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Imagination, Insight, and Creative Teaching

One of the books I mentioned for reading to prepare for next summer’s conference is Apollo and Christ by William Lynch. I think of teaching as an artistic act, so I spend a lot of time thinking about the artistic act itself. I am firmly convinced of a few things about it. One is that art is and must be regarded as ultimately a mystery, and therefore your theory cannot be too precise. You have to leave room for mystery in the framework.

Same with teaching. The mimetic sequence allows for tremendous flexibility and imprecision and lack of certainty when they are needed. It says something, but no more than is justified.

Conventional methods, on the other hand, have figured out exactly how students learn under every circumstance. They have to. They need to publish text books and regulate education. The only trouble is that in order to figure out exactly how students learn under every circumstance you have to reduce learning to something that happens under every circumstance and then make it all that is necessary. In other words, you have to reduce the learning process to something significantly less than it actually is. Therefore, conventional methods can’t work.

William Lynch is describing the imagination in the following quotation. He says that it follows

a direct path through the finite. With every plunge through, or down into, the real contours of being, the imagination also shoots up into insight, but in such a way that the plunge down causally generates the plunge up.

Without the work of the imagination, there is no insight. But how does the imagination gain this insight? How does it ascend into the wonders of the true, the good, and the beautiful?

By descending into the finite and the concrete – the contours of being.

It’s no good to hang out with your books and fantasies if ou want to gain true insight. If you want to know human nature, you have to love human beings. If you want to know our place in the creation, you have to live in it. If you want to know what God has revealed about Himself, you have to live in the world He made to reveal Himself to us.

What about teaching?

If you want your students to learn the truth of, say, justice or honor or the Pythagorean theorem or harmony or… you have to “plunge” them into “the real contours of being.” Your lectures aren’t likely to do that, unless they are loaded with analogies, especially stories.

It all begins with attention.

I might add in conclusion that this post might also explain why the arts are not electives but foundations. I do not mean the idle speculations about the nature of art that disrupted late 19th century art to the present, but art that is based on the insight that we begin with attentive perception of “the contours of being” (i.e. of specific things) and follow it to the truth, which we then embody in a work of art to the limit of our capacity.

I’ll have plenty more to say about this in the coming months as time and resources permit.

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