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    Books & Reading

    Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child: Method 9

    March 15, 2011 by Brandy Vencel

    [dropcap]M[/dropcap]ethod Nine is: Distract the Child with the Shallow and Unreal. It is here that we see Esolen get to something he’s been hinting at {both subtly and not-so-subtly} all along, and it is best expressed in his subtitle: The Kingdom of Noise. The Kingdom of Noise is not children playing loudly.

    It is instead a kind of mental and spiritual interference, like the blitz of tiny explosions in radio static.


    Noisy Tactics

    The things which accomplish such perfect, imagination-killing noise include, but are not limited to:

    • Electronic entertainment, such as television, video games, most movies, etc.
    • Herding children in loud crowds {such as at large institutional schools}
      • Here, he considers scale:

        Five people can have a conversation. A thousand people can only make noise.

      • And also environment:

        [T]he walls must be festooned with noise. Behold the great cardboard poster blaring out in loud colors and loud slogans the appropriate sentiments about recycling or global warming. Behold another poster boasting school spirit, or community involvement, or leadership, or some such. Enter a classroom and behold — what can you not behold? A chaos of self-advertisement meets the eye, blue, green, red, pink, yellow, white. Open a schoolbook. Not a page passes without a bright color picture, or an inset, or a smiling cartoon figure teaching you that a noun names a person, place, or thing.

    • The news
    • Commercials
    • Shallow, sloganeering politics

      …not political thought but a glut of political noise, a great, never-ending garbage dumping of sloganeering, inanity, polling, up-to-the-minute coverage of non-events, polling about polling, coverage about coverage, slogans about slogans, without pause, without anyone stopping to ask a single question about what is Good or True or Beautiful.

    • Other people {if you set the child up for shallow relationships}
      • Which is done by first separating the child from his mother at a young age

        Now take the child from that mother, and place him somewhere else. Not in another home, among different people who love him… Place him in the context of a money-making … industry. Take him to those functional places with tellingly abstract and impersonal names, like the Early Learning Center, or the Tiny Tots Academy. Place him among professional caregivers, rather like people who will walk and feed your dog at the kennel, only much nicer. They will feed the child, will parcel out the child’s day with appropriate Learning Activities, will enforce the scheduled Naptime, and will send him home clean, well-fed, generally contented, runny-nosed, patted, played with, and unloved. Thus will his natural hunger for love be filled instead with the pleasantly functional.

      • And then set him up for shallow acquaintanceships later

        There will not be free time to play, or read, or think. Let the child be hustled from one functionary to another, among a welter of children whose parents are availing themselves of the same service. Here is the karate teacher you do not have time to get to know, and all the students in the karate class whom you do not get to know. Here is the piano teacher you do not know, and here are a few of her other pupils in the waiting room, some of the squirming like they are about to see the dentist.

    • Busyness and bustle

    This sort of noise avoids developing the child’s soul. It hardens the heat, dulls the senses, and numbs the emotions all at once. In choosing a different path, we learn that what Esolen says is true:

    Every hour spent in front of the television was an hour not spent doing something else… Moreover, television didn’t merely spend the time, it spoiled the time it didn’t spend. For everybody has to have some time doing something pointless, like playing cards. But television engaged the imagination in a false and easy way, as playing cards does not. That meant that when a real effort of the imagination was required, the child could not make it. Books would be dull because they were not like television.


    Learning to Hear

    In the beginning of this chapter, Esolen focuses not on the distracting background noise of contemporary life, but on hearing as the ancients once heard. He shares with us the stories of Homer and Milton, two blind poets who heard their epics before writing them. Milton, for instance, explained that a Heavenly Muse visited him at night.

    Esolen then compares this to the modern push for children to be “creative”:

    The hearing is not just the sharpening of one sense at the expense of another. It is, as the poets struggle to tell us, a kind of receptivity to something that comes to us from without. This is why we can do a fine job curdling the imagination by stressing “creativity,” for the creative child is encouraged to think of himself as a little god, with all his bright ideas coming from within. The older tradition has the poet as hearer before he is a crafter of verses. The Muse comes to him.

    My oldest child has written a couple truly beautiful poems. Because of this, I had fairly high expectations when he had to write a poem for his exams last week. I was surprised at his response. He was frustrated with me. I’m not a poet, Mom. And you can’t do it like that. Do it like what? Upon re-reading the chapter, I think I understand what he was trying to say. He could force a poem, but agood poem comes to you when you least expect it.

