Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Book Review, by Scott Mayo



Read a great book recently, thanks to recommendations from both Scott Mayo & the Missildine family. And then I requested that Scott Mayo write up a review that I might share with anyone who would listen... and that excellent review is below.  This book is a treasure for our generation.

Of course, you don't have to agree with everything in a book to be wonderfully instructed by it.  I hope you'll dive in.

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From Scott Mayo

Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child
By Anthony Esolen
Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 256 pages, $26.95, hardcover.

Periodically, Tommy and I exchange links to various interesting and/or challenging articles. These email exchanges will include comments by us, usually wise and pastoral (Tommy) or snide and cynical (yours truly). Recently, we shared an article by Anthony Esolen. Here’s his bio from Amazon: “Anthony Esolen is the author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization and Ironies of Faith, and the translator and editor of the celebrated three-volume Modern Library edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy. He is a professor of English at Providence College and a senior editor of Touchstone magazine. Esolen lives in Rhode Island.” All true enough, but this description doesn’t capture the insights, creativity, and biting wit of this author. It is his work Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child that I’d like to recommend to you.

The title gives away his approach to this topic. Hearkening back to C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, Esolen writes as if the readers really wanted to know how to grow their children into dull, undiscerning, subservient adults. To whet your interest, several chapter titles (with the accompanying telling subtitles) are:  Keep Your Children Indoors as Much as Possible or They Used to Call It Air, Cast Aspersions upon the Heroic and Patriotic or We Are All Traitors Now, Reduce All Talk of Love to Narcissism and Sex or Insert Tab A into Slot B, and Deny the Transcendent or Fix Above the Heads of Men the Lowest Ceiling of All.

He illustrates his points by drawing on his vast knowledge of literature, history, and the arts along with vignettes from his own childhood. He hammers home the ways in which we can all find ourselves complicit in delivering this future to our children. As our pastor noted, there’s something in here to offend everybody. I think this book especially resonated with me for two reasons. First, being involved in K-12 education now for 21 years, I have witnessed first hand the tendencies he describes. Second, having grown up during the same time frame as the author, I recognized all the things I did as a child (characterized mainly as involving books, dirt, germs, BB guns, and scars) that differed greatly from the common experience of our current generation.

The takeaways are many and mostly discouraging. This work reiterated to me that we are living in a post-Christian culture. We ceased making deposits years ago to this legacy of a Western Civilization birthed in Christianity and have been living off the declining principal balance. The restraint provided by those historic patterns of thought are increasingly being set aside in the culture at large. Psalm 12:8 has become the status quo: “The wicked freely strut about when what is vile is honored among men.” Esolen illustrates how so many of our actions and inactions contribute to the denigration of formerly honorable things. Nature abhors a vacuum – when true honor wanes, what is vile rushes in.

One knock on the book might come from a desire for him to have addressed at greater length the impact of technology on child development. This book was published in 2010 which means his research was completed months prior. The rapid spread since that point of the power and reach of technology into the lives of children (especially the omnipresence of social media) would have provided ample fodder for his thesis. As an aside, a valid, honest question I often ask is, “Is it possible to invent/design technology that exceeds our ability as humans (and especially children) to properly harness it?” Giving smartphones to middle school boys seems analogous to handing them the keys to the muscle car along with a fifth of whiskey. I mean, I’m sure it could work out fine as a mode of transportation if we warn them to be careful, but wouldn’t bicycles be more appropriate (other than, of course, opening them up to the ever-present kidnapping risk)?

Two pieces of good news do arise. First, there are many things we can do as parents and educators to effect positive change in our circles of influence. Yes, systematic cultural change may never occur in that once many of these cows are out of the barn, they just aren’t going back in. However, if you are willing to be truly countercultural and surround your children with others who will help, you can make a difference. Discipleship and mentoring are time-consuming, hands-on enterprises. Isn’t that exactly what the Body of Christ is called to do? Esolen’s ideas provide a great starting point for those of us willing to roll up our sleeves and push back against the tide.

Finally, while doing a little homework for this review, I found that he is in the process of writing a follow up book titled Life Under Compulsion: Ten Ways to Destroy the Humanity of Your Child. Yes, I have already pre-ordered it. His current work Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child is available in a Kindle edition at Amazon for $10.49. The hardcover edition is only available through alternate sellers. You are welcome to borrow my copy (but I’ll need the title to your car as collateral). I wouldn’t want to lose this marvelously challenging book!



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