I have been thinking about fairy tales this week after coming across the bowdlerized (to modify by abridging, simplifying, or distorting in style or content) version that appears on a third grade Common Core reading assignment. In his essay “On Fairy-Stories,” J. R. R. Tolkien writes, “The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords.”
Although non-fiction is effective for telling facts, fiction shows facts in action. There are two primary ways you can tell truth through fiction. The first is through simple stories such as parables, myths, and fables that easily and obviously illustrate a moral or truth in action. The second is through longer, more sophisticated stories such as those found in novels, plays, and epics. Each has its place in the world of fiction, but I have come to believe that some of the most powerful stories are short–pithy parables, wise fables, simple folk tales, and imaginative fairy stories.
When Christ told the parable of the seed-sower who sowed in various places, he told a story his audience could visualize. Can you imagine that any of them left with the desire to be anything less than the good soil that would produce a bountiful crop? In a similar way, Aesop’s fables illustrate the folly or wisdom of human behavior in such an effective way that many of the morals drawn from them are used as metaphors in everyday life. We can encourage ingenuity by reminding our children of the crow and the pitcher, or discourage greediness by reminding them of the dog in the manger.
Fairy tales are often seen as either too dark or too frivolous, but they tell the truth in a very special way. As G. K. Chesterton wrote in his essay “The Red Angel,” “fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already . . . What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.” To deprive a child of fairy tales or present him with a butchered version such as the Peter and Patty story from the Common Core is to not only dull his taste for good literature, but also rob him of the assurance that one day he too may slay the dragon.
“On Three Ways of Writing for Children” by C. S. Lewis
I’m not sure why, but I’ve recently been seeing a rash of misused peaks. I have a feeling that these things spread like smallpox, and are just as deadly to clarity and enjoyment of the written word. Here for your enjoyment is a mini poster that might help keep them straight. Feel free to share!
P. S. I know that learning homonyms isn’t always easy, but there are things that can help. Spelling Made Easy is an ungraded two-year, puzzle-based spelling program based entirely on homonyms, and the Excellence in Literature Handbook for Writers has a substantial list of Frequently Misused Words (pages 267-277). I hope they’re helpful!
In last night’s webinar with Andrew Pudewa of the Institute for Excellence in Writing, we talked about teaching the great books in the context of the history, literature, art, and music that can illuminate them more fully. In case you missed the webinar, I thought I’d share this article on the same topic.
“The sole substitute for an experience which we have not ourselves lived through is art and literature . . . Literature transmits incontrovertible condensed experience . . . from generation to generation. In this way literature becomes the living memory of a nation.” Alexander Solzhenitsyn (from his Nobel lecture)
As Solzhenitsyn points out, literature enlarges our experiences. Pick up a good book, and you are immediately transported into another life. Reading the great books allows us to learn from the greatest minds of all time, and to gain perspective on the ideas that have shaped our culture. Literature is the foundation of a classical education. Why not make great books the foundation of your high school humanities study?
Reading and teaching literature in context is a bit like studying a map before you set out for a walk in a strange city. Context helps you find significant intersections, decipher archaic language, and find a path through old-fashioned rhetoric. Great literature is worth is all the time and attention it takes to understand and enjoy it, so you need to present it in a way that keeps your student from feeling as if he or she is wandering in the dark.
How should great literature be taught?
How should a student approach a complex work such as Shakespeare’s King Lear, or Homer’s Odyssey? What are the context keys that will unlock their understanding? As I have read, learned, and taught great literature, I’ve discovered some basic truths:
- First, most students will enjoy the great books, as long as they are presented in a way that makes them understandable.
- Second, the fastest way to put students to sleep is to do all the work for them, and tell them everything they need to know. They stand a better chance of staying awake and absorbing everything if they do guided research for themselves.
- Third, reading and thinking analytically about literature helps students become better thinkers and writers, which translates to success in other subjects.
- Finally, there’s nothing better than the moment when a student gets through a long and difficult work, and says, “That’s the best book I ever read!”
Present Great Books in Context
When you ask your son or daughter to study the great books, it’s important to present them with a road map and the tools for enjoyment. This includes an annotated version of the book, plus audio, and possibly even video versions of the text. You’ll need to point your student to study resources that will provide the basics of the literary, artistic, and historical contexts of the book, including poetry, music, and other relevant resources. You can find these things yourself, but if you use Excellence in Literature, context resource links are all included, along with a four-week lesson plan for each book, a Formats and Models chapter that contains instructions and a student-written model for each type of paper, a rubric for evaluating writing, and more.
Most literature studies should begin with a brief overview of the book’s table of contents, as well as a bit of background information on the author’s life. This will provide enough context to begin reading the work and/or context works. If your student is an auditory or kinestheticlearner, it’s perfectly acceptable to listen to an unabridged audio version of the book for the first read-through. By absorbing both the great book and information about the art, music, literature that surround it, students are ready to exercise analytical thinking as they compose essays in response to carefully crafted writing prompts.
Guided Study Ensures Active Learning
This “literature in context” method has the virtue of providing for self-directed learning. Once students understand what it takes to enjoy the great books, and once they have mastered the process, they have the keys that will help them unlock any difficult subject in college. Guided research helps students learn deeply and independently, and encourages use of critical thinking as they evaluate not only elements of the literary work, but also the worldview of the author, and the validity of various resources. Students don’t have time to get bored, because they aren’t passively listening to long lectures–they are actively engaged in learning!
