30 September 2009

CiRCE Booklist

As many of you know, I invested in some "teacher training" {it's more like soul training} by purchasing the CDs from CiRCE's 2009 conference, A Contemplation of Nature: A Return to Sound Thinking. After I listened to about three or four hours worth of lectures, I realized that each speaker was suggesting a book or two that a person could delve into if they wanted to know more. And around that time, I thought, we like books around here!

And so I started keeping a list, because one cannot have too many booklists.

So I decided that whenever I fill up one of my little notebook pages where I'm keeping the list, I'll share it here, with all of you. And I'll try to include the name of the lecture, so that you'll know who suggested the book, and when they did so. Who knows? I might even give you a little summary of the lecture itself, if my brain is turned on.

Here is what I have so far {I need to go back and listen again to the CDs I "studied" before I began keeping the list}:

Lecture: {Workshop 3} Teaching Boys and Other Kids Who Would Rather Be Playing in FortsLecturer: Andrew Pudewa

In this workshop, Pudewa discusses the nature of boys from a physiological perspective, explaining how they are physically different from girls {did you know girls hear better?} and how this impacts teaching. He also, in a roundabout way, showed me why having a girl after having a boy is an "adjustment." You get to where you speak loudly to a boy, and then you have a girl and she cries when you talk and, when she is older, accuses you of "scaring my ears."

I'm just saying.

Anyhow, Pudewa suggested two books by Dr. Leonard Sax, but with caveats. {1} The books can be from a Darwinian perspective, which in itself is not respecter of Nature in a metaphysical sense {but that is Andrew Kern's lecture; I get ahead of myself}. {2} There is a description of the lives of teens in America that is shocking and Pudewa says to keep it away from children that pick up any and every book you have in your house because you just don't want to have to have the discussions that would result from that chapter.

Why Gender Matters:
What Parents and Teachers Need to Know
About the Emerging Science of Sex Differences

Boys Adrift:
The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic
Of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men

If I could only buy one of these books, I'd buy the latter.

Moving on.

Lecture: {Workshop 6} Nature Deficit DisorderLecturer: Andrew Pudewa

Pudewa insinuated that there were connections between these two workshops, so I listened to them in order. I would say that if I had a boy with ADHD, these two workshops might help me figure some things out. One new goal I have: learn to teach out of doors. The Greek and Roman philosophers did this. Jesus did this. I am going to start a new school. It is called Trampoline School and it meets on our giant trampoline for two hours each day.

Books related to this workshop are:

Last Child in the Woods:
Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder

Raising Them Right:
A Saint's Advice on Raising Children

The Restoration of Christian Culture

Lecture: {Workshop 8} The Incarnation of Christ and its Implications for TeachingLecturer: James Daniels

I am still putting my thoughts together on this one, so I don't have much of a summary. It's not that it was a bad lecture. On the contrary, it was revolutionary. It takes time to think about new thought, especially when you don't have a lot to attach it to in your brain. I'm letting it simmer.

Recently, our pastor preached on the nature of truth, and he emphasized that Truth is a Person. {Jesus says, "I am the truth."} I remember looking over to my dear friend {we were in the Cry Room} and telling her I thought that this had to be really significant. James Daniels fleshed this out for me, I think.

I is significant. So we have a new catchphrase: Incarnational Teaching.

Books suggested are:

Man and Woman He Created Them:
A Theology Of The Body

Plowing in Hope:
Towards a Biblical Theology of Culture

Lecture: {Workshop 9} The Implications of Dewey, Darwin, and DescartesLecturer: Andrew Kern

If I could get one idea out of this, it is that these three men, and all of their many disciples, destroyed the idea of nature. I don't mean pretty trees and flowers, but rather the concept that things have a nature or, to use a similar word, an essence. In our culture, we do not recognize essences, we do not interact with people with a regard to essences {which is, Kern explains, the end of propriety, for propriety is, at core, treating a thing according to its nature}. Kern details how this has wreaked havoc in our culture. I know I discovered a couple areas in which my thinking was more like Darwin's than like God's!

Only one book was really mentioned, though a number of lecturers agree that we should all be reading John Senior. The book is a detailing of Dewey's effect on American culture:

John Dewey and the Decline of American Education:
How the Patron Saint of Schools
Has Corrupted Teaching and Learning

That's all for today. I'll probably have another list in a week. Let me know if you pick up any of these books! I'd love to hear what you think about them.

29 September 2009

Leisure: The Basis of Culture {Chapter 2}

Obama says American kids spend too little time in school, putting them at a disadvantage with other students around the globe.

"Now, I know longer school days and school years are not wildly popular ideas," the president said earlier this year. "Not with Malia and Sasha, not in my family, and probably not in yours. But the challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom."


While it is true that kids in many other countries have more school days, it's not true they all spend more time in school.

Kids in the U.S. spend more hours in school {1,146 instructional hours per year} than do kids in the Asian countries that persistently outscore the U.S. on math and science tests — Singapore {903}, Taiwan {1,050}, Japan {1,005} and Hong Kong {1,013}. That is despite the fact that Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong have longer school years {190 to 201 days} than does the U.S. {180 days}.

--More school: Obama would curtail summer vacation {Yahoo News source link no longer available}
Pieper says that the idea that knowledge and knowing are something a person works for is a thoroughly modern one. He's right that we view it this way. We tell our kids to work hard when they begin their school days, regardless of their educational setting. When they aren't "getting it," we prescribe...more work...just like President Obama is doing when he wants to not only extend the number of days in school, but also the number of hours in a school day.

If our kids aren't "getting it," so the thinking goes, they must not be working hard enough, or long enough. And since we live in an era of chronological snobbery, we do not feel the need to look back and see that, in history, children seemed to learn just fine when they spent far less time in the classroom.

When our children merely work at their learning they can:
  • Memorize math facts without understanding the concepts
  • Know the names and dates of famous people without comprehending that these were real people with real lives, or that these people had any real significance
  • Memorize a sampling of titles and summaries of Great Books without ever turning the actual pages and reading the actual words {I actually met a person who endorsed this method in order to gain a--in my opinion, completely superficial--level of cultural understanding}

In other words, if we aren't careful, we are encouraging knowledge without understanding. If "knowledge is power" then knowledge without understanding is asking for immeasurable trouble.

My Son in the Garden

Recently, I shared a story of harvesting sunflower seeds with my older son. I have still been thinking about that day, and about how I could, if I wanted to {which I don't}, remind him all day about Bible verses that tell him that the wicked are like chaff. Then, I could explain to him what chaff is, or maybe show him a YouTube video that explains it to him for me. And I could drill him off and on: "What are the wicked like, son?"

And he would "know" that the wicked are like chaff.

But it would be nothing like that day in the sun, when he connected, in a moment, all of a sudden, what chaff is like, and that the wicked are like it.

This sort of knowledge requires moments of quiet. It does not require sloth {for the foundation for such a connection was a pursuit of knowledge, in this case in the form of reading our Bible and talking about it}, but it does require that nebulous concept of leisure that we are getting at, where we leave off work and sail into knowing on pleasurable seas, often at unexpected times, such as when we are folding laundry.

This lightning-like connecting in the brain and in the soul, where the whole picture comes together in a flash, and the knowledge that, yes, we worked for, is transformed into understanding, is nothing less than revelation. Scripture says that these things are good things which come from the LORD.

They are gifts.

Knowing Without Knowing

There is a really interesting passage in Isaiah 44 about worthless men who make idols. These men take a piece of wood. With half of it, they make a fire and cook bread and meat to eat, and then they warm themselves with its heat. With the other half, they carve an idol and worship it. Nothing about this seems ridiculous to these men.

Here is what the Scripture then says:
They do not know nor understand;
For He has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see,
And their hearts, so that they cannot understand.
This is the opposite concept. God has chosen, in this situation not to reveal knowledge. So we have a case where someone does not know something because they have not received the gift of knowing it.

