As I promised, here is the June, 2005, issue of HEADSUP (Homeschool Educators on Active Duty, Sending Upward Praises–no, it has nothing to do with the military) free e-mail newsletter that I publish primarily for homeschooling families who are associated with Churches of Christ, but is available as a ministry and labor of love to anyone who desires it. I'll warn you ahead of time–it's LONG! Most of the articles, except those that I write, are used with permission, so if you have any desire to reprint them you had best ask the authors.
HOMESCHOOL EDUCATORS ON ACTIVE DUTY, SENDING UPWARD PRAISES
Monthly newsletter of general interest, encouragement,
and information for homeschooling Christians
% Wayne S. Walker, 9042 Amona Dr., Affton (St. Louis), MO 63123
E-mail: email@example.com; phones: (314) 683-4719 (home), 842-1612 office
June, 2005; Volume 7, Number 11
NOTE TO THOSE WHO RECEIVE THIS NEWSLETTER BY E-MAIL: A few people have complained about the length of this newsletter each month–not many, but a few. As I have said before, I have tried to keep the size down, because I know that it takes up a sizeable portion of your inbox when it comes. However, there is just so much material that I want to share with people on homeschooling and the topics selected for each issue, that it is hard to condense it. In fact, some have expressed appreciation for the depth with which these subjects have been covered. Some have also complained about the format. I have tried sending it in HTML (rich text) and in text document format, but either way some e-mail programs apparently jumble it up, removing paragraph indentations and other spacing. I do not know what else to do. One person asked if I could send it some way that one could go directly to an article listed in the table of contents rather than having to scroll through the whole thing to get there. Unfortunately, with my current word processing programming, that is not possible.
Because of the length, if the newsletter goes over a certain number of pages, I send it out in two parts, just to keep you from being flooded. Of course, that makes more work for me, but I did have a thought. What if I divided each month's newsletter into four (somewhat, if possible) equal parts and sent the four parts out one a week during the month on a Yahoogroups list? Something would be coming more often but in smaller bits. I already maintain a Yahoogroups list for homeschooling events here in the St. Louis area, and it is fairly simple to do. It would not be a chat list but simply a list of people to receive four portions of this newsletter one a week during the month. That would mean that you would have to sign up to be on the list (everyone currently receiving would be given a personal invitation to do so!). What say you to that? Or does anyone have any other suggestions? Please e-mail me privately if you have any feedback. WSW.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. HOW TO CHOOSE GOOD BOOKS By Wayne S. Walker
2. CHOOSING WHAT TO READ by Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn
3. READING GOOD LITERATURE by Nathaniel Bluedorn
4. SEEING WITH OTHER EYES: HOW WHAT WE READ SHAPES OUR LIVES by Tammy Drennan
5. READING ALOUD: It's the most important teaching tool you have by Jeanette Frantz
6. HOW TO DETERMINE THE WORLDVIEW IN A BOOK by Betty Burger
7. SERIAL NOVELS–GOOD OR BAD? by Patty Carleton
8. LITERATURE by Israel Wayne
9. GREAT BOOKS STIMULATE CREATIVITY By Valerie Bendt
10. WHAT WE'RE READING: NOT A BOOK REVIEW by Kathy Davis of HomeschoolBuzz.com
11. NOW, CHOOSE A GOOD BOOK, RELAX, AND READ AWAY by Wayne S. Walker
12. BOOKS AND READING by Ronald Reinford
13. POETRY CORNER: The Rhodora by Ralph Waldo Emerson
14. QUESTION AND RESPONSE by Laurie Bluedorn
15. BOOK REVIEWS
16. IN THE MAGAZINES
17. NEWS AND NOTES
18. ADVICE FOR HOMESCHOOL DADS by Wayne S. Walker
19. I CORINTHIANS 13–FOR MOMS submitted by Kathy Matthews
HOW TO CHOOSE GOOD BOOKS
By Wayne S. Walker
One of the benefits of homeschooling is that homeschooled students usually have more time to read good books. Often in public schools, students are so overburdened with busy work that they just do not have time to read for their own pleasure and various special incentives must be offered to induce them to read. Another problem that has developed in public schools, as reported many times in past issues of this newsletter, is that many of the books chosen for students to read are simply not good. They are chosen for relevance to what are perceived to be today's important issues for children rather than for exemplifying and encouraging good character qualities. Sometimes when parents have complained, somewhat sympathetic teachers have asked the parents to overlook some things that are admitted to be bad in order to find the points that are said to be good. This is like spending your life rummaging around in garbage cans hoping to find a precious jewel! And it is a special problem for those who wish to obey, and bring their children up to obey, Paul's admonition in Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy–think on these things.”