Literature Study Helps Students Become Better Thinkers and Writers
Literature not only presents deep ideas and encourages critical thinking; it also models excellent writing in many different styles. A student who studies full-length great literature in context has an almost insurmountable advantage in test-taking and vocabulary over a student who doesn’t study the great books.
In order to encourage the development of analytical thinking, it’s important to provide writing prompts that engage the student at a “why” level. This is not the time for trivia questions, such as “What color was the dress Cosette wore when Marius first saw her?” (Les Miserables by Victor Hugo) This type of question belongs in Trivial Pursuit,® not in a high-school curriculum! Asking questions that relate to the overall theme of the book, motivations of the characters, the author’s intent, or the reliability of the narrator will always elicit more thoughtful essays than will trivia questions. The right question prompts higher level critical thinking, which is a skill that will help the student in college and the future.
The Delight of Shared Literary Experience
Beyond the academic benefits of studying literature, there is one more very fundamental reason to read the great books. Solzhenitsyn had it right when he spoke of literature as “living memory.” When your student reads and writes about one of the classic literary works of Western civilization, he or she becomes part of a great conversation about ideas that has been carried on, generation after generation.
It doesn’t matter who you are or where you live– a ranch in Montana, an apartment in Los Angeles, a cabin in Tennessee, or even a houseboat on the Yangtze River– your family can live with and learn from the greatest literature of the ages. And as you experience great literature in context, I’m sure you’ll never get tired of hearing, “That’s the best book I ever read!”
We’ve added a new free resource to the Excellence in Literature website! It’s a Chart of Literary Periods that I think you’ll find useful. I will be the first to admit it is not yet exhaustive–I am likely to add more at some point, but I think it will be helpful as it is now. I hope you enjoy it!
Article by Janice Campbell and (c) 2013 by Everyday Education, LLC. See “Newsletter Editors” tab for reprint information.
During summer break (something I don’t seem to be getting this year), I sometimes venture into the dark recesses of my bookshelves in search of a good old book. I have a sizable collection of fiction written between 1850 – 1950 from childhood thrift-shopping trips with my grandmother. Some of these books are great classics, but others are simply popular fiction of the time.
These old books formed the bulk of my reading when I was young, and I thoroughly enjoyed them. As I read them now, however, I realize that most modern readers have little context for the mindset, manners, and morals, or even many of the conflicts that consumed the characters in the novels of the late 19th and early 20th century. This lack of context can affect understanding of and appreciation for these stories.
One of the books I found on my shelves recently was a typical cozy mystery, and the main character, Miss Silver, is a Miss Marple-like older lady who knits while making sharp observations of those around her. I can picture her as I read, because I remember a pair of similar-appearing older ladies from my childhood. If I didn’t have that context, though, the character would simply seem unreal, making the story unbelievable.
The second book presented a scenario I initially found ludicrous– a cruel husband banishes his wife, and she is forced to take refuge in another man’s house. She is so mortified by this that she spends most of the rest of her life in a convent. While this was probably an early version of a Harlequin-type romance, readers of the time probably had enough context to empathize with the character. I’m afraid I just couldn’t get into it.
Sometimes “light reading” is too light to be worth the time and effort it takes to see into and through the cultural changes.
I find it interesting that truly great literature– Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales or Shakespeare’s plays, for example– don’t seem to suffer quite as much from contextual shift. Chaucer’s Pardoner stands, century after century, as one of the most odious religious charlatans ever encountered, and Shakespeare’s Lear inspires a gamut of emotions, from outrage to pity, as he wends his way across the page. And is there any heart too hard to be moved by Jean Valjean in Les Miserables?
Great literature is challenging, but worth it. It is great because although costumes and accents may change, the deepest human emotions are evoked in a way that rings true across centuries. Lighter fare– twinkies for the brain– nourishes the soul about as well as junk food does the body. An occasional snack won’t kill you, but a steady diet of fluff will rot the mind.
So what are you reading this summer? I’ve been making my way through Bleak House by Dickens (breaking my own rule about Dickens being best read during the long evenings of winter), and it’s very possible that I may need something very fluffy by the time it’s over!
The updated second edition is now available.
Charlotte Mason said that “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life,” and she was right. An extensive study published in 2010 on “Family Scholarly Culture and Educational Success” (PDF), reports that a family’s “scholarly culture – the way of life in homes where books are numerous, esteemed, read, and enjoyed” matters.
I’m sure this doesn’t come as a surprise to homeschoolers, but just in case you need a reason to keep building your family’s home library, here are a few significant quotes from the report.
