31 October 2009

Potty Training: It Really Works!

Well, let me just heave a giant sigh of relief here! One week ago today, Q. entered into the Big Girl world. By Day Two, she was daytime trained, and even stayed dry during her nap. Naptime dryness slipped for two days--Monday and Tuesday, I think--but we persevered without diapering to see what would happen (I had a two-week deadline in my head). After Tuesday, naptime dryness has been a habit.

Nighttime dryness has been another story.

I expected that, of course. I am not complaining. Q. has done fabulously. But, by Friday morning, I was beginning to wonder if she was going to master it anytime soon, and I was also pondering how much longer I was willing to let her wet the bed.

Q., however, has been working really hard. She is a little worker bee, and she put all her determination into staying dry. I got a little concerned, because this meant she wasn't getting much sleep. She became obsessed with staying dry while sleeping, and I would see her getting up and down to her little toilet from 8pm when we put her down until 11pm when she finally fell, exhausted, to sleep, only to wake disappointed in the morning. She was wet again.

Last night, around 8:30, I told her that she simply had to go to sleep. I assured her that she didn't have to worry, and that she was going to do a good job. During the day I had noticed she was able to hold it much, much longer than prior days, and we even made a trip to the park without an accident. I had hope for her.

She went to sleep as instructed.

She slept all night.

She slept in (because she was so tired from the week) to 7:30am.

And she was dry!

There was great celebration, and Daddy even let her have a tiny scoop of homemade ice cream as a before-breakfast reward.

I am so proud of her.

29 October 2009

Embracing Paideia, Expanding the Kingdom

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Ephesians 6:4
The Greek in this verse is very enlightening. The word translated as discipline here is one of my favorite Greek words: παιδεία {paideia}. Paideia has no true English equivalent because our idea of education is so truncated, so narrow. I love what Doug Wilson says about paideia in his book The Paideia of God:
Now were we to describe our process of education to a first century Ephesian and then ask him what Greek word would be used to describe this process, the initial answer would be simple and straightforward--paideia. This is not an obscure word or concept; the idea of paideia was central to the ancient classical mind, and Paul's instructions here consequently had profound ramifications...Formal education is essential to the process of paideia, of course, but the boundaries of paideia are much wider than the boundaries of what we understand as education. So our helpful Ephesian would tell us that paideia is certainly the word we are looking for, but he would then think for a moment and go on to tell us that it is not quite that simple. In short, their paideia was broader, bigger, deeper, and far more developed than our notions of what constitutes "education."

Why does this matter?

Why do we care that the classical paideia was broader, bigger, deeper, and whatever else-er than what we think of as education today? Why does it matter?

I have a connected question I've been attempting to answer for a while now. If we say that Christians can--or even should--be educated classically, why is this acceptable? Is it ever acceptable for a Christian to adopt a Greek methodology like this?

This last question is the central one I've been grappling with lately.

Recently, there was a debate over the definition of classical education at Ordo Amoris. That got me thinking again about Colossians 2:8:
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.
I think that most of us realize that the "philosophy and empty deception" of the day was Roman in nature. So who am I to say that a Christian can--or even should--adopt the method of education used by the Greeks and Romans? Is this--or might it be--a form of syncretism?

The Christian Paideia

I think the answer of why it is not just acceptable, but good, lies in Paul's use of the word paideia for how Christian fathers should bring up their children.

Incidentally, I also see this as a Biblical mandate for fathers to make sure that their children receive a Christian education. If you read this passage in the Greek, there is no room for any sort of education that is not Christian for our children.


As I was saying, Paul says that fathers should raise their children in the paideia of the Lord. Let me quote further on what Wilson says, because it explains it better than I could:
Werner Jaeger, in his monumental study of paideia, shows that the word paideia represented...an enormous ideological task. They were concerned with nothing less than the shaping of the ideal man, who would be able to take his place in the ideal culture. Further, the point of paideia was to bring that culture about.

