Friday, July 1, 2016

What Not to Do: Ten Ways to Destroy to Destory the Imagination of Your Child

by Anthony Esolen

This book is satire. Mr. Esolen, of course, does not want you to destroy the imagination of your child. He writes from the viewpoint of the mass market machine, the ones who are more interested in how much a person buys rather than who a person is. Sometimes I find satire entertaining, but more often I struggle with it. Whether it's truly the author's belief, or just a byproduct of the tone of the book, the text seems overly critical of the people involved in public education in our country. While I may not agree with all of the education decisions by politicians, superintendents, principals, and teachers, I think most of them (especially the teachers) are struggling every day to find the right way to guide students to productive, happy adulthoods. (I heard the author speak at an event earlier this year and thought he was just as dismissive of public education in his speech as he is in the book. Judging by the reactions of the other attendees, I am the only person who felt like he goes a bit too far.)

There's one chapter for each method, though many of the concepts flow or overlap from one to the next. The ten methods (in a cursory sense) are
  • keep them inside,
  • don't give them time alone,
  • don't let them interact with real people doing real work,
  • teach them to disparage fairy tales,
  • teach them to scorn heroes (spread over two methods),
  • limit love to physical acts,
  • disregard differences between men and women,
  • entertain children to distraction, and
  • refuse to acknowledge the idea of God or something higher than mankind.
Dr. Esolen's statements follow much of Charlotte Mason's beliefs, but are written in a dramatic sense for the modern reader. This book could be the impetus to delve deeper into a life of thought or affirmation of the struggle of a parent to fight against the contemporary forces of consumerism and high intensity parenting.
If we loved children, we would have a few. If we had them, we would want them as children, and would love the wonder with which they behold the world, and would hope that some of it might open our own eyes a little. We would love their games, and would want to play them once in a while, stirring in ourselves those memories of play that no one regrets, and that are almost the only things an old man can look back on with complete satisfaction. We would want children tagging along after us, or if not, then only because we would understand that they had better things to do.
I copied quotes from every chapter into my commonplace book, but I'll try to be more restrained on the blog. Charlotte Mason proposes we provide a feast of ideas for children, a large variety of subjects in small bits over many years with concentrated attention and narration to establish those ideas within the mind. Dr. Esolen considers how that kind of education can be valuable despite the technology which allows immediate access to a wide variety of information.
[A] developed memory is a wondrous and terrible storehouse of things seen and heard and done. It can do what no mere search engine on the internet can do. It can call up apparently unrelated things at once, molding them into a whole impression, or a new thought.
The first few methods concentrate on time spent in the natural world, particularly unscheduled time, time to sit and ponder, gaze and wonder.
We might think an ordinary flower just that; but to the mind made attentive to the works of nature, the most ordinary things are steeped in their own peculiar ways of being, and are mysterious.
The regular nature walk addresses some of this need, by providing a scheduled time for a child to focus his or her attention on a small piece of the natural world, but Dr. Esolen is advocating more than a weekly nature walk. He's talking about time for a child to wander and roam.

It seemed like a few of the methods involved teaching children to disdain the innocent, child-like (even if not childish), virtuous, or heroic stories, fictional and factual.
Fairy tales and folk tales are for children and childlike people, not because they are little and inconsequential, but because they are as enormous as life itself.
Tending the Heart of Virtue and The Mysteries of Life in Children's Literature address these issues quite well.
The really effective killer of the moral imagination, though, will want to raise children who snicker at anyone who possesses a remarkable virtue.
If we laugh at those who strive to do what is right in story and history, we see ourselves as superior. Virtue becomes something to avoid. It is better to be smart than wise, self-confident than humble, powerful than kind.
They will have nothing to be proud of, yet will scoff at humility. They will fancy themselves important, and will be slaves to the contemptuous marketers of the day. They will string after their names the letters of degrees from institutions of higher learning, and will not be able to read Milton--or be willing to read Milton. They will be aspiring, breathlessly, for prestige, a promotion, a nicer house, the office of lieutenant governor--but will have no hero to love, no hero's mentality to serve.
Whether modern American society is purposely shaped by political or corporate forces with the intention to destroy imagination in children and shape them into mere consumers of the next big, bright, shiny, expensive toy or experience, Dr. Esolen makes a strong case that these forces are present and they may prevent children from living a life beyond the next paycheck or vacation.

Our lifestyle here on the Range (homeschooling with living books, camping for family vacations, regular family meals together, living our Catholic faith) counters the kinds of forces Dr. Esolen outlines in this book. Though these choices may seem counter-cultural within the greater American society, they feel natural to me. It's much more difficult for me to imagine a way to expand our influence to the greater society, and this particular book doesn't provide specifics on ways people can influence the larger community to enact changes against the ten methods Dr. Esolen has identified.

I received a electronic version of this book free from the publisher. I recently saw a similar deal on facebook and an online search found lots of sites where you can download a e-book file (which you can then transfer to an e-reader) or a PDF you can read on your computer. It's a bit ironic given a mournful lament about the death of so many paper books in one of the chapters, but I appreciated being able to read this book without purchasing a copy.

The italic print: Links to Amazon are affiliate links. As an affiliate with Amazon, I receive a small commission if you follow one of my links, add something to your cart, and complete the purchase (in that order). Every little bit helps - thanks!

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