One of the summer projects I have as a homeschooling mom is to preread a few key books my daughter has scheduled for her curriculum. In the elementary years, our literary adventures were a pleasure romp—wonderful stories of kids living in other places and times, biographies that inspired us, gripping mysteries that we couldn't lay down until we finished.
But with each passing year, I've had to be more attentive to screening out titles that I think would not be good for her, not in line what our aims are for her education, character development, and spiritual growth. When she was little, she would have nightmares for weeks after seeing something as innocuous as “Willie Wonka” or a good old World War II movie.
I realize that every child is different in their development, tolerances, and so on, and thus, we shape our curricula choices to that. And admittedly, my student is on the conservative side and I'm aware of the impact of troubling material on her.
But with the advent of high school and the prevailing pressure to get a “well-rounded” education, to be college-prepped and whatever else, I've thought that she needs to read the literature “greats” and delve deeper into the works that have shaped our world.
And yes, I still think some of that is important. Some.
I took up The Great Gatsby to preread, and, not having ever read it, was really primed for a true literary experience. I'd read all sorts of comments from Christian homeschool reviewers, from positive to glowing—one even declared it to be her favorite book. It appears on most recommended homeschool book lists. According to secular reviews, it apparently stands at the pinnacle of great writing and example of “the best.” One even claimed it to be the quintessential American novel.
Huh? Am I missing something?
It's a story that serves a buffet of pitiful and not very original destruction and despair of man without God. Lust, adultery, betrayal, materialism, selfishness, murder, disillusionment, alcoholism, cheating, strange alliances...the list goes on. Maybe that was the author's point; indeed, the reviewers pointed out that this was a compelling picture of the Roaring 20s. Maybe the writing was excellent; I really did savor the author's mastery of words. But the lack of redemption—that element which makes story, story—was missing.
I'm using Gatsby as an example here; there are many books that fall under this type of writing. But I'd like to ask a question. Why do we read things like this? As a Christian, how does this line up with the command in the Bible to “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” (I Thessalonians 5:22) Or how about: “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret.” (Ephesians 5:11, 12). To consider ourselves or our students as not “well-educated,” not able to really understand the true issues at work behind the human experience if we don't explore such books, is, in my opinion, unthinking. Is this education? We're not supposed to be determining our values and creed from other people's views or experience, even if it comes cloaked in fine writing or compelling story.
I think the emperor has no clothes on.
Did you know that the Bible says, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil, that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20) Pretty stiff words. And yet I'm really concerned that by just accepting a book—or anything, for that matter—touted as “good” or “great” even from a trusted source, we may be failing to discern what really IS good and evil.
I can see plenty of destruction and its analysis in a daily dose on the news, if it's understanding about the depravity of man I want. (And I say, “there's nothing new under the sun”!)
Rather, there's a lifetime of good reading available out there—classic literature—that challenges us, changes us, and calls us to higher places. Is this not what we want for our children? I think time is too short to be spending it on things that don't have lasting value by Kingdom standards. Yes, I want my daughter to have a good education. Yes, I want her to be prepared to deal with the difficult and challenging world out there. But it seems to me that this is done by growing her mind and spirit on the good food of goodness. A diet of darkness produces darkness.
So I've been challenged to reexamine our “diet” and see how I can do a better job of evaluating it based on the overlay of God's standard. My student will not be reading Gatsby or others like it in our school, and I'll be searching for some more of that life-changing good stuff.