Book Club: Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, chp. 3, method 2

Cindy at Ordo Amoris is hosting a book club for Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child by Anthony Esolen, Ph.D.  The following contains some of my thoughts on chapter three.

Working hand in hand with letting kids outside to foster imagination, is letting kids alone.  This chapter contains the description of a place called Tormentaria whose motto might as well be “birth, school, work death,” which is as bad a way of life as it is a song.  Esolen paints a picture of a system designed to turn out unthinking drones and constant consumers.  Every minute is accounted for and scheduled, every step is choreographed, every need is dictated.  “Down time” is merely to recharge the machine to keep it useful and even that is carefully planned and watched over.  Of course, this makes me think some more about that other book study Cindy hosted, for Josef Pieper’s Leisure: The Basis of Culture.  I think it was in chapter three that Pieper puts forth the idea that leisure is not for the purpose of sending the worker back to work with renewed energy, but it is an end in itself – it nurtures his humanity.  Anyway, to keep a child busy there are organized sports, after school activities, longer school days and longer school years.

Charlotte Mason also thought parents should shut up a lot of the time; she believed the constant prattling at children and interference in their play made them dull.  She advocated the frequent employment of what she called “masterly inactivity” which is, as I understand it, apart from their formal lessons, allowing children to do what they will while still being on hand to give answers and gentle direction.  I like that, I can do that, and I see the benefit in it, but Esolen takes this to a whole other level.  Maybe it was just that I like being able to pat myself on the back for having played ball in the street as a child but I was heartily agreeing with him right up until he started talking about hopping trains.  I kept quiet last chapter when he advocated exploring condemned buildings, but enough is enough.  Far be it from me to tape my kids up in bubble wrap, but I don’t encourage them to subway surf either.I don’t know that I can get on board with the long stretches of completely unsupervised freedom Esolen advocates:  I’ve been a tomato-staker right from the get go.  Here in the suburbs unsupervised children have nothing to do but get into trouble.  I’d rather make them mow the grass and clean the gutters and rake the leaves and shovel the snow and patch the garage roof and study piano and play with legos, build an igloo or a mud hut – all under my masterly inactive supervision.

Also, here on my block, things are not so bleak as I’ve heard they are in other places.  The children here still do play on our dead-end street.  It seems like it only takes one family who wants to interact as a part of a community to have a big influence on the micro-culture of a neighborhood and we’ve been blessed with people like that here.


10 thoughts on “Book Club: Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, chp. 3, method 2

  1. Mystie says:

    Yes, I was hoping someone else would bring up both masterly inactivity and tomato-staking. Both are consistent with letting children to themselves without giving them the run of a town without knowing where they are or what they are doing or who they are doing it with.

    • sara says:

      I’m wondering if Esolen is referring to children much older than my own. Even still, and even in my relatively safe community, I’d still want to know where they are, what they’re doing and with whom.

      Not that she got everything right, but with all the freedom I had as a kid, my mother still wanted to know that I was on the block and with so -and-so and doing such-and-such. In hindsight, if she made any mistake, it was not supervising and protecting me more actively.

      • debrahilton says:

        I wonder if some things have truly changed about our society. It seems as if they have – especially in cities. He does mention the circular problem of no children on the streets leading to more crime, leading to no children on the streets.
        I don’t feel that I want my children just off anywhere, and I don’t think that cell phones solve the problem. Masterly inactivity seems to be a good solution.

  2. Dana says:

    Tomato-staking and masterly inactivity – fun terms. In my family, I called it *healthy neglect*

    Should I admit that I dont own any of Charlotte Mason’s books? :-\

    • sara says:

      Healthy neglect can work too. 🙂

      But you won’t find tomato-staking in Mason. I’m cobbling together different ideas. I do that – take what I like from one place and graft it to another philosophy. It usually works too – There ARE times when it must be all or nothing, but not often.

  3. Brandy @ Afterthoughts says:

    Sara, This came up over at Mystie’s, too, and I will still agree that I don’t think children-running-wild is the answer. I keep thinking of that verse in Scripture that tells us that a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame. I don’t think this is advocating micromanaging, but it seems like never knowing where your children are would be hard to reconcile with this passage.

    With that said, some friends of ours own a ranch that is in the complete middle of nowhere. When we go there, the children (even down to three-year-olds) roam who-knows-where (together with older siblings), and are trained to come home at the sound of a bell (for meals, or when it is time to leave, etc.). The biggest risks are falls or rattlesnake bites, so we choose to overlook them. That makes me think that part of this has to be context.

    When I was growing up, the kids that had the rule of the town grew up to be drug addicts. It was tragic.

    • sara says:

      Yep, context. It’s why I couldn’t possibly make a rule for another family – what works for us, here and now, might not work for someone else, somewhere and somewhen else.

  4. Cindy says:

    I agree that a child left to himself brings his mother shame while at the same time thinking that mothers are becoming more and more squeamish in the culture. Add to squeamish self-righteous and you have the recipe for some real busybodies. But I agree when need to use some common sense. Personally, I try to err by falling off both sides of this horse.

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