Building Christendom

I remember once in a class my husband was teaching, one of the students had reached a what do I do now sort of point in his life. He was energized by the teaching, and he wanted to express it somewhere. My husband's answer was that it starts in the home. The student seemed to me to be somewhat deflated by this.

However, comma.

The Greeks understood it perfectly: paideia, a full and purposeful education--or enculturation--that forms a man for an ideal adulthood is the way of bringing the ideal culture about. We do not fight the "culture war" {I hate that phrase...I am not fighting a war, but rather constructing a cathedral} anywhere if we do not fight it at home.

Yes, Miss Mason, Education is an Atmosphere

Wilson goes on:
In the ancient world, the paideia was all-encompassing and involved nothing less than the enculturation of the future citizen. He was enculturated when he was instructed in the classroom, but the process was also occurring when he walked along the streets of his city to and from school. It included walking by the temple for the gods of his people. That too was part of the process.
I cannot ignore how much this Greek conception sounds like the Hebraic methodology {which is to say God's methodology} described in Deuteronomy 6:6-9:
These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
The Hebrews were told that a process of enculturation should take place, and that process was saturated with God's law and promises.

Recall that the Babylonians also understood this. After Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem, he brought back sons of Israel
...youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king's court; and he ordered him to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans.
Culture is passed on primarily through language and literature, and I have sat through more than one sermon that explained how this was the most effective way to not only conquer a people group, but force assimilation: steal their children and train them to be leaders in the new culture.

Part of this enculturation process included dining:
The king appointed for them a daily ration from the king's choice food and from the wine which he drank, and appointed that they should be educated three years, at the end of which they were to enter the king's personal service.
This quote alone might make it sound like food was a neutral issue; folks have got to eat, after all. But if it were neutral, then why did Daniel refuse it? We read:
But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king's choice food or with the wine which he drank; so he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself.
Since it is not against God's law for a Jew to drink wine, something else was going on in the educational process of the Chaldeans here, something with Scripture tells us Daniel saw would "defile" him if he participated.

The food, you see, was part of the indoctrination program. And I find it interesting that Daniel chose not to refuse literature or language lessons, but the food. He opted for a vegetarian diet, and God blessed him for it.

A Long Tradition of Enculturating Children

So what does this have to do with classical education? With paideia?

Well, it seems that there is a history of enculturation that stretches back before the Greeks. I don't know what else to call the method of handing down the faith that the Hebrews were supposed to use. Paideia sounds like a pretty good term. Here, you have fathers living lives alongside their children, applying God's law all day long, as they rise up, as they walk along the way, and as they lie down at night.

In addition to this, we have the example of the Teacher in Proverbs, who takes his son out into the world and gives instruction which is like a graceful wreath to the head, or an ornament around the neck. The Teacher points to the adulterous woman, and gives warning. He points to the ways of the wicked, and of the wise, and prepares the youth to enter the world of manhood.

And in addition to this, we see that the Chaldeans understood that enculturation and indoctrination included not only literature and language {the Trivium}, but the food you eat, and the wine you drink.

The Greeks perfected a very old system, which is not a system, but rather a description of how a parent brings up children into adulthood.

So when Paul says to that faithful Christians fathers must bring up children in the paideia of the Lord, he is not saying to bring them up Greek. He is saying that they must continue to bring their children up classically, as they were already doing, but classically Christian.

Teaching literature in the mimetic mode is not Greek in the sense that it produces Greeks, and if a Christian utilizes the mode correctly, the result will be more effective discipleship.

Along these lines, Socratic questions are not inherently evil, even if Socrates was an unbeliever.

Reviewing Paul

Paul was explaining that the entirety of the child's education was to be Christian in nature; this is God's command in Deuteronomy 6 restated for His people again in Ephesians 6. God has always required that His people bring their children up in Him and for Him.

This is so huge and important if you really think about it, that it reminds me of Jesus' teaching on divorce. Remember? When Jesus said it wasn't natural, the disciples marvelled and said that maybe it was better to never marry! If we think about paideia {at least without realizing that God always give us strength to follow in His steps}, we just might marvel and say that maybe it is better to never have children!

