Christian Worldview or Christian Content?
by Janice Campbell
When you choose curriculum, do you choose books written from a Christian worldview or material with Christian content (theological interpretations and questions with required theological answers)? Although you may not have considered the distinction before, I think it is important to think about.
Q: I was recently asked whether Excellence in Literature had Christian content, and since I know this a question others may have, I thought I would share my answer here.
A: Excellence in Literature is written from a deeply Christian worldview, but it does not focus on explicitly Christian content. There are many reasons for this, but I’ll share just a few:
- I don’t believe in spoon feeding. I believe students learn more and retain any knowledge more deeply when they are presented with resources, allowed to interact with great ideas in original works, and encouraged to develop their own insights. Charlotte Mason wrote of the importance of letting students learn directly from great books, saying “Let them get at the books themselves, and do not let them be flooded with a warm diluent at the lips of their teacher” (School Education, p. 162), and she is right.
- The curriculum is used by people of many faiths as well as those who profess no faith. Since I believe that classic literature has the power to benefit and teach everyone, I want the curriculum to be welcoming for those who choose it.
- The curriculum is designed to teach literature and writing, and in the limited time available for each book, I believe the focus needs to remain on literature rather than theology. Literature can opens many conversational avenues within the family, and that is a very appropriate place for theological discussion if desired. Student essays will inevitably reflect the student’s worldview, and it is always acceptable to incorporate theological insights as long as they are supported by appropriate evidence from the text or other reliable sources.
- I want parents to be able to use the curriculum without worrying that specific doctrinal issues are addressed differently from the way the family has been taught. There are many non-creedal issues upon which Christians differ, and it is parents who bear the responsibility for determining what the family will learn.
- Every piece of literature studied is written from a specific worldview, and I believe that students who work through the curriculum will have a deep understanding of the consequences of specific ideas and philosophies. Fiction allows us to see what happens when people believe (or don’t believe) in an omnipotent, omniscient God, and I believe that the truths revealed are more powerful when students discover them for themselves, rather than being spoon-fed the conclusions of others.
- I want students to learn to think analytically, so I present the focus texts and context materials so that they will have a basic understanding of the culture and philosophy of the age in which each story or poem was written.
- While I was writing the curriculum, I heard from charter schools that wanted to be able to use Excellence in Literature, but could do so only if it did not contain contain overt religious or doctrinal teaching. I believe the curriculum is different and valuable enough that it should be an option for schools and for homeschoolers in states that provide public funds for homeschooling materials.
- Many works of classic literature that have been studied in colleges for decades or even centuries are permeated with a Christian worldview because that accurately reflects society at the time these stories or poems were composed or written. This does not mean it is preachy in any way, or that characters are all Christian, or even all good—it simply means that characters understand the universe to have meaning, and they may or may not conduct their lives accordingly. I want students to encounter these characters and their culture by interacting directly with the author and the text, rather than by having me or anyone else dilute the benefit of reading by telling them everything they should look for or think about a text or character.
- When I taught this material in online classes (which I no longer do), I was astonished and blessed many times by the profound insights my students would have about a piece of literature I’d read many times. I don’t want to rob them of this thrill of discovery, nor do I want to replace it with a condensed version of what I’ve come to understand about a particular work. It would be like snatching a fresh, sweet orange from a child and substituting a reconstituted orange drink made from powder and water. I wrote the curriculum to provide an alternative to textbooks like that!
If you want to know more about how I chose the books for Excellence in Literature, you can read this earlier post.
Photo Credit: Единствената оцеляла / Soul survivor; Photo by Flickr.com user Deian Vladov; November 1, 2013, Creative Commons License
You can read Cathy Duffy’s review of the EIL volumes at Cathy Duffy Reviews.
Did you know that the Complete Curriculum (all five levels of Excellence in Literature) is available as an ebook? The binder version is so nice that I almost didn’t think you’d want it as an ebook, but I’ve heard from military families, a reader in New Zealand, and at least one person who is moving and wants an easy way to keep track of it, so here it is. I hope you will enjoy it!