Nel Noddings, in her keynote address at the 2004 IERG International Conference (“Imagining the Worst”), made the following point:
“Moral educators have considered the role of imagination in developing character. For the most part, however, they concentrate on the capacity of stories to inspire people to sympathize with victims and imagine the best in themselves. I will argue that we need to imagine ourselves not only as victim but, more powerfully, as perpetrator. Under what circumstances do the ‘good guys’ become violent and commit acts of cruelty and nastiness? How might educating the ‘shadow side’ contribute to more generous human relations and world peace?”
“The best example is seen in the recent events in Iraq … The young people who committed the horrible crimes against prisoners in Iraq would probably have been reasonably good citizens if they had not been exposed to the pressures of war and the unexpected role of prison guards. We should teach high school students the lessons we have learned from every war. The least we can do for our kids is to inform them that the loss of moral identity is a possibility every bit as likely as the loss of life or limb.”
Similarly, Mary Warnock in her An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Ethics (Gerald Duckworth & Co Ltd, 2004) reminisces her thought when the news of the Holocaust broke out in England in the early 1940s:
“But the horrors of the Holocaust became generally known at this time, and I reflect for the first time that humans have a great deal in common: I could not be sure that I did not have instincts as detestable as those of the Nazis, nor that I would have had the clarity of vision or the strength of character to resist these instincts, had I been a German at the time.”
So, here is the question: Imagination is a powerful tool for thinking, feeling, and learning, but it is a tool that can be used either for the good or for the bad. I sometimes wonder whether we, as researchers/teachers, think only or primarily of the positive aspects and uses of imagination, without much regard to the negative ones.
Do we need to turn our students’ eyes to negative, or even evil, aspects and uses of imagination? And if so, how?
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