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

Dear Reader,

I recently finished reading Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child by Anthony Esolen. This book had been recommended on a forum I like and I had high hopes for it. I was a little disappointed. While I do agree with the book’s basic premise, I was not enamored with its approach and found the author’s own opinions, which showed through quite clearly in a number of places, irritating.

As its title suggests, this book takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to explaining how current approaches to parenting and education tend to destroy our children’s imaginations. The schools themselves cannot tolerate imagination:

“But the bigger the school, the more dangerous and upsetting a single act of imagination can be.” (p. xiii)

So too the end goal of our modern educational system is to destroy imagination so as to produce people who are both gullible consumers and obedient worker bees. In this he would agree with John Taylor Gatto. And, frankly, Gatto, who takes a more direct approach, does a lot better job of saying the same things. That indeed is one of my main criticisms of this book — what Esolen has to say has been said better by others. Gatto excels at pointing out the flaws of the public schools. For a more positive approach that shows what our kids need to be imaginative and excel, I would recommend Peter Gray’s Free to Learn over this book.

But for the most part, my problem with Esolen’s book is not in the content but in its style. As I said, he takes a tongue-in-cheek approach which pretends that we wish to kill our children’s imaginations when clearly this is not what the author really believes. This might have gone over better in a shorter work (perhaps even on the level of an e-mailed top-ten list) but falls flat in a longer book. Esolen is not consistent in how he proceeds. At times he follows his premise and speaks as if we wis to kill imagination. But at other times he talks about his own experiences as a child and seems to praise all the things his book is ostensibly criticizing. It’s a mixed-up approach and it doesn’t work well.

Despite the defects in his approach, I could agree with a lot of what Esolen says — that kids need free time and fresh air and space to be themselves. But there are other more minor points in which he just irritated me. His personal views on a lot of things come through many places in this book and I don’t always agree with them. He touches on things like gun control and homosexuality for instance. And even when I do agree with him, I often find myself annoyed by the fact that he slipped these things in when they really have little to do with the point of the book.

One issue which is relevant to the book’s main point but which turned me off early on was when he discusses boys and girls playing together. I agree with the general premise that we should not conflate boys and girls as if there are no differences between them. And I can even see that they at times may need to do things separately. But Esolen goes further than this, arguing that they should primarily play separately. He spends some time discussing how wonderful it was as a boy to roam free outside with other boys (this is one of those points where his own reminisces undermine the tongue-in-cheek approach he tries to take). But then of girls he says essentially: “and I am sure they enjoy doing their girl things inside together.” Though one of his ten points is that being outdoors fosters the imagination, he seems to all but exclude girls from the great outdoors since the boys are out there running wild and the girls must be kept separate.

Now I don’t want to sell Esolen completely short. There are parts of this book that made me think and I do plan to do future posts on some of the specific things he has said. But as a whole, this book did not thrill me and I do think others have said the same things better. It is not an awful read but I can’t unequivocally recommend it.

Nebby

A Woman’s Sovereignty over Her Own Body

Dear Reader,

The whole abortion debate is one of those topics where it seems like the two sides are always talking past each other. There is no real dialogue because neither seems to understand or acknowledge the other one’s position. You can hear it in their nicknames: pro-choice and pro-life; they aren’t even discussing the same things.

As a Christian, I am in the pro-life camp, but I think we are often too hard on the other side. Honestly, I understand where they are coming from. Having had four kids, I can say that the whole process of pregnancy and birth is a pretty invasive one.  It shouldn’t be the sort of decision someone else makes for you. If I didn’t believe in a higher power to whom I as well as my babies belong, if I hadn’t had any reason to say that the life growing inside was an eternal soul, I don’t know why I would have shown it deference, placing its needs before my own. In a world without God, that just doesn’t make sense. As Christians, we are called in many ways to die to ourselves and to place others’ interests before our own. We emulate Jesus when we do so. We can do so because He considered our lives more important than His own. But without that basis, what reason is there?

Nonetheless, I think the whole pro-choice position actually owes a lot to Christianity. Because they are right to a large extent. A woman does has rights over her own body, at least relative to other people. It is a pretty unique thing historically speaking for us to say that a woman (or anyone for that matter) can say what happens to her body. Unfortunately, it seems still to be a unique thing in the world today. There are many places where the abuse of women is still widely accepted. And it wasn’t so long ago that a woman was considered the property of whatever men were in her life, whether her father, husband or employer. And no one said too much when those men did what they wanted to her.

So when an advocate of abortion says that a woman should have control of her own body, they are absolutely correct. That is not a right I want to see us lose. But the problem is that they stop there. From a Christian perspective, I say, “Yes, I have the right to control my own body but when it comes to pregnancy, I submit; I give up that right for the sake of another life which hasnt even seen the light of day yet.”

