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Good Entertainment for Children Sparks Moral Imagination

  • Lori Borgman Contributing Writer
  • Published Feb 03, 2006
Good Entertainment for Children Sparks Moral Imagination

The recent hit movie, "The Chronicles of Narnia," based on a book by C.S. Lewis, hinges on a magical wardrobe (that’s wardrobe as in closet, not wardrobe as in hordes of clothes). The back of the wardrobe is a portal to a magical land called Narnia.

We have a similar wardrobe standing in the corner of our bedroom. I checked the back wall of our wardrobe moments ago and am sad to report that it is rock solid. It leads to nowhere. Nor does it contain marvelous fur coats like the one in the movie.

When our children were quite young, they watched the BBC serialized version of "The Chronicles of Narnia" on television. After each viewing, they would routinely pad up to our bedroom and check the back of the wardrobe, hoping it would lead to somewhere. Anywhere.

I would hear their footsteps, then the squeak of the wardrobe door as they swung it open. This was followed by a rustling as they batted away pants and dresses hanging in their way, the crash of the shoe rack being knocked over, a brief pause, then the wardrobe door slamming shut. This was followed by loud allegations that their parents were cheap.

"If they bought quality, we might be able to go somewhere besides the backyard!"

"Do we have to be the last kids on the block to do everything?"

The shuffling of feet then ensued, mixed with shouts of, "Who wants the navy pumps?" and "I call the brown wing tips!" If they couldn’t get to Narnia, at least they could play with our dress shoes.

What the kids searched for in the wardrobe then, what kids still search for today, is imagination.

More specifically, the type of imagination they search for -- and the type Lewis excelled at creating is moral imagination.

Imagination frequently has a role in children’s play in everything from building blocks to big lumps of Play-Doh. Imagination also has a dark side, as in games like Grand Theft Auto, the video series where players must imagine which car to steal next, which van to broadside, and which bystander to kill.

Moral imagination is that noble dimension of imagination capable of shaping a conscience. Moral imagination grapples with the complexity of man and engages in the eternal battles between the hero and the coward, good and evil, and right and wrong.

Moral imagination is incompatible with the "everybody wins" philosophy, "all choices are equal," or "the bad guy is really the good guy." In moral imagination, there is a firm framework and strong voice of authority. In the case of Narnia, it is the thunderous roar of a lion.

Moral imagination is infused with things that are good, beautiful and true. It is capable of teaching concepts that long have been fading from our radar, things like civic virtue. (Ask your grandfather or your history teacher, they might know.)

Materials that spark the moral imagination of children still exist. Many of them lie beneath the dust of the classics. If you are interested in finding them, the wardrobe is an excellent place to begin.

Columnist and speaker Lori Borgman is the author of several books including Pass the Faith, Please (Waterbrook Press) and All Stressed Up and No Place to Go    (Emmis Books). Comments may be sent to her at