Near the Dark Side
Advice for Junior High and High School
It was some years back. We were browsing the isles of a large bookstore slowly making our way to the coffee-bar-café. I was thirsty and noticed a line of people forming at the counter. But at Dean’s words I stopped in an isle of paperbacks. “What do you think of these covers?” he asked me.
“Exactly,” he said, “and this isle is for teens.”
“What? All these? Really?” I exclaimed. He nodded soberly. A little shiver went up my spine.
In this public place Dean’s face showed no emotion. But I knew the depth of disgust beneath his words. “These are the kinds of books marketed to children that are keeping publishers in business, evidently,” he told me. I felt sick. I probably showed it. But my husband is used to the embarrassment of being married to someone who unlike Elinor of Sense and Sensibility, has never learned self-control in regards to facial expression when agitated. I retained the same sickened-look while standing in line at the congested coffee bar.
Young people learn more about the world (each waking hour it seems.) And they crave a bit of society. For our children this meant taking part in small circles for ministry and extracurricular activities. We invited people into our home, both young and old. Outside activities widened horizons in ways that were edifying to themselves, their friendships, and the local community.
The humanities widen horizons, too. Human thought expressed in (history, biography, novels, plays, poetry, music, film) drop the reader into a kind of society in very intimate ways. For the Christian parent book choices for teens may seem difficult. Why? A closer look at the realities of life, than in previous years, is observed. More sophisticated themes are introduced. If literature reflects the truths of life, how far should our steps take us into the dark side?
It helps to place reading in three categories.
One – Our Daily Bread *1
Good Stuff is available for seekers and sifters. The home school world was the biggest help to us. Choosy parents look for the good stuff in well-written biography, historical fiction, novels, and film. What of novels? A novel that trains the conscience has virtue or beauty in it somewhere, or something redeeming in the conflict resolution. Good novels, Miss Charlotte Mason tells young people in Ourselves, are homilies to the wise. Their pages deserve close reading, no skipping or peeking at the end. She says,
“One must read to learn the meaning of life . . . The characters in the books we know become our mentors or our warnings, our instructors always. . . . It would be a foolish waste of time to give this sort of careful reading to a novel that has neither literary or moral worth, and therefore it is well to confine ourselves to the best – to novels that we can read over many times, each time with increased pleasure.” *2
Two – For the Discerning*3
The maturing student faces hard truths. In his reading he meets tragedy, sorrow, poverty, greed, and worldviews of nations that have led to the slaughter of countless innocent men, women and children. Christians are being martyred and always will be until Jesus returns triumphantly. But as I’ve written before we can accompany hard truths with hope. How? We include the helpers. The helpers are those who uplift society uncompromised by those among us who drag society down. Although secularists think themselves justified in hiding the faith of helpers, healers, and heroes, quite often, and with a little further investigation, we find that these people turn out to be Christians.
As children mature they learn to reason. They have built a solid foundation in the Word of God and so can detect fallacies and falsehoods.*4 Do we need to address every blasphemy? No. Rather, we help students to principles, which should enable them to discern.*5 For there is a third category of knowledge that is best placed at a distance.
Three – The Joseph Approach (a name Dean has given it)
This category often includes best sellers – the talk-of-the-town online in books and film – the big moneymakers. But if a celebration of sin explicitly darkens the page, we use the Joseph Approach. We flee. Jesus sent out his disciples as sheep among wolves. He warned them to be shrewd in recognizing evil but to remain as innocent as doves.*6 In the Old and New Testament we are given lists of sins that seriously displease God because they go against His law. To “get the drift” of evil and perversions we do not need the gruesome details. We mustn’t let our curiosity be entertained by them. Those in the military and law-enforcement (the rescuers and protectors) in some instances must step into the perversions and violence of the dark side, but we must not.
Recently Dean photographed a flock of black and white birds congregating around our neighbor’s icy pond. “Oh, these must be snow geese,” I said.
“How do you know? We’ve never seen them before.”
“Paul Gallico.” I said. I explained and added, “I thought I heard honking.” Soon after, I splurged and put Paul Gallico’s short story, The Snow Goose on my kindle. It's a 66-page-gem.
In the mid-20th century, people generally held the conservative opinion on reading. According to author and scriptwriter Paul Gallico, they did. He wrote the humorous Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris, which I read some years back. The Snow Goose was published in The Saturday Evening Post in 1941. It won the O. Henry Award. But a critic proclaimed it “the most sentimental story that ever has achieved the dignity of a Borzoi imprint.” How did Mr. Gallico respond? He said,
“. . . in the contest between sentiment and slime, sentiment remains so far out in front, as it always has and always will among ordinary humans, that the calamity-howlers and p-rn merchants have to increase the decibels of their lamentations, the hideousness of their violence, and the mountainous piles of their filth to keep in the race at all.’" *7
If you are familiar with my writing you will be surprised to find such a strong statement here. But let the truth be told.
Spread Your Wings
We amassed such a collection of books during our years of home teaching that we were never without something good to read. Starting with delightful picture books children can develop good taste in reading. What happens when we are equipped with books in category one and two? We spread our wings. We have caught the impulse to live beyond self-satisfaction. We understand God’s love.*8 It is about serving God by serving others. It is about being one of the helpers. We sheep among wolves go about our business uplifting society. However lowly, unsung, or ordinary our part in it might be, we are on the Lord’s side.
Blog friend, Amy who lives in sunny Florida (nice!), finished her Lavender Strawberries. Of her large family of children she has one girl. Amy is always looking for sweet feminine activities to share with her growing daughter. Thank you for sending your photograph, Amy. May your daughter continue to enjoy a Beautiful Girlhood.
I like the photograph of the Amish taken by our friend, Mr. Bill Russell. Mr. Russell is a professional portrait photographer here in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and a very good one. To see more views of Lancaster County visit his website.
The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico is appropriate Good Stuff for junior high and high school. I enjoyed it for Mother Culture. It helps to know a little about England's efforts at Dunkirk during WWII.
*1 Philippians 4:8
*2 Charlotte Mason, Ourselves, pgs 72,73
*3 Proverbs 8:12
*4 Proverbs 1
*5 Charlotte Mason, A Philosophy of Education, pg 148
*6 Mathew 10:16
*7 Wikipedia, Paul Gallico
*8 Romans 13:9-10
We worry about holes. But take heart. Education isn’t about filling inevitable holes. It’s about expanding horizons. See A Charlotte Mason Companion, chapter 4 & 5.
Comments are invited,