Book of the Month

Back to April 2016 Ed Reporter

Book of the Month

Life Under Compulsion: Ten Ways to Destroy the Humanity of Your Child, Anthony Esolen, ISI Books, $27.95

In The Republic, Plato wrote, “The object of education is to teach us to love what is beautiful.” How far we have fallen from that noble objective. Anthony Esolen says we can no longer educate young people because we no longer understand what people are for. He says that children are made in the image of God, and we should teach them about beauty, truth, goodness, and love.

But Esolen says that America today is “united solely by the conviction that no conviction must be permitted to unite us. . . . There is nothing to celebrate and no one to worship. . . .” Something must occupy the attention of children, and much of what often does is vulgar and empty, and leads to compulsions.

Freedom has become license, says Esolen. License with no moral, ethical, or religious counterpoints leads to engagement in lust, wrath, avarice, envy, vanity, and pride.

Induced panic about how much American children “learn,” including focus on international test results, is really a “battle between incompatible views of human life.” Leftists wish to make children cogs in the machine, and aim to start their long and tedious march toward “career- and college-readiness” by kindergarten. They eschew the “joy of learning.” Instead, children suffer under “the politics of compulsion, which depends upon a continually instigated sense of urgency.”

At Princeton, the author’s alma mater, once Shakespeare was the focus of the English department. Nowadays the most popular course, which has a larger enrollment than all other English courses combined, is “Youth Fiction,” a tawdry parade of “vampires, adolescent murderers, orgiasts, and bad prose.”

Esolen is at heart an English professor (Providence College) and he peppers this book with enough passages from great literature to whet the appetite of any reader to plunge back in to the classics. This is antithesis to Common Core’s focus on informational texts. CC also usually allows students to read only portions of literary works, which is a deprivation.

Esolen tells us that those who created Common Core desire to treat reading like a “skill.” According to them, “What you read is of no import; only how complex the text is, judged according to various quantitative algorithms and a few subjective checklists that do not touch upon goodness, beauty, or truth.”

This book shows how to improve not only education, but American lives. Esolen asks and answers, “What sort of child shall you raise, my readers?”