My mother and my grandmother, who was a teacher, both encouraged me to read, and I have many happy memories of hours spent curled up in a chair with some kind of book, although I did my share of playing outdoors, tramping through the woods, riding my bicycle (even had a paper route for about four years), and, of course, regular school work and studying for Bible classes. In addition to biographies (two of my favorites were of John Paul Jones and the Mayo brothers), mysteries (my brother liked the Hardy Boys and I liked Nancy Drew, but we each read both), and other good children's literature from both the school and public libraries, I would just sit and read through the encyclopedia (we had Compton's, Colliers, and Britannica), dictionaries, atlases, almanacs, and other reference works, especially if I had nothing else to read but sometimes just for the fun of learning the information. (If the term had existed in this sense back then, I might have been called a “geek.” As it was, my mother called me a walking encyclopedia of useless information.) While I watched my share of television when I was young, there were long periods of time when we had no T. V., and books served as a substitute–a better one, I now firmly believe.
Reading is important in our home. Both my wife Karen and I love to read. In fact, I wish that I had more time just to read. We want our boys to read and to love reading. Now that they are both able to read, we encourage them to read as much as possible on their own. Sometimes, getting them to start a book is a little like pulling hen's teeth, but once they begin they usually become interested and then find it hard to put the book down. We want them to read a wide variety of literature, but we especially want to make sure that what they read is wholesome. In addition to our individual reading, we do read alouds. Our family read aloud is right after lunch and is usually good historical fiction. I have been reading aloud to Mark before bedtime since he was quite small and continue to do so, even though he is now fourteen. I also read before bedtime specifically for Jeremy (age eight), using books that are geared more for children his age. He then gets to listen to the book that I read to Mark as well, which is usually on a little higher level.
Learning to read is the most important thing that we can teach our children, at least from an academic standpoint, because once they can read everything else will be open to them. Loving to read is one of the most important educational legacies that we can leave for our children. Therefore, we want our children to read, to read well, and to read good books. The Wise Man wrote, “…Of making many books there is no end…” (Ecclesiastes 12:12). That is so true! Ever since the Gutenberg's invention of the printing press, the amount of books has steadily grown, but with the development of modern fast print methods and the computer for composing, the last few years have seen a virtual print explosion. There are so many books available for children and teenagers to read. As I sometimes say, “So many books, so little time!” So, how do we choose good books for our children, or help them to choose good books?
Each family has to set its own standards and make its own decisions. Some have decided to read only what is “true” in the sense of history and biography and eliminate all fiction, especially fantasy. If that is their decision, it is all right with me, as long as they do not imply that those who read fiction and fantasy are sinning. It is fine to read a lot of good historical and biographical information. However, some people apparently ignore the fact that even in the Bible fictional stories were sometimes told (such as the fable of the trees in Judges 9:7-15) to make a point, so we can conclude that good fiction can be used rightly. They may also ignore a couple of other facts also–that there are some things in history that younger children just do not need to know yet, and that biographies can be sympathetically written so as to make sinful behaviors seem reasonable. So, just because something is fiction does not mean that it is bad, and just because something is “true” historically does not mean that it is necessarily good.
Some have chosen to read only “Christian” literature. There is nothing wrong with that. Some great “Christian” classics are available, and many good “Christian” publishers have put out a lot of excellent reading material. However, it is unfortunate that a lot of what is set forth as modern “Christian” literature today is rather shallow, and one must always be on the lookout for various kinds of false doctrines that can be slipped in. At the same time, a book does not have to be specifically “Christian” to be based on a Biblical worldview and exhibit qualities that are consistent with Christianity. Some make their choices of books based on authors. Many homeschoolers have learned that anything by G. A. Henty is excellent, while a lot of us have found that nearly anything by Judy Blume or Toni Morrison is “bad news.” Some make these choices based on publishers. I have found almost everything from Bethlehem Books, Cornerstone Publications, Bethany House, and Barbour to be good. On the other hand, while a lot of us have ordered good books cheap from Scholastic, just because Scholastic publishes books for young people does not mean that all their books are good. One has to be careful about Scholastic, because they will publish and sell just about anything aimed for young people, no matter how perfectly dreadful it may be.
Some, such as conservative film critic Michael Medved, have decided to base their choices on dates. Medved once said that he would not let his children read anything written after 1960. That does seem to be somewhat of a watershed date in children's literature that may be a good general benchmark, but the fact is there have been some very good “classic” type books for children written since then (and some not-so-good before then). Some may base their choices on awards. The most notable award in children's literature is the John Newbery Medal, awarded every year since 1922 by the American Library Association. A similar award called the Caldecott Medal is given to picture books for children. It is true that many very good books have won the Newbery Award, but Elaine K. McEwan notes in her book, How to Raise a Reader (1999, Baker Books), “There is much debate among parents, librarians, and educators each year as to the worthiness of the selections. Many of the contemporary titles chosen for the Newbery Medal contain themes and language that are objectionable to some, and this tend shows no sign of abating. Even an occasional Caldecott Medal book will raise questions with regard to subject matter. As a parent, you must carefully consider how you will spend your child's time and your book dollar” (pp. 28-29).