    It is a gift.


    Poetic Knowledge

    I couldn’t help but think about my favorite book ever ever ever in all of this: Poetic Knowledge. In it, Dr. Taylor tells us that, classically speaking, poetic knowledge is not Knowledge About Poetry, but a sort of intuitive knowing. This sort of knowing is common to normal, healthy children. {Which, I might add, requires the sort of quiet we often associate with peace.} The poetic mode of learning also contains within it a sense of wonder.

    This sort of knowledge is not scientific in nature, for its subject is not scientific, either. It is participatory:

    Education by the Muses is participatory. To sing a love song is not identical with being in love, but it is to participate somehow in that experience. When a child sees the twinkle of the stars he knows it directly; when he chants the rhyme he knows the twinkling indirectly by participating in it.

    This is a sort of sympathy for the reality of the thing.

    I also cannot help but believe that this is what Josef Pieper was getting at with his discussion of the revelatory nature of knowledge. Some knowledge — perhaps most knowledge — is not something we can pat ourselves on the back for, as if our combination of IQ and hard work were to our credit. Rather, we are humbled, knowing that some Muse flipped on the proverbial light bulbs in our minds.

    Like the greatest poems ever written, then, we find that our own understanding, those flashes of brilliance when it all comes together, are a gift, too.


    On the Early Years

    The questions we need to ask ourselves, then, are: Do I want to raise a child who can hear in the poetic sense? A child who is soft to wonder? A child whose heart can sympathize with the poets?

    If so, we’re going to have to protect him from this world full of pointless noise until he is old enough to appreciate inner peace and protect himself.

    -Buy the book.

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  • Reply Cindy March 22, 2011 at 4:10 pm

    Poetic Knowledge is a great book but not an easy read. I think it is chapter 7 that makes a nice summary for the book for those struggling to get through it. I am happy you will be having a book club reading it and I will see about participating if I don’t fall apart first. I will at least read your posts….Lord willing. I think Poetic Knowledge will be a nice antidote to The Shallows.

  • Reply Kelly March 17, 2011 at 12:18 am

    Thanks, Mystie!

  • Reply Silvia March 16, 2011 at 11:43 pm

    Yes, Mystie, thank you thank you thank you (I’m literally jumping up and down in excitement).

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts March 16, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    Mystie, Thank you! We are all looking forward to it, I assure you! 🙂

  • Reply Mystie March 16, 2011 at 8:11 pm

    Ok, I will lead a Poetic Knowledge book club starting April 5, since I really do want to make it through that book thoughtfully before starting our next school year. 🙂

  • Reply Go quickly and tell March 16, 2011 at 7:54 pm

    I cant be the leader, but I can be a faithful follower 😉

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts March 16, 2011 at 7:21 pm

    Two things:

    1. Melissa, I responded to your comment in today’s post: Strength for Today, Bright Hope for Tomorrow. I hope you don’t mind. I was going to write you back here, but my response grew and grew.

    2. So…has anyone decided to lead a book group on one of these wonderful books that came up in the comments? I am thinking Cindy needs a break by now, or I’d ask her…

  • Reply Silvia March 16, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    Brandie, Mystie, whichever title you prefer for the book club first. Those two other books )The Twilight of AC, and IHC, look like great reads (I was able to take a peek at them at Amazon)… Eventually we should do all three (oh, I am very ambitious this morning, let´s hope I can follow through this enthusiasm). There is no rush, it´s only that I am very excited about joining you in your next book club, and I know for sure you will pick an excellent book to discuss.

  • Reply Melissa March 16, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    After reading these posts I am more convinced than ever that we have made some less than wise decisions in our parenting. Is it possible to rekindle the imagination of a 12, 10 and 8 year old? My heart is sick…I wish we could get out of American suburbia and all its assaults against the family and our children. I have effectively been a single mom for 2 years and it is so very hard to fight all these things…

  • Reply Mystie March 16, 2011 at 5:47 am

    I could host it if Cindy or someone else doesn’t want to. I wasn’t positive I’d be able to keep up with this one, but it hasn’t been too difficult. 🙂

    I also haven’t read IHC and would like to. I have read Berman (wasn’t there a book club already on that?); he’d be a quick, easy read for you, Brandy. 🙂

