Evaluating Literature, Part 2
A well-rounded Christian literature curriculum seeks to expose the believer to works which enhance his understanding of the world and strengthen the credibility of his testimony by enabling him to become "all things to all men" (I Corinthians 9:22). Another rationale for examining literature is the development of moral perception in that the student will "by reason of use have [his] senses exercised to discern both good and evil" (Hebrews 5:14).
The previous issue of Home School Helper established that, instead of following the dictates of a book list or permitting all literature containing objectionable elements, the parent should train his child to apply Biblical criteria of evaluation to determine the worthiness of literature. The first step in establishing these criteria is identifying objectionable elements, which were presented in the last issue.
The next step is teaching the literature containing those elements so as to inoculate the student against what they refer to. As with its medical counterpart, moral inoculation comprises three things: the donor (the teacher), the recipient (the child), and the dosage (the literature). The teacher must himself be inoculated against the disease--be spiritually mature--before administering treatment, lest he communicate that which he seeks to cure in his child.
Then the teacher must evaluate the spiritual maturity of his child to determine the strength of the dosage. The dosage must be administered in a guided setting and controlled enough to prevent infection without producing the disease. The Apostle Paul withheld from the Corinthians some things, thought ultimately beneficial, for which they were unprepared (I Corinthians 3:2). The teaching parent must do the same for his child.
A conscientious teacher does not expose a young mind indiscriminately to literature hoping that the child will be mature enough to cling to the good. Rather, the teacher judiciously chooses works suitable to the child's maturity, carefully explaining the problems in their representation of literature or showing how these works put evil in a condemning perspective. Such works need to be taught, not just assigned for reading. The moral perspective, if not in the work, must be added by the teacher. As always, the Bible is the guide. We consider such works, or parts of works, suitable teaching material for students mature enough to profit from comparable negative examples in Scripture.
Next, the student must be taught to consider several questions while reading:
- Are the characters he likes noble?
- Do the actions of the story cause him to desire virtue and reject vice?
- Does the story's resolution reward good and punish evil or honor wisdom and scorn foolishness?
- Does the theme of the story conflict with God's truth? If it does, how? Where is the flaw?
Total censorship is one approach to the study of literature. Another possibility is to allow the student to read all literature without any restraint. A much more realistic--and Biblical--way is to follow God's example: create a resistance to the allurement of evil by wisely applying small doses of antigen. With the great amount of personal guidance available in the home school, a home-educated child can learn to evaluate and overcome the corrupting influences of the world and to "approve things that are excellent" (Philippians 1:10).