- A home in which books are an integral part of the way of life will encourage children to read for pleasure, thereby providing them with information, vocabulary, imaginative richness, and wide horizons. (p. 3)
- Because it generates skills and knowledge central to schooling, scholarly culture should enhance educational achievement in all societies, rich and poor alike; in all political systems, Communist and capitalist alike; and in the past as well as the present. (p. 3)
- In addition to providing skills and knowledge, a large home library is a manifestation of the family’s preferences: an indication that they enjoy and value scholarly culture, that they find ideas congenial, reading agreeable, complex and intellectually demanding work attractive. It shows a commitment to investing in knowledge, and perhaps in schooling. It suggests that conversations between parents and their children will include references to books and imaginative ideas growing out of them. In short, a large library reveals a preference for the scholarly culture. (p. 4)
- Biggest gains at the bottom: an increase in scholarly culture has the greatest impact on children from families with little scholarly culture. (p. 4)
- Each additional book is associated with greater gains in educational attainment in families with few books than in families where there are already many books. (p. 9)
- The difference between a bookless home and one with a 500-book library is as great as the difference between having parents who are barely literate (3 years of education) and having university educated parents (15 or 16 years of education).
- Scholarly culture’s advantage goes back for generations, as far back as the memory of survey respondents can take us, and in all political systems [both pre- and -post WWII West, pre- and post Communist Eastern Europe, pre- and post-Cultural Revolution China, and pre- and post-Apartheid South Africa]. (p. 13)
- Thus it seems that scholarly culture, and the taste for books that it brings, flows from generation to generation largely of its own accord, little affected by education, occupational status, or other aspects of class. (p. 17)
- Parents give their infants toy books to play with in the bath; read stories to little children at bed-time; give books as presents to older children; talk, explain, imagine, fantasize, and play with words unceasingly. Their children get a taste for all this, learn the words, master the skills, buy the books. And that pays off handsomely in school. (p. 17)
- A book-oriented home environment, we argue, endows children with tools that are directly useful in learning at school: vocabulary, information, comprehension skills, imagination, broad horizons of history and geography, familiarity with good writing, understanding of the importance of evidence in argument, and many others. In short, families matter not just for the material resources they provide, not just because of parents’ formal educational skills, but also – often more importantly – because of the scholarly culture they embody. (p. 19-20)
Books are not made for furniture, but there is nothing else that so beautifully furnishes a house. ~Henry Ward Beecher
Another article you may enjoy: How to Build a Quality Home Library Inexpensively
Books are the compasses and telescopes and sextants and charts which other men have prepared to help us navigate the dangerous seas of human life. ~Jesse Lee Bennett
Find new books you might enjoy at GoodReads.com. You’re welcome to connect with me there;-).
The stories of childhood leave an indelible impression,
and their author always has a niche in the temple of memory
from which the image is never cast out
to be thrown on the rubbish heap of things that are outgrown and outlived.
Work cited: Evans, M. D. R., et al. Family scholarly culture and educational success: Books and schooling in 27 nations. Research in Social Stratiﬁcation and Mobility (2010), doi:10.1016/j.rssm.2010.01.002
In last week’s post, I provided an overview of the Common Core Standards (CCS), with a video overview, and links to more information. This week, I am focusing on the literature portion of the Standards. I am not going to devote a great deal of time to these, as there are many others doing so. However, I do have a few initial thoughts.
I have not looked at the math standards, as I am not qualified to provide an informed analysis, but I have looked at the Language Arts Standards. A classically educated student would easily exceed all that the Standards mandate, but of course, returning to the classical model would be much too sensible for the Rube Goldbergs at the helm of education planning.
Instead of reading and discussing Plato or Petrarch, students will be presented with such gems as “The Cost Conundrum: Health Care Costs in McAllen, Texas” or “U.S. General Services Administration. Executive Order 13423: Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management.”
Those aren’t the only texts, of course, but two that struck me as particularly egregious. If the goal is to cause students to tune out and despise the art of reading, that is exactly the type of text that is needed. Rather than grappling with big, meaty ideas such as truth, justice, and integrity, students will be provided with the mental equivalent of rabbit pellets. Every trivial piece of nonsense students are forced to cover steals time from something more valuable.
Charles Dickens offers a remarkably prescient view of the CCS in the first chapter of Hard Times. A government functionary is visiting the class of Mr. Gradgrind, and in the course of a repulsively realistic classroom exercise in manipulation, the government representative admonishes:
“‘Fact, fact, fact!’ said the gentleman. And ‘Fact, fact, fact!’ repeated Thomas Gradgrind.
‘You are to be in all things regulated and governed,’ said the gentleman, ‘by fact. We hope to have, before long, a board of fact, composed of commissioners of fact, who will force the people to be a people of fact, and of nothing but fact.”
C. S. Lewis described imagination as ‘the organ of meaning,” and he was right. Great literature engages both mind and heart, evokes interest, and sparks connections in memory. A reduced focus on literature and story means a reduction in the understanding of metaphor, and the ability to think abstractly. What the Common Core proposes is to accelerate the drain of meaning from language, and for those who value truth, wisdom, and virtue, this is intolerable.
Here are a couple of articles that explain why literature is essential:
“Why Study Literature?” by Steve R. Hake, Ph.D. Professor of English Literature, Patrick Henry College (PDF)
“The Importance of Imagination for. C.S. Lewis and for Us” by Art Lindsley, Ph.D (PDF)
You’ll find other articles on literature here on my blog and at ExcellenceinLiterature.com.
Viewpoints on Literature in the Common Core
Sandra Stotsky provides a look at “Common Core Standards’ Devastating Impact on Literary Study and Analytical Thinking” on the Heritage Foundation website.
