Tag Archives: Analyze

Principles of Teaching Literature and English Skills

English Skills must include Grammar, Composition, Spelling, and Vocabulary. I am an English teacher who hates Grammar, at least the way it is usually taught. Rather than drill on sentence diagramming and parts of speech in isolated sentences, I taught Grammar from Tom Sawyer. The student finds parts of speech in realistic speech, regional, standard and non-standard dialects, and many other grammatical and ungrammatical principles that represent real life situations. Our students learned Composition from Alice in Wonderland, a collection that introduces students to social and political commentary essays in a way second to none. Spelling and Vocabulary came courtesy of Around the World in Eighty Days, a work rich in travel words, technology terms, and especially context clues to help a student learn to read for meaning without a dictionary always at his elbow.

We also included Literary Criticism. We made use of Bullfinch’s Mythology for comparison studies between mythologies and the truth of the Scriptures to examine and understand their similarities and differences. We taught figurative language (special uses of words and phrases in Literature, like metaphors and similes). These English study techniques have important applications in studying the Scriptures, in the instances where secularists will claim that the Scriptures had their origin in more ancient writings. The flawed echoes of Greek, Roman and Norse myths don’t uphold the standard of truth, morality or consistency that the Scriptures present.

Sometimes critics claim the “plain literal sense” interpretation doesn’t fit a Scripture passage. For example, when Revelation 1:16 says Jesus had a sharp, two-edged sword coming out of his mouth, we should say, “Aha! That’s a figure of speech, a metaphor. The Bible uses the same figure, but as a simile, in Hebrews 4:12!”  The Scripture frequently explains its figurative language, and saying there is figurative language does not make an argument for the Scriptures containing errors or not being inspired and authoritative.

In a Christian school, I taught The Merchant of Venice, and we put on a one-hour performance version for which I cut down the play, preserving Shakespeare’s wording and the essence of his story, just cutting extras and combining some characters. A homeschool group could produce a “Shakespeare in an Hour” play, using the exercise of cutting as part of the study. The Faerie Queene Part One is an epic poem, a forgotten treasure of English lit. It is the Christian allegory that inspired Pilgrim’s Progress, C.S. Lewis and Tolkien in their writings. We have a video summary and study of the literary devices used in it on YouTube of this great poem.

The main focus of our literature studies included analysis of various kinds of works, ancient to modern, TV shows, movies, even Video Games and Graphic Novels, with an eye to learning what is good and bad in literature. Do not make the mistake of thinking that you have to put in modern stuff to be relevant or to keep students interested. Use modern stuff because it is relevant to show your students what is good and bad in what they see every day. Our children got tired of analyzing every movie or TV show we watched, but they couldn’t miss the message that nothing is just entertainment for a Christian.

Here’s just one example: Make a study of what makes a true hero. Start back with the superheroes Nimrod, Gilgamesh, and Hercules. Check out Joseph, David, Daniel. Take a look at Hector versus Achilles in the Trojan War. Jump forward to Beowulf, Galahad, Siegfried. Go all around the world, all through the ages, and learn what characteristics God values in a hero as opposed to what man values. Then compare them to modern heroes, the characters John Wayne plays, crimefighters in comic books and movies, ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances and how they respond.

Have students read a lot, and have them write a lot. Millions of works are available free on sites like Gutenberg.org. You will find collections of short stories, poems, speeches, biographies and religious writings. Have students read a little of everything, as long as you have a good idea of what it is and that it’s not seriously harmful to read. Don’t think they have to read great long things to be literate. The example project above can be done by reading relatively short excerpts. I had a college English teacher who used to say, in her southern drawl, “I am appalled by what some people have not read!” Well, there’s a lot I haven’t read that “English people” are supposed to have read.

I “Go with my gut” (usually the Holy Spirit’s leading, I hope and pray) when it comes to reading. I haven’t read Clockwork Orange, or Catcher In the Rye, or Lord of the Flies, for example. I’ve educated myself about them, but that’s all that’s needed. I’ve read nothing but excerpts by Cervantes, Dumas, Hugo. I have trouble reading very long works. (I have read Bleak House, by Charles Dickens, which is really long, and really worth it.) Some authors of longer works have short stories and I’ve read them. Tolstoy is an example. School situations don’t really allow for reading very long works anyway. Keep things moving and encourage the students to read longer stuff on their own time.

Writing for a student assignment should be an exercise in self-editing, and figuring out what’s important and unimportant, what’s good and bad in his own writing and in what he’s read, morally and structurally. Can he tell that writers like Dickens got paid by the word? (Yes, he did, whatever people claim. He wrote serials, had to have a cliffhanger of sorts at the end of ever magazine issue, and had to justify what he was getting paid by filling the space allotted. He also loved words and didn’t edit himself for length much.) Have you considered that the translators of the KJV wanted variety in the vocabulary at least as much as they wanted accuracy? (This doesn’t mean the KJV is inaccurate. It just means that it’s a literary translation, striving to elevate the beauty of the Scriptures and the English tongue. Consider doing a study of how many times a different English word was used to translate the same Greek word in the New Testament.)