Here is where I ask myself some questions: Why does the concept of knowledge as revelation bother me? Is it that I have reserved revelation for the prophets of the past? Is it that I am uncomfortable with a sovereign God getting into my mind and being in charge of what I really know or don't know? Do I find knowledge-as-work appealing because this lets me be in control?

There is something akin to works-righteousness in the modern way, something that says that if I work harder than you, I will be better than you.

Knowledge as a Gift

Pieper says that this doesn't mean that we do not work at all, but rather that we recognize that "there is something else in it, and something essential to it, that is not work." In other words, part of it is a gift. What of the effort? Pieper says that in this situation, when we are pursuing true knowing {by which I mean understanding}, "the effort would not be the cause but rather a necessary condition for it."

When math clicks in our brains for the very first time, this is a grace of God, not a mere human accomplishment. Remember, the world is alive, teeming with Grace. Pieper affirms this when he writes:
We should consider for a moment how much the Christian understanding of life is based on the reality of "Grace"; let us also recall that the Holy Spirit Himself is called "Gift"; that the greatest Christian teachers have said that the Justice of God is based on Love; that something given, something free of all debt, something undeserved, something not-achieved--is presumed in everything achieved or laid claim to; that what is first is always something received--if we keep all this before our eyes, we can see the abyss that separates this other attitude [of knowledge-as-mere-work] from the inheritance of Christian Europe.

If knowledge is a gift, this entirely and completely changes the way that we do school, which is to say the way that we pursue knowledge and understanding. This might include:
  • Not only beginning the day with prayer, but also bathing difficulties with prayer. If grammar is a mountain we cannot climb alone, we pray for assistance, and look for God's help as we gather our tools and make the attempt.
  • We, as teachers, pray for our students, realizing they learn not so much from us as from the Lord Himself.
  • Humility becomes a foundational attitude of learning. We realize that we do not know because we are great, but because God is great.
  • Likewise, gratitude becomes our response for the new things we have learned, for they were not something we attained on our own, but rather something which was given to us.
  • We understand the importance of giving our children {and ourselves} quiet time. This doesn't mean that they do nothing. For instance, I think that one of the most contemplative times of day for my oldest are when he goes out, before seven in the morning, breathes the cool, crisp air, feeds the ducks, gathers eggs, and hand-waters his plants which need extra care. But there is a difference between chores which can be done by the body while the mind chews the intellectual cud, and creating an environment of diversion so that the child never "gets bored."

    Think about it. If we divert a river, we are keeping it from its natural course. If we divert a child's attention, we are not doing that child any favors. Instead, we are keeping him from pursuing his thoughts along their natural course, to their logical end, and his intellectual and spiritual life will grow into nothing but a collection of unfinished business.
  • We become able to see the potential of each student, and look for knowledge in unlikely places. If knowledge and understanding are gifts, who is to say that the child with the highest IQ is the greatest in the kingdom? God delights in making wise the simple. No one is too stupid to make introducing great thoughts to them a waste of time.
  • We consider what we do to not be work per se, but rather an act of seeking or pursuing. We are told, for instance, that those who seek the LORD understand all things, and if we have this sort of understanding, knowledge actually comes quite easy. Scripture tells us that if we are lacking in wisdom, all we have to do is ask God.

Unfinished Business

There are two other issues with Pieper I would like to spend time pondering, but I'll have to do it another time because I need to begin our school day leisure time. The issues are: {1} the possibility that some of Pieper's negative comments about work, along with his push for the vita contemplativa are actually a form of gnosticism {I say this knowing I could be wrong because Pieper is writing in an Industrial culture, which is a different animal from what is typically seen upon the earth}, and {2} the idea that the greatest virtue is effortless, that working at something is fine as far as it goes, but "if the love were so great, as completely to remove all the difficulty--that would be a still greater love." My mind is waking up to the connection between effortless love and effortless learning.

For More...

This book club is hosted by Cindy at Ordo Amoris, and there are more entries linked to her site.
If you want to read along for free, this book is available online as a download.

28 September 2009

Quotables: The Baptized Body

The Baptized Body
Though its radical implications have not always been recognized, Trinitarian Christianity is fundamentally hostile to all forms of impersonalism. The debates concerning the Trinity in the early church elevated "personhood" and "personality" to an ontological status. As John Zizioulas puts it, for the early fathers, being is communion. God didn't first exist as a monad or an unrelated substance and then proliferate into three persons; that would make unified being more original than diverse communion. Nor did God first exist as three separate individuals who later entered into a divine social contract for their mutual protection and benefit. God has always been three Persons in perfect loving communion; God has always been the One God; He exists as the One God as three Persons. Communion is the eternal, necessary form of God's existence.


Think of the Athanasian arguments for the eternity of the Son: If the Son is not eternal, then the Father is not eternally Father. If the Son came into being at some {timeless} moment in eternity, then the Father became Father at that same {timeless} moment. If the Father is eternally, necessarily, unchangeably Father, he must eternally, necessarily, and unchangeably have a Son. At the same time, Athanasius notices that the Father's Fatherhood is entirely dependent on the fact that He has a Son. The Father's character as Father is relative to the Son; He is Father in relation to the Son.

26 September 2009

Notes on Nature Study

A year ago, maybe a year and a half ago, I felt like nature study was impossible for us. The biggest issue was that I felt like we had to go somewhere to do it, and it seemed that something was always against us. Either I didn't have the extra money to spend on gas, or it seemed overwhelming {because I was great with child at the time} to put the other children into their carseats, get them out, unfold and fold strollers, lift various little people, and so on. On the rare occasions when we did it, I felt like I was wiped out for the rest of the day.

When I write it out like that, I see that I am such a baby when I'm pregnant, but that is the reality of it.

So as I was saying, I felt like I was overwhelmed. But, I asked different people what they were doing continually. They pointed me to great resources.

It also helped that God brought to mind a memory.

When my second child was a wee babe, we had no landscaping in our backyard at all. Just a giant 10,000 square feet of dirt. Because of this, I liked to take the children for a morning or two a week at my parents' house, which was only a mile away at the time. The baby would sleep in a crib they had, and E. and I would spend the morning out of doors.

I was reading through Volume One of Charlotte Masons's Original Home Schooling Series {a bit of a misnomer, since one of the books is about school education}, which is called Home Education. Miss Mason believed that young children were best educated at home and in the Great Outdoors.

My son has always played independently, but inevitably he would decide he needed my help with some entertainment. This is the way with firstborns {or onlies}. I was inspired by Mason's section on nature study to try a modified version of a game she suggested. Basically, I gave him things to do in the yard, the purpose of which was to hone his attention naturally.

He needed a lot of guidance in the beginning {he was only three}, so I would say, "I see a pink flower with five petals on a short bush. Can you go pick it for me?" So he would run and pick the flower {and was scolded if he tried to pick two}, and then we'd look at it together, discussing our observations. This is where he first learned words like pollen, stem, and petal.

After doing this a few times, he was able to advance through various modifications of this game until he reached a final stage, which was where he would go and find something interesting in the flower beds. He would look at it. He would figure out how to tell me about it accurately. He would run back to me and describe it, and I would try to guess what it was. If Mommy couldn't guess, he'd go back and try again.

The reason why this memory was significant was that I realized how much we learned in a smaller, confined space. We were always in the same location, and had no end of learning. This, along with some advice from older mothers concerning nature study, unlocked its potential for me in suburbia.

Now, a few days ago, Rachel R. wrote this:
Can you explain more about how you go about your nature studies? This is something I have been wanting, for a while, to do with my 7yo. But I don't know what instruction to give her, to help her understand what I would like her to do. {We also now live in a subdivision, although we do have plenty of wildlife in our own backyard, so our subjects for observation are somewhat limited.}

To tell you the truth, I feel quite silly giving advice in this area! It is something that we are learning to do, and we are in no way where I hope we will be in a few years. But I can describe what we are doing now, and I can point to folks who are wiser than me.

