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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

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.