnessing a third thing: the cultivation of community is coming through this child-led, mythopoetic (story-making) process. In deep humility, I say that I believe the implications here are profound and far-reaching. What these children are showing us so vividly are the possibilities for finding creative, empowering ways of helping more of our "hunters" and "farmers" learn to understand and accept each others gifts and strengths, children and adults as well. And we hold in our hearts that the children who are participating in this work will take something valuable with them to share, as they move on.

The whole experience continues to be a profound learning adventure for me. Having recognized the "hunter" in myself, I feel deeply and personally the importance of this work and its message. So strongly do I resonate to the intuitive goodness of this approach to ADD /ADHD, that I have produced a short video pilot of our school's "Hunters' Island / Farmers' Island" Project, which is now available through my website: I also highly recommend Thom Hartmann's website for a wealth of information on ADD/ADHD, and updates on the many things Thom is doing:

I wholeheartedly extend the invitation to any and all teachers in schools around the country to follow the child before you, and to engage with your children in this mythopoetic inquiry into the ancient story of the hunter/gatherers and the farmers of the world. Then, see where your children take you. Discover if for you the children embrace this learning project that reflects their hunger for what Thom refers to as "a sense of aliveness." I will be very grateful if you will from time to time Email me and share with me some of your stories of "hunter/farmer" experiences or questions. With your permission, I will be incorporating some of this material into my doctoral dissertation. It is my intention to gather your stories together for the NCME Spring Conference, to share with fellow Montessorians. I've been asked to do a three-hour workshop this year, so there will be time left for Q & A, and Thom, who is giving the Keynote address this year, has agreed to "hang out" with us, as we work with some of this material.

What Our Children Are Teaching Us

We teachers have been privileged to see the deep "knowing" that our children reveal to us as they have playfully embraced such embodied learning as this Hunters' / Farmers' Islands story/experience. The self-referencing, "I'm that!" quality at the center of our children's experience brings to mind Thom Hartmann's "teaching for aliveness," and also a vivid reference to the Native American experience. In Richard Erdoes' book, Crying for a Dream: The World Through Native American Eyes, there is a striking photograph of eagle-dancing Henry Crow Dog, graced by his words: "I used to eagle-dance. I could dance so good, people forgot I'm a human being and think I'm wanbli, the eagle. That's the way I moved, slowly, cocking my head. When I danced that way I felt sacred. I feel I'm an eagle and while I dance I am eagle." Like the child, needing that imaginal field in which he is free to be what he wants to understand...

What our children are revealing to us requires of us that quality of maieutic interaction which was what Dr. Montessori pointed us all toward as the very cornerstone of our approach: follow the child. To follow requires responsive observation, true listening, and a deeply shared inquiry into what we are making the world mean. For as Thom Hartmann, in his impactful book, The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, has cautioned us: "Our children may be called upon to substantially reinvent our culture by changing our core assumptions about what is real and true and meaningful."

The "Imaginary Islands" Project: Hunters, Farmers, and the Gifts of Diversity

The heart of the "Imaginary Islands" Project lies in the creative intelligence of the students themselves, while it provides them with a comprehensive, cross-curricular vehicle through which they will freely explore the complexity of diverse living systems. It affords them direct opportunities to examine the human process of enculteration and the wider impact of their decision-making, creating together hope for a viable future.

Summary of Presentation: A 15 min. Video Pilot of the "Imaginary Islands" Project [a part of Ms. Perrah's Doctoral Dissertation] will be presented, followed by a brief lecture / explanation and overview of the structure of the Project, with suggestions for various scenarios for short and longer applications. Examples of students' class work will be displayed, such as 3-D models of their Imaginary Islands and their unique "Folded Spiral Books" for Hunters' and Farmers' Islands, and a third Spiral Book, "When Hunters and Farmers Meet." A portion of the presentation will be experiential, with time allotted for Q & A.

Cultivating Community/ Cultivating Imagination


Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder

Edith Cobb, The Ecology of Imagination in Childhood

Sam Crowell, The Re-Enchantment of Learning

Richard Erdoes, Crying for a Dream: The World Through Native American Eyes

Thom Hartmann ADD: A Different Perception

Thom Hartmann, The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight

James Hillman, The Thought of the Heart & the Soul of the World

Maria Montessori: Education for a New World

Maria Montessori: To Educate the Human Potential
Chapter 2: The Right Use of Imagination
Chapter 4: The Universe Presented to the Child's Imagination

Maria Montessori, From Childhood to Adolescence

Daniel Quinn, My Ishmael: A Sequel

_____, Through Indian Eyes, The Native Experience in Books for Children.
Edited by Beverly Slapin and Doris Seale.