Therefore, one cannot assume that just because a book won the Newbery Medal, it is a good book. My own experiences with Newbery Medal winners confirms this statement and mirrors McEwan's observation. My goal is to read every Newbery Award winner. I have not accomplished this goal yet, but I have read several and here are my judgments on those (full reviews can be found in past issues of this newsletter).
The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate Di Camillo (2004): interesting but only fair.
Crispin: The Cross of Lead, by Avi (2003): interesting but, again, only fair.
A Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park (2002): an exception–a good, almost excellent book.
Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech (1995): boring with a perfectly dreadful plot; a poor book.
Shiloh, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (1992): not too bad but a lot of moral ambiguity; only fair.
Maniac McGee, by Jerry Spinelli (1991); really bad language; another poor book.
The Whipping Boy, by Sid Fleischman (1987); interesting story with good points.
Sarah, Plain and Tall, by Patricia MacLachlan (1986); one of the few modern classics rating excellent.
Dear Mr. Henshaw, by Beverly Cleary (1984); a really depressing book; I said fair but others said poor.
Roll of Thunder, Hear Me Cry, by Mildred Taylor (1977); a little intense, but basically a good book.
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, by Robert C. O'Brien (1972); another rare excellent rating.
The High King, by Lloyd Alexander (1969); the whole Prydain Chronicles series is excellent.
The Bronze Bow, by Elizabeth George Speare (1962); excellent, but note we are close to 1960!
Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O'Dell (1961); again excellent, but even closer to 1960!
The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare (1959); also excellent; Speare was great.
Rifles for Watie, by Harold Keith (1958); intense but good historical fiction about the Civil War.
Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, by Jean Lee Latham (1956); excellent study in character and perseverance.
The Wheel on the School, by Meindert De Jong (1955); a very good, enjoyable story.
Amos Fortune, Free Man, by Elizabeth Yates (1951); anything by Yates is excellent.
The Twenty-One Balloons, by William Pene du Bois (1948); quirky but good.
Johnny Tremain, by Esther Forbes (1944); a little intense but good historical fiction.
Call It Courage, by Armstrong Sperry (1941); I absolutely love this excellent book!
Invincible Louisa, by Cornelia Meigs (1934); really good biography of the famous writer.
The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle, by Hugh Lofting (1923); a little strange but basically good reading.
Some other Newbery winners have been highly recommended; we have a few of them already but have not read them yet (Number the Stars by Lois Lowry; Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George; And Now Miguel by Joseph Krumgold), and others are on my list of books that I truly want to read (From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler by E. L. Konigsburg; Shadow of a Bull by Maia Wojciechowska; The Door in the Wall by Marguerite Angeli; Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink; Young Fu of the Upper Yangtzee by Elizabeth Lewis; Hitty, Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field; The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric Kelley). However, there are some that, based on what I have heard about them, I am really not looking forward to reading. Some families have made their choices of books based on reading lists. Speaking of Newbery winners, Barb Brandes and Deb Ekstrand recently came out with an excellent little booklet, And The Winner Is…: A Guide to Newbery Medal Winners From a Christian Perspective. This has summaries of all Newbery winners, a lot of the Newbery honor books (runners up), and a few other books thrown in for good measure.
I found myself in agreement almost all the time with Brandes and Ekstrand. The books that they did not like, I did not like, and the books they recommended I found to be good. There were a few exceptions. For Maniac McGee, they said, “No objectionable language.” I do not know if they read the same version as I did, but the one I read had a great deal of bad language. However, they did say, “Decent story line that is choked by poor choice of scenes by the author.” That is very true! They also said of The Tale of Despereaux, “Enchanting fairy tale…don't miss this story!”, whereas I agree with Kathy Davis of HomeschoolBuzz.com that this story is probably a little too heavy for most children. Otherwise, this little booklet will give you a lot of wonderful information. There are other such lists. Dave Pratte of Family Times put together his Family Reading Booklist: Biblical Evaluations of Wholesome Books for Your Children and Family. Nathaniel Bluedorn of Trivium Pursuit did Hand that Rocks the Cradle: Good Books to Read Aloud to Children. Both of these are good. And the aforementioned How to Raise a Reader by Elaine K. McEwan has a lot of good recommendations. Another book that has been recommended and used by many for years is Honey for a Child's Heart by Gladys Hunt. Also recommended are Hunt's Honey for A Teen's Heart and Elizabeth Wilson's Books Children Love.
