Book Review: Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child

One day, God willing, I want to meet Anthony Esolen face-to-face. I want to shake his hand. And I want to thank him for blowing my mind.

Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child is a book I might never have picked up had I not first read The Politically-Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization, also by Esolen (he has a thing for long titles). His contribution to the P.I.G. series was terrific, to say the least, sooooo… I decided to look up more of his work.

Whoa. Didn’t expect me to do that, didya?

I mean, come on: whoever heard of finding a good writer and then reading just one of his books? Might as well eat just one potato chip. Only idiots do that.

Then, lo and behold, what sight did meet mine Elven eyes, but that of Ten Ways residing on my Mother’s shelf. I’m not sure why she never told me it was there; perhaps she forgot, or (what is more likely) she was concealing its whereabouts in hopes of getting to it first. Whatever the reason, I found it, and it was begging to be read. So I obliged.

I will say that the title is potentially misleading: this is not a book exclusively for parents, nor is it a “parenting book” (at least, not in the usual sense). Whether you’re a teacher or a student, whether you’re young or old, with ten kids or none at all, you should read this book. Anyone and everyone can benefit from Esolen’s keen writing and even keener insight. Clear enough? Let’s move on…

Ten Ways is a witty, gritty, and delightfully subversive assault on the Bastions of Modern Educational Theory and Practice. With a satiric flair worthy of Uncle Screwtape himself, Esolen offers his readers a way of “extinguishing the minds (and souls) of our children in ten easy steps.”

I do not claim that it is an exhaustive list. No doubt, many of my readers, blessed with a keener attention to the needs of the child, will have come up with others. But I am sure that a judicious application of even three of four of these methods will suffice to kill the imagination of an Einstein, a Beethoven, a Dante, or a Michaelangelo. Good luck! (p. xiii)

From beginning to end, the author’s pen drips with irony; his sense of humor is biting and bleakly funny. Remember the serrated edge? He wields it like a surgeon, and every cut is deep, precise, and painful. The truth hurts – and Esolen isn’t big on anesthetics.

Of all the endorsements I’ve read of this book, Father Dwight Longnecker’s is by far the most imaginative and (in my opinion) the most accurate: “Esolen rides forth like a noble knight to joust with the dragons of modern thought, the giants of contemporary culture, and the bevy of beasts that inhabit our post-modern wasteland.” I like it, don’t you?

Over the course of two-hundred forty pages, Esolen demonstrates how imagination is being strangled at nearly every turn: in the rearing of children almost entirely indoors; in the scorning of the true, the heroic, and the patriotic; in the reduction of love to mere narcissism and sex; in the leveling of the distinctions between men and women; in the way we preoccupy children with the shallow and the unreal; and in our stalwart, stone-hearted denial of the transcendent.

I like to imagine a blaring sign over a gigantic shopping mall, with these messages alternating every five seconds, forever and ever:

WELCOME TO THE MALL OF THE WORLD
ABANDON ALL HOPE YOU WHO ENTER HERE

And not only hope, but community life, personal independence, common sense, virtue, and money.

For the great threat of the imagination, roused to life like Lazarus from the grave by the faintly heard voice of God, is that it makes a man a man, not a consumer, nor a clotpoll to be counted off in some mass survey. The praise of God is inscribed upon the heart of man, says Saint Augustine, “man who bears within himself his mortality, who bears about within himself testimony to his sin and testimony that you resist the proud.” Yet even so man longs to praise and cannot truly be himself unless he praises God, for as Augustine says in Confessions, “you rouse him to take joy in praising you, for you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until is rests in you.” If we have love of God, the saints all testify, what do we need from anything else? And if we do not have that love, not all the creature comforts and tricksy gadgetry and rubbings and itchings of appetite can fill up the tiniest corner of the chasm that remains. Yet we will try to fill the chasm anyway. That is what shopping malls are for. (p. 230)

I wanted to include the entire quote, except that it’s much too long to share here. Which brings me to the one complaint I have about this book: it’s too bloody quotable. Writing down all the magnificent passages that caught my eye proved impossible, since there were passages like that on just about every page. Highlighting? Forget it. The entire book would be yellow by the time you’re done. It’s too rich, too well-written. The unconvinced would do well to think of it this way: Esolen’s book is like a three-course meal, in an age when most people are content with dishing up McPamphlets. Get the picture?

Obviously, I loved this book. I think you will, too. On the other hand…

Egalitarians will hate this book for its affirmation of biblical manhood and womanhood. Proponents of government-run “education” will hate this book for its savaging of the public school system. Multiculti fanboys will hate this book for its support of patriotism and love of country. And liberal statists will hate this book for the same reasons they hate anything Judeo-Christian and conservative – because it’s radical, reasonable, and right.

If you are any one of the above, I would almost advise you to skip Esolen’s writing entirely. But I can’t. Because of all the people who need this book, you need it most of all.

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19 thoughts on “Book Review: Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child”

  1. I read an excerpt in a magazine article, cut it out & saved it! Put the book on my paperbackswap wish list, unfortunately so did many others!!!! Someone said you could get it on Kindle, I may have to break out of my ‘cheapness’ and buy it!! Great review!

  2. I loved this book, and knowing your love for satire, I’ve been looking forward to your exuberant review of it. :)

    1. Exuberant is the word, indeed! You were actually the first one to reference Ten Ways – you mentioned you were reading it a few months back – so I guess I owe you a thank you. :)

  3. Well, if that’s not a glowing recommendation and a most excellent piece of writing, I’ve never read one! (Obviously, your imagination hasn’t been destroyed. ;-) ) I’ve seen this book around various homeschooling and thinkerly blogs, but yours is the first review that really, really makes me want to read it.

    1. That’s encouraging to hear – thanks for taking the time to comment! When I was finished with the book, my Mom looked at me and said, “So, how’d I do? At destroying your imagination, I mean.” I replied, “Not well at all. By Esolen’s standards, you failed completely.” :)

    1. I know what you mean. :) As Arnold Lobel says,

      “Books to the ceiling,
      Books to the sky,
      My pile of books is a mile high.
      How I love them! How I need them!
      I’ll have a long beard by the time I read them.”

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