This year at the school where I am a headmaster I am teaching a combined history, literature, and writing class to Jr. High students. As an introduction to my students and parents I have composed a brief document explaining as simply as possible why we take the time to read "stories" in our school and am sharing it here in this space as well.
Introduction to Literature Class
Let me let you in on a little secret.
There are only a few things we try to accomplish in a literature class, only a few things that actually need to get done.
Students needs to:
- Be able to read and understand the words, increasing their vocabulary as they progress onward.
- Be able to understand the story (characters, setting, plot) and then be able to talk/write about what happened in the story.
- Be able to search for deeper meaning within the story, to see what's happening “behind the scenes”, and to connect the story to outside sources (for example, other books, historical events, or science—the list could go on) and be able to talk/write about what they discover.
- Perhaps even be able to go away and write their own stories (this one is great but not required)
That's it. That's what a literature class does. Broken down to essentials it should train students to:
1. become good readers and
2. become good at communicating about what they have read.
But why even do this? What's going on “behind the scenes” of a literature class?
Those answers are simple too:
- We are all on a search for meaning. By telling each other stories we are in turn saying something about ourselves, about the kind of people we are, and the kind of people we want to be and don't want to be.
- People in general love being carried along by a story, they love being caught up in another world. A big part of literature class is sharing in the experience of being caught up in a story together and then discussing it with each other, trying to figure out what it all means.
- Ultimately, the stories we tell each other should help us become better people. That is our retelling, contemplation, and re-articulation of stories (a somewhat inactive action) should naturally cause us to in turn become more virtuous people of action. Our stories should shape us into a more moral, just, and (I would say) Godly people.
There you go. Welcome to literature.
Literature is our story, and thus it is our history.
And if you happen upon a story you don't like or you disagree with, go away and write a better one, one that tells the kind of story you think should be told. Because put together, all of literature is one big giant conversation, with dead storytellers speaking to each other as well as to the living storytellers. You don't have to go away and write your own novel, but are you ready to enter the conversation?
If you are, let's go! It's an adventure unto itself!