Nebby

 

Book Review: Deconstructing Penguins

Dear Reader,

In addition to having an excellent title, Deconstructing Penguins by Lawrence and Nancy Gladstone is well worth reading. It is an account of the authors’ experiences leading book groups for children and their parents at the local library. In the first chapter, they give a very funny account of their first attempt at discussing Mr. Popper’s Penguins hence the title of this book. As the book progresses they weave together their own experiences and the answers they received from children and their parents with their interpretations of the books they used. And they go through quite a number of books, most of them well-known.

I learned a lot from this book. Though I consider myself reasonably well-educated, I had never thought of approaching books as they do. They go through common terms like setting, plot, protagonist and antagonist, but along the way they also manage to ferret out the deeper meaning the authors have hidden within their works. Indeed, their approach is to tell kids each book is a mystery and their job is to solve it.

Not only did I feel more educated after reading this book, it made me really want to do these book groups with my kids. I am still contemplating how to do that and if I want to try to start a homeschool group in my area to do so. This book is not set up as a user’s manual per se but it is written in a way that I think would make it reasonably easy to follow in the authors’ footsteps and to try to recreate what they did. If I do attempt this, I suspect I will let you know about it here.

Deconstructing Penguins is definitely a book I would recommend for teachers, librarians, and parents (especially homeschooling ones!).

Nebby

Shielding Children from Life

Dear Reader,

It is an interesting question to what extent we should shield our children from life. Homeschoolers, especially conservative Christian ones, often boast of how they shelter their children. On the other hand, one argument for homeschooling is that it allows children to interact not just with their immediate peers, thereby giving them a better experience of “real life.”

As is often the case, we need to begin by defining what we are talking about. Those who proudly shelter their children ate often thinking of the influence of pop culture — the early sexualization of kids, the violence of video games, the inanity of most TV shows, and, yes, sometimes also belief systems that their parents don’t subscribe to. To a certain extent, I can support all of this. I do think kids need to know that not everyone believes as they do and that there can be good logical arguments on the other side of the evolution/creation debate (to name just one), but there is much in our popular media which is not wholesome. Charlotte Mason spoke of choosing our materials wisely, dismissing those books of a lighter character as twaddle. The Bible also tells us that we should think of those things that are ” . . . true . . . honorable . . . just . . . pure . . . lovely . . . ” (Phil. 4:8). So I think there is good reason to avoid a lot of what is out there. And hopefully, the child will then develop good taste (and if there are things which are true and things which are not, we must acknowledge that there are things which are in good taste and things which are just bad taste). There may be times, if perhaps they have a college roommate with different preferences, that they cannot completely avoid exposure to the worst of pop culture, but for the most part, these are not things they ever need in their lives.

But there is another way in which we seek to shelter our children. We try to keep from them the knowledge of what life is really like with all its warts and pains and griefs. This, I think, we do to their detriment and ultimately in vain. All the hurts of life are part of our human experience (since the Fall) and they have a purpose in our lives.There was a  time only a hundred years ago or so when we could not have spared children many of these griefs. But thanks to advances in technology and medicine, we are now able to shelter them to a much greater extent than ever before. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am happy for those advances. I am happy that in this country at least most moms and babies survive childbirth. I am very grateful for the discovery of insulin without which my daughter would have quickly died at age 1. But to the degree that we are insulated from all the roughness of human existence, we are also poorer in many ways. We are able to avoid the thought of our own mortality until well into our 20s. All those awful things are designed to drive us to our Creator and to sanctify us and mold us into what He wants us to be. Without them, we become numb and stunted in our growth.

Charlotte Mason speaks of this:

“I am not sure that we let life and its circumstances have free play about children. We temper the wind too much to the lambs; pain and sin, want and suffering, disease and death––we shield them from the knowledge of these at all hazards. I do not say that we should wantonly expose the tender souls to distress, but that we should recognise that life has a ministry for them also; and that Nature provides them with a subtle screen, like that of its odour to a violet, from damaging shocks.” (“We are Educated by Our Intimacies,” from School Education, pp. 183-184)

There are a couple of points we may take from this short quote. The first is that life, with all its hazards (as Charlotte calls them), is shaping our children. We deprive them of something when we try to isolate them from that.

