The Middle School Advantage: From Known to Unknown

While middle school might seem like a time of uncertainty and confusion for both student and parent, it is also a time of wonderful opportunity: students begin to realize that the world of facts is the precursor and foundation to the even more engaging universe of ideas, thought, and personal creativity. This is particularly true in the area of composition and literature, wherein is the opportunity to develop the ability to think logically, through reading great texts and writing about them. 

Students do not need to wait until high school to begin to develop their analytical skills in writing, and in fact, after climbing that initial steep hill, they discover that what at first appeared to be a long, painful journey has turned out to be the preparation for entering an entirely new kingdom which they now have the keys to enter. Truth to tell, it’s the best time in life for them to part the curtain and enter into entire the adult world. They now can unlock the codes which open the doors to understanding the mature thought found in great literature. The ability to grasp the themes and deep riches of literature is also the ability to truly grasp history within the context of human nature. Dostoevsky knew this, and stated that it is through literature that the Russian people understand history. Perhaps this explains the love people have of historical fiction, or any great novels which thematically reflect the history of various incidents and people in history. 

The book which has most influenced my own understanding of Dostoevsky’s assertion is Witness, by Whittaker Chambers. One of the unsung masterpieces of 20th century literature, this historically accurate book (not fiction) is the story of an influential American journalist’s journey from being a communist spy when he was Time Magazine’s religion editor to his gradual change of worldview during the 1950s and the “Mccarthy Era.” Witness had a profound influence on me when I was a young college student, and shaped my philosophy and future approach to life in immeasurable ways. I will forever be grateful to the college friend who handed that book to me when I was questioning my own belief system. 

Perhaps you have a book which has meant a lot to you throughout the years; I personally find that revisiting my own experience with Witness is rejuvenating and encouraging, especially in times of discouragement or doubt. The ways in which literature can shape our consciences and define our lives are myriad because the relationship between words and the ways they express truths about our reality is profound and never-ending. There is no logic or understanding without a grasp of language and its handmaid, writing.

In my experience middle school students are ready for this philosophical and literary journey: in fact, though they may not know how to express their desires yet, they are yearning for it. When a parent/teacher/mentor guides the way, most students jump at the opportunity to begin the pilgrimage. Even if it means a steep climb at the beginning of the trip, the reward is worthwhile. Surrounding students with fine literature is a wise way to start them on the path to learning to write and the foundation for their developing the logic they need to help them fulfill their life callings.

Questions about our courses? Check our website, integritasacademy.com, or email us at Cindy@integritasacademy.com.

Ghosts We Know: Hauntings of the Human Heart

In several of our high school courses we read about ghosts in short stories and plays, and students sometimes ask me why we do this. When I return the favor and ask them what they think, we often have some interesting discussions about the soul, spirituality, and self-knowledge.

Truly, literary ghosts are extremely important if we understand their metaphorical meaning. 

First, the ghosts we know are often really–ourselves. Great literature reveals the human condition; it shows us how to rise above our weaknesses, mistakes, and sins, and what happens when we don’t. Ghosts tell us about ourselves and the things that haunt us, especially our own failings. They reflect what we are thinking, deep down, underneath self-delusions, guilt, and hidden self-knowledge. For instance, when we read Macbeth, we understand that ghosts can be the creations of our own minds: they may be forbidden desires, desires which dominate us so fully that against our own consciences, we believe in them and obey them. If we give in to them, we become ghosts ourselves: shells of our former selves who cower in fright as we hide from the results of our own selfish, evil actions.

Often, ghosts are about place and space. Virginia Woolf’s story, “A Haunted House,” expresses how connected we are to the places in which we’ve lived and loved. Here the new owners of a house find mysterious ghosts whose residual experiences inspire the them to continue the love which the original couple has, it seems, extended to them through time in this cherished home which still emanates the deep, abiding commitment of its previous owners. As we grow older we learn how important our homes and communities have been to us, and they become part of the warp and woof of our own spirits–so much so that sometimes, we find it hard to  consciously assimilate the depth and breadth of our past experiences.

Finally, ghosts reveal the spiritual nature of our existence and our connection to immortality: life which extends beyond the present. When Hamlet is presented with the ghost of his father, he is not sure if the ghost is a demonic deception, or his dead father, directing him from the beyond. Even those of us with strong religious beliefs can’t conceive exactly of what lies beyond, or how those who have died view us. While Christians are instructed not to attempt to hold seances with the dead, this doesn’t abrogate the question: what, exactly, is the relationship of those of us on earth to those who have died? And what is it like for them, in their new state? Hamlet wrestles with how he should relate to what he thinks may be his father’s spirit, and in so doing reveals the internal conflicts we all experience when we confront personal tragedies, and how we might have been responsible for them, or may be able to repair them afterwards.

Ghosts may bring forth our regrets: sorrows which challenge us to either wallow in self-pity and anguish, or to accept reality, in the recognition that it is only in embracing our situation and our own failings that we find healing, peace, and maturation. Or, perhaps ghosts will bring comfort to us: the memories of times with loved ones now gone, the times with children now grown. Whatever our personal ghosts are, reading and writing about them is a way forward to understanding ourselves, the world we live in, and the God who created us.

© Cindy C. Lange, MA
integritasacademy.com

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Best Beach Reads: Part 1

To start the summer, I’m sharing some favorite books and authors with you. You might like to try them sometime– maybe even this summer. When homeschooling our five children, I always looked forward to summer when I could explore “new to me” books in a leisurely manner.

I am selective about modern/contemporary literature, but I have a few authors I think are keepers. They are in no particular order, since I can’t decide which ones I like best. First on my list is Marilyn Robinson. I do not recommend starting with her earlier book, Housekeeping, but rather, go to her trilogy, starting with the Pultizer Prize winner, Gilead. Robinson has a strong grasp of the deeply Christian nature of our culture, and celebrates the family of a pastor in these brilliant novels.†

Second on my list is Fred Chappell and his Kirkman tetralogy, beginning with I Am One of You Forever. His books also focus on family and contain a spiritual ethos, but they have a comic side to them that makes me laugh out loud when I reread them. He was poet laureate of North Carolina from 1997-2002, and has also won many awards for his work.

Finally, I recommend Ron Hansen’s book, Atticus, which is a prodigal son story (also a mystery) full of warmth and hope. In addition to receiving many book awards, two of Hansen’s novels have been made into movies. Hansen is a professor in my home territory at Santa Clara University, where I received my teaching degree.

I’m happy to be able to recommend the books of these three living authors to you, and perhaps you will dip into one or more of them while dipping your toes in the water, or vacationing in some mountain idyll. All three of these authors know how to “dig in” and find the “stories” that make you appreciate and rejoice in life and faith.

I hope you all have a blessed summer with family and friends, no matter where you are or what you are doing.

Cindy Lange
integritasacademy.com