An article on Huffington Post reports that “Common Core Nonfiction Reading Standards Mark The End Of Literature, English Teachers Say.”
Here is an expert’s view on the Common Core Standards (CCS). Will Fitzhugh, founder of The Concord Review, offers a thoughtful analysis of the language arts portion of the CCS standards.
Hard Times: A Portrait of Modern Education
And here, for your reading pleasure (consider it a palate cleanser), are the first three chapters of Hard Times by Charles Dickens. His depiction of the essence of the Common Core and modern educational methods is spot on, though he wrote over 100 years ago. Ironically, students educated in this way would be sure to miss the point, as well as the humor in Dicken’s character names. I hope you’ll find this excerpt edifying.
THE ONE THING NEEDFUL
‘Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!’
The scene was a plain, bare, monotonous vault of a school-room, and the speaker’s square forefinger emphasized his observations by underscoring every sentence with a line on the schoolmaster’s sleeve. The emphasis was helped by the speaker’s square wall of a forehead, which had his eyebrows for its base, while his eyes found commodious cellarage in two dark caves, overshadowed by the wall. The emphasis was helped by the speaker’s mouth, which was wide, thin, and hard set. The emphasis was helped by the speaker’s voice, which was inflexible, dry, and dictatorial. The emphasis was helped by the speaker’s hair, which bristled on the skirts of his bald head, a plantation of firs to keep the wind from its shining surface, all covered with knobs, like the crust of a plum pie, as if the head had scarcely warehouse-room for the hard facts stored inside. The speaker’s obstinate carriage, square coat, square legs, square shoulders,—nay, his very neckcloth, trained to take him by the throat with an unaccommodating grasp, like a stubborn fact, as it was,—all helped the emphasis.
‘In this life, we want nothing but Facts, sir; nothing but Facts!’
The speaker, and the schoolmaster, and the third grown person present, all backed a little, and swept with their eyes the inclined plane of little vessels then and there arranged in order, ready to have imperial gallons of facts poured into them until they were full to the brim.
MURDERING THE INNOCENTS
Thomas Gradgrind, sir. A man of realities. A man of facts and calculations. A man who proceeds upon the principle that two and two are four, and nothing over, and who is not to be talked into allowing for anything over. Thomas Gradgrind, sir—peremptorily Thomas—Thomas Gradgrind. With a rule and a pair of scales, and the multiplication table always in his pocket, sir, ready to weigh and measure any parcel of human nature, and tell you exactly what it comes to. It is a mere question of figures, a case of simple arithmetic. You might hope to get some other nonsensical belief into the head of George Gradgrind, or Augustus Gradgrind, or John Gradgrind, or Joseph Gradgrind (all supposititious, non-existent persons), but into the head of Thomas Gradgrind—no, sir!
In such terms Mr. Gradgrind always mentally introduced himself, whether to his private circle of acquaintance, or to the public in general. In such terms, no doubt, substituting the words ‘boys and girls,’ for ‘sir,’ Thomas Gradgrind now presented Thomas Gradgrind to the little pitchers before him, who were to be filled so full of facts.
Indeed, as he eagerly sparkled at them from the cellarage before mentioned, he seemed a kind of cannon loaded to the muzzle with facts, and prepared to blow them clean out of the regions of childhood at one discharge. He seemed a galvanizing apparatus, too, charged with a grim mechanical substitute for the tender young imaginations that were to be stormed away.
‘Girl number twenty,’ said Mr. Gradgrind, squarely pointing with his square forefinger, ‘I don’t know that girl. Who is that girl?’
‘Sissy Jupe, sir,’ explained number twenty, blushing, standing up, and curtseying.
‘Sissy is not a name,’ said Mr. Gradgrind. ‘Don’t call yourself Sissy. Call yourself Cecilia.’
‘It’s father as calls me Sissy, sir,’ returned the young girl in a trembling voice, and with another curtsey.
‘Then he has no business to do it,’ said Mr. Gradgrind. ‘Tell him he mustn’t. Cecilia Jupe. Let me see. What is your father?’
‘He belongs to the horse-riding, if you please, sir.’
Mr. Gradgrind frowned, and waved off the objectionable calling with his hand.
‘We don’t want to know anything about that, here. You mustn’t tell us about that, here. Your father breaks horses, don’t he?’
‘If you please, sir, when they can get any to break, they do break horses in the ring, sir.’
‘You mustn’t tell us about the ring, here. Very well, then. Describe your father as a horsebreaker. He doctors sick horses, I dare say?’
‘Oh yes, sir.’
‘Very well, then. He is a veterinary surgeon, a farrier, and horsebreaker. Give me your definition of a horse.’
(Sissy Jupe thrown into the greatest alarm by this demand.)
‘Girl number twenty unable to define a horse!’ said Mr. Gradgrind, for the general behoof of all the little pitchers. ‘Girl number twenty possessed of no facts, in reference to one of the commonest of animals! Some boy’s definition of a horse. Bitzer, yours.’
