In the last post, we looked at how books can help our children form relations with themselves, and we talked about those books as mirrors. Today, we want to expand on another aspect of that and how books can help our children form relations with others. They’ve formed the groundwork as they get to know themselves, “I am, I can,” and now they can reach out to others, “I ought, I will.”
Joining me for this discussion is my friend Amber O’Neal Johnston.
Sonya: Thanks for joining us again for this second part.
Amber: So happy to be here. Thank you for having me.
Sonya: Let’s first define what we mean by books as windows.
Amber: Okay, so just as when we’re sitting inside, we look through the window and we can see other worlds, it might be things that are very close, depending on how your window is situated right outside your door, but I’ve looked through some windows atop a mountain, and I can see through over to the whole valley. There’s a place where my family went camping once and up at the top, their claim to fame is that you can see four states from the top all at the same time. I thought “windows,” a window where I can see so far out. So books as windows are books that allow you to meet people and get to know them.
Sonya: Why are books as windows so important to our children?
Amber: Well, I think that there are a couple of things. One, it helps a child not have an overly mature sense of their importance. There’s a balance, right? Because last time I talked about how important it is for a child to see that they are important and they are valued, but like all good things, too much can become negative. So it allows the child to say, “Myself and people like me are not the only people in the world. There are people in my town, in my state, in my country, and in other parts of the world who are also contributing members of God’s family, who are doing things differently, who live differently, who speak differently, and who have a different lens on the world.” So I think that that’s one important aspect.
It also allows our children to value people’s differences, and even more than that, to actually like them. It’s one thing to tolerate someone who’s different, but it’s something different entirely to appreciate them and to actually feel connected to them, to say “I like the things that are different about you, I appreciate them. To the extent that they’re so foreign I can’t comprehend, I at least respect them.”
Finally, it is an opportunity to see how much as humans we are actually the same. So when we think of books as windows, people automatically begin thinking of all the differences. Those are so important, but the windows also allow the children to see that there are children in other parts of their city, in other parts of where they live and afar, who have grandmothers who love them, who have pets, who love to laugh, who get little pieces of candy from daddy when mommy might not be looking, and have their favorite meals, and want to learn and play. That allows our children to be connected in terms of humanity rather than grouping, “I’m this type of person, there are these type of people, there are these types of people over here,” but it allows them to see, “Wow, look at how much we all have in common.”
Sonya: That’s so important. It reminds me of a quote from Charlotte actually. In School Education she wrote this, “Perhaps the main part of a child’s education should be concerned with the great human relationships, relationships of love and service, of authority and obedience. . .” Like you said, those are all around. “. . . of reverence and pity and neighborly kindness; relationships to kin and friend and neighbor, to ’cause’ and country and kind, to the past and the present.” Then she says, “History, literature, archeology, art, languages, whether ancient or modern, travel and tales of travel, all of these are in one way or other the record or the expression of persons; and we who are persons are interested in all persons for we are all one flesh, we are all of one spirit, and whatever any of us does or suffers is interesting to the rest” (School Education, pp. 80, 81). I just love that whole mind-set.
Amber: It’s so beautiful.
Sonya: So it’s not just books.
Amber: No, no, it goes much further than that. It really encompasses almost every aspect of what we bring to our school tables and even within our homes, what we’re cultivating within our homes. When I listened to that quote, it really feels to me that this is a gift, a gift we’re giving our children that they won’t have to learn as an adult or won’t have to struggle for the way so many of us have, because it will just be. They’ll have those affections in their hearts, the groundwork that was laid in childhood, that they’ll carry with them and it’ll blossom and grow, but it was rooted in childhood. To think that could be rooted in my home, it makes me feel happy that I could give that to my children.
Sonya: That also reminds me that when Charlotte wrote these words, she did not have access to the rest of the world the way we do now. It was much longer, more tedious, harder to get to other cultures and places around the world. Yet today, it seems like the world is getting smaller, as people like to say, and so this is even more of a gift.
