Saturday, February 26, 2011

Book Club: Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child : Let Cynicism Rule the Day

For Cindy's Book Club ... I'm very behind.

There is so much in this chapter that I could identify with that it took me long past everyone else's discussion to force my way through it.  I knew, from the beginning of the chapter, that he was going to end with cynicism.  I was given a good dose of cynicism through my High School and Collegiate education ... History was my "thing."  At least, American or WWII (European Theater) history was.  I had little interest in the Ancients (boring) or the Dark Ages (nothing happened, right?), and only a vague interest otherwise.

I "studied" History education in college.  Well, I got by taking the courses I wanted to take, which almost all seemed to focus on the Twentieth Century.  Funny how that happens.  I wasn't remotely qualified to teach anything else because I didn't have the content to teach anything else.  But content doesn't matter, does it?

I was dosed in Multiculturalism and Current Events in college.  My Senior year Education Methods course? Multiculturalsim.  Period. Long before that course though, I had been anesthetized to even caring.  I was cynical about the Multiculturalism because I was a cynic with long standing cynicism since high school.  (If any of you remember MTV's cartoon Daria ... not only did I want to be Daria, I was proud of it.)

We talked early on about making education "boring" or "uninteresting" as a way to curb the imagination.  Not only do we make History "uninteresting" in public schools, but we do so with an agenda.  By taking every element of story out of "hiSTORY," we rob it of both its appeal and its application.  We rob it of its appeal by taking faces away from people and making it about "movements" or "periods" as though people weren't driving those periods.  If we *do* give a face to a period, it is always to point out their flaws and rarely their greatness.  We give lip service to the "Those who don't know history are condemned to repeat it" ... but that just adds to the cynicism ... "condemned" falls heavy on our heads.  It is a strange paradox for progressives to be so condemning of the future.  The only "interesting" stories told in many history classes are where things were desperately wrong, and conclusions based on the wrong part deny any good at all.  So many mixed messages from the way history is taught, the way current events are pulled into the classroom, and the way rootedness is unrooted bring about a maelstrom of cynicism.

It has taken a long time to remedy my thinking, and I'm not there yet.  A better understanding of Progressive-ism (and Dewey ... whose flaws never seem pointed out), an awakened interest in all of History, and, most importantly, my Christian walk have helped to bring the wall of cynicism lower ... but I don't find it completely crumbled.

I appreciated Esolen's reminder that the mother of the Muses in Greek literature was Memory.  Again, that scaffolding is necessary to build upon.

Esolen's insistence upon "place" is fascinating to me.
"The very purpose of what is miscalled multiculturalsim is to destroy culture, by teaching students to dismiss their own and patronize the rest." (p134)  
"We will raise, at best, the mildly interested tourist, who collapses everything he sees into the two dimensions of a social fad.  They will rack up places they've seen ... without the danger that might awaken the heart.  Or they will stay home, since one place will be as dull as the next."  
We'll have people who are always trying to find culture (as they did nature), without realizing it is right around us.  Familiarity breeds contempt.  At worst, we will raise up people who care not.  About anything.  People will be good global citizens with no traditions.  Or a transient culture where, we might miss them, but the extended family is largely unimportant.  Oh, wait. 

Another way we build cynicism is to read our own social mores into history.  As the feminist reads proto-feminism into Austen, the modern historian reads it into (and exalts) Abigail Adams.  The historian reads all the worst of modern mores in Washington (slavery) and Jefferson (slavery and adultery), but finds good in some to build his own agenda ... Jefferson's "deism" and "wall of separation."

Esolen's final paragraphs of this chapter are spectacularly crafted and convicting.  The ideal, the beautiful cannot coexist with cynicism.  Cynicism is the lazy way out.  We mustn't let faults, and every man has them, outweigh strengths when they do not.  The faults of individuals and nations are played up and cause a hatred, disdain, discontent where much good could be gained should balance prevail.  
"We should make everything small -- like ourselves.  That will leave us with quite a sense of moral and intellectual superiority.  And that's more deadly to the imagination .." (pg 140).


  1. Sounds like a lot of us have baggage to dump. :)

  2. Yeah, I have some baggage too, but in other areas. It's hard to see certain things clearly when you've had a negative experience or teaching concerning them. :(

    There does have to be a balance, though, as I said in my post about the heroes chapter. We shouldn't emphasize the faults of the past and ignore the good, but we do need to recognize wrongs so we can learn from and avoid them. I don't want to view it all through "rose-colored glasses". :)It's easy to swing too far and become cynical, though.

  3. @ sara, er. Yah. A couple of these chapters have forced me more into "confession" to see where I'm coming from than I'd anticipated.

    @ Anna ... anytime you want to chat, I'm around [hugs] I agree; balance is necessary. However, I tire of revisionism that goes from one extreme to another.

    @ Michelle ... I don't know if that's a good "wow!" or not ...

  4. So, generally speaking, are you liking Esolen as a writer? or do his points annoy you because she feel like he is disparaging your education?

  5. I am enjoying Esolen very much. I find having listened to his other book at about the same time helpful.

    I think the education I received was pretty good for my generation (High School class of 1991). I compare things I learned with what others say they did or did not learn, and I wasn't really a homework doer, and feel pretty confident in my education.

    That being said, I think compared with education *as *it *can *be, it deserves disparaging. The more I learn about Educational philosophies and what could have been, the less pleased I am. The more I learn about the canon of Western Literature and what could have been read, I feel a bit shortchanged ... I know, I should read them myself. I have The Odyssey waiting for me ...

    As for my university education, I strongly encourage those I know who are leaning in the direction of an Education degree to read (Mason, SWB, N&N, Poetic Knowledge, CiRCE articles, etc) on their own and to have knowledge to use to protect themselves against the Dewey of the day. And to bolster their arguments for what Education is and can be.

    I also wish I had been required to spend more time learning content from more areas of history.

    This is not to say that I regret my degree, rather that I wish I had had better counsel and that I had been wise enough to take it.


Thanks for commenting! I love and reply to comments because I love building community with my readers!