The square finger, moving here and there, lighted suddenly on Bitzer, perhaps because he chanced to sit in the same ray of sunlight which, darting in at one of the bare windows of the intensely white-washed room, irradiated Sissy. For, the boys and girls sat on the face of the inclined plane in two compact bodies, divided up the centre by a narrow interval; and Sissy, being at the corner of a row on the sunny side, came in for the beginning of a sunbeam, of which Bitzer, being at the corner of a row on the other side, a few rows in advance, caught the end. But, whereas the girl was so dark-eyed and dark-haired, that she seemed to receive a deeper and more lustrous colour from the sun, when it shone upon her, the boy was so light-eyed and light-haired that the self-same rays appeared to draw out of him what little colour he ever possessed. His cold eyes would hardly have been eyes, but for the short ends of lashes which, by bringing them into immediate contrast with something paler than themselves, expressed their form. His short-cropped hair might have been a mere continuation of the sandy freckles on his forehead and face. His skin was so unwholesomely deficient in the natural tinge, that he looked as though, if he were cut, he would bleed white.
‘Bitzer,’ said Thomas Gradgrind. ‘Your definition of a horse.’
‘Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs, too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth.’ Thus (and much more) Bitzer.
‘Now girl number twenty,’ said Mr. Gradgrind. ‘You know what a horse is.’
She curtseyed again, and would have blushed deeper, if she could have blushed deeper than she had blushed all this time. Bitzer, after rapidly blinking at Thomas Gradgrind with both eyes at once, and so catching the light upon his quivering ends of lashes that they looked like the antennæ of busy insects, put his knuckles to his freckled forehead, and sat down again.
The third gentleman now stepped forth. A mighty man at cutting and drying, he was; a government officer; in his way (and in most other people’s too), a professed pugilist; always in training, always with a system to force down the general throat like a bolus, always to be heard of at the bar of his little Public-office, ready to fight all England. To continue in fistic phraseology, he had a genius for coming up to the scratch, wherever and whatever it was, and proving himself an ugly customer. He would go in and damage any subject whatever with his right, follow up with his left, stop, exchange, counter, bore his opponent (he always fought All England) to the ropes, and fall upon him neatly. He was certain to knock the wind out of common sense, and render that unlucky adversary deaf to the call of time. And he had it in charge from high authority to bring about the great public-office Millennium, when Commissioners should reign upon earth.
‘Very well,’ said this gentleman, briskly smiling, and folding his arms. ‘That’s a horse. Now, let me ask you girls and boys, Would you paper a room with representations of horses?’
After a pause, one half of the children cried in chorus, ‘Yes, sir!’ Upon which the other half, seeing in the gentleman’s face that Yes was wrong, cried out in chorus, ‘No, sir!’—as the custom is, in these examinations.
‘Of course, No. Why wouldn’t you?’
A pause. One corpulent slow boy, with a wheezy manner of breathing, ventured the answer, Because he wouldn’t paper a room at all, but would paint it.
‘You must paper it,’ said the gentleman, rather warmly.
‘You must paper it,’ said Thomas Gradgrind, ‘whether you like it or not. Don’t tell us you wouldn’t paper it. What do you mean, boy?’
‘I’ll explain to you, then,’ said the gentleman, after another and a dismal pause, ‘why you wouldn’t paper a room with representations of horses. Do you ever see horses walking up and down the sides of rooms in reality—in fact? Do you?’
‘Yes, sir!’ from one half. ‘No, sir!’ from the other.
‘Of course no,’ said the gentleman, with an indignant look at the wrong half. ‘Why, then, you are not to see anywhere, what you don’t see in fact; you are not to have anywhere, what you don’t have in fact. What is called Taste, is only another name for Fact.’ Thomas Gradgrind nodded his approbation.
‘This is a new principle, a discovery, a great discovery,’ said the gentleman. ‘Now, I’ll try you again. Suppose you were going to carpet a room. Would you use a carpet having a representation of flowers upon it?’
There being a general conviction by this time that ‘No, sir!’ was always the right answer to this gentleman, the chorus of No was very strong. Only a few feeble stragglers said Yes: among them Sissy Jupe.
‘Girl number twenty,’ said the gentleman, smiling in the calm strength of knowledge.
Sissy blushed, and stood up.
‘So you would carpet your room—or your husband’s room, if you were a grown woman, and had a husband—with representations of flowers, would you?’ said the gentleman. ‘Why would you?’
‘If you please, sir, I am very fond of flowers,’ returned the girl.
‘And is that why you would put tables and chairs upon them, and have people walking over them with heavy boots?’
‘It wouldn’t hurt them, sir. They wouldn’t crush and wither, if you please, sir. They would be the pictures of what was very pretty and pleasant, and I would fancy—’
‘Ay, ay, ay! But you mustn’t fancy,’ cried the gentleman, quite elated by coming so happily to his point. ‘That’s it! You are never to fancy.’
‘You are not, Cecilia Jupe,’ Thomas Gradgrind solemnly repeated, ‘to do anything of that kind.’
‘Fact, fact, fact!’ said the gentleman. And ‘Fact, fact, fact!’ repeated Thomas Gradgrind.
