Pedagogic Ponderings: Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination - SLO Classical Academy
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Pedagogic Ponderings: Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination

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Welcome to the second installment of our new blog series, Pedagogic Ponderings! If you missed Mrs. Burns’ first book review blog post over the summer, we encourage you to read it here. This series provides a snapshot of educational (pedagogic) books and how their philosophies connect to our program here at SLOCA. 

Today we have another thought-provoking, entertaining book for you to hear about, so grab a cup of something cozy and settle in for this insightful review – you’ll want to read this through to the end and then go pick up this book!

Pedagogic Ponderings

Mrs. Burns’ Book Review Blog

Pedagogic Ponderings is a blog review of pedagogic (educational) books by our own Jenna Burns.  After teaching History and Language Arts at SLOCA UMS for five years, Jenna is taking this year off of teaching to care for her new daughter, Julianna.  But she is not taking a break from learning!  She is seeking out the best books on education, reading them, pondering them, and reviewing them for us.  In her blog she gives us a snapshot of the books and how their educational philosophies connect to what we are doing at SLOCA.  We hope her blog helps you better understand classical education and our school. 

This month I’m reviewing Anthony Esolen’s Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of your Child. I chose this book because I hoped it would help defend the choices we make here at SLOCA that seem to me to nurture a child’s imagination, like our two-day program and the curriculum we read. It did that and so much more.  Esolen’s book provides a comprehensive look at habits that do and do not help develop a child’s imagination, habits that are relevant to our lives and our educational experience at SLOCA.  So, read this month’s blog to find out: what happened when Mrs. Burns’ believed she could fly, three ways to nurture your child’s imagination, and why SLOCA is an imagination-friendly place. 

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I love the wonder of a child’s imagination.  When I was a girl I loved Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie and I would sit at my window every night, just like Wendy, truly believing Peter would come take me away to Neverland.  During a sleep over at my best friend Jessica’s house, I explained to her that flying was indeed quite possible for children who believed.  To prove her doubt was unfounded and assuage my hurt pride, I looped my sleeping bag ties over her fan and jumped off her bed, fully expecting to take flight.  I fell.  The fan blade drooped. Jessica’s upset father drove me home.  A little while later I moved to a new town, but as a teenager I visited Jessica and was unable to sleep due to a constant clicking sound the fan made.  Yes, you guessed it.  The clicking was a souvenir from the time I believed I could fly.

In a child, imagination is a mark of innocence.  In an adult, imagination fosters creative thinking and inventiveness.  So how do we nurture our children’s imaginations?  That is the question Anthony Esolen explores in his book, Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of your Child.  Esolen reveals how our culture is stifling the imagination, and if we want to instead foster the imagination we must be intentional.  Though his book does not explore classical education specifically, it certainly supports many of its key philosophical components like a rigorous curriculum, memorization, and great books (to name just a few). 

This is not your usual, straightforward book on education, which made me like it all the more.  Esolen’s satirical style had me laughing even as his hyperbole left me unnerved.  This is what good satire does.  It wittingly presents the absurd as a mirror in which we all too easily see our culture and ourselves.  To support his arguments he often draws upon classical works, many of which we have read here at SLOCA (The Iliad and The Odyssey, 1001 Arabian Nights, Tom Sawyer, Don Quixote, The Tempest and many more).  Though you may not connect with his Christian faith or appreciate his seemingly negative view of feminism, if you read this book you will find yourself entertained and challenged and the better for it.

My three favorite take-aways from his book:

One – Facts, memorization, grammar/mathematical rules, and hard work all foster imagination.  Our culture has done away with these in favor of the “Jellyfish Theory,” of imagination, which in the guise of promoting creativity, actually encourages “laziness, by never insisting that young people actually master, for example, the rules of multiplication,” (14). But for imagination to manifest into something great, children need the basic building blocks from which to pull.  

