Saturday, November 24, 2012

More Hard Thinking about Easy Reading

I heard from a number of you when I approached the complex subject of "what" our children should be reading and intend to continue probing it. For the home educating parent, reading is undeniably crucial. Beyond the challenge of our children accomplishing the actual skill of reading the written word, there is that immense ocean of written material--making choices about which books to read is for many of us an overwhelming undertaking. I touched on the importance of books as the means of conveying knowledge, as Charlotte Mason said, "We read to know," our responsibility to put our children in the way of great literature so they get in touch with great ideas to feed their naturally curious and active minds, and how our all-too-often inadequate background in great literature ourselves contributes to our feelings of inadequacy and faltering hesitancy to do so. This was revealed in that common reflection I hear: "Well, at least they're reading, right?"

Whether easily or laboriously, we do manage to get them reading. This is important. Reading, after all, is not a naturally acquired skill as are eating, walking, talking, or climbing trees. Once learned, it is simply useful for survival in our culture, to read signs, directions, and instructions. However, the art of reading well, whether for formal lessons or leisure enjoyment is an entirely different skill. It is an art. How well we develop this art is my concern today.

There is a vast difference between passing our eyes over a page of words to pass the time and submerging our mind in intriguing and challenging ideas. In the house of literature, there are a thousand rooms on every level. No one disputes that there is a difference between reading for fun and reading for instruction, but what  is fun to read is also an acquired habit. It is possible that our children's leisure reading could be of higher caliber than it is. For example, I recently read an article by a gentleman who confessed to being a reluctant reader. He loved having his mother read aloud to him and really didn't want to have to do it for himself.  When she made it clear it was time and he had no choice, she handed him three sets of books to begin with: the complete works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, James Fenimore Cooper, and Sir Walter Scott. He was seven years old. The choice of literature did not hinder him at all since these were the works he had been hearing for years and was completely comfortable with. You may remember that Charlotte Mason also cut her  reading teeth on Defoe and Scott. Do you think we've slipped just a bit in what we expect of our children?

Mark Twain in typical caustic fashion, once bluntly said, "The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them at all." Ouch.

Another beloved and respected author had this to say on the subject at hand:

"Long before the bane of television invaded our every waking moment, most people in modern industrialized cultures were at least marginally able to read. They just don't. The majority, though they are sometimes frequent readers, do not set much store by reading. They turn to it as a last resource; they abandon it with alacrity as soon as any alternative pastime comes up. It's kept for railway journeys, illnesses, odd moments of enforced solitude, or for that process lamentably called "reading oneself to sleep." They sometimes combine it with desultory conversation, often with listening to the radio.
"But literary people are always looking for leisure and silence in which to read and do so with their whole attention. When they are denied such attention for undisturbed reading, even for a few days, they feel starved, impoverished...There is a profound puzzlement on the part of the mass of the citizenry over the tastes and the habits of the literate. It is pretty clear that the majority, if they spoke without passion and were fully articulate, would not accuse us of liking the wrong books, but of making such a fuss about books at all. We treat as a main ingredient in our well-beings something which to them is marginal. Hence, to say simply that they like one thing and we like another is to leave out nearly the whole of the facts. 
"All this is not to imply any hint of moral interpretation on the part of modern bohemianism, but rather, it is to recognize the simple reality of the gaping chasm that exists between those who read and those who do not." (C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism)

In the more than 50 years since he wrote these thoughts, I think any honest observer must acknowledge that this chasm is now a gulf. Is it possible to reclaim any ground, to bridge the gulf, to truly become literate and raise literate children? I pray so. This is not only why we operate this library, but why I personally am  diligently applying myself to reading deeper, more difficult, and challenging works myself. I do not know how to encourage my own children or yours if I don't do so.

I think a key to our success in this endeavor lies in Charlotte Mason's final principle stated:

"We allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and spiritual life of children, but teach them that the divine spirit has constant access to their spirits and is their continual helper in all interests, duties, and joys of life." (Principle 20)

Are not books one of the means to accomplish this? She thought so. There is no truth apart from God. He alone is truth. Even pagans have no truth that is not revealed by Him. We "Owe it to our children," as she said, "To put them in the way of great books."

