Because of various circumstances, we are making a complete transition back to traditional school, much to my regret--but thankfully in schools that meet my ideals halfway. Because both of the schools we've used are Core Knowledge, neo-classical schools, the literature selections are chosen to align with this educational approach. So far, so good. Core Knowledge isn't my ideal curriculum, but it is a pretty safe and solid one. Even so, more than once I have found myself faced with the dilemma of whether to raise a stink about the literature presented to my children or whether to let it go. For example, this year my 5th-grade daughter's class was required to read Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott. If you've read this novel, you know that it is a wonderful, uplifting story that has earned its right as an American classic. But you also know that it is over 400 pages long and that the book leaves the childhood of the March girls behind long before the end. In fact, at least half the novel is fairly adult, chronicling their romances and marriages, childbearing and dream-seeking. It is not a 5th-grade book! Yet, because of the Core Knowledge guidelines, this is what they had to read throughout most of 5th grade. How many other wonderful, classic 5th-grade books did they pass up to read a book that could easily wait until high school? I confess, I don't understand.
I am thankful, of course, that at least the novel doesn't conflict with our family's values, but this is only one mild example of a dilemma concerned parents face when they send their children to school. Sometimes I think that the literature students read does not get the attention it deserves from parents. It is powerful stuff, more powerful than math, science, history, or writing. Why? Because in it our children confront life and ideas head-on. Literature transports them to other lives and fills their heads with new insights and perspectives that will remain somewhere deep inside them for the rest of their lives. Like all art, literature reaches down deep inside of us and changes us in ways we may not notice, at least at first.
I would like to talk more about this sobering topic in another blog, but for now I will leave it hanging with a single question for those who, like me, have children in a traditional school: Have you ever looked closely at the literature your child is being asked to read?