In early role play, young children situate themselves in an imagined world and at an early age create a ‘make-believe’ world. From the age of two, most develop pretend play as a means to make sense of the world (Cattanach & Webster, 2008). They process events from the point of view of the imagined protagonist. Similarly, when they start listening to stories, children mentally locate themselves within a narrative world and assimilate the information from the point of view of the narrative protagonist.
Pre-school children, despite their alleged egocentricity, will readily engage in such perspectival shifts when they listen to stories. Edmund Husserl (1965) suggested that knowledge can be gained not just through the senses but also through imagination, creating a self-reflective activity through which the past can enter lives. Lev Vygotsky (1967) also believed that imagination and creativity were interlinked, enabling individuals to build a catalogue of images from which to develop their creative thinking.
Imagination and Education
Mary Warnock stated in a ‘Study of Imagination’ (1976) that the ‘cultivation of the imagination·should be the chief aim of education’ (p.
9) ‘we have a duty to educate the imagination above all else’ (p.10).
Imagination can be defined as process, which allows us to hold images in our minds. These images may not represent things, which are present or even exist, but they can influence us as if they were actually present and real. Some images we experience seem echoes of what we have perceived, and we can change, adapt and manipulate them. We can feel that these mental images are real and even present and that how we perceive them is bound up with our emotions. In cultural history, the imagination and its power to create vivid images was encouraged by the need to remember a set of events; moulding these into a story created a powerful tool with which to impart information. The power of the story holds human attention as it actively engages the listener with the lives of the character and events. Warnock claims that imagination ‘is involved in all perception of the world, in that it is that element in perception which makes what we see and hear meaningful’ (Warnock, 1977, p.152). Absorbed in a story, current reality is temporarily held in quiescence while the attention is focused on the world of the narrative.
Children’s imaginations are the most powerful and energetic learning tools and an important element of learning in the accumulation of knowledge and skills.
… the imagination is not simply a capacity to form images, but is a capacity to think in a particular way. It is a way which crucially involves our capacity to think of the possible rather than the actual. (Egan, 1992, p4; cf White, p.184)
Children have the ability to suspend or augment reality so that they may start to locate themselves inside the imaginary world rather than in the real world. In this way, their experience of events are held in consciousness so that they may achieve a state of narrative absorption wherein they share the spatial and temporal framework of events and characters. Readers of fiction adopt a stance within a spatio-temporal framework of the text (Bower and Morrow, 1990).
Alasdair MacIntyre argued that in order to make sense of human experience, an ability to follow stories is required; that our lives would be unintelligible without a narrative framework.
Man is in his actions and practice, as well as in his frictions, essentially a story-telling animal. (Macintyre, 1981, p.210)
Narrative role in History
Storytelling and the history of stories has not always been received positively by historians. Bruner championed storytelling in an interview and challenged the viewpoint that it has little educational value:
Why are we so intellectually dismissive towards narrative? Why are we inclined to treat it as rather a trashy, if entertaining, way of thinking about and talking about what we do with our minds? Storytelling performs the dual cultural functions of making the strange familiar and ourselves private and distinctive. (Crace, 2007)
Historians are, however, conscious that there are many periods of history where the evidence is incomplete or inadequate and they have to use their own knowledge to create the clearest picture possible. Indeed it can be argued that in history there is no such thing as objective truth. Each generation introduces new approaches to the way in which history is perceived and interpreted (Bage, 1999, history is often tailored to its audience and constantly changing in its interpretations. Henry James wrote to Sarah Orne Jewett in 1901 and outlined the challenges that may be faced when deriving history from an incomplete set of facts and artefacts:
You may multiply the little facts that can be got from pictures and documents, relics and prints, as much as you like – the real thing is almost impossible to do, in its essence the whole effect is as naught…
At the time of these postmodernist writings there were fears among academic historians who sought to preserve the sanctity of the subject. Arthur Marwick (1995) voiced his anxiety and was concerned that history students may be confused by the thoughts that recorded history may not represent the absolute truth and considered that the history recorded by historians was could be perceived as not worthy of study.
Foucault (1978), who was one of the originators of the postmodern approach to history, argued that we construct our own reality when researching the past and bias is unavoidable. He states that those who take a traditional approach to history maintain that by analysing the evidence, they will arrive at a more or less accurate understanding of the past. However, some postmodern historians take a contrarian point of view to this hypothesis and believe that an accurate recording of the past is impossible and often the line between fact and fiction is blurred with some historians going even further by claiming that some historical accounts are fiction. They consider that if two or more historians were to examine the same primary evidence they may conclude with two very different interpretations and posing the question; whose truth is the truth. This, therefore, challenged those historians who doubted the validity of storytelling as an academic tool of conveying the past. There is no definitive truth and therefore the lack of objectivity opens the door to interpretive storytelling as a means of providing cohesiveness.
Cite this essay
The role of Imagination in learning. (2019, Dec 06). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/the-role-of-imagination-in-learning-essay