I found it interesting to note that the fourth edition of Honey for a Child's Heart recommends or at least mentions positively the “Harry Potter” books by J. K. Rowling. I realize that believers have been somewhat divided on the “Harry Potter” books, some affirming that good can be found in them and others contending that they are not in harmony with Biblical values. I myself have read the first book and, as reported in past issues of this newsletter, decided that it was something that I cannot recommend. Period. At all. Under any circumstances. Mrs. Hunt says, “During those months of furor I spent a good amount of time defending a kid who goes to Hogwarts School for Wizards, something I had never done before.” Yet, while still maintaining a positive view of the books, she does mention Richard Abane's Harry Potter and the Bible (which opposes the series) along with Connie Neal's What's A Christian to Do with Harry Potter (which apparently recommends the book) to give the reader both sides of the issue. And she also says, “In any event, comparing the Harry Potter books to the Narnia Chronicles by C. S. Lewis or J. R. R. Tolkien's trilogy is not helpful. The moral complexity of evil and goodness in the fantasies of Lewis and Tolkien is profoundly biblical and engages readers on a far deeper level. In that sense there is no comparison.” That is where I would prefer to leave it–“no comparison”! While I have said that I cannot say that Christians who read the “Harry Potter” books have sinned, what Mrs. Hunt says in itself is enough to cause me to avoid “Harry Potter.” But each family will have to decide for itself.
The point that I want to make in all this is these reading lists should not be taken as “gospel truth.” What appeals to one writer as acceptable may strike another as being objectionable, even though both writers may be committed to a strong Biblical worldview. For instance, concerning A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle, Honey for a Child's Heart says, “Conflict between good and evil explicit in the stories,” and How to Raise a Reader says, “Fantasy with a solid foundation of Christian principles woven into its fabric.” However, And the Winner Is… says, “Uses Scripture irreverently, or in wrong contexts, without credits, like other sources quoted. Attempts to mix mysticism and New Age philosophy with Christianity. Caution highly recommended.” Just as we need to use caution generally in choosing books, we need to use discernment even in considering the recommendations or “dis-recommendations” of reading lists. Furthermore, every reviewer will have different tastes in what he or she likes and dislikes. Concerning Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray, And the Winner Is… says “A little too slow moving for me. Swears by the names of saints,” whereas Nathaniel Bluedorn wrote, “I remember liking this book when mother read it long ago, probably because I have always been interested in this time period.” Having said that, it is still true that all of these resources can be helpful in gaining the information needed to make those decisions.
That brings up one more point that I want to make before moving on. I read a lot of children's literature. In truth, I find it better than much of what passes for modern “adult” literature. But more importantly, I want to know what my children are reading, and unless it comes highly recommended by someone I implicitly trust, I usually want to read it first to make sure that it has nothing in it that we would find objectionable (we have had a few experiences along this line!). I started posting my reviews on a homeschooling e-mail list, and so many people responded positively that I began including them in this newsletter (which is one of the things that has contributed greatly to its growth in size), and a few have appeared in other places. However, I have no desire to be the arbiter of what you or your children can and cannot read. I have already given my opinion about Harry Potter, but if you choose for your children to go ahead and read these books, it will not make me angry or upset in the least. That is your choice. I simply give my impressions of the books that I read and express my reasons for recommending or not recommending them. Then it is up to you to make any decisions for your family. However, I hope that you will find the articles that follow helpful in forming a solid Biblical foundation for making those decisions and helping your children find good books.
CHOOSING WHAT TO READ
by Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn
When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they were commanded to wipe out all of the Canaanite literature. “…When ye are passed over Jordan into the land of Canaan; Then ye shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, and destroy all their pictures, and destroy all their molten images, and quite pluck down all their high places”–Numbers 33:51, 52 (Compare Exodus 23:24, 32, 33; 34:12-17; Deuteronomy 7:2-5, 25, 26; 12:1, 3, 30, 31; 20:16-18; Joshua 23:7; Judges 2:2).
In the New Testament, the repentant Ephesians burned their books of sorcery. “Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver”–Acts 19:19.
It does not say that they burned all of the books there were, but only that there were some books which, regardless of their worldly worth, were better burnt. Likewise, there may be some things which the world considers of “literary value,” but which, because of their ability to cause little ones to stumble, we are better off leaving alone until a mature age, or, in some cases, leaving alone altogether.
“And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell”–Matthew 5:29, 30.
We must be willing to give up everything of this world before we can redeem any of it back for the Lord's use. “So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple”–Luke 14:33. The world's values cannot be our values.
Ten Principles for Choosing What to Read
Here are some of the principles which we have developed for our family in order to discern which literature to “redeem” and which to “burn.”
1. DO WHAT IS PLEASING TO THE LORD.
“That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God”–Colossians 1:10. “But without faith it is impossible to please him…”–Hebrews 11:6.
If you go places you ought not go, and see things you ought not see, and hear things you ought not hear, you'll end up doing things you ought not do. We can hear someone say, “Well, the Bible is full of descriptions of wicked deeds of men.” True, but the Bible also tells us what to think about all of that wickedness. And though the Bible is not particularly graphic in description of depravity, there are sections of the Bible which we simply do not read to young children. The Hebrews would not allow a young child to read the Song of Solomon–not that the Song of Solomon is wicked, but that some of the material is not appropriate for a little child. We must not cause little ones to stumble.
