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Experience, Imagination and Integration: Creative Drama for Values Education

National Academy of Education Administration, Ministry of Education, Beijing 102699, China
Ganzhou Institute of Education Science, Ganzhou 341119, China
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Sustainability 2022, 14(18), 11113;
Submission received: 4 June 2022 / Revised: 25 August 2022 / Accepted: 29 August 2022 / Published: 6 September 2022
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Cognition and Education: How to Create a Sustainable Bridge)


Values education is one of the most significant ways to promote cognition of individuals and even the sustainable development of human beings. It helps people make appropriate valuative judgments and selections. With the advancement of society, values education should not merely point to the inheritance of tradition and the uniformity of collectivism, but also adaptability to the future and heterogeneity of individual well-being. Catherine Elgin believed that students should be taught to deliberate about how to choose with broad purviews, various angles, and tight relationship between individual and community. Based on her perspective, in this article creative drama is proposed as a potential approach for values education, which includes three key dimensions. Experiencing multiple situations broadens people’s horizons and gains more potential choices. Imagination promotes people’s competence to consider further and to develop adaptability for the future. Integration of the real and unreal helps them to continuously reflect on themselves and reconstruct their relationship between individual and community. This article provides a general theoretical framework to explore the relationship between creative drama and values education, as well as how it promotes values education; however, this still requires further study in practice.

1. Introduction

When referring to values education, there are different variants, such as moral education, civic education, or ideological and political education. From the time of Aristotle to today, Values education has always been considered as the core of education, and is defined as educational activities conducted to provide basic humanitarian values such as respect, responsibility, justice, honesty, solidarity, tolerance, peace, and so on [1,2]. It has been assigned importance to any society as it could shape an individual’s moral character to maintain an environment that protects the welfare of its members [3]. In addition, it is in favor of individuals understanding themselves [2] and provides them with the best tools and methods available to enable them to form independent critical judgements about their beliefs [4]. Undoubtedly, values education is one of the most significant ways to promote cognition of individuals and even the sustainable development of human beings. However, how to implement values education more effectively is still a common problem that requires in-depth consideration.

2. Values and Values Education

A common perception that overrides types of values education such as moral education and civic education is equipping people with the competence to make judgements and decisions judiciously in various situations, even though these variants have characteristic tendencies. The concept of values has an irreplaceable position in the field of social sciences, which would invite an enthusiastic interdisciplinary collaboration, broaden the range of the social psychologist’s traditional concern to include problems of education and reeducation as well as problems of persuasion [5]. Dewey held the belief that value is not something transcendental or essential that objects possess, nor is it a purely subjective, relatively personal opinion. The reason why objects have value is that people appraise and evaluate them in specific situations. This evaluation and appraisal is the valuative judgment, and it would result in valuative selection and valuative decision [6]. The opinion of Dewey laid a significant foundation for successors’ discussion of values. Evaluative and orientation have become the most fundamental differences between values and other ideas [5]. The successors hold the idea that values are the beliefs or views of what is worthy, important, and desirable, and which can guide our selection and behavior [5,7,8]. From this point of view, values education is a type of education which guides individuals to appropriately evaluate people and things in various situations and informs them how to make judgments and decisions. It helps people to have appropriate principles which they should adhere to, and which they can embody when they act. These principles are important criteria for people to evaluate and judge the behavior of others as “good or bad”, “right or wrong” or “noble and vulgar” [9]. Therefore, the fundamental mission of values education, it can be inferred, is valuative judgement. So how can you implement values education more effectively to promote people’s values judgment?
