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Friday, May 27, 2011


Book Review:


Anthony Esolen
Intercollegiate Studies Institute

I purchased this book after attending a dinner where the author, Anthony Esolen, was the guest speaker. We were late for the dinner, and so Carolyn and I - and the oldest five children living at home - polished off the remaining spaghetti right before Dr. Esolen started. The speech was far better than the spaghetti.

TEN WAYS TO DESTROY THE IMAGINATION OF YOUR CHILD is another in a series of books which proposes to do just the opposite of its stated goal. The most famous example of this genre would have to be C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, where a senior devil is writing letters of encouragement and advice to a junior devil who is working on ruining the soul of his 'patient.' The book also reminded me of a product which was sold during the Prohibition era - grape juice - which came complete with instructions on how to NOT ferment their product to produce wine. One can benefit from doing the opposite of what is suggested in all of these pieces of literature.

In his introduction, Dr. Esolen states that "a judicious application of even three or four of these methods will suffice to kill the imagination of an Einstein, a Beethoven, a Dante, or a Michelangelo." Of course this is not what he wants, so every chapter looks at the various things which are being squeezed out of the life of a child; things which will stimulate the mind of a boy or a girl to grow into independent, thinking man and women whose minds are free to think on their own.

I found the book inspiring, with every chapter full of references to great works of literature to recommend to my children. There is even a bibliography at the end of the book for those of us who are trying to construct a home library. Dr. Esolen has a writing style which is enjoyable to read, even when the subject is serious. For example, this paragraph made my wife and I chuckle when I read it to her as we both were drifting off to sleep:

Chastity is absurdly easy to laugh at. For of all, no one is chaste. Second, it is stupid to be chaste to begin with. What's all the bother about, anyway? Elizabeth Bennett believes, in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, that her family will be disgraced when it becomes known that her silly sister Lydia has run off, unmarried, with a soldier. Weren't they quaint and unenlightened in Jane Austen's day? Better that Elizabeth Bennett should follow her sister's lead, ignoring that prig Mr. Darcy, and make the carriage springs squeak with Colonel Denny or someone - anyone will do.

Dr. Esolen focuses on several institutions which have seriously hampered the imagination of the child: television, schools, and lack of free or unscheduled time in the life of the child. In his lecture, he talked about a game he used to play, where one would try to guess if a collection of buildings one would see on trips was either a prison, a school, or a factory. He pointed out that all three are built in the same manner and perform the same function. Once again, in his introduction he describes the phenomenon known as Take Your Daughter to Work Day:

"See, Jill, this is the office where Mommy works. Here is where I sit for nine hours and talk to people I don't love, about things that don't genuinely interest me, so that I can make enough money to put you in day care."

I enjoyed reading the book. Like any other good book, TEN WAYS TO DESTROY THE IMAGINATION OF YOUR CHILD inspired me to want to read more classic literature which Dr. Esolen mentioned in this excellent addition to my library.


R said...

I must add this to my library. I would be curious to know what thoughts Dr. Esolen would have concerning role-playing games and their ability or inability to encourage creativity.

Natalie said...

I'm intrested to read this book now! I have a big imagination and was often made fun of as a child for it, but I still hope my kids have as big imaginations as I do.

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