Obviously, that's the wrong response. I'm just saying that this idea is that big.

In fact, that passage on divorce is quickly followed in Matthew with Jesus saying, "Let the little children come unto me."

And that, my friends, is the exact point!

Let's go back to the verse we started from.
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Ephesians 6:4
We talked about discipline, which is really paideia, but let's briefly discuss the second word. It is only used three times in the New Testament, from what I can tell. The word here is νουθεσία {nouthesia}, and it is derived from two different Greek words: νοῦς {nous} which is referring to the general intellectual faculty of the mind, and also the capacity to discern spiritual truth, and the ability to make sober judgments, and τίθημι {tithēmi}, which, when connected to nous refers to the idea that said intellect has been set aside or established.

The idea here is that Christian fathers are responsible for making sure that their child is enculturated in the Lord and that the child's very intellect is trained to be spiritually discerning and is set aside and established in God Himself.

The word for God here is κύριος {kyrios}, which means that He is the master or possessor of the thing. Our children are not our own, and fathers are to actively submit them to the Lord.

To Build a Kingdom

Do we not pray to God that His kingdom comes? This is how we bring it about. We evangelize, bringing new families, the very nations, to the Lord, and then we exhort them to offer their children to the Lord, that the kingdom be built, like a leavening loaf, little by little, over the generations.

28 October 2009

Giving Our Children Good Books

If you have a child like my E., it is a race to keep up with the book supply. Children like this can read their books over and over, and yet we parents still feel like we don't have enough books. What to do? Well, I've talked to you before about a wonderful resource, Hand That Rocks the Cradle, which suggests 400 different books, and even categorizes them by age-appropriateness.

I recently came across another resource that is also helping me figure out what to add to our library.

You see, as I was listening to my CiRCE CDs, I noticed that Karen Kern, in her talk Cultivating the Moral Imagination, mentioned that we read the 1,000 good books so that we can read the 100 great books.

At first, I thought this was just something that was said. And then I wondered if there was really a list out there somewhere.

There is a list out there! And today I'm going to share it with you: The 1,000 Good Books List.

This list is divided by age. It doesn't contain the wonderful reviews that are in Hand That Rocks the Cradle,but this is still an exceedingly helpful list.

If you are like me, you'll look at the list and think that a couple of the books you see aren't what you'd consider for such a list. That's the beauty of a 1,000-book list! There is something left, even when you throw out the things that don't fit your family.

I used this list to plan my book-buying for Christmas.

I also watch it and compare it to what the children are interested in. Just the other day, E. asked me, in regard to one of our school readings, "What is a cathedral?" I tried to describe it, but I was delighted to be able to find Cathedral: The Story of Its Construction by David Macaulay. This is eighty pages of details on the cathedrals and how they were built. Amazon's author information explains that Macaulay was once an architectural student at the Rhode Island School of Design, and that he is known for his detail in explaining the design of the buildings he's writing about.

My son is going to eat this up when he receives it for Christmas! Best of all, I can see how this, along with other of Macaulay's books such as Castle, would help him read some of the truly great books, like The Pilgrim's ProgressBeowulf, and most especially The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, what with Hugo's focus on architecture and all.

I also liked that the 1,000 books list contained some types of books that weren't in my other resource, like books for holidays, or Bible stories, and so on. This DecemberTerm, we'll be reading what I think is going to be a new favorite, The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey.

So enjoy the list! Use it to fill out your PBS wish list, or purchasing gifts for Christmas.

And by the way, while I have you here...Thank you all so much for shopping Amazon through the sidebar. You have been extra-generous lately, and you, my friends, are buying my children's books this Christmas.

