According to Webster’s Dictionary, here are the first five meanings for literate:
- educated and cultured
- able to read and write with fluency
- versed in literature or creative writing
- lucid and polished
- having knowledge or competence
The best way to achieve a level of literacy that includes all of the above definitions is to develop a love of reading great literature.
In our experience, the best way to develop this love is to make the exposure to great literature your number one priority of the reading curriculum, starting early in life. Nothing should take a higher priority than this, not even skill development. If the literature is experienced and assimilated into one’s daily life, then true literacy is very likely as an outcome later on in life.
The experience of literature should be age appropriate. Young children need to play with literature through drama, art and games. Older children need to try-on literature to see how the lessons in a book feel in their daily lives. Teens need to debate literary themes and characters. But at every age, the content should have some profound moral questions at its core. The development of an ethical view of the world is one of the great missions of childhood, and literature should be an essential tool in building that view.
We have been told for decades now that our graduates are prolific readers, often the only ones in high school to actual read and enjoy even the assigned literature! As a result, their minds go on expanding, as does their frame of reference. With this ongoing growth, they are able to make more and more connections, more and more subtle inferences. There are so many stories to tell in this regard, but one student’s comment really sums it up for me: “In our AP English class, the school valedictorian used to always come to me and ask me to explain the literature. When I was done, he used to tell me that in spite of his grades, I was the smartest one in the class. Then he would ask me how on earth I learned to think this way. I told him that it all came from the way we learned to read at Progressive School.”
Our graduates, by their own analysis, attribute their remarkable literacy to the following elementary and middle school programs:
- a refusal to compromise priorities, never putting skill drills first
- a unique reading curriculum that is largely based on great literature
- an emphasis on assimilation and application of ideals highlighted in literature
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