No Syllabus, No Problem

I attended a liberal arts college at Rutgers University in the 1970s, and I received a true liberal arts education. As an English major, I moved from course to course, from century to century, and from syllabus to syllabus, reading the great works of Harold Bloom’s Western canon. I have no complaints.

My daughter, who has been homeschooled virtually all her life, does not know what a syllabus is. I have never given her a sheet of paper on which is printed a list of books and the date by which each book must be completed. She reads voraciously, without a schedule and without anyone’s opinion about what she should or should not consider “good” reading material.

She is fourteen years old, and she has never read a Gossip Girl, It girl, or Clique book. No one ever told her not to read them. She looks at the covers sometimes in the bookstore, probably in the same spirit in which I look at the covers of the tabloids on the grocery checkout line. But, beyond that, they do not interest her.

On her bedside table right now, you might find:

  • some old Baby-Sitters Club books
  • Miss American Pie by Margaret Sartor (a huge favorite that she rereads a lot)
  • You’re Wearing That? by Deborah Tannen
  • the latest Reader’s Digest
  • a Dear America diary
  • Love, Lucy (the autobiography of Lucille Ball)
  • an old American Girl book
  • See Jane Write by Sarah Mlynowski
  • Belle Teal by Ann M. Martin
  • The Wanderer by Sharon Creech
  • Thirteen by Lauren Myracle
  • A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel
  • The Family: A Social History of the Twentieth Century

Am I happy with this list? Heck, yeah. It’s eclectic, and everything on it has value.

Do I hope she’ll read Middlemarch and As I Lay Dying and The Great Gatsby someday? Sure.

Will I feel that her life is incomplete if she doesn’t? No.

I read Jane Eyre aloud to her when she was about six or seven years old. Oh, what abridgment went on there! And how quickly I had to abridge, in my head, as I was reading, so as not to lose her interest! But she loved the story. Perhaps this winter we’ll have a read-aloud of To Kill a Mockingbird. We won’t have to worry about abridging anymore.

People learn something from whatever they read. Reading “good” literature has the added benefits of making you a better writer, a better reader, and, just maybe, a better person. No syllabus needed.

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4 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    deanjbaker said,

    interesting, and good to see, thanks for this

  2. 2

    schooldownthelane said,

    Your daughter sounds a lot like my daughter! She also has no interest in the *typical* young adult books geared toward girls her age. I also totally agree about *good* lit versus *bad*, I feel it all has value! I hesitate to *assign* reading because she enjoys it so much and I don’t want to ruin it. If there is something I think she realy should read, I’ll offer to read it to her; we recently read Frankenstien for instance.

    Here’s what’s on her nightstand:

    a two volume set of Sherlock Holmes stories-Arther Conan Doyle
    Various Horrible Histories, Horrible Sciences and Horrible Geographies
    The Battle of the Labyrith-Rick Riordan
    The Other Boleyn Girl-Philipa Gregory
    The complete set (thus far) of the Septimus Heap series
    Taran Wanderer-Lloyd Alexander
    The Dragon’s Son-Sarah L. Thomson

    I think we have it covered 😉

    -Jen 🙂

  3. 3

    […] Gaissert advises letting young readers graze! Check out No Syllabus, No Problem posted at The Expanding […]

  4. 4

    KIm said,

    I like your philosophy. I also love To Kill A Mockingbird. I’m adding that to my read-again list. Thank you for reminding me of such a wonderful book.


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