Amber: I think so. I think it’s funny now my children will ask me . . . we’ll read about some foreign land and they’ll say, “Mommy, can we go there?” And it’s nice to be able to say, “We just might” and mean it. It’s possible that we could find ourselves there, yes.
Sonya: So let’s talk a little about how these books might fit into a homeschool schedule. Obviously they would be part of your geography studies. Because geography is not just about places, it’s about the people who live there. So we can throw them in there. We can also put them in the history, so that we’re not studying just this slice of history, but we’re bringing in what was happening in the whole world. What other ways do you see it coming into a homeschool schedule?
Amber: I definitely see it as an opportunity even for free reads, things that the children are reading on their own outside of the lessons. In my home, I curate them and then the children have a choice: “You can pick anything you want off of this shelf.”
Sonya: Smart woman. Yes!
Amber: So I curate windows, I curate mirrors. Therefore it’s a guarantee that, it doesn’t matter to me which one you pick up because I make sure we’re not rank-ordering humans. I’m not demanding that you are only reading about this type of person. What interests you? When you look at the back covers or when I tell you a bit about this or that, what do you feel tied to? Who do you want to know more about? So the free reads.
I think also the biographies, those are great opportunities too, because they spend more time with a person when they’re reading a biography, even if it’s a picture book biography. The picture book biographies don’t spend as much time with the person, but they do a great job of the setting, the time and place in which that person lived. You see it graphically through beautiful illustrations and through the words of the story. But even longer biographies, chapter book biographies, where they’re going to be living with this person for quite a while. Who are your children living with during a school year?
Historical fiction, that’s a place where I like to see those windows. There are so many wonderful ones, and it’s a gentle way to introduce what can sometimes be very difficult subjects with windows, because when people live very differently than us, sometimes it feels even scary to explore their way of life. I find that historical fiction is just enough removed from nonfiction to allow you to have a gateway into a world while still feeling that you’re safe, that you feel safe in this learning experience.
I see it as opportunities in music, and we’ve done a lot of that. I have to, at those times often temper my own reaction to music because sometimes there’s music of other people that doesn’t resonate with me. I listen to it and I’m like, “This doesn’t feel pretty to me,” but I don’t screw up my face. I don’t say things like that. We’re listening to it to get to the heart of that person, to the heart of the people who play that music, the music they love, we want to know why. What does it mean to them? Where did it come from? While it might not be something I choose to put on in the car when I’m by myself, I think it’s an awesome opportunity to view other people.
Through poetry, I love that. Poetry being one of the very oldest forms of us being able to look through a window and find out how someone else is living.
I see it through art. Even what might not be a formal lesson, but could be considered a life lesson, but cooking and food and experimenting with foods from other cultures, or just researching how some of the things that we consider to be our own actually come from another place.
I guess my answer is everywhere that we have a lesson, we have an opportunity. It doesn’t mean we have to do all of those windows at the same time, because then we lose all the mirrors. We should be learning about ourselves as well. But I think that every lesson gives the opportunity to have a window.
Sonya: That’s a good point. Last time we talked about books as mirrors and how you got to the point of wanting to give those to your children and incorporating them into your home school. How about the books as windows? Was that just a natural progression after you brought in the mirror books, to expand on it? Tell us about how that came about?
Amber: Basically, when I was searching for mirrors, I would come upon in my searches all of these windows and they were too juicy to pass up. I was thinking, “Ooh, wow, I would like to know about that and I would like my children to know about that.” But then I also came across, it was funny you quoted School Education because that’s what I was reading, and Charlotte Mason said, “I think we should have a great educational revolution once we ceased to regard ourselves as assortments of so-called faculties and realized ourselves as persons whose great business it is to get in touch with other persons of all sorts and conditions, of all countries and climes, of all times, past and present. History would become entrancing, literature, a magic mirror for the discovery of other minds, the study of sociology, a duty and a delight” (School Education, pp. 82, 83).
One, I wanted my history lessons to be entrancing. That’s a big word. But also she said, “Literature, a magic mirror for the discovery.” So not to be confusing because we talked about mirrors last time, but a magic mirror, what she’s saying is a window. What’s magic about it is that you can see through it and that it would be a magic mirror for the discovery of other minds. When I read that, I thought, “Oh wow, this is so much bigger.” So the mirrors are showing us to love ourselves, to know ourselves, and the windows are so that we can love our neighbors as ourselves. They go hand in hand.