What We Do

I am a firm believer that simple is best. If I try to throw in worksheets and coloring pages and songs about flowers and all sorts of clutter, we {1} lose sight of the actual thing in its actual environment, {2} do not learn to enjoy simple pleasures, and {3} are more likely to fail in our goals. The interesting thing is that the children are all soaking this up.

The supplies we use are simple:
  1. I have two books that I reference over and over: Anna Botsford Comstock's Handbook of Nature Study and Carla Emery's The Encyclopedia of Country Living {which, incidentally, is actually part of our disaster planning/survival resources, but has turned out to be invaluable in our learning and also our move toward more self-sustenance}.
  2. Everyone has a nature journal. E. received a water-color journal, while A. and Neighbor M. have simple bound heavy-weight drawing-paper pads. Everyone has a pencil. Everyone has colored pencils to use later, when we go back inside, to color their work accurately.
  3. A garden, an orchard, and ducks in a pen. These are resources that we have because of our lifestyle, but they have proven invaluable for nature study because it gives us a lot to look at. We can watch the stages of our {baby} fruit trees. We can learn to see the difference between citrus trees and other trees. We watch corn grow through its stages. Last week, we sketched the flowering of spaghetti squash, and then compared it to the pumpkin blooms {they are cousins} on the other side of the garden, and learned that you never want to plant two next to each other, or they will come out as mixed breeds. And we have watched ducks grow up from a day old all the way to the laying of the first egg. {Comstock's book even has a section for studying a family's dog.}

The way that we do this is simple. First, every week I have already chosen what we are going to study. Typically, I examine our garden, or my next-door neighbor's beautiful flower garden, looking for something new to study. Plants and animals are dynamic, so there is always something new to see. On our assigned nature study day {Thursday}, we head outside. Using what I've learned from Comstock and Emery {and occasionally Google}, I give a brief lesson on the plants.

These kids are all little, so we are mainly working on vocabulary  They can go from seeing stems as stems as stems, for instance, to understanding a corn stalk with joints. We start with what they know {stems} and move to what they are learning {more specific words concerning the stem of corn, which is the stalk I mentioned}. I do not bother with Latin names at this point.

Then, we draw {with pencils} what we're looking at. I try to get them to draw it as realistically as possible. I have one little dreamer who wants to embellish God's creation, but I try to get her to come back to earth and see things as they are, reminding her that she can draw wildly pink corn in her free time if she likes.

When we go back inside, they add color to their sketches, trying to do so as accurately as possible. This is good for getting what we've studied into their memories a little deeper.

As we draw, we discuss how beautiful God made the world, and how amazing it all it. Wonder is the key to humble learning, I think.

People Wiser Than Me

In all, I would say that anything that we do is from Charlotte Mason, a now-defunct Yahoo group I was once a part of, and the Handbook of Nature Study blog. The best thing about the latter is that she gives so many examples, even people like me, who really struggled with this in the beginning, can begin to wrap their minds around the concept. If people need or want it, she sells little kits to get you started, with prepared assignments.

One last thing: I remember that once, in that defunct Yahoo group I mentioned above, a woman said that her students were going to go outside once per week and draw some fruit on a tree. I think it was a peach. The idea was that they would understand peach trees, and more specifically peaches, intimately. They would trace the development from a tiny bud, to a flower, to a small, hard, green fruit, to a fresh peach ready for picking. There are many ways to approach nature study, and sometimes narrow subjects are not as limiting as we assume they are.

25 September 2009

Feast of Links

I have been collecting some links lately that I think are worth sharing, and since we are spending the morning visiting our county fair, I thought I'd put this up on autopost {I love the autopost function} and direct you to where the reading is good.

Here they are, in no particular order:

Happy reading!

24 September 2009

Quotables: Angels in the Architecture

Angels in the Architecture:
A Protestant Vision for Middle Earth
A ripe grape contains two parts, unmarried--an interior sugar juice and an exterior skin full of yeast. But if you marry and mix these parts by crushing a grape, it will start toward creating wine, a third distinct thing, new and yet the same--a "wine that maketh glad the heart of man" {Psalm 104:15}. In meditating on Christ's miracle of creating wine, Augustine lamented that we accept the normal creation of wine as any less miraculous, for even as water "turned into wine by the doing of the Lord, so in like manner also is what the clouds pour forth changed into wine by the doing of the same Lord. It has lost its marvelousness by its constant recurrence."

{p. 83}

23 September 2009

The Darndest Things: Theological Dyslexia

I am not kidding! Four-year-old A. saying her memory verse:

First God 4:8, "John is love."

Leisure: The Basis of Culture {Chapter 1, Attempt 2}

I know the chapter was short, but I'm still chewing on it. Maybe it is more appropriate to say I am struggling with it. I am having trouble blending two concepts together: work and leisure.

I do not think that Pieper is saying that work is bad, for when he speaks of the rebuilding of Germany after the War, he doesn't say it shouldn't be rebuilt, but rather that leisure needs to be given its rightful place.

Rightful place.

This is where I'm stumbling, I think.

Lately, I've come across what seems to be a rejection of work. Somewhere on one of these book club posts, Mystie said something along the lines of it being pretty easy for the Greeks/Romans to spend their lives on leisure because they stood upon the shoulders of a servile class. So, one class did the work, while the other did the leisure activities of thinking/learning/writing/contemplating.

Is it just me, or was this like taking the whole man and ripping him into two parts?

I have often thought that the worst part about graduate school is that no one has a garden to bring the students back down to earth, back in contact with the created order, and so their thoughts sometimes float right out of reality without them even realizing it.

A few scattered, related thoughts might be: {1} Some sort of work was part of the created order, as Adam and Eve, in their perfection, were commanded to keep the Garden. {2} Work now {meaning, post-Fall} seems to be a sort of healthy discipline for us, when it is in its proper place. {3} Ideally, it seems that work and leisure would exist in a sort of harmony, where one informs the other, and vice versa. {4} Realistically, leisure cannot exist without work. Someone, somewhere has to grow the food, make the clothes, and build the houses. Even in a very basic society, where a lot of time can be freed up for true leisure, people still need food, clothing and shelter, and winter still comes on with regularity.

This gets me thinking of Classical culture in comparison with Medieval culture. I don't claim to be an expert on either, but it seems that the former tended to have a lot of idleness connected with its leisure. What I mean is that there was a rejection of work among the leisure class. Work was left to the servile class. I compare this with the little I know of the latter, where leisure was still the foundation for education and intellectual life, but there was a dynamism to it all. These people didn't just sit there thinking, but they worked out their thoughts, and so we have cathedrals that were built in a way reminiscent of Nehemiah's wall, each man contributing his portion.

I suppose I am thinking that the Medieval culture, in its prime, grasped the balance between contemplative growth and dynamic service to God, any and all work being done for His glory. As Kelly said, we are His poem. That is a Medieval concept, I think, as far as when it was really lived out within a culture.

I do think Mystie is onto something when she applies this concept to today: there is a rejection of work {in attitude, and sometimes even in practice} and also a rejection of leisure {if we understand leisure as being distinct from entertainment}. So we live in a culture that has overwhelmingly rejected everything but titillation.

One last thing: anyone have a fairly solid, working definition of leisure? Seems like a common grammar-level understanding would come in handy here.

22 September 2009

Leisure: The Basis of Culture {Chapter 1}

Leisure: The Basis of Culture
by Josef Pieper
Last night, on the way home from the grocery store, I was bemoaning the fact that my copy of Leisure: The Basis of Culture had not yet arrived. The book club begins tomorrow! I explained. I'm going to be behind right from the start!

I told you I saw the UPS man today, Mom! replied a little-boy voice from the backest of back seats.