‘You are to be in all things regulated and governed,’ said the gentleman, ‘by fact. We hope to have, before long, a board of fact, composed of commissioners of fact, who will force the people to be a people of fact, and of nothing but fact. You must discard the word Fancy altogether. You have nothing to do with it. You are not to have, in any object of use or ornament, what would be a contradiction in fact. You don’t walk upon flowers in fact; you cannot be allowed to walk upon flowers in carpets. You don’t find that foreign birds and butterflies come and perch upon your crockery; you cannot be permitted to paint foreign birds and butterflies upon your crockery. You never meet with quadrupeds going up and down walls; you must not have quadrupeds represented upon walls. You must use,’ said the gentleman, ‘for all these purposes, combinations and modifications (in primary colours) of mathematical figures which are susceptible of proof and demonstration. This is the new discovery. This is fact. This is taste.’
The girl curtseyed, and sat down. She was very young, and she p. 8looked as if she were frightened by the matter-of-fact prospect the world afforded.
‘Now, if Mr. M’Choakumchild,’ said the gentleman, ‘will proceed to give his first lesson here, Mr. Gradgrind, I shall be happy, at your request, to observe his mode of procedure.’
Mr. Gradgrind was much obliged. ‘Mr. M’Choakumchild, we only wait for you.’
So, Mr. M’Choakumchild began in his best manner. He and some one hundred and forty other schoolmasters, had been lately turned at the same time, in the same factory, on the same principles, like so many pianoforte legs. He had been put through an immense variety of paces, and had answered volumes of head-breaking questions. Orthography, etymology, syntax, and prosody, biography, astronomy, geography, and general cosmography, the sciences of compound proportion, algebra, land-surveying and levelling, vocal music, and drawing from models, were all at the ends of his ten chilled fingers. He had worked his stony way into Her Majesty’s most Honourable Privy Council’s Schedule B, and had taken the bloom off the higher branches of mathematics and physical science, French, German, Latin, and Greek. He knew all about all the Water Sheds of all the world (whatever they are), and all the histories of all the peoples, and all the names of all the rivers and mountains, and all the productions, manners, and customs of all the countries, and all their boundaries and bearings on the two and thirty points of the compass. Ah, rather overdone, M’Choakumchild. If he had only learnt a little less, how infinitely better he might have taught much more!
He went to work in this preparatory lesson, not unlike Morgiana in the Forty Thieves: looking into all the vessels ranged before him, one after another, to see what they contained. Say, good M’Choakumchild. When from thy boiling store, thou shalt fill each jar brim full by-and-by, dost thou think that thou wilt always kill outright the robber Fancy lurking within—or sometimes only maim him and distort him!
Mr. Gradgrind walked homeward from the school, in a state of considerable satisfaction. It was his school, and he intended it to be a model. He intended every child in it to be a model—just as the young Gradgrinds were all models.
There were five young Gradgrinds, and they were models every one. They had been lectured at, from their tenderest years; coursed, like little hares. Almost as soon as they could run alone, they had been made to run to the lecture-room. The first object with which they had an association, or of which they had a remembrance, was a large black board with a dry Ogre chalking ghastly white figures on it.
Not that they knew, by name or nature, anything about an Ogre Fact forbid! I only use the word to express a monster in a lecturing castle, with Heaven knows how many heads manipulated into one, taking childhood captive, and dragging it into gloomy statistical dens by the hair.
No little Gradgrind had ever seen a face in the moon; it was up in the moon before it could speak distinctly. No little Gradgrind had ever learnt the silly jingle, Twinkle, twinkle, little star; how I wonder what you are! No little Gradgrind had ever known wonder on the subject, each little Gradgrind having at five years old dissected the Great Bear like a Professor Owen, and driven Charles’s Wain like a locomotive engine-driver. No little Gradgrind had ever associated a cow in a field with that famous cow with the crumpled horn who tossed the dog who worried the cat who killed the rat who ate the malt, or with that yet more famous cow who swallowed Tom Thumb: it had never heard of those celebrities, and had only been introduced to a cow as a graminivorous ruminating quadruped with several stomachs.
To his matter-of-fact home, which was called Stone Lodge, Mr. Gradgrind directed his steps. He had virtually retired from the wholesale hardware trade before he built Stone Lodge, and was now looking about for a suitable opportunity of making an arithmetical figure in Parliament. Stone Lodge was situated on a moor within a mile or two of a great town—called Coketown in the present faithful guide-book.
A very regular feature on the face of the country, Stone Lodge was. Not the least disguise toned down or shaded off that uncompromising fact in the landscape. A great square house, with a heavy portico darkening the principal windows, as its master’s heavy brows overshadowed his eyes. A calculated, cast up, balanced, and proved house. Six windows on this side of the door, six on that side; a total of twelve in this wing, a total of twelve in the other wing; four-and-twenty carried over to the back wings. A lawn and garden and an infant avenue, all ruled straight like a botanical account-book. Gas and ventilation, drainage and water-service, all of the primest quality. Iron clamps and girders, fire-proof from top to bottom; mechanical lifts for the housemaids, with all their brushes and brooms; everything that heart could desire.
Everything? Well, I suppose so. The little Gradgrinds had cabinets in various departments of science too. They had a little conchological cabinet, and a little metallurgical cabinet, and a little mineralogical cabinet; and the specimens were all arranged and labelled, and the bits of stone and ore looked as though they might have been broken from the parent substances by those tremendously hard instruments their own names; and, to paraphrase the idle legend of Peter Piper, who had never found his way into their nursery, If the greedy little Gradgrinds grasped at more than this, what was it for good gracious goodness’ sake, that the greedy little Gradgrinds grasped it!
