Focus; the Why Behind Your Business

dickens-booksI read an interesting blog post by Annie Holmquist this morning. Middle School Reading Lists 100 Years Ago vs. Today

It supports my mission in rescuing the out of print literature and reselling these classic tomes. If you don’t have a mission behind your business and it’s to “become rich” you are making a tool (money) the goal rather than a project or tangible asset. No one makes ownership of a hammer and nail a goal rather they want a house. Money is a tool. Set your sight on something bigger.

I homeschooled for seventeen years. My homeschooling philosophy supported teaching the child to aspire to a high level of education through excellent and character laden literature. I was and still am not about to cater to the “grade level” mentality or supposed inability to comprehend good sound literature because it is difficult. Charlotte Mason was an early proponent of children’s education during the 19th century. Based on her ideas, many have devised a philosophy of homeschoolng which adopts the absence of meaningless facts and time filler activities in a child’s curriculum. She coined the word “twaddle”. Twaddle means absence of meaning, dumbed down literature

As I explored my options in teaching my children I realized if I could invoke a love of learning and a curiosity to learn more in any given subject then they are set up for educational success. This idea was more lofty than I realized especially as I endeavored to set up a home library of good books. My start in helping my children discover new worlds and fun adventures was undermined by shelves full of “Captain Underpants” books. Imagine my horror as I could not find a Dickens or Bronte book any where near the used book sale. I have a bit of tancity in my personality so I stuck with it. As I combed through garage sales, library book sales, attics at estate sales and the like I would find great books. As I talked with other homeschool moms who were as frustrated I realized I could be of service and find great twadlle free literature for their children. The seed of a business was born first with a mission. Rescue these books and get them into good homes.

Here’s a quote of the expansion between today’s top picks for a reading list and a reading list of 1908. The reading list is for the 7th and 8th grade level. Two samples from each book:

Reading Level

Many of the books on the Edina list use fairly simple, understandable language and vocabulary familiar to the modern reader. Consider the first paragraph of Nothing But the Truth:

Coach Jamison saw me in the hall and said he wanted to make sure I’m trying out for the track team!!!! Said my middle school gym teacher told him I was really good!!!! Then he said that with me on the Harrison High team we have a real shot at being county champs. Fantastic!!!!!! He wouldn’t say that unless he meant it. Have to ask folks about helping me get new shoes. Newspaper route won’t do it all. But Dad was so excited when I told him what Coach said that I’m sure he’ll help.

On the other hand, consider the first paragraph of Longfellow’s Evangeline:

“This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.
Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring ocean
Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.”

The first example uses simple words and a casual sentence structure, while the second uses a rich vocabulary and a complex writing format. Naturally, some might look at the second selection and say, “Good grief! How do you expect a child to understand that?!?”

But that’s the whole point. Unless we give our students challenging material to dissect, process, and study, how can we expect them to break out of the current poor proficiency ratings and advance beyond a basic reading level?

My takeaway from this comparison? It’s great that schools today have students read contemporary literature. But we still need to make sure that students also read good literature from the past and are sufficiently challenged.

Read the last sentence again. How do we make sure? What are your thoughts?

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