What makes modern kids intelligent and adaptable in such a rapidly changing world? What is a critical factor in the educational system that gets short shrift? I think it’s teaching kids to imagine, as a basic skill. Learning numbers is necessary, and we all need to learn them, but considering the amount of cheating going on––web assisted, in colleges across America––I would humbly submit that these cheating kids do so because they’re unappreciative of the hard work of learning, and the reason that learning is such hard work for them is because digital life has robbed them of something.
Native human imagination.
It doesn’t happen on a screen, but within the brain itself. The true nature of intelligence––the human ability to look around at the world, see what needs to be done for survival and imagine solutions––includes the inventiveness to make the inventions themselves that solve the problems. Even if those inventions are not machines or technology, but social processes.
Learning theories abound out there. Once long ago, during a Door to Imagination Workshop I was offering, a woman educator sat back, rather startled, and said, “What you’ve described here is a genuine learning theory.” I’ve never forgotten that. She was right, I think, in that the simple act of imagining builds neural nets in kids’ brains. It doesn’t really matter what they’re imagining, as long as they’re tapping this hidden gift they’ve all been born with. Imagination in childhood becomes creativity in adulthood. And vision. And drive. The stories don’t matter. The neural activity is what matters.
I’ve been in the business of telling stories to kids since 1982. It’s not that I’m trying to use fairytales, myths and legends to convince kids that those old stories are real, because they’re not, although they all carry ethical lessons. No, it’s because I know that archetypal stories carry a pulse that’s ancient and strong enough to get modern, digitally-distracted kids to imagine them in the first place.
Not by watching.
When kids imagine, their brains light up, according to PET scans. The learning theory is to forge new, underutilized, under-myelinized neural connections to build their basic intelligence structures. Wasn’t there some presidential election where “the vision thing” was an issue?
It doesn’t matter what the kids become in life when they grow up. It’s how they approach whatever they become imaginatively, so they can run clear-eyed scenarios for their futures, take stock of what’s going on around them (we are in unique times, I must say) and use their creative minds to fix the problems and survive.
To explore samples of how this learning theory works, I invite you to visit the new www.oddsbodkin.net and purchase storytelling audios that appeal to you. I get letters from twenty-somethings all the time who grew up with my stories. Out of the blue they email me, thanking me for being turned into imaginers.
Maybe we can’t smell as well as dogs, but we can paint mind pictures across our potential futures. Dogs can’t do that. Nor, as far as we know, can any of the other beasts with whom we share our fragile, biologically crafted Earth.
That’s our burden as the supposedly smart ones, we humans.