by Neil Anderson, Head of School
“‘We don’t teach by rote memorization,’ say our educators today, raising their chins in pride. ‘We prefer to teach critical thinking. We prefer to tap into the imagination.’
So long as teachers keep harping on that one string, we won’t have to fear that our school will turn out the next Dante or Mozart.”
If you’re up for a good workout, read Anthony Esolen’s new book, Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child. With the a subtitle like, Extinguishing the Minds and Souls of Our Children in Ten Easy Steps, I knew Esolen would be laying on the sarcasm pretty thick, but I didn’t realize he would be writing completely upside down.
Esolen holds true to his word. He writes a 250 page book wisely informing us of the perfect recipe for creating diluted and impotent minds in our children. Although it is a bit strenuous to constantly turn Esolen’s principles on their head, the sweat proves to be rewarding as Esolen is keenly aware of what’s at stake in simply tubing down the current progressive educational river.
After an introductory chapter of providing over-arching principles for imagination destruction, Esolen dishes out ten specific ways you can achieve this with some intentionality. As you can see in the quote above, Esolen’s opening argument is a sweetly sarcastic argument against classical education. Very enjoyable if you can appreciate a healthy dose of cynicism in the vain of Lewis’ Screwtape Letters.
Instead of summing up the ten arguments, I’ll review some of his best in a couple different articles over the coming months.
Method 9: Distract the Child with the Shallow and Unreal or The Kingdom of Noise
I’m sure most of us have read our fair share of “TV will melt your child’s brain” articles. Method #9, in it’s simplest form, is one of those, but Esolen gets to the heart of the matter in ways I have never come across before (and he writes beautifully, which always helps an argument).
Working upside down, Esolen is actually prescribing solitude, space, and silence in the lives of our children. But not necessarily soundless silence; “Noise as I use the term here has nothing necessarily to do with decibels, though they can help. It is instead a kind of mental and spiritual interference, like the blitz of tiny explosions in radio static.” The problem with media saturation in the lives of children is not so much the noise in general, but the kind of noise it is. They are being trained to value empty noise and shallow imagery to the point where they can no longer appreciate the sights and sounds that are essential to their livelihood. I believe Esolen’s summary thoughts are worth quoting at length (remember, read the opposite of what he is saying).
There is a graver danger to our children than that they might someday pick up good books and read them, and see how thin and paltry the modern soundtrack is by comparison with Homer or Augustine. Graver, too, than the chance that they may begin to judge the good and the bad, the noble and the silly, the true and the false, and therefore learn to appreciate what makes the one different from the other. True, they might then begin, for the first time, to look at bad people as human beings, genuine sinners with stories of folly or vice or weakness behind them, and not as placeholders in what passes as social analysis or political debate. The danger, rather, is that in a moment of silence the strangeness and wonder of this world, and perhaps of the self-concealing and revealing Maker of this world, might overtake them. And if it happens, even if they should insist that they belong to no religious sect at all, they will be lost to us. They will live in the world, but as if it had an extra dimension or two invisible to most. (Esolen 214)
In short, Esolen is highly disturbed, as should we be, by cultural trends that rob our children of the ability to really hear people in the context of rich relationships, experience visual beauty where it is deep and meaningful, or, most importantly, the impulse to smile a knowing smile when reading Elijah’s experience in 1 Kings 12:
And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake:
And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.
13 And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, “What doest thou here, Elijah?”