Ok, so after reading the title, you
may be scratching your head and wondering if this book is a new phonics
curriculum or a remedial program for juvenile delinquents.
The answer is no, and no. No
matter how elementary the title may sound, How
to Read a Book scarcely even mentions phonics. In the words of the authors, it is “a book for readers, and
those who wish to become readers .... Even
more particularly, it is for those whose main purpose in reading books is to
gain increased understanding.” Lest
misunderstanding arise from their use of the word “understanding,” I must
hasten to clarify that this word is used in opposition to the word
“knowing.” We can understand
things, and we can know things, but these two things are vastly different.
The first necessitates that we can intellectually know and verbally
explain the chemistry of something, while the latter begs only that we rattle
off a lists of disjointed facts, much like a robot.
Of course, it’s generally recognized that no one wants to be robot –
especially not homeschoolers. My mother has always said that if her
homeschooling yields no other fruits, she hopes it will equip her children for a
life of self-teaching. This is the
goal of almost every homeschooling mother and ultimately, the goal of
homeschooling itself. Mortimer J.
Adler & Charles Van Doren’s How to
Read a Book is about just that.
If you began homeschooling at
kindergarten, reading was the first hurdle to be jumped.
Perhaps you are even now wondering how you’re ever going to get your
second-grader past his/her almost cultish addiction to Amelia Bedelia and Green Eggs
and Ham, or assuring your reluctant Junior that some dabbling in Shakespeare
would indeed prove beneficial to those ole’ SAT scores. The point is that even
when the phonics books have been at the dust-collecting stages for years, there
is still work to be done. For the writers of How to Read a Book, elementary reading is just the beginning.
Adler and Van Doren cover a great variety of reading skills, such as how
to be a demanding reader, Inspectional reading, Analytical reading, Syntopical
reading, as well as tips and guides for reading different kinds of genres.
These are designed to give the reader the tools for becoming an active
reader. These tools are not geared to one specific audience, but are rules,
which can be utilized by anyone at any stage of life.
Having written a book on guidelines
and suggestions for becoming a better reader, Adler and Van Doren summarize the
book by giving their most important reason for reading.
As it turns out, it’s not so that you can impress your friends by
reading every single book on the best sellers list, or because you’ve nothing
better to do, or because it’s a worthy goal.
Their concern is that modern radio and television do our thinking for us,
"Television, radio, and all sources of amusement and information that
surround us in our daily lives are artificial props."
Without active reading, the writers assert, we cease to grow
intellectually, morally, and spiritually. The
brain is like a muscle, if not used thoroughly, it will not grow; if it’s not
used at all, except in response to stimuli given by the daily news, there will
be nothing there when the stimuli one day fails to stimulate us. The book closes with this statement: "Reading well,
which means reading actively, is thus not only good in itself, nor is it merely
a means to advancement in our work or career. It also serves to keep our minds
alive and growing."
From a Christian perspective,
life-long cultivation of the mind is certainly not to be the ultimate
educational goal. Far from it.
There are many other duties that demand our devotion as well, the
greatest of all being our devotion to God and the calling that he has placed
upon our lives. With knowledge and
education (and all other things), it is important to remember that our starting
point must begin with God. Knowledge
that begins in man “puffeth up”(1 Cor. 8:1).
If we begin anywhere else, our knowledge becomes lifeless vanity and we
show ourselves to be great fools. Knowledge must begin with humility, and that
humility involves humbling ourselves to God, admitting that we are neither
possessing of all the answers nor self-sufficient, and acknowledging that He is
the one “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col.
2:3). Proverbs 9:10 assures us, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning
of wisdom and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding," and we are
commanded to search after wisdom and knowledge more than fine gold (Prov.
16:16). Thus, it is through these things that we come to know and
serve God better.
One trained and equipped to be a
life-long learner (an active reader) and whose source of knowledge is of the one
and only triune God will be one equipped to take “every thought into captivity
to the obedience of Christ” even as Paul stood upon Mars Hill and took captive
the thoughts of the Stoic philosophers, and later, the educated King Agrippa, as
well as the common Jew and Gentile. Nor
will one so equipped be tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine that comes
along or every news commentator that spouts the latest trend of political
correctness. Now that's a reading curriculum that's worth investing a lifetime.
wisdom! Get understanding!” – Proverbs 4:5