Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child: Chapter Four

(Follow the discussion of Anthony Esolen's book at Cindy’s blog.)

I’m going to start this off with another story, but before I do I just want to say that all these stories with so little talk about the book itself is because lately I find it so much easier to tell a story that gets my points across than to write an exposition, so there really is a method, as they say, to my madness, so to speak.

Method 3: Keep Children Away from Machines and Machinists, or All Unauthorized Personnel Prohibited

By the time she was nine years old, my mom’s two older brothers had grown up and left home, so when her daddy needed help rounding up the cows, he taught her how to drive his pickup truck. It was a standard with the gear-shift on the steering column, just like an automatic. I’ve only seen that kind of truck once it my life and it is really confusing -- you’re dealing with the clutch, which I do know how to do, but the gear stick doesn’t move in an orderly fashion from left to right the way an automatic does, nor does it move in a geometrically rational fashion the way a “four on the floor” does. You do this back and forth thing that’s just mind-bogglin. And Mom learned to drive that when she was nine!

I wonder how much of that experience and others like it are what made her into the self-confident person she is today. When I was a child my definition of being a grown up was being competent in every situation that life threw at you, always knowing what to do or to say in any given situation, just like my mom. Well, I’m plenty old enough to be considered a grown-up but I’ve never felt that way and at this late date I don’t expect to. I think that personality has a lot to do with it, basic wiring.

But still, I’m sure that the experiences my parents gave me made me more confident than I would have been otherwise. Daddy taught me to handle guns and shoot from a fairly early age, and started real driving lessons when I was twelve. I’ve tried to do the same for my children but our society has made it nearly impossible for a suburban family (as we were until five years ago, and still are in many respects, including this one) to learn to drive at a suitably impressionable age.

Well, I’m no example when it comes to driving lessons, but I think I have something to offer when it comes to guns, so I’ll talk about that a little. Our policy from the beginning was not to buy our children toy weapons. We intended to teach them to use real guns when the time came, but prior to that their weapons were the sticks and other things they used of their own accord in their play. We never restricted that kind of play except in two important ways: they must always treat the imaginary weapon as if it were real, and loaded, and they must submit to the rules of just warfare -- no unjust wars; no undeclared wars; no endangering women, children, and non-combatants, and so forth. This worked well when it just my own children playing, but when the neighborhood kids wanted to play I quite often had to forbid shooting games because the other kids were not gentlemen. They shot anything that moved including sisters who weren’t playing. They shot people in the back. It was horrible.

My own children knew better than to pull this kind of garbage. I still remember once when my son’s enemy was standing near his mother and me as were talking, and my son drove by on his bicycle and shot at him with his Star Wars blaster (a gift from a well-meaning friend that we, not unnaturally, let him keep). The Powers that Be descended upon him with great wrath and he was sent to the Place of Judgement where he was tried for war crimes, convicted, and summarily executed. He remembers that incident to this very day.

Our policy, as I said, was not to buy our children toy weapons, but I accidentally bought one once. It was when we were living in Hampton, Virginia, and while my mom and sister were visiting we decided to go down to Fort Monroe and look around. Fort Monroe was one of the few forts in a Confederate state that remained in Union hands during the war, and President Davis was imprisoned there after he was captured. My mother’s great-grandfather had also been imprisoned there, so you see, it was a very emotional experience and that’s why I lost my head when, visiting the gift shop before leaving, my son asked if he could buy a toy Confederate rifle and I agreed. It was only after we got home that I remembered our policy, but we let him keep the gun after all and I’m glad to report that, what with that and the Star Wars blaster and various and sundry other inconsistencies, he’s grown up to be a good boy in spite of us.

Okay, one more story. When my daddy was in high school he and a cousin built a telescope and took this picture of the moon:


With how sad steps, O Moon, thou climb’st the skies !
How silently, and with how wan a face !

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

Okay, I lied -- one more story. I had a friend once who was descended of the earliest New England settlers and I loved listening to her family stories. When she was fifteen her father bought a VW Beetle, brought it into the garage and took it all to pieces. Then he told her that it was hers, after she put it back together. It took a long time and just a little help from one of her older brothers -- he never actually did any of the work, but he'd help her think through whatever trouble she ran into so she could solve it herself -- but she did it, and always remembered how wonderful that feeling of accomplishment was. She never had car trouble after that that baffled her, and if she had to take it to a mechanic for the actual work, they couldn't deceive her about her car's troubles. Love it.


  1. I've had more fun in recent years getting my folks to tell me stories.

    Even when I already know them, I want the narrative repeated for MY children's ears.

    I wonder how popular a professor Esolen is?

  2. I really like his style when he's being himself. If his lectures are anything at all like that I'll be bet he's pretty popular.

  3. My husband has taught and enforced the "rules of engagement" and "just war" and chivalry to the boys, and, yes, all "weapons" must be treated as though loaded. I have heard them stop wars to explain to other boys, "No! You can't shoot the house! Hey! You can't shoot me, I'm not a bad guy!" There have been a few war crime trials, and they did seem to make an impression. :) It's funny to hear them toss around the word "non-combatant."

  4. Kelly,
    We had similar gun rules with our boys. We didn't allow them to have toy guns for years and years but they would wake up in the morning and eat their toast into the shape of gun. Our first rule was never point the gun at a person, even if it is fake but after a while we did let them play war games, not computer ones but outdoor ones. I like your idea of having a war crimes court.

    That VW story is priceless.


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