What Should a Student Read Before Going to College?

What Should a Student Read Before Going to College?

I’m often asked, “What does my high schooler need to read before college?,” as though there were one or two novels out of the hundreds and hundreds of spectacular works in the Western tradition without which any primary educational journey would be void of meaning. I don’t mean to ridicule the impulse to choose wisely what we offer our students. We clearly should. But I do sense an undercurrent of misunderstanding about the educational project in questions like these…

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"Close Reading" and Postmodern Criticism

"Close Reading" and Postmodern Criticism

My mother hates the term “Close Reading.” To her it is emblematic of the postmodernist deconstructive literary criticism she encountered during her own college years in the late 80’s. To engage in this sort of “close reading” was to focus so intently on the trees that you missed the forest entirely; to purposefully evade and ignore the overarching thematic meaning of an author’s text and to decide what the work “meant to you” by evaluating how the granular details of the story made you feel...

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On "Getting the Right Answers" to Socratic Questions

On "Getting the Right Answers" to Socratic Questions

One of my favorite, daily tasks at CenterForLit is answering emails from parents and educators who write with questions about literature and homeschooling. I look forward to these conversations, albeit virtual, because I remember the isolation endemic in much of my own homeschooling work...

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Sculpture and Sabbath in Jeremiah

Sculpture and Sabbath in Jeremiah

Making Jeremiah the prophet relevant to modern day high school students is a neat trick, and I’d like to have a long talk with the teacher who can pull it off.  The problem is Jeremiah’s preoccupation with idolatry, the crafting and worshiping of wooden statues. The entire prophecy is a diatribe against this practice, and since few of my students are pagan sculptors, they have a hard time relating...

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How Then Shall We Read? – An Apology for Literary Analysis

How Then Shall We Read? – An Apology for Literary Analysis

Much has been made in recent years of the prime opportunity childhood presents to shape lifetime readers. Reading aloud, in particular, is the word on the street where methodology is concerned. With videos and entertainment on the cultural rise, parents no longer have the luxury of throwing a book at a child and hoping it will “take.” Now, they must read it to them, guide them, captivate, and verily, enchant them into the magical kingdom of imaginative literature...  

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Dawes, Art, and Good Criticism

Dawes, Art, and Good Criticism

So, I’ve been listening to an album recently, and it has me thinking about the purpose of “art.” The album is perkily titled, We’re All Gonna Die, and I’m thoroughly obsessed with it. I’ve spent hours unpacking the lush orchestration, focusing this time on the perfectly liquid bass parts, next on the engrossing and sensitive drum tracks, and then on Taylor Goldsmith’s quietly pitch perfect voice. I just can’t seem to get enough. But, being a reader by nature, I also can’t help but be confronted with the sadness written into each track...

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Literary Education and the Reformation

Literary Education and the Reformation

As the Western world observes the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation – just kidding; I know most people are trick-or-treating instead – I am struck by its lasting effect on all things literary. It is amazing how, no matter what we believe theologically, we read and teach in a world informed by Martin Luther and those crazy 16th century theologians...

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What is a Literary Education?

What is a Literary Education?

The capacity for self-knowledge is the thing that makes us human. Since education is the cultivation of mature humanity in students, we conclude that education happens when a student catches a glimpse of himself as a thinking creature. In the best case scenario, this glimmer of self-knowledge leads him further, to understand himself as an imperfect creature - a sinful creature, desperately in need of Grace...

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What Mathematics Can Teach Us About Literature

What Mathematics Can Teach Us About Literature

Missy and I spend a lot of time showing parents how to teach short stories with pictures by means of simple questions like “does the main character succeed?” This approach has helped thousands of teachers get young students started in literary reading with children’s classics like Mem Fox’s Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge, Patricia MacLachlan’s All the Places to Love, or Jane Yolen’s Owl Moon. But what, we are often asked, should older students do?...

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Flowers, Seeds, and Students

Flowers, Seeds, and Students

I can’t stop thinking about the passage in C. S. Lewis’s The Weight of Glory that I wrote about last time, where he cautions us against idolizing our memories of the past: “they are only the scent of a flower we have not found,” he says. I am sure he chose that image because of a flower’s beauty, but I wonder if he also had in mind how fleeting that beauty was designed to be...

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