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Training The Imagination

Imagination is highly susceptible of cultivation, and its training
should constitute one of the most important aims of education. Every
school subject, but especially such subjects as deal with description
and narration--history, literature, geography, nature study and
science--is rich in opportunities for the use of imagination. Skillful
teaching will not only find in these subjects a means of training the
imagination, but will so employ imagination in their study as to make
them living matter, throbbing with life and action, rather than so many
dead words or uninteresting facts.

GATHERING OF MATERIAL FOR IMAGINATION.--Theoretically, then, it is not
hard to see what we must do to cultivate our imagination. In the first
place, we must take care to secure a large and usable stock of images
from all fields of perception. It is not enough to have visual images
alone or chiefly, for many a time shall we need to build structures
involving all the other senses and the motor activities as well. This
means that we must have a first-hand contact with just as large an
environment as possible--large in the world of Nature with all her
varied forms suited to appeal to every avenue of sense; large in our
contact with people in all phases of experience, laughing with those who
laugh and weeping with those who weep; large in contact with books, the
interpreters of the men and events of the past. We must not only let all
these kinds of environment drift in upon us as they may chance to do,
but we must deliberately seek to increase our stock of experience;
for, after all, experience lies at the bottom of imagination as of every
other mental process. And not only must we thus put ourselves in the way
of acquiring new experience, but we must by recall and reconstruction,
as we saw in an earlier discussion, keep our imagery fresh and usable.
For whatever serves to improve our images, at the same time is bettering
the very foundation of imagination.

WE MUST NOT FAIL TO BUILD.--In the second place, we must not fail to
build. For it is futile to gather a large supply of images if we let
the material lie unused. How many people there are who put in all their
time gathering material for their structure, and never take time to do
the building! They look and listen and read, and are so fully occupied
in absorbing the immediately present that they have no time to see the
wider significance of the things with which they deal. They are like the
students who are too busy studying to have time to think. They are so
taken up with receiving that they never perform the higher act of
combining. They are the plodding fact gatherers, many of them doing good
service, collecting material which the seer and the philosopher, with
their constructive power, build together into the greater wholes which
make our systems of thought. They are the ones who fondly think that, by
reading books full of wild tales and impossible plots, they are training
their imagination. For them, sober history, no matter how heroic or
tragic in its quiet movements, is too tame. They have not the patience
to read solid and thoughtful literature, and works of science and
philosophy are a bore. These are the persons who put in all their time
in looking at and admiring other people's houses, and never get time to
do any building for themselves.

WE SHOULD CARRY OUR IDEALS INTO ACTION.--The best training for the
imagination which I know anything about is that to be obtained by taking
our own material and from it building our own structure. It is true
that it will help to look through other people's houses enough to
discover their style of building: we should read. But just as it is not
necessary for us to put in all the time we devote to looking at houses,
in inspecting doll houses and Chinese pagodas, so it is not best for us
to get all our notions of imaginative structures from the marvelous and
the unreal; we get good training for the imagination from reading
Hiawatha, but so can we from reading the history of the primitive
Indian tribes. The pictures in Snowbound are full of suggestion for
the imagination: but so is the history of the Puritans in New England.
But even with the best of models before us, it is not enough to follow
others' building. We must construct stories for ourselves, must work out
plots for our own stories; we must have time to meditate and plan and
build, not idly in the daydream, but purposefully, and then make our
images real by carrying them out in activity, if they are of such a
character that this is possible; we must build our ideals and work to
them in the common course of our everyday life; we must think for
ourselves instead of forever following the thinking of others; we must
initiate as well as imitate.

Next: Problems For Observation And Introspection

Previous: Types Of Imagination

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