Possibly Related Posts:
All Books Are Not Created Equal
Technopoly, Poetic Knowledge, and the Disappearance of a Bookstore
My review of Hand that Rocks the Cradle

26 October 2009

On Potty Training

I would like to blame this post on Ellen, but the truth is that I was already planning it. I will begin with What Not to Do. Please do not do what I did with my firstborn, which is to say be half-hearted about this. The children just get confused when you do this.

Now, I know that sometimes being half-hearted just happens. It happened to me because I ended up on bed rest for a difficult pregnancy, and so my son was only practicing using the toilet when someone other than his mother was around to help him. There was also some other drama surrounding his training, but I think the fact remains that he was getting mixed messages and that if I could have done what I did with my girls it would have gone better for him.

So, without beating ourselves up for things we can't control, it is still okay to have an Ideal in mind.

My ideal is the proverbial Cold Turkey, thanks to my friend, the delightful Mrs. Owens, who so wise, she should have her own blog, but doesn't. Mrs. Owens took what I did with my older daughter and put it into high gear for me to use with Q., and the result is that we survived today relatively unscathed.

Here is how it went: {Please note that I spent weeks telling her that this day was coming.} We rose at the Usual Time, and I took Q. to the potty chair and sat her on it. She didn't go, but it was a good chance to take off the diaper and exchange it for Big Girl Panties and talk about how the day was going to go. I handed Q. her last diaper, and she ceremoniously threw it in the trash, while being photographed by the family historian, otherwise known as Granmama.

All we did all day was try to use the toilet, plus get Q. to drink as much as possible {which is hard, for this girl isn't a very thirsty person} so that she'd have as many chances as possible to practice. The day was filled with successes, as I mentioned in my other post, but I must confess that experience with my other children tells me that failures on Day One in no way indicate failures on Day Two, so if your first day is filled with puddles, do not despair!


As I was saying, Mrs. Owens ramped up the process for me. She encouraged me to get rid of diapers altogether, from the first day, even while sleeping.

We did.

During nap time on Day One, she wet the bed. Overnight on Day One, she wet the bed. (Twice, actually.) But, during nap time on Day Two, she stayed dry, even getting up once to use the toilet and then returning to finish her nap. Overnight on Day Two she wet again, though not as bad as the first day, and the jury is still out for the current nap. Mrs. Owens swears this works, and I trust her, so I'm giving this a try.

If, in two weeks, she is consistently wetting the bed, I might consider nighttime diapering, but for now we'll see what happens. My older daughter was able to stay dry while sleeping by Day Four, and we aren't there yet.

Let's see...what else is there to say? Oh, yes. Bribes. Every good Boot Camp needs a bribe. I used chocolate-covered almonds. For each success on Day One, she got one little almond. Day Two went much the same. Today is Day Three, and I changed it to only being rewarded for staying dry during nap time, because she has pretty much mastered daytime training.

We have had one accident today. I am experimenting with how far from the toilet she can get before it is Too Far. She asked to go outside and play with the other children, so I allowed it as a test. Once, she remembered to come inside, but about an hour later she had an accident. So, we cleaned her up and I think she learned her lesson.

One question remains for me, and that is if girls are easier to train than boys. I mean, how much of this is technique, and how much of this is gender differences? I really don't know, and I don't think I'll have an opinion either way until a year or so from now when I'm training Baby O. Girls definitely seem more "advanced" to me overall. I know for sure that I will approach training O. with the idea that I will need to be more patient with him than I was with Q., and possibly expect it to take twice as long for daytime training {four days instead of two, for instance}. We shall see.

For now, I say: Take the plunge! If you are going to train, I think my friend Mrs. Owens is on to something: wait until they show signs they are ready, and then ditch the diapers for good.

Update: She made it through the nap this afternoon completely dry!

25 October 2009

Ode to a Hobbit Hole

For three years, we lived in a neighborhood that was devoid of children. There was one little boy who seemed to be the product of a custody battle, as he would disappear and reappear with regularity. Our next-door neighbors on both sides had grandchildren who visited on occasion. And down the street there was one family with two or three little ones, but my best guess is that they spent long hours at school or in daycare, for I only saw them on weekends.