There has been a debate existing over values education, that is, whether schools should instill values in students or promote them to explore and develop their own values [10]. The former makes the character education model emerge, and by the latter came the values clarification model and the moral cognition development model. With the development of society and education, deficiencies in these two orientations have been noticed. In the character education model, it is hard to build consensus about which values should be taught, and it does not consider that students can rationalize and understand values from different sources, such as peers and the media [10,11,12]. Criticism of the types like the values clarification model and moral cognition development model is downplaying the influence of community on values and ignoring the cultivation of social and emotional abilities such as care and sympathy [10]. Gradually, values education has tended to seek a balance between these two orientations, which has led many educators to improve the traditional mainstream values education model, such as the proponents of values clarification trying to explore a new model combining moral guidance and values clarification [10]; the traditional character education model developing also to be a new character education model. Whatever the orientation, people are inclined to pay more attention to values education’s inheritance and collectivism, as it aims to convey to people traditional virtues and character traits formed over thousands of years of history and which deserve to be inherited; it aims to put the existing common consciousness of a certain country or society into one’s mind to make them a qualified citizen or a person who meets the expectations of that particular society. However, facing a changeable and unknowable future, values education should not only look towards the inheritance of tradition, but also towards future adaptability; it should not only look towards uniformity in the collectivist dimension, but also towards heterogeneity in the dimension of individual well-being.
Dewey made it clear that valuative judgment is not judgment about values. Valuative judgment is not a descriptive judgement but a predictive judgement, is not a judgement of spectator but of participator, is not a judgement after what happened but before what will happen and in what is happening [13]. It is an appraisal affecting people’s behavior, both now and in the future, occurring in a specific situation. Nonetheless, the situations people face are not invariable. With the continuous development of society and technology, the world is undergoing rapid changes, and the situations that people face are becoming more and more sophisticated. If people face such changing situations with a stubborn and inflexible attitude, they are likely to become casualties of the times. As some people say, the only constant in the world is that it is inconstant. In the context of time, values education should also teach people how to confront changes and how to judge, choose and decide about change.
In addition, situations people face do not exist only in lives as citizens, but also exist in different aspects of their lives. As Elgin said, there may be something unduly narrow about assuming that the full justification for education derives from enabling someone to function as a citizen [14]. Due to different social roles, people’s choices and decisions, guided by their values, are always diverse. Furthermore, with the development of society, people would pay more attention to individual well-being. Ronald Inglehart conducted research in 43 societies, arguing that a similar path of development of these societies, albeit at different times, at different paces, and through different meanderings, is from preindustrial to modern to postmodern. Most societies around the world are now in the phases of modernization and post-modernization [15]. The main feature of post-modern society, described as Inglehart, is maximizing subjective individual well-being. If Inglehart’s findings are right, with the development of society it is important to keep a watchful eye on the heterogeneity of individuals. If people’s lives are full and well-rounded, then their education should be comprehensive, and it is significant to include heterogeneity in uniformity for values education. Possession of unified values is reasonable for a specific country or community, but that does not mean the content of people’s values education has to be uniform. The existence of unified values is for the common good of a collective community, but individuals can also pursue their own good providing it does not conflict with the common good. This reflects the respect of different individuals and is also beneficial to the common good of the whole community. As Elgin said, individualism and collectivism are mutually reinforcing [14].
What is discussed above is values education’s mission and direction. So how can you undertake the mission in a direction which should harmonize tensions between the inheritance of tradition and the future adaptability, as well as the uniformity and the heterogeneity?

