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Imagine That

by Tony M.

For those of you who are involved in education, you probably already know that your job is made more difficult when the student's memory and imagination are unprepared for the task of learning. Tony Esolen has written a book "Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child" that deals with the topic. One of my favorite commenters on the culture, Father C. John McCloskey, has reviewed the book here. As you would imagine from the title, Esolen is using a Screwtape-esque method of getting at what's going on in the world of the imagination.

Here's one of Fr. M's brief intro's to one of the ten themes Esolen brings out.

In the "Threat Outside the Door," Esolen's anti-imaginative persona observes that few parents grasp the danger of children playing outside.

The most enlightened educators grasp it and have taken steps to ensure that their own children are left to their own devices outdoors as little as possible. They have shortened summer vacation, parceling out free days here and there through the school year. As for the school day itself, both parents and educators want it to be as long as possible.

For myself, I know that I am unable to give my kids something that I had growing up: a neighborhood where you were free to play with anyone on the block, and you didn't need a parent to do a pre-approve on the event or the location or the rules or anything, you just went out and roamed the neighborhood playing. Sure, some kids were jerks on occasion, but you figured out how to deal with it and eventually got on with the game, or some other activity.

Comments (15)

Children now have access to what only a generation ago were unheard of activities and 'sophisticated' amusements. But they don't enjoy the outdoor freedoms which were taken for granted in the more secure and disciplined social environment which used to exist.

We live in an age when taking risks has become, in the modern jargon, 'unacceptable'. That's one of the reasons why the solitary child sitting before a computer screen in his lonely bedroom is thought to be 'safe'. Letting their children roam outside with friends until dusk is the last thing many parents would permit these days. (And with good reason.)

Wow, this resonates.

we should be sure to subject them to the most efficient and human techniques to fit them for the world in which they will live, a world of shopping malls, all the same everywhere, packaged food all the same, paper pushing all the same, mass entertainment all the same, politics all the same...
Yes... yes. It is maddening, the mile after mile of blandness, the universal sameness of it all.
It also frees the parents. They may, with a clear conscience, go forth bravely and be "themselves" along with millions of others who are being themselves, working at jobs that don't need to be done among people they don't really like.
YES. Have you recently considered new employment? Think of the categories of jobs available. It's depressing how you're likely to be presented with just a few options, all geared toward a world of shopping malls, packaged food, paper pushing, and the legal and medical results. It's so gross and lifeless.

I'm curious if any of you parents who believe that it is not acceptable to let your children wander unsupervised have ever tried it. I am willing to admit that the world has changed from days lang syne. But I suspect that the fortitude of parents might have changed as well.

jvangeld, there are 2 major impediments to doing so. In the "nicer" areas, the parents of the OTHER children, finding that your children are unsupervised, will have hissy fits about it, and probably not allow their kids to play with yours. In the not nicer neighborhoods where parents are keeping an eagle eye out, your kids are going to be exposed to everything from pornography to drugs. I saw what that did in my neighborhood later, when I hit my teens.

Not to mention the fact that I make a very concerted effort to ensure that the families my kids interact with regularly are standard families - one Mom, one Dad, all the kids are the kids of that Mom and that Dad (unless adopted, of course). I really don't want my 8 year old thinking that it is normal to grow up with divorced Mom and a stepfather, or Mom and her boyfriend. I want their deepest grounded sensibilities to be of true normalcy.

"It's so gross and lifeless."

Yes, it takes a concerted effort nowadays both to avoid the gross and to animate the lifeless. Esolen's book is a good guide towards achievement of that, and it's not just for parents. My daughter's in her second year of college, and I still found the book extremely inspiring -- read it twice, and will probably do so again.

Tony writes:

........I make a very concerted effort to ensure that the families my kids interact with regularly are standard families - one Mom, one Dad, all the kids are the kids of that Mom and that Dad (unless adopted, of course). I really don't want my 8 year old thinking that it is normal to grow up with divorced Mom and a stepfather, or Mom and her boyfriend. I want their deepest grounded sensibilities to be of true normalcy.

I don't think it's possible to completely protect one's children from the harm caused by knowledge of the wickedness and even depravity associated with the spirit of the age. The best we can do is to diminish the moral damage.

Maybe the only way out for concerned parents would be to join something like an Amish community.

