Recent test results have revealed that the average American student today has stronger skills in the school subjects of Math and English than the students of a generation ago. This is a result of the so-called “back-to-basics” movement which began in the early ’70s. After a generation has passed it has become obvious that the back to basics movement worked – students are now stronger in basic skills than they were 15 years ago – but students today are also less well-rounded than they used to be.
The average American student can read and write well and solve basic math problems, however, there is a huge gap in what has been called cultural literacy. This means that in areas such as history, geography, civics and science, American students are poorly equipped. At the graduate level, for instance, most doctorates in science are now awarded to international students. If this trend continues, foreign countries will soon outshine the United States in scientific fields.
Another sad fact is that most Americans have only a vague knowledge of their heritage. Even as many nations of the world such as China, the Soviet Union, South Africa and those in Eastern Europe are beginning to look to American history in order to understand principles of government and liberty, as a result of ignorance, the average American student has little to share with the world.
Although this situation does not look very bright, there is a remedy. Many Americans of past centuries became successful and contributed a great deal to their society with little formal education. Many Americans of the 18th and 19th centuries were self-educated and studied well into their adult years amassing knowledge as a life long process. Voluntary self-education is needed by an entire generation of Americans in order for them to become relevant, productive members of their society.
Improving Your Cultural Literacy
The following books are recommended by the staff of The Forerunner for those who desire to reeducate themselves in the most important areas of the basic school curriculum. Please note that this list has been prepared by a Christian primarily for a Christian audience. Because Christian history and ideas have been carefully edited from the public school curriculum over the last 100 years, there is a great need to restore these truths. This list was prepared with that in mind.
CULTURAL LITERACY IN GENERAL:
E.D. Hirsch, Jr., Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. Available in most libraries and bookstores. This book has an excellent list of terms, personalities, places, and dates which are considered by the author to be necessary knowledge in today’s society. This list is guaranteed to show you how much you don’t know!
Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind, Simon and Schuster, New York. Available in your library. A University of Chicago professor makes a strong statement against modern American education and its rejection of moral absolutes. Bloom links our current literacy crisis with this lack of moral values.
HISTORY and GOVERNMENT:
Charles Coffin, The Story of Liberty, Maranatha Publications, P.O. Box 1799, Gainesville, FL 32602. Reprinting of an 1879 classic history text. Available only from the publisher / $11.95. This 412-page illustrated volume tells the story of how civil freedom progressed from the Magna Charta to the establishing to the United States. This understanding of how freedom grew out of the growth of Christianity in Europe is missing in most history courses today.
Peter Marshall and David Manuel, The Light and the Glory, Fleming Revell Company, Old Tappan, New Jersey. Available at all Christian bookstores. A classic retelling of the early history of America without the editing of the secular humanists. This book does not glamorize our Christian founders – it tells the truth about the glories and the failures of the men and women who founded America.
James Draper, If the Foundations Be Destroyed, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville. Another excellent retelling of America’s history that does not apologize for our Christian beginnings. A shorter but well-documented work. Available at Christian bookstores.
Verna Hall, The Christian History of the United States of America – Christian Self-Government, San Francisco, Foundation for American Christian Education. An important collection of writings from the founders which reveal just how Christian these men were in their reasoning and philosophy. A very scholarly work best used in group study. A companion study volume is also available. Contact the Foundation for American Christian Education, Box 27035, San Francisco, California 94127.
David Stedman and LaVaughn Lewis, Our Ageless Constitution, W. David Stedman Associates, Asheboro, North Carolina. This attractive volume is the best-researched work in recent history to help make the American Constitution understandable to the common man. Available from the Stedman Foundation, P.O. Box 2909, Asheboro, North Carolina 27203.
Historical documents and papers which are also required reading:
The Mayflower Compact
The Declaration of Independence
The Constitution of the United States of America
The Gettysburg Address
Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address
LITERATURE and PHILOSOPHY
Gary DeMar, Surviving College Successfully, Wolgemuth and Hyatt, Nashville. Available at your Christian bookstore. This book, written primarily for college students, gives a good overview of the philosophies currently waging war against truth on the university campus. It is excellent material to help a student begin to formulate his own convictions about biblical truth.
Dagobert Runes, Pictorial History of Philosophy, Bramhall House, New York (or any other overview of philosophy available in your library). Every Christian needs a basic understanding of the major philosophies which have dominated different parts of the world. Another good overview is Will Durant’s The Story of Philosophy, Simon and Schuster, New York. Available at most bookstores or libraries.