3. Values Education and Creative Drama

Elgin contended what is significant for people to find their own good and confront a changing era is to broaden their vision and make them aware of more options. “If a person’s purview is too restricted, her ability to form a conception of the good will be stunted. She will be unaware of the range of opportunities open to her or of the reasons she might have to consider them desirable” [14]. Meanwhile, people “need to appreciate how tightly the realization of our individual conception of the good is tied to the good of our society, hence to the goods sought by other members of our society” [14]. Elgin shows that students should not be taught what to choose or what to do directly, but should be taught to deliberate about how to do it by themselves with comprehensive consideration. This kind of comprehensive consideration contains broad purview, various angles, and a tight relationship between individual and community. These are what are believed to be the significant contents of values education. Is there any approach to help students obtain such contents?
Dewey opposed the separation between learning and life, and advocated that education is a constant reorganizing or reconstruction of experience [16]. He believed that education is life itself, and the best education is to learn from life and experience, or else learning by doing. Doing is fundamental, and education should begin with a student’s existing life experiences to enable them to adapt to the social environment. There are two key points to Dewey’s opinion: experience and doing. Experience is where learning originates and doing is a means of learning. The maturity of the individual is the accumulation of experiences and the collection of “doings”. With their age increasing, students are likely to encounter social situations in which several values, rather than one value, may come into competition with one another. Through experience and a process of maturation students can learn to integrate the isolated, absolute values they have been taught in this or that context into a hierarchically organized system, wherein each value is ordered in priority or importance relative to other values [5]. However, people’s experience is restricted, and it is difficult to gain enough opportunities for “doing” during learning in reality. In response to this problem, many educators suggest that it is necessary to arrange more situations to expand and enhance the experience of students, making them learn by participating in variational and specific situations. Carol Gilligan and Nel Noddings argued that the education of moral judgment requires the use of a contextual approach to appropriately confront the dilemmas of appraising and judging moral behavior, and the solving of moral problems requires people’s understanding of their socio-cultural contexts [17,18]. So how can situational methods be effectively integrated into values education? Drama is that which can integrate a situational approach into education. Of course, the drama here does not refer to the kind of performative arts found in a theater, but rather to a dramatic form as an educational medium. It can be called creative drama.
The phrase creative drama is from the name of the book Creative Dramatics written by Winifred Ward, a pioneer of American dramatists, in the 1930s [19]. It is also called informal drama, creative play acting, process drama, and development drama. It is an improvisational, non-performative, process-oriented type of drama, and participants are guided by a leader to imagine, enact and reflect on their experiences, both real and imagined. In Britain, it is referred to as Educational Drama. As both a theatrical modality and an educational modality, it uses drama as a medium in all types of education. Today, it has become a new form of integrative education that merges game education, project-based education, situational education, experiential education, theater education, and interactive learning [20]. There are four basic elements: groups, teacher/leader, ideas and space [21]. Creative drama is carried out in a group through cooperative learning and student-team learning [22]. Sometimes, a class with many students can be subdivided into smaller groups of 2–10 people. Teachers or leaders are the designers and organizers of creative theater activities, and they are crucial to the teaching process. Their experience and ability have a great impact on the group and the development of the drama. Idea is the starting point of creative drama, and it can be developed into a specific topic set by the teacher or situation the student creates. The space for creative drama is flexible. An ordinary classroom is enough, and its size is mainly determined by the size of the creative drama team. There is no fixed model for the procedure of creative drama, but generally speaking, there are three stages: planning, creation, and reflection. Planning includes the negotiation of ideas, the establishment of rules, the warm-up, etc. At the creation stage, situation-setting, role preparation, role-playing, etc., take place. Reflection generally includes discussion, replaying and conclusions. According to the specific goal, different teachers can create different designs and make different changes. The key points of creative drama are improvisation and participation. Improvisation is “through the use of the artistic medium of unscripted drama” [23] and constantly dealing with unique situations which require novel approaches, as described by Schön. Participation involves placing students in a developing situation and requiring them to act, deliberate, interact, and express. This is a process of self-spectating, where there are two stages: doing and spectating. David Davis believed this is a kind of metaxis, which involves coexisting and fighting between the real and the unreal [24]. For example, the real you is a gentle and good-mannered person, but in an enacted situation you could be a violent rogue. During the process of playing a role, you must act and talk with others and even try to think like a violent rogue, but you know it is not the real you and is simply something you must do to develop the situation. The long-term goal of creative drama in school is to help students better understand themselves and the world in which they live, to help them learn how and when to adapt to the world in which they live, and to help them gain understanding and satisfaction through the medium of drama [24]. The first goal is to guide students to develop an understanding of themselves as social beings, or how to look at and evaluate the world. The second goal of knowing how and when to adapt to the world in which they live is a deep analysis of society to teach students how to make judgements and decisions appropriately. The third goal of gaining understanding and satisfaction is to emphasize different levels of well-being for individuals. From the above, creative drama and values education have something in common: they both focus on people’s competence to look at and act in the world. Creative drama can be an effective approach for values education.
But how does creative drama promote values education? It goes through three dimensions: experience, imagination, and integration.

