There are plenty of books telling Christians why they should read great literature—Adam and Missy Andrews pretty much take for granted the educational and entertainment value of "the classics." Teaching the Classics isn't about convincing you to give your kids a literary education, it's about teaching you how to give them a literary education. Using Classical education methods, the Andrews show how Socratic dialogue is able to reveal the heart of ideas found in titles as divergent as The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Moby-Dick.
At the core of the program is Teaching the Classics, a set of four DVDs with a seminar syllabus/workbook directed at parents, equipping them to lead their children in discussion. The idea is that the truth can be drawn out using the Socratic method (lots of questions, with some commentary to help guide students' thinking). The basic elements of a story are introduced, but kids are taught to go far beyond mere plot analysis to discover what it is the author is saying. In other words, parents and children alike learn to understand and grapple with the fundamental nature and purpose of literature.
If this sounds too scary, don't worry: in his DVD lectures, Adam Andrews is clear, engaging, and thorough, addressing most of the questions beginners will have, and giving you a firm base to work from. By using simple examples (The Tale of Peter Rabbit in particular), he's able to demonstrate how you can find the message within any story, and determine whether the writer was consistent within his or her own worldview. Andrews is a Christian, and he approaches everything from that perspective.
[Read full review and see samples here]
Teaching the Classics is primarily concerned with the question, What is the author saying? In the follow-up Teaching the Classics: Worldview Supplement the question becomes, Is the author speaking the truth? The course is similarly structured to the original, with two DVDs featuring lectures and sample discussions led by Andrews, as well as a course workbook/syllabus. An appendix in the syllabus featuring 60 questions parents can use to guide discussions is a great place to start before you're able to come up with your own. [Read full review]
The purpose of both courses is to facilitate and cultivate independent thinking. Andrews' lectures are guides to the often difficult art of literary analysis, but they aren't a stopping place; he offers tools and insights rather than pat answers, all designed to help you understand how to find the meaning and themes in literature, how to be a critical thinker, and how to enjoy literature on its own terms. This requires effort on the part of both teachers and students, but the rewards it yields are immeasurable.
A number of products have been created to get you started. You'll need the original Teaching the Classics program for all of them, but things like The Classics Club and Ready Readers offer more guidance for specific books. Again, these are meant to be jumping-off points, resources to help you get the ball rolling toward independent thought, but they are quite useful.
The Classics Club is simply a series of DVD sessions about individual classic novels (Huckleberry Finn, The Yearling, Hamlet, etc.). Each one is about 1 1/2 hours, and features a discussion between Adam Andrews and some students concerning the work under consideration. This shouldn't be used by itself, but rather as a way to see the Teaching the Classics Socratic method in action. Parents watch the discussion, then conduct their own with their kids. A downloadable PDF study guide is available along with each DVD, offering a brief author bio and suggested questions.
Using lower-level fiction but still aimed at all ages (and still addressed to parents), the three Ready Readers books by Adam's wife Missy provide detailed lesson plans for teaching a number of classics picture books, children's fiction, and young adult novels. These plans follow the Teaching the Classics format, but offer everything you need for its implementation in the context of specific titles like Sam, Bangs and Moonshine, Misty of Chincoteague, and The Hobbit, with questions and answers, summaries, character lists, reproducible story charts, etc. Missy has also completed a Ready Readers: Narnia, covering the seven classics by C.S. Lewis.
If your intention is to use the Teaching the Classics as the foundation for a complete literature course but find the prospect of assembling book lists, reading schedules, writing assignments, etc. too daunting, Reading Roadmaps is a necessary component. It includes all those elements just listed plus more, combining them into a workable course for grades K-12. You'll still need the core courses (both the original and the Worldview Supplement), but Reading Roadmaps guides you through the often difficult landscape with relative ease. [Read full review]
Adam and Missy Andrews began developing these products after being asked by neighbors to instruct their kids in literature. They know their stuff, they love good books, and best of all they're committed Christians dedicated to studying everything through the lens of Scripture. The ability to read and understand literature is an increasingly lost art, but a necessary one, allowing us to engage the ideas all around us that conflict with or support our Christian faith: Teaching the Classics will help you in precisely that aim.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.