Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Power of Literature

What is so important about reading anyway? The mind is so much better engaged with moving pictures on screens that tell you what to think. We can read on screens with animated pictures to save ourselves the work of imagining. Imagination is overrated. Why should we bother. We can even plant virtual flowers now and watch them grow without the laborious task of weeding, digging, watering, and caring for anything. Instant gratification is great! Why should we bother? Thinking, reading, planting, growing, doing, it's all simply overrated. Who needs to think anymore anyway? Just Google it. Google knows everything. Again, why should we bother?

I'll tell you why. The entire nature of our existence is to create. Not recreate, or restate, what someone else created and stuck in some screen for us to parrot back. To create is to be an active participant in life. To create our unique journey. We create from the myriad of stories we are exposed to. We plant a seed. We create a story of the seed and it's difficult journey to full potential. We watch a caterpillar gorge itself on sticky milkweed. We create a story of gluttony followed by hard work, and finally beauty within. We listen to bedtime stories of our parent's youth, and family reading night stories from classic literature. We create safe and comfortable places, where we can feel safe and comfortable in a world that is not so, much of the time. We listen, we read, we think, and we learn. We are scholars of life and we create.

We use the stories of our creation to make sense of our lives. When we are not so productive as the little seed that knew it could, and the chunky caterpillar that couldn't breath, only to find its glory was inside all the while, we have their stories to help us along. We use stories from those around us, in countless ways, to create our own story. We read to fill our minds of the very best things. We create a personal library, right inside our mind, and we become our own best resource because we seek the best. There is no such thing as over exposure to classic literature.

I read an interesting article recently. The claim was that reading is bad for teenagers. Many studies have shown that  teenagers that read are ill equipped to handle life situations of all types, they are cursing, smoking, rebelling against authority figures such as parents and community leaders, and they are generally unable to determine reality from fantasy and virtual worlds. Mind blowing, how could reading be so bad?! The last paragraph of the article lists the books said teenagers were reading. Aha! It's not reading that's the problem, it's the content. Duh! Most disturbing was that texts were considered "reading material". I get it, it's technically words, but reading material? Come on!

Much of "teaching" and literature today is sorely lacking in content. "Learning" is merely an exercise in feeding predetermined facts, often laden with hidden agenda, to be regurgitated at some latter time for proof of education. Literature has fallen prey, in large part, to consumerism and entertainment value.

We need thinkers. We need voracious scholars. We need leaders of the same stock as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson. Whether you are a mother to the next president of the United States, or a future devoted husband and father or nurturing and kind mother, it makes no difference. We all have the opportunity to lead in whatever capacity best suits us. Leadership of what caliber is up to individual choice. Individual choice is shaped by the stories we hear.

I am entranced at the moment with, A Thomas Jefferson Education, by Oliver Van DeMille, as well as Leadership Education, by Oliver and Rachel DeMille. The first 65 pages of Books That Build Character: A Guide To Teaching Your Child Moral Values Through Stories, by William Kilpatrick and Gregory and Suzanne M. Wolfe, are also thought provoking, and the book lists to follow have provided our family with hours of enjoyment and discussion.

Reading and discussing, such a simple thing, and yet the results offered are beyond measure. Stories teach. They offer solid ground to plant the values, morals, and principles that will sculpt the character of our children. The way those things are internalized has everything to do with the stories we hold dear. 

A book has the ability to remind us who we are. To bring us back from places that are not authentic to our own path. To ground us in the tumult of a continuously spinning whirlwind, that is the world in which we live. What we put into our minds, and how it goes in, does matter. The university of life begins at birth and lasts until death. I can't actually give my children character. They get to build it themselves. I can give them stories. I can read to them of the best books and give them heroes worthy of following, and villains worthy of avoiding. I can focus on content and steer away from entertainment value and "excitement" as the world sees it. Life will offer my children choices. I hope to give them gigantic piles of good stories with which they can create character aplenty.

The girls and I just finished, Lazy Tinka, by Kate Seredy. It's a wonderful book and we have enjoyed many of her others. We had an engaging discussion about God, work, animals, and people, the relation between all parties and who's job it is to make sure we have food, clothing, and shelter. I say 'we' had a discussion, but really I just listened while they did all this figuring and connecting on their own. It was one of those rare mom moments where you get to see that your children are actually more than all the bickering, pushing boundaries, and fit throwing. You know, the moments we live for.

About 30 minutes later, after much excited chatter, the girls bounded down the stairs exclaiming, "Mommy! Mommy! We are going to be oak tree farmers! We have acorns and we are going to go plant them and grow an oak tree farm!" After a jinx, followed by a double jinx, and yet still the triple jinx, finally resting on the rainbow jinx, they got down to business and starting planning. "Buckets of water to wet the extremely dry soil. Let it soak in a little so a good hole can be dug. Nestle the acorn into the ground. Water it well. Water it every day. Use our math skills to divide the acorns in half and devise a planting pattern so we each get to dig, plant, and water. Make sure we plant far enough away so the saplings don't fight for sunlight." And they were off.

Some time later, two happy little oak tree farmers burst into the house proclaiming victory over stubborn soil, and excitement at their new babies. The oldest farmer cried, "I really liked the Lazy Tinka book. It was fun!" To which the younger farmer agreed and added, "Tinka is a great teacher and the old wise woman sure was wise!" What a delight.

What do you hold dear? Do your children know? Is it worthy of your time? What do your children hold dear? Is it worthy of their time? Do you have any clue? Sharing stories with the growing generation has everything to do with our future. It has worked since the beginning of time. It still works today. Thinking is a natural product of reading. What do we want to encourage them to think about? Time to think is necessary to formulate and create. What do we want them to spend their time with? What's on your shelves? What does it bring you and your children? Is there time for thought and discussion, or is life just too busy to be that productive? Think about it :)

The very best leader told great stories. He leads with a calm assurance that He is, and therefore we are.

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