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Fighting Illiteracy: Do Classics Have Value in a YouTube World?

My husband and I were doing some reminiscing recently about our school years, and pointing out not only how different our own kids are learning today, but how different the educational environment is, as well.  He commented “In this youTube world we live in, it seems like all they read is illiterature,” referring not only to the “dumbing down” of education, but an even more general observation…

Fighting illiteracy in a YouTube world

What is Illiterature?

A play on and drawn from the root word “illiterate,” I’m using the term illiterature to describe the literary diet which many of this generation consume. Combining the overuse and preoccupation with technology, often starting at a way-too-young age, with an aversion to (or at least an unfamiliarity with) real books, many youth today are virtually illiterate. Of course, they may be able to read words at a functional level, but at the same time, they’ve had little exposure to the larger concepts and writings that have become a part of the fabric of our culture and are the hallmark of a literate society.


Classics Defined

The word “classics” is fascinating, in that it is defined so differently for different people. As a matter of fact, this question was the topic of a lively and interesting discussion recently in my son’s high school British Literature class. Most folks, when asked to name some titles considered classics, will spout off titles of works such as Jane Austin, The Scarlet Letter, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Shakespeare,

While that’s all well and good, we should stop to consider perhaps what exactly constitutes classical literature. Webster defines “classic” as “something that has been considered to be excellent for a long time; a work of enduring excellence; an authoritative source; a typical or perfect example.” From these definitions, it appears that 2 overarching concepts considered would be quality and endurance.


Our YouTube World

These same 2 characteristics – quality and endurance – lie in direct opposition to the foundation of what we’re referring to as our “YouTube World.” Consider this.

YouTube videos tend to be:

  1. Low quality – viral ones are usually happenstance and unplanned, shot on home cameras, and of shallow or little worth (think “stupid pet tricks”)
  2. Brief – currently the optimum length for YouTube videos is 3-5 minutes. Much longer than that, and the “experts” tell us the audience will turn off or tune out. Yes, our societal attention spans are that short…
  3. Quickly-forgotten and laid aside – think back to the flash-in-the-plan popularity that those pet tricks videos enjoy…

And while they are high in amusement value, it might be additionally enlightening to highlight the meaning of the word “amuse.”

a –  a prefix meaning “without”

muse –  to become absorbed in thought; to turn something over in the mind meditatively

I’ll trust you to connect the dots…

Reconciling Paradigms

Looking at those factors begs the question “Given where we are today, how can we ever hope to reintroduce and incorporate the value of classical literature into today’s culture?”

And perhaps equally “Do we even need to?”

I think it’s most important to approach the ‘whys’ first, and I believe there are at least 3 reasons:

  1. Lasting progress requires a firm foundation, and if we are hoping that continued progress will flourish from minds that are neither trained nor familiar with logical, deep thought, we’re kidding ourselves.
  2. We are doomed to repeat mistakes when we don’t learn from them. Conversely, we are unlikely to repeat successes when we do not know how they came about.
  3. For Christians, it’s a Biblical mandate to acquire and grow wisdom. Wisdom comes from the practical application of a deep and thorough education; lasting progress springs from thoughts and activities cultivated from truly wise men and women.

So taking into account these concepts, I think it’s imperative that thinking people, and especially Christians, have a responsibility to  encourage and lead the younger generation in this direction.  This is not to say that we need to adopt a legalistic or narrow view of classical literature.  But we DO need to teach our children to think!  We need to model and then inspire them to grow their attention spans, and ability to follow arguments, and sharp reasoning skills.

And this should not be limited to homeschooling families!

Yes, we will be fighting against the current!

Yes, we will most likely be seen as old-fashioned or out-dated, or worse, “cute.”

Yes, it will not be an easy battle.

Exactly how to do this is the topic of another post…but while you’re waiting for that one, let me leave you with this:

Going with the flow is the easy option; not dusting off and discussing classical literature and pursuing the ensuing discussions and growth that result from reading them?

Well, that one may prove to be a costly mistake…

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Pat is a Yankee city-girl who has been adopted by the sleepy, sunny south. Married for 30 years and the mother of 5, she woke up one day recently to discover she reached the stage of life where she is the “older woman” described in Titus 2:3-5. A coffee lover, the purchase of a coffee shop a few years ago was her personal foray into the small, family-owned business arena.Today, PatAndCandy.com is her outlet for packaging up and sharing the nuggets of wisdom God and life experiences have taught her.
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