Two – Love for one’s heroes and for one’s country fosters imagination.  We should hold up for our children historical and literary heroes, in all their complexity, because, “a hero stretches our imagination. He introduces us, for better or for worse, to possibilities we had never considered. He extends the limits of what is human,” (143).  When it comes to heroes and to patriotism, our culture risks creating children that are “the products of easy cynicism,” (132) but we want children that “can grow to love her [country] enough to wish to correct her, as Virgil and Livy wished to correct their Rome,” (140). 

Three – Our world is filled with distractions and noise but in the quiet “a child’s mind might open” (205) and in that openness the “life of imagination is close at hand,” (215).  When children are not constantly distracted, but “Left to themselves, [they] simply will not remain alone.  They will organize.  They will establish their petty kingdoms, declare decrees, seat and unseat rulers, give one another new names, invent secret codes, build hideouts, and in general practice a rough sort of justice and mercy,” (61). 

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How Esolen’s book relates to SLOCA:

This year our students will learn about wars, plagues, corrupt popes, and death in the Middle Ages.  They will read stories with violence like Beowulf tearing off Grendel’s arm.  T
hey will encounter mature situations as Hamlet contemplates killing his uncle to revenge his father’s murder.  They will hear of Merlin’s spells and Guinevere’s unfaithfulness and Loki’s mischievous deeds. It all may leave you wondering: should we expose our children to such content?  

This book helps explain why we at SLOCA do not shrink from history or from classical literature because of its serious content.  What we learn this year will awaken your child’s mind more than Spongebob or Captain Underpants or other “kid-friendly” stories can because of its serious content.  The historical and literary characters we will encounter will strike to the heart and open up the imagination.  

The curriculum chosen for this year represents hours and hours of careful consideration by a team of people committed to providing literature that meets criteria that Esolen encourages:

Literature that builds the foundation for future learning: “In the folk tale, good is good and evil is evil, and the former will triumph and the latter will fail.  This is not the result of the imaginative quest.  It is rather its principle and foundation.  It is what will enable the child later on to understand Macbeth, or Don Quixote, or David Copperfield,” (97).

Literature that inspires critical thinking: “There is a graver danger to our children that they might someday pick up good books and read them, and see how paltry the modern soundtrack is by comparison with Homer or Augustine.  Graver, too, than the chance that they might begin to judge the good and the bad, the noble and the silly, the true and the false, and therefore learn to appreciate what makes the one different from the other,” (214). 

Literature that helps us respect the human condition: “Yet to read the tale of Aladdin is to mount that same flying carpet with him, and travel not only to faraway Baghdad, but to a land of permanent things; of the brave and noble youth; of the beautiful and pure maiden he loves; of the lowly exalted to glory, and the arrogant reduced to nothing.  If there should ever arise on earth beings who could not understand and cherish the story of Aladdin, we must conclude that they are not our sort of beings.  They could not be human,” (104).

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Beyond our choice of curriculum there is so much more that SLOCA has in common with this book: small class sizes, shorter class days, attention to the student as a whole person.  All of these things Esolen discusses in his book as helping nurture the imagination.   Reading this book will help you understand what we are doing here at SLOCA as it will inspire the activities you do at home, all while entertaining you with its clever writing style.  Enjoy!

Esolen, Anthony. Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child. Wilmington: Anthony Esolen, 2010. Print. 

Coming up next: A review of The Well-Trained Mind

Thank you Mrs. Burns, for sharing your thoughts and expertise on this inspiring book, and how it relates to what we are doing here at SLOCA. We want to foster imagination in our children and this resource sounds chock-full of ideas and encouragement for this purpose! 

Parents, what did this review bring to your mind? Share your thoughts below in the comments.

Other reviews in this series:

The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease

The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jesse Wise

The Core by Leigh A. Bortins

How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare by Ken Ludwig 

Climbing Parnassus by Tracy Lee Simmons

Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv

Play: How it Shapes the Brian, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul by Dr. Stuart Brown

SLO Classical Academy is not affiliated with any of the above mentioned websites.

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