September 25, 2023

Parental Reading

Parental Reading

Posted in Keystone Magazine Articles

Keeping Going When the Going Gets Tough - Part 5

Parental Reading
by Craig and Barbara Smith

So far in this series of articles we have briefly looked at:

1. The need to improve our personal relationship with God: to be going to Him with all our needs, frustrations, hurts, joys - everything - and finding satisfaction in Him. To glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.
2. Our marriages are to reflect the relationship of Christ and His Church. Such a high standard requires us continually to work in every area of our marriages, for something will always require a bit of attention.
3. We need to be consistent in the way we discipline our children.

Being on top, or at least making progress in each of these areas, will help prevent burnout. It may sound contradictory, that to prevent yourself from stressing out too much you need to take on other projects you're not currently working on, but it's true! Being fully occupied with minor things, even though they are good things, is a huge source of stress when it causes us to neglect the really major things.

This brings us to the fourth area that we as parents need to be concentrating on - our own development. Over the years Craig and I have recognised the truth indicated in Deuteronomy 6:1-6: that Home Education is all about us parents first, then our children. If we are going to be giving out day by day, we need to be taking in day by day, or the well is going to run dry.

This self-development is best done through our own reading. So often we hear parents saying, "Oh, I don't have time for personal reading." We must make that is, after all, that "time for yourself" everyone seems to advise us to take. And that time for reading must be taken away from something else.

The writers in Classical Education - The Home School say, "And we state emphatically, again, that the reading of the teacher is more important than the reading of the student. If the teacher reads as he should, the reading of the student will naturally fall into place."

These writers also say, " diligent parents, we are confronted with two areas which stand out with respect to the necessity of hard work. The first is the necessity of reading, and reading some more. A person can successfully sell someone else on a vacuum cleaner without reading, but he cannot sell someone else on books without reading. Education is the process of selling someone on books. Parents who will not read simply cannot be equipped to supply a classical and Christian education for their children.

"As the task of educating yourself and your children continues and broadens, you will always have a need for more books. And once your reading has begun in earnest, and you have gone down some of the bibliographic trails suggested by that reading, you will soon be in a position to start compiling your own book lists...We should remember that with such preparatory reading, a good pace to maintain is to try and finish a book every week or two. This may seem intimidating at first, and if it were considered a hobby, it would be overwhelming. But the task is the education of your children, which is not a hobby but a vocation. The word vocation comes from the Latin verb voco, which means 'I call'. A person's vocation is his calling; a parent's vocation is to learn in order to teach."1

After I left school, I hardly read a book at all. When I was around The Navigators in the '70s, I was challenged to read a book a month. I found it a struggle, perhaps because I was committed to reading the Bible through once a year during this time. Once we got married, I was busy with babies, and reading the Bible in a year seemed to be all I could manage. In the mid-'90s I became interested in Classical Education and began to read a bit more. After reading the book Classical Education - The Home School, I was challenged to read a whole bunch more. This reading gave me the confidence to Home Educate our children. Teaching The Trivium is a must for a Christian home educators reading list.

I don't think I will ever reach the reading habit of Summit Minitries' Dr David Noebel: one book a day. But I am in the middle of about 12 or 13 books that I am reading to myself, plus three books that I am reading to the boys and one to Charmagne. Craig and I are still reading a book together. Craig has always been a reader. Now with both of us reading, there is plenty of material for discussion. Not only that, our children are also avid readers. The older ones read much faster than I. This is frustrating for me, but I am very pleased for them. I will never even get through all the books in our personal library. But I am excited that our children will be able to have a good go at it. Even though Jeremiah, at 11, is not reading for pleasure yet, he has the desire and love of books his older siblings have. For example, when we are planning a trip, he will put out half a dozen books for himself to read on the way should his reading skills suddenly click into place....he wants to have enough books on hand to keep him going.

Andrew Sandlin writes: "When I first encounter a book I intend to read, I do what Mortimer Adler calls 'inspectional reading.' His book How to Read a Book, is an outstanding work; and it is probably the definitive work in this field. By inspectional reading, I mean what some people call "skimming". I will read the table of contents, any chapter subheadings, the blurb on the back cover, the book jacket's inside and outside flaps (although I am careful here, since these promotional blurbs are not always an accurate description of the contents!) and even glance over the index. The problem with people who skip the inspectional phase of reading, as Adler notes, is that they are forced to learn the book's general content while they are reading it. This is silly, unnecessary and counter productive. If you have a general idea of the author's thesis, you are much more likely to understand his detailed, sustained argument. In short, you should know the writer's viewpoint and thesis before you start reading his book.

