On Reading of Old Books- A Philosopher Explains Why Homeschoolers Need Classic Literature

This classic was originally posted on our homeschool umbrella’s blog at mtsophiaideas.com.

A Philosopher Explains Why Homeschoolers Need Classic Literature

Micah is a homeschool graduate who holds a PhD in Philosophy and is popular for his Top 40 Philosophy podcast.

A Philosopher Explains Why Homeschoolers Need Classic Literature

A Philosopher Explains Why Homeschoolers Need Classic Literature

I think C.S. Lewis wrote an essay with that title once. So I decided to borrow it.

I was thinking, the other day, about the Classics. You all make your children read them during the school year, and maybe even over the summer. And I bet you’ve all heard some complaint to the effect of, “Why do we have to read this book? What’s so important about it?”
Where I teach philosophy, we are very much “into” the Classics.  We teach the Classic Philosophical Texts. That is our approach to teaching philosophy.

Other schools might focus on Classic Philosophical Problems, or Recent Philosophical Problems, or Contemporary Questions in Philosophy, or Historical Debates in Philosophy. And we do that too. It’s just our specialty is in teaching the Classic Texts.

But why focus on classic books?  What do you tell your children?

A Philosopher Explains Why Homeschoolers Need Classic Literature: Here’s some of my thoughts on the subject:World Literature


The classics are, for the most part, very old, and very well-known. They’ve been popular for a very long time, in other words, and have been read by many, many historically-important people

When you sit down to read a classic book, therefore, you’re doing the same thing that countless other people have done before you, are doing right now, and will still be doing in the future.

You’re joining in an activity that spans the ages and the globe and participating in an experience that is shared by thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of people across time and space.

You’re having the same experience now as the George Washingtons, Winston Churchills, Abraham Lincolns, etc. of history had when you read Shakespeare today.  You can have the same experience now as Cicero and Julius Caesar and maybe even the Apostle Paul had when you read Homer.

When you pick up a Jane Austen novel, you’re joining with a whole sea of unseen others who have picked up the same novel. When you read a C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien story, you’re living through the same events that many great people have lived through as they read the same book.

When you read classic books, therefore, you’re helping to tie history and the world together.

You’re participating in the same activities and experiences that many others have. The experience you have, and activity in which you engage, of reading the story is the same as the experience others have had, and the activity in which others have engaged, around the world and through the years.

Furthermore, when you read classic books, you’re becoming part of a tradition. You’re participating in something larger than yourself.

Britiish Literature

And, when you read classic books, you’re enabling yourself to better understand the people who have shaped your world, because

(a) you’ve now shared some of their experiences with them (the experience of reading the book you’re reading, and of living through the story with its characters),

(b) you now know the characters and plots and stories that helped them to see the structures in their world and to understand the events in their lives.

The stories we read and hear and watch begin to act as metaphors for the events in our lives. We begin to see our world through the stories we’ve experienced. The stories we’ve lived through help us to see the organization and structure of what we live through in the real world.

There’s an important sense, therefore, in which you cannot understand another person unless you understand the stories they see the world through.

So, we read the Classics in order to participate in the connecting of different times and places with each other, in order to participate in a tradition larger than ourselves, and in order to better understand other people (especially those who have helped to shape our world).

But there are other reasons as well.A Philosopher Explains Why Homeschoolers Need Classic Literature

What do you think?

-Micah Tillman

BTW- If you are looking for some valuable classics for your homeschool high school co-op, check out these fun and meaningful ideas in this discussion on the Homeschool Highschool Podcast about teaching Shakespeare in co-op.

A Philosopher Explains Why Homeschoolers Need Classic Literature


7Sisters email subscribers receive periodic practical encouragement, special offers and NO SPAM EVER.

Sign up for 7SistersHomeschool.com Emails
Click the image above to periodically receive real homeschool value in your inbox.

Vicki Tillman

Blogger, curriculum developer at 7SistersHomeschool.com, counselor, life and career coach, SYMBIS guide, speaker, prayer person. 20+year veteran homeschool mom.

2 Replies to “On Reading of Old Books- A Philosopher Explains Why Homeschoolers Need Classic Literature”

  1. Hi Alisha,
    There are so many directions to go with your questions, allow me to share a few:
    1) For a young high schooler or for a teen that has little space for the dissonance in some classics, there are plenty of classic books that don’t have murders and adultery. Think favorites like Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, PG Wodehouse or Mark Twain.
    2) Our Sister Sabrina often explains that reading classics that include uncomfortable topics is a good way to bring those out as conversation topics. Unfortunately in our crazy world teens are likely to run into uncomfortable topics by watching the news or even in the local communities where they interact. If those topics have been discussed already as part of a literature study, it is easier to discuss them when they come up in real life.
    3) When reading a book that has uncomfortable topics, a good study guide can help the discussion process.

  2. Thank you, that is a perspective I hadn’t thought of before and I like it!
    My problem with much classic literature is the dark and inappropriateness that is included. For example: Lord of the Flies-killing; Scarlet Letter-adultery; even Shakespeare is drowning in murder and suicide.
    Granted, my oldest is just entering high school next year, but I’ve been doing research, and there are plenty of classics toted as middle school level that are also not great either.
    Any tips you have toward finding classics that are life-giving/character teaching? And do you have thoughts on if there are still benefits of reading books which have so much yuck in them? Or just things I should think about before ruling out a book.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *