The Literary Classic is in the Eye of the Beholder

Literary classics vary by country and time period.

Britain might say that the Bronte Sister wrote wonderful classics and recommend that students of literature read their works which include Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Agnes Grey. Some of these books have recently been brought to the big screen in movies but neither movies nor Cliff's Notes will tell the entire story.

Louisa May Alcott is famous for writing Eight cousins, Little Women, Little Men, Jo's Boys and several other books. Over the years these particular books have become favorites of children everywhere. They have been made into movies and television shows but nothing will ever equal the written word that Ms. Alcott struggled over all those years ago.

America is a new country but it can be credited with many wonderful stories compiled in book form by people like Jack London who wrote The Call of the Wild. Other classics that have remained popular are Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriett Beecher Stowe, Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage, and Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, both by Mark Twain.

It is sad that today's children do not read as much as those of the past. Perhaps all the electronic media has taken some of the pleasure from reading. Nothing can beat holding the printed word in your hand as you follow along on a great adventure. One of these adventures is Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Even though this wonderful tale is available to today's children through cartoons and movies, they would all better understand the story if they first read the book.

What Makes a Novel a Classic and Who Says it is in the First Place?

Classic literature is usually marked by its popularity and longevity or by a large enough number of of erudite scholars saying that it is so. Take, for instance, Mario Puzo's The Godfather, Jane Austen's Emma, or even William Faulkner's Sound and the Fury. Each one of these novels fits someone's definition of a classic novel, even if some of us can't stand one or more of the novels I've just mentioned. I, for instance, can only stomach Jane Austen novels for more than three pages at a time before I start to get nauseous, think Puzo's books made much better movies, and understand people when they tell me that Faulkner's just too convoluted for their tastes. I don't know what makes a novel a classic, at least not definitively. Furthermore, I charge that anyone who does is probably lying to themselves and, consequently, to everyone who asks the question. There are, however, some universal factors of commonly recognized classic novels that can be used as a bell weather for finding out which novels should or should not be considered so.

In general, novels considered classics have a few things in common: first, they have to have withstood some test of time. If they're not necessarily popular right away, but have gained popularity over the years since its publication, have been read by enough people to have been taken through the ringer for general criticism. No matter whether the novel is universally liked by the folks in the know, if enough of those same people have read it and critiqued it in some way, then its long-term exposure has been tested, and enough people have read it to make it a part of a given cultural dialogue.

How Important is the Study of Literature in High School?

I have a confession to make. I can only remember reading two pieces of literature during my high school years: The Scarlet Letter, and War and Peace. My fellow students and I did not read Shakespeare or Keats. We did not study Tennessee Williams or F. Scott Fitzgerald. We did not debate the ethical implications of Lord of the Flies. No, in my high school English program we learned to write - well.

As an English teacher, I'm all for the study of literature; it contributes to a well-rounded education. My concern is that the emphasis on literature instruction is seriously encroaching upon consistent writing instruction in today's schools. The outcome of this shift in emphasis is that many secondary students are not learning how to write well.

I saw this trend while studying for my master's degree in secondary education. I spent more than one hundred hours observing in classrooms and interviewing teachers from various schools and districts, both public and private. Every school in I visited was using a literature-based Language Arts curriculum. Teachers I interviewed admitted that they spent very little, if any, time on such mundane subjects as grammar, word economy or sentence structure.

This failure to emphasize the writing process in secondary schools seems counter-productive. In the public school system, teachers continually talk about "teaching to the test." They are referring to the state-mandated basic skills test students must pass order to graduate from high school.

Weighing the Differences Between Classical Education and Calvert Grade

Since 1905 Calvert School has been offering homeschoolers a complete package- one year of curriculum covering all subjects. Previously I hadn't even considered their company for two reasons: cost (one time fee of over $600) and my control over materials: a parent has no control over the choices for subjects.

This year Calvert began offering a payment plan which would cause its cost to be similar to what we budget for now, when we deliberate and choose our texts. So with the cost objection out the window, I looked more carefully at the course descriptions.

Calvert is really impressive for a few reasons. First, teachers are available on-line or by telephone if your kid(and you) are stumped by some topic. They have initial placement tests and unit testing in subject material online. Each enrolled student has resources available to them in their Calvert account. These include math and spelling games, an "i-Library," tutorials, and e-textbooks. There is a lot of parent support available, through the phone, email, or the parent's online resource which include answer keys.