I have an example from real life. I want to preface it by saying that I know it is far easier to see someone else’s parenting mistakes than our own. I probably have  a log in my own eye that others can see just as well. At one of our homeschool park days in the fall a little boy bit a number of other children. Now he does have some developmental issues and I don’t think he did it at all maliciously, but these were hard bites that left marks that lasted a week. Though the mother later addressed the issue and apologized, the ultimate result was that a few families left park day never to return. Their concern was that their children were just not safe at our park day. And I have to concede that they are probably not. This same child could bite again. There could be another child who does something similar, or worse. But the saddest part to me is that these moms who left lost the opportunity to teach their kids to forgive. By making a decision to remove their kids from a potentially painful situation, they didn’t allow them to grow by learning how to consider their own pain less than the needs of another, even someone who has hurt them.

The scone point I want to make from the above quote is that Nature (as Charlotte says; we might say God) protects kids from what they are not yet ready to bear. I have seen this with my own kids when a close relative died. Though they prayed for this person and his salvation for months, when they death came, without any evidence of repentance, they took it much more in stride than any grown-up. Kids often get past these things much more quickly than we expect.

So how do we expose our children to life in the right way? I think stories play a big role in that. They allow kids to experience things they would not otherwise and to work through issues in a safe way in their heads before they encounter them in real life. So we must not spare them from stories which contain hard situations and issues. (This is not to say that every book is good to read at every age, and some are never worth reading; but that’s a whole nother post.)  One of the best things I think we can do is to allow them to pray with us. In our church, the pastor asks before service for prayer requests and it can take 10 minutes some weeks for everyone to say what they want to say. These may be trivial things, but there are often a lot that are really serious concerns for health and family and jobs. (We actually have a lot of African refugees in our church and they have a lot of quite real and serious needs.) And then as a church and later during the week as a family we pray for these things. This shows our children not only all the struggles other people have, which helps put our own in context, but also that we do have a Recourse when trouble hits. It is not actually a dynamic we created in purpose, but I am very happy that our kids have this in their lives.

My last tip for not sheltering your kids too much would be to just step back for a minute when they have struggles and to ask yourself what God is doing in their lives. All too often I think we suppose that it is all about us, but God is working in their hearts and lives as much as He is on ours. And sometimes we just need to let Him do that.

Nebby

Jeremiah 4, part 2: Creation Undone

Dear Reader,

[This ia part of a continuing series in the book of Jeremiah. Find all the previous posts here.]

In Jeremiah 4, part 1, I discussed the implications of our biblical text being edited. This time I promise to be a little more inspiring and not so scholarly.

One thing that really strikes me in this chapter is Jeremiah’s role. He is a true prophet — one who stands between the people and God. As a member of a priestly family, Jeremiah knew God’s Word and he knew how things should be. But then he looked at his people and saw how they fell short and, more than that, he saw their coming destruction and he stepped up and spoke out to try and turn them from their sinful ways. He was a brave man. And we must remember that many of his fellow priests, his kinsmen and the ones who should have been making sure Judah’s worship was kosher (so to speak), were dropping the ball here. It was not just the uneducated masses who were messing up; it was the leaders too.

Have you ever felt like this? Like the people who should be doing right are not? I have occasionally in my own small way. It is encouraging to think of Jeremiah standing up for what he believed and not being afraid to speak about what he sees. The prophet speaks the Lord’s words but you can sense that he feels them as well:

“My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain!
Oh the walls of my heart!
My heart is beating wildly;
I cannot keep silent,
for I hear the sound of the trumpet,
the alarm of war.
Crash follows hard on crash;
the whole land is laid waste.
Suddenly my tents are laid waste,
my curtains in a moment.
How long must I see the standard
and hear the sound of the trumpet?” (Jer. 4:19-22; ESV)

And what Jeremiah sees on the horizon is nothing less than the undoing of creation. In Genesis 1, we are told that in the beginning the earth was “formless and void.” The Hebrew words make a nice little pair: tohu va-vohu (Hebrew doesn’t normally use rhyme but we do find it here). The same phrase is used by Jeremiah in verse 23 of this chapter. (Quick! Check your translation. Does it use the same wording here as in the beginning of Genesis? If it doesn’t, it should.) And the picture of a creation unmade continues through the next few verses. Here is my translation:

“I saw the earth and behold — formless and void! and to the heavens [I looked] and their light was not.

I saw the mountains and behold — quaking! and all the hills were trembling.

I saw and behold — no man! and every bird of the heavens* had fled.

I saw and behold — the fruitful land was a wilderness! and all its cities were torn down

From before the LORD, from before His fierce anger.” (Jer. 4: 23-26)

* Sky and heaven(s) are the same word in Hebrew.

Don’t you love the parallelism here? In Hebrew its all much pithier. It tends to not need to many little words for things to make sense. But either way, it is a lovely (if one may say that of complete and utter destruction) picture of the undoing of creation. This is all very serious business for Jeremiah and he sees to be the only one who sees Judah’s doom looming on the horizon.

Next time: Jeremiah 5.

