A blog about imaginative learning
When I was a kid we loved to role play on the interconnecting yards of our Northern Virginia neighborhood. It wasn’t enough to go out and just run around. We would usually come up with some overarching narrative, then don our adventure gear, our weapons, and off we ran. We entered into worlds of international espionage, Indiana Jones escapades, Jedi battles, or even monster hunting.
As kids we had the power to transform our ordinary circumstances into an epic struggle between warring nations, or a landscape of monsters, or superheroes defending the world from an evil villain and his minions. Some people think we grow out of this phase, but do we really?
This ability to transform our surroundings into some place more interesting, more packed full of drama and intensity, is a power that is much greater and more important than some may think. The imagination is almost magical in its ability to bring story to life in this world; to see more there than there is at first glance.
Imagine this: a little boy making a fort out of blocks, and racing his hot wheels around. For a time, those jumble of blocks become a secret awesome car hideaway-even though it’s just a jumble of blocks. What is that boy doing there? Is it worthwhile considering that strange power he extends over matter and time.
Thomas Howard, in his lecture, What about the Imagination, uses the above example as an image to understand this mysterious faculty we humans possess. He says that we all seek to articulate something out of the jumble of our lives, just like this boy desires to articulate something out of the jumble of blocks. As kids we sought to articulate something out of the landscape of our yards. We wanted to establish a world where our lives were on the line, where some epic struggle was underway, and we were all playing vital roles in these conflicts.
Everyone has a jumble of something in their life. It could be made of blocks, or land; it could be your home, or work. Sometimes it feels like life is just a jumble of experiences with no interconnecting narrative. For some people, the stories we tell ourselves are just constructs we form to make sense of things. But this is a very limited view of the imagination.
There are some who hear these ideas-making up stories and creating imaginative landscapes-as escapism. And yet this exercise of the imagination is something we do more than you might think. And not only do we do it, but it is actually vital that we do it. It is essential to who we are. It is vital that we reenact stories that broaden the landscape of our imagination.
The great dilemma in our culture, and in education, is that imagination is not at the center of learning as it ought to be. Imaginative storytelling is often seen as almost “extra-curricular.” And yet, the most vital activity that every man and woman must do is role play, to see the story of their life, to perceive the great narrative that gives their life meaning, and then and only then can the threads of one’s life make sense on a larger scale. The threads of a great tapestry look like a great jumble from behind, but from the front there is a unified scene to behold.
The role playing of children is a creative work of the imagination. And we never grow out of this game. it is through the imagination that we are able to not only perceive and make sense of the jumble of blocks, of the landscape outside our doors, the threads of our life, but we can actually make that life we see in our imagination come to be by a sort of incarnation--a making flesh of the imaginative visions we see.
Many are lost, and unfulfilled because the education system has relegated the imagination to the nursery room floor, a place G.K Chesterton once claimed was the place where he received true wisdom. We as humans are linked inextricably to story and imagination, and only through an imagination alive to this world can we perceive the role we are meant to play in life. So, get out there kids and role play, for it will be the only way you will learn the role you are meant to play on the landscape of your life.