Who am I to write anything at all about Anthony Esolen’s Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child? Esolen’s style is so lucid, Ten Ways is good enough for the 19th century. This is the kind of book you can keep at your bedside table and re-read a few pages whenever fancy strikes you, inevitably finding some sort of fascinating information about science, literature, history, geography — what have you. I was tempted to copy a few paragraphs to show the beauty of Esolen’s writing, but, being a busy mom I wimped out on this idea.
Esolen explains how our educational system combined with contemporary parenting trends work to turn out bureaucrats. Look at the titles of his chapters (methods, as he calls them) and weep. The preface is titled Why Truth is Your Enemy, and the Benefits of the Vague or Gradgrind, without the Facts. It’s followed by Keep Your Children Indoors as Much as Possible; Never Leave Children to Themselves; Replace Fairytales with Political Cliches and Fads, Cast Aspersions upon the Heroic and Patriotic, Call All Heroes Down to Size, Reduce All Talk of Love to Narcissism and Sex, Level Distinctions Between Man and Woman, Distract the Child with the Shallow and Unreal and Deny the Transcendent.
Esolen is not so much interested in morality as he is in meaningful existence and the life of imagination. Traditional approaches in education were tossed out in the name of creativity: imagine the infinite possibilities if only we can get rid of the dead white men! But what came to replace Western heritage was a soulless mush. It doesn’t stimulate creativity because it can’t. The decline in the quality of education had an especially detrimental effect on the life of an ordinary Joe. There will always be extraordinary individuals who will discover the classics on their own, which doesn’t of course, mean that they wouldn’t benefit from proper instruction in childhood. But the masses put through the dehumanizing public education grinder will never catch up.
I don’t agree with Esolen on everything. For instance, Esolen calls into question the 45 minute blocks of time set aside for a lesson. What, he asks, if at the time the bell rings the student is in the middle of reading about some pirate adventure? Well, then he will be more likely to come back to the book in a few hours when the school is out, say I. 45 minute lessons worked for me; they brought structure into my school day. It’s not just me, actually. Children schooled this way put a man on the moon, which brings me to another example.
Esolen points out that, while for centuries popular love songs were about the beloved, pop music today is focused on how a person makes one feel. Attention is turned away from the beloved to the performer’s little self. The songs are narcissistic, self-indulgent and horribly written. And yet there are quite a few classic American songs about the feeling of being in love. One of them is Fly Me to the Moon, which was mine and DH’s first dance. It’s true that in our age we don’t produce beautiful love songs. Troubadours do not sing praises to the beauty of the beloved because a potential recipient of the praises will likely concur that the guy wants no more than to get into her panties. She will be right, too. Still that doesn’t mean that the above mentioned standard is not a song for the ages.
Esolen doesn’t have very many suggestions. I sense he’s a proponent of homeschooling. Since I don’t see myself doing it, I would like to turn the clock back and get this 50s-early 60s American education for my children. Dismantling the Department of Education would be a nice first step.