Why Read? Talk to Jack…

The first day back from Winter Break went rather well, I think.  Though we are still winding down the 1st semester (3rd marking period doesn’t technically start until Jan. 20th- I know, weird, right?), I broke out the new syllabus to share my objectives and expectations for the rest of the year with my students.  At the top of the page, I included this quote:

“Literature enlarges our being by admitting us to experiences not our own.  They may be beautiful, terrible, awe-inspiring, exhilarating, pathetic, or comic… My own eyes are not enough for me.  In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself.  Like the night sky in a Greek poem, I see with a thousand eyes, but it is still I who see.  Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself: and am never more myself than when I do.” – C.S. Lewis

When I came across these words by the immortal Jack, it sent the requisite chills down my spine.  I shared this quote with a colleague, who promptly said “Exactly.  This is the type of philosophy that our students need to hear.”  People will argue that there is no practical application to learning literature.  Practical be damned- it’s worth so much more than that.  In our consumer-oriented, me-me-me culture, where our kids grow up with the “the whole world revolves around me” mentality shoved down their throats, it’s refreshing to read an old dinosaur like C.S. Lewis, telling us it’s not about practicalities, it’s about Perspective.  A person with an expanded perspective lives in a larger universe than someone with a limited perspective.  In a later excerpt from the essay quoted above, Lewis noted that you can always tell an “unread” mind from a “read” mind: “Their world is always too small.”

Our job, as English teachers, is to make those worlds larger.  And to answer the argument that “Oh, Shakespeare doesn’t speak to this generation’s experience,”  I answer either “Are you sure?”  or if I think about that quote above, I say “Good.”


3 thoughts on “Why Read? Talk to Jack…

  1. Hi Teomiriam!
    Welcome to my space beyond the Wardrobe! The quote is from the tail end of Lewis’s An Experiment in Criticism, but I found the quote in George Sayer’s biography on Lewis Jack on p.399 when he was referencing Lewis’s thoughts on reading. Criticism is a collection of essays by Lewis on literary criticism; he published in in 1961.

    Take care,
    aka Tumnus’s Books 🙂

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