Christian homeschooling parents today have a love/hate relationship with literature studies. On one hand, they understand that literature conveys great ideas and captures students' curiosity and excitement in a way no other type of writing can. Where things get challenging is what literature to expose students to. Jane Austen, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien are all well and good, but what's a parent to do with Virginia Woolf? Or, heaven forbid, Hemingway? Or Dickinson? These authors don't exactly espouse a Christian worldview, so should they be avoided at all costs?
Absolutely not! For it is by opening up the pages of a book, such as The Old Man and the Sea, that students read great literature that asks great questions and perhaps comes up with different answers than what a Christian worldview would reveal. One of the strongest ways to define and defend faith is by reading literature written outside that particular faith. It is, in other words, faith building. That isn't the only reason to read books like this, though.
Simply put, literature that has stood the test of time, like To the Lighthouse, or Herland, or The Great Gatsby, are great because they reveal timeless truths and still engage readers who wrestle with the same ideas that the characters do. Issues such as the value of the self versus that of society, or the equality of the sexes, or the power of love are issues and ideas that still resonate long after they were first penned by the author.
So, for parents who are uncomfortable working "outside of their experience" what resource will help clear the way? I wholeheartedly recommend Center for Lit's Worldview Detective, written by Adam and Missy Andrews.
Teaching the Classics are excellent resources to launch Socratic-based discussions with students.
Essentially Worldview Detective is built in four parts. The first part is led via the DVD with space for note-taking within the syllabus over defining and clarifying what a worldview is. The entirety of teaching is within the DVD. The second part provides the real "meat" of the course, the Socratic List of questions dealing with worldview. In the following third part the process is modeled where two different stories are read, and then a Socratic style discussion is engaged in by Adam and Missy Andrews, the authors of the curriculum. The two stories are "To Build a Fire" by Jack London, and "Revelation" by Flannery O'Connor. O'Connor's story must be either purchased or checked out from the library, as it is still under copyright although the London story is found in the practicum workbook. At the end of the analysis there are appendices provided that will further assist the parent/teacher that give guidance as to the major periods in English literature as well as an essay penned by Missy Andrews entitled "A Warning Against 'Christian Deconstruction.'"
I really like the combination of Teaching the Classics and Worldview Detective. It is liberating to feel empowered to select any literature I like for my students and not have to rely on "literature guides." I love how literature moves beyond a "What happened in Chapter three" mentality to a discussion focused around the bigger questions. As a woman who received her degree in English and loves literature, this has always been my method of literature study, but it was liberating to me to find corroboration of my thoughts and efforts.
As much as I appreciate and believe in this course, it isn't perfect. I wish the recording quality was better. The audio isn't as strong as I would like it to be, although it is still easy to hear and understand. That being said, though, it is the best methodology I have found out there for empowering parents from all backgrounds to read, enjoy, and discuss literature with their children.
Worldview Detective is available from either Center for Lit or IEW, and it sells for $49.00 for the 4-Disc DVD set and course practicum. Teaching the Classics is available from the same places and sells for $89.00 for the 4-Disc DVD set and course practicum.
Update: Good news! I learned from Adam Andrews that Worldview Detective has recently undergone re-mastering, which addresses the audio qualities that I mentioned above. The corrected disks will be shipping soon.
Which reminds me... I want to assert that I have received nothing from the creators of this program. I purchased both programs on my own. I can honestly say that my views are my own and haven't been influenced by any gift.