Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Importance of Imagination

Albert Einstein famously said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world." Lazy students should not adopt this as their rallying cry; although it would serve as a fairly good argument against things like homework and standardized tests. I do not cite it as a way to downplay the importance of gaining factual knowledge and fundamental skills. Students should and must obtain knowledge - how to read, the concept of photosynthesis, the causes of the Civil War. But, students must also be taught how to think, and perhaps the most powerful way to think is to imagine.

Elizabeth amazes me with her creativity. She uses voices for various characters that she dramatizes - Monkey, Meow-meow and Baby Spider all have distinct voices and have very distinct roles within her play. She pretends to be a doctor. She imagines that our back patio is really a playground. She uses anything remotely similar to a phone to make calls to people. At some point, she will gain the "knowledge" that her stuffed monkey doesn't really dance. She will think it silly to use anything but the appropriate name for her beloved "Meow". She will realize that spiders have eight legs while her hand only has five fingers, one of which serves as Baby Spider's head. She will learn addition yet she will lose her high pitched arachnid voice.

As she gets older she will gain knowledge; like almost everyone, though, her imagination will slowly decline.

Imagination is the stuff of great stories. It is the creativity that leads to new recipes. It is the muse of new art. It is the mother of invention. Imagination aids in problem solving. It provides hope. Imagination gives life not only to those who dream it, but also to those who witness the dream.

Imagine how dull the world would be without imagination.

Teachers must do more than merely present knowledge and the steps to certain skills. Teachers must inspire students to rise to higher order thinking skills and to use their knowledge in new, creative and meaningful ways. Teachers must supply the blank canvas on which students can paint, instead of offering the dark outline that must be filled with very specific colors. Teachers must find ways to allow students to play, imagine and create.

St. Ignatius argues that imagination also plays a role in the spiritual life as well. So, as Catholic educators, we must inspire students to use their imaginations in prayer, too. Called imaginative prayer, it involves reading a piece of Sacred Scripture in a way that activates imagination. Putting yourself in the role of one of the figures from the story - Peter, James, Pilate, Simon of Cryene, etc. - and then immersing yourself in the details. What did that scene look like? What feelings / emotions were present? What was said and how were those words delivered? What were the thoughts of your character? As another method, just putting yourself into the context of the story as a member of the crowd or as a witness to the event can also work. Imagining the story in this way, Ignatius argues, can lead to greater insights and a deeper understanding and appreciation for that particular piece of scripture.

As we near the end of Lent and hear the very familiar stories of Jesus's Passion, let us imagine ourselves as a part of the tale. Let us put ourselves in the context of this piece of history. Let us imagine that the whole story could have played out differently if we could actually imagine the love that Jesus has for us. Let us imagine that with God all things really are possible.

Then, let us work to make that which has been imagined a reality.

Imagine. Act. Love. Live.

Begin. It's time.