Teaching with Imagination: Part 1

Animals and people are similar in so many ways. We see a chimpanzee at the zoo and immediately (though subconsciously) mentally list its similarities to the last baby we saw watching the chimp from a stroller. Both have a face, though the human’s is slightly softer. Both have hands, even opposable thumbs! However, as we synthesize similarities, we also analyze differences.

This task of making this delineation is equally simple at some level. The chimp likely will probably not excel in physics, though he can likely learn to play a video game. She won’t graduate from elementary school, but she may very well flourish as a hunter-gatherer in a tropical jungle. Animals are a part of the world, immersed in the same surroundings as their human zookeepers and zoo-supporting philanthropists. But they do not seek to change their world. Rather, they simply want to survive and reproduce.

Humans, on the other hand, make a choice. They must make the choice of how they will influence the world. Every human has agency – the ability to affect change. Though humans use their agency differently, each human possesses it to some degree.

No one would argue that education is an irreplaceable aspect of human participation in the world. Educations alerts individuals and communities to the world around them, helping to guide and direct young persons in their forthcoming autonomy, their long-anticipated independence from parents.

In education, however, young people are, at times, treated as vessels for holding information. Instead of sparking the imagination of youth and inviting their participation in the world, education often trains up young ones to know every state capital and the names of all the US presidents. Of course, there are many excellent educators in our world, and they certainly don’t simply deposit facts in students’ brains. But this does happen.

Paulo Freire, a Brazilian philosopher and educator, has juxtaposed two means for pedagogy. The first, deposit-making, consists of giving information, of filling the minds of students with information. The second, problem-posing, invites the agency of the individual to factor in to the pedagogical matrix. In other words, Freire believes critical intervention in the world is essential for
thorough and meaningful education.

In my next post I’ll take a closer look at how this pertains not only to education but also to preaching, politics, government, and other spheres.