Alex, it is not possible to do so completely, and it would be dangerous to try anyway, since it would handicap them in dealing with evil when they run into it, as they inevitably will. Nevertheless, it is possible to try to form their sensibilities with a proper regard for what is due and right and whole. One of the reasons, I believe, that the current generation of 20-somethings have their hook-up culture is that many of them no longer even have an expectation that marriage is supposed to be life-long, in their hearts they don't imagine that as even possible. They have been deformed by the prior generation's sins against marriage, in which they were raised, so that their imaginations are warped.

Tony, your main post is making me nostalgic for family weeks at the Baptist camp I went to as a child. I would run wild all over the camp. I liked it better than the children's weeks (though I went to those too, as many as my parents could afford each year that fit my age category), because the family weeks were unscheduled. If you didn't want to play softball you didn't have to. Being anti-sports as I was, that was great. Plenty of exercise, though, because I was running around outside all day long and plaguing all the other families. Funny how one never noticed the mosquitoes or the heat or the discomfort of a military canvas cot at night (which is what we had in the tent) or anything when one was a child. And all those years I never even got poison ivy once, which now seems like a miracle!

Two things.

I love reading Esolen and I bought two copies of this book for each of my daughters who are now mothers of toddlers. I started reading it, but gave it up before getting very far. I might steal a copy back and finish it.
Another book, not from a Christian perspective, but from the perspective of a parent and nature enthusiast who is alarmed at what he calls Nature Deficit Disorder, is Last Child in The Woods. The author is Richard Louv. I am recommending both books to any young parents to whom I engage on the subject of children.

Finally, I have had the privilege of meeting Fr. McCloskey twice in the Chicago area. He always hands out his business card and says, "call me." I have yet to make the call.

That should have said, "with whom I engage..."

Gina, I was able to make Fr. McCloskey's acquaintance when he lived in the DC area. Though that was a while ago now, we still exchange an email or 2 once in a while, when something comes up. He is very accessible, and if he hands you a card and says "call me" it is because he means it. He does know bajillions of people, but seems to be able to manage that. I'll bet that if you give him an article idea he would love that. Of course, the last time I gave him one, he told me that I should write it.

Lydia, I was recalling the fact that there were summer days where I would get up before my parents and be off for the entire day out and about playing, only coming home for dinner and (far too infrequently) a bath. I actually did that during a blizzard, too, which makes me shudder to think of now.

I'm a native Chicagoan, so even that long ago (don't ask me exactly how long ago "that" was) I was only allowed to play on my own street when I was little, though my brother did walk me to school and back. Camp was different. Nobody got worried if they didn't see you most of the day; figured you were with somebody else or horseback riding or swimming or whatever.

We recently moved from the suburbs of a major East Coast metropolis to a small town in the Mountain West. it has been a big and welcome change to a slower, saner pace of life. While back East, like Tony, we also kept our children away from non-standard families, of which our neighborhood had many. Many neighborhood children were latchkey kids with foul mouths. The only children with which we let our children play were from a Muslim family two doors down.

Out here in the West, our children have much more freedom to run and ride around our neighborhood with freedom similar to what I experienced when I was a child. Even so, the corruption of our culture is everywhere, and we are trying to be vigilant against a naive belief that we've moved to an idyllic town out of a Rockwell painting. Our children recently have made bows and arrows from sticks in our yard and are gleefully shooting away with their friends next door. So far so good, but we are waiting for the seeming obligatory neighborhood nosey bodies to fret in horror and save our children from their negligent parents.

Eoin, I like that. I found out recently in a Sheriff's news alert (being part of a neighborhood watch means getting these alerts) that our county has laws against inappropriate use of firearms. For example, you cannot use a gun in a subdivision (self-defense excepted, I am happy to say). Also you cannot use them within 100 yards of a highway, I think it is. Makes sense.

Not too terribly surprisingly, similar rules run against using bows and arrows, since they too are deadly and also used for hunting: there is a specific rule for not using them within 100 yards of highways, etc. Oddly, though, there is also a specific law that says you cannot use them AT ALL in the county, except if you are licensed hunter or are at an archery range. NOTE: there is NO similar rule about guns! So, even if you are in a rural area, on your own 100 acres, half a mile from a highway, you STILL cannot shoot arrows. How weird is that? But you can use a gun there. Weird, wacky, wonderful laws!

I am thinking of asking my county councilman to propose a change in the law, and he may consider it, but he probably won't want to use up political capital on such a trivial issue against the do-gooders who want to save us from ourselves. And it won't do me any good any way, since I live in a subdivision.

Its a cruel world, anyone can be in danger with no specific time.
It feels sad, that parents can't allow their children to play around the neighborhood.
Because a lot of crimes recorded, parents just need to take care of their children.

Eula from ceinture de sudation 

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