“We human beings wherever we go will always have one frontier right before us, one source of wonder, precisely for the fascinating strangeness of the land. Women will have men and men will have women.”The imagination, unless it is stifled early, is restless. It longs for the faraway, the separate, the unknown. The previous chapter demonstrated how love ignites the imagination; this chapter suggests that the way to keep men and women from falling in love—beholding each other with wonder and reverence—is to flatten the children. From an early age they are to be given both a superficial familiarity and an impenetrable ignorance of what makes men and women so strangely, uniquely, marvelously different from each other.
An easy way to dispel the mystery of the sexes is to herd kids together whenever possible as if there’s no reason to keep them apart. Boys and girls routinely thrown together will not learn the wonder of love but rather the boredom of familiarity. They may still develop friendships in that situation, but the primary focus will be who is eyeing who and who is going to who’s party. But boys and girls are different. Even when they are at the same activity, they don’t go about it in the same way. Keeping them separate is healthy for their intellectual and emotional development and makes it possible for them to try their hand at this and that without the distraction of (and the fear of being embarrassed by or in front of) the opposite sex. A divide wisely and judiciously set up will feel natural and will be respected by both the boys and the girls. It will allow boys to be boys and girls to be girls and each will feel like that means something. There will still be glances back and forth, but they will be glances of wonder and esteem.
This chapter is full of examples from history and literature and Esolen also uses many anecdotes from his own childhood. He is definitely writing from the point of view of a man who was once a boy so the illustrations of girlhood and womanhood are (understandably) a bit thin. As a woman who was once a girl, I thought I’d throw in my two cents worth of childhood memories. (read more...)
Children are herded into anonymity at earlier and earlier ages and as they grow the homogeneity continues. Boys are not led into “manhood,” girls are not ushered into “womanhood,” and neither are led to believe that the two are at all different. Instead they merely “grow up” into “adulthood,” as do animals and weeds and with about the same significance. Modernity, putting on a veneer of intelligence, scoffs at traditional ideals by pinning any easy stupidity or immorality upon the men and women of the past who exemplified them. Never mind that these conventional men and women—possessed of virtues modernity would ignore—tamed a continent. No, the only ideals children are given to seek after are lots of money, a sharp wardrobe, and a glamorous career—things that “glut the soul rather than whet its longing for what is beyond our immediate range of sight.” Not very inspiring or elevating, but quite necessary to drive the economy. On the other hand, the concepts of manliness and womanliness give young people a recognizable ideal to strive for and grow into—and it’s not one of their own making. It’s something that has been done by all the boys and girls of ages past who became the men and women who made history. It’s beautiful and bracing, significant and noble.
When children are herded into big, controlled crowds they can neither enjoy the bliss of solitude nor form close friendships. Friendship exalts the imagination and when boys hang out with other boys and girls gather with other girls, they are free to develop the kind of companionship that is unencumbered by feelings of attraction or shyness. This “brotherhood” and “sisterhood” will allow the boys and the girls (who will eventually become men and women) to accomplish the great and the glorious. When you have a real friend you remember and treasure the past. You love the friend and suddenly the concerns of the masses fade into unimportance. “Pals we may have, in the flatlands of contemporary life. Political allies, sure. Coworkers aplenty. But not friends.”
“Wherever such friendships persist, there persists the possibility of imaginative leaps that threaten the comfort of the banal.”