4. Experience: Repository of Situations

When embarking upon the journey of creative drama, students step into a specific situation and begin a new experience. This kind of experience can broaden their vision and enrich their potential choices although it has not actually occurred. As a type of art form, creative drama has the following nine key elements: role, attitude, purpose, tension, limitation, time, story line and plot, pre-history and context, dramatic action, and dramatic event [24]. The elements of role, attitude, purpose, pre-history, and context must be clarified before a dramatic situation begins. These elements are combined to form a situation waiting for development by participators. Experience can be gained from such a situation. It is well-known that everyone’s experience is restricted, but dramatic situations can break this restriction, affording students the opportunities of multiple experiences. Drama provides students with an “as-if” environment and learning in drama makes students feel safe [25]. In such an environment, it is safe to express and explore values, and it is easy for students to rest assured. Without psychological pressure, students can develop and express themselves freely.
Firstly, creative drama can lead to students experiencing the results of different choices. As discussed earlier, values can guide individuals to look at people and things, as well as make judgements and decisions in specific situations. If people have the chance to weigh different results of multiple choices during the process of valuative judgement, they can make a more appropriate decision. Although there is always only one chance to make values choices in real life, the drama could offer participants the opportunity to experience the potential consequences of different choices in multiple situations. For example, in the drama of valuative judging of plagiarism students will be guided to experience different consequences of plagiarism and non-plagiarism in an enacted situation. After experiencing possible consequences like distrust from teachers and peers, the threat of being kicked out of university or something else terrible as a result of plagiarizing, students will recall this experience and consider it in the event of confronting a similar selection in the future. As Elgin believes, one of the goals of education is to broaden people’s horizons and show them more options so that they can select the most appropriate one from abundant options, rather than select the only one they must do. Creative drama can give students more choices, expand their experience, broaden their horizons and it also provides them with more resources before their true valuative judgment.
Secondly, students can experience different social roles through creative drama. Zhang Xiaohua believes that the various backgrounds and positions of roles can enable students to gain new understanding of the differences in behaviors among people, and to handle all kinds of interpersonal relationships properly [19]. In other words, role-playing helps students gain new social experiences. For example, one is a very ordinary student in real life but a judge in the dramatic situation. Probably this student has never been a judge and has never even been in a court, but participating in the drama gives them a chance to experience what a judge would experience. Of course, in addition to being a judge, they can also play other social roles. However, we must be clear that how a student plays a particular role depends on his or her background. So, how can a student with no experience of a judge play the role accurately? What is crucial is preparation for the role, whereby the student can discover more about what a judge should be in reality and what their work is, by interviewing a real judge and seeking advice from an experienced person, or reading related books. This can also motivate students to observe others in real life, which would help them gain a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of the community. In addition, the teacher should take the age, social experience, and other characteristics of the participants into consideration when choosing the theme and setting of the drama such that they closely match the participants’ real-life experiences. Can creative drama give students the experience of a judge in reality? Of course not. However, the student has the opportunity to “be” a judge and to see what they would do facing what a judge encounters in reality. In role-playing, students cannot develop the situation completely from the perspective of others, but at least they can escape from their own world and look at the problem from a different angle. A study has shown that role-playing triggers changes in attitudes and behavior in people—smokers would have a negative attitude towards smoking after role-playing a patient diagnosed with lung cancer [26]. In this case, we could not expect all smokers to look at the world or behave from the perspective of lung cancer patients in reality, but role-playing allowed them to step out of their mind habits and discover a new possibility.
Thirdly, various situations in creative drama can help students to experience unexperienced emotions, which can promote valuative judgement and selection. Emotion is significant for values education. Aristotle believed that emotions were an essential component of virtue. “Emotion is an essential part of any human decision-making and planning, and the famous distinction made between reason and emotion is not as clear as it seems” [27].
Let us take a 2006 Canadian documentary film, La leçon de discriminations, as an example [28]. This documentary shows us how a teacher uses an enacted situation to expand the emotional experience of students to help them independently explore valuative choices related to discrimination. With the permission and agreement of the school, parents, and students, the French teacher set up a situation pertaining to inequality in her third-grade classroom. She divided her students into two groups according to height and told everyone that there had been a study showing shorter students were better and more creative than taller students. At the same time, she also sets some privileges that only the “better”, shorter students can receive. For example, they can leave class five minutes earlier and can use mats when skiing. In this way, the group of shorter students plays a more intellectually prominent role by enjoying privileges in the situation, while the group of taller students does the opposite. After entering this situation, the teacher adhered strictly to the setting of the situation, constantly emphasizing how bad the tall group was and even putting them in red vests to make the students more engaged in the situation and develop freely and in an impromptu fashion. Although there was some resistance from the taller students and some queries from the shorter students, a situation of prejudice was eventually formed within a day. When the teacher invited a taller student to answer questions, the shorter students would say loudly, “He won’t, because he’s tall.” Facing such a situation, the taller students were unhappy, and someone even cried. The next day, the teacher swapped the roles of taller and shorter. She told her classmates that there was an error with the previous research and that the finding was that taller students were better than shorter students. On this day, the teacher praised the taller students the same as the previous day, and all the privileges were transferred to them. The red vests were put on the shorter students. In this situation, the shorter students were unhappy and felt discriminated against. After the two-day experiment was over, the teacher brought all the students together for a discussion, telling them that this situation of “as-if” was over and she hoped every student would understand the point of this experiment. After this experiment, the documentary film interviewed several students and found it had had an impact on them. One boy said he had laughed at his classmates before but would never laugh at others again and would even stand up to reprimand such behaviour. Ten years later, in 2016, Canadian radio revisit the group of now grown-up students and produced a new documentary film, La leçon de discrimination 10 ans plus tard [29]. It was found that the situational experiment at that time had had a certain impact on the values of life behind them. One student stated that when he felt that he might be discriminating against others in reality the emotion that he experienced in the third grade would come back.
The case shows us the significance that a situation contributes to the broadening emotional experiences. Just as Lambert believed, establishing a world that students believe in is an important precondition for drama in education [30]. This Canadian teacher established a world of “as-if” to bring students an extraordinary emotional experience. Some people might think the teacher evokes, in this situation, a bad emotional experience for students which could be harmful to them. However, for values education we cannot exclude students from feeling bad emotions. For one thing, it is inevitable that students’ hearts will be touched in the exploration of values that involve people’s subjective choices, and the bad emotional experiences evoked in values exploration of values is an important part of a comprehensive consideration for their future judgement and selection. Furthermore, no one in reality can avoid bad emotional experiences. The environment of “as-if” is safer than reality and offers students an opportunity to experience bad emotions in an environment that is far less harmful than reality.

