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Reading: Opening the Doors to the Rest of Education - by Seton Home Study School

Reading: Opening the Doors to the Rest of Education


There are three good and simple reasons why the Seton curriculum places such an emphasis on reading, and how it shapes our kids’ worldview in a healthy way.

It’s a common refrain around Seton Home Study School that English is the basis of every other skill, that without the ability to read and write well, a human being’s potential for success is severely curtailed.

As parents, we teach the ABC’s with anxiety, praying that our children will catch on quickly. The primers we give our sons and daughters in kindergarten and first grade are the foundation of all our hopes and dreams for their future, because reading opens the doors to the rest of education.

Though we sometimes tire of the seemingly endless quantities of reading assigned in our children’s curriculum, at heart, we know all that bookwork is getting them ready for success in college and beyond.

But reading isn’t just the cornerstone of success in textbook education. Reading underpins the entire development of the human person.

If you want to know the real reasons we put so much emphasis on reading, here are three you don’t hear every day, and they’re exactly why Seton Home Study School builds its curriculum on Reading.

  • Reading broadens our scope.
  • Reading teaches empathy.
  • Reading trains the moral imagination.

Reading broadens our scope.

Most people don’t get to travel around the world; volunteer with different sorts of religious, humanitarian, and environmental missions in faraway places; visit the great architectural and geological wonders of the world; walk the streets of the most historically significant towns and cities; or experience in person all the world’s great art and music.

However, thanks to reading books, every single person can do all of these things vicariously.

Reading allows us to have experiences that would never be possible otherwise, and these experiences enable us to approach our own lives and circumstances within a richer framework.

Thus, when we encounter a problem in our work or school day, the wisdom of the ages gained from reading may rise up to help us. When we see something remarkable in our own backyards, we can relate it to the descriptions of great natural phenomena recorded in books we borrowed from the library.

We may not have seen the Mona Lisa in person, but we can converse about it because we’ve read biographies of the painter, and absorbed famous accounts of others’ responses to the masterpiece.

Reading makes us bigger and better than we could otherwise be within the natural boundaries of our own lives.

Reading teaches empathy.

In an almost forgotten volume of letters to important literary figures, Albino Luciani (who later became Pope John Paul I) described the writing of Charles Dickens as “warm with imagination and humanity,” worthy because “all of your compassion is poured out on” the oppressed.

In the same letter, Luciani reminds us of Marley’s words from A Christmas Carol:

“Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business.”

These are also the business of books, and thus they are our business when we read books.

As children are caught up in the lives of the characters in their storybooks, they learn how to relate to other human beings. They also learn this skill of relating simply from homeschooling, but stories teach children how to respond to great suffering and great joy.

Through stories, children open the doors to the larger human drama taking place across the globe and across history. In their reading, children learn charity and generosity toward persons in all eras, locations, states and stages of life, and come to understand themselves as part of the greater human community.

Just as stories teach children to understand the drama of human actions on a grand scale, so stories also teach children about the bigger picture within every individual soul. Stories train children to have awareness of and respect for others.

Books teach children to approach conflict from the other’s point-of-view, and to acknowledge that what we see on the surface of people is only half the story.

Reading stories enables children to understand the deeper motivations behind people’s actions, to have compassion on those who have had hard choices to make, and to recognize that there are times when it is appropriate for us to reserve judgment.

Reading trains the moral imagination.

If anyone is concerned that stories teach sympathy at the expense of truth, let the third point be remembered. Reading trains the moral imagination.

Stories are the first place where children really understand the concepts of objective right and wrong as such, detached from what will please or offend Mom and Dad, detached from fear of punishment or desire for reward.

In stories, children see the beauty of virtue and the ugliness of vice. In fairytales, they learn to associate themselves with the characters who choose good, make sacrifices, and defend honor because these characters are the heroes and heroines.

When they read stories, children develop positive emotional responses to justice, mercy, honesty, and all the other goods in human nature, while rejecting injustice, cruelty, dishonesty, and all the other evils of which men are capable for the wrongs that they are.

Through reading, children learn the value of living for something higher than oneself and according to moral principles because they see the power of such a life to bring good to oneself and to one’s community.

This development of the moral imagination through books and storytelling sets the stage for effective formal training in theology and ethics.

It is the foundation of the just and virtuous man’s worldview and the bedrock of his aspirations. It is hardly an overstatement to say that a well-developed moral imagination is the root of the human person’s eternal destiny.

So, the next time someone in the house complains about yet one more book analysis, or you feel overwhelmed by the volume of books spilling off your shelves, remember that all those books and all that reading is shaping our children into the men and women we’re praying they’ll become.

At Seton, we know there are good reasons to read, and its for these reasons that we build our curriculum on books.

Header photo © lordn / Dollar Photo Club

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