In 2005, Lora posted this question on our forums:
I wanted to know what Marcia’s thoughts (and anyone else who wants to chime in) are on studying the Great Books. I have signed my 14 year old daughter up to take a Great Books course with XXX online tutorial this fall and wanted to correlate it with Tapestry of Grace. Now I am having second thoughts about having her even read the Great Books.
I have read in the book Teaching the Trivium by the Bluedorns that reading the Great Books is not highly recommended because there are so many obscenities in them and that it is better to focus our time reading edifying literature and especially the Bible. Then I read an article in the Veritas Press catalog about the reason they use the Great Books. They said they use them as a sort of boot camp to train children to be able to see evil in comparison to biblical truth and be discerning Christians. Also, that if you shelter young adults from the evil things of this world they will be naive when it comes to temptations, etc. Another opinion from a respected source is that if we shelter our children from the truth then we have failed in teaching them to be “wise as serpents,” and that we may comfort ourselves in assuming that we have kept our children innocent only to find out that they are completely vulnerable to the enemy, naively innocent, and lacking in discernment.
So…I just don’t know what to do now. I noticed there are not many classics listed as readings in Tapestry, especially in comparison to the XXX Great Books list. Should I let her take this course or is it not wise to have her reading these books even with christian guidance and discussion?
What is your opinion Marcia and others?
Blessings to all,
As you’ll see in my response, reprinted below, this is a perennial question that has recently reemerged on our Forum. I thought that bringing back my answer (which I still like, amazingly) might help some of you who are encountering some of the harder truths of the story of mankind in this, the doldrums of winter. Here’s what I wrote back to Lora in 2005, and it still holds true today!
This is a question that I’ve heard discussed in various forms, and with relation to various educational paradigms, since I started homeschooling. You have summarized well the underlying quandary: should parents raise children who are innocent of the knowledge of evil, or children who understand evil, and seek to keep themselves from it?
Said another way, one view is that we should view our children as young plants in a greenhouse, who cannot withstand the cruel weather of winter, and must be protected, artificially even, from harm or blight. We should, therefore, shield our children from the knowledge of evil. Our goal is to engender in them such a love of what is good by constant communion with it that they are rightly horrified by evil when they do encounter it, and will most likely flee from it when they encounter it, as in 2 Tim. 2:22 (ESV) “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” Another verse that might describe their hearts would be Paul’s sentiment expressed in 2 Cor. 11:2-3 (ESV) “I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”
The other view, as you’ve said, argues that children will need to become acquainted with the evils of the world at a more tender age than we could wish so that they will have more options as adults than just flight. This view says that evil is resident in all human hearts, and our children will have to deal with it all their lives, beginning with their hearts, encountering the sinful hearts of family members, and finally dealing wisely, bravely, and biblically with extreme evil in the world. Because of this reality, we should seek an education that acquaints our children with evil as an abhorrence to God, defining it in as many ways as possible for our children, but certainly without asking them to experience its force too soon. Parents on this end of the spectrum would point to Romans 12:9 (ESV) “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good,” and Acts 17:11 (ESV) “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so,” or Matthew 10:16 (ESV) “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves,” or finally, Psalm 127:5 (ESV)
Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.
Perhaps the crux of the matter is best seen by dividing the term “evil” into “knowledge of evil” and “experience of evil.” Neither of these two camps would espouse purposefully exposing children to active evil in the hopes of teaching them to deal with it. (To be sure, there are proponents of this idea, but I’m saying that neither of the views I’m outlining above would suggest this course.)
The question lies more in when, and how, to introduce children to the *knowledge* of evil. Do we seek to strongly establish their faith by shielding them from all possible knowledge of evil (or opposing/tempting) views or practices? Or do we carefully teach our children, through literature, history, philosophy, and the arts that mankind is evil, and that all evil is abhorrent to God, and must be to the true Christian as well? Do we primarily teach them to run from all evil, or to understand it so well that they have an answer to it, and a fearlessness of it, because evil neither surprises nor entices them, since they have met it, understood it from a biblical perspective, and rejected it before meeting it in experiential ways in the world?
I do not pretend to have the answer to this age-old quandary, but I can share how we have chosen to walk with our children, and which of these views underlies our choices for the TOG reading list.
We have taken the second view. We believe that the gospel, the Spirit, and the Word combined are active and protective in the lives of our children. We seek to acquaint our children with the evils that men do at appropriate, yet young, stages of their lives, in the hopes that they will both understand the evil and (as David did with Goliath — 1 Sam. 17:48) run to meet and defeat it, secure in their certain knowledge of God’s superior power over evil, and with strong faith in His sovereignty and love for them.
The TOG book list reflects our views. It is not truly a Great Books curriculum, yet it contains many books on that list. We have attempted to carefully mine the works of Western Civilization for representations of TRUTH — good and bad — that will aid us in teaching our children about God, mankind, and the culture which we hope they will affect for good. Some of our choices involve “tough” subjects: Les Miserables and Crime and Punishment have sympathetic characters who sin grievously (prostitution and murder); such books as One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and All Quiet on the Western Front detail the brutality of man against man; 1984 and Farenheit 451 give compelling examples of mankind’s hopeless state apart from God, and are bleak and depressing. However, there is real TRUTH in all these works. They do not paint good as evil, and evil as good. Often, they are the voices of a perplexed humanity adding to the Great Conversation their pain, but also their lack of understanding. They don’t know about the nature of the fallen world (and the fallen nature) in which they find themselves. They portray for us their view of the human condition, and we at Tapestry, through our helps, seek to help you to bring a biblical perspective to these voices and the views they espouse so that your children may be equipped to encounter similar situations with Christian charity, biblical hope, and compassionate, informed evangelism. We also make sure to offer a much lighter treatment of “heavy” subjects, especially in Year 4, in the lower levels. There, our focus is on the advances of mankind during those troubled years: the space race, radio plays, and inventions are key foci.
Sorry this got a bit long. I’ll hop down off my soap box now, but you’ve hit on one of my favorite topics. Let me just say, in closing, that my children now range from 14 to 24. They all have (by God’s grace alone) a vibrant, unshrinking faith in God and confidence in His ability to guide, protect, and love them, come what may. The fruit of this alternative has been sweet. However, I am sure that others who have chosen the other path in FAITH have experienced sweet fruit as well. Whenever we seek to honor God, we win, because in the end, He empowers those who wholly trust in Him. It’s never our feeble efforts, or wise theories, that raise God-filled children: God Himself fills them as He wills with His Spirit, and we do well to seek Him daily for *that* provision, and rest in Him which ever path we choose.
Update for 1/12: The last paragraph above, by God’s grace alone, is as true today as it was when I penned it almost seven years ago. My kids are now 21-31 years of age; four of them are married, all but one have graduated college unscathed by the worldliness they encountered there, and my “baby” Marjorie will graduate in May, God willing. We have 3 going on 5 grandchildren, and it is pure joy to see strong, vibrant faith in Jesus Christ going forward to the next generation. This is not of us, or solely because of our choices. It is all of grace. But, God works through our choices. They were the right ones for our family, and I feel that our experience must stand as some kind of an answer to the fears of many parents who look at the problems surrounding the introduction of evil to the hearts of our young children. May God lead you to the right answers for your children. Be assured that God loves you and them everlastingly, and will lead you on the right path as you look to Him!