5. Imagination: Foundation of Adaptation

Elgin believed that no one could ensure what is required by people in the future with the continuous development of society. “We should equip our students with higher order skills that enable them and motivate them to learn how to learn and to recognize when established ways of doing things have become outdated” [14]. Maxine Greene, analogous to Elgin, held the belief that “all we can do is cultivate multiple ways of seeing and multiple dialogues in a world where nothing stays the same” [31]. They show that it requires people, when faced with a changeable and unknowable future, to be equipped with the competence to think about and reply to the unknown. As this article stated earlier, it is adaptability for the future which values education should look towards.
How does one possess such competence to think about and reply to the unknown? Maxine Greene holds the idea that Everyone’s reality can be considered as interpreted experience, and the mode of interpretation depends not only on a person’s situation and location in the world but also on the number of vantage points a person can take. The number of perspectives will disclose multiple aspects of a contingent world, not a self-existent world. From this point of view, a person’s interpretation and judgement of the world are influenced by the number of perspectives; or, by one’s purview that is closely related to the imagination, because “Tapping into imagination can break what is so-called normal or ‘common-sensible’ and to carve out new orders in experience”, as well as “to call for imaginative capacity is to work for the ability to look at things as if they could be otherwise” [31]. Therefore, the adaptability for the future could be promoted by developing students’ imagination.
In creative drama, students are asked to imagine the world of others. Take a student playing the role of policeman as an example. To play the role well, they must first imagine what a policeman looks like. Associating memory fragments of what a policeman may have met in daily life and how they behave is necessary for this imagination. What is then required is for them to combine the image of the policeman in memory fragments with the dramatic situation, in order to imagine how the policeman will be and what they will do in the enacted situation. In this way, participants could develop the story of the drama by entering another person’s world, rather than just seeing it from the perspective of their own world. Through the gate of imagination, the meaning of experience of the past enters the present situation. Realizing other people’s world is beneficial to students to enable them to jump out of their familiar patterns of thought and change the perspective to look at problems. This provides participants with a thought base for adaptability.
This type of imagination is based on the experience of the past, whether it is an individual’s own experience or someone else’s. We could call this “experienced imagination”, but in creative drama we are also required to make a bold imagination of the unknown world. This kind of imagination is called “non-experienced imagination”, and it pays more attention to breaking the limitation of experience. For instance, in a drama based on looking at the impact of technology on human life in the future with no experience of the future, the student playing a person whose life is full of multifarious technologies is required to jump out of their existing experience after entering a specific situation and adopt an unrestrained and imagined way to portray how technology in the future may advance and develop. In his imagination, there are perhaps time shuttles that could help people meet loved ones they have lost. Such imagination can offer students a platform to think about the future, helping them seek out the possibilities of the future which equips us with a vision that can provide direction for adaptation.
So how can creative drama promote imagination? The “as-if” power of creative drama provides students with various situations to participate in, and it is through the participation of students that creative drama can release their imagination. Due to this participation students are placed in the midst of a situation, and they become both learners of pre-history and context and beginners and explorers of developing plots. “When a person chooses to view herself or himself in the midst of things, as beginner or learner or explorer, and has the imagination to envisage new things emerging” [31]. After entering a specific situation, participants of creative drama can gain an opportunity to experience what is different from their own lives. However, such an experience is not complete. Creative drama demands that students develop a situation and story through participation in improvisation, which promotes the imagination of the students.
Improvisation in theater is the playing of dramatic scenes without written dialogue and with minimal or no predetermined dramatic activity. It is not limited by the rules of the script, but rather by the effort and experience of the learner [32]. It allows students to jump out of self-awareness, cultivate imagination, and understand the connection between physical movements and external things [25]. An important concept of improvisation theater is “Yes-and” [33], which means that participants must accept and develop what their partner said and then add to it. Using the “Yes-and” rule properly leads improvisers to build elaborate and interesting scenes.
“Yes-and” requires students to jump out of self-awareness and follow others’ ideas, and in this way can they try to think from others’ perspectives and broaden their views. For example, Andy has been thinking that it is better to take a stable job, but during the improvised drama her partner Lily thinks taking a job that is not stable but full of challenges can give her passion for life. In this situation of the “as-if” situation Andy has to say “yes-and”, which requires her to accept a different perspective with an open mind and think with initiative about the meaning of taking an unstable job, something that Andy has maybe never thought about. In the drama, she had the opportunity to look at the world from a new angle. “Yes-and” is a significant approach for improvised drama, but not the only one. Values education is sophisticated, involving individual judgment and choice. To help students gain more perspectives, develop their imagination, and better explore values, teachers can also turn “yes-and” into “yes-but”.
Dewey believes that imagination comes from experience. From this point, this article considers improvisation as “experiencing”. There is no script for the life of people, and every day is full of new encounters that will become the experience over time. In creative drama improvisation offers students a platform filled with the unknown that we encounter, through which they can gain new experience with continuous interaction with partners and the environment to develop their imagination and adaptability for the unknown in the future.