Sonya: Yes. “I am, I can, I ought, I will,” it all goes together. As we talked about in books as mirrors, we’re not just talking about history and cultures and ethnicities when we talk about using books as windows. We can look into other people’s lives who have different experiences than we do, who have different challenges than we do. (If you have not yet read the post on using books as mirrors, I encourage you to do that first.) We can use books as windows into this person’s life as an adopted child, this person’s life as an autistic person, this person’s life as a musician and this one as a scientist, just different types of windows. It doesn’t have to only be culture and ethnicity.
Amber: That’s right. It can be so many different aspects and they’re just as important for children to read about other people as it is for them to read about themselves. One good example of this: I was reading about a fifth grader who read the book Wonder. In that book, there is the main character, who is born with physical differences and looks completely different than all the children around him. And the fifth grade boy said, “Before I read that book, when I would encounter someone like him out in the store in my community, I would look away because I didn’t want them to feel like I was staring at them. But after I read that book, when I encounter people who look physically different in the community, I make eye contact and I speak and linger.” I said, “That book is a window.” See that’s the difference. He didn’t have malice in his heart before. He thought he was helping that person by not staring, but what he was doing was ignoring them, he wasn’t connecting with their humanity. After reading that book, a whole book about a boy whom a lot of people ignored, he let his eyes linger and he knew then “I’m not staring, I’m caring.”
Sonya: What an insight for a fifth grade boy! What a gift for him to have read that book! All right, so where do we find these magic books?
Amber: Oh my goodness. Following all the rabbit trails, of course. But I have a lot of them on my website heritagemom.com and they are mostly mirrors for my family. So they may be mirrors for other families or they could be windows. I also go to my friend Erica’s site, Charlotte Mason City Living. She is slowly cultivating a database of multicultural books and she has them broken out by which window, the East window or the West window, but by culture, by ethnicity. I like to look through Reshelving Alexandria and just peruse and peruse. Don’t log in unless you have some hours on your hand. Honestly, there are a lot of Google searches and looking at recommendations that are from friends and following trails. I might find one author I like, and I’ll look at not just their books, but articles they’ve been quoted in and see who did they like and who else was writing at the same time and, you know, these expansive thoughts.
Also, I want to say sometimes I don’t get it right. Sometimes I’ve made mistakes where I’ve shared what I felt was a good window with my children and then I’ll meet someone on the other side of that window and they’ll be like, “Oh, Amber, let me tell you.” And I’m like, “Oh, I didn’t even think of that, I didn’t know that.” I come home and I correct it with my children and we do better and we move on. So I always say, don’t let fear stop you from trying something new.
Sonya: That’s a good point. We are all learning and growing, and we don’t know everything about everybody. So even those situations are great learning opportunities for your children: that you can’t trust everything you read, number one, and that we always keep that humble heart and open mind to want to learn more.
Amber: Yes, and that’s part of the beauty. Charlotte Mason directs us to the Holy Spirit as the Supreme Educator. So there’s no fatal mistake I can make with the children. I do my best, but I’m counting on Him to come and cover them and cover up the holes and mistakes and flaws that I have in my lessons.
Sonya: The fruit of the Spirit is love, and that’s where we’re going with this. We want them to have that love for their fellow people. Thank you so much for sharing about this with us.
Amber: You’re welcome.
Sonya: I also wanted to let our readers know that we are starting to add some bonus titles to our website. Thanks to Amber’s help with this and the other people she has mentioned, all of these great books they are recommending, we are having a whole new world opened up and it is so exciting to read these titles and recommend them. We are adding them to the bottom of every history book list that we have. So if you want to go by time period, you’ll see those books coming up and being added to our website as we have opportunity to read and review them. If you would like to be notified whenever we add more books to that list, just sign up with your email address, and we’ll make sure that you get a notification every time we put a new batch of books as mirrors and windows up on the website.