Nebby

 

 

Recipe: Pumpkin Cottage Cheese

Dear Reader,

This is not a radical new innovation. It is a variant of my pumpkin cheesecake whip recipe, but it relies upon cottage cheese instead of cream cheese which makes it fat-free. In THM terms, this is an E breakfast or snack. I don’t use measuring cups if I don’t have to so the amounts in this recipe are approximate, but it is not the sort of thing where a little more or less here or these is going to matter anyway. Just be sure not to overdo the nuts.

Pumpkin Cottage Cheese

Ingredients:

1 c fat-free cottage cheese

1/2 c pumpkin puree (I used canned)

1 spoonful Truvia (probably about 2-3 tsp)

2-3 tsp cinnamon

a few pecans (in the 4-6 range)

Directions:

Combine all ingredients in food processor and puree until smooth. Add nuts and give it one more whirl to just chop them up.

And there is the result:

cottagepumpkin

Enjoy!

Nebby

 

Jeremiah 4, part 1: Where is the Biblical text?

Dear Reader,

[This is part of a continuing series I am doing on the book of Jeremiah. See the previous posts here.]

The fourth chapter of Jeremiah begins with a call to repentance followed by the further threat of destruction for God’s people if they do not return to Him. There are three things I’d like to point out in this chapter: the emphasis on Jerusalem, the prophet’s own position, and the characterization of the coming destruction.

As I  have mentioned in earlier posts, Jeremiah is from a priestly family affiliated with the Jerusalem temple. His main concern is for the southern kingdom, known as Judah.The northern kingdom, called Israel, has already been wiped out by the Assyrians and the remaining branch of God’s people now also face destruction for their sins. Given his background, it should not surprise us too much here that Jeremiah expresses concern for Jerusalem. While he has previously mentioned Judah quite a bit, I believe this chapter is the first in which he mentions Jerusalem specifically. And he does so a number of times — seven times in  the 31 verses that comprise the chapter. Some of these read very awkwardly as if they were references added by a later editor, however others are more natural and it is hard to imagine their verses without them. The way my Hebrew Bible is laid out, a couple of the references to Jerusalem, those in verses 4 and 10, have Jerusalem on its own line. Now this is an editorial decision on the part of the publishers of my version, but it does highlight the fact that these are very long lines and one can well imagine them ending without the mention of Jerusalem since in both instances it is a doublet for another term, “Judah” in v.4 and “this people” in v.10. In the latter, in particular, “Jerusalem” seems awkward as it is not really a good parallel for “this people.”

Why do I bother pointing all this out? While I don’t think the added references to Jerusalem change the meaning of the text much in this chapter (and as mentioned some of the other references to it do seem integral to the passage), the whole question of the editing of the text raises some interesting questions. The fact is that modern critical scholars of the Old Testament are always pointing to things in the text and saying that they are not original or that there is evidence of more than one author.  This can be a stumbling block for those of us who view it all as The Word of God. For my own part, I have no problem with saying that the Holy Spirit inspired multiple authors for many of the biblical books. I would like to say that at some point each book was complete and someone, somewhere, some time, had the Word of God, at least for each book of the Bible. But I don’t think that we can say we have today the right version of any biblical book in its pristine form. The fact is we just don’t have one official version of the Bible, no matter what the King James Only crowd would like us to believe. We have the Hebrew, yes; in fact we have a number of different manuscripts of it which while they may not have huge differences also do not all agree on every jot and tittle (ane remember the Bible itself tells us those jots and tittles are important). We also have ancient versions in other languages like Greek and Syriac which may also at time preserve for us the oldest or most authentic readings. All of which is to say that while I do think each biblical book at some point had a final, perfectly inspired form, we cannot say for any of them now that here it is or there it is. There may be a right reading preserved in my Hebrew text here but your Greek one may have the better reading a few verses later.

Should this bother us, not actually having the definitive biblical text? I don’t think it need do so. I kind of like actually that there is not just one version of the Bible out there. It keeps us from exalting the Word to divine status. We must remember that though the Bible is God’s Word, it is not God Himself. It could be very tempting for us “people of the book” to go a step too far on that account. I think it also shows us something about how God Himself works. While I do think there is an absolute truth, we are not always privy to it. We get bits and pieces here and there. And we need to learn to go with the flow where God is concerned. Like Jonah and his shade tree, we can’t hold on to tightly to any one thing. My final thought on the topic is this: God preserves His Word. We don’t need to do it for Him and we don’t need to get ourselves all worked up over this. We do need to trust Him that He has given us what we need, what He wants us to have.

I find that I have gone on longer on this topic than I anticipated so you will have to wait for the next post for my further observations on Jeremiah 4.

Nebby

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