Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Imagination: Discussion

A funny thing happened on the way to work this morning (no this isn’t the start of a bad joke). I ran into a fellow scientific type and we had a nice conversation about ways of teaching children (okay nothing strange yet). But then my friend mentioned that he would prefer to see students focused on practical social skills and real life information. He considered imaginative stories “fluff”, well, that and he announced that he was a skeptic. “Well, I'll be hornswaggled” I thought, you know I am a skeptic too. So, we ended up having a little skeptic meeting.

Anyway his point is one I have on rare occasion heard before. That too much priority gets put on imaginative thinking and this loads the dice in terms of children later growing and believing in all sorts of nonsense. And that such skills are not always practical for certain children’s preferred vocations, as one educational article recently put it here in the great State of Utah “Cows Don’t Read and Don’t Care if You Can” (not kidding).

So here are my discussion questions for anyone who wants to tackle them.

1 Is promoting imagination intrinsically good/ bad in early/later education?

2 What is lost by removing it?

3 What is gained by keeping it?

4 Howe do we assess these?

5 What then are the limits for imagination?

And my answers:

4 Comments:

Blogger Interverbal said...

And my answers:

1 I think promoting imagination at any stage of education is good, provided we remind the students the difference between real and pretend. I would go so far as to say that imagination helped pave the way for my later studies of science and logic.

The ability to consider alternative possibilities (yes, this is a skill, not a birth right) is practiced by children seeing themselves on… we… on a prate ship.. or out in the woods.. and so forth.

I think back to reading “The Giver” in 5th grade which is a story about a future Earth and its people who have given up free will (Think, “Brave New World” for kids). A sorts of questions began to pop into my head. What is free will? Why did the people give it up? What would a world where people gave up free will really be like? How would you stop them if you wanted to?



it wasn’t the more disciplined aspects that were later important in high school and college.

Same goes for waking up at 3:00 am on a meteor shower night, going to get my mother and laying on a blanket for hours watching the meteors come down, that excitement and details of that memory are still with me, even though I was 6 years old at the time.

2 I think when one surrenders teaching imagination that teaching critical thinking about answers will be come more difficult, It was my experience as a High Schooler that they often bridged into more practical skills.

I see asking these questions as my foundation of questioning the world around me. I think that that if I lacked this pre-skill I would not have gained an understanding of logic, or fallacy, or the ability to entertain alternative theories of autism.

I think back to age seven and getting a chemistry kit. It was the crystals, and reactions, and odd names that captured my sense of imagination, it turned from the fanciful thoughts of sudden explosions and beautiful crystals to slightly more academic question of “If I do this, what will happen”.

3 I think that by keeping it, we do run into problems of discriminating (fantasy and reality). For the fellow skeptics out there, seriously, how many times do we get accused of being “obsessed with reality”? (show of hands?) I think there are ways around this by occasionally doing lessons where the students will discriminate reality from make believe and also by taking the time to talk about things like dreams. I think that a proper presentation of science will intrinsically involve the beautiful and mysterious. Lots of fantastic and fantastical things to see and to wonder about.

4 I think we can assess this for young children simply by looking at what is impossible vs. what is told to us. I also think Occam’s razorwill usually do the trick the rest of the time. I remember working in the hallway with my father just outside of by younger sisters’ room. Then we heard a loud “CRASH” we ran in there and there was a heavy dresser tipped over. My father said in that quiet but stern authoritative voice that only a father can do “Girls what happened” and my pre-school aged sisters looking very worried replied “the wind did it”. Of course my father and I fell down laughing. The idea that the wind could have gusted into the room through a closed window with enough force to tip a dresser without touching any of the far lighter materials in the room seems far less parsimonious than one of girls climbing on the dresser.

5 I think he limit is achieved when can no longer achieve discrimination of reality and fantasy. I also think that the limits should be more strict for adults compared to kids. Carl Sagan gives the example of a child offering a story of a multi-colored bird which “flew” into the house and broke a lamp. Perhaps under the pressure and guilt the young child truly can not discriminate between their story and the reality involving a soccer ball being kicked in the house contrary to family rules.

For myself I distinctly remember the coyotes that “lived” in the woods near my house. I would go into the woods to look for them, always assuming the flash of movement out of the corner of my eyes must be them and sudden crunch of branch was them scurrying for deeper cover.

8:18 PM  
Blogger Kassiane said...

OK now I can't see the questions but minor detail...

-I think promoting imagination is a good thing. Once upon a time kids had to play outside, and toys were merely suggestive of objects, rather than directly representational. Imaginative play and stories are how a lot of conflicts get worked out & scripts get practiced for both typical AND non typical kids.

And "The Giver" just gives me the shivers.

-When we give up imagination, we give up creativity. We crawl into the box, and then start narrowing it because ideas that are TOO NEW are threatening it. Pretty soon everyone is in one tiny pigeonhole fighting for the last pennicillin. If we give up imagination, and therefore creativity and innovation, we go BACKWARDS as far as science, technology, general understanding of the world go.

-The only downside to keeping imagination I see is the rare case of the hallucinating person who cannot tell they are hallucinating, or the child who needs help of some sort but mom and dad just say "he has such an active imagination!". This doesn't justify stripping it from society.

I don't remember what questions 4 and 5 were. But I may answer them later....

12:31 AM  
Blogger Interverbal said...

Here are the questions:

1 Is promoting imagination intrinsically good/ bad in early/later education?

2 What is lost by removing it?

3 What is gained by keeping it?

4 Howe do we assess these?

5 What then are the limits for imagination?

6:17 AM  
Blogger Kassiane said...

OK.

My answer to question 4...

- you CAN'T assess imagination. That's kind of the point of it. If you could test the bounds of creativity, that means someone has already thought of it, so OK, it's creative for a 3 year old, maybe, but when you get to people older than Kindergarten or so, you WANT to see things that aren't in the assesser's previous experience. That's the whole IDEA. Sure, you can observe what someone does when asked to make something in category X with objects A, B, and C, or request that a group do a scene relating to whatever with certain props, but that isn't a measure, and there are WAY too many facets for a full evaulation to be remotely near possible. This is in stark contrast to reality testing, which is pretty easy, because reality testing is what IS, not what is possible, or what can be pretended to be, or made to be.

-We won't know the limits for the imagination till we hit them. I know that's a crap answer but it's true. Kind of like we won't know the limits of what the human body can do until we hit a wall in athletic performance.

12:40 PM  

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