Mortimer Adler once described Western civilization as a “Great Conversation” about ideas, carried on between thoughtful people down through the ages. The Great Conversation includes contributions from everyone who has ever puzzled over the good life, human nature, the existence of God, or any other transcendent question. I came to realize that Huck Finn was Mark Twain’s contribution to this Great Conversation, and that my own responses were mine. By embracing his story in my heart, mastering it in my mind, and interacting with its themes, I was participating in a culture-wide, history-long search for Truth.

Lewis suggests that this search is what makes us fully human. “In reading great literature,” he says, “I become a thousand men and yet remain myself...I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see...I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.”

This is the glory of literature: it makes the Great Conversation possible across the ages, between men and women from different worlds. It allows us to see with the eyes of others.

I put literature at the center of the curriculum for my own children because I want them to “see with myriad eyes.” I want books like Huck Finn to hook them by the heart and engage their minds. I want them to imbibe the classics as children so that as mature thinkers, they will be able to contribute to the Great Conversation.

Besides, we have a river that runs past our house, and I haven’t built a raft in a long time...

Adam Andrews is the Director of the Center for Literary Education and a homeschooling father of six. Adam earned his B.A. from Hillsdale College and is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Washington. He and his wife Missy are the authors of Teaching the Classics, the popular reading and literature curriculum. They teach their children at home in Rice, Washington.

Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free TOS apps to read the magazine on your Kindle Fire or Apple or Android devices.

Publication date: February 22, 2013