  • Reply Silvia March 16, 2011 at 2:58 am

    Yes, I know you have a lot on your plate. What about you Mystie, or Dana? I am a rookie, I make lots of mistakes when I write in English, and I know much about nothing, but I have a burning desire to learn, to be a better mom, guidance for my daughters, and a better person. I also would love the challenge of a great book, specially one that Brandy considers foundational 🙂

    If there is any way I can help you with this, let me know. Ah, and I will stick to the book until the end. I found it for free through the electronic service at my library network. It is uncomfortable to read from the computer screen, but I have seen that the chapters are not excessively long (though they are dense).
    How many more chapters do you have to go? (I’m getting excited here, that’s all!)

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts March 16, 2011 at 1:53 am

    Dana, I have really enjoyed your posts this time around. I think they spice it up and help us make connections! I don’t know anyone else reading the book, either, but I plan to keep it on my shelf and lend it out as I can. I think it might be a good first meeting with some of the concepts, but then again I wonder if the style will be a deterrent? I am undecided.

    Mystie, I can’t believe we did it again! You know what they say about great minds, though… 😉

    About Poetic Knowledge: I think I blogged through it a few years ago when I first read it. I realized last night that I need to reread it before I give my talk in July–I had forgotten how formative that book was for me. It really was foundational.

    I have Twilight of American Culture and Ideas Have Consequences both sitting on my shelf. I know that IHC was the “original” book club, but it was a book I couldn’t afford at the time, so I was an onlooker. I hope to change that soon!

    I don’t think I would host a Poetic Knowledge club, having a lot on my plate right now, but if someone else hosted it, I’d participate and read along!

    The Frost book sounds intriguing…

    **ps. sorry for the double-comment. I don’t know why blogger keeps signing me in as the conference administrator. grrr**

  • Reply Silvia March 16, 2011 at 1:43 am

    I´d love a Poetic Knowledge book club too. Reading and learning in company is always very fulfilling to me.

    Great thoughts, Brandy. I´m thinking about this post and the discipline assigned reading Amy gave us for the next CM carnival. If I can´t post, I will get more from whoever writes on it.


  • Reply Go quickly and tell March 16, 2011 at 12:35 am

    typo – I have NOT read Poetic Knowledge

  • Reply Go quickly and tell March 16, 2011 at 12:33 am

    I have read Taylor’s Poetic Knowledge, and dont even own the book.

    But I am considering purchasing a book recommended by my college history professor who declares ~

    the older I get the more I am convinced that a young teacher can learn almost everything he needs to know about teaching by reading Robert Frost.

    The book? Robert Frost: The Poet as Philosopher

    Do any of y’all own that one?

  • Reply Mystie March 16, 2011 at 12:20 am

    I’d *love* a Poetic Knowledge book club. 🙂 I also started, but my pregnant brain couldn’t handle it. Now that baby is a year old and sleeping, I might be able to.

  • Reply Kelly March 15, 2011 at 11:18 pm

    Has a Poetic Knowledge discussion been done yet? I started reading it two years ago and only got about three chapters into it. I love the online discussions — generally I keep up with the readings even if I’m not blogging.

  • Reply Mystie March 15, 2011 at 9:48 pm

    Good connections. I should read Poetic Knowledge before starting our next school year. I think I should be able to handle it now.

    Our posts are (not?) surprisingly similar, except you have excellent examples and connections.

    So, we need to make sure we structure our days to allow room for thinking and day-dreaming and peace. Yet, that can also easily deteriorate into dawdling, which CM says we must eradicate.

    I have been assigning my boys to draw a picture sometimes for their narrations, and I think it allows space for that silence and contemplation as it takes time and thought to complete. I plan on incorporating it more purposefully next year.

  • Reply Pam... March 15, 2011 at 7:22 pm

    Good food for thought. Chewing it slowly (and quietly!). Thanks.

  • Reply Go quickly and tell March 15, 2011 at 4:55 pm

    Excellent synopsis, Brandy!

    I have found myself this time around less inclined to synopsize the way I did with Leisure and Ideas Have Consequences.

    The concepts Esolen presents are already conducive to my upbringing, so his copious bibliography gives undergirding to my intuitive responses.

    Again, I dont know anyone else reading this book besides our online group.

    Do you?

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