My, that little boy comes in handy.

Thankfully, the first chapter is quite short. Unless of course the entire first essay is the first chapter, in which event I've gone about this entirely the wrong way. But I'm willing to take that risk.

Things to Learn

Here is probably the cornerstone of the chapter, making it possible to set the stage for a type of leisure that is not akin to sloth:

Leisure means school. Well, sort of. Not any school I've ever seen {except perhaps, on occasion, the one in my living room}. Here's the quote:
The Greek word for leisure {σχολή} is the origin of Latin schola, German Schule, English school. The name of the institutions of education and learning means "leisure."

Questions I Asked

I have a number of questions rattling around in my head right now. I apologize that I have many questions and few answers:
  • Is Pieper going to leave room for having work that one truly enjoys? He quotes Max Weber talking about living for one's work, and then explains that this is upside-down. Though we all frown upon what we call workaholism, surely there must be a place for loving the work we do.
  • Can a person in a non-Sabbatarian culture even understand all of this? I ask this from within such a culture. If, by "celebrating" the Sabbath, you mean "take a long nap on Sunday afternoon," well, then, we are on the same page. But if you mean doing this, or something more deliberate and meaningful, consistently and intentionally, then my own family fails the test. Ken Myers brought up Sabbath-keeping a lot in All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes and a friend even linked me to a book in the comments, and you know what? I never pursued it.

    The thing that has always gotten me is that the Sabbath was built right into the perfect world of Eden, so acting like Jesus eliminated Sabbath-keeping is probably short-sighted.

    Not that I know what I'm talking about here.

    Moving on.
  • Can one really learn anything without the time to reflect upon the subject at hand? Si and I had the opportunity to experience a teacher who was the intellectual equivalent of the Tazmanian Devil. The man was a whirlwind. He was teaching on various doctrines, and I, with 2/3 of a seminary degree, was still holding on for dear life, he was plowing so quickly. I assume the other students were, like us, able to pull something or other out of the class and think about it later.

    Which begs my next question.
  • If we can only learn so much at one time, what is it that drives us to try and teach more than this?
  • Why do we insist on covering all of the material on our list, even when the students' minds have already shut off for the time being?
  • Can we say we are teaching according to the nature of the child if we treat them like little garbage disposals into which we dump every last scrap in our textbooks?

And Lastly...

How does the concept of leisurely learning interact with how we do church, and how we do Sunday School?

A Little Sunday School Story

I went to a lot of Sunday School growing up. For the most part, I don't remember much of any of it, other than that I was incredibly nervous about going {can you say introvert?}, and I always thought that most of it was rather silly in a pointless sort of way. I don't mean that I was prideful about it, but more that it made me a little uncomfortable, like I just didn't fit into that environment.

But I do remember one Sunday. Pastor Brent came to "teach" my class because my teacher was sick and there was no substitute. At least, I think that is why he was there. I remember that he played some game with us that got us to be quiet like mice. It was a game I actually liked, where all the noise sort of drifted away from the room.

And then he opened a book, and he read to us.

That was the first time I ever heard The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I don't remember anything else about that day. I don't know if he read for the entire class, or only read a chapter. I don't remember if I ever got to hear the rest of the story {in the near future, I mean}. All I remember is that I was completely captivated, and I loved Pastor Brent for bothering to read such a book to a class of second-graders.

Do you see? We sat quietly, and he just read.

There were no gimmicks.

No flannel graphs.

No charts or graphs.

No illustrations.

No anything other than his voice, the story washing over us, floating about in the room.

In my mind, that was the only time in my childhood I was ever "fed" at church.

This is not to say that Bible stories cannot feed, but the way they are often presented, as cute little moral tales, does not captivate, does not enlighten, does not feed.

The purpose of this is not to insult Sunday School, but rather to raise a very important question, or rather a set of questions, inspired as much by my CiRCE CDs as by this book: How can we take the necessity of leisure for learning and incorporate it into Sunday School--or any other type of Christian education--so that we actually feed His sheep? Is the traditional methodology surrounding Sunday School fitting for the nature of a child, or for an adult human?

The big question is: How do we keep our children soft when it comes to the things of the Lord? Perhaps thinking through these things might show us a Better Way.

Go to Cindy's for more book club entries.

20 September 2009

Lessons from the Garden

Do not drag me away with the wicked.

--Psalm 28:3
I have been doing in-depth study of education for three years now, which isn't really very long, when you think about it. You know how it goes. One book leads you to another book, and just when you think you hit a stopping point, you read Cindy's blog and start all over again. These CiRCE CD's are dominating my thoughts right now. I feel like I was a blind person before. I was struggling after sight, and I definitely had improved my vision over the years. But now? Now I can see.

I haven't even listened to them all yet. Actually, I've only listened to three, because I'm listening to them over and over...and over. There is a lot to take away, and I don't want to miss anything. I am like a child licking my plate clean before moving on to the next dish.

One of the things I'm pondering is how the scientific/rationalistic/empiricist mindset has led our culture to believe that education consists of things which can be measured, and if they can't be measured they don't belong.

I had one of those moments yesterday with my son. They don't even come daily, but they come often enough to show me in ways a test never could that he is learning, that he is putting things together in ways that matter.

This particular moment took place on a Saturday, which is typically our gardening day. I have been overdue for harvesting sunflowers. At first, I left them because I wanted to make the harvest into a nature study. Most of us know what a sunflower looks like when it is beautiful and yellow, but we always skip the part where they dry up and look like they belong in front of a haunted house.

It is then, when they are ugly and dead, that they yield their fruit to the beasts of the earth.

So, a few weeks ago now, we read Camille and the Sunflowers and headed outside for a little nature study.

The lesson that was driven home to us that particular day was just how painful it is to try and pick those seeds out of the flower's center. It was no easy task, and I, for one, had bleeding finger tips. After spending an hour and a half later in the day, and emptying only less than one half of a single bloom, I began to think that leaving the field for the birds was the right idea.

But then I thought I'd check my best reference for all things farming, The Encyclopedia of Country Living. I learned that a stainless steel currying brush is just the thing for removing the seeds while keeping little fingers intact.

Friday we stopped by the feed store and added a currying brush to our regular order.

It was hard to explain, without sounding crazy, why I'd need the brush for a flower.

So this is how we found ourselves picking and separating seeds under the hot sun yesterday afternoon. The brush worked wonderfully, but there was a part of me {probably the sweating part} that began to think there might be wisdom in going to the store and buying seeds for ninety-nine cents instead of going to all of this trouble.

And then I scolded myself. There are things which can't be measured in time or money, and these are the Permanent Things, the things which matter most. I was repeating this over and over while I tried to figure out how to do it more quickly. And then, as we gained a bit of mastery over the task, we began to chat about nothing and everything.

And then a bit of sunflower chaff pricked his finger.

"Ow!" he exclaimed. "That bit of chaff got my finger."

I empathized, as I had been stuck a time or two as well. The seeds, at this point, were scattered on the ground, the chaff with it.

And then the breeze kicked up.

The chaff blew away.

Only the seeds remained.

And I heard him murmur, "The wicked, they are like chaff, driven before the wind."

18 September 2009

Quotables: The Gift of Good Land

The Gift of Good Land:
Further Essays Cultural and Agricultural
Land Between the Lakes is a tract of 170,000 acres, lying between Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley on the Tennesee and Cumberland Rivers. TVA took it over about a decade ago as a "demonstration in conservation-based recreation." Of the 170,000 acres, 75,000 were already publicly owned. The rest--95,000 acres--was comprised of farms, homesites, and timber lands belonging to, among others, 949 "resident families"--2,738 people in all.These people were moved out because, according to a TVA ruling, private holdings "would be a deterrent to maximum public use of the area." They were, of course, "compensated," but for the most part, they were strongly attached to their homes and communities, and gave them up in grief and in protest. Those who would not consent to the price offered by TVA were forced out by condemnation under the "right of eminent domain." The removal of these families was justified by one TVA official partly on the ground that their way of life "never quite succeeded."


