Teaching with Imagination: Part 2

Since we can think of teaching as functioning in just two categories [I recognize this is impossible, but stick with me] let’s briefly redefine those.

Feel free to visit the post below this one if you are interested in the beginning of this two-part series.

Moving quickly ahead, the first category is deposit-making. A teacher can perceive her job to consist of depositing factual information into the minds of students. One can picture this teaching style like serving ice cream: each cup needs it, and in approximately equal amounts.

The second category is problem-posing. In essence this consists of raising awareness of problems. At first glance it may appear to lack guidance, but this is exactly the point. To establish a problem implicitly invites a solution. It invites imagination and enjoins the student’s faculties to action. According to Speech Act Theory, communication precipitates action. Let me illustrate.

Recently I listened to a man who had planted a church and pastored it faithfully for a number of years. It had grown significantly both fiscally and numerically. Many would say it grew spiritually as well. As the pastor continued, he revealed his motivation for such dedicated work. He had been cut from the basketball team in 7th grade. He tried out again the next year and failed again. After a long and difficult conversation with a coach, he was instructed not to pursue basketball: “son, it’s just not for you.”

He refused to quit. Fueled by these words and assisted by a growth spurt, he practiced unceasingly between junior high and high school. Having made the team his freshman year, he started all through high school as a center. Later he received a robust scholarship for college basketball, and he flourished in the sport.

He intimately described the motivation for his success both in basketball and then in pastoring: “I didn’t want to be told ‘you can’t do that.'” That was it. And he went on to prove them wrong. Though it eventually led to some critical errors in leadership, it was fuel sufficient for a season.

What does this mean? It means that words are extremely powerful. To instill imagination in people is to plant seeds of hope. As a Christian, the words of Jesus have sparked hope and life in me. Teachers, pastors, and leaders of every kind have the ability to invite imagination at every turn. And it is in the way we teach that we can either spark incredible change or cause irreparable damage.

Teaching is more than revealing factual information. For the Christian, it is about capturing the imagination for the sake of sustained participation in the Kingdom of God. For Christians and secular thinkers alike, though for differently ultimate purposes, teaching is about capturing the imagination for the transformation of the world.

In the illustration about the pastor, words – discouraging words – were powerful enough to, in a certain sense, drive him to both create and build, to push himself to his limits, and to react to how others had [foolishly] instructed him. May we as teachers have the courage to ask the right questions, helping listeners to better understand the haze of the world we live in. The world sees more clearly when teachers ask the better question. For the Christian mind, we live to advance the Kingdom of God. And in advancing the Kingdom of God, the world of believers and unbelievers flourishes.

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