“But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of offences [/stumblings]! for it must needs be that offences [/stumblings] come; but woe to that man by whom the offence [/stumbling] cometh!–Matthew 18:6, 7.
2. DO NOT FOLLOW THE WORLD.
“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God”–Romans 12:2.
We do not need to adopt the world's values and standards in order to fit in and to prove to the world that we are not inferior. We are not looking for their friendship or approval. Do not allow the world to define you. If you are a Christian, then you must allow the Lord to define you and all that you do, as you seek to please Him. Do not decline to define all things from a Christian perspective.
Worldliness is bred by a lack of mature separation from the world. We are not saying “be Amish”–indeed, the Amish have their own peculiar form of worldliness, in their own peculiar little world. The Old Testament had childish rules–touch not, taste not, handle not–fitting their primitive culture made from the elementary principles of the world (Colossians 2:20, 31; Galatians 4:3). The New Testament requires maturity–not childish rules, but fuller understanding. Under the Gospel, all things are lawful when used lawfully, but the liberty of the gospel is a liberty of maturity (James 1:25) to do things to the glory of God, not to indulge the flesh.
3. DO NOT ALLOW THE WORLD TO FOLLOW YOU.
“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world”–James 1:27. “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life”–Proverbs 4:23.
The world wants to be your friend–but only on their terms. There is no neutrality. If a piece of literature cannot be used to build Christian culture in our children, then, no matter how neutral it may seem, it will be used to build something culturally anti-Christian in our children. The world will defile us, spot us, with ungodliness and worldly lusts. The comedy plays of Aristophanes, for example, are full of perverse topics which defile the imagination and the conscience. Even the pagan Plutarch criticized Aristophanes' plays as disgusting and degrading (Morals, X, 1.467 and 4.471-473). Where do we go to get our purity back?
4. THERE IS ONLY SO MUCH TIME IN THE DAY.
“Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time”–Colossians 4:5. There are many things which we can do, but how is our time best spent? Wasting time is anti-Christian.
5. OLDER DOES NOT NECESSARILY MEAN BETTER.
“Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ”–Colossians 2:8. The better things are often older things, but just because something is “old” does not mean it is good.
Have you ever read any of the works by John Bunyan? Have you read Robinson Crusoe? These are wonderful pieces of literature which you will want your children to read over and over.
The Greek historians such as Xenophon or Thucydides may prove useful in studying history–though we must understand that they are writing from their unbelieving perspective, and they are men reporting the lies and distortions of themselves and others.
The Canterbury Tales is full of gross and profane babble unfit for little eyes or ears, and anything one might miss by not reading it will be made up by what he will get from reading something else. There may be sections which would prove of some value, but we have better use for our time than to pull on the chore boots and wade through the muck for a few kernels of corn.
Do you have a copy of Ovid's Metamorphoses in your house? We suggest that you put it on a very high shelf.
We made the children read Beowulf in its unabridged form, then write a paper on it. Hans' paper was entitled Beer-wulf: A Story of How God Used a Monster to Rid the Land of the Beer Halls. Enough said.
6. IS THIS PROFITABLE?
All things are lawful for us as Christians–but only if we use them lawfully. “All things are lawful for me, but not all things do benefit…”First Corinthians 6:12 (v.l.t.). All things are lawful for us as Christians, but only if we use them lawfully–according to their proper use.
“But we know that the law of God is good, if a man use it lawfully”–First Timothy 1:8. “Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body”–First Corinthians 6:13. We cannot abuse things in a way which contradicts God's law.
Paul narrows the field of uses down to those things which do benefit. The word translated benefit literally means to bring things together so as to make a helpful contribution. Pythagoras and Euclid may have developed useful geometry, but their philosophy is foolishness. A study of their philosophy would be useful only as a study in the carnal speculative mind–a study which has much more limited use than geometry. All things must be made to serve the Lord Jesus, or they serve no good purpose. Lest you think we are advocating some extremely narrow and strict philosophy of use, well, we aren't–Jesus is. We are not judges of other men's uses. They must answer for their own uses. There may be things which they can use but we cannot, and vice versa, simply because of the differences in our constitutions, abilities, and experiences.
7. DOES THIS PROMOTE GOOD HABITS?
“…All things are lawful for me, but I myself will not be brought under the control of anything–1 Corinthians 6:12 (v.l.t.).
What we study should be of the nature which can take control of us–as an addiction, an obsession, or a dominating habit which makes such demands upon us that godly ways are no longer in control. We must not be made servant to ungodliness. One application to classical literature is that we must not pub classical and Biblical together on an equal basis. This constitutes and unequal yoke, and the classical will always emerge as dominant. We must make all things serve the Biblical. We must never make the servant the master.
