A Review For Conscientious Catholic Mothers
The way in which one should raise a child, as explained by Dr. Esolen, is essentially the way I was raised and the way in which my husband and I, almost by default, are raising our children.
I grew up in an idyllic, homeschooled little Catholic bubble, one with lots of outdoor time and hands-on work and old-fashioned books. I was further educated at a more-Catholic-and-less-politically-correct-that-thou college. I left the Bubble just long enough to pick up the habit of dropping bad words when I’m mad and to notice that moral relativism really is a Thing. I then retreated (advanced?) into the Bubble when it came time to raise my own children.
So. I have trouble seeing the forest for the trees with this book.
But it’s my blog and all I can do is describe the trees as I see them. So here they are:
- Dr. Esolen’s main points, as best I can summarize them, are as follows:
- Acknowledge the existence of Truth and encourage its pursuit,
- Let your children have lots of unstructured, outside play,
- Expose children to machines and machinists,
- Expose children to fairy tales and not political cliches,
- Extol the heroic and patriotic,
- Preserve the Mystery and Sublimity of Love,
- Acknowledge the Differences Between Men and Women,
- Acknowledge the Transcendent.
- This book is written in a satirical style. You have to take what are described as the ways to destroy your child’s imagination and then formulate the opposite and do that instead, as I have attempted with the list above.
- Most of Dr. Esolen’s objectives can be achieved by (1) providing a loving home life but (2) leaving your kid alone to do his own thing as much as possible while (3) avoiding public schools if possible and (4) exposing your kid to good literature. But those who need to hear this the most are the least likely to read this book, and vice versa. (And I don’t mean to hate on anyone sending his child to public school. But Dr. Esolen is very critical of them. Just sayin’.)
- Dr. Esolen indulges heavily in nostalgia, often referring to his childhood in the 1960s–particularly its dangerous, unsupervised, outdoor exploits–for examples of what builds a child’s imagination.
- It’s hard to describe exactly how this happens, but the satire and the nostalgia blur the main points of the book, at least they seem to for conscientious Catholic mothers. We probably are not the target audience, but I’m quite sure we form the bulk of the actual audience.
- The other conscientious mothers in my book club and I reflexively fixated on this or that aspect of Mr. Esolen’s idealized childhood, and we berated ourselves for falling short. “Oh, if only I were a good enough mother to expose my child to more danger,” we fretted. As if our pesky biological drive to keep that kid alive at all costs might destroy our child’s imagination. Sheesh. Just let your kid read Huck Finn. You don’t have to try to recreate Huck Finn’s life for your child.
A few more thoughts:
- Simcha Fisher likes Dr. Esolen. Simcha! Upon whom I always can count to be snarky toward people and schools of thought that annoy me.
- But if Simcha likes Dr. Esolen, I probably do too. Also my cold, hard heart softened somewhat toward him when I read this article he wrote about his autistic son.
- Initially I thought this book would be a diatribe against television, and it’s not. Dr. Esolen actually writes favorably of some shows, like Wallace & Gromit and Gunsmoke. You know what does contain a diatribe against television? My favorite parenting book of all time! What can I say? Whether I like a book is determined about 90% by tone and 10% by content.
- This book really should be titled Ten Ways To Destroy the Imagination of Your Boy, because girls get the short shrift. Any study of women in history is derided as feminist propaganda. The only activities mentioned as being appropriate for girls are (a) churning butter, (b) singing folks songs in a broom closet, or (c) eating popsicles while watching boys play baseball (not, understand, playing softball themselves). I understand Dr. Esolen’s concern for the over-feminization of education for boys. I also understand that he leans heavily on his own childhood experience, and he was a boy, so he writes a lot about what boys do. Still, so help me, I want to encourage my girls to play sports if they are the least bit inclined and I also want to teach them about the suffragist movement. I’m just that radical.
So those are the trees I observed. If you read it, tell me what you thought of the forest, er, the book. I’m joining the “What We’re Reading Wednesday” link-up today, hosted by Jessica at Housewifespice. Thanks Jessica!!