George Grant would agree:

"One of the things vitally important for us today is to learn HOW to read. When we know our Bibles and then go to John Milton or William Shakespeare, suddenly themes come to life like never before. And when we read Milton and Shakespeare, we're reshaped in how we can go to the Psalms, or to Lamentations, or to those great narrative sections of Exodus where we have the great songs of Moses - when we begin to hone our literary skills both in and out of the Bible, it reshapes our soul.
"When we learn how to read well, we begin to see themes and richness, the influence of a Biblical worldview everywhere. It enables us to have an articulate appreciation of our culture and it shapes the way we think and talk and act. It gives us appetites and reforms our palates in a way that almost nothing else can do." 

For all this we are not "left desolate." We, as well as our children, have a Divine Help, a Divine Guide. The Holy Spirit will instruct as we have been promised, "He, The Spirit of truth...He will guide you into all truth." (John 16:13)

So as in all other areas of life, solving this change from lazy or indifferent reading to loving and intentional reading again comes down to believing God.

For the joy of reading,

Liz

8 comments:

  1. Thank you for this post, I am just starting to introduce books that I found on your lists. Books are becoming a really big part of our homeschooling household, thank you for your dedication. Tara.

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    1. Tara,

      Thank you. I'm glad we can help you in your reading adventure.

      Liz

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  2. Another thoughtful post, Liz. I wholeheartedly agree with you. Children can handle more than we think. I believe, perhaps, that children today are more distracted by multimedia and endless, easy entertainment then children in Miss Mason's day. We have this added obstacle to deal with when teaching our children. It can be daunting, but it's certainly not insurmountable. The rewards are worth the effort.

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    1. lindafay,

      Thank you for not just giving thought to this subject, but working diligently to correct it as well. My next post will deal with some of the rewards you refer to, and the necessity of deliberate, intentional stamina and tenacity of the parent to set the example for their children. It is not just reading in which our modern age is lacking. I struggle against the forces pulling us away from books as much as anyone, but know the victory will have lasting effects. Thank you again for your comments.

      Liz

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  3. Enjoyed reading your post and the challenge it ensues for us teaching our children. I agree the chasm is now a gulf and getting across is not insurmountable it is a chance to trust God to lead us into all truth. I also agree with what you wrote that beginning myself to read challenging but rich works of literature for it will foster the authentic encouragement to give to my children to do the same. I suspect it will give me also the sensitivity to know how to push and how to woo. I also agree with Mr. Lewis when he wrote,

    "But literary people are always looking for leisure and silence in which to read and do so with their whole attention. When they are denied such attention for undisturbed reading, even for a few days, they feel starved, impoverished"

    I wonder what you would recommend to be the art/trick to win/train them over to the love it enough to work for it.

    Thank you.

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    1. Sarah,

      I'm glad you are enjoying reading and thinking about reading better, as well as getting your children to do so. I don't think there are any simple or easy answers to bridging the gulf. One thing is certain, standing on the shore or paddling at the edge is not going to get us across. I know for myself that I not only feel starved if I am too otherwise occupied so that I can't read, I get downright cranky. At any rate, it will take work on your part, but as with all worthy endeavors, it is more than worth the effort. I'm pretty sure I cannot possibly even outline the rewards because they are multitudinous and far beyond increased knowledge and understanding. They will literally permeate your children's entire way of life, the
      thinking that will affect every decision they make, their personality. It takes patience, though, because time will tell and it takes years of good reading, but every one of those years will get more enjoyable.

      Keep up the reading.

      Liz

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  4. It is absolutely priceless when a child or adult smiles and takes a story into their heart and soul: a friend for life. Plus they want to tell the world , so to speak! I'm bringing a stack of Emma's favorite books during 7th and 8th grade to a CM meeting this week that she wishes even adults would read! Today she said, "You must read Judith of France!" ( don't tell Emily I haven't yet!)

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    1. Bonnie,

      Priceless is the word. Sometimes they plow through many a book before you see that. It is most delightful to hear my adult children converse about books we read when they were small and to realize the impact the books had that I was unaware of then.

      I would love to see a list of Emma's favorites. Emily, as well as several girls in our library, have enjoyed Judith of France this year since we bought it at your recommendation last spring.

      Liz

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