Valuing the Classics
by Beverley Paine, June 2005
According to Charles Hayes, author of Self University 1 , "entertainment today is a cheap substitute for the thrill of intellectual pursuit. Just a few metaphorical feet above popular culture lies a jet stream of ideas shaped by the geniuses of our species: a legacy of ideas by philosophers, great literature by authors expressing the essence of the human condition and a historical record of how their actions squared with their theories. no matter what your situation if you have a thirst for knowledge, you can enter the great conversation of humankind. You can try on the ideas of the greatest thinkers who have ever lived, take them home, and keep them with you forever."
I find this thinking echoed in the philosophy of Charlotte Mason 2 , a nineteenth-century educator much beloved by a growing number of homeschooling families. Miss Mason shunned what she called "twaddle", books that aimed primarily to entertain - or worse, to capture a lucrative market - and encouraged people to read "living books". These books are described as books on history, geography, nature, religion or science drawn mostly from firsthand sources; they display imagination, originality, and the 'human touch' with an emphasis on literary quality. Fictionalised accounts of endurance, discover and invention, when well written, bring together learning across the traditional curriculum and captivate readers in a way that dry historical accounts never can.
Although a great fan of books, I'm also aware of the ability of visual media, such as television, film and computer programs, to add richness to our learning environment. As with books, select only the best, aiming to borrow or buy those that not only entertain but also educate. A good test is longevity - is it a much loved classic, which draws accolades beyond the first flush of popularity, a resource you'll want to pull out and use again every so often as the years go by? If so, then it probably justly deserves a place on your bookshelves.
1. Charles D Hayes, Self University , (Autodidactic Press, 1989) available from Always Learning Books, www.alwayslearningbooks.com.au
2. For information about Charlotte Mason and her approach to education see the links on Ann Zeise's A-Z Home's Cool Homeschooling http://homeschooling.gomilpitas.com/methods/CharlotteMason.htm
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