The Imagination of the Child

Written by Graeme Whiting

Statement in response to the many articles that have been published concerning the blog post ‘The Imagination of the Child’.

I am not making a judgement of literature that has dark or difficult elements; I am claiming that exposure to such themes should be age appropriate. I am not attempting to pitch modern bestsellers against old classics nor am I discouraging children from reading; I am concerned with the exposure of young children’s minds, to things that are scary and dark. A child’s view of the world is much smaller than that of an adult, and I believe that emotionally charged impressions have a lasting effect in their subconscious minds.

I am aware that I included some sweeping statements in my blog and I apologise for my lack of eloquence there. I am well aware that mental health is a huge and multi-dimensional subject and I am not claiming that there is a direct link between literature with dark themes and mental illness. I am merely pointing out that young brains are especially sensitive and therefore vulnerable to strong personal experiences that may create or amplify a sense of insecurity.

My mission has always been to protect the sensitive minds of young children from negative experiences that can create deep, lasting imprints in their subconscious minds.

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Original post

Human beings have a conscious and unconscious brain. Stored in the latter, sometimes deeply entrenched in that mysterious, sensitive part of our brain, lie the secrets of our past, our inhibitions, our common habits and all the events that have formed each of our lives since we became conscious beings. Secrets of our emotions, our passions, and our hurt, can be lying there. In today’s world of transformational humans, millions of therapists worldwide make a living from trying to understand, and reveal, by various methods, what lies within the subconscious brain of those patients who come for help because of anxieties and fears, experiences and memories, often pictorial images of events that helped to shape their lives; predominantly bad memories, which is why they seek therapy.

Many of the current methods for trying to open up our subconscious brain are open to both praise and criticism, but my view is that we should strive, as human beings, to ensure that children are protected during their developmental years from negative experiences that linger within their subconscious and may prevent them from moving forward towards adulthood, unencumbered by such memories, particularly inappropriate images or text that confuses their imagination, as they do not have thinking brains until, at the earliest, fourteen years of age. The child can then move towards more conscious thought as adulthood looms. An eighteen-year-old doesn’t suddenly get a developed thinking as a right, or as a gift, just because in the eyes of the state they have reached adult age!

This morning, I recalled the many memories that lie deep in my own subconscious; the deaths of my loving parents, my three brothers, my wife and perhaps even more deeply entrenched are the experiences I had as a young child growing up after the war in a very different England. I recalled vivid pictures of the school bullies, and of the grim-faced teachers as they beat me. I can remember their smelly clothes, and can recall those smells and facial grimaces when they carried out the barbaric punishment that was meted out to many young, poor children, in the nineteen-fifties. I have dealt with those images and memories without the help of a therapist and I feel I have put them away from my daily life, to be recalled if they need to be. Imagination is so rich and important that I cannot understand why any parent would not actively prevent exposure to modern-world electronic gadgets, screens, films and literature that will encumber the minds and especially the imagination of their children. Let beauty reign within the subconscious minds of our children, not fear and disturbing images cultivated by their amazing brains.

I love the first lines of ‘The Endymion’ by John Keats:

‘A thing of beauty is a joy for ever,
Its loveliness increases,
It will never pass into nothingness’……..

I am from a large family and my life as a child was not easy, but today I reflected on the care my parents showered on me, and indeed the care and understanding I received from specific times in my education; just one teacher actually, but it took until I had left school, and the army, to realise that that one teacher positively affected my life, and still does. Such a wise lady!

The more I reflect the more I believe that the concept of The Acorn School was hatched on a deeply unconscious level and it has taken most of my life to fully understand the reasons why I chose to create this beautiful school. Is it not a most unusual school? It may take the readers of this blog a lifetime to fully appraise what the school represents, and why I chose to give children an education based on moral values and individual teaching in each class of children, which enriches their imagination.

At school I had a passion for literature; indeed I felt that by the age of thirty I had read all the books I wanted to read. Those books were a strong influence and created in me feelings about what should be read by children, who cannot discern or understand, and these books helped to shape me as a human being. Of course, there are many wonderful experiences that are also locked behind that door, but what concerns me with the modern world is that there seem to be no doors that cannot be opened by young children. Children can contrive, they can lie and they can get their own way; they can also be wonderful and beautiful if parents take the time to try to understand what childhood really is! Children are innocent and pure at the same time, and don’t need to be mistreated by cramming their imagination that lies deep within them, with inappropriate things.

Parents walking around a modern shopping centre with their children are magnetised by the colourful and graphic attraction of the new book cover, and often, very little of the text is reflected in the beautiful and attractive cover. Such colourful covers attract children to the point of mesmerising them, and they make demands of their parents stating that they want one because every other child at school has one!

Sensationalism is the key for marketing literature in today’s world. Publishers and authors don’t really care who reads what, as long as they achieve high sales figures, and they go to great lengths to create those pictorial covers that hide the sometimes demonic, influential and unacceptable words that may lie within the text. Gone are the classics, and when I asked my wife to write a reading list for the children of my school, many of the books she recommended were hard to find. A trip to the Amazon website revealed that thousands of great books for children can be bought for less than the cost of postage! Indeed, sets of classical literature, the stories that I read as a young buy, could be purchased and delivered to my door for less than the cost of driving to a bookshop.

Last week I saw a mother sitting on a bench in a shopping mall with her young baby, sampling the milk from its bottle, to make sure it was the right temperature and flowed freely. It was a beautiful and very serene scene of motherly care. Will that same mother, in thirteen years time, when that baby becomes an opinionated young teenager, be able to offer the same care? Will the mother sample the literature that it reads like it did the baby’s bottle, check out the screen pictures, the Internet, or will she be usurped by her child who by then will certainly not be seeking sensible literature, but will almost certainly follow the masses, the modern trends, for whom reading will have become a thing of the past. This is the age of the mentally ill child, the obsessive age, the age where celebrities affect the lives of those who have been encouraged to adore them and who wish to be like them, but never can. This is a trap of falsehood for children.

I stand for the old-fashioned values of traditional literature, classical poetry, Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, Dickens, Shakespearean plays, and the great writers who will still be read in future years by those children whose parents adopt a protective attitude towards ensuring that dark, demonic literature, carefully sprinkled with ideas of magic, of control and of ghostly and frightening stories that will cause the children who read them to seek for ever more sensational things to add to those they have already been exposed to. What then of their subconscious minds? What then of the minds of children whose parents couldn’t give the time to look closely at childhood; the sensitive period of the development of every human being? Where will this addiction to unacceptable literature lead?

I want children to read literature that is conducive to their age and leave those mystical and frightening texts for when they can discern reality, and when they have first learned to love beauty. Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games, and Terry Pratchett, to mention only a few of the modern world’s ‘must-haves’, contain deeply insensitive and addictive material which I am certain encourages difficult behaviour in children; yet they can be bought without a special licence, and can damage the sensitive subconscious brains of young children, many of whom may be added to the current statistics of mentally ill young children. For young adults, this literature, when it can be understood for what it is, is the choice of many!

Buying sensational books is like feeding your child with spoons of added sugar, heaps of it, and when the child becomes addicted it will seek more and more, which if related to books, fills the bank vaults of those who write un-sensitive books for young children!

It is the duty of parents to spend time to study such matters and form their own conclusions, not to think that because the world is filled with such sensational literature they have to have it for their children, because everyone else does! Beware the devil in the text! Choose beauty for your young children!