6. Integration: Promotion of Reflection

Two dimensions of creative drama, experience and imagination, have already been discussed for promoting values education. Participants obtain multiple experiences through different objective situations provided by creative drama, and develop their existing experience through subjective imagination. In these two dimensions, participants get new experience and broaden their horizons, which may contribute to getting comprehensive consideration for making valuative judgments. Is it only in this way that people can make appropriate valuative judgments or valuable selections in real life? Creative drama, whether through experience or imagination, it is based on an environment of “as-if”, but values education is about the relationship between people and the real environment. Therefore, there should be one more crucial step: integration. It is the integration of the unreal role and the real being, of the situation of “as-if” and the real environment. It assists students in reflecting on the relationship between self and others, individual and community.
Firstly, integration requires students to work out why others behave in a certain way and how it reflects their own behavior. According to David Johnson, role-play is a process of identification in which actors assume they have part of a personality which is in line with others. In drama, the participant and the role are not exactly coincidental. Participants are required to integrate emotions and behaviors into the role, whilst being aware that they are playing a role which is different from themselves. Therefore, through creative drama, participants can not only enter new situations and experience new roles, but also recognize the heterogeneity between the role and the real being. In the dimension of integration, multiple worlds and multiple perspectives brought by experience and imagination help participants to think further. How to become the role? What are the consequences of playing the role in a certain way? What would my real self do if encountering the analogue situation in real life? What are the similarities which exist between my real self and the role? When asking such questions, integration of the real and unreal is taking place and students can review themselves from the positions and perspectives of others. For example, a student playing the role of a hero who sacrifices themself to rescue others enters a specific situation and develops the story; they will know more clearly about why this role has such action when considering if their real self would act in the same way when encountering the same situation in reality. Through the action of the hero in drama, the participant has the opportunity to reflect on the gaps and differences between the real being and the role, and through this can gain a much clearer self-understanding. Students may also seek out their own purpose through questions that are constantly asked and start a new exploration. For instance, with the theme of protecting the environment, a participant is required to play an environmental advocate and debate with an environmental polluter. During the role preparation and the development of the drama, they would recognize the meaning of environmental protection as well as the reasons why someone might pollute the environment. Knowing the two different points of view would help them think deeply about the issue. It is possible that they would become aware of the importance of environmental protection and begin to reflect on what they do in daily life, and even deliberate about what they should do in the future. In this way, they would find a purpose in their real life, like a lamp guiding their actions. As Dewey said, an aim is a way of being intelligent, and of giving direction to our undertakings. Of course, helping students find a meaningful purpose in daily life is a further goal of creative drama for values education. It is based on the basic function of offering students a platform to explore values, broaden their views, and allow their consideration to be more comprehensive.
Secondly, this integration makes students aware of the close relationship between individual and community and reconstructs their understanding of community. Margent Jendyk, a Canadian expert on drama in education, pointed out that drama can enable students to improve their abilities of social cognition, political conscience, mutual trust, and interpersonal relationships [34]. This is because of the content of drama which is always based on various issues, events, and social problems of real life. When it comes to the theatre for social change, the “theatre of the oppressed” would come to mind. Creative drama is nourished greatly by the theatre of the oppressed theory, which emphasizes the surrender of theatrical sovereignty to the oppressed general population by a full dialogue between the stage and the audience; this serves the purpose of social changing and wisdom enlightening. Audiences can, in theatre, fully explore personal and community experience, self-liberation, and social action plans. Rehearsal for real action is the description of the oppressed theater by Augusto Boal [35], which is also the embodiment of the spirit of creative drama. The most well-known model of the theater of the oppressed is the forum theater, which is also an influential convention of creative theater. The audiences and the actors can discuss social issues together there, promoting conscientization and critical thinking. Creative drama pays more attention to the reality, particularly the society we live in. People cannot live without interaction with others and the social environment, and it is the same in drama. Erving Goffman used the imagery of the theatre to portray the social interaction of human beings. He believed people were more often than not regarded as the representation of an actor, including environment, performance and attitude, and there was a difference between the essential self and the social self. To achieve an ideal image in the eyes of the audience, the actor must coordinate the contradiction between the essential self and the social self [36]. Their opinion shows interacting with others and the environment is what is in common between people in society and actors in theatre. The meaning of the performance of an actor’s behavior is inseparable from the interaction with others and the development of a drama based on the interaction between its roles and environment. Through improvisation, creative drama requires students to constantly interact with the drama group. In this way, it can also help students to better interact with others in real life. Creative drama encourages multiple expressions and emphasizes the establishment of an environment of equality and respect. Mutual respect is the first thing a teacher should explain to every student. As Ruth Heinig believed, participants should be fully accepted and communicate freely and openly in a good environment for social, physical and emotional expressions [37]. In such a group, mutual influences of emotions and experiences of the participants occur, which can easily bring about values of coexistence and mutual benefit.
Creative drama can reconstruct the understanding of community. Although values education should not ignore the individual, individuality and collectivity should promote each other, not confront each other. In addition to living in the objective material world, people also live in the subjective world of consciousness. Through drama, on one hand, students can promote socialization by acquiring social common traits and social communication. On the other hand, they can discover what kinds of stereotypes exist in society and what negative effects these stereotypes have on individuals, as in the case of the Canadian class on discrimination. These stereotypes are gaps that affect the integration of common good and individual good. Only when students recognize these gaps do they have the opportunity to transcend them in reality.

