This is part two in a series entitled Creating an Environment of Learning for Your Children. We will explore the power of books as a guidepost to your child’s educational and spiritual development while inspiring them to a rich inner life that leads to greatness. I hope to give you some resources that will inform and equip you but most of all, I hope to encourage you and your children to read the great classic books of the past, and to use those books as a cornerstone for your life.
Our culture seems to have all but forsaken the written word. We live in an image-obsessed age where ‘screens’ have completely invaded every part of our lives. Even most of our churches have been invaded by the big screen. And when we do read, it’s usually something written in the last 2 years, or worse the last 2 days. We have become unfamiliar with and ungrateful for the wealth of great writers, intellectuals, and heroes that have shaped the very way of life we now deem so precious. And you might ask, what is so wrong with a society that has become subjugated to images? What about the old adage ‘a picture is worth a thousand words?’ Gene Veith’s book Reading Between the Lines
begins with a powerful first chapter
on the importance of the written word.
As television turns our society into an increasingly image-dominated culture, Christians must continue to be people of the Word. When we read, we cultivate a sustained attention span, an active imagination, a capacity for logical analysis and critical thinking, and a rich inner life. Each of these qualities, which have proven themselves essential to a free people, is under assault in our TV-dominated culture. Christians, to maintain their Word-centered perspective in an image-driven world, must become readers.
Vieth quotes Neil Postman who wrote extensively on the subject of image-dominate media.
Postman explores the differences between the mental processes involved in reading and those involved in television watching. Reading demands sustained concentration, whereas television promotes a very short attention span. Reading involves (and teaches) logical reasoning, whereas television involves (and teaches) purely emotional responses. Reading promotes continuity, the gradual accumulation of knowledge, and sustained exploration of ideas. Television, on the other hand, fosters fragmentation, anti-intellectualism, and immediate gratification.
So, how do we ‘get back on track’? How do we turn back the tide and reclaim our children from the images that dominate our culture? The best way to is to set the example yourself. A Thomas Jefferson Education lays out a clear plan.
“Set the example by reading, pondering, writing about and discussing classics, sharing your love and ideas with your students (children). Then they get inspired, go to work, find the study difficult, and come back to you for encouragement.”
We NEED books. We must turn off the screens . We need to teach our children that reading is THE most important part of their education. Teaching them to read great books is likely the single most important thing you can do for their educational development and for their spiritual growth.
For Their Educational Development
1. Reading reinforces the truth that we alone are responsible for our own learning. We’ve been handed a pernicious lie in our society. We expect someone to teach us the things we need to know. We have been taught to pawn off the responsibility of our learning to someone else. We are taught the learn the bare minimum: the ‘Will this be on the test’ mentality. And this mind-set wreaks havoc on one’s desire and love for learning. Learning is hard work. It takes time, sustained concentration, and some solitude— three things we seem to all be in short supply of. We want ‘sound bites’ instead of depth and spoon feeding instead of the difficulty of ‘digesting’ difficult vocabulary and complex sentence structure.
2. Reading great books connects us with great minds and thinkers of the past, who have been where we are, faced what we face, and have often done so with a dignity and character that can rarely be found in modern society. We learn the stories of Cleopatra, Esther, Augustine, Prince Caspian, King Arthur, and Tom Sawyer; stories of redemption and adventure that inspire us to greater and nobler pursuits in our own life. Nothing personal against modern writers, but there’s little to inspire my 7 year old from a Junie B. Jones book. She can learn disrespectful language almost anywhere. But introduce her to the sisters of Little Woman or the adventures of Joan of Arc and then watch the magic begin. Next thing you know, she’s staging tea parties and pretending to ride on horseback, and without ever verbalizing it, she’s creating a rich inner life. Where her thoughts and dreams become entangled with those of the heroines she’s read about; where she begins to come alive and believe that she is part of a grand story.
3. It inspires us to be creative, industrious, and virtuous. I cannot count on my hands the times this year my girls have read a great book and then been inspired to make or invent something or to draw and paint or to bake and sew. It’s true for me too. Great books change us. They change the way we look at the world. They change the way we see ourselves. They move us to stretch our minds, to challenge our assumptions, to grow, and to refuse to stop learning.