It is recommended that the serious student NOT begin this by reading the works of the philosophers themselves, but rather by reading an abbreviated overview of different philosophies and the men behind them. The philosophies you should study must include:
Plato and Greek thought
Rationalism / Humanism
Buddhism and Eastern mysticism
In studying literature, it is not necessary to read all the so-called great literary works themselves to be culturally literate. The most important goal here is to understand the concepts and philosophies which were promoted by these writers. A good way to cultivate this understanding is to read the condensed biographical sketches of individual authors as they appear in The Norton Anthologies. These literature collections can be purchased at any campus bookstore: The Norton Anthology of British Literature (I and II), The Norton Anthology of American Literature (I and II), and The Norton Anthology of World Literature.
The biographical sketches of the authors will reveal their motivation and the cultural and historical significance of their work and how their ideas have affected us today.
If we were to prepare a recommended reading list of great literature, we would select the following as the most important. These are also the books which we would recommend for children and teens to introduce them to the great books:
The King James Bible (to understand Old English language structure)
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (to understand the Protestant Reformation)
Foxes’ Book of Martyrs (this book was once standard fare for children – a classic account of the lives and deaths of the heroic Christians who died for their faith)
Aesop’s Fables by Aesop
Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Anderson
The works of Shakespeare
Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe
Paradise Lost by John Milton
Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
The works of Jonathan Edwards
Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories by Washington Irving
The Courtship of Miles Standish and Evangeline by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
Johnny Tremaine by Esther Forbes
An excellent source for the best in literature for children is Books Children Love by Elizabeth Wilson, Crossway Books. Available at Christian bookstores.
The problem of geographic illiteracy in America is growing rapidly, mainly because the subject itself is not taught as an individual discipline in public schools; it is now incorporated into a vague “social studies” plan which has failed miserably. The only way Americans can regain their needed understanding of geography is to educate themselves with a few simple lessons.
Every home needs a globe, a world map, and a good world atlas. Good quality atlases can be purchased at varying price ranges from your local bookstore.
One easy way to become geographically literate is to practice this exercise: every time you read or hear about a place in the world with which you are not familiar, look it up in your atlas on on a map. If a newscaster mentions the Po River, the city of Lagos, or an outbreak of violence in Sri Lanka, go immediately and familiarize yourself with where these places are.
If you have difficulty in reading maps, you can read The Language of Maps, by Haig Rushdoony, Pitman Learning, 1982. This is a practical workbook for parents and students to teach map reading skills.
Those of us who spent 12 years in public schools have been indoctrinated in evolutionary thought. Our minds have been strapped by deception and ignorance because of this mindset, and we all desperately need to have our minds renewed in these areas. The following books, published by Creation-Life Publishers, are recommended as the best introduction to a proper understanding of science. These books are balanced and objective. Contact Creation-Life Publishers, P.O. Box 15666, San Diego, CA 92115
Scientific Creationism by Henry Morris, Ph.D.
The Waters Above by Joseph Dillow
The Genesis Flood by Henry Morris, Ph.D.
The History of Evolutionary Thought by Bert Thompson, Ph.D.
Evolution: The Fossils Say No! by Duane Gish, Ph.D.
The Biblical Basis for Modern Science by Henry Morris, Ph.D.
Origins and Destiny by Dr. Robert Gange
This list is by no means complete. These books represent just a small sampling of the areas of learning in which most young Americans are sadly deficient. It is hoped that our readers will begin to take the challenge of self education seriously. If just least a few Americans will begin to reclaim the areas of lost knowledge which past generations mastered, this will be one step toward restoring the standard of academic excellence which this country once attained.
The following books are excellent resources for those building a library of Christian classics. These books cover a broad spectrum of Church history and theology for those who desire to better understand America’s Puritan heritage as a model for rebuilding a Christian democratic republic.
Institutes of the Christian Religion, by John Calvin, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI.
The Reformation in Scotland, by John Knox, Banner of Truth Trust, P.O. Box 621, Carlisle, PA 17013.
Systematic Theology, by Charles Hodge, Available through Christian Book Distributors, Box 6000, Peabody, MA 01961, 3 volumes.
A History of Chrisitanity, by Kenneth Scott LaTourette, Harper & Brothers, New York, NY, 2 volumes.
Christ’s Victorious Kingdom: Postmillennialism Reconsidered, by John Jefferson Davis, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
That You May Prosper: Dominion By Covenant, by Ray Sutton, Dominion Press, 7112 Burns St., Ft. Worth, TX 76118.