Fostering Imagination

So often in school we focus on the rational, intellectual aspects of what it means to be human. In our quest to teach our students the material that needs to be mastered, and the processes of how to think well, do we overlook—or at least underemphasize—the wonder present in the created world? Do we inadvertently embrace a dualism that separates rationality from imagination; thinking from creating?

In a fallen, disintegrated world, it is easy to separate rational thought from creative flights of fancy, logic from emotion, truth from fiction. We carefully craft our lessons to ensure that our students are learning the skills, concepts, and processes we deem important. Many times, we structure the learning environment to foster critical thinking skills—allowing for diverse approaches, but still looking for a standardized outcome, something we can measure objectively, something that fits into our rubrics. And in the process, we tacitly express that creativity and imagination are attributes of secondary importance. 

However, as we seek to help our students integrate their Christian faith with the rest of their lives, imagination is a key component. As C.S. Lewis points out in Mere Christianity, “reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning.”[1] It is our ability to imagine that allows us to ask the question, “What if…” What if houses could talk? What if we could capture and use the power of the wind? What if the result of death was actually life?

What if…

…in science class, we asked our students to look carefully at a picture of an unusual animal–say a platypus–and create a picture or description of the ideal environment for this animal to live? Or what if we reverse the process and ask our students to create an animal that would live in a certain environment?

…in language arts we read a poem just for the sheer enjoyment of it. What if we didn’t explicate it or analyze it, but simply celebrated the way it sounds rolling off of our tongues?

…in math class we asked students to think of all the ways the world would be affected if fractions could not exist?

Imagination expands our horizons and increases our ability to entertain awe and wonder. It allows us to make meaning of the world and to see the possibilities for goodness, renewal, and restoration in a world that has been distorted and broken by sin. As poet Luci Shaw puts it, “Imagination gives us pictures by which to see things the way they can be, or the way they are, underneath.”[2] 2126399627_6fca75c2e5_mWhen we allow our imaginations to become anemic, we undermine our ability to see the wonder of world around us, and even worse, the ability to experience the awe and majesty and improbability of the Gospel story. This lessens our ability to reflect the image of our Creator; it makes us less than we were created to be.

We want our students to be well-rounded individuals who view the world through an integrated perspective. We want them to develop and live out of a Biblical worldview. The development of a redeemed imagination is a key component of this. What can you do in your classes to help your students develop a robust and redeemed imagination? How can you foster imagination in math? English? science? history? the arts?

We’d love to hear your thoughts on how to foster imagination in the classroom. Please share your ideas by adding a comment or sending us an e-mail.

Becky Hunsberger
Teacher Education Services

[1][2] Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity.
[2] Shaw, Luci.  “Beauty and the Creative Impulse.”  The Christian Imagination.  pg.90.
Photo Credit:  GraphKurt Faler via Compfight ccLightening. Matthieu Luna via Compfight cc; Platypus.; Reflection.  EJP Photo via Compfight cc
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