Thursday, March 15, 2012
Chesterton on a Child's Imagination
Of all of today's problems that Chesterton diagnosed and predicted 100 years ago there is another to add to the list: the war on childhood and the child's imagination.
In his essay "The War on Childhood" G.K. Chesterton points out how subtly, and usually in the name of "education", our children are forced not to create their own stories and tales from a tender age, but to get involved in organized games and even "Self-Government". I guess this means at least one thing, we can blame Victorians for having to sign our kids up for soccer, hockey, dance and piano all by the age of 3 or face societal rejection!
Chesterton already recognizes the loss of "that vast unrecorded output of more or less infantile imagination which used to fill the lives of almost every family and especially of every large family." If children are encouraged not to create their own stories and tales, otherwise known as imaginary play for toddlers and beyond, through the myriad of today's activities, play schools, early kindergartens etc, they are almost universally cut off from being born into a large family which facilitates this play.
I'm sure there are lots who will argue that a large family doesn't necessarily create an imaginative child but already in my own three toddlers its more than evident. My littles are just entering the wonderful stage of imaginary friends and scenarios. Just yesterday the telephone man had to put a telephone in jail. The day before that Dom had to save baby dolls from the throes of a bad witch. My boys regularly fight "bad guys" with swords and they all love nursing baby dolls back from the brink of deadly illnesses. And they naturally feed off one another. They mix and mash funny little ideas into great imaginary worlds already, and they're only 2, 3, and 4 years old.
I think that these "imaginary families with peculiar names but most pernicious vitality and will to live" that my babes are already creating are what make me so weary of scheduling in more organized activities into their lives. I inwardly wince at the idea of playschools on a daily basis. And I shudder when I know I've let my kids watch waaay too much tv in the course of a day. Even toddlers benefit from a little boredom to spur on some creative juices.
Chesterton goes on to make another powerful point that the imaginary games of our children are unique not only to the individual little toddler but to each family: "The mythology of the little Smiths at No. 6 was different from the mythology of the little Browns at No. 7, and different again from that of the little Robinsons at No. 8." So in a very beautiful way these imaginary tales become a unique bonding between tiny siblings. Their little imaginings are really building our family a little tighter.
And finally, Chesterton, who of course is the king of finding the wham-bam, completely awesome, gobstopping connection between two very radically different things, points to the lose of childhood imaginings to increased dependence on Big Government. "The Wireless and the Cinema, the newspaper and the newsreel, a score of such enormous modern machines of publicity, pour down their throats, or into their ears and minds, a flood of suffusion in which they have no co-operation, which they do not critics, and to which they cannot reply." We're constantly fed with media, products, and entertainment in today's society, and much of it is geared to children at increasingly younger ages. The beginnings of creative people who make, fashion, and build their own things, art, and lives are the ordinary people who begin imagining as children. But a people and society full of individuals who have not imagined, created, or entertained themselves become more dependent not only on social media and the entertainment industry for their entertainment and ideas, but in all areas of their lives. And so "Governments are ready to give anything and everything, if they can only be reassured with the soothing certainty that the people will give nothing."
Whoa, right? But on the very bright and beautiful side, isn't it amazing what repercussions of goodness we can create by just freeing our children to imagine and tell tales for themselves? Its a simple thing that has a lasting and important impact on the adults our little babes will become.