Books and children, especially imaginative children, are dangerous things. “They take up space, are of no immediate practical use, are of interest only to a few people, and present all kinds of problems,” writes Anthony Esolen. “A book can make you see the whole world again, and so ruin your calm and efficient day. But a child does not see the world again . . . [but] for the first time.” So Esolen gives us Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child—10 ‘techniques’ that are consistently employed by parents and schools in our culture.
Esolen knows we have choices to make. We have to choose between liberty and security, comfort and maturity. Our generation is schizophrenic about these choices. We hand over electronic devices to our kids that mess with their brains, but make them wear bicycle helmets when they ride through the neighborhood—if we let them ride through the neighborhood at all. We fill up every minute with sports, activities, and projects, so they won’t have time to think on their own. We take them to science museums but won’t let them near any machines. We keep them away from fairy tales and tell them to stick to proven facts. We give them courses in astronomy, but don’t take them outside at night to see the stars. We tell them we just want them to be happy, and warn them away from career paths that might give them purpose.
I once heard a missionary say that Christian parents wanted to support missions, but not by anything so radical as sending one of theirs to a mission field. We want our kids to choose safe careers in finance and technology, maybe law, but definitely not anything that would send them into a scary world, where they might be hurt, or die, or where they might be committed to doing something more important than making a living.
Esolen, a college professor, is familiar with the methods that are working so well to sabotage the potential of this generation. He recognizes that we may be well be on our way to destroying the future entrepreneurs, inventors, warriors, and leaders in our care.
As parents who have chosen to homeschool, we are wary of what the System would do to our children. We know we must give them wings to imagine the world for themselves. But we are not immune to the temptations to suppress our children’s imagination.
If Thomas Edison’s mother had been one of us, would she have let him out of her sight? She should have kept him away from machines, and matches, for that matter. She would have saved herself so much trouble with the neighbors. She could have used him to do some basic chores around the house, instead of letting him go off at age 12 to work on a train, and embark on a career of invention and entrepreneurism.
Esolen teases us, a generation of anxious helicopter parents who suspect we may be wrong to hover, but are terrified to raise our kids to become independent. Most of us grew up with “missing kids” staring at us from the milk carton every morning as we ate breakfast, and have internalized a sense of fear which threatens to stifle our kids.
Of course, Esolen writes with tongue-in-cheek when he says that we don’t want to let our children have an imagination, because he knows his audience well. Of course we do want our children to have an imagination! We just don’t want to risk anything along the way. And, of course, we have to, because a well-developed imagination is the very thing that will help our children navigate a dangerous and confusing world.
Photo Credit:First graphic design by Anna Soltis.