I recently finished an excellent book, The Eternal Argument by R. Robin Finley. It calls itself “a framework for understanding Western Literature and Culture” and indeed it delivers on that claim. Mrs. Finley has a knack for explaining difficult concepts in an accessible way.
|The Eternal Argument
By R. Robin Finley / Analytical Grammar, Inc.
I came across this book through the middle school dialectic curriculum we use, Analytical Grammar. Robin Finley is also the author of that curriculum. The price ($24.95) deterred me from reading it at first. I typically buy used and pay very little for my books. Even used copies of this book are $20. Now that I have read it, I think I know the reason. It is the kind of book that you keep on your shelf. You don’t turn around and sell this book after you have read it. It is the book you highlight and mark. Or at least that is what I did. Every homeschool parent would benefit from reading this book before teaching literature. It is designed to read along with or out loud to your student.
Mrs. Finley’s premise is that all of Western literature is basically discussing two important questions: Is there a God? Are we flawed and need a God or are we the highest beings in the universe and decide for ourselves right and wrong? She goes through the major movements in literature and arts showing how the pendulum swings back and forth on the answers to those basic questions, from Socrates to Daniel Keyes. She explains how to read a book and outlines how to discern the author’s answers to those questions. Watching the flow of ideas throughout history gives us a sense of how events effect thought and then those thoughts trigger events. It shows us where we have been and tells us where we are heading.
Though these concepts are not new to me, the concise format and straight forward application have changed the way I think about and teach literature. As a result, I made a literature worksheet for my students, a sort of study guide of questions to ask themselves as they read through their assignments and even pleasure reading. I find that once students either identify with a character or discover a reason to read the material, relevant to themselves, my job of leading literature discussions is pretty much over. They have plenty to discuss without me asking much of anything. And then the material is internalized and applied. Knowing why I am reading Plato’s Republic makes a difference in how well I read it and how much I pay attention. And since we teach history chronologically, understanding the movements or “-isms” as Mrs. Finley calls them, makes the study of our past a meaningful and worthwhile undertaking. Then hopefully I never have to hear that annoying question asked, “Why do I have to learn this stuff anyway?”
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