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Analyze, Analyze, Analyze

A message to parents and students:

Never, ever, ever read a book, watch a movie, or see or hear a play or story or poem performed without answering these questions:(Don’t read a book to your child or let anyone read a book to you without doing this, either.)

Do “wise” and “good” people in the story believe that spirits inside everything can guide people?

Do they follow a religion that is supposed to be older than Christianity or the Bible and therefore “better”?

Do they live “close to the earth” in simple lives without technology and don’t believe in any kind of killing, even for food or to punish great evil?

Do they believe that tribal people and animals are smarter and nobler than civilized people?

Does the work say to “listen to your heart” or “trust your feelings” because that’s how you’ll know what the right thing to do is?

Does it emphasize separating children from adults and forcing them to trust themselves to make extremely important decisions? (An exception to this is if a child is separated from parents but can rely on the biblical training he received from them, not just his own emotions, abilities and reason.)

Do children go through much of the work relying on other children?

Do children distrust adults in conventional authority positions (parents, teachers, police, community leader)? Is this presented as “the only choice” and at the end of the book “the right thing to do”?

Do children rely on very unconventional people who live outside accepted systems of moral values and mature practices? (Some examples are the uneducated or dropouts, street people, former criminals who are “streetwise” young, inexperienced persons in lower authority positions (like a “cool” teacher in a very strict school)?

Does it say that things are going to happen for reasons that nobody can control (not even God’s overall plan)?Does it imply that whether what someone does is right and wrong is just a matter of opinion?

Does it encourage strong expressions of anger, grief and depression when things don’t go the way a character wants? Does it say having an adventure, joining a secret club, or helping friends can be more important than being with your family or doing what you’ve been told?

Are the men (dads or male principals or bosses) bad, stupid or weak?

Are the women strong and smart and good?

Are any good men unable to help, dead or far away?

Does it make fun of traditional hard work and self-discipline?

Is training for a job or learning to play an instrument boring, stupid or pointless?

Are young people encouraged to cut classes or skip work for something more important?

By contrast, does it glorify martial arts and Eastern religious practices as superior to any western or Christian-based discipline? (This is not to say that unarmed self-defense and fighting skills are wrong or evil in themselves, but they are frequently taught along with Yoga, meditation and eastern religious practices in opposition to Christianity.)

Are people who have a lot of education boring?

Are military people excessively strict, bad-tempered or stupid?

Are people who quote from the Bible or classic Christian-origin works treated as odd or foolish?

Are strong emotions emphasized and encouraged, no matter how extreme or out-of control they may be?

Is self-control de-emphasized and made to seem wrong or unnecessary?

Are manners old-fashioned and respect for adults non-existent?

Is concern for and service to others not as important as “making time for yourself”?

Does it have a good, strong story, or is it just a bunch of exciting, scary, mysterious or funny things with no real purpose or ending?

Does it seem to leave out anything to do with faith or praise people who don’t believe in anything?

If you have to answer yes to more than a couple of these questions, ask yourself if you should have anything to do with this work. It may have won all kinds of awards. The best educational authorities may recommend it. But it may be very wrong and get you thinking wrong.

Everyone seems to know that four things are obvious to avoid: violence, sex, drug abuse and bad language. But examine each of these points and consider whether our perspective on these is even correct.

What about displays of affection and a degree of intimacy between husband and wife? These are almost non-existent but should be common. In most cultures of the world girls marry very young, and marrying an older man is considered normal and desirable. We consider it practically incest. Husbands and wives seek comfort, understanding and fulfillment with friends instead of each other. Husbands are plain, rather stupid, and have no clue about how to treat their wives. They want sex all the time and ask for it boorishly. They are at least mildly incompetent at their jobs. Wives are attractive, smart, make jokes at their husbands’ expense, and keep everything running smoothly, from finances, housework and careers to discipline and child-psychology. These anti-marriage concepts fill the pages and the screens of what we accept as desirable family fare. Movie insiders say actors who are married in real life cannot play a creditable husband and wife in a movie. There is no “chemistry” unless there is an adulterous flavor to the screen romance. These works do everything they can to justify adultery. A person is trapped in a terrible marriage with an abuser or an insane or terminally ill spouse and must seek consolation with a lover. Parents who restrict or forbid dating and young romance are always unreasonably strict, have no good reason for forbidding this young love, and punish supposedly far out of proportion to the action.

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable; if anything is excellent or praiseworthy think about such things” Philippians 4:8

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