Stirring the Imagination

My son hates social studies. No matter how much I drill him on the subject, he could care less about James Madison, the Bill of Rights, the abolitionist movement, or even more-contemporary figures like Arthur Ashe. This is more than unfortunate; it's a problem.

That's because he's a fourth grader attending public school in the Commonwealth of Virginia. And at the end of the school year, he and every other fourth grader in Virginia is going to be tested on the subject, with an emphasis on the history of the Old Dominion.

The problem isn't the subject matter; it's the way that it's presented. There's little or no attempt to engage his imagination. Facts alone don't begin to tell the story of why these figures are important and why we should know who they are, much less admire them. I also know that this disconnect between history and the imagination is far from universal. His cousins, who are the same age, don't have this problem. They live in Mexico City, a place where art and history seem inseparable. Because they can see and even touch the history of the place they call home, they are more apt to want to read about it.

It's also true for me. I remember when I first saw a reproduction of Diego Rivera's (no relation) painting of Emiliano Zapata, the leader of peasant and indigenous forces during the Mexican Revolution. Rivera's painting, which conveys both Zapata's peasant origins and his nobility, made me want to learn more about the revolutionary leader and the times that produced him. It grabbed my imagination and the rest of me soon followed, so much so that a reproduction of the work hangs in my home.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 2002
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