Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Near the Dark Side by Karen Andreola

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.

My eyes swept up and down the shelves. “They’re all so dark. . . and sensational,” I said and added a moment later, “Dreadfully dark . . . sleazy . . . bloody.” 

“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.

Photo courtesy of William Russell Photos
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. 
WW Irish Soda Bread with raisins, dried cranberries, and caraway seeds
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.

Bird Watching in winter - Sophia's nature notebook 1999

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. 

Post Script

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.
End Notes
*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,
Karen Andreola 


  1. Dear Karen,
    I think I must have just stopped at your blog as you hit 'publish.' :-)
    It is true that much of what is written for young people is dark and lacking in Truth. My very humble opinion (since my eldest is only 18) is that parents must be willing to walk alongside their teens in the area of media. When there is an interest for the "dark side" I think the individual is hungry for mystery and the supernatural, which of course Christianity offers in abundance. I have used my children's interests in things I don't like as a means to see into their hearts. I think the "whys" are as important as the "whats." We live in this world which has been made ugly by sin----but we were made for something beautiful. And there is much goodness for the taking if one is willing to look.
    Amy's sachets are charming. She is a tidier seamstress than I. :-)
    Thank you for this post, Karen. You are a good teacher.

  2. We have come to expect Truth from your pen, Karen. Thank you.


  3. Karen, thank you so much for this post. This has been my soapbox for many years, and Harry Potter was one of the key reasons we made the decision to take the kids out of public school. It was the most popular book in the school's reading program. Now, the book stores are FULL of books dealing with sorcery and "paranormal romance." You are what you read, and we have tried to teach our kids this CRUCIAL lesson. Again, thank you for this post.

  4. Yes, the Joseph Approach. What a great term for fleeing from evil. We could also coin the term of the Daniel Approach for choosing what is right despite cultural consequences. I pray my children will choose those approaches. However, if necessary God may use the Paul Intervention (sweeping a lost soul off his rebellious feet) or the Peter Plight (bringing him down low so he may be built back up). I'm so happy to see your post. And the link to the photographer is amazing. Thank you for your encouragement to seek His Kingdom and follow His loving heart.

  5. Karen, I am standing here cheering you on for sharing this vital message!! (Can you hear me?):)

    I love the concept of the three categories (and I like Dean's name for the third). Why do Christian parents/homeschoolers believe that they need to allow anything from that third category as acceptable reading for their children or for their young adults? There is plenty of the good and noble and true, the sort that nourishes the mind and soul. No need to feed in the sludge.

    Long ago in a Practical Homeschooling magazine, I read an article that impacted me. (I think that Mary Pride was the author, although I can't be sure.) The author posed this idea: Our standards for reading (or viewing) material should not be so low that we include anything that is not "bad," but we should choose to read (or view) only what has a compelling reason TO read (or view) it. That certainly changed the way I looked at things. "Is there a good reason to watch this movie?" "Why should I read this book...or encourage my children to read it?"

    Thank you for the call to a higher standard.

  6. Karen:
    I am very much in agreement with and sympathy with Mr. Gallico's quote which you have given here - thank you so much for sharing it (and the recommendation for The Snow Goose, which I have not read and look forward to discovering).
    It is good to be reminded again and again of the triumph of good - our good God will always prevail.
    Posts like this one give us courage and cheer to remember these things.
    Thank you so much.

  7. Dear Karen,

    I saw the book recommendations, and as usual upon reading your posts, opened a browser for my library and immediately put the two books you introduced us to on hold. I saw that there is a Mrs. 'Arris has a series. We are of the same mindset on the "young adult" books. As you know, I have teenagers and know this issue far too well. I hope you are well!


  8. i'd love to see booklists! i know what needs the joseph approach ;) but would love to see lists of books for the first two categories- thank you!

