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Fewer Edisons

Today's Electronic Gadgets Don't Bolster Imagination at School

Dave Arnold

Thomas Edison once said, "To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk."

A person with a good imagination is usually creative and productive. Every invention -- from telephones to televisions -- is the result of someone's imagination and creativity.

So, who will tomorrow's Edison be and what will they invent? This worries me.

Exercise Your Imagination

It has always been my thought that as we inundate children with various forms of electronic games, entertainment technology, and other luxuries, we stifle their imagination. The cost for this is fewer Edisons.

I shared this idea with some elementary school teachers. Each emphatically agreed with me that children are losing their ability and motivation to imagine and create. One teacher said that she noticed a lack of imaginative spark among students of wealthier families. Why? They have too many electronic toys that force them into a "feed me" or passive posture. They don't exercise their imaginations.

Another teacher said she had noticed that most of her students only wanted to read books that had pictures to accompany the story. Apparently, students did not want to be forced to make up the pictures in their minds. That would take imagination.

Can't Measure Creativity

Should we panic that our schools are not producing enough imaginative graduates? Who's to say whether we are or not? According to the Children's Health Encyclopedia, there are tests that measure a person's intelligence but few if any that accurately measure creativity and imagination.

Creativity, like beauty, is judged differently by the beholder. There is data showing that creative individuals tend to share certain characteristics, including a tendency to be impulsive or spontaneous. Nonconformity (not going along with the majority) can also be a sign of creative mind, though not necessarily one that will invent something useful.

Many creative individuals are apparently unafraid of experimenting with new things. These risk-takers are often less susceptible to peer pressure, perhaps because they also tend to be self-reliant, highly opinionated and willing to go against conventional wisdom.

The Dark Side

There is, however, a dark side to creativity. Some studies indicate that by encouraging creativity we are encouraging a departure from society's existing norms and values. Researchers tell us that there can be a link between creativity and mental illness, including depression, schizophrenia, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

My younger brother and I didn't have a wealth of toys as we were growing up. We were forced to imagine and create what we didn't have. A bent-over tree trunk on our farm's hillside became a bucking bronco, jet fighter plane and countless other objects.

When we got a little older, we scrounged up what scrap material we could find and built our own cabin. Our family was not rich, but we were wealthier than we ever realized through our imaginations.

I hope today's students can say the same long after they've left their video games behind.

(Dave Arnold, a member of the Illinois Education Association, is a custodian at Brownstown Elementary School in Southern Illinois. He can be contacted at

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NEA or its affiliates.

Dave's View has been discontinued following the retirement of its author, Dave Arnold. Even though new columns will not be posted, we encourage you to review past columns.