It is an ugly story of the tyranny of "public service"--the homes of "the few" high-mindedly sacrificed to the "recreation" of "the many." Once this obliteration of the settled human life of the place has been forgotten, Bill Martin says, then it may be possible to be simply grateful for this large nature preserve. But he says so, knowing what will be lost in the forgetting. Pleased as I was to see the buffalo and the woods and the renewing meadows of tall grass, I would much have preferred to see the 2,738 people back at home. But we have no beauro for accomplishing that.

-from the essay The Native Grasses and What They Mean (1979)

17 September 2009

Reconsidering Kenneth Grahame's The Reluctant Dragon*

Truth and goodness and beauty go together so tightly that if you lose one, you lose all three of them.

--John Hodges,
discussing Hans urs von Balthasar's Seeing the Form: The Glory of the Lord: a Theological Aesthetics in his lecture Reflections on Classical Education
Yesterday was the day on which I had planned to study the legend of Saint George and the Dragon. Or, actually, we were going to study Raphael's famous painting, and I was going to read Margaret Hodges' wonderful picture book to the children yet again in order to make sure that Neighbor M. also understood the legend.

Raphael's painting falls on deaf ears if one doesn't understand the significance of Saint George.

I was so excited, for I love reading this book to someone for the first time. I laid it proudly on my lap and announced that we were going to read Saint George and the Dragon. Neighbor M.'s face looked a little panicked, and she told me that her parents do not like dragons. She told me that dragons are bad {which they are}, and that they don't let her have anything to do with them.

Two things: {1} I was impressed with a little girl that obeys her parents wishes when they aren't around. She very obviously wanted to read the book. {2} I was convicted that I should never violate the conscience of a child. Ever.

So I told Neighbor M. I would write a note to her parents asking if we could read the book and study the painting. And I did. I tried to be brief in explaining the book and its significance to western culture, and how C.S. Lewis himself taught Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene and how I really didn't want them to think that I was a crazy dragon-lady.


And today, a nice note arrived with Neighbor M. saying that of course I could read her the book and study the painting, and that this is the way that dragons should be taught. The letter briefly explained that many of the dragons they had met lately were supposed "good" and "friendly" dragons, and that this is what they were guarding against.

This was a pin-prick of correction for me.

It was then that I realized something about one book on my shelf, and that book is Kenneth Grahame's The Reluctant Dragon illustrated by my beloved Michael Hague.

But first, let me add into the mix a quote from Doug Wilson, who spent some blogging time lately discussing the wildly popular Twilight Saga in terms of the twisting of traditional cultural symbols:
[E]verything in this fallen created order "answers to" something unfallen, with the possible exception of hyenas. In other words, the dragon is the archtypical emblem of sly, crafty, rebellion -- and this goes back to the Garden. Satan is that ancient dragon. If we read our Bibles rightly, we will pay attention to the symbols. Honor the symbols, people.

But of course Satan was a fallen something, and that something was, before he fell, an unfallen version of that same thing. My personal view is that he was one of the seraphim, which means that the seraphim are glorious, unfallen dragons, privileged to cry holy, holy, holy in the presence of God. But in this world, the one we live in, dragons still mean what they mean. That meaning was assigned to us. Shifting the meaning of everything around in this metamorphing way seems to me to be not so much a testimony to our literary prowess as to the continued craftiness of the serpent.
Kenneth Grahame, whom we all rightly love for his best work, The Wind in the Willows was born only seven months before John Dewey, who almost single-handedly created the world as we know and experience it today through his experiment in rebellion which we call modern education.

I think there is an interesting correspondence in the birthdates of these two men. They were contemporaries in a time that resulted in the world being turned upon its head.

While Dewey managed to transform education from a study in the permanent things to a quest for societal change, here we see Kenneth Grahame recasting Saint George's dragon as a, well, a reluctant one. He would rather read, truth be told.

The story goes, however, that the common people believe that dragons really are bad, even though most of the stories they are telling are falsehoods. The Boy, who has a sort of "wisdom" about him, and is a great lover of books himself, befriends the dragon. The Boy becomes the mediator between two worlds--the people, who think the dragon is bad, and the dragon, his great friend who is so smart and lovable, but a little naive when it comes to understanding how serious the townsfolk are about eliminating him.

When Saint George arrives on the scene, the Boy sits down with him and explains the truth: The dragon isn't bad. But, the townspeople must be appeased. So, the Boy suggests a pretend battle, in which Saint George defeats the dragon, but in such a way that he survives and then Saint George, the dragon, as well as the Boy and all of the townspeople, can finally live in harmony together.

When I consider that the original story of Saint George was considered by C.S. Lewis to be a great Christian classic, and that Spenser's dragon tale, like all ancient dragon tales, was actually a retelling Christ's once and final victory over that dragon from the Garden, well, I wonder just how much influence I allowed Michael Hague's artistry to have over me.

The book is full of lies, it seems: The dragon is real enough, but he's actually a kindhearted old soul, and very intelligent. {The uneducated people are the ones who believe the dragon is bad.} Saint George's battle with him is a ruse and also ineffective. The townspeople who think the dragon is bad are just silly and superstitious.

Do you seem what I'm aiming at here?

Now, let's return to Hans urs von Balthasar via John Hodges. If beauty is subjective {and Hodges says it isn't}, then I can say that Grahame's writing is so lovely and skillful, and Hague's paintings are just gorgeous.

However, comma.

If beauty is objective, because it is characteristic of God Himself, then Balthasar has something to say about this book. For it has lost its truth; as Wilson exhorted us, we must honor the symbols. And if dragons represent Satan, and Saint George represent Christ, then the message of Grahame's work is untrue in the sense that it is a rejection of ultimate reality. And if the work is not true , then it is a lie, which means that it is not good. And if it is untrue and double-plus ungood, then its beauty is a deception, an instance of darkness masquerading as light, and, like the adulteress in Proverbs 7, it looks pretty good initially, but her house is a highway to the grave.

All of this is to say that I've rethought the position which The Reluctant Dragon currently has had upon my shelf. Hodges says that true education rightly orders the affections. Children who are educated rightly, he says, don't just learn about Truth, but they learn to love Truth. If this is so, I have to ask myself the question, Am I encouraging a right ordering of affections if I hold up this book as something to love?

*Thanks to CiRCE and Cindy, I will probably go crazy in the near future, but pleasantly so.

16 September 2009

Understanding the Pain of Infertility

It is probably an understatement to say that, in a culture like ours where it is assumed that a person cannot understand something unless he has experienced it for himself, it is controversial for a mother who managed to have four babies in six years to write such a post. But the fact remains that I have had a thought or two on this subject jumbling around in my head for quite some time.

Some of this has been connected to my own pain of losing a pregnancy, the twin of one of my children, and being unable to nurse. I considered these things as "tastes" of the real pain, which is the pain of not being able to bring forth fruit at all.

Infertility has become so widespread that any mention of Mother's Day has become controversial within the church. Instead of recognizing the mothers present, our congregations are compelled to acknowledge the sensitivity of infertile women on such a day. This pain is real, and it smarts on Mother's Day.

I remember sitting through a Mother's Day sermon once, and the pastor was going through what must be one of the standard passages for those men who choose to preach about family life on Mother's Day:
Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in his ways!
You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;
you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.
Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots around your table.
Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD.

The LORD bless you from Zion!
May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life!
May you see your children’s children!
Peace be upon Israel!

Psalm 128
And another is like it:
Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.

Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

Psalm 127
The particular pastor I was listening to on the particular Mother's Day of which I was speaking took the sociological route {something I've heard more than once} to help his congregation understand the significance of children to an agrarian, tribal culture. He explained what sort of blessing children, especially sons, were to these people, how they were an economic benefit to their families.

