We had the opportunity to review The Eternal Argument by R. Robin Finley from a vendor many will be familiar with: Analytical Grammar. If you are not familiar with Analytical Grammar they are a company that offers Language Arts materials for 4th Grade all the way through High School. Their overall program works so that each concept builds on and is reinforced by the concepts already covered. Even though that is their normal focus, my actual review is of a product completely different from their other items. Although it is Language Arts related it is not learning about nouns, pronouns and sentence structure…it is learning about how to “break down” many popular classic books one should read and how to understand what the author calls ‘The Eternal Argument’ (not only the title of the book but a method used when studying books). The author believes that all books contain ‘The Eternal Argument’ (whether they realize it or not) and this ‘Eternal Argument’ has to do with the following two questions: is there a God or is there not?
The author is a middle-school teacher who has taught for 34 years and lived to tell about it. *grin* She uses her experiences in the classroom as her method of writing – using relaxed verbiage along with humor. She wrote this book as intended to be a family read book focused on those who are ages 13 and up.
Here is a quick breakdown of the book:
- It consists of 286 pages and 15 chapters
- Chapters 1 – 7 give general introduction information about the book and the authors views of many things related to the book
- Chapters 8 – 12 discuss history as shared through literature as well as the different types of literature (Neo-Classical, Romantics, Modernists, etc). This is “the meat” of the book. She shares many different book titles and then explains how history brought about literature of the time. She explains how the pendulum swings from one side to the other (humanism / theism).
- Chapters 12 – 14 help to “wrap it up” and help the reader / teacher to understand how to share this information with their students.
- Chapter 15 is a really neat way to bring the book to an end. The author shares her personal thoughts and experiences with what was shared in Chapters 1 – 12. The reason for this is because throughout the book she shares in a very factual, impartial manner – in this chapter she gets to share her heart.
The two main sides of “The Eternal Argument” she is discussing:
- that a human external locus of control may become necessary because there is no Higher Power to give us any rules.
- it is right for man to decide what is good and what is evil.
- that man is born innocent, pure, and free from sin and is perfectible on earth.
- that it is a defective society that causes man to be evil.
- that it is wrong to judge another man.
- in an internal locus of control.
- that concepts of right and wrong are based on immutable rules handed down by a Higher Power.
- that man is born with innate sine, or an inherent capacity for good and evil.
- that society cannot cause a man to be evil; that is a choice he makes himself.
- that, although final judgement belongs to the Higher Power, we can claim certain behaviors to be wrong.
“The Eternal Argument is not so much about what those rules are but about where those rules come from.” p. 59
Quotes from the book:
“Along about 5th or 6th grade, however, we need to understand a more mature learner…needs to know why he or she is being asked to learn something.” p. 28
“…”framework.” It gives you a new way of looking at something and makes it more comprehensible.” p. 29
“…the purpose of this book is so you can provide your students and/or yourself with a framework for approaching a piece of literature or issues of the day.” p. 62
“Most literature is a discussion of how human beings deal with problems. How an author presents or suggests a solution to the conflict in which he has placed his characters gives us hist of his worldview.” p. 66
Only a few of the pieces discussed:
(Each of these are discussed in both the “front” of the book as well as in Chapter 14 where she gives a quick “deconstruction” through the lens of the Eternal Argument.)
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
The Catcher and the Rye by J.D. Salinger
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot (poem)
Some other important things (in my opinion):
She shares her opinions about what ages these books should be read and discussed as well as important parts of the books that tell an important story that NEEDS to be understood so as to get a full understanding of what the authors are trying to share with their readers. Her relaxed way of writing (probably because she is used to teaching middle school students) really helps the reader to put all the pieces together.
She believes books should be read on three different levels: the literal level, the cultural level and the global level. Literal is what the book is about. Cultural is the characters and events becoming a part of our cultural DNA. Global being where the Eternal Argument comes in.
I should also not leave out that there are discussion questions provided at the end of each chapter.
She explained why the King James Version of the Bible is a wonderful learning tool (keep in mind that I use the NKJV) for understanding classical books. She shares that EVERYONE should read the Bible because ‘in the beginning’ (when people first started writing ‘print’ books) this was a huge part of how and why people wrote books.
She says, “…the King James Version was read in church every Sunday and in almost every home on a daily basis.” and “We use these Biblical terms and expressions constantly in our everyday speech. It may come as a surprise to those who have never read the King James Bible to know that they are using language from its pages.” p. 73
She also states that knowing Greek & Roman mythology is extremely important in understanding many writings several of which are: The ILiad, The Odyssey, Antigone and Oedipus Rex.
[Side note: I LOVE how she has the pronunciations of difficult words provided!!!]
Overall this book showed me that literature is an expression of how people felt and saw things at the time they were written and that they were often written after some major history events. (Ok…this may seem obvious to many but somehow I missed this point in my schooling years.)
Retail price for the book is $24.95 and worth EVERY.SINGLE.PENNY. This is one of the BEST BOOKS I HAVE EVER READ!
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