Wednesday, May 07, 2008

What Kids Are Reading Nowadays, and How it Relates to the Greatest Commandment

Ninth-12th Grade

1. "To Kill a Mockingbird," Harper Lee
2. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows"
3. "Of Mice and Men," John Steinbeck
4. "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone"
5. "A Child Called 'It,' " Dave Pelzer

--Source, Seattle Times

This selection is part of a larger list that you can read at the link above. Here are some reflections found in the article:

"I find it reassuring ... that students are still reading the classics I read as a child," said Roy Truby, a senior vice president for Wisconsin-based Renaissance Learning. But Truby said he would have preferred to see more meaty and varied fare, such as "historical novels and biographical works so integral to understanding our past and contemporary books that help us understand our world."

Michelle Bayuk, marketing director for the New York-based Children's Book Council, agreed. "What's missing from the list are all the wonderful nonfiction, informational, humorous and novelty books as well as graphic novels that kids read and enjoy both inside and outside the classroom."

I would second (or third, maybe) these thoughts. My initial thought about the 9-12 grade list was that it shows that this age group has not lost its taste for fantasy and also for poignant, morally reflective writing. Contrary to what some may say, youth in our age still do have an appetite for study of the deeper realities and questions of life. Though many in the current day saturate themselves with ephemeral entertainments, yet it should be clear that a yearning for instruction in moral living and engagement with transcendent experience have not disappeared from our culture. For the youth who read (admittedly, a decreasing number), wisdom and transcendence are main targets.

I like Roy Truby's comment most. He sounds like a guy I would have some common ground with. American youth seem to have lost sight of the country's past. As technology and entertainment drive us further away from the instinct to prize us what is past, I am sure that this trend will only continue, and the lessons and events of history will disappear from national consciousness. How important, then, that Christians root their children in the treasures of national and religious history. One of the most damaging things a Christian can do to their understanding of Christianity is to rob it of historical connection. Wisdom is not found only in the Scriptures, but is found also in the story of the Scriptures played out across the ages. To pretend that we have no past, and therefore that we have nothing to learn from history, is to make the most egotistical and egregious of mistakes.

It is also true that one cannot examine the ideas and doctrines of the Christian past without rooting them in their cultural situation. We are not meant to encounter ideas outside of their age, but should instead study those ideas in connection to their day. Doctrines, theologies, and innovations do not rise out of a vacuum, but proceed from a definite course of events that require study to flesh out the idea being considered. History, then, is no mere footnote to philosophy or theology, but is the brother of these disciplines. The best history examines the great theological and philosophical questions of the past; the best philosophy and theology comprehends the historical circumstances that gave birth to these questions, and studies how these questions were applied in the ages of human existence.

What are kids reading, then? Well, it's clear that not many of them are reading any of three aforementioned disciplines. If we're glad that kids are reading, period, we should also avoid the dumbing down of our children's educations. We should bring before our children the great treasures of past ages and train their minds from a young age to study the higher and deeper things of life. Christians who impoverish the minds of their children and allow them to feast on entertainment and pop culture should not be surprised when their children develop an appetite for the same. When, however, we give our children a steady diet of meaty intellectual fare, their minds, like their bodies, will strengthen and grow, and we will have accomplished in some form the God-given responsibility to train them in loving the Lord our God with all of our mind, an oft-overlooked aspect of the first and greatest commandment.

We write all this not because we think that we'll take over America on an intellectual level if we accomplish this task, or because America as a society will radically change if we do so. No, we do so to honor God. It seems that is in such simple choices as what we give our children to read that their character and minds will be profoundly shaped. In heaven, we will not worship God only in the affective dimension, as contemporary songship seems often to imply, but with our minds. A mighty torrent of wisdom will flow into our souls, and we will be awestruck by what we then know and comprehend. Perhaps we can train our children for the next realm, and give them a glimpse of things to come, by feeding them the full riches of literature while we have time in this one.

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Blogger 4given said...

As a mother of 6 children, with two of them being teen boys, I have listed some of the books on my website as to what will be on their summer reading list. It is a post called Teenagers Rebelling Against Low Expections: What is on our two teen boys summer reading list.

I would be very interested in what you recommend I should add to this list.

5:36 AM  
Blogger 4given said...

(oops... that is supposed to say expectations and not expections)

5:37 AM  

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