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April 20, 2007

Anesthetizing Imagination

Earlier this week, I mentioned a NYT book review that features a couple of children's books showing a trend. The books featured seem to be encouraging a return to something that would seem as natural to childhood as bedtime stories and coloring books--creative play. My mom, a saint, and a kindergarten teacher, sent me an email about the trend. I thought her insights were so salient, I wanted to share them with the rest of you:

Certainly, there has been a great impact on the use of imagination in the kindergarten classroom since the strong stress on academics has basically ended any "imaginative play time" during the school day. I noticed a commercial tonight that really gave me pause.  It was for Chrysler. It basically was touting the fact that a DVD player would be put into their new vehicles. But the advertisement began by showing a noisy scene...probably a school cafeteria. Then it shows the adult in charge pulling down the little fold-down screen on a DVD player much like you see in the back of people's minivans. The result was a sudden "hush" across the formerly unruly crowd of kids as their attention was suddenly riveted to the DVD. It reminded me of how mesmerized kids are by all kinds of video media. It is the ultimate mind control of our day, and basically sucks up most of the rest of the waking hours of our children when they go home from school. So they go from one controlled environment to another. As a teacher, I am forced to rigidly control their time with me. Unfortunately, many, many parents are unwilling or unable to insist that their children break away from the video entertainment and create their own fun.

The commercial, which I haven't seen, but did confirm was Chrysler, is kind of chilling to me. With the image of our creative God stamped into all of us, Christian parents need to make it imperative to lead the way in making sure the imagination is stoked not stifled in this next generation. Not only will this make our kids counter-cultural, I think it will also make them smarter.

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Rachel Coleman

In public schools, I've observed a more subtle attempt to corral and direct the most imaginative and intelligent children via the "Odyssey of the Mind" program. For those who aren't familiar with it, OM is an extracurricular activity with teams selected via an application process remarkably like a job interview (teachers must first recommend the students, so it's not open application, but carefully vetted individuals). Team members are given situational problems or challenges, and present a multimedia performance -- say, about Ancient Egypt -- that reflects their research, creativity, etc. It all sounded great to me, a homeschooling mom, until a student remarked to me that her team "wasn't allowed to use octagons" in a geometry-related problem/presentation. "Only the high-school teams do that," she said, sighing deeply. Her team had to make do with simpler shapes.
I understand that such competitions must have limits, requirements, etc., for judging to be fairly conducted.
Still, the conversation bothered me. I finally realized that OM takes the brightest, most unconventional thinkers from among the public school pool, grooms them to think of themselves as special (our future intellectual elites), and then sets strict parameters about how and what to think, when to think, and how to exercise creativity. All of that is, in some ways, deeply creepy.
I'm thinking the kids who sit in the classroom and fly under the radar, absorbed in their own thoughts and ideas -- and, hopefully, reading -- are better off if they escape the teacher's notice. They can actually BE creative, rather than being TRAINED to be "creative" in a certain, specific way.

Ravi Philemon

Parents have the responsibility to guide their children, first in their spiritual journey with God, which then will be a foundation for everything else.


It's eerie how prescient Ray Bradbury was when he wrote Fahrenheit 451. In it, he portrayed a culture that is endlessly and mind-numbingly entertained and where books are banned lest they encourage people to actually think. That was more than fifty years ago, and now... (cue the Twilight Zone music).

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