Thursday, May 31, 2012

Throwing Imagination Out With The Bath Water


Imagination is a muscle.  I know this because when I didn’t use it for years, in a storytelling way, it shrunk.  For a long time, I couldn’t conceive a story idea even if it hit me in the head and wrote itself.  And that lasted twenty plus years.
Later, when I did throw myself into storytelling, it took months of writing, (the only story my mind possessed for  the past ten years), before other small ethereal ideas began alighting upon me.  My imagination was slowly awakening, and with that awakening began a trickle and then a flood of story concepts. 
            They were everywhere and so abundant that I have now given up writing them down.  No longer do I worry if I will run out of ideas.  Instead, I worry if there is enough time left  in my life to write all the good ones.
A TREND
This post isn’t about imagination or story ideas, though.  It’s about a worrying trend—and it could be just me worrying—but did you know that narrative creative writing makes up less than fifteen per cent of the Australian English curriculum?  Check in your own country, I imagine its' similar.
Several teachers have recently  informed me that the emphasis for literary education was in the writing skills needed in everyday life—persuasive writing, reporting, and letter writing.  They told me that narrative writing would definitely be important for a writer to study, but that very few children were going to grow up to be writers.  (They really should check Twitter. There seems to be millions on there).
These reports and persuasive argument skills are the more important literary tools in the  automated programming  necessary for their University years, work and everyday life, they tell me.  They are teaching them to write letters too.  Even though, I don’t know anyone who writes personal letters, except my seventy-eight year old Aunty—and she doesn’t own a computer.
I wonder though, if you have an encouraged, resilient imagination through creative writing wouldn't that  translate into more interesting letters and reports?  It worked for me.  In a misguided attempt at an MBA, I received a distinction for an essay for which I had hardly researched—I had two babies at the time.  The tutor commented, ‘I have given you this distinction not for the content because I’m not sure if you really nailed it.  You score is for how much I enjoyed the read.’
IN MY DAY
In the sixties and seventies, during my school years, narrative writing was all we did, interspersed with the occasional review of a book or poem.  Of course, as you would expect of a writer, English was my favourite subject and the only reason I wanted to attend school.  All the other subjects bored me and once I achieved a reasonable understanding of math I thought, well that will do me for life and I no longer listened. 
I flunked history and geography because, frankly, I couldn’t see the point.  My cocky, fifteen-year-old self advised the poor cooking and sewing teachers that I did not need to learn to cook and sew because I would be rich and have servants. What an imagination. right?  In German, I cut a deal with the teacher that as long as I passed then I did not have to attend class.  Subsequently, I spent those lessons down by a creek near the school reading and writing.  Had I attended school now, with this lack of emphasis on narrative expression, would I have seen writing as my future?
Whether a child’s destiny is to become a writer or not, is not the point of narrative writing as a child.  One of the most valuable tools a person needs, writer or not, is not  mastery of the English language but imagination. And, for me, imagintion trumps all skills and education.
My imagination, encouraged throughout my school years by creative writing exercises, has taken me further than being a writer.  It helped me imagine distant lands I wanted to visit, which from age twenty I did and continue to do.  It helped me see a business opportunity in my late twenties that became an exciting multi-million dollar success.  Everything created within that business opportunity came, not from my education, but from my greatest asset, my imagination—an imagination fertilized most fervently whilst writing stories at schools. 

A LOSS?
I am saddened to hear that our children will lose precious opportunities to utilise their imagination.  This is particularly poignant in an era where the gift of imagining, and maybe not education, have delivered us Steve Jobs, who dropped out of college after six months and spent the next 18 months dropping in on creative classes.  Then we have another imagination major, Steven Spielberg, who in 2002, after a thirty-five year intermission, finished his degree via independent projects at CSULB, receiving a B.A. in Film Production and Electronic Arts with an option in Film/Video Production.  Hardly something he needed to do to continue his success.
Since the emergence of man, stories have told our history and encouraged our future.  Whilst we are preparing our children for their adult lives, could the educator’s also find a way to encourage their student’s dreaming lives? 
These young people will all too soon spend a long time, as adults, writing their pragmatic reports and persuasive texts.  Could we just allow them a few short years with their unicorns, wizards, pirates and fairies?  Let us encourage their imaginations to flex and grow whilst they are young, so that one day they may not become a robot in a system, but a person who remembers imagining they were a robot and dreaming of saving the world.
I leave you with Yeats…
People who lean on logic and philosophy and rational exposition end by starving the best part of the mind.  ~William Butler Yeats


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16 comments:

  1. The main reason narrative writing's disappeared from the classroom is because of National Testing (NAPLAN). The literacy side of this used to be writing a story, but now it's writing a persuasive argument. Naturally, most teachers now spend their English time teaching kids how to write persuasive arguments... and very little else.