7. Discussion of Creative Drama for Values Education

The previous sections of this article discussed how creative drama promotes values education from three dimensions: experience, imagination, and integration. As an approach to values education, creative drama can provide students with a platform for the exploration of values, instead of telling them directly the answer about a particular valuative judgement and selection. During this exploration, they can broaden their views and discover more possibilities, which will help them make judgements and selections in reality with comprehensive consideration. As for the student who played the role of environmental advocate, they may not become a true environmental advocate in real life, but this dramatic experience will make them consider the issue fully, which will contribute to their valuative judgement and selection. As Elgin said, “in Expansion of one’s imaginative range, by broadening one’s perspective, enables one to recognize and appreciate the pros and cons of various options, as though from the inside. Through imagination, a person can ask herself, not just what is good or bad about this way of life simpliciter, but what would be good or bad about this way of life for me” [14].
As an educational form, creativeness and student-centered are the crucial features of creative drama. They stimulate students’ imagination through experiencing various situations and promote their adaptation to the future while developing their creativity. It pays much attention to students’ acquisition in the process of experience and imagination, which is a typical embodiment of learning by doing. Besides, in today’s creative drama, traces of various theatrical modalities like the oppressed theatre, and psychodrama can also be seen. Compared to them, the features of creative drama are accessibility, inclusivity, and guidance in the entire process. It can be put into practice in a classroom, playground, or even an empty room, and there is no requirement for the participants’ performance skills, as well as lighting, props, stage scenes and setting, etc. The inclusivity is reflected in the integration of various theatrical and educational theories, and various valuative conceptions such as equality, compassion, and environmental protection can be educated through it. Furthermore, creative drama is not simply the self-entertainment of a student group but is guided by a teacher [38].
Within the practice of creative drama, the leading role of teachers is mainly reflected in three aspects: The first is that before students’ participation, the teacher will choose the topic of the drama and set the initial situation and relevant rules for students, such as telling them to keep violence and abusive language out of the development of drama to protect all participants and establish a safe environment. The second is during student participation, where the teacher could also join in with a role, to develop the drama together with the students. The third is that after student participation, a discussion about the drama can be organized by the teacher. It seems that teachers could push students to learn what they want them to learn. The tension between teachers’ guidance and students’ own exploration does exist; however, they are not contradictory but mutually reinforcing. It is precisely because of this tension that the students’ exploration is not just a game among themselves but an ordered educational reflection. Firstly, teachers have richer social experience and are usually more socialized than students, which can help set up a social situation that students have not experienced and guide them to reflect on drama activities in an appropriate way. Secondly, students are prone to problems when developing drama, such as nervousness, hesitation, distraction, etc. At this time, the “side coaching” of teachers can help students maintain focus [39]. Thirdly, teachers can protect students by establishing rules and developing drama with them. Fourthly, teachers need to help students, in some particular circumstances, to escape from the bad emotions brought about by drama. For example, if a taller student in the Canadian documentary film was emotionally hurt and was unable to step out of it for a long time, the teacher would be required to keep attention to the student by helping them deal correctly with the bad emotions in the drama, and, if necessary, conducting some psychological intervention. Of course, this also increases higher demands on teachers. In creative drama for values education, the teacher is not a giver of answers but a facilitator of exploration; an inspirer of creativity, a protector of students, and a keeper of order. They are required to ensure that students develop drama in a safe environment, and simultaneously ensure that the development of drama is reasonable and logical. Their work is not about making every student have the same answer, but to gain experience and broaden their horizons in drama to enable comprehensive consideration. Self-consciousness is important in creative drama because it is the basis of our value exploration. Nevertheless, as Nellie McCaslin believed, the self-consciousness of participants is also the biggest obstacle to creative drama [40]. Therefore, there should be a role to stimulate or restrict the self-consciousness of the participants: the role of the teacher. If the self-consciousness of the participants is regarded as a kite, then the teacher is the line; it allows the kite to explore freely in the sky of values, but at the same time makes sure that it does not lose its socialized channel. This shows us how important the role of the teacher is in creative drama for values education.