8. WILL READING THIS FURTHER MY EDUCATION?
“…All things are lawful for me, but not all things do edify”–1 Corinthians 10:23 (v.l.t.).
Edify means to build up, to promote proper growth. Some things do not promote healthy growth. Some things promote perverted growth. It may serve some edifying purposes to be aware, at a mature age, that some perversions exist, but it is never edifying to dwell upon and explore the depths of depravity. Never.
“Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men. Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away”–Proverbs. 4:14, 15. “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret”–Ephesians 5:11, 12.
There are some works which, if they are to be read–particularly by children, then they should be expurgated. Expurgated means the graphic obscenities are purged out–either in the text itself, or when the parent reads the text out loud. Though the Greek and Roman historians and biographers (such as Herodotus, Livy, Plutarch, and Diogenes Laertius) must be read if you want any idea of ancient history, nevertheless, now and then, you will find passages which will make you blush.
9. DOES THIS MATERIAL HAVE LASTING VALUE?
“And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away”–First Corinthians 7:31.
Only those things which are of the Lord are of lasting value. Everything else will pass away. If something cannot be redeemed for His use, then it is useless. If it cannot serve Biblical goals, then it will necessarily work to undermine Biblical foundations by pursuing other worldly goals. Some of the speeches of Pericles, Isocrates, and Demosthenes are significant examples for historical, political, and rhetorical content, but only so long as they are redeemed for the Master's use.
10. WHEN IN DOUBT, LEAVE IT OUT
“…For whatsoever is not of faith is sin”–Romans 14:23.
Like the stuff that's been in the refrigerator for a long time, and it doesn't look–or smell–quite right, “When in doubt, throw it out.” Life is too short, and things are too many, to be fretting over a few little things which, if we discover they are really so important, can always be picked up in more mature years. We never reach the point where we say, “There's nothing to do.” There are too many things to do, and we almost relish the opportunity to eliminate something.
Whether or not you agree with our understanding of these principles, you should agree to the value of establishing some principles. Parents are subject to peer pressure as well–even classical Homeschooling peer pressure. If someone shares their long list of classics which their children are reading, then do not begin to doubt or fret, but look back at your list of principles and stick to them.
We once followed lists. We were using a curriculum which required the reading of Greek mythology. Our children observed that it was full of immorality and they did not think they should be reading it. We had never read it, but we trusted the curriculum, and suspected that they wanted to escape the assignment–until we read it! We repented. It did not agree with our principles on how to evaluate literature.
Require your child to read those classical works which agree with your family's principles, and forget the rest. There are a large number of classical works which are good reading, and there is only so much time in the day.
Where to Draw the Line
We all recognize that it is necessary to draw the line somewhere, but sometimes it can be difficult to see where that line should be drawn. There is no rulebook which gives us exhaustive directions. Different situations call for different judgments, and those judgments must be made in a mature way, by applying sound principles. Here are some of the borders:
1. Between the sacred and the profane. We must not treat the Bible as if it is just another book. All works of men are profane. The Bible is sacred, and though men have, through faulty copying, introduced incidental errors into the text, the Bible is not fundamentally harmed by man's mistakes. It has been preserved through the ages as the only infallible guide to all truth. So we don't treat the Bible, God's Word, to the same kind of criticism as we do man's word.
2. Between the godly and the ungodly. Though John Bunyan and Aesop are both men, Pilgrim's Progress and Aesop's Fables are in different leagues. They aren't even playing the same game. One is from a man who knew the light and walked in the light, the other is from a blind man who stumbled in the darkness. The first may be improved upon, but the second must be redeemed and transformed under the light.
3. Between the decent and the indecent–the coarse, crude, lewd, obscene, pornographic, outrageous, unconscionable, unprincipled, corrupt, unscrupulous–well, you get the idea. The writings of Sophocles, one of the great Greek tragic dramatists, reflect his sexually perverse and immoral life. Sigmund Freud appropriated the plot of one of his plays, Oedipus Rex, for his perverse theories of sexuality.
4. Between what is appropriate for children, and what adults may be able to tolerate. Young children ought not to be exposed to indecencies. This even applies to some portions of the Bible. Though the adult may be able to wash away the incidental indecency, no adult is able to withstand a steady bath of the indecent.
5. Between the worthwhile and the worthless. The world is full of “decent” but worthless things. The devil doesn't need to keep us busy with pursuing evil. So long as he can keep us from pursuing the worthwhile, his purpose is accomplished. Work your way through Pilgrim's Progress before you dream along through some brainless novel or detective story.
6. Between the good and the best. Life is short, and there is only so much time in the day. How may we best redeem the time? These are hard decisions to make, and we learn this only by experience, and we never learn this perfectly.
7. Between the best and the best. You will eventually discern that God is calling you in a certain direction in life. When confronted with many of the best choices, you will eventually learn to choose many things according to what literature best fits your calling.
