I’ve been thinking a lot about the books we homeschoolers choose to highlight in our individual homeschools. Classical Great Books? Vintage readers? Diverse own-voices novels? Non-fiction memoirs? Re-written edited morality tales? (Please, just say no to that last option.)
Why do homeschoolers choose the books they do?
It’s a question worth asking, and worth examining our own choices. As Christian homeschoolers, we want our children to know about God, and grow up to love Jesus. Certainly we also want to nurture the gifts God has given our children, and not bury our kids’ talents in the ground like the servants in Matthew 25 did with the talents the master had given. If we have a math-minded child, for instance, we want to allow that child to excel and soar in mathematics. And we may make it a priority to raise culturally literate children, who have at least heard of Mother Goose, Winnie the Pooh, and Shakespeare (although they don’t need to love them.)
But beyond the basics of reading and writing, and the basics of spiritual catechesis, why do we choose the books we do? What sorts of books are filling our shelves — and our kids’ minds?
In classical education circles, the answers to these questions are often driven by a desire for children to be scholars, or for children to take on the mantle of protecting a certain brand of civilization. But as a third-culture kid very aware of the global nature of the kingdom of God, and of the Eastern legacy of Christianity, I find myself reaching beyond the Western canon, and beyond the usual homeschool booklists.
Two Questions to Ask When Choosing Books
As I spruce up our shelves (AKA empty my wallet) for the upcoming school year, I have realized I keep asking myself these questions as I hover over the “buy now” button:
- Will this book draw us closer to Jesus?
- Will this book help us to be a better neighbor to those around us?
Framing education through this lens makes a radical difference.
Do not misunderstand. I am not talking about choosing moralistic literature, full of Perfect Pollys and Sinless Sallys, where evil dresses in black and the wholesome character wears white. (In fact, I go so far as to say a steady reading diet of perfect characters has the potential to harm a child’s faith.) Nor am I talking about choosing only literary classics.
This is not a time to be legalistic about books. A medical textbook can draw us closer to Jesus and make us better neighbors to the sick; a car repair manual can draw us closer to Jesus and cause us to love people more. A novel on the French Revolution can give us poignant insight into human nature, and convict us of sin. An encyclopedia of facts can speak God’s truth, especially to the logical, orderly child.
As A.W. Tozer has written, work is worship; there is no secular-sacred divide. Wendell Berry summed this up when he wrote, “There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.” Yet time is finite, and as much as bookshelves seem to deny it, neither we nor our children will ever truly be able to read all the books we wish to.
So how do we choose which books to prioritize?
Which books to move to the top of the stack?
Which books to carve out time for, and focus on?
Perhaps sometimes the answer is as simple — and as complex — as “Will this draw us closer to Jesus? Will it makes us a better neighbor to those around us?” Culturally diverse books so often have the power to do both.
Diverse books draw us closer to Jesus and make us a better neighbor to those around us.
I am certainly not calling for canceling the classics, although I get accused of this every time I call for homeschoolers to read more diverse books. I do not deny that Shakespeare may illumine God’s truth for some students, but I also believe it to be equally true that Shakespeare may fall shallow and empty for others. I am not presuming to be so arrogant as to limit the power of God; If God is calling a person to the mission field, he can certainly do it through the classics.
But Jesus came to earth as a middle Eastern man, and the book of Revelation tells us heaven will be a radiant rambling chorus of global languages and cultures. Diversity is important enough to Jesus that even when all is made new, diversity is retained.
“Go”, said Jesus, “into all the world.”
I want our bookshelves to reflect the great commission: a joyous representation of all the world.
What books will you add to your shelves? What part of the world is not represented anywhere in your library? What gifts has God given your children which he is asking you to nurture and steward? There is no singular right answer which will be the same for every individual. But I do know this: