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A Review of Ten Ways to Destroy Your Child’s Imagination

Ten Ways to Destroy Your Child’s Imagination

By Anthony Esolen

An UnSolicited Review by Debbie Thompson

 “There once was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb and he almost deserved it.” This, the first line of Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis, is our introduction to what a child educated along the lines described in Abolition of Man looks like. It takes the hard dry facts and gives them imaginative flesh and blood so that we can actually see the results of a scientific, unimaginative life. “Nature only provides us with a leaden world…” (Phillip Sidney, quoted in introduction)You can imagine Eustace’ parents and teachers scolding him for looking out the window in school, or for lingering on his walk home, if the poor boy had any inclination to do so considering he was steeped in Progressive education from birth. Not only had he not read the right imaginative books, but I bet we could find evidence that all ten of Esolen’s ways to destroy a child’s imagination in the rest of the story!

In Ten Ways to Destroy Your Child’s Imagination, Anthony Esolen plays devil’s advocate, mirroring his love for Lewis. He shows through advocating the opposite, the kind of life and education that is actually good for a child (and for a man).

I heard him speak at Hillsdale College fall 2012. He began his talk by asking the students what they know about children, just from having been children so recently. Their answers launched him into his primary question: ‘If we know all these things about children why do we almost always do the exact opposite?’ Because “[c]hildren make liars of us all.”

But why all the fuss about imagination killing? Because those things which kill the imagination also blunt or kill the spirit, they rob a child of what it means to be human in the best sense of the word. What Lewis did in his logical way in Abolition of Man, Esolen does for today’s reader. Lewis gives the reader a point by point argument which though short, often baffles today’s readers. One almost needs to take a class with an expert to read and understand his points. (This, by the way, is more evidence that he is correct in his assessment of education.) Esolen takes hold of the meat of the matter and distills it into a list. Modern readers love lists, having been raised on the Cliff notes of literature.

I do not fault Esolen for his approach. Rather, it is admirable to give concrete examples of imagination killing practices to a people mostly robbed of their own capacity to imagine how such an education and life affects children.

The introduction alone is worth the price of the book. In it he gives examples of how a dead imagination affects not only the child but the world in which we all live. One example alone should, if you still have any imagination left, chill every American’s heart. He says,” If we can but deaden the imagination, we can settle the child down, and make of him that solid, dependable, and inert space-filler in school, and later, a block of the great state pyramid.” I don’t know about you but I don’t want to contribute to the blocks of a state pyramid! Maybe my imagination is just running away with me, but blocks in pyramids do not have much personal or religious freedom.

“Children make liars of us all,” Esolen says in the introduction. What we say does not match up to our inner ideas or our actions. When we do have information and desires to do what is best for the child, it is an uphill battle to actually put any of into positive action. But kudos to Esolen for saying it aloud: “Children make liars of us all.”

So, this book is an intense examination of current child-raising and education, just as Abolition of Man was for a previous generation. It is hard to look these ideas in the face, but let the author persuade you and make the changes you need to make.


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