The coursework is thorough, and includes art history, geography and computer literacy from elementary years on. However, the approach of the curriculum in general is scatter-gun in organization similar to public schools. For instance, putting life cycles and physics together in the same year of science instruction. Biographies not laid in the timeline of history, but as a focus of the history course? I much prefer the classical organization of science with history in a chronological flow.

Why We Educate at Home, A Discussion of the Classical Education Method

My husband and I have no qualms about our style of parenting, which is so tied up in home education. He grew up beside his father in a greenhouse. Our first apartment at 500 sq ft, had 31 houseplants in it. He now works as a landscape designer. So we understand this analogy: Children are like little plants. You take the seed and put it in a little cup of the best topsoil. You give it lots of light. You gently sprinkle it with drops of water so the delicate leaves aren't broken. When it gets a decent root system, you transplant it to a bigger pot. You protect it from the wind and the hottest sun. You bring it in when there's a freeze. You don't put it out where the dog will trample it or a deer will eat the buds. When its well-established, and the season is right, you can transplant it finally to its place outside your home. Then it will do well on its own in the downpours and coldest winters.

So we plan to raise our children, protecting them and ensuring they are firmly established before they go out into the world. It is our hope that they do much better at surviving their relationships and careers with such a secure beginning. Our family follows the Classical Education model. The basic premise of the classical method is the breakdown of education into three sections which each build on each other. First is the Grammar stage, generally 1st-4th grades, in which a child's curiosity is encouraged by just stuffing them full of images and facts. The next stage is the Logic stage, generally 5th- 8th grades, where an adolescent begins to find the answers to the how and why of what they learned in the Grammar stage. Last is the Rhetoric stage, in which 9th -12th graders learn how to coherently express what they have learned. In Classical Education, all learning follows history as its base and the other subjects work around it. In addition, a student goes over the same material three times in his education (cycling through the material once in each stage).

Literature Strategies

Technology in every corner, computers in every room... are we being overrun by electronics to the neglect of pure literature experience?  Literature is probably the most powerful teaching tool known to man. Learning has taken place around the written word for centuries.  It is the core of knowledge, and every homeschool needs to take reading and literature studies seriously.

What do you do to meet your homeschool literature needs? Many homeschooling families take advantage of our public library system and supplement their reading needs from exhaustive public library resources. Libraries almost always have the classics... which is a great place to start any literature study. Not to mention that the library is a great alternative to purchasing expensive books.

Other families use the internet extensively for research, and for augmenting their reading with literature based resources.  These resources can take many different forms such as: literature unit studies, literature based word lists, color pages,  literature connected recipes, and on and on the list could go. Whichever method you use, the importance of literature in a solid education is fundamental. Research has proven time and again that the more we read the more we learn.

Personalised Classics - The Perfect Gift for Literature Lovers and Failed Writers Everywhere

So-called writers are a funny breed. Some of us dream about locking ourselves away in a cottage bolthole, amid rolling fields and howling winds, before emerging months later with a masterpiece ready to grace the Western world. Others are quite happy to sit with a laptop in Starbucks all day. Personally, I'm not a fan of the latter. There's something wrong with writers who need you to know what they're doing. They're the same writers who order endless skinny lattes while plotting how their main protagonist should tackle the uncomfortable truth about the family's abusive uncle. It's pretentious. Nevertheless, there's one thing that 99% of all writers have in common - the sad reality is that most of us will never see our name in print.

So here's a fun alternative - personalised classics. Okay, so you won't be the author but you'll at least be the star. Here's the drill. Get yourself online and you'll find a great range of personalised classic novels to pick from. Once you've decided on your story, it's simply a case of personalising your book with the names of your six lead characters. Take Robin Hood, for example. In this instance you can change the names of Robin, Little John, Friar Tuck, the Sheriff of Nottingham, Allan a Dale, Sir Richard of the Lea and Maid Marian. You and your other half can be Robin and Marian, obviously, while perhaps that abusive uncle can be your Sheriff of Nottingham. After that, every single reference to any of these names in your personalised novel will be replaced with the ones you've chosen. Simple.