For Their Spiritual Development
1. Christianity is a faith based on WORDS. We have a historic tradition that has been handed down to us as words on a page. We, of all people, must be people who read and value the written word. Our very life and faith depends on it. God warned His people early on about ‘graven images’. Pagan societies have always been image-centered and we seem determined as a culture to let images be our master. Veith says this tendency toward image and emotion has invaded our church life as well:
As evangelicals, we too are tempted to conform to the world rather than to the Word, just as the children of Israel were tempted by their neighbors’ graven images and the thought-forms these embodied. We too often stress feeling rather than truth. We tend to seek emotional religious experiences rather than the cross of Jesus Christ. Because we expect worldly “blessings,” we do not know how to endure suffering. We want to “name it and claim it”—instantly—rather than submit ourselves without reservation to the will of God. We are impatient with theology, and we dismiss history, thus disdaining the faith of our brothers and sisters who have gone before us and neglecting what they could teach us. We want entertaining worship services—on the order of a good TV show—rather than worship that focuses on the holiness of God and His Word. We want God to speak to us in visions and inner voices rather than in the pages of His Word. We believe in the Bible, but we do not read it very much.
2. Christians should be a well-informed and thinking people. Sustained serious reading, when modeled by parents, will teach children the value of personal discipline. It’s easier to watch Stuart Little than to read it. It’s far easier to watch Ben Hur than to read and memorize and meditate on the Ten Commandments. But as we know, anything worth having is worth working hard for. We must model for them the dedication and discipline it takes to educate ourselves. It will inspire them to seek truth on their own and equip them to identify falsehoods and posers.
The Practical Side—What to Do Now?
~Literally, surround them with great books. Start building a library of great books. Antique stores are often a great place to find classic books cheap. And most book stores have a section of classic literature and they are usually the cheapest books in the store. Try yard sales or Goodwill. The point of reading classics is that you’ll want to read them over and over again, so start accumulating your own copies.
~Visit the library often and monitor what they get—a few ‘fluff’ books won’t hurt them, but teach them to search out quality works too. I followed the Well-Trained Mind advice and make them get a biography, historical work, science-related book and then whatever else they want–each week.
~Give books as gifts—it teaches them that you truly value the printed word.
~Read to them, have them read to you, provide ample opportunity to listen to audio books, memorize poetry, bible passages, or quotes. ie……WORDS are important. WORDS are AMAZING!
~Make reading fun. Snuggle with them, stop and talk about the characters, ask them anticipatory questions to see how their logical skills are developing, and most of all, pick great books. Do interesting projects based on the books you read. Cook food from the time period or country from which the book was written. Use online cliff notes such as sparknotes to aid in your own understanding of plot, setting, and character analysis.
Having a plan for your reading will increase your success. I use The Well-Educated Mind
to educate myself. It lays out a reading plan that can be tailored to meet your time constraints. I even started a bookclub
based on this book and you can join us online this fall, as we tackle great thinkers like Plato, deToqueville, and Thomas Paine. If you don’t have a group to read with, join us this fall. It’ll at least give you a deadline, which is key for me finishing difficult books.
So, if we can agree that we should read, the next question is what to read. All books are not created equal. What is a great book? There are many definitions, but any book that can be read over and over again without you wanting to poke sharps objects through the your eardrums is usually a great book. And as much as I loved reading Twilight, I never once thought of reading it again. You can easily ‘get it all’ in the first time through. Not so with The Hobbit. Or Treasure Island. Or even Beatrix Potter.
There are many available lists of recommended books for children. I like this
one, which you might argue contains only books written at least 90 years ago or longer. This
one is very much more comprehensive and is broken down by ages, starting from birth.
My most important advice, open a classic and keep turning the pages. Great books are challenging, but as you exercise that part of your brain, it gets stronger and more fit for the task. There is no substitute for reading the great works of the past.
P.S. I just posted a new post
for Rhoda’s thrifty treasures party. Visit here
to see everyone’s ‘finds’.