Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Eternal Argument - A TOS Homeschool Crew Review

In June I was offered the opportunity to review a book entitled The Eternal Argument, written by R. Robin Finley and offered by the company of Analytical Grammar
I had been looking at the Analytical Grammar web page, and I was very interested, so I was pleased when I learned that I would be receiving a printed copy of this book.

The Eternal Argument is a paperback book measuring about 8" x 5.5". It contains 286 pages, over which is spread an introduction, 15 chapters, an Afterword and then Acknowledgements. I had the book for approximately six weeks, and the plan was to read a chapter at a time several times each week in the hope that deep literary conversation would later spring from these readings to my child. [I think my student has turned off his brain for the summer... ::sigh::  ...back to my review...]
R. Robin Finley's writing style is amazing! She spent 34 years teaching middle school grades. I can't imagine! In my memory of my life, I was least teachable in 7th and 8th grade. I just didn't care and was biding my time each day until I could get out of school and be free. (This also seems to be where my son lives right now...)

I would have loved to have had Ms. Finley for English in 7th or 8th grade. (I can't even remember who I had in English for 8th grade! 8th grade is like a year in my life that I have totally forgotten, except for when we dissected fish in Science class... I digress...)

The full title of The Eternal Argument is "It's... The Eternal Argument". Also on the cover (I don't know whether or not it would be considered part of the title) it says: "A framework for understanding Western Literature and Culture". After reading the book, I thought a good description of what the book is about is literary analysis.

The Eternal Argument contains the following titles:
  1. Why Should We Read All Those Books?
  2. How Do We Stuff Stuff Into Our Heads?
  3. The Little Stinker
  4. What Are The Two Sides Fighting About?
  5. Does Someone Have To Be "In Charge"?
  6. What is the Western Literature Platform?
  7. Should We Quarantine Our Kids?
  8. Really Old Guys: Ancients to the Middle Ages
  9. Just Old Guys: The Renaissance to Neo-Classicism
  10. Somewhat Old Guys: The American & French Revolutions
  11. Newer Old Guys: The Romantics to the Realists
  12. Newest Guys: The Naturalists to the Modernists
  13. Stuff You Need to Know to Teach This Stuff
  14. Now Let's Apply All This to the Books We've Discussed
  15. Because It's All About Me ... What Do I Think
Some of the material contained herein I have encountered previously, but never have I read a book that so skillfully and clearly wove it all together so that I could understand it and pass it on to my students! I wish I this book had come to me when my 27-year-old was starting middle school 16 years ago! I'm so thankful the oldest two were in a co-op where someone else was teaching them some of this stuff, because before reading this book I didn't understand a lot of the issues. Now, having read this book, I guarantee The Eternal Argument will stay in my arsenal of tools to be pulled out and reviewed constantly!

R. Robin Finley skillfully covered literature through the lens of history, explaining how the historical issues of each era completely affected not only the content contained in the literature, but also how the readers (at the time the book was written) would have understood various items in a book. Since our students do not have the same framework to understand the literature, we need to explain it to the to help them understand the context of each piece of literature.

The major theme of "The Eternal Argument" centers on the conflict through the ages between "The Little Stinker" (evil) and our "Better Angel". In our culture the two sides could be thought of as the theists and the humanists. The basic argument is, "There is a God" vs. "There is no God", and various measures of one side or the other in between.

Using this framework, the author walks the reader through evaluating each piece of literature based on whether it is theistic or humanistic, and within that framework she interweaves the eras of history to help you understand the context of the era the author would have been coming from. She has these great titles you see in the Table of Contents above about the really old guys, just old guys, etc., and she charts where each era fell on the scale of humanist vs. theist.

After laying all this out, she covers literary vocabulary, terms I have covered and long since forgotten, so I was so thankful to have all this information so handy in one small volume. This vocabulary section is followed by analyses of 18 selected books that are representative of the different eras of history she discussed (Middle Ages, Renaissance, Neo-classical, Romanticism,  Realism, Naturalism, and Modernism). As I'm reading, I'm thinking, "I have no idea whether that is realism or naturalism," and then I'm reading her saying that it is very difficult to tell the difference between those two. The important point isn't necessarily to be right at this point. The important point is helping your student understand the framework upon which a piece of literature was written, and then discussing the literature with the student, chapter by chapter. You want to make sure the student is understanding what they are reading, and then you want to stimulate their thinking by asking probing questions and letting them mull it over and try to figure out what type of writing it is. It isn't so important what they decide; it is more important that they think about it, come to a decision, and be able to support their decision with reasons.

The content of this book is so valuable to me that I know I will want to keep this with me for the rest of my son's school years. It is suggested that the parent and the student both read this book, a chapter a week, and then, chapter by chapter, discuss the latest content covered. I know this works with some students, but in my situation I will have to use the method that works best with my son, which is more of me reading the chapter, and being a filter to deliver the content to him as best I can, maybe reading excerpts to him, but not making him read it. The Eternal Argument is also available as a recorded book, and I would consider that with my son in a year or two, maybe, but right now I don't think it would work. I am more thinking I have to learn to teach literature to him the way Ms. Finley taught it to her middle school students, having him read the literature, but not having him read this book. He needs the information, but I'll have to teach it to him.

Anyway, I have so enjoyed this book and am so thankful to have had the opportunity to read it for review. It will now be an important piece of my arsenal for teaching high school literature. The Eternal Argument sells for $24.95, and the audio book also sells for $24.95. The book is recommended for grades 8 and above.

To read other reviews of The Eternal Argument and other products by Analytical Grammar, click the link below. Thanks for reading, and consider leaving me a comment!

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