The Young Imaginers

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.

By listening.

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.

Odds Bodkin

TO DREAM A STORY/Odds Bodkin Workshops in Colorado

Years ago I told Sedna, the Ocean Mother at an environmental education conference. It’s a terrifying Inuit tale of a young girl who refuses to take a husband, but who’s forced by her father to marry a stranger who shows up with big promises. In the end, he’s the spirit of the Storm Petrels, half-man, half-bird, who isolates her on an island and treats her cruelly. The story just gets worse from there, but when I told it at this particular conference, professors from Antioch New England Graduate School, now Antioch University New England, offered me an adjunct professorship, which I accepted. I taught at Antioch for seven years until I couldn’t afford to remain an adjunct professor any longer.

 
They asked me to teach storytelling and imagination to adult learners, so I developed a 9-week course, replete with cognitive experiments to help folks access their Inner Storyteller, along with deep explorations of world myths (I leant out my own books and my library slowly became sorely depleted, since many books never came back; but that’s okay) and a heavy dose of semiotics philosophy. The last bit was about where we human beings are headed, generally, vis a vis tech and media. How we continue to invent new ways to tell stories, but how the spoken word still lies at the very root of our human experience, and about how no matter what imagistic splashes we see on screen, we’re still hard-wired for the old stuff.

 

 
Although I don’t travel with what’s left of my books, I do travel with what I call “Story Fragments” for participants to use in Door to Imagination workshops. These are little slips of paper with a paragraph of prose on them, usually about five to ten lines, which act like a grain of sand in the soft tissues of an oyster. They’re seeds of story. They don’t come with a beginning or an end, just a little bit of middle, but I’ve seen folks in my workshops spin them up into gorgeous, 45-five minute long tellings. It’s fun to watch people encounter their muse, sometimes for the first time. Suddenly they’re up into the empyrean, summoning what they’ve learned all their lives to grow a pearl around what’s on their slip of paper. It’s beautiful to watch.

 
All we humans talk to ourselves and each other every day. To our loved ones, to our co-workers, to strangers on the street. Things happen to us, and intensely social animals that we are, we long to share them. Texts about where we are or what we’re eating, along with photos or videos, well, they’re a great new invention. Everybody’s doing it. But I would suggest that they only allow us to skim along the shallows of our potential. To get to the depths, the ones that really nourish us, there’s nothing like having the creative stage for a few minutes. Even if we’ve never taken it before. And to use our natural voices and our own minds.

 
I’ve been taking the creative stage for 34 years, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love seeing others do it for the first time, especially in an environment where, as a learner, you can do no wrong.

 
Anyone interested in the Door to Imagination Workshops I’ll be offering in Boulder, CO on Nov. 4th, sponsored by Spellbinders from 1-4 pm, check here.  In nearby Lafayette, CO on Nov. 5th from 9:30-2:00 pm, you’re welcome to sign up here: http://www.parentengagementnetwork.org/odds-bodkin.

 

 

These two workshops are sponsored by Spellbinders and the Parent Engagement Network in Colorado.