Book Review: Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, by Anthony Esolen

Just before we get down to term and begin the more formal learning, I finished reading Anthony Esolen’s book  Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child that Esolen writes on are:

1. Begin by rearing children almost exclusively indoors. He then goes on to show how his own childhood was spent exploring and discovering the wonders of his local world. How this taught him and inspired him so that he could wonder at the world. Some reviewers have noted this and believed it needed a good Editor to snip away at these passages. Having finished the book now, I disagree. The whole point of his apparent rambling is because he was allowed to ramble and in so doing learned to live. Those of us who follow Charlotte Mason’s philosophy know that nature study and exploration are core to her appoach in helping children learn.

2.Never allow children to organise their own worlds or exploration of that which is interesting or challenging. Living in a culture that schedules, timetables and controls every waking moment of a child’s life, this is easy to do. Simply allowing children to do their own thing occasionally, pick up a book and sit and read it; actually get bored even, has become anathema these days. Esolen again shows his own childhood was quite different and that he was allowed to collect rocks, peer into holes, stare at bugs and that he grew to love learning in that way. Not many children I know love learning.

It’s all part of what Dr. Ray Guarendi so aptly calls the Do-do-go-go-get-get culture. It seems to me to be at the root of parents being horrified at the prospect of having their own children around them all summer. They seem to think that the children must be timetabled and expensively entertained at all times, and if not then they must be put in front of the TV or video game for hours on end.

3. Don’t risk allowing children to explore machines or encounter those who know how to use them. This is easy to do if you drown them in ‘elf’n’safety paperwork. They’ll never get to use a cooker much less muck about with a bike engine if you follow all those rules. I am afraid with Ronan’s love of cooking and the fact that their dad is often in the shed messing about with tools, we are failing miserably in this area. Ronan even borrowed a hammer and built a wooden aeroplane last week, with nails and everything! Oh no!!

4. Replace fairy tales with clichés and fads. I was astonished at the very narrow education so many of the people I taught at University had been subjected to. They knew nothing about the traditional fairy stories or even Winnie the Pooh. Now you might say, well you don’t need to know Sleeping Beauty to do a degree, but the lack of foundational knowledge had made them so very narrow in thought, and quite frankly in maturity. It did make me wonder what children’s stories they did read or had read to them. Esolen points out that the traditional tales, often full of frightening imagy, not only helps form imagination, but offers heroes who must love against the odds or face fiercesome beasts with courage and a small sword. Children’s books that offer political fads and banality are bound to deaden both imaginarion and virtue – and there are so many such books to choose from, only they are all the same.

5. Denigrate or discard the heroic or patriotic. Children need heroes. If you want to destroy their imagination and soul then make sure they don’t have real heroes to emulate. Make them like that astonishingly damaged teenager on Jamie Oliver’s Nightmare School who wanted to be like Katy Price. I have failed in this already as my children loved the story of Beowulf and already have some horribly traditional fairy stories told to them thanks to the Andrew Lang books. Worse still they are presently reading along with Under the Grape Vine, C.S.Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Ah well, I am sure I can fish out a Philip Pullman to crush them.

6. Cut down all heroes to size. Don’t allow hero worship unless it’s of the shallow bling wearing kind. Undermine as many aspects of kindness, courage and perseverance as possible. Make the good look weak and those who have a Christian faith must be mocked or made to look bad. Then you can push this message over and over. Easy enough with TV and other media. (And it worked so well for Hitler and Stalin).

7. Reduce all talk of love to narcissism and sex. Instill the mantras of “do it if it feels good for you” “don’t force your morality onto me” “Do it if you have a condom” and then before you know it the unholy trinity of me-myself-and-I will be the basis of life.

8. Level all distinctions between man and woman. Or as some have put this spay and geld. Boys in particular, Esolen says, must be restrained from manliness at all costs. Girls should not be feminine in any way.

9.  Distract the child with the shallow and unreal. – plenty of substandard TV and pseudo-educational stuff should help this process, as well as hours of gaming. OR take them to the library and let them get those teen novels that will help tick 7, 8,9 and 10 all in one go. If that’s not enough teen magazines can help. In fact start them early. While looking for books for Heleyna I came across a whole pile of shiny, sticker stuffed books to teach a girl how to primp and fuss and be a massive consumer of make up, high heals and anything pointless.

10 Deny the transcendent – Christians are so very good at this. Unfortunately for Catholics with the New Mass and stricter observance of the GIRM the transcendent has a real danger of breaking through. But you could always invest in that book I was told about where it was proposed that churches should all become mini monocultures about the people who went there and with almost nothing at all about God. There are plenty of those places so they are easy to find.

The book is written in the form of paradoxical intent, (obviously) and other reviewers have noted the Screwtape nature of the book. so the answers to the horror of dumbed down, inert children is in the warnings of things to avoid in order to destroy their imagination as well as the things to do to ensure the destruction. He packs the book with plenty of wonderful authors and ideas for truly inspiring children and allowing them to grow as good people.

This excellent book echoes the same unheard message that has been written and spoken since the Enlightenment darkened our culture. From Mason and Montessori, through Chesterton, Belloc and more recently Gatto and now Esolen, – and of course from Popes Leo XIII to Benedict XVI -we have been warned that our children’s lives are being flattened to the point where they are men without chests. We have been warned that deconstructing the family with collapse society and all the time the NOISE continues so no one hears the message.

There is a great deal of excellent literature pointed to within the book, and a good bibliography at the back. I was saddened to see a father review the book with a one star because he hadn’t read the books Esolen suggests and did not understand the way the book was written. Now, I am a great believer that a writer should avoid silly big words where a plain one will do and that if he can’t say something plain and clear chances are he hasn’t understood the subject himself, but Esolen is writing for the ordinary person, who has just a modicum of imagination left.

Professor Esolen wrote this article as he was writing his book.

Here is an article from Classical Teacher at Memoria Press.

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5 responses to “Book Review: Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, by Anthony Esolen

  1. I now really, really regret not checking this book out when I picked up my Charlotte Mason education book yesterday! Going on the list, for sure!!

  2. Pingback: Best Art Blog » Book Review: Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, by …

  3. interesting; thanks for sharing

  4. Pingback: You're a Better Parent than You Think! with Dr. Ray Guarendi

  5. Sounds like a fascinating book. I will put it on my “will buy when I have money” list.

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