These rules should apply to ancient as well as modern literature. If we wouldn't allow our children to read Tom Jones or Heather Has Two Mommies, then why should we allow them to read The Iliad by Homer or The Frogs by Aristophanes?
There is some literature which is worthy to be burnt. Whatever causes you our your children to stumble should be “burnt” to you. We are not suggesting that we burn all classical literature of every sort. It's too late to do that anyway. But we do think some of it could be burned with no great loss. (There are plenty of modern writings of the same type to which we would gladly put a match.) But if we burned it all, then we would need to reinvent some of it–in a redeemed form.
[Editor's note: This material is taken from pp. 216-223 of Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn's excellent book Teaching the Trivium: Christian Homeschooling in a Classical Style, copyright 2001 by the Bluedorns and published by Trivium Pursuit, PMB 168, Muscatine, IA 52761 (www.triviumpursuit.com). It is reprinted here with permission. This is an excellent resource for homeschoolers, whether they follow the Trivium and use a “Classical” style or not. As Mr. and Mrs. Bluedorn note, they specifically apply these principles to ancient literature considered “classic,” but they can be equally applied to modern literature as well. WSW.]
READING GOOD LITERATURE
by Nathaniel Bluedorn
The year I turned five my mother read the Little House series aloud to my brother and my sisters and me. That was the beginning of a long procession of books she and Dad have been reading ever since. The pictures I drew of those stories and the portraits I painted of the characters in them, are illustrations in my childhood memories. I enjoyed the many hours my parents spent reading to us, and I believe they contributed to molding me into the person that I am. I want to inspire you also to read to your children, and spend as many happy hours with them as my parents experienced reading to us.
Why should you read good literature aloud to your children?
I want to list the benefits I believe your children will receive from hearing you read good literature aloud to them.
Firstly, by listening to stories of other people and places, your children become spectators of a more complete set of experiences than they would normally meet in their short childhood. A wide variety of good literature will broaden your children's horizons beyond just themselves, their personal experiences, and limited surroundings. While remaining in a cozy living room listening to his father or mother read, any child can travel the world, examine exotic places, eavesdrop on stimulating conversations between notable characters in trying situations, or participate in eye-opening and thought provoking incidents from the annals of history.
Secondly, classic books have character, and they will teach character to your children. That is not to say that all the people who inhabit books are examples to emulate. In Oliver Twist Charles Dickens describes for you many despicable villains, yet, he contrasts them with the childish innocence of the workhouse waif, “Oliver,” who is kidnaped by “Fagin,” the thief-trainer. Only the best authors teach good character by contrasting it with bad. With comments here and there you can impart the good character and denounce the bad.
Thirdly, great books are the works of great minds. What better way is there to learn from the literary masters than to read the thoughts and examples that fell from their pens. There is no better way to engrave those beautiful descriptive sentences onto your child's mind than to read examples to them at an early age.
Fourthly, by reading books that use challenging words at an advanced reading level your child's vocabulary will be enlarged and his understanding of grammar will deepen. If you worry that it may be difficult for your child, remember that you will always be there to help. With a greater understanding of the English language gained at an early age, your child may sooner advance to reading more difficult literature to himself.
Fifthly, which way would provoke more interest in a period of history: suffering through a list of dates in a dry textbook, or seeing a real person living in an historical novel? The Scarlet Pimpernel spurred me to learn more about France around the time of her bloody Revolution. This led me to Napoleon and then to the lost Louis XVII. What would provoke your child to learn about the War Between the States and slave trade more than hearing Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin? What would spark a young boy's interest in Medieval times and knights in shining armor more than Pyle's Men of Iron and Otto of the Silver Hand? Would not the Little House series kindle a fire for pioneer life in a girl? History is something to experience, not just memorize.
I remember sitting cozily next to my mother on one wicked, windy, winter afternoon while she read to us Washington [Irving]'s Tales of the Alhambra. I remember our whole family listening suspended in our seats while Dad read Russel's The Wreck of the Grosvenor. Every time Dad asked if we should stop, we would all shout for him to go on. If you explore the world of good literature with your children when they are young, they will love you for it then and appreciate it when they are older. I am very grateful to my parents for reading aloud to men when I was young.
How should you read aloud to your children?
The way my parents read aloud to us rewarded our family with many memorable hours spent with fine stories. I will show you the recipe my parents used when reading to my family. It might not work for everyone but these ideas may lay a foundation to build upon.
My mother read regularly in the afternoon when school was finished. She used reading aloud as a reward, encouraging us to finish our school work so that we might return to our book. She persevered in instilling in us the habit of listening quietly while she read. We were allowed, however, to busy our hands with simple things like drawing or playing with toys. The girls would sometimes crochet and we boys build with blocks, so long as we stayed within ear shot and were not distracted from Mother's reading. She encouraged us to ask questions when we did not understand some new twist in the plot of our book, or when we were introduced to a new word that we had never heard before. Mother read for an hour or two depending on how soon her voice tired, though sometimes we would continue enwrapped by an exceptionally bonnie tale all afternoon and well on into the evening. In showing her own love for reading, Mother synthesized the same love in us.