It's not that anything he said was wrong, but I did leave the sermon thinking that he missed the point. After all, the passage is quite objective. The children of a righteous man are defined as a reward. They don't magically become such at the age of eight when they can finally be of substantial assistance to their father in the fields; they are blessings from the moment of conception. A table surrounded by the bobbing heads of toddlers is a joy and reward to a righteous man, regardless of whether they are of any financial benefit.

I don't mean this to be a criticism of the pastor, for I believe he was trying his best to get across the blessing of children in a culture where children are seen as the complete opposite, as an imposition and inconvenience. This is the culture which, as standard procedure, takes unnatural and extrordinary means to avoid having babies.

It is this culture, with its inappropriate view of children, that brings such pain to infertile women. Think about it. A culture that doesn't value children thinks that the infertile woman should count her sterile womb as some sort of blessing. I have experienced a tiny taste of this myself, when we saw visible sighs of relief upon hearing that we were unable to have more children.

Our culture subtly sees the infertile woman as blessed, which is the complete opposite of what Scripture says.

The tragic result of this is that a barren woman in our culture has no comfort and few comforters.

Why in the world, our culture says, is there cause to cry about the fact that you'll never get morning sickness, you'll never have pregnancy weight, you'll never stay up with sick toddlers, you'll never go on a boring field trip, and you'll never face a rebellious teenager?

What our culture overlooks is that bearing fruit is the most natural thing in the world, as much for a woman as for a tree. It is what we were designed to do, and everything about us screams this truth in our ears when it doesn't go right. Think about the creation of woman:
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth."

Genesis 1:27-28
God created mankind and exhorted them to be fruitful. In a perfect world, this would have happened without incident. The presence of sin made things complicated, but it didn't change what a married woman was intended to be:
The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.

Genesis 3:20
Her very name identified her as a fruitful being.

But here we are. The world isn't perfect, and some women never become mothers, or have a really hard time becoming mothers. And this is painful. It's painful because it isn't natural {thank you, Mr. Kern, for affirming this thought to me}.

I remember how I struggled with bitternness when I was unable to nurse my babies well. Measuring powder and water into a bottle and shaking them up was like a slap in the face every single time. This was the most unnatural way in the world to feed my infant, and I knew it, and so I struggled. Everytime I nursed the baby, I dreaded having to give a supplement afterwards. I tried to be grateful that I wasn't born in some other age, when a mother's insufficient milk supply would mean the death of the child, but the truth was that, for a very long time, I couldn't get over the fact that my body wouldn't do what it was obviously designed to do.

This example of nursing problems can lead into the idea that women who require fertility treatments in order to conceive {even though they can conceive and bear a child and are mothers}, experience their own type of pain. It is not natural to require extensive tests and treatments in order to have children. And needing these things adds a dynamic to the marital relationship that can bring tension.

Until we understand this fact, that infertility in its many forms is against the design of the woman, we won't have the proper compassion. Instead, we will say something truly stupid, such as reminding her how many thousands of dirty diapers she'll never have to change.

So what is compassion? What is the alternative to empty platitudes? The answer is probably prayer. We all encounter the pains of a fallen world; sin weighs heavy upon the whole world, and infertility is not unique, nor is it modern:
Elkanah her husband would say to her, "Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don't you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don't I mean more to you than ten sons?"

I Samuel 1:8
Hannah's heart contained bitterness, Scripture tells us, and she begged the LORD to look upon her misery. I find it interesting that Scripture never condemns her for this. And because it doesn't, we need to rethink any temptation to tell an infertile woman to get over it. Get over what? Her very nature? This is not an easy obstacle to overcome.

This does not mean that a woman cannot find comfort in Christ. She can. It does not mean that she can not learn contentment. She can. But far be it from the rest of us to sound the clanging gong of Job's comforters. Rather, may we mourn with those who mourn, and pray for joy in the morning.

15 September 2009

Five Good Things

I took a moment at my desk this morning before beginning school, and found myself thinking about some Good Things which have come my way lately. After a traumatic summer, it is nice to feel like we are back in the groove of life {except for the driver's license issue, but life can't be perfect, right?}. Here are five Good Things I'm thankful for today:

  1. CiRCE Institute CDs, being one of many reasons that I always save my Christmas money to spend throughout the year. Si thinks it is so weird to hear me say in mid-July that I want to use my Christmas money on something. Some women buy clothes. I buy books. And, apparently, now I buy CDs.
    2009 CiRCE Conference CD Set:
    A Contemplation of Nature
  2. Wendell Berry. Right now, I am reading The Gift of Good Land. I love the way he connects culture with agriculture. This is something, I think, which is often overlooked when folks discuss farming or gardening, regardless of the scale.
  3. PaperBackSwap. And why not? PBS is so good to me, I can hardly contain myself sometimes, though admittedly I've been known to wait patiently for a book for a year or more. When I returned home from our trip, The Twilight of American Culture was in my mailbox. My heart did a little dance.
  4. Book clubs with Cindy. I have attempted book clubs, and none has been successful. The only reason I attempted them is because I have had wonderful experiences in this vein courtesy of Cindy. And now, she's about to host another one, or actually two, covering first Leisure: The Basis of Culture and then the aforementioned The Twilight of American Culture, or in reverse order, depending on her voter turnout. Join us; it'll be inspiring!
  5. Sunsets in Avila Beach.

    I know I'm home, but I'm enjoying the photos we took. Avila is a south-facing beach, which is why it is usually the warmest of the central beaches, and this gives the sunsets a different quality. Instead of watching the sun set over the water {or into the water, from a child's perspective}, the sun is nowhere to be seen, and the setting itself is more subtle, seen mostly in reflections on the water or nearby cliffs. Just lovely.

What are Good Things are you thankful for today?

14 September 2009

Reading Comprehension, Life Comprehension

I found myself thinking about reading comprehension this past week while we were traveling. {I am the same person who emailed a friend regarding curriculum when I should have been packing...this sort of thing is always on my mind.} I was thinking about how trips like these open the world up for children {and for their parents, of course}.

I remember that when I was in elementary school, I had attended a magnet school for the gifted, which was the district's attempt to get upper- and middle-class children into an urban wasteland's neighborhood school.

I consider this a learning experience for me on so many levels.

On thing I remember, as I was saying, was that the poor children took a field trip once a year to the beach. Like all children, the children in my class were interested in fairness. So we asked our teacher why we didn't get to go to the beach also. {Can you hear the whining in our voices?} The teacher must have been feeling very Socratic that day, for he simply asked everyone in the room who had ever been to the beach and seen the ocean to raise their hands.

We all did.

And then he explained that the children from the neighborhood, those children in the other classes, they had never been. And they never would be. Their families didn't have the money to go, and it was possible that those children would live their whole lives and never see an ocean outside of a magazine or some wallpaper mural in the mall.

This quieted us all down. After all, we all delighted in writing our "About My Summer Vacation" composition at the beginning of each school year, it never dawning on us that the children in those other classrooms weren't asked to write a similar essay.

I don't remember the teacher's exact words, but I remember thinking that he understood. He knew that comprehension involved more than reading a book about a subject. He knew that seeing the ocean, feeling the sand between the toes, feeling the waves tug at the ankles when they pull back, seeing the gulls diving for fish, and walking on a pier, all had significance. He knew that, after such a trip, the children could read a book about the ocean with a new level of understanding.

Now levels of understanding are interesting things because we never reach the top level {where God is, knowing everything there is to know}, and so life is an adventure for us, regardless of our circumstances.

What interested me was seeing my children reach these new levels of understanding. Two of them had never seen an ocean before {well, perhaps one glimpsed it at 8-months of age while waking from a nap}. The two-year-old asked all sorts of funny questions as she tried to comprehend exactly what all that water was about. The baby cried the first time he felt sand on his hands, but within thirty minutes, his opinion changed, and later we found ourselves cleaning sand out of his diaper.

