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What is the reasoning behind World History’s literature?

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Dear Carrie

Can you explain the reasoning behind World History’s Literature course?

I have been using Heart of Dakota for the past decade. Each year builds upon the previous, and that is one of my favorite things. Carrie, I have come to trust your decision! I know there is much thinking behind each part of the guide. We just finished high school World Geography. One of our favorite things was the literature. We really liked the combination of BJU and living books with the girl set. Looking ahead to World History‘s literature, we are excited!  Can you explain the thinking behind this approach?


“Ms. Please Explain the Thinking Behind the World History Literature Approach”

Dear “Ms. Please Explain the Thinking Behind the World History Literature Approach,”

Literature is one of the areas that always takes me the longest time to ponder. This is because there are so many ways that the study of literature can be approached. While many approaches have merit, not all approaches have the same effect. In looking at the study of literature, while it is important that students learn how a story is put together and recognize how the various elements work together to form a cohesive whole, as students mature it is even more important to look at a story’s central themes. It is also important to weigh those themes against what God tells us in His Word.

It is a worthy goal for students to enjoy their experience with high school level literature.

While it is also important that students gain practice in reading more difficult literature, it is a worthy goal for students to still be able to enjoy the experience as much as possible. Charlotte Mason stated that “…a living book is able to quicken the mind and is full of living ideas.” She felt that children need to enjoy the book, and so do I! Doing “too much” to a piece of literature as students read it can often steal the joy of reading good literature. Students need balance in following up with reading literature too. Charlotte Mason felt that “All children get from a flood of explanations is the trick of coming up with the right answer.” I agree wholeheartedly.

Some books are just better read as a mature adult.

As we select books, it’s also important to remember that high school level literature can often contain many adult themes. These themes can leave a student feeling hopeless and/or searching for meaning. So, in our book selections, we find it important to temper that without totally running from it. This means that we need to allow students to grapple with more difficult, adult themes. However, we need to do this without allowing the themes to become so heavy that they overtake the story until the child is weighted down in the reading. With this in mind, some books (in my opinion) are just better read as a mature adult.

Students must learn to weigh what they read against the Word of God.

Does this mean that we should only read literature that has an inherently Christian message? Not necessarily. Students need to learn to weigh what they read against the Word of God. They also need to see what life looks like without God at its center, and to have the opportunity to learn from a character’s mistakes. With all of this in mind, I’ll share that for the literature portion of the World History Guide we chose to use a purely real books approach to literature. We did enjoy alternating BJU with real books in the World Geography guide. While that did provide a terrific and rich literary experience, I enjoy mixing things up from year to year. I like to keep things fresh!

Why I Chose Not to Stay Within the Confines of ‘World Literature’

It was my original intention to have a year of “World Literature” for this guide. However, as I began the careful process of selecting literature, I quickly discovered that I didn’t want to stay within the confines of selecting a book from each continent. Rather, I wanted to choose from all potential books. I wanted to steer more toward longer standing classics overall without staying within the parameters of the World Literature category. So, our book choices reflect that and fall under an English II distinction instead. The books generally go in a loose chronological order. Please click here to see our choices for World History literature.

A Few Further Notes in Regard to Our World History Literature Selections

I will share that while in true Charlotte Mason style I typically avoid abridgments, I also feel that both the Count of Monte Cristo and Les Miserables are so wonderful that neither should be missed. All abridgments are definitely not created equal, but the particular abridgments we chose keep the important storyline, leave out some long descriptions, omit minor subplots with mature themes, and still keep much of the original writing. When students are older someday, perhaps they will desire to read the full-length novels (both of which weigh in at around 1200 pages each)! Be warned that the full-length novels also will contain some elements that you may not be comfortable having your child read until he/she is older. In the meantime, we will settle for the abridgments, which still include close to 600 pages each.

Charlotte Mason Inspired Follow-Ups in World History’s Literature Course

Students utilize Charlotte Mason inspired follow-ups for the readings. This means that students use a combination of daily readings with annotations, Common Place Book entries, and a rotation of oral and written narrations. In regard to annotating, Charlotte Mason suggested…“marginal notes be freely made, as neatly and beautifully as may be, for books should be handled with reverence.” She also shared that oral narration is a worthy and complex skill, requiring the child to read, process, remember, sequence, choose the most important events to recall, compose what to say, and say it.

Charlotte Mason-Style Written Narrations Add Further Depth to World History’s Literature Course

Written narration takes this skill set even further, by adding the composition aspect to the narration. Charlotte Mason’s thoughts on the Common Place Book were that it should be reserved for passages that struck a child particularly, yet also be for the purpose to give some account of what was read in each book. So, these skills fall well within a Charlotte Mason styled literature study and work well to achieve our goals too.

Learning Literary Styles and Reflecting to Make Personal Connections 

As part of our CM styled literature study, students have some guidance in literary styles to watch for as they read (such as irony, allusion, foreshadowing, and symbolism). After reading, students also have an opportunity for reflection in a literature journal. As Charlotte Mason shared, “Books need to make children expend some effort in thinking. The child needs to make generalizations, classify, infer, make judgments, be able to visualize, to discriminate, or use the mind in some capable way until knowledge from the the book is sorted so some is assimilated and some is rejected according to his/her own decision. In the end, he’s the one who decides what he’ll get out the book, not the teacher.” This is our goal.

Meeting to Discuss Each Literature Selection 

At the end of each book, students meet with the teacher (after first completing a chart/ graphic organizer related to setting, plot, characterization, and possible themes to bring to the discussion). The discussion tends toward processing what was read and the overall themes of the book. As part of the discussion, the book is weighed in light of what the Bible has to say about the themes. We take care not to get between the child and the book and to avoid the problem shown in the following quote: “Mom, I think I’d be able to understand, if you stopped explaining so much.

Helping Students to Linger, Contemplate, and Develop Moral Discernment As Part of Their Literature Experience

I’ll leave you with one more great Charlotte Mason quote in regard to literature, “Maturity and wisdom require reflective thought about ideas. Getting through a book at too quick of a pace leaves room for little else beside a brief brush with the storyline. There must be time for the mind to linger with the characters and contemplate their moral aspects.”  This is what we take care to keep in mind, as we desire for our students to linger, contemplate, and develop moral discernment as part of their literature experience!


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