Monday, August 31, 2015

Vision for Children, Final Installment

(The closing remarks from the CMI International Conference, June 20, 2015)

Is this her reason for warning us against getting between the child and the book? We can hinder. Our task is to sow and to keep weeds from preventing growth, removing rocks and roots to give implanted ideas a fighting chance. Here is our God-given duty. Moral choices are required of us for the children’s sake.

I have raised six children and know firsthand how difficult it is to deal with these hindrances to reading. Like weeds which are never eradicated, but need constant pulling, these hindrances demand our continuous attention and effort if we want children to receive moral instruction, and pure joy, from books. To tackle them, we are going to need fortitude–and lots of courage. The greatest hindrance to the reading habit is lack of time and space. Our lives are crammed to bursting. Literature is a wide, wide world and needs lots of elbow room. Reading cannot be squeezed into the tiny cracks we schedule for it. Our struggle is not new. A Parents Review article of 100 years ago challenged, "You wonderful parents, giving your children so many wonderful activities, but what children need is solitude and independence," because we are always supervising, always instructing. At times in my life I felt all I was doing was nagging, "quit fighting, hurry up, find your shoes, we're going to be late." We don't need just to make time for reading, but time for them to digest what they're reading. That can't be done when we're always on the go. When will they play Helen Keller, if we have scheduled life to the brim? The truth is, they may acquire more of the skills, achieve more than we can dream, if they are allowed more freedom to read and play than from all the excellent extra-curriculars we want to fit in.

But, it takes moral courage on our part to say no, to have friends misunderstand, to be different and let our kids have space to  breathe--just be. Allowing space for imagination is a superior activity and life skill worth cultivating. 

And it takes courage to stick to your guns. We lack tenacity. Our doubts and insecurities about their unperceived progress cause us to give up too quickly, always search for a better way. Children aren’t machines, don’t give instant results. Growth is slow day to day. Moral development is slow too. Remember, they’re not just passing time when they’re reading, they’re learning life. Reading is a quiet, but very active practice internally. Practice takes time. Feeding souls takes time–and patience. Some seed may lay dormant for years. There is no better book, better curriculum, perfect booklist, easy shortcut. I know many of you did not grow up with books, feel overwhelmed by the book lists and endless choices, but just find a few good books and actually stick with them to the end. You do not need to fuss about what’s next; books have a way of leading one to another. Don’t worry about your own ignorance, just read and learn along with your children.

But - don't let them read junk. Mason said the reason children are bored with reading is because of the mindless stuff we allow them. Twaddle makes them lazy readers. “Their must never be a period in their lives when they are allowed to read or listen to twaddle or reading made easy" is her advice. In addition, just because they can read and are turning pages, doesn't mean they are involved with the book. One way we can nurture their appetite is to continue reading to them, even after they are independently reading, reading books a little above and beyond their comfort level. This gradually leads them further up and further in–us too. It takes a lifetime to learn to read, and I for one, am still learning how.

And lastly, there's a weed in our century Mason never contended with. Those electronic games and devices your children cannot imagine living without are the biggest deterrent to their connection with books, absolutely do not feed them living ideas, which Mason did say is the food the mind requires. We need to let go of our desire to keep them quiet and occupied with what does not nourish them. It takes courage, but we must see what is at stake. Our goal isn’t good behavior, it is for the law of God to permeate their hearts, the goal is clear vision of God.

It is true that we live in an increasingly illiterate world, but the frightening reality is that we live in a morally illiterate world. Mason said:
“Most important to society is the bringing up of children- in school certainly, but far more in the home, because it is more than anything else the home influences brought to bear upon the children that determine the character and career of the future man or woman." And as important to “educate them to moral strength and purpose and intellectual activity as it is to feed and clothe them.” (Home Education, p. 1)
I’ve told you a little of my life story with books. God has a far bigger story being written and we are all characters in it. In my case, He created a character to come into His world without sight. Why? It seems a cruel act, like Joseph’s brothers sending him to slavery. Every character in his story has a purpose. It jolted me the first time I realized, at 16, that I was a character in someone else’s story as I heard my mother telling someone about a crisis in her life when I was a baby. She had been trying to teach me how to feed myself when she suddenly became utterly overwhelmed with her inadequacy to manage to teach a blind child anything. If only I could have told her then what I know now, that we are all born blind, that everyone of us needs someone else to show us how to live, what to do, to give us vision. It is the eyes of our hearts that need to see, and stories give heart vision. Mother did teach me to feed myself, not just with food, but food for the soul, by ensuring that I was fed a lifetime of stories. All of us have to feel our way, like Irene in MacDonald’s Princess and the Goblin, with an invisible thread to lead us through the unknown, dark mines, a thread God provided when he made us story lovers. And His word is the light for our path, the lamp for our feet.

I hope you will consider, no matter where you are in the journey with living books, making whatever choices you need to give children a story-rich life. Mason’s method was built on one command of Jesus, her educational code, the guiding principle of every thought for children’s education: “Let the little children come unto Me, and forbid them not.” It’s possible for us to hinder them from coming to Him. Let’s not allow our own desires and ambitions stand between our children and their books.

This was her desire, and I close with her words:
“In literature, we have definite ends in view, both for our own children and for the world through them. We wish the children to grow up to find joy and refreshment in the taste, the flavour of a book. We do not mean by a book any printed matter in a binding, but a work possessing certain literary qualities able to bring that sensible delight to the reader which belongs to a literary word fitly spoken. It is a sad fact that we are losing our joy in literary form. We are in such haste to be instructed by facts or titillated by theories, that we have no leisure to linger over the mere putting of a thought. But this is our error, for words are mighty both to delight and to inspire. If we were not as blind as bats, we should long ago have discovered a truth very fully indicated in the Bible––that that which is once said with perfect fitness can never be said again, and becomes ever thereafter a living power in the world. But in literature, as in art, we require more than mere form. Great ideas are brooding over the chaos of our thought; and it is he who shall say the thing we are all dumbly thinking, who shall be to us as a teacher sent from God.” 
Their books are their teachers, used by Him to tune their God-given moral compass, to sharpen their vision so they can see their part in His story, see their duty to others, and, above all, see God Himself. Our part in this work is to open the books, let children enter into them, and know that in doing so, we prepare the way of the Lord.

For the joy of reading,

Liz

4 comments:

  1. This is wonderful, powerful stuff, Liz! I was just reading a bit in Formation this morning and wow...so much to consider and pray over! I REALLY enjoyed this series and hope to refer to it often. Thank you so much. Amy

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    1. Dear Amy,

      Wow! You hung in there for the whole summer. I would appreciate hearing any suggestions you might like us to address in the realm of children and literature for future attention.

      Liz

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  2. This series has been one of great encouragement for me; especially as we get further into high school years.... Thank you, sincerely, for writing so eloquently about the importance of living books as a life long choice for a (my) family.
    God bless you.

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    1. Dear Chelle,

      Thank you for letting me know how this has encouraged you. Enjoy your last years with your children; they fly by in a snap, but the books you share will be a bond always.

      Liz

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