"Come now my child, if we were planning to harm you, do you think we'd be lurking here beside the path in the very darkest part of the forest..." - Kenneth Patchen, "Even So."
THIS IS A BLOG ABOUT STORIES AND STORYTELLING; some are true, some are false, and some are a matter of perspective. Herein the brave traveller shall find dark musings on horror, explorations of the occult, and wild flights of fantasy.
Monday, May 21, 2012
IMAGINATION AND THE END OF HISTORY
What this means is a uniquely human capacity to conceive of things not as they currentlyare, but as they might be. We call this faculty “imagination,” and it very likely our greatest gift. Without the ability to first imagine, invention and problem solving cannot occur. Instead we are stuck with things as they are, reacting to our environments but not consciously acting upon them. Imagination is the single root of religion, art, and science (for despite the popular conception of scientists as unimaginative technicians, it’s frankly impossibly to hypothesize unless you can imagine what might be). Humanity owes practically everything it has to imagination.
Ironically, then, imagination is something we are quick to stifle in children and remain suspicious of as adults. Past a certain age, being a “dreamer” takes on negative connotations, and we push our adolescents to grow up and live in the “real world.” Public educational systems (at least the ones I have had experience of in America and Japan) seem far more content to focus on memorization and repitition than the active encouragement of creativity. Too often, even when schools do include art, literature, and music in their curriculums (such programs are nearly always the first to go when budgets get tight), they emphazise established art forms and encourage imitation of them. I am sure we all recall being told the “correct way” to interpret Shakespeare, “why” Mozart was a genius, and “what” makes Monet gifted. Far less time is given on activities that encourage students to imagine their own forms of self-expression.
This is not a criticism of teachers. The old addage about “those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach” is not only crap, it demonstrates the misplaced value society places on being the worker bee rather than the thinker. Teachers—particularly when they are young and new to the profession—seem hell-bent on encouraging imagination and creativity in students. It is not until the strictures of the system crush this out of them that they give up and start teaching by rote. Public education is ultimately in the hands of politicians, and this, frankly, is what is wrong with it. It is easy to assign blame to the teachers for failing schools, but we are quick to forget they are bound by rules and policies born out of re-election campaigns and not any real interest in nuturing minds. Invariably this is why alternative schools—allowed to break the rules—perform better.
Both in the United States and Japan there is tremendous anxiety over falling test scores and schools that seem to be in decline. But my suspicion is that there really has been no change in the school systems at all…and that itself is the problem. American public education was designed to create factory workers, people with basic skills who could work in the mills and assembly lines. Japanese public education—pre-war—followed the German model, which focused more on making soldiers (you see remnants of this in the military style school uniforms). After the war, it imitated the American model of producing workers. These systems are wonderful for industrialized nations and establishing economies…but what happens after? What happens when you have a populace trained to be obidient and compotent, but not imaginative or creative? Once the factories have all been manned and built, the world moves on but the educational system does not. It may be that neither of these school systems are in decline…they simply are not designed to deal with a post-Industrial world.
The horrible truth may be that what we know of human history is slowly coming to an end. For thousands of years, societies have required large populations of obedient workers who do what they are told and don’t ask questions. Creativity and imagination could safely be in the hands of the few. But when a single farmer can now harvest a field with the right machine—as opposed to requiring hundreds of hands—or when a factory line can be entirely automated, educating the populace not to think, dream, or ask questions is suddenly a liability. It was back in the late 1960s that Anton LaVey noted we were entering a new era in which one child who could create was infinitely more valuable that one hundred that could “believe” or “obey.” Unfortunately, societies have not caught up with him.
The rules have all changed, and I say, "viva la Apocalypse."