The features of accessibility, creativeness, inclusivity, and student-centered activity make creative drama for values education a sustainable educational form and contribute to the sustainable transformation of human social psychology. Sustaining, tenable, healthy, and durable are the four descriptors of sustainable education [41]. Creative drama can hold various sustainable values topics and promote relevant valuative action and behaviors of the student, contributing to the sustaining of people, communities, and ecosystems. Students’ subjectivity is respected in creative drama, and everyone has equal opportunities to experience what they did not experience, which leads students to strengthen the connection between individual and community. Such learning with integrity, respect and inclusiveness promotes the tenable. The creative drama has no special requirement of students and environment, which is a viable teaching system and works well enough in practice for schools to be able to keep doing it by promoting the healthy and the durable. As we all know, transformation to sustainability can be defined as physical and/or qualitative changes in form, structure, or meaning-making, but can also be understood as a psycho-social process [42]. Creative drama can promote the in-depth learning and implementation of sustainable valuative conceptions of individuals, promoting one’s cognition and socialization. Furthermore, coupled with its accessibility, creative drama is conducive to expanding the coverage of sustainable valuative conceptions and enhancing their popularity, accelerating the psycho-social process.
This article provides a general theoretical framework to explore the relationship between values education and creative drama, and how it promotes values education and provides a new possibility of how to promote values education and guide the work of education practitioners in the future; this is also a manifestation of sustainability. However, this requires practice to explore further. It should be noted that the creative drama for values education is not without thresholds. Firstly, it demands that the teacher has the relevant knowledge and skills, as well as sufficient time for the preparation and organization of the teaching. Secondly, it is best to be implemented offline, which can help students better experience and integrate. Of course, with the development of AR, VR, and AI, it is possible for online creative drama activities, but that requires further exploration. These thresholds would bring some challenges to the development of creative drama, but they can also guarantee the sustainable effect. In addition to the online exploration, there are two significant directions for the development of creative drama for values education. On the one hand, how does creative drama promote values for students of different levels? There is a huge difference between elementary students and college students, so how can creative dramas be designed for students of different levels? On the other hand, teachers are critical for creative drama to produce values education, so how do we produce a qualified teacher? What rules and skills should they be required to have?
With the unending progress of society, values education should not merely point to the inheritance of tradition and the uniformity in the collectivist dimension, but also the adaptability for the future and the heterogeneity in the dimension of individual well-being. Creative drama is suggested as an effective approach, which can promote values education through experience, imagination, and integration. Furthermore, what must be clear is that creative drama can provide students with a platform for the exploration of values, instead of telling them directly the answer about a particular valuative judgement and selection.

Author Contributions

Conceptualization, R.H.; Writing—original draft preparation; R.H.; funding acquisition, R.H. and Y.H.; Writing—review and editing, R.H. and Y.H. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.


This work was funded by Bejing Office for Education Sciences Planning 2022, China, grant number 3016-0004.

Institutional Review Board Statement

Not applicable for this study because it does not involve humans or any intervention towards humans directly.

Informed Consent Statement

Not applicable.


I am grateful to Catherine Elgin, Graduate School of Education, Harvard University, for advice on earlier drafts of this paper.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


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Hong, R.; Hong, Y. Experience, Imagination and Integration: Creative Drama for Values Education. Sustainability 2022, 14, 11113.

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Hong, Ruixiang, and Yun Hong. 2022. "Experience, Imagination and Integration: Creative Drama for Values Education" Sustainability 14, no. 18: 11113.

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