The sole substitute for an experience we have not ourselves lived through is art and literature. –Alexander Solzhenitsyn
At the Great Homeschool Convention in Ontario, California, June 12-14th, I will be presenting a session on Early American History Through Literature. This presentation will explore the power of studying the history of our nation through literature, rather than standard textbooks. The joys and advantages of learning history when it is taught through narrative are too numerous to address in a blog post, but I will address a few here by way of a teaser for my upcoming session next month!
Dana Gioia, man of letters, poet, and social critic has written extensively on the importance of literature in society. In an article he wrote a few years ago, titled “Why literature matters: good books help make a civil society”, Gioia notes how dramatic declines in the reading of literature have negatively impacted our society. This decline has manifested itself in dismal historic knowledge, such that college seniors cannot pass a high school level American history test of basic knowledge; the corporate world laments that local schools graduate students with poor reading skills, and higher order problem-solving skills dependent upon imagination are at an all-time low.
Other studies cite that 42% of college graduates never pick up another literary work again. The tragedy that this represents is hard to fathom but given an educational system that in many cases blights any love of reading through the imposition of dry lifeless textbooks, it isn’t difficult to imagine that the outcome would be exactly what we are seeing.
One extraordinary advantage of home education is the opportunity it provides families to choose a vast array of literary works and center their studies around those. The benefits of a literature approach are multifaceted and I believe, lifelong. Students who have the option of rich, broad, and expansive literary choices become lifelong lovers of literature and creative problem-solving adults.
Other benefits of literature include a deeper connection and respect of our cultural and literary past. Students who are exposed to a broad range of literary works see the world through a much more hopeful, optimistic, and understanding lens. Reading the thoughts of great minds who have gone before us, understanding and having empathy for their trials, and rejoicing in their triumphs, brings perspective and wisdom.
As Gioia notes in the aforementioned article, literature is also a powerful force for good in society. Important literary works have changed the course of history and brought justice and truth to bear upon society’s ills.
“Indeed we sometimes underestimate how large a role literature has played in the evolution of our national identity, especially in that literature often has served to introduce young people to events from the past and principles of civil society and governance. Just as more ancient Greeks learned about moral and political conduct from the epics of Homer than from the dialogues of Plato, so the most important work in the abolitionist movement was the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Having read Uncle Tom’s Cabin a few times over the course of our home schooling years, I think I can understand in a small way why this novel was able to move a nation in the manner it did. Harriet Beecher Stowe was gifted in helping her readers identify vicariously with the victims of slavery–not just the slaves, but even the inheritors of slaves. Her characterization of the evil effects of slavery on an entire society, slave and master alike, turned the conscience of a nation and became a powerful catalyst for change.
Literature is powerful. For the homeschooling parent, there is no more effective tool in his or her tool chest. This seminar at GHC will explore the literature that has impacted the course of American history, the books to read with your students, the best authors for children, and how to establish a literature-based curriculum that will encourage lovers of literature and life long readers. Sign up now to attend GHC in Ontario, California, June 12-14. If you sign up through the BFB link (here) your registration will help to support the Blickenstaff family as they continue to adapt to life altering challenges. Also, GHC has posted the schedule for the conference, so be sure to go online and check it out! Hope to see you there!