[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his first chapter is not the Number One Method for Imagination Assassination. No, that comes in the second chapter. Chapter One is more of a foundational principle. And the principle is this: truth is your enemy. Esolen even goes so far to say that if one is truly seeking to destroy the imagination, one must even consider facts — insofar as they contain truth, truth which can interest a child — our enemy.
Esolen mentions all sorts of facts — historical, mathematical, grammatical.
I was particularly interested in the grammatical.
Esolen mentions that there are a number of ways to kill grammar. For instance, I can teach it while belittling it. I can explain to them how unimportant it really is, how no one really knows all these rules, and they are kind of silly anyhow. This is, in effect, killing two birds with one stone, because while I kill English grammar proper, I also kill enough of the reverence for rules that the children become unable to learn the grammar of any subject.
In relation to this, Esolen explains that while I am minimizing grammar, I can simultaneously encourage faux creativity, imagination’s ugly stepsister:
Imagine a serpent whispering into the ear, “Young lady,” or “Young lad,” as the case may be, “do not fear those rigid threats of Death. Bad grammar will not kill you. How should it? It is itself weak and foolish. All structure is foolish. Be creative. Do what you please. So what if some old fashioned Tyrant up above calls it gibberish? It will be your gibberish. There are no rules. Isn’t this apple shiny, though?”
There are no rules. Rules seek to stifle you. Rules crush your creativity. Do what you want. Listen to your heart. Yada yada yada.
When I was fourteen or fifteen years old, I remember telling my piano teacher I wanted to learn jazz. Instead, she bought me a collection of Czerny studies. I will never forget her telling me that if I wanted to play jazz, I needed to learn to play classical. Classical would teach me everything I needed to know, and the reverse could never be true.
I came up against a similar wall in college when I was studying voice. Opera?? Quite honestly, it had never dawned on me that they would try to make an opera singer out of me. Once again, the answer was the same. “Learn opera and you can sing anything.”
In both instances, the study was organized in such a way as to teach me to master the grammar and the logic of the subject.
I am thinking about the grammar of music today because I am studying up for teaching piano for the first time. In the back of my Pianophonics book are notes to teachers. The author explains that he wrote his own curriculum because none of the others he’d found actually taught … the grammar of the subject. Among other things, there was no emphasis upon reading music. The author, Mr. Freer, equates his approach to the battle between whole word reading and phonics reading. He writes:
[B]y youngest daughter we had less time and marginally more wisdom. We had come to value rules, rather than unthinkingly and cavalierly prejudging them, hippie-fashion, as stifling, boring, outdated and useless. True, rules in themselves are not especially interesting, and nor are they meant to be. Learning them is work rather than play. But they have the power to unlock new worlds because they encapsulate an essence, in this case the essence of English spelling, just like the essence of vanilla encapsulated in a bottle. Essences are potent stuff, and a little goes a long way. You can’t just drink them out of the bottle. And the more ‘essential’ an essence is, the more concentrated and powerful it is. Those 70 phonograms take some effort to learn, but it certainly beats having to cold-memorize thousands upon thousands of different shapes… Rules make things easier when you know how to use them.
He later explains that the grammatical rules of, in this instance, musical notation, are like the boundaries of a game:
The first step of all is to place stickers on those two black keys, defining and delineating our playground, our initial zone of engagement. Boundaries are built into nature, and are integral to everything, including Pianophonics. We can only work during the day because we have slept at night; and as Chesterton pointed out, one is able to jump for joy only because the ground is hard and unyielding. Games fascinate us because in them we enact a metaphor of this. Within the physical boundaries and those defined by the rules there is absolute freedom. You can do whatever you like within the rules. But outside of them there is no freedom. Outside is a ‘non-place’ where the game ceases to exist — a no-go zone of meaninglessness. ‘Out of play’ means only one thing: get back into play. The rules engender the freedom…
It’s so counterintuitive, because our culture is constantly sending us the message that the rules prohibit freedom, that we cannot be free unless we are free from the rules. Our government has made so many laws that it is ridiculous — we are tempted to think that law is silly. But generally, we cannot (and ought not) be free from the laws of nature, and without a certain amount of law, there is no order, and therefore no freedom.
What does this have to do with school?
Well, if the goal of the school is to destroy the child’s imagination and fit the child for the global economy, it must not allow the child to learn the rules. In learning them, he might accidentally find freedom, and free people do not fit very well into said global economy. Free people do crazy things, like saving their own seed instead of buying it from Monsanto. This we cannot have, for in fitting children for the global economy, we are training them not only to be employees, taking orders from some huge corporation somewhere, but also to be consumers. Let the factories produce, and let the children learn to buy!
This is how the world goes ’round.
A lot of the methods in this book, by the way, can be reduced down to methods of killing the grammar of something or other — to eliminating the grammar and form … of life.
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