Archive for October, 2012

Why We Want Your Children to Read the Classics

Written by Dr. Stacy Loyd, Elementary Academic Dean

In her honors thesis for Liberty University, Lauren Umstead (2011) synthesized classic Christian author C.S. Lewis’ views on reading literature. “‘It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between’(Lewis, 1970, p. 201-202). Additionally, he advised the average reader that, if he needs to choose between a new or old book, he should choose the old because ‘he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusively temporary diet’ (p. 201). The danger in new books, he explained, is that the book is still ‘on trial [and must still] be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light’ (p. 201). The central reason Lewis offered for reading old as opposed to modern books is that older ones have stood the test of time, whereas modern ones have not had adequate time to be judged and deemed worthy to be read” (Umstead, 2011, p. 18).

“Lewis offers further evidence for the value of old books: those that have stood the test of time are valuable because they reveal the mistakes of the era in which they were written. By learning from these past mistakes, readers are better equipped to avoid similar mistakes in their own age. He explains that, since each age contains a particular dominant view of life, a book from that era is particularly good at both ‘seeing certain truths and . . . liable to [make] certain mistakes (Lewis, 1970, p. 202). Everyone needs ‘books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of [their] own period. And that means the old books’ (p. 202). Old books often contain ideas that run counter to contemporary worldviews or issues and are beneficial for the way that they often reveal the possible flaws behind current ideas. Often writers, though seemingly ‘as completely opposed as two sides could be were all the time secretly united—united with each other and against earlier and later ages—by a great mass of common assumptions ‘ (p. 202). Therefore, reading old books is preferable to new ones because not only can they help readers identify mistakes of past ages but those same books will also enable them to better understand the problems of their own age” (Umstead, 2011, p. 19).

We assign and encourage students to read quality classic texts because . . .

  1. Reading quality classics can assist readers in comprehending a variety of worldviews and in becoming more capable witnesses for Christ. Therefore, through encountering worldviews in literature, the reader gains not only a deeper understanding of various historical perspectives on life but also an authentic understanding of his or her own worldview.
  2. Quality classics promote virtue.
  3. Quality classics narrate the pursuit of wisdom.
  4. Reading quality classics stretches readers’ imaginations to experience God’s creation in a novel manner.
  5. Reading quality classics enhances vocabulary.  When reading the classics you’ll come across many words that are no longer commonly used. Having a larger vocabulary is like having a tool box with more tools. A larger arsenal of words enables you to express yourself more eloquently. You’ll be able to communicate with precision.
  6. Reading quality classics improves writing ability.  Reading the classics is the easiest way to improve your writing. While reading you unconsciously absorb the grammar and style of the author. This influence carries over to writing, helping form clear, rhythmic sentences.
  7. Reading quality classics improves speaking ability.  Becoming a better speaker accompanies becoming a better writer because both are caused by becoming a better thinker. Studying literary works of art will teach you to express yourself with clarity and style.
  8. Reading quality classics improves understanding of modern texts.  Readers often assume that each worthwhile story or poem is separate and unique, something that emerges exclusively from one person’s individual creativity. But writers have repertoires and work from their knowledge of previous texts. Classic texts are often foundational pieces of writers’ repertoires. Therefore, reading classics may enhance and enrich students’ understanding and interpretations of modern texts.

In closing, this is not an attack on everything modern. To read nothing but the classics would be as foolish as completely ignoring them. The aim is to combine the wisdom of the past with the innovation of the future as we equip the next generation of ambassadors for Christ.

References
Lewis, C.S. (1970). On reading of old books. God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics. Ed. Walter
                  Hooper. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 200-207.
Umstead, L. (2011). Literature with C.S.Lewis. Senior Honors Thesis. Liberty University.

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