When you get married, if you married well, you get a lot of blessing. Some of these blessing are the ones that the married couple expects; some come as surprises. I married well. I remember the joy of just getting to spend more time with Emily. I expected that. I did not expect how my eating habits would change! (I married a really good cook.) Sometimes I would be in class or at work and think, “I wonder what she’s making tonight.” We had such feasts that she crafted out of our meager budget while I was studying for my master’s degree. My mouth started to water. I felt like a king.
The Omnibus curriculum works in the same way. You get some blessings that you count on and some blessings that you probably aren’t anticipating. Over the years with students and with my own daughters, I have witnessed both sorts of blessings. I wanted to share them with you.
Students reading the books in the Omnibus curriculum get the blessing of raising their expectations for what a book can be. This does not mean that these students will automatically love what they should, but it does mean that they will have the capacity to see the difference between whatever the cool new book is and books that change the world.
In The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis talked about the importance of training the tastes of children. The Great Books train the tastes for good literature. This occurs because of the excellent language in the Great Books, the stupendous content of the works, and the powerful impact many generations have experienced as their minds visit the battlefields of Troy or snowy fields by the lamp post in Narnia.
Also, reading the books in the Great Books helps students with testing. (This is not an endorsement of our culture’s approach to standardized testing.) When students have to read texts and answer questions about the meaning of challenging texts, they are prepared to the reading in standardized tests and draw conclusions from the texts that they read. The Great Books are a superb training ground for this sort of activity.
The Great Books also demand much of their readers. This is true of Plato, Dante, and Austen. These books make you pay attention. They reward your attention. They make you think. In a world of flashing lights, emojis, and Snapchat, the long attention spans demanded by these books is wonderful preparation for standardized testing—and life in general.
Finally, reading the Great Books blesses students’ writing. (This might be the most unexpected blessing of the Omnibus Curriculum.) Reading the Great Books forms patterns of words that follow students throughout their lives. The Great Books teach them these patterns of language that serve them well as writers in the future.
This really should not have surprised me. All through the history of Western Literature, authors relied on what has come before. This is clear when Virgil, Dante, and Milton tip their hats to Homer (the King of Epics) by adding bee similes to their epics. Reading good writing gives you the cadence, vocabulary, and confidence to be a good writer. It, of course, does not do everything. There is a lot of tough spade work to be done mastering grammar, writing, editing, crying, and doing these last three things over and over and over again.
So, devour the books in Omnibus. Some will stretch you. Some will be like candy from the beginning. Some will become your old friends. While you are reading, however, know that a lot will be happening that you probably, initially, won’t clearly perceive. Reading these books will help you become a better, more discriminating reader, a better thinker, a better test taker, and a better writer. When someone asks you when all of this happening, you can answer in a paraphrase of an old Sandra Bullock Christmas movie, saying that it all happened “while I was reading.”
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