How important is literature in your school’s curriculum? How can you lead your students to godliness through poems, stories, and art? How do you select literature that will influence students towards real wisdom?
Speaking from long experience in enjoying and teaching literature, Jonas demonstrates the richness that the world’s literature can open to us. He describes the skills your students can develop as you labor together over a piece of literature. Jonas also warns, however, against careless or undiscerning approaches that undermine godly wisdom.
Why teach literature?
For wisdom. The writer is one who has eyes that see what’s in front of his face. The Proverb writer, I think it was said, I walk by the place where the hedge was overgrown and the weeds were coming up. This is my words. He looked and he saw and he took construction.
We need some understanding. Do we understand? The circumstances are the things that stand around us, the situation in which we are in. Do we understand that, understand the questions, the problems, the potentialities, the difficulties? Do we understand? And then are we able to discern the best course of action?
Not all wisdom is created equal. Wisdom is the principal thing. Therefore, get wisdom. With all that getting a good understanding. This is important that we know that. How do we go about doing this?
There is a way, the Scriptures tell us, that seems right. The characteristics of this worldly wisdom are that it’s based on a natural desire, that is, an inborn desire for understanding and achievement and success. We want to have a successful life. And it pretty much depends upon our ability to reason. The definition of success in worldly wisdom would be whatever the seeker says success is.
Godly wisdom is—you’re motivated by a healthy fear of the Lord. That moves you then to responsible action. And we do not depend upon human reason. However, we do use our God-given reason and our abilities to think coupled with a dependence upon His Spirit to guide us into truth and, I would say, as children also coupled with a respect and an openness to be taught by those who are teaching you.
There’s a lot of talk about critical thinking today and it has its role, but I would like to caution us that critical thinking can become idolatry the same as any other thing that we focus on solely. When we use critical thinking, we do, in a sense, hold things at arm’s length and we look at them and we evaluate them, “What is this? Where does it come from? What’s it trying to accomplish?” We’re very careful before we adopt it. Now, the risk is that it can put whatever we study beneath us putting our mind into the driver’s seat. It depends quite a bit on the seeker as to what he gets from this. You can’t assume that just because somebody reads something or studies something or hears something that he is going to gain godly wisdom from that. That’s why it does make a big difference who the teacher is, who the person is who guides this person to his thinking.
Teaching literature involves helping the students to engage. When I would say “engage” here, it’s to interact with a literary work in a way that influences how they live their lives from that day forward. I’m not saying that tongue-in-cheek. I actually mean that. When you read something, you read it and if it’s worthwhile reading, you read it and it influences you in some way; your attitudes, your thinking, your understanding in some way.
Now, we may not remember having read it and that doesn’t matter. I don’t remember every meal I’ve eaten. I can’t tell you what I had for lunch on July 13th, 1987. But what I ate that day influenced my life. We can’t name all the stories we’ve read, all the things we’ve read and say, “I read this then. Therefore, I think this now.” People who truly read literature grow a little—grow a little!—with each piece they read. They may be enlightened, inspired, encouraged, or warned. They may gain knowledge, insight, or motivation.
Quality literature has both themes of substance along with excellence of form and expression.
Students see straight through some things. Some selections are so thin that the reader can tell you before they start. Dad’s going to go away and he’s going to tell the boys to behave and the boys are going to do something they shouldn’t do. When Dad gets home, the boys are going to be called on the carpet. It’s just a question of, “What it is this time?” That kind of writing deals with real things of life, but it’s not literary. Sometimes, actually, telling the reader what to think or how to think actually sometimes undermines the purpose. But effective stories show truth in action. If you have something with excellent form and expression but don’t have substance, then it becomes this sounding brass that Paul talks about.
It’s a rich privilege to be able to discuss with students the content here. Here’s where you come together. We read in “The Village Blacksmith,”
His hair is crisp and black and long.
His face is like the tan.
His brow is wet with honest sweat.
He earns whatever he can
And looks the whole world in the face
For he owes not any man.”
“His brow is wet with honest sweat.” Is there such a thing as dishonest sweat?
“He looks the whole world in the face for he owes not any man.” What does it mean to look someone in the face? For what reason might you not be able to look someone in the face? What might be a reason why your eyes might go down?
Toiling, rejoicing, sorrowing,
Onward through life he goes.</span >
Each morning sees some task begun.
Each evening sees it close.</span >
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night’s repose.</span >
“Toiling, rejoicing, sorrowing.” If you had to pick three words, what three words would you pick to describe life?
That middle one there is a powerful one. These lines you can take with you to the bank and you can use them for the rest of your life. Think about it in the evening. When you put your head in the pillow: “Something attempted, something done.” Have you done that today? Have you attempted something? Have you done something?
When you discuss literary pieces, it gives you opportunity to deal with these things of substance that make life what it is. Also, it builds tremendous opportunities for discussion and to develop the skills in students to actually talk out loud about what they’re thinking and to hear each other talk and to learn from each other.
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CONTRIBUTOR: Jonas Sauder
SERIES: CASBI 2019All items in the series:
- Administering Achievement Tests by Allen Troyer
- Attributes of an Anabaptist School by Jonathan Erb
- Dealing with Dilemmas Panel Discussion
- Dealing with Dilemmas Presentations
- Dealing with Dysfunctional Homes by Jonathan Erb
- Developing a High School Scope And Sequence by Kevin Graber
- Developing and Following a Budget by Eugene Yoder
- Examining Your School's Hidden Curriculum by Gerald Miller
- How To Do It by Randall Yoder
- Ministers Promoting The School in the Congregation by Wendell Miller
- Promoting Staff Development by Ken Kauffman
- Purposeful-Parent Teacher Activities by Victor Ebersole
- Role and Responsibilities of the Chairman by Anthony Lengacher
- Role and Responsibilities of the Principal or Administrator by Andrew Yoder
- Role and Responsibilities of the Treasurer by Eugene Yoder
- Seven Important Topics to Discuss by Doug Kauffman
- Why Teach Literature? by Jonas Sauder
- Achieving Their Best Test: Preparing Your Students for the Testing Experience
- Love, Hate, Manipulate: Communicating Effectively with Unhappy Parents
- Serving Together: Board Spouses
- The Effective Use of Committees
- We Love a Challenge: Promoting Staff Development
- To Understand and Do: Teaching Literature for Life Change