Their father walked on in a hopeful and satisfied frame of mind. He was an affectionate father, after his manner; but he would probably have described himself (if he had been put, like Sissy Jupe, upon a definition) as ‘an eminently practical’ father. He had a particular pride in the phrase eminently practical, which was considered to have a special application to him. Whatsoever the public meeting held in Coketown, and whatsoever the subject of such meeting, some Coketowner was sure to seize the occasion of alluding to his eminently practical friend Gradgrind. This always pleased the eminently practical friend. He knew it to be his due, but his due was acceptable.
He had reached the neutral ground upon the outskirts of the town, which was neither town nor country, and yet was either spoiled, when his ears were invaded by the sound of music. The clashing and banging band attached to the horse-riding establishment, which had there set up its rest in a wooden pavilion, was in full bray. A flag, floating from the summit of the temple, proclaimed to mankind that it was ‘Sleary’s Horse-riding’ which claimed their suffrages. Sleary himself, a stout modern statue with a money-box at its elbow, in an ecclesiastical niche of early Gothic architecture, took the money. Miss Josephine Sleary, as some very long and very narrow strips of printed bill announced, was then inaugurating the entertainments with her graceful equestrian Tyrolean flower-act. Among the other pleasing but always strictly moral wonders which must be seen to be believed, Signor Jupe was that afternoon to ‘elucidate the diverting accomplishments of his highly trained performing dog Merrylegs.’ He was also to exhibit ‘his astounding feat of throwing seventy-five hundred-weight in rapid succession backhanded over his head, thus forming a fountain of solid iron in mid-air, a feat never before attempted in this or any other country, and which having elicited such rapturous plaudits from enthusiastic throngs it cannot be withdrawn.’ The same Signor Jupe was to ‘enliven the varied performances at frequent intervals with his chaste Shaksperean quips and retorts.’ Lastly, he was to wind them up by appearing in his favourite character of Mr. William Button, of Tooley Street, in ‘the highly novel and laughable hippo-comedietta of The Tailor’s Journey to Brentford.’
Thomas Gradgrind took no heed of these trivialities of course, but passed on as a practical man ought to pass on, either brushing the noisy insects from his thoughts, or consigning them to the House of Correction. But, the turning of the road took him by the back of the booth, and at the back of the booth a number of children were congregated in a number of stealthy attitudes, striving to peep in at the hidden glories of the place.
This brought him to a stop. ‘Now, to think of these vagabonds,’ said he, ‘attracting the young rabble from a model school.’
A space of stunted grass and dry rubbish being between him and the young rabble, he took his eyeglass out of his waistcoat to look for any child he knew by name, and might order off. Phenomenon almost incredible though distinctly seen, what did he then behold but his own metallurgical Louisa, peeping with all her might through a hole in a deal board, and his own mathematical Thomas abasing himself on the ground to catch but a hoof of the graceful equestrian Tyrolean flower-act!
Dumb with amazement, Mr. Gradgrind crossed to the spot where his family was thus disgraced, laid his hand upon each erring child, and said:
Both rose, red and disconcerted. But, Louisa looked at her father with more boldness than Thomas did. Indeed, Thomas did not look at him, but gave himself up to be taken home like a machine.
‘In the name of wonder, idleness, and folly!’ said Mr. Gradgrind, leading each away by a hand; ‘what do you do here?’
‘Wanted to see what it was like,’ returned Louisa, shortly.
‘What it was like?’
There was an air of jaded sullenness in them both, and particularly in the girl: yet, struggling through the dissatisfaction of her face, there was a light with nothing to rest upon, a fire with nothing to burn, a starved imagination keeping life in itself somehow, which brightened its expression. Not with the brightness natural to cheerful youth, but with uncertain, eager, doubtful flashes, which had something painful in them, analogous to the changes on a blind face groping its way.
She was a child now, of fifteen or sixteen; but at no distant day would seem to become a woman all at once. Her father thought so as he looked at her. She was pretty. Would have been self-willed (he thought in his eminently practical way) but for her bringing-up.
‘Thomas, though I have the fact before me, I find it difficult to believe that you, with your education and resources, should have brought your sister to a scene like this.’
p. 12‘I brought him, father,’ said Louisa, quickly. ‘I asked him to come.’
‘I am sorry to hear it. I am very sorry indeed to hear it. It makes Thomas no better, and it makes you worse, Louisa.’
She looked at her father again, but no tear fell down her cheek.
‘You! Thomas and you, to whom the circle of the sciences is open; Thomas and you, who may be said to be replete with facts; Thomas and you, who have been trained to mathematical exactness; Thomas and you, here!’ cried Mr. Gradgrind. ‘In this degraded position! I am amazed.’
‘I was tired, father. I have been tired a long time,’ said Louisa.
‘Tired? Of what?’ asked the astonished father.
‘I don’t know of what—of everything, I think.’
‘Say not another word,’ returned Mr. Gradgrind. ‘You are childish. I will hear no more.’ He did not speak again until they had walked some half-a-mile in silence, when he gravely broke out with: ‘What would your best friends say, Louisa? Do you attach no value to their good opinion? What would Mr. Bounderby say?’ At the mention of this name, his daughter stole a look at him, remarkable for its intense and searching character. He saw nothing of it, for before he looked at her, she had again cast down her eyes!