The older two were exploring the world in ways I wouldn't have connected with when I was their age. For instance, when they discussed the birds, they used their real names. They didn't say, "Look at that bird!" but rather, "Look at that sea gull!" Or they asked what a bird was, or looked it up in their field guide {the four-year-old can't read, but she knows where to find a seven-year-old who can}. And so I overheard more than once a backseat conversation concerning the merits of the brown pelican, or plans to maybe hunt that egret and get it to let them touch it {this comes from having pet ducks; they think all birds should allow petting}.

The fact that they can distinguish between various birds {or know when they see a new one} is tribute to Charlotte Mason, and her passion for nature study. I see now that there is an understanding of the world available to Sons of Adam who know the names of the animals.

And when I heard my son yell, "Look! A blackcapped chickadee!" while looking out our sliding glass door, I thought that he, becoming intimate friends with the birds, will understand poetry that would have been enigmatic to me as a child. Take, for instance, an excerpt of Eric Ormsby's To a Chickadee in Winter:
The chirp you hurl defines humility
As something almost savage in its swoop.
Discalced against December, Chickadee,
You snap the frozen seed-husks as you stoop.
All of this is to say that reading lessons cannot be separated from the rest of life, for reading is an endeavor to understand and learn about real things. May we never forget that words do not exist on their own, but rather as symbols and expressions of the things which are.

Possibly Related Posts:
On the Importance of Reality in Reading Comprehension
Better Off: Education, Literacy and the Speed of Life

13 September 2009

Eight Days

Eight days is how long we spent visiting the Central California Coast, a place that we dearly love. The last time we were there, Q. was about 8-months old. What an adventure to see her running all over the place while O. took her spot in the stroller!

For eight days, we spent time together as a family. For eight days, we saw beautiful places. For eight days, we...took field trips! {That is the schoolish way of looking at it.}

So the question remains: What does a young family of six do on the Central Coast for eight days without spending a million dollars?

Rule Number One: Use the beach hour your father rented for the month.

Rule Number Two: Cook your own meals.

Rule Number Three: Remember that sunsets are free.

If you don't have rule number one lined up, the rest isn't going to fall into place very well. But I'll tell you what we did anyhow.

Day One

We went to the threshing bee at Jack Creek Farms in Templeton, which is inland from our home base in Pismo Beach. The website explains it perfectly:
Starting with standing wheat we will bind, stack, thresh, sack, clean and grind the grain into flour the same way it was done in the early 1900s.
There was a display of antique farm equipment. We sampled homemade bread. We watched the wheat processing. We bought a small container of fudge for the children to eat for dessert that evening {which resulted in Q. spinning like a top}. Our resident Farmer Boy was enthralled.

Day Two

New day, new farm, this time closer to the sea. We caught a trolley at Port San Luis Harbor in Avila Beach. The harbor pier, incidentally, is a wonderful place to see brown pelicans in all stages of maturation. They are incredibly tame, so children can get a good look. Mind that your seven-year-old doesn't chase one off right when a large group of tourists is trying to take its photo.

I'm just saying.


Anyhow, we took the trolley {for a quarter-per-person donation} and sat comfortably along the route until we reached the Avila Valley Barn, a small nearby farm. We petted all the animals, fed them scrap greens from the farm store, shopped in the market, and were treated to $2 per person ice cream scoops {farm-made ice cream!} by the children's Great Gran, who was with us, along with my parents, for the first two days. We would have taken a hay ride, but it was very crowded, being Labor Day weekend, and we needed to catch the trolley back to our car.

Day Three

This was a lazy day at the beach. Avila Beach is a delight for small children, and so we headed to our favorite spot there, which is the estuary, where the river meets the sea. When the tide is coming in is the perfect time of day; the waves are small in the river area, and little ones can learn the ways of the water without danger. Our four-year-old spent hours running in the water while the others built a sand castle. This is also a great spot for finding egrets.

Day Four

We spent almost two hours {slowly} hiking the Bob Jones City to the Sea Bike Trail. I love bike trails because I can use my stroller. We brought our birding field guide and saw one bird we hadn't seen before, a spotted towhee. When the children became tired, we headed to a nearby park {with an ocean view}, and I gave O. his bottle while they played on the toys.

Day Five

This was our Expensive Day. We even ate out at a real restaurant! But first, we spent all morning at the San Luis Obispo Children's Museum, which we consider worth every penny we spent. The museum had something for everyone, even Baby O., who played dress-up with his sister and also hung out in a padded ring filled with cushioned Velcro blocks. The first floor of the museum sports a giant bubble machine, and a few other displays that are aimed at older children. The second floor was where we spent most of our time. It is basically a child's Let's Pretend dream-come-true! There was a place to play restaurant, with literally everything a child could want for it, right down to the toy hamburger buns. There was a play firetruck, with fireman costumes in various sizes. Also, a farmer's market, toy police motorcycle, and a place to play veterinarian. The third floor was more for little ones, with lots of puzzles, books, blocks, and a huge train table.

It was the play room every child dreams of.

And what I appreciated most was that, unlike so many children's museums, it was not political. Five stars from all of us!

Day Six

We can't make a trip to the coast without visiting Morro Bay State Park, land of the wild turkeys, great blue herons that are as tall as my seven-year-old {I do not joke}, double-crested cormorants  egrets, and brown pelicans. Our hike was pretty mild, though the children loved spotting seals from the shore. We headed up to an area near the museum of natural history {we didn't go in because we have been before and nothing had changed and we weren't all that impressed the first time}. That's when it happened. It was like magic. We saw a literal feeding frenzy! There must have been large schools of fish in the bay. We have never seen anything like it. The birds were diving all over, and then the seals were thrashing about in the water, and it was so loud that it was astounding!

That made the whole morning worth it. It felt like we were watching some sort of miracle. The children were under the spell as much as the adults; it was enchanting. We were told by another onlooker that when the children are older we can rent kayaks and be out there in the middle of it when it happens.

Day Seven

This day, we went back to Avila Beach, and did our whole routine all over again. It was just as fun the second time, but this time we had grandparents with us, too.

That evening, we returned for the Friday Night Farmer's Market. There was live music, and we also walked the pier one last time, and ate cookies. Yum.

Day Eight

I needed to pack, but the children accompanied their granmama to an art store {with decent works in it, by the way}, a pet store, and took an overall interesting walk, which was a great way to end the week.

11 September 2009

Quotables: The Gift of Good Land

The Gift of Good Land:
Further Essays Cultural and Agricultural
In response to their meager land, the Papago developed a culture that was one of the grand human achievements.


[I]n these almost impossible circumstances, the Papago achieved what Bowden accurately calls a "society of abundance." The poverty of our own "affluent society" never existed among them. ..."Having little," Bowden says, "they shared all."


Contact with white people brought many changes, of which the most radical may have been wells drilled into the aquifers that underlay the desert. But this was a part of a government program that also included livestock production and education. Bowden notes the irony in this effort, which proposed to bring self-sufficiency to a people already marvelously self-sufficient. The opposite happened: "Education divided the tribe between those who had seen the tractor and those who had not. Stimulation of the cattle industry resulted in the ruin of the rangelands. The wells...cut the ground from underneath the ancient mutual dependence and sharing. A half century after the commissioners' optimistic forecast, the Papago are not respected by their white neighbors and are not self-supporting. They now have a groundwater problem, an overgrazing problem, and an economic problem. The society of abundance is gone."

{pp. 51-52}

10 September 2009

Quotables: To a Thousand Generations

To a Thousand Generations
It must be admitted that infant baptism, as it has been administered by some, has been the point of stumbling for many professing Christians into a soul-destroying nominalism. But as we shall also see, nominalism afflicts baptist churches as well. The real origin of nominalism is to be found in all churches that refuse to discipline in terms of their baptism, whatever their practice of baptism might be.