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    1. Tamara this is very true. Its also disappeared because the Education Department is probably run by people with little imagination. Too much big brother and testing in the wrong areas, I am afraid.

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  2. Agree! There seems to be so much to fit in to the curriculum but very little understanding of what 'we' are trying to achieve in our children's education. I had to laugh at your German comment - are you seeing yourself in your youngest child by any chance? ;-)

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    1. Hey Robyn, Thank you for leaving a comment and reading my blog post. I definitely see myself in my little nine year old. He sees things that I don't and he is a good writer but he wants to write video games because reading is boring to him. Its my punishment that my children have no interest in writing or reading. I even wrote them a ghost story that they don't care to read. Go figure.

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  3. I did agree but funnily enough my son came home from school yesterday with a letter about a writing competition. He is being given the chance to write a story and the prompt is the Olympics. I was very surprised because, like you, I believed that the persuasive argument was all they taught. Perhaps it is, but they are being shown that having an imagination is ok. It is the first time I've heard anything about creative writing at school but I think it's great.

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    1. Morgan that is heartening to hear. So it is obviously down the same road in the UK. I hope he has written and entered his story in the competition. What a fabulous idea.

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  4. Wow, what a great post. It's frigthening to think that creativity is being stunted for test scores. Great thinkers, writers or not, have to dream. What better way to do that than through creative writing.

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    1. Thank you so much for visiting my blog and leaving a comment. It is frightening and a little bit sad. They spend so much time playing in already imagined video games and watching already written TV shows, you would think they could have a little time of imagining their own worlds. We should get a petition going.

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  5. I just wanted to say how much I love reading your blog. You were one of the first people I connected with when I first started this writing thing and your words really helped me. I hope everything is going well for you.

    By the way I gave you an award over on my blog, when you have a minute check it out!

    Morgan x

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    1. Morgan you are so kind and wonderful to say this. I am really glad I could help as I too have been helped by others. Your blog is lovely too by the way and if I get time I will do the award thing as well. Keep up the writing. I think you have a special heart for it.

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  6. I love this post, it took me a long to to reawaken the ability to daydream, but I am so glad I did. I grew up with my father reading me fairy tales, and legends. I feel bad that kids today don't often get that.

    Andrea

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    1. Thank you Andrea for your lovely words. Yes,its a different world today and video games and TV and everything else are to blame. Although my kids (now I've taken their computers away during the week) are playing a lot more make-believe games but they won't read or write stories and that makes me sad.

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  7. What wonderful thoughts!! Unfortunately the US education system limits imaginative thoughts right from kindergarten. Luckily I let them fly with the unicorns at home though. What a wonderful blog! Pop over for a cocktail any time www.cocktailsatnaptime.com

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    1. Hi Emma, Thank 4 your comment. I really appreciate it. I love your website too. Everybody do pop over to visit. I recommend. It seems all the education systems are the same, woefully beating the imagination out of our poor little ones. Yes, lets let them fly at home. :)

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  8. I'm a teacher and believe me, the NSW English syllabus is ghastly. It has this horrible emphasis on classifying texts (as though this is science and we're classifying species). It completely does away with any linguistic "play" and leads students to extremely unimaginative writing of EVERYTHING by formula. Whereas truly good writing as well as effective propaganda and advertising plays at the edges of textual classification . Just because a text doesn't present an argument, that doesn't mean it isn't persuasive! The national syllabus for English is slightly less classification focused, so there's some hope there!

    FWIW, I love teaching creative writing (and take every opportunity to do so) and have incorporated Harry Potter into not only English lessons but also maths and science for 8-9yos and pirate and witch stories into English, maths, creative arts and HSIE for infants. I also incorporate creative writing in achieving reading comprehension outcomes for primary students, eg write a scene from another character's POV, write what would you do if... etc. Generally one has to get creative to achieve syllabus outcomes whilst not squeezing every bit of enjoyment and imagination out of your students.

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    1. Melinda you sound like the dream teacher. How wonderful that you think outside the box like that. I'm doing my bit by setting up programmes within my two children's schools...write a book in a day and a review club.
      Maybe one day those in power will see the error in their ways and give our children back the opportunity to flex their imaginations. Thank you so much for your wonderful comment. Hope to connect with you on twitter or google. :)

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