My Dad read from another book for an hour or so before our bed time. The books that he read had more action and followed a more lively story line. There is something about Sherlock Holmes and stories of adventure like Treasure Island that lend themselves more to being read in the evening.
One way to discover if your children are truly understanding a story is to ask them questions about what they just heard, or by having them retell what they remember of the story at the end of a chapter. This is called narration.
Let me impart a lesson our family learned early: Television admits of no competition. Nothing can compete with the T. V. As long as there is a choice between watching something on T. V. or listening to a book, any child and most adults will choose the less mentally exerting road and switch on the boob-tube. But the more your family gelatinates before the visual stimuli of a cathode ray tube the less your family will want to engage in any more healthy mental exercise. Why do children who sprout under the artificial light of a Television develop very little imagination for things? Yet children whose minds ripen in the healthy sunshine of wholesome literature mature with creativity they can revel in all their born days.
Never read a book that does not interest you, personally. Your lack of enthusiasm will come out in your voice no matter how you try to hide it. Besides, what is wrong with teaching your children to enjoy the same stories that you, yourself, enjoy?
Do not be afraid to read long epic novels even to your young children. The complex characterizations in the works of Dickens, Hawthorne or Hugo and the plots of R. L. Stevenson or Verne do seep into those little skulls full of mush. Your young children may not seem to catch something at first, but you may be sure that all the details have been tucked away in their memory. Later, when they are older and have developed better analytical skills, they will understand the true significance of the books they heard.
What literature should you read to your children?
What are the “classics”? Should you only read the “classics” to your children? Are there “classics” that should not be read, also are there books, not considered “classics,” that should be read?
First let me define my terms. If you ask a librarian, she will tell you that the “classics” are books that have endured the test of time. Some people get them confused with ancient Greek and Roman literature, but that is not what we are talking about. To me the classics are those books that have found their way into the hearts and minds of readers for several generations. They are books that have been read for many years and recommended to succeeding generations because of the lessons they teach and the enjoyment they give. For his book to gain this enduring approval, an author must give more than a passing thrill to his readers. He must captivate an audience but also leave the remaining mark of truth and virtue.
But, not all books that are called “classics” are good books and not all good books are called “classics.” There are many “classic” books that you would very much regret reading to your children. Also, there are many good books that you and your children would find edifying and enjoyable but have not gathered enough classical dust or have been forgotten.
An example of a “modern classic” is Incident at Hawk's Hill which any librarian will tell you will be a classic given enough time. While an example of an “unknown classic” is The Adventures of Perrine which my mother found when searching the library for books that appeared old by their faded covers.
Stay away from “light reading.” By “light reading” I have in mind most modern books that were written in everyday and even conversational English with oversimplified grammar, stunted vocabularies, and that allow their characters to remain undeveloped. Examples of light reading are: the Hardy Boys series; Nancy Drew series; or The Boxcar Children. Also, do not read an abridged book. If a book is good enough for you to read aloud to your children, it is good enough to read in the author's original words. No abridgment ever made a book better than it was. It is like cutting Mona Lisa's smile out of its background–the painting loses much of its original texture, beauty and context.
For parents who have never or rarely read aloud to their children, I recommend some simple stories that go off with a bang: Penrod, The Door in the Wall, The Matchlock Gun, Johnny Tremain, King of the Wind, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.
For parents who have read to their children but have never developed an appetite for quality literary food, I have a few recommendations: Hitty, Her First Hundred Years; Men of Iron; Lassie Come Home; The Yearling; The Hobbit; Swallows and Amazons; and Swiss Family Robinson.
For parents who have read aloud and strive to read good literature to their children but who desire a book that will challenge them and stretch the limits of their understanding I have a few recommendations: The Moonstone, Les Miserables, Ivanhoe, The Black Arrow, Ben Hur.
I hope that what I have written has inspired you to plunge deeper than 20,000 leagues under the sea and to soar even higher than the moon on your literary journeys. [–written in 1993 and reprinted with permission from the introduction to Hand that Rocks the Cradle (Fourth Edition, 2003), published by Trivium Pursuit, PMB 168, Muscatine, IA 52761 (www.triviumpursuit.com). I have a couple of comments. First, in regard to “light reading,” just as there is a place for dessert but we need to eat more than just dessert, so there is a place for “light reading” but we need to do more than just “light reading.” Second, in regard to abridged books, I personally agree with the author's disdain for them, especially in reading aloud, but I also recognize that there are situations where the unabridged version may simply be beyond a certain child's capacity for comprehension, but he can read the abridged version, obtain a basic understanding of the plot, even gain an appreciation for it, and then later attack the unabridged version with a better understanding. WSW.]