{p. 7}
We must not come to the text of Scripture with our modern debates in the forefront of our mind. Our modern debates should be settled by Scripture, but this does not mean they are found in Scripture. The issue for us should be to learn what their debates were.

{p. 15}

06 September 2009

A Child's Government-Funded Day

Reading books about early America is extremely helpful for the purpose of comparison. {It's also a highly enjoyable activity.} We are all born with a certain level of chronological snobbery; we think the world really got going once we arrived on the scene. We also tend to think that the way things are in our life is the way things have always been. As children, we quickly learn that old people are prone to talking about the "good old days," and we train ourselves to be dismissive of this, to a certain extent.

But reading history, even in realistic story books like the works of Ralph Moody or Laura Ingalls Wilder, gets us outside of our own time. Because these particular books take place right here in the U.S.A., they have been helpful to me in understanding how dependent our culture has become.

When I said in my last post that public schools are like socialist training camps because of what the model itself teaches the children, I knew that this was controversial. I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to make this concept as palatable as possible because I know that it is a difficult medicine to take. When I think about these things out loud on the blog, I want to make it clear that I never mean this as a personal attack. Sometimes, we have to talk about ideals, knowing that all of us will fall short. The fact that ideals are unattainable doesn't mean we shouldn't all aim to conform to them as best we can.

Defining our Terms

It always helps to begin with correct definitions. Socialism, for instance, is an economic system in which the State maintains control. The State will own the land, the means of production {like factories}, the products themselves, the stores in which products are sold, and so on. It is important to fix this idea in our minds for the sake of the discussion: socialism involves government ownership and control. Marx considered socialism to be the in-between step between capitalism and communism.

Contrasting with socialism is capitalism, an economic system in which the various economic activites are under the control of either private individuals or privately-owned corporations. The American dream of owning your own land is a distinctively capitalistic dream.

It is also a distributist dream. But I digress.

Now, these definitions are being set up here for the sake of antithesis. I know that we have a mixed economy. The government already excercises a lot of control here in the States; it is only the making of strides toward outright government which is new. But we need to be able to talk about this clearly, and we need the definitions in their pure forms to do this.

School in a Free Country

Before we talk about school today, let's talk about school in the old days, as experienced by the authors I previously mentioned. In the late 1800s, Laura Ingalls Wilder tells us that school was not compulsory. Frontier families would establish a town school when they were able. These schools were funded by the families in the town. This meant hiring a teacher, which was anyone who could pass the required test {no degrees required}. Ingalls herself began teaching at the age of 16.

Wilder says that the children walked to school, sometimes many miles. The chidren brought their lunches, unless they lived close enough to walk home for lunch. Schools did not have playgrounds, but the children occasionally brought simple toys with them from home. Families purchased books for their children, meaning that siblings often sat together in order to share the family's one copy of, for instance, a reader. The families of the school children would take turns boarding the teacher in their homes.

Music lessons were sometimes organized by the town on a Friday night. They were not a part of the school curriculum, and the townspeople paid for the necessary supplies.

In the early 1900s, Ralph Moody tells us that school as not really required, but the children could get in trouble for missing or being tardy as far as their teachers were concerned. Boys were allowed out any time they had found a job. Children, again, brought their lunches unless their homes were nearby. Children, again, walked to and from school, or rode their horses if they had a spare. Moody does not really explain how schools were funded, but I am guessing that in his day they were seeing the very beginning of government funding through compulsory taxation, but at the local {city or county} level rather than what we see today, which is mostly state and federal {though our family is lucky enough to pay extra city taxes for the school in our district}.

Sports for Mr. Moody involved riding in the rodeo. His saddle was given to him by a friend. He worked hard to finance the keeping of his own horse at the age of 10.

Somewhere Along the Way

When we look back, we see schools that were underpinned by freedom rather than compulsion. Parents chose to send their children. {Or, they chose not to. In a free country, folks have to be comfortable with other people making bad decisions, with the chance of failure.} Families paid for the schools. Some sources I have read say that the wealthier families and churches paid for poor children when necessary, but I do not know that this was widespread. Families took responsibility for the children getting to school, for the children eating during school, for the children getting home from school. Parents decided if a child was "missing too much school." And so on.

These are indications of a free and independent people.

But somewhere along the way, parents decided they didn't want to be responsible to get the child to school. I am sure the invention of cars influenced this, but the fact remained that government-funded schools now have their own government-funded transportation system.

Somewhere along the way, parents decided they didn't want to be responsible to feed the children during school hours. It was easier to have the school hire a cook and prepare the lunches. Then we decided to discriminate between students and say that wealthy children had to pay one price for the meal, middle class a reduced price, and the poor children would get the meal for free. This, by the way, causes children to be comfortable with a graduated income tax from the outset.

Somewhere along the way, schools began to provide after-school activities, and then after-school care.

A Child's Government-Funded Day

In our area, a child can have a day that is almost entirely government-funded. This is, of course, an extreme example, but let's consider it anyhow.

The child can rise early in the morning, and get on a government-funded bus. He can arrive at his school for before-school care {which is not offered at every single school, but is offered at some schools}. He will be fed a breakfast prepared by a government employee for which he may or may not have to pay a fee. Then, he will head to his government-funded classroom. At recess, he will play on a government-owned playground, or perhaps with a ball paid for with tax dollars. At lunch, he will eat a meal which is, again, prepared by a government employee and for which he may or may not have to pay a fee.

Depending on the school and its resources, he may be given government-funded music lessons. The school may provide him with an instrument.

After school, the child does not have to go home to his family. He can be trained in a sport on the government-owned field. His coach may be a government employee, but in all fairness he might also be a volunteer. Other options for this child might be some sort of afternoon government-funded enrichment program {if he is bright} or, alternately, tutoring {if he is not}.

At the end of his day, he can head home on the government-funded bus. A lot of schools offer a "late bus" for his circumstance.

All of this will cover ten to twelve hours each weekday, not counting government-assigned homework.

From a Child's Perspective

Because we adults tend to be out in the world and in contact with elements of capitalism, I think we fail to think of this from the child's perspective. From the child's point of view, having the government take care of him is not just normal, it is normative. We cannot think that the two-odd hours that the child spends at home distracted by some sort of electronic media or interacting with family will necessarily contradict this lesson he is learning from the model of society in which he is immersed. The school experience is the bulk of the child's life experience {he spends much more time there than anywhere else}, and that experience is overwhelmingly what teaches the child about culture. Deliberate parents will sometimes be able to contradict these lessons, but it is an uphill battle at best.

Do we really think it is coincidental that so many Americans are dependent on the government when, as children, that sort of existence is completely normal? This sort of life is not the mark of a culture of freedom and liberty.

This is Socialism

When we say that the President wants to "socialize" healthcare, what we are really saying is that he wants the government to be in charge of it. Healthcare is an industry, an industry that the government wants to exercise control over. Likewise, education is an industry {arguing over whether it should be is another post for another day}, an industry over which the government has lots of control over. Carter began the Department of Education and even Ronald Reagan didn't eliminate it. Bush II was kind enough, through No Child Left Behind, to extend federal power over education in ways never before seen in our country. Obama's education advisors would love to cut out the local governments or school boards and take over education completely, from preschool to college. Socialism tends to grow, as we can all see.

What I was trying to point out in my last post is that a person saying they don't want government-run healthcare on the one hand, and then sending their own child to public school on the other, is a contradiction. Either a person believes the government should run social programs, or they don't.

Socialism and capitalism are quite easy to understand. The former involves government control and ownership, the latter private control and ownership. Public education in American is a form of socialism in a textbook-definition sort of way. I believe each family should make their own decisions concerning what their relationship with public education is going to be, but in order to make those decisions well, they need to begin by thinking about the subject rightly. The socialistic qualities of the model need to be acknowledged when making those decisions.