Book Club: Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, chp.1

Cindy at Ordo Amoris is hosting a book club for Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child by Anthony Esolen.  If this interests you, please head over to Cindy’s to read what she and the other participants are writing.  The following contains my thoughts on chapter one with a long, winding, personal rabbit trail.

I believe I am, or was, the child of whom Esolen has written. My understanding of history, of events in time, is spotty and I struggle to see the overarching themes in the books that I read.  I miss truly understanding his references to Beowulf,  Dickens’ Hard Times and Plato, though I have learned enough isolated facts about them to do pretty well at Trivial Pursuit or Jeopardy.

According to Esolen, a lively imagination requires that facts be taught in context; facts need structures, forms and timelines to hang on or they are only bits of flotsom on the water that don’t cohere.  He also recommends that certain kinds of knowledge need to be memorized and mastered in order to facilitate further learning.  I received none of this in school.

When I was in grammar school – I forget what grade, third maybe?  Fifth?  Doesn’t matter – When I was in grammar school, any child who finished his class assignment early, was allowed to walk over to a box under the windows and take out a square card with a story on it.  The stories were always too short, always incomplete, always frustrating, but it was good training for reading the Internet.  And there were no answers anywhere.  I didn’t recognize anyone to whom I could say, “That story about the beavers was great!  Where can I learn more?”  Maybe those people were there, but I didn’t see them.

So, how is it that, though my education has been deficient, my imagination is not completely dead?  How do I have an idea of what I’m missing why do I care?  Accident.  Or Providential accident.  I was born into a family that gave me certain gifts.  Because of these gifts I have managed to cobble together a pretty high-functioning “does it sound right” method of speaking and writing without knowing many actual rules of grammar and I still want to learn.

Firstly, my mother.  She  is a reader.  I have followed her example.  My mother also speaks English well – Bonus! – She speaks it with a New York accent!   Also, whether through wisdom or laziness, when I was a young child, she pretty much let me do my own thing.  I had my box full of craft supplies, called my creativity box, which she let me keep under my bed and she never told me what to do with it; I had my dolls and my imaginary friends, also often under the bed; I had her to help me sound out words when I asked and not if I didn’t.  She taught me to sing while doing housework and the right way to clean the bathroom floor.  She taught me that there’s nothing so delicious as quiet wool-gathering over a cup of tea, not always with a book.  She took me camping and to Cooperstown.  She likes the sun through cobalt glass and lace curtains.  She likes things to be pretty and she makes them so.

I also had my father who let me sit in a box in the bread truck while he made deliveries, who brought me roses with glitter on them, who (reluctantly) taught me to whistle.  He makes things with his hands, he gardens, he figures things out just by looking at them and thinking about them.  He can make a tomato grow out of can.  Another important thing about my daddy is that he’s from another country; if I wanted to communicate with my grandparents I had to understand Sicilian.  I believe this early exposure to a foreign language helped me to study languages in school later which, in turn, helped me to decipher some English grammar.  Funny how I probably never would have learned what an English infinitive is if I hadn’t first learned it in Spanish and Italian.

I am also blessed to be married to a man who names and knows the habits of all the stray cats on our block, who feeds birds, who builds snow forts and sand castles and wooden toy cranes, and who sees interesting things out of the corner of his eye.  He delights in every day magic.  Just a few days ago he told me of his observation that squirrels can turn their feet all the way around.  I had been wondering how they seemed to defy gravity hanging from the trunk of a tree!

I am also not completely in the dark because, as Esolen suggests, some of those random facts have sparked my curiosity and now, as a nearly-middleaged adult, I am learning to seek out the answers to the questions I have.  Maybe it’s a little sad that it took me so long, but I have kids to teach and my own intellect to nourish and I don’t have time to dwell on what a contender I could have been .

The biggest obstacle I face is that I never developed, never tried to develop, a will to struggle through the “drudgery” in the hope of receiving a future reward.  I mean that I have been guilty of thinking that if understanding or ablity didn’t come “naturally” then it likely wouldn’t come.   To me it has been an act of faith to open a hard book, focus my attention for a length of time, and try to decipher.  It is here where self-esteem is not total b.s.  Little successes are necessary to me to spur me on to try more and harder things.


8 thoughts on “Book Club: Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, chp.1

  1. Dana says:

    Hi Sara ~
    Glad you’re jumping into the fray. I love that you describe yourself as visiting blogs that are too ambitious for you 😉 To me that settles the issue *You are imaginative!*
    We’re either a child ourselves or rearing a child (or grandchild) or mentoring someone’s else’s. This book is valuable for all stages of life.
    Dana in GA

  2. Cindy says:

    Honestly, I know exactly what you are saying. I always feel like a wannabe also. I also feel the lack of learning how to really strive for a difficult goal. Most of my own learning has been happenstance and I can’t say that from my reading I haven’t met many people who have learned in this way. For some of us it is a lifeline.

    When I was young I read Little Women and I was embarrassed that I did not know what the references were. I believe my own quest started with that book and my own ignorance. I thank my mother for accidentally buying me a whole set of classics from a traveling salesman. She always felt guilty about the purchase but I read ever single one of the books.

    • sara says:

      When I was about eight years old, I was gifted a complete set of Dickens and my mother put them away thinking they were too old for me. Several of the volumes were lost, but I managed to save a couple or three or them; Hard Times is not one of them. 😉 But I’m getting used to the incredible way my TBR list just keeps growing.
      Thanks for the encouragement.

  3. Mystie says:

    I also have a hard time sticking to a task or learning project that doesn’t come easily or doesn’t appeal to me. My husband is much more diligent about seeing things through and about doing what needs to be done because of duty even if they aren’t “fun.” I zeroed in on that trait before we were married, and it was one of the things that had me watching him before I knew he was interested in me. I thought, “I’d like my children to have that capacity!” 🙂 Now I also know that *I* have to be working on that character issue if I want to require it of my children. Drat. 🙂

  4. Brandy @ Afterthoughts says:

    Oh, Sara. My, how I relate. If I could boil my homeschooling experience down in relation to myself, it is that one day, my little boy was ready for kindergarten, and lo and behold: I discovered learning. I had a moderately interesting education, as far as public schools in the 80s were concerned. I was never taught grammar beyond what a verb and noun are, and I read classic literature in high school (like Dante and Milton) because it sounded pretty, but I never understood it, and no one even really knew I was reading it. (When I read Little Women as a child, I didn’t even realize there were references at all!!)

    And I’m pretty sure that my imagination was never killed because (1) we had an interesting dinner together as a family almost every evening and (2) I was very ill in high school and spent a huge amount of time learning at home on my own, even though technically I was a public school student.

    When I read books like this I think of two things. First, that all is not lost for ME. I am only in my 30s, and I can still learn a lot of this stuff. Second, that my children can have advantages I didn’t, especially if I’m determined to learn about all of this and be able to offer it to them.

    Oh! One more thing. I have to say that I agree with you–I never learned to suffer through the drudgery in order to gain the reward. I remember reading Teaching the Trivium by the Bluedorns, and it slowly dawned on my that some people studied a language in order to learn it. It was then that I realized that I only studied things to get an A in the class, for the most part (especially before college). The “drudgery” required for a good grade is quite different from that required for mastery of a subject.

  5. Debra says:

    More like me! Thanks Sara, I love the way you describe it. I am encouraged by the many ways our imagination struggles for life, and also by the constant reminder that like education, our imagination is also something we can revive. Most of the truly worthwhile things we are trying to build into our children’s lives are life-works, not seasonal. This is not an excuse to be lazy about it, but an encouragement not to give up where we feel we are failing.

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