"I get a pen and straight edge (and sometimes highlighter) and start reading. When I encounter especially memorable statements, or those I intend to cite or refer to later, I underline them and put words and other notations (like stars) in the margin. I have never encountered a reader who marks up the text of his books as much as I do - there probably is somebody out there; it's just that I haven't met him. Not only do I underscore; I use brackets, carets and braces; I annotate all four margins, and I copiously turn down the edges (both top and bottom) of certain especially memorable pages....My wife Sharon once chided me when she saw how my marking had massacred a page, 'Why do you do that? Now, nobody else will be able to read it!' 'Precisely,' I responded. 'This is my book. It is not meant for other people to read. Let them get their own copy.' This is why I rarely read library or any other borrowed books - if I can't mark a book, I simply don't read it."2

Reading the previous two paragraphs by Rev Sandlin for me was so liberating. I now mark the books I read to my heart's content! This has greatly helped me find important or interesting things again so that I can use it or point others to it. Recently Diana Waring gave me a signed copy of her new book Reaping the Harvest. She had written such a nice note in it that I decided to read it without marking it. I regret that now. I told Diana that I would write a book review of it, but I now have to re-read the book - marking it this time! And I know I'll use it more if I mark the many things that impressed me. I also find I enjoy reading books after Craig has as I can see the things that have caught his eye, and it helps me to appreciate him more and can be a source of discussion for us.

I now want to quote Mr. Adler at length:

"People go to sleep over good books not because they are unwilling to make the effort, but because they do not know how to make it. Good books are over your head; they would not be good for you if they were not. And books that are over your head weary you unless you can reach up to them and pull yourself up to their level. It is not the stretching that tires you, but the frustration of stretching unsuccessfully because you lack the skill to stretch effectively. To keep on reading actively, you must have not only the will to do so, but also the skill...the art that enables you to elevate yourself by mastering what at first sight seems to be beyond you.

"If you have the habit of asking a book questions as you read, you are a better reader than if you do not. But, as we have indicated, merely asking questions is not enough. You have to try to answer them.... The pencil then becomes the sign of your alertness while you read...Why is marking a book indispensable to reading it? First, it keeps you awake-not merely conscious, but wide awake. Second, reading, if it is active, is thinking, and thinking tends to express itself in words. Spoken or written.

"The person who says he knows what he thinks but cannot express it usually does not know what he thinks. Third, writing your reactions down helps you to remember the thoughts of the author.

"Reading a book should be a conversation between you and the author. Presumably he knows more about the subject that you do; if not, you probably should not be bothering with his book. But understanding is a two-way operation; the learner has to question himself and question the teacher. He even has to be willing to argue with the teacher, once he understands what the teacher is saying. Marking a book is literally an expression of your differences or your agreements with the author.  It is the highest respect you can pay him.

"There are all kinds of devices for marking a book intelligently and fruitfully. Here are some devices that can be used:

1. Underlining
2. Vertical lines at the margin
3. Star, asterisk, or other doodad at the margin
4. Numbers in the margin
5. Numbers of other pages in the margin
6. Circling of key words or phrases
7. Writing in the margin, or at the top or bottom of the page
(See Adler's book for an expansion of these ideas.)

"The endpapers at the back of the book can be used to make a personal index of the author's points in the order of their appearance. To inveterate book-markers, the front endpapers are often the most important. Some people reserve them for a fancy bookplate. But that expresses only their financial ownership of the book. The front endpapers are better reserved for a record of your thinking. After finishing the book and making your personal index on the back endpapers, turn to the front and try to outline the book, not page by page or point by point (you have already done that at the back), but as an integrated structure, with a basic outline and an order of parts. That outline will be the measure of your understanding of the work; unlike a bookplate, it will express your intellectual ownership of the book.

"Any art or skill is possessed by those who have formed a habit of operating according to its rules. This is the way the artist or craftsman in any field differs from those who lack his skill...Reading is like skiing. When done well, when done by an expert, both reading and skiing are graceful, harmonious activities. When done by a beginner, both are awkward, frustrating and slow...It is hard to learn to read well. Not only is reading, especially analytical reading, a very complex activity - much more complex than skiing; it is also much more of a mental activity. The beginning skier must think of physical acts that he can later forget and perform almost automatically. It is relatively easy to think of and be conscious of physical acts. It is much harder to think of mental acts, as the beginning analytical reader must do; in a sense, he is thinking about his own thoughts. Most of us are unaccustomed to doing this. Nevertheless, it can be done, and a person who does it cannot help learning to read much better.

"Every book has a skeleton hidden between its covers. Your job as an analytical reader is to find it. A book comes to you with flesh on its bare bones and clothes over its flesh. It is all dressed up. You do not have to undress it or tear the flesh off its limbs to get at the firm structure that underlies the soft surface. But you must read the book with X-ray eyes, for it is an essential part of your apprehension of any book to grasp its structure.

"Cervantes may or may not have been right in saying, 'There is no book so bad but something good may be found in it.' It is more certain that there is no book so good that no fault can be found with it."3

Home Educating parents must be readers. This could mean radical changes at home. Reading to our children and personal reading are usually the first disciplines, the first victims, sacrificed to the TV and VCR. As we said at the beginning, reading time must be taken from somewhere else: try taking it from these two, "redeeming the time for the days are evil" (Ephesians 5:16).

1.      From: Classical  Education-The Home School. By Douglas Wilson, Wesley Callihan and Douglas Jones. Available from Geneva Books.
2.      Chalcedon Report, No. 439, March 2002, "On Reading Books" by Rev. P. Andrew Sandlin,

From Keystone Magazine
July 2003, Vol. IX No. 4
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