Cindy at Ordo Amoris is hosting a book club for Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child by Anthony Esolen, Ph.D.
I’m relieved to find that rather than being a thin-air-sniffing academic elitist, Esolen has a high regard for manual labor. I mean that he has a high regard for skilled manual labor; I don’t know how he feels about trash collection or toilet-scrubbing. Far from degrading skilled blue-collar work, in chapter four Esolen recommends (or doesn’t recommend, as it is satire) letting children learn how to do useful things by watching and being around people who do things and by reading interesting books that encourage and teach. Doing stuff encourages the “virtue of self-reliance.” Lest you think he is advocating an earlier type of merely useful schooling, he says that allowing children to develop an interest in doing things, making things, and figuring out how things/machines work is “entirely in the spirit of play.” He thinks they should follow their interests to learn about electricity, machines, beautiful and/or useful (not silly) arts and crafts, raising animals, hunting, building things and on and on.
All of this seems pretty easy, in one sense, but awfully inconvenient in another. Easy because there’s very little here that a parent needs to DO, but just a letting go and allowing space and time and leisure. Inconvenient because it requires an alertness on the part of the parents and a willingness to defend time for leisure. By leisure, I don’t mean mindless time for entertainment, but a different kind of enjoyable learning time. I have such a hard time putting this into words, but Esolen writes about this kind of leisure, as does Pieper, and in not-so-many-words, so does Mason. I’m hoping some of my other book group people will talk about this some more. Anyway, however inconvenient it may or may not be, I didn’t have children because I thought it would be easy.
My husband and I usually try to let the kids be around us as we work around the house even though it means that we get a lot less done, and we nearly always stop to watch when we pass a tree cutter or construction site, but where else can we find people willing to let a few respectful little learners hang around? My neighbors should be warned: I’m going to be watching to see if any of them do anything especially well and then I’m going to let my kids pester them. With my luck, my kids will take a shine to the guy who plays the bagpipes.
Esolen is critical of science museums in the same way he is critical of zoos, in that they are controlled spaces with proscribed experiments; they are artificial places. He believes these museums are more about pushing a politically correct agenda of “right thought” than about true science. I also get the feeling he’d like them better if there were some element of risk involved – perhaps a rotted floor board or a third rail.
Esolen really wants folks to let up on safety because it kills adventure and stifles imagination; it creates fearful rules-followers. I get what he’s saying, but going cold turkey on that can be really… unsafe. I mean that we are so used to “them” telling us what is and is not safe, that we have lost a bit of the faculty to figure out proper precautions for ourselves. A few years ago, my husband and I went on a hike that was classified as a “non-technical climb.” It was basically a near-vertical hike up the side of a mountain. Here and there along the way were occasional metal bars to grab. It was fun and exciting, but what made the biggest impression on me was that no one made us sign anything before we began. I kept thinking, “I can’t believe they’re letting us do this!” No one told us that those little metal bars were for grabbing – we had to figure it out! Go ahead, laugh, but I’m guessing that somewhere out there there is a person who really wouldn’t know that he shouldn’t blow dry his hair while standing in the shower if he hadn’t read the little tag on the hairdryer.