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Education Reporter

Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, Anthony Esolen, ISI Books 2010, 256 pages, $26.95.

Childhood isn't what it used to be. Gone are long days spent exploring the environs or making up games to play with the neighbor kids. Those days have been replaced with daycare or long school days, video games, soccer practice and almost constant adult supervision. These and other modern child-rearing trends, argues Anthony Esolen, are snuffing out our children's imagination at every turn.

Esolen dissects the sources of the problem with irony, biting wit, and a writing style reminiscent of C.S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters. To wit: "One way to neutralize this fascination with the natural world is to cordon it off in parks and zoos, and then to act as if only the parks and zoos were worth seeing. . . . Children should be encouraged to think they have 'done' rivers, or bird sanctuaries, or botanical gardens, in the way that weary tourists are proud to have done Belgium."

Childhood activities have been made to conform to adult agendas. Learning science has been reduced to "Believing the Right Things about Science," i.e., adopting a politically correct view of the world. The point is not to learn about the habitats of whales or how their design makes it possible for them to be underwater mammals, but to believe that "Whales Must Be Saved."

Spontaneous neighborhood games that taught ingenuity, social skills and inculcated a sense of fair play have been replaced by games predetermined by adults to ensure there is no real competition and no chance of real anger or elation.

Fairy tales that transported kids to worlds unknown with archetypal heroes and villains have been replaced by "relevant," banal stories rooted in the current time and place and replete with politically correct platitudes.

Other imagination-killing culprits include: the "flattening" of love to sex education, strictly separating the child's world from his parents world, cutting heroes down to size, teaching children that practical skills like gardening and canning are drudgery, denying the transcendent, and plying kids with endless noisy distractions.

The author is not content to provide an entertaining and insightful analysis of the problem, however; interwoven throughout the book are commonsense solutions and examples of the books, music, art and experiences that once enriched the formative years of American children. This book is essential reading for parents, educators and anyone who is concerned to rescue children from the tedious and vacuous thing childhood has become.

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