Living Books

As I look forward to the start of RiverTree School one of the things that gets me most excited is the chance to introduce students to really good books. Such books allow a child to connect with ideas, people, and stories in a meaning and exciting way. It is a sad fact, however, that the books children are often forced to read in schools these days do little to peak their curiosity or spur their imagination. In fact, they often do quite the opposite.
Textbooks used in schools are written for the simple purpose of sales. In order to do this, the textbook writers try to appeal, as best they can, to their target market: teachers, administrators and curriculum committees. Unfortunately, the top criteria of these groups are often things like: which textbook series has the best teaching aids? which has the best assessment tools? which most closely meets the state or school standard? which will cause us the fewest problems? The result is bland, encyclopedic, "age-appropriate", politically correct, drivel that while easily employed by a teacher, is of nearly no use to a student.
If these books were as filled with vital knowledge as the publishers would have us believe, then why is it only schools that buy them? Have you ever known anyone who ever bought a elementary school textbook to read to their children? Some small private schools require parents to purchase the textbooks their students use. But one of the most telling testimonials to the quality of school textbooks is how few of them are kept once the school year ends. If these books were the useful compendium of learning their publishers claim them to be, you would think that a few more might make their way to the family bookshelf rather than the dumpster.
A RiverTree education will be different. We will offer to our students what Charlotte Mason calls "living books." That is, books containing vital ideas written is a style that engages the student. Unlike the textbooks chosen by most schools these books are written with the reader in mind, not the curriculum committee. As a result, they are actually worth reading, for their own sake. They are also books that you might find on the shelf of a good book store or library because, you know, people actually like them.
The students are allowed to encounter these books and the ideas within them on their own terms. There is no list of carefully chosen facts that a child needs to glean in order for the book to accomplish its purpose. Rather the reader is offered an interesting topic presented in a lively, engaging manner. The ideas are there for him to take or leave as they are needed.
The result is a much more enjoyable education. Instead of laboring over a chapter trying to find the "answers" for the worksheet, a child spends her time with the sublime pleasure of a good book. She remembers more of what she read because the book was good enough to hold her interest. Perhaps it is even so good that she regrets having to set it down. Isn't that a much more refreshing and natural way to approach learning?