Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Teach your children well

Rich Policz reflects on Watership Down and how we can teach our children. His conclusion:

We are locked in a war of ideas. We cannot hide our young away to protect them from this conflict, because that, as Adams would agree, is not life. However, through the stories that we tell our young, we can arm them with imagination, wisdom, and truth, and with those tools they can create a stronger community and a better life.

He’s convinced me to read the novel to or with my kids. But first, we have to work our way through
this series.

Discussions - 12 Comments

You won’t be sorry for reading W.D.

I vaguely recall an animated version of this story that appeared when I was a kid on HBO (back in the day when you had to have a box on the top of your TV that clicked it over to HBO). I believe that it was pretty good--but I’m operating on the memory of an 8 year-old.

My daughter and I recently made our way through Johnny Tremain in preparation for July 4th and she was quite taken with it. We’re now slogging through To Kill a Mockingbird which she seems to love--though I do find myself wondering if it’s not too grown up for her.

Dorothea Israel Wolfson has a thoughtful review of a recent anthology of children’s literature. The anthology sounds awful but the questions she puts to it are quite good and worth contemplating as you choose books to read to your little ones.

As for my son--if anyone has a suggestion I’d love it. He has no interest in literature or stories. He’ll tolerate a picture book if he’s in the mood but he much prefers encyclopedic things to read. He likes information about animals and how the human body works the best--especially if it’s gross!

Julie, I forget how old your son is, but don’t worry that you’re filling his head with facts. After all, he’s in the grammar stage of learning. I remember memorizing as many facts about dinosaurs and planets/astronomy as possible as a youngster. Maybe an
encyclopedia with facts about the presidents or geography might be appealing. Also, I wish someone had read the battle scenes in the Aeneid or The Iliad when I was seven and enthralled by Star Wars.

To Kill is too old for your daughter on the level of your understanding. She will, enjoy Scout’s story and geographical/cultural differences betweent her life and Scout’s life. Do not bother to explain the adult stuff except in the most elementary ways.

I have sons who only liked the most factual books at first, and then only the captions to the pictures. Eventually, stories captured them, first read aloud or on tapes (or cd or otherwise) listened to on long car rides.

Oh, my goodness, or anyone’s goodness, that Norton’s Anthology sounds awful. Veritas Press offers a lovely selection of literature, grade related for home schooled students. It was my favorite site for literary selections for children.

Joseph, How old are your children? Only the youngest enjoy Redwall for very long as the stories are so similar in structure. Well, no, there are children who love that repetition and find it a comfort.

Don’t forget the old-fashioned fairy tale, preferably found in old versions, in books found at garage sales and library book sales. Why? Because you avoid the psychological nastiness mentioned in that Norton Anthology. I used the Childcraft series of my youth and my father’s books, from Milne to Pyle. Watch for the beautifully illustrated books - N.C. Wyeth and Howard Pyle, himself, as they did such lovely work. Bowdlerlized versions of the Greek and Norse myths are great childhood favorites, too.

Which is not to say that I disagree with reading Watership Down except that it not for the very young. No more are C.S. Lewis’ children’s books. But then, perhaps like To Kill it depends on how you read them and what you emphasize.

With all the focus on Narnia, which is of course excellent, let us not forget The Hobbit. Perhaps you can view that awful cartoon version from the 1970s to pique your son’s interest and then read through some of it. Don’t worry about the animals or medical stuff - maybe you have a budding biologist or vet or doctor. Redwall would thus be good because of the animal characters. Maybe an illustrated history of medicine for lots of gross stuff. Look at picture books of animals and ask him to memorize at least 3-5 facts about each animal. There’s always the Jungle Book for animals. ’nough suggestions?

Kate, I disagree. Narnia (esp. The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe) are appropriate beyond 4th grade. And please don’t forget the Little House series. Easy and interesting for youngsters.

Stanley Hauerwas has a very interesting essay on WD in one of his books - I’ve thought about using it in a political theory class.

Thanks for all the suggestions, all. I forgot to say that there is one storybook that my son will endure without (much) interruption: Kipling’s Just So Stories which are fantastic. But neither of them has been willing to put up with The Jungle Book just yet. I’m not worried about Nick though. He’s going to do things his own way and that’s just fine with me. I’m just happy that he likes to learn--no matter what it is that he likes to learn. I always took him for a hard sciences kind of guy anyway.

But I have to say that I don’t think Narnia is too old for young kids--though Kate is right to note that (like To Kill) they won’t get it on the same level as an older child. My daughter and all her friends in kindergarten (so, two school years ago) loved these books. Of course, she doesn’t read them herself, but she knows the stories backwards and forwards and remembers details that I forgot.

