Excellence in Literature Worldview
What is the Worldview in Excellence in Literature?
I have often been asked whether the award-winning Excellence in Literature curriculum is religious or secular, or whether it had Christian content or a Christian worldview. Since I know it’s a question that others may have, I thought I’d share my answer here. I am assuming that by “Christian content,” the questioner means specific doctrinal teaching or verses from scripture.
Q: Does Excellence in Literature contain Christian content?
A: EIL is written from a Christian worldview because I am a Christian and my writing inevitably reflects my perspective. Because this is a literature course, not a theology class, I have been purposeful in not teaching specific doctrinal perspectives for the reasons below. I continue to revisit the assigned classics, adding context resources or alternative texts to balance or clarify instances in which a particular religious prejudice is expressed by the author of a focus text or context resource. This is an ongoing effort, and I appreciate feedback from readers.
Religion has been an integral part of history and literature, and in cases when a resource with religious roots is mentioned, it is always in a literary context and always optional. An example of the way a resource may be referenced can be found in the Moby Dick module. As context, I briefly reference other man/whale/big fish tales, including the Biblical story of Jonah and The Old Man and the Sea. Students are not required to read these, but simply being aware of them helps to place Moby Dick in its literary context. There is no hint of “any sectarian or denominational doctrine” in this type of usage — it is simply pointing out a literary form
Reasons for a literary approach
I want students to learn to think with discernment, so I present the focus texts and context materials so students begin to understand philosophy or worldview as it is revealed in each piece of literature, music, and art. I believe students learn more and retain it longer when they are actively engaged in studying resources from different voices and in different formats. These resources are primarily academic in nature; many are written by college professors or other experts.
Ideas have consequences: Every piece of literature studied is written from a specific worldview, and I believe that students who work through the curriculum will gradually gain a deep understanding of what various ideas and philosophies look like as they are lived out. Fiction allows us to see how people live when they are operating from various perspectives. I believe that learning is more powerful when students observe and discover this for themselves, rather than being spoon fed my interpretation or what I gleaned from the text.
Focus on literature and writing. The curriculum is designed to teach literature and writing, and I believe the focus needs to remain on the literary material presented and practiced. Student essays will inevitably reflect the student’s worldview and can open many conversational avenues within the family, classroom, or reading group.
Usable in charter schools: While I was writing the curriculum, I heard from charter schools which wanted to be able to use the curriculum, but could do so only if it did not contain overt religious teaching. The curriculum is now available in many alternative school systems.
Historic perspective: Classics from various countries and times will obviously have a variety of worldviews. The Odyssey reflects the philosophy of ancient Greece, while Canterbury Tales reflects the worldview of medieval Britain and Great Gatsby the worldview and values of modern America. This reflects the reality of the world, and it helps students to glean a fuller picture of history in that time and place. Studying these great works within the family provides many opportunities for deep learning and fruitful discussion.
Respecting family autonomy: I want parents to be able to use the curriculum without worrying about whether specific doctrinal issues are addressed differently from the way the family has been taught. There are many non-creedal issues upon which Christians differ, and it is parents who bear the responsibility for determining what the family will learn. The study of literature provides a golden opportunity for the fruitful discussion of many challenging issues. It is my hope that these discussions can encourage growth and strengthen relationships within the family.
When I taught this material in online classes (which I no longer do), I was astonished and often blessed by the profound insights my students would have about a piece of literature I’d read many times. I don’t want to rob them of this thrill of discovery, nor do I want to replace it with a condensed version of what I’ve come to understand about a particular work. It would be like snatching a fresh, sweet orange from a child and substituting a reconstituted orange drink made from powder and water. I wrote this curriculum to provide an alternative to textbooks like that!
If you want to know more about how I chose the books for Excellence in Literature, you can read this earlier post. You’ll find links to a lot of other posts about Excellence in Literature on the main literature page at Everyday Education.
You can read Cathy Duffy’s review of EIL at Cathy Duffy Reviews.
Finally, the Complete Curriculum (all five levels of Excellence in Literature) is available both in print and as an ebook. The binder version is so nice that I almost didn’t think you’d want it as an ebook, but I’ve heard from military families, a reader in New Zealand, and at least one person who is moving and wants an easy way to keep track of it, and other families who enjoy the ease of clicking on links rather than typing them in, so here’s the ebook.
We are also offering it as a discounted bundle of the print and ebook together, as that is the ideal way to use it — the print book for planning, models, and reference, and the ebook for easy link-clicking. I hope those of you who have been waiting will enjoy it!