‘What,’ he repeated presently, ‘would Mr. Bounderby say?’ All the way to Stone Lodge, as with grave indignation he led the two delinquents home, he repeated at intervals ‘What would Mr. Bounderby say?’—as if Mr. Bounderby had been Mrs. Grundy.
And to find out who Mr. Bounderby is, you’ll have to read the book!
I love wordy holidays. We spend time teaching our children that words matter, and how to read, write, and speak correctly (or at least I hope we do), and I think those home lessons are reinforced by national holidays that focus on these subjects. This week, we have two such holidays: National Grammar Day today, and Words Matter Week all week long. It’s a great opportunity to let your children know that you aren’t the only one who finds joy in beautifully written and spoken text!
The best way to teach them how to appreciate and use words correctly is give them books and let them read. Read and read and read and read . . .
But I digress. We are celebrating words and their usage, so I have a few resources, quotes, and links for you.
For Words Matter Week, you may visit WordsMatterWeek.com to find quotes about words, blog prompts, activity suggestions, a downloadable version of the cuttlefish poster, and more.
When ideas fail, words come in very handy.
–Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
The Vocabula Review is a consistent advocate for the written word. If you’ve never read an issue, you’re in for a treat!
There’s a great power in words, if you don’t hitch too many of them together.
The Excellence in Literature Handbook for Writers is a very helpful resource for students, teachers, and anyone else who writes. It offers instruction on essay writing, as well as a useful guide to grammar, usage, and style. You can read more about it, see a complete table of contents, and purchase a copy at Everyday Education.
Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.
For National Grammar Day, a song:
One must be drenched in words, literally soaked in them, to have the right ones form themselves into the proper pattern at the right moment.
The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns, as it were, instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink. –George Orwell
A bit of history: National Grammar Day was established in 2008 by Martha Brockenbrough, founder of the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar (SPOGG) and author of Things That Make Us (Sic): The Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar Takes on Madison Avenue, Hollywood, the White House, and the World.
This year’s edition of National Grammar Day is hosted by Mignon Fogarty, the author of the New York Times best-selling book Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing and The Grammar Devotional: Daily Tips for Successful Writing from Grammar Girl (TM).
If you want to diagram sentences, Grammar Made Easy is the simplest way to learn how. It even comes with a couple of bonus items, including an audio workshop. Enjoy!
In the mid-Atlantic region, we’re battening down the hatches in preparation for Hurricane Sandy. Preparations include drawing water, gathering candles and oil lamps, and trying to get everything washable washed in case the power goes out. Once the basics are done and the power is out, life slips into another rhythm—slower, quieter, and in its own way, more peaceful. As soon as I hear a stormy forecast, I feel an almost irresistible urge to make chili, popcorn balls, and other delights so that we’ll be ready for whatever comes.
Books, board games, musical instruments, and hand-crafts are key ingredients for making these times memorable in a positive way. One of my favorite memories is of sitting around the dining room table reading Macbeth by flickering lamplight with trees lashing and rain pounding on the roof as the edge of a hurricane passed by. It provided a dramatic and memorable backdrop for Shakespeare’s tale of murder and mayhem and the semi-darkness encouraged even the most reserved reader to add a bit of drama to his parts. Read more
A library is a wonderful resource. Not just for thousands of free books, but also for access to a reference librarian who can answer almost any query, free use of a computer and internet, and more. The library was always a treat for our boys, though I most often went alone (so I’d have time to choose excellent books). When I was young, I went by myself, walking several blocks with as many books as I could carry. I learned to speak quietly in the library, put books back correctly, turn pages gently, and to generally be a good citizen– amazing what a civilizing force a library used to be!
I’m not sure if libraries realize it, but I think the statistic that circulation of children’s books has increased 17% over the past decade is at least partly due to homeschoolers who use the library to supplement purchased curriculum. If you have a local library, I encourage you to support it through regular visits, volunteering, and any other way you can.
As a homeschooler, you can help to shape your library’s collections and programs through strategic requests (nicely conveyed, of course!). You also have the ability to make librarians look forward to or dread your visits, so be aware of that, too, as the actions of one homeschooler affect all to one extent or another. Enough said on that;-). I hope you enjoy the informative infographic below. Read more
One of my favorite books of all time is Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. Even though I first encountered it in an edition so badly abridged it could have been more accurately described as butchered, it was a beautiful, moving story of love and justice. If you haven’t read it or seen the musical, please do. You’ll be in for a treat.
If you were going to choose one book as your Great Book of the year, what would it be? It doesn’t have to be classic, but rather something that has stayed in your memory and affected your thoughts in some way. Share it in the comment section, or blog about it and link back– I’m always happy to find more wonderful things to read!
Visit the Great Books Week site for a few ideas on how to celebrate, some quotes on great literature, and more. In a world of strife and turmoil, the classics remain beautiful and timeless. I hope you enjoy celebrating this week!
Here are few quotes, and at the very bottom, a video of the Les Misérables musical to inspire you:
Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake. Victor Hugo Read more