On another note, I think we need a place on the website for including lists of recommended reading (and perhaps viewing) for kids and families--with reviews. I’ll suggest it.

My children all heard the Lewis books at an early age. Some were frightened and shocked by The Last Battle and Eustace’s transformation in Dawn Treader or the idea of an edge of the world in the same. Some of my children when young could just hear the story, and enjoy it as such, but a couple were engaged, acually seeing, the theological concepts. Their worrying about those ideas at age four or five was more of a challenge than I would willing have given them.

Kipling IS fun and if you can find it there is an excellent reading of Just So by Boris Karloff, Celeste Holm and I forget who else which we had on tape and the kids wore the tape out. Not that you can’t make it just as good, yourself. Is Rikki-Tiki in that? I forget. That was another favorite.

I forgot to suggest American folk tales, like John Henry and Pecos Bill for just two examples. And yes, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books are charming, but my daughter loved them and my sons never really did.

Julie, I remember Eyewitness books were favorites for my non-fiction barely-readers. Lot of pictures and information in those. Also, when I was young I loved field guides to almost anything. I recall an author, Herbert Zim, I think. (I’m sorry. If I were home, I could tell you more about those books, but I am not home.) He put together a set of field guides, which I still have, very carefully preserved paperbacks, that told me all I wanted to know about animals, plants and all things in the world around me. With those books I thought I could know what EVERYTHING was called and where it was found. Grown-ups never knew, which was quite disappointing. I loved those. Oh! Look! These are a new edition, but at a very ownable price.

Kate, what was difficult about the theological concepts at four? I am currently reading through Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe with my four-year-old daughter and discussing how the lion is Jesus and died for our sins whereas the witch is the Devil tempting us into sin with lies. She has a million wonderful (though sometimes taxing) questions about her faith as a result.

Kate, I think what we’re all getting at here (and you included)is that it is important to know your own kid and how things will affect him/her. Use your best judgment. The thing we’re all trying to do, I think, is inform our judgment. It’s good, of couse, to ask oneself from time to time "why" is one choosing something for one’s children. But then, too, one shouldn’t over-do that either lest one become paralyzed with self-doubt. I’m quite sure that I’ll make a million mistakes (and probably already have) raising my kids. But then I’ll have that in common with the rest of the good parents out there! At least we try!

I remember being about 7 or 8 years-old and having my uncle watch me while my parents were out one night. He fell asleep watching "The Omen." I was awake and so I ended up watching it. Of course, it was awful and wildly inappropriate for a kid my age (not to mention adults!). It scared me for a long time but somehow I survived--it did not become a transforming event in my childhood or anything like that. So I tend to think that the "mistakes" I make with my kids in the influences that I permit will probably be outweighed by the good things they see and experience. If the latter are the norm and the mistakes are the exceptions, we’ll all be o.k.!

No problems with L,W,& W. In The Dawn Treader, the transformation of Eustace FROM being a dragon gave one boy nightmares. He saw the emergence of a changed person and the thought that God might do that to him was frightening. No, it was not that he thought he might have to be a dragon. He struggled with guilt over doing wrong and was very sensitive about that sort of thing. (He goes to The Citadel, now, and if he feels guilt over wrong-doing he surely does a good job of keeping it to himself.) Another boy became worried about missing God and God’s signs as in The Silver Chair. To have a little kid worrying that God is trying to tell him something all the time is funny, but not to him. I probably did more harm in unsuccessfully trying to choke down spontaneous laughter.

A son and then my daughter were very bothered about the concept of the world becoming worse and worse in Battle. They saw TV news and became convinced the world must be ending, but lots of grown-ups worry about that, too. Also, my daughter from those young years has sometimes demanded we should be vegetarian because animals have feelings, too. Out of six kids you get a lot of variation in response to literature. When they are even a year or two older, the worries go away, as they become more rational beings. (well, maybe NOT my daughter)

Not one of them has mentioned memories of these early worries related to the Lewis books. They do remember fears of things lurking in the closet, nightmares of wolves in the woods, one had a conviction (and from where?) that his parents, my husband and I, were really aliens, and another that someday his batteries would fall out and he would be as one dead. My kids were not permanently harmed by these books, and I think not by their other fears, either. Children survive real horrors, too.

However, there are so many good things to read to a four year old, to wait couple of years for these books seems not such a big deal to me. Yes, Julie, another child might have no problem. Actually, I think the young ones were getting a second-hand hearing because the ears we were aiming at in reading the Lewis books aloud were the somewhat older boys. All got to sprawl around listening to an adult reading various stories, which is one of their very good memories of childhood. My daughter feels robbed because no one has read to her in a long time. The oldest boys got to hear adults reading aloud, even her nursery rhymes and fairy tales, if they wanted to, until they left home. She has cd voices, but it is NOT the same.

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