Our house was located on a dangerous bend in the road, where cars raced by without heeding their surroundings, so those little children weren't coming down near us, and my children weren't heading their way either. Such is life and circumstance.

As time went on, I reconciled myself to the idea that most of my children's play activities with other children were going to have to be coordinated by me. And I also considered it my duty to provide them with more playmates by having babies as often as possible.


And then, almost a year and a half ago now, we bought a house in a different neighborhood, and we moved.

After living in our new house for a few months, it dawned on me that I had never seen any small children on our little block. There were some older boys on the street, but that was about all from what I could tell.

And then one day, I noticed my son talking through the fence with some children living behind us. Our property line is quite long, and our house is at an angle, so that along the fencing of our backyard we have seven different houses that we can consider to be "next-door." These children were the farthest away: five houses down the backyard line.

The children learned each other's names. They began to meet at the fence every afternoon. I became vaguely aware that I should figure out who my children were talking to. Wasn't I supposed to be careful about who they spent time with? So I sent my son on a mission to find out more about the family. He came back one day and told me they were Christians. I was wondering if that actually meant Mormon {they have a bunch of little ones, too}, so I told him to ask them what church they attended.

I was delighted to learn they were members of a church plant with which many of our dear friends are involved.

Our relationship with this family picked up speed after that. First, they invited us over for a visit, and I became reacquainted with Southern hospitality {they are not from California originally}. Then, the husband of this family drove Si to work for two months, maybe almost three, when he was recovering from his illness. Then, I ended up having their oldest daughter, affectionately referred to here as Neighbor M., join us for Circle Time every morning, and I'm teaching her to read.

And that is why we ended up with the Hobbit Hole. Why have Neighbor M. walk around the block with an adult when she could walk safely through the backyards alone, and in half the time at that?

The men decided they could tackle this problem easily. They took off two boards from the backyard fencing, and hooked them together. They put them back on with hinges together, so that they became a makeshift gate. And from that point on, Neighbor M. began to come through the Hobbit Hole every morning.

A few weeks ago, the children were all outside after their naps, and they were peeking at each other through the Hobbit Hole. Might they use it at other times? They all ran to their mothers to find out, and we, naturally, said yes.

There was one rule: you must not go into the houses because the mommies are making dinner. All of your play together must be outside.

And so it was that all of these children, for the first time in their short lives, have gotten to engage in good, old-fashioned neighborhood play.

They run in and out through the Hobbit Hole at all hours of the day. There are six of them playing out there these days, ages 7, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1. There are two baby boys who are waiting for their turns to join in. My little O. has begun to spend a significant amount of time drooling on the screen door and watching the others run about. Maybe this will inspire him to start walking.

Every day, I hear these little ones planning adventures. I hear them fighting and making up. I hear them singing hymns and silly songs together. I hear them getting hurt when they stuff too many people into the trampoline at one time.

I see them holding hands with the toddlers. I see them digging holes. I see them letting a giant dog into my yard. I see them stealing onions from my garden, and I scold them accordingly.

I am so incredibly grateful that God has blessed us in this way. My children are experiencing something that I feared might be a rarity in their lives--neighborhood outdoor play. I know this will not be forever. Neighborhoods these days are far from permanent. But, for now, I thank God daily for the Hobbit Hole, and a God-fearing family to share it with.

24 October 2009

Potty Training Boot Camp

The potty training of my poor little daughter Q. has been significantly delayed by circumstance. I trained my two older children shortly after their second birthdays. However, when I was training the other two, I didn't have schooling to worry about. When my daughter A. was ready, for instance, we just stopped what we were doing and focused on the toilet for a week.

Enter homeschooling.

The issue for me became clear: I couldn't give Q. the undivided attention she needed on schooldays. She turned two in December {of 2008}, and it was agreed that training would need to wait until June when we were taking a break from lessons.

But, as most of you know, my husband became gravely ill before the school year was up, and instead of potty training in a certain week of June, I spent that exact week spending long hours by his side in the ICU.

