Authors are our Teachers

A word fitly spoken
Is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.

– Prov. 25:11

Great authors are wordsmiths.  Through vivid imagery and careful syntax, their words ferry our minds to mythical lands with unexpected characters or turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.  This is artistry in ink; a picture painted in intelligible letters placed, ever so, to turn a mere piece of paper into a wonderland for the imagination.  They craft three-dimensional thought from nothing into a work that draws us in and captures our attention with titillating detail.  Who better to teach our children than some of the most exceptional linguistic minds to have graced our shelves?

Words make a difference.  One can easily pay attention to an engaging arrangement of ideas, flying through page after page uninhibited.  One can just as easily read multiple paragraphs with no knowledge of what was read simply because of a distracted mind or uninteresting language.  Literature should be interesting and inspiring, transfiguring mere lines, curves, and dots into organized ideas we can see in our mind’s eye.  

With so much literature available, what is best for learning?  Living books make for better curricula than do textbooks.  Often, textbooks are written by multiple authors in facts-based language.  Textbooks make statements in a logical order.  Although they are useful for research and speedy retrieval of knowledge, they lack an indelible quality.  Living books fasten the mind to the story, bringing the reader into the setting among the people of the time.  Through the emotions of the characters, they convey a world once unknown into the familiar.  

Winston Churchill paints a vivid picture of the Black Death (Churchill 317), a mere taste of which is detailed here:

“The character of the pestilence was appalling. The disease itself, with its frightful symptoms, the swift onset, the blotches, the hardening of the glands under the armpits…these swellings which no poultice could resolve, these tumours which, when lanced gave no relief…stunned and for a time destroyed the life and faith of the world.”

Winston Churchill, The Birth of Britain.

Churchill could have simply written a dry bit of textbook information to convey his point, but the intense word-pictures draw emotions from the reader instead of simply informing. How can our children begin to write like this?

The vocabulary of any reader can be improved by hearing unfamiliar words in context.  New readers should read at or below their reading level for good practice but should be read to with material above their reading level.  Difficult words can be tackled by looking up their definitions and practicing their pronunciations.  Experienced readers should look up words and practice saying them in the context of the reading material.  

The role of a teacher is a position of reference, someone to be learned from.  However, as teachers, we can’t possibly answer all of our children’s questions.  Authors, on the other hand, will raise questions and answer them.  Occasionally an author will imply an answer, making the reader draw their own conclusions.  This is dangerous.  Making children think about problems and sort out difficult issues is a most hazardous affair.  They are at risk of a thing called learning.  

“We have shown that the mass of knowledge, evoking vivid imagination and sound judgment…from the proper books, is many times as great, many times more thoroughly visualised by the scholars, than had they waited upon the words of the most able and effective teacher.”

– Charlotte Mason, Towards a Philosophy of Education

From time to time, the instructor may find that the students learn something disagreeable and take on the position of divergent thought.  What a day when they can think for themselves! They arrived at a place to which God has been leading them from the start!  Consider the consequences of these conclusions together. Enter into a healthy debate, and, at all costs, remain open to their ideas. 

Sometimes ideas are not “gotten” in the first read; incredibly profound thoughts take time to process.  Poetry and classical literature are not to be slurped and swallowed. They should be savored and read over and over.  Let us never be above learning, but let us remain students of the authors, just as they once were.

There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away,
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears a Human soul.

– Emily Dickinson

Works Cited
  • Churchill, Winston Spencer. The Birth of Britain. New York, Barnes and Noble, Inc., 2005.
  • Mason, Charlotte. Towards a Philosophy of Education
  • Holy Bible
  • Dickinson, Emily. “There is no Frigate”

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