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.