Textual complexity refers to the level of difficulty a text poses for its reader based on a combination of challenging vocabulary and sophisticated grammatical structures.
Mastering textual complexity helps students to understand source documents or fundamental and primary writings. It allows them to drink and to think from the fountain of those documents for themselves. Otherwise, they must rely on someone else's interpretation of those documents. Any attempt to rephrase founding documents usually creates a secondary interpretation. The primary becomes secondary.
Imagine a simplified, modernized, dumbed down version of the Declaration of Independence: "We believe the following things--all men are created equal; all men have gifts from the creator; all men have rights that can't be taken away; they are rights such as life, liberty, and the chance to do what you want to do in life."
Jefferson’s poetry becomes third rate prose.
Textual complexity is a great tool for training young minds to grasp difficult and complex subjects. Students can grow their mental muscles by exercising them on texts that require tenacity, thoughtfulness, and focus. This is the same manner in which young musicians become better by having to work hard at understanding compositions by Beethoven or any of the masters. Now it should go without saying that complexity must be age-appropriate. No one should be asking a third grader to read Federalist 10 and explain its principles in a comprehensive fashion. However, we should ask students from fourth grade onwards to begin delving in to complex texts so that they can begin developing the skills they need to read those texts. Needless to say, all of this should be done incrementally. But it must be done. Students should be exposed to difficult subjects expressed in complex ways as early as possible.
This will also require training in semantics and syntactic analysis as early as possible. Morphology and sentence analysis are the true keys to comprehension. Grammar and vocabulary should not be relegated to the earliest grades in worksheet form: No! They should be taught systematically and intensively and excitingly to students of all ages. We should not ask our students to eat the meat of complex texts without first equipping them with the cutlery of language arts and reading skills. When we equip students with the tools of learning, then they can practice those tools on textual complexity and begin feeding themselves as independent learners.
I'm a former principal, classroom, and homeschool teacher and currently the president of ScholarSkills Learning Center. As an educator with nearly 35 years of experience, I have a burning passion to teach children how to read fluently and with understanding.