  9. Dear Karen,
    I am flabbergasted by this post as I have been dealing with this very issue lately. I allowed my homeschooled children to get their own library cards and found out this week that one has been checking out some very popular books dealing with cutesy fantasy girls involved in sorcery. Having been saved out of that background myself I am well aware of the tools the enemy uses to lure children in...and I am utterly heartbroken.I am normally what most people call overprotective.I guess I failed in this instance.
    I totally agree with everything you said in your post and appreciate your encouragement.
    Much love from a heartsick fellow homeschooler,

  10. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your hearts here, my blog friends.

    "Overprotective" is something I've been accused of and is something that we Christian home teaching mothers must all seem to be - at least to a segment of our acquaintances and/or even extended family. What is overprotective today was just ordinary "protective" a couple generations ago.
    Children will see and hear things by accident that are dreadful - as we live in the world. But we are not "of" it and with years of the Good Stuff stored up in their imaginations and affections, we can hope and pray that this will be weight on the scales to our favor - and easily bring them back on the narrow path.

    I would be happy to talk about the Good Stuff here and there in upcoming posts as well as those books that ought to be read with discernment. - Karen A.

  11. Greetings, dear Karen! The accusation of overprotection is one many of us will likely never avoid in our child-raising and homeschooling journeys. Praise God for like-minded and encouraging (blog) friends like you and so many others! We are raising arrows and look forward to successfully launching them to fly straight and true! Thank you for always providing encouragement to good books and to the Truth! Absolutely loving Dean's photo of the geese taking flight! A beautiful illustration of our children taking flight through the wise protection and guidance of their loving parents. :)
    xo Lisa

  12. Thank you for this post, Karen. It is a very timely one for me. You see, our home school group has started a book club. But the children won't be reading classics; they will be reading books from secular contemporary author, Lois Lowry. And the book club discussions will be lead by one of the dad's in our group who is not Christian. I read book reviews about her books,
    and, needless to say, we are not participating in this activity.
    These is so much trash in the world today, why would we ever expose them to it on purpose?? My husband and I are still in disbelief about this, as our group is a Christian home school group and clearly states that fact in its constitution.

  13. Thank you Karen! I always look forward to your words. Thanks for the encouragement in keeping quality literature in the home no matter the age of the kids!

  14. Great post.

    I have been rereading many of the chapter books I read as a young girl and am shocked at some of the books I read. My oldest is 7 but I want to be prepared with a good library of novels for her. I have begun to buy used YA books (mostly classics... I did find a Cassie Woodlawn book too) and then read them to make sure they are appropriate.

    I would love a list of books your kids enjoyed when they were preteens and teens.

  15. We have just received our lavender strawberry kit and are so delighted with it. It was a joy to the senses to open it. The fabric choices were delightful and, of course, the aroma was just what our winter weary selves needed. I, too, immediately searched for an ordered The Snow Goose. It also led me to the purchase of another gem that I had forgotten about, The Other Side of the Dale by
    Gervase Phinn. As I have an on-the-cusp-of-fourteen year old daughter and a nine year old daughter who looks up to her it is disturbing to see the offerings of YA literature. While not all of it is horrid one does need to be diligent in making choices. I have seen what her peers who attend public school are assigned for reading and it shocks and saddens me. We are always thankful for your blog postings as well as your books. I am now re-reading Lessons at Blackberry Inn as it provides comfort when the world is simply too much.

  16. Hello
    I have been reading your blog for a while. This article is so beautifully-written and it manages to be timely and yet full of good general principles. I, too, am impressed with Dean's term, 'The Joseph Approach'. Your husband shares my husband's ability to think of a pithy phrase that just seems to fit.

    When I was a teenager I read all of the Mrs Harris books. I loved them. Isn't it fun to share those much-loved titles with our children?

    Cheryl's reference to the magazine article was so helpful. It encapsulates my thoughts about the books. Life is short, and there is barely time to even read all the GOOD ones, without taking on the burden of slogging one's way through some over-hyped bit of nonsense.

  17. I appreciate Dean's phrase, too. At times I miss the age when the dark side seemed further away.

    Our library selections have deteriorated, and I tend to use the online reserve option so I can avoid have to wade through all the chaff.

    I'll be looking into The Snow Goose. Thanks, Karen.