Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Keeping Creativity Alive

A book review by: Keri Marrs Barron
Graduate Student
International Center for Studies in Creativity

Could you imagine a childhood without playing outdoors? What if the television was the only spark given to your imagination? Creating images in clouds, dreaming of being rescued by a super hero or being the next president are all images that might not be created following this author's ten step process of destroying a child’s imagination.  Esolen, an English Professor from Providence College, writes the non-fiction book Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of your Child, focusing on how our current society is destroying the imagination of our children.  Each chapter concentrates on one of the ten methods using major themes through our everyday society (the environment, machines, sex, heroes, patriotism, politics and man & woman).   After discussing the method of destruction, Esolen references examples of literary characters who would not be desired in this non-imaginative society.  Then he sarcastically implies this is the outcome our society desires.   Esolen reviews the nine other methods the same way: society, character, sarcasm.

One of Esolen’s methods of destruction is titled, “Keep your children indoors as much as possible" or "They used to call it ‘air’.”  The chapter documents how children are more interested in playing with video games, televisions, and even cell phones than exploring outside adventures, which provides little to spark the imagination.  Society has had a large impact on this method.  Now, more families have both parents working outside the home and the children are instructed to stay inside until a parent is home from work.  The day begins with school, where students are instructed to color in the lines, sit down, go to lunch at this time, do this and do that, all indoors.  After school they stay entertained by the technology boxes (phones, television, video games) until the parent gets home and then may run off to another conforming event (possibly soccer practice or band practice).  The child has no time for fresh air or to just observe the outdoors.

During the summer months the imagination is constrained even more as the technology box is the main focus of entertainment.  No school, just time on their own in a house, no outside time. The concept of being able to walk down to a park or to a hangout with friends and partake in some crazed adventure is taken away by a safety concern for the child.  When the opportunity arises to enjoy the outdoors, the child is not interested in being outdoors, as his stimulation is from the box and not from his imagination. One book and character that Esolen references by keeping our children indoors is Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. Sawyer is a young boy who plays outdoors on the Mississippi River building his independence in discovering the outdoors and creating mischief, yet, he also develops his self reliance and confidence to explore and succeed in the world.  In keeping our children indoors we are defining the imagination by the box and sheltering the development of confidence and self worth rather than providing the opportunity to develop their own imagination comparative to Tom Sawyer.  

As a parent, I was sold by the title and wondered how this book could help me be more aware of the destruction we are causing to our own children’s imagination and creativity.  The book is profound but very true.  In trying to protect our children and educate them to be good students and citizens, we are trampling their creativity and imagination by teaching them to conform.  After I read the first method, I took my book, laptop and my kids to play outside to observe nature rather than our inner walls. 

A very well researched book, I was not expecting the author to have referenced examples throughout literature, from Chopin, Chesterton, and Lewis to the Holy Bible. Written by an English professor, I should have expected no different but I was a bit bored by the numerous literary references.  In all fairness to Esolen, I am an implementer (a preference in the Foursight® creative problem solving analysis). When I read an idea and have evidence, I am ready to move on to another topic, as opposed to reading several more references of characters we would be destroying.  As a parent and former educator, I was interested in any suggestions or solutions, to remedy the problem. Unfortunately, this book did not address solutions.  

My one imaginative takeaway could not have been better said by my three-year-old daughter when she left Sunday school: “He swallowed me whole, he swallowed me whole.”  I thought about what she said for a few minutes and realized even the Holy Bible utilizes the imagination; she was singing a song about Jonah being swallowed by the whale.  Ironically, Esolen’s final method references this same story of Jonah and the whale.  The more I thought about the imagination and creativity, the more I continued to wonder why as a society we are working so hard to conform and eliminate the imagination.  For many years, our most well known innovators such as Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Walt Disney, and Steve Jobs were known for their imagination not their conforming, so why are we so insistent on conforming?  Children need to know that if they think outside the box, or color outside the lines, they should not be penalized, rather encouraged for their creativity. Imagination can be restored and we do not need to read about negative topics like destruction of the imagination.


Esolen.A. (2010). Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of your Child.  Wilmington, DE:  Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

About Keri Marrs Barron 

Keri Marrs Barron is a current student in the Master’s program at the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State University.   She is a former administrator in Higher Education. Her positions ranged from the aspect of Student Services from recruiting, advising, teaching and directing Student Activities.  Her current full time position and hobbies are caring for her family and finishing her degree.  Marrs Barron resides in La Porte, Indiana with her husband, 3 sons and 1 daughter.    

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