We are a family of readers who can devour books with a near insatiable appetite, yet fully teaching literature can be a challenge. Now that I’ve had the chance to review The Eternal Argument from Analytical Grammar, I am feeling that new life may have been breathed into my planning for discussion with the boys so that we might be delving deeper in our literature studies.
About The Eternal Argument
The Eternal Argument ($24.95) is a book written in conversational style where R. Robin Finley lays out a framework for understanding Western literature and culture. She pulls from over 30 years of teaching language arts to middle school students, a challenging age group! The book is written that anyone from grade 8 on up can read it. While this particular title falls within the subject area of language arts, it is definitely different when compared to Analytical Grammar which is a systematic method for teaching grammar.
You will find personal stories and humor sprinkled throughout the pages as she lays out the thesis of how Western Literature is consistently addressing the debate between the humanists (who believe God is not needed to provide rules by which we should live) and the theists (who see humans as inherently flawed and needing rules handed down by God.)
Chapters have catchy titles and include a walk through the major time periods of literature.
1 – Why Should We Read All Those Books?
2 – How Do We Stuff Stuff Into Our Heads?
3 – The Little Stinker
4 – What Are the Two Sides Fighting About?
5 – Does Someone Have To Be “In Charge”?
6 – What Is the Western Literature Platform?
7 – Should We Quarantine Our Kids?
8 – Really Old Guys: Ancients to the Middle Ages
9 – Just Old Guys: The Renaissance to Neo-Classicism
10 – Somewhat Old Guys: The American and French Revolutions
11 – Newer Old Guys: The Romantics to the Realists
12 – Newest Guys: The Naturalists to the Modernists
13 – Stuff You Need to Know to Teach This Stuff
14 – Now Let’s Apply All This to the Books We’ve Discussed
15 – Because It’s All About Me … What Do I Think?
In many of the chapters, Ms. Finley provides an example of the concept being discussed as it can be seen in a work of literature. They do not need to be read as part of your progress through this book.
The Republic by Plato
The Song of Roland, anonymous
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
Gulliver’s Travels by Swift
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Wuthering Heights by Bronte A Tale of Two Cities by Dickens
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
The Red Badge of Courage by Crane
Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot
The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas
Animal Farm by George Orwell
The Catcher in the Rye by Salinger
The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
You can sample chapters of The Eternal Argument (introduction and chapter 1) in print format as well as short audio format before buying.
Our Thoughts on The Eternal Argument
When I initially received this title for review, I had grand plans to read the book aloud with the family after dinner to initiate discussion. If I was wanting discussion, then I definitely got it. However, it wasn’t the pleasant, lively chatter I was envisioning. Instead, comments from my husband and boys showed me that they truly like a more condensed presentation rather than the sometimes winding prose which Ms. Finley employs in this book.
After trying to read the first few chapters together with the boys, I elected to treat this titles as a bit of teacher training for me. I do not mind the more leisurely approach taken towards making a point which was irritating the boys.
What I found is that this title presents a lot of food for thought. Her premise of how people are always taking a position regarding the dichotomy between the “humanist” and “theist” views (as defined for the purpose of this title) is not something that she came up with and is trying to present. Rather it is something which was presented by an educator in her early life which took root and has now bloomed into the present work.
I liked the way she works through the different periods of western culture which is seen through literature (Middle Ages, Renaissance, Neo-classical, Romanticism, Realism, Naturalism, and Modernism) and shows where eat sits on the spectrum between humanism (man is perfectible) and theism (man is flawed.) At the end of her walk through history, Ms. Finley presents the reader with a graphic display of these swings across the years with the dates typically used to mark the start and end of each indicated.
After you have read through the first 12 chapters, you finally get to the point of putting it all together. In the 13th chapter you get a quick refresher course on literary vocabulary, the way a story is set up (plot), the 5 main types of stories, and detecting what point of view the author has used. The 14th chapter then applies all of the proceeding information to the different books featured along the way. The final chapter is used to add more of a personal take on all of the proceeding chapters.
Overall, I found this a worth while book to read as a home educator and can see it being helpful for new teachers in schools as well. While someone in 8th grade and up could read the book and grasp much of what is being discussed, I found that my boys did not take well to that approach.
How do you approach teaching literature to your children?
What is a favorite work of Western Literature in which you can really see the presence of the Eternal Argument?
Don’t just take my word for how I found this book to be. Visit the Analytical Grammar post on the Schoolhouse Review Crew website to see what other homeschooling parents thought about this and other self-paced courses.