Robert Watson designed the Smarr Literature Guides for use by middle and high school students. Each guide deals with a single classic work of literature (or collectionof short stories or poems)and leads kids through comprehension questions, vocabulary aids, and background information on the author and historical context. Watson is a proponent of classical education, and hopes to raise awarenessof literature among home school students.
How Do These Work?
On his website, Watson outlines two possible four-year literature courses. The chronological course simply moves through the guides in the order the literary works they discuss were written; the conventional course begins with an introduction to literature, and is followed by surveys of world, American and British literature. While these courses may be useful if you intend to use the Smarr guides exclusively for your high schooler's literature education, it is also possible to use the guides individually for particular works.
Each lesson begins with vocabulary words and a vocabulary exercise (ususally fill-in-the-blank sentences), a reading assignment, recall questions, critical thinking questions/discussion starters, and bonus thoughts. At the end of each guide is a glossary and answer key. The recall questions are objective and ensure students remember and understand what they read. Critical thinking questions are designed to get students thinking analytically. The bonus thoughts offer historical background, explanation of archaic words and phrases, and the author's opinions concerning the text.
In addition to the guides for individual works, Watson has written twointroductions to poetry and one tothe short story, a guide to critical writing, and a poetic paraphrase of The Epic of Gilgamesh. If you follow the courses he suggests you'll encounter each of these; if you intend to use the guides more selectively the poetry and short storyintroductions can still be useful as they more thoroughly explain Watson's overall literary theory.
Our Honest Opinion:
These guides can be pretty helpful. They are more thorough than most literature guides we've seen, and actually teach students about literary analysis and how to conduct it, not just making sure they can read and remember a story. Watson stresses the beauty of language and points students to excellent writing, attempting even the perennially difficult task of demonstrating what makes good writing good.
However, Watson clearly has an axe or two to grind, and he makes no secret of it. He continually makes radical statements about the American "empire," the occasional (and at times it seems he's saying imminent) need for armed rebellion, and the glory that was the South. While there are plenty of Southern sympathizers out there, Watson insists on relating the "War Against Southern Independence" to everything. His South-centric view of history and politics often cause him to make historically inaccurate or at least historically contentious statements.
Because there is plenty of good material here, however, we've made a partial list of the more radical statements and appended each quote to the description of the guide it's found in just as a warning. Many of the guides are free from such statements, and those that aren't typically include them in the introductory material or the bonus thoughts; the vocabulary, critical thinking and recall questions are all fairly objective.
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.
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