There are several solid works of literature that teach the values of tolerance, good citizenship and humility, among other life lessons. These values are important and should be taught on a regular basis to young children and young adults. Literature is the perfect means for learning important principles, because readers are allowed to think through the themes at their own pace, without the distraction of other’s opinions.
Several educational systems across the world have recognized not only the academic value of reading literature but the social value, as well. In the United States, several books with moralistic undertones can be found on the required reading list for public high schools. Although only two of the following four books are currently on that list, they are each equally worthy of reading by everyone, young and old.
Written by National Humanities Medal recipient, Wendell Berry, this collection of essays is one of his finest works. Covering the topics of agriculture, global trade, home, family and sustainability, Citizenship Papers is less an explanation of why you should be a good citizen in terms of government and more an explanation of why you should be a good citizen in terms of stewardship. These essays cover important issues that many people living in developed economies never think about but that are the foundation of human survival. Wendell asks the question; “If our current economic system were to fall apart today, would you know how to grow your own food, make your own clothing and shelter and find fresh water?” The answer is a scary realization that should be seriously assessed by younger generations.
This novel by Charles Dickens was first published in 1838. A popular read in American high schools, it tells the story of a young boy, Oliver, who was born into poverty in England. After his mother dies in childbirth and his father disappears, he becomes an orphan and is sent to a baby farm. When Oliver turns nine, he leaves the baby farm and eventually begins working as an undertaker’s apprentice. As the novel progresses, Oliver continues to suffer from unwarranted injustices, but he eventually finds his happy ending through perseverance. The book shows the negative effects of industrialism in 19th century England, how innocence becomes trapped in corruption and economic greed.
The King of the Golden River
Although this is technically a short fairy tale novel, The King of the Golden River tells a perfect story of the importance of humility and charity. Written by John Ruskin in 1841, this book recounts a story of two brothers, Hans and Schwartz, who lose their treasure in a mountain valley to an angry wind that they mistreated. The wind leaves their land infertile, so they are forced to become goldsmiths. As their greed for gold grows, the brothers begin to fight and gamble for more fortune, but their younger brother, Gluck, wins in the end through his kindness and humility. In only 56 pages, Rusk is able to lay out the impact of greed and the reward of always remaining humble and kind.
To Kill a Mockingbird
This Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel was first published in 1960. Written by Harper Lee, the story has become a classic for its themes of racial injustice and loss of innocence. The plot involves the Finch family and their mysterious neighbor, “Boo” Radley, who is a black man. Boo is a recluse, and the children in the neighborhood are both interested and scared of him. Brother and sister, Scout and Jem Finch, feel sympathetic for Boo and wonder why he must stay inside his home all the time. In the end, Jem and Scout find out the reality of their little town, and the role that race plays in its many injustices. Other values taught in To Kill a Mockingbird include compassion, courage and sacrifice for a greater cause.
Nadia Jones has been working as a freelance writer for many years now and is currently serving as a regular contributor to several blogs, including www.OnlineCollege.org. In her spare time, Nadia enjoys cooking up new vegetarian recipes and listening to live local music. Feel free to send any questions or comments her way at Nadia.Jones5@gmail.com.