Thursday, November 24, 2011

Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, by Anthony Esolen, came highly recommended, so I started reading my library copy with much enthusiasm. My husband stole the book after I'd read the first few chapters, and devoured the whole thing in a day, saying at the end that it was fantastic and we needed to own a copy. For the first few chapters, I agreed with both recommendations and was ready to recommend it to others. The author echoed many of my own opinions, and I felt he was on the right track in warning parents about overstimulating modern technology that can destroy imagination and intelligence. He also advocates classical education, referring to many wonderful works of literature, poetry, history, science, and philosophy.

The book is written in a similar tone as C.S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters, as if the author were in fact telling parents how to destroy their children's imaginations. He suggests television, video games, dumbed-down education, helicopter parenting, and other methods as ways to keep children from developing dangerous ideas and thinking for themselves. It's a clever conceit, but began to pall somewhat as the book went on, especially since the author seemed to have trouble keeping it up and it was sometimes difficult to gauge his sincerity.

Then I started to notice that he rarely mentioned girls or domestic activities. All of his examples of a good imaginative life were about boys doing things that might have come straight from The American Boy's Handy Book. At one point he mentions that he feels unqualified to discuss girls, having never been one. That's fine, but in that case perhaps the book should have been titled Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Son.

And then he started in on the feminists. Now, I can understand being less than enthusiastic about Virginia Woolf or Kate Chopin, especially if one is a man, but to imply that they contributed little or nothing to English literature is not only wrong, it's uneducated. And it shows a seriously flawed view of history to dismiss suffragists and other women's rights advocates as unpleasant females with nothing better to do than make themselves obnoxious. He even goes so far as to claim that no feminist ever risked her life for her cause. Mrs. Pankhurst, anyone? Emily Davison? The hundreds of women who were force-fed in English prisons simply because they showed up at a rally? There may be many people who think of feminists as "no-bra-wearin', hairy-legged women's libbers", but someone with the prefix of "Dr" should know better than that.

By the end of the book Esolen's argument had fallen into nothing more than a personal manifesto. He seems to believe that men should be men and women should be women, just like back in the good old days. While I'm one of the first to agree that men and women are and should be different than each other, I don't believe that that means traditional roles necessarily apply anymore. And at no point in history was there a magical time where everyone was imaginative and intelligent and happy. Modern technology does make it easier for people to dull their brains, and that's a great topic for a book. It's just too bad Esolen didn't stick with that idea.

I really wanted to like this book, and I think it might have been really good--if he'd had a decent editor. My husband and I both felt that the author simply didn't have anyone along the way to curb his rantings and bring him back to the original point. He got carried away and lost my approbation.