When he began to recover, I thought that maybe I'd still be able to pull off training during the summer. But at first, he was too weak and required a lot of my extra time and energy. Later, because his driver's license had been taken from him due to seizures, I found that I didn't have the uninterrupted days I needed because I had to be our family's only driver.

And, by the time we reached August, I was just tired. And school had to be planned for the coming year. And then late August came, and lessons began again, and Q. still wasn't trained.

And then we found further cause for delay. Our trip in September was so close, we thought that we'd like to wait until we got back so that we didn't have to worry about constantly finding bathrooms for a newbie.

Around the time we got back from our trip, I decided that what I needed to do was boot camp. I needed two completely uninterrupted days with Q. before I could combine hovering over her with lessons. I scoured the calendar, and found that this very weekend, right now while I type, was the designated weekend.

I also decided to leave home for this. There is no such thing as uninterrupted in a house full of small children {I once counted and I was asked for help or favors 20 times in 90 minutes}, and yet I firmly believed that our ability to focus was what was going to make this successful for her in such a short time.

So, here we are, on a weekend visit at Granddad and Granmama's house. We came armed with dresses {no bloomers for now}, brand new underwear, yummy drinks, our family's beloved potty chair, and a bag of chocolate-covered almonds to use as rewards.

In the midst of all of this, I have realized how infrequently I get to be alone with Q. We are getting a chance to visit, just the two of us. Last night, when we arrived here, Q. said, as we were walking to the door, "I not scared....Well...maybe I scared a widdle." She takes this Big Girl thing very seriously.

So the morning has been filled, surprisingly, with complete success. We have had no accidents. We threw her last diaper in the trash this morning, and took a picture to memorialize it. She is currently taking in a lot of liquid on purpose, in hopes of earning more chocolate almonds. She is, I'm learning, very sensitive to sugar, and is completely intoxicated from the small handful of almonds she has consumed already.

In other news, in our family potty training coincides with giving up the crib. So we brought her brand new green gingham sheets, and her quilt that exactly matches Big Sister's. We're washing and folding them in preparation for our return home tomorrow evening. Si's job while we're away is to disassemble her crib and move it to E.'s room, as O. will be joining his brother soon.

Boo hoo.


The exciting part about all of this is that it is working. I had expected today to be completely stressful, consisting of me mopping up puddles all over my parents' tile floor. On the contrary, we are having a delightful time. This does require focus on her point, but she is obviously more than ready.

And me? I find myself getting nostalgic about this. I only have one child left to train. I'll probably cry when I throw away his last diaper.

22 October 2009

Things to Think On

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Philippians 4:8
Every once in a while I like to do a little round-up of links to articles or post that are really, genuinely worth reading. My short list today is another such feast, where one might click a link and read a beautiful thought. This is a part of our own education, which is to say the nourishing of our souls.

First, we have Andrew Kern writing about writing. He explains teaching living grammar:
I say something like, “Think about a dog. Now tell me what the dog is doing.” I’ll do that one hundred times if I have to. What I want them to SEE – not to memorize, but to SEE – is that they cannot think a thought without thinking about something. And when they think about something, they have to think something about the thing they are thinking about.

Then I can tell them the names: subject {what you are thinking about} and predicate {what you are thinking about the thing you are thinking about}.

At this point, because they have gained an insight into the nature of thinking that any third grader can get with little trouble, they have become capable of understanding that our minds work like they do because we are stewards of the creation. In other words, we think in subjects and predicates because things exist in subjects and predicates.

Our minds are formed by God to know the world we live in so that we can love and steward it.
That last sentence alone is a thought worth thinking.

But I've got more. I did say this was a feast after all.

Lynn contributed another work of beauty to the book club this week. Combining Pieper with one of Charlotte Mason's most profound comments on education, Lynn talks about the metaphorical large room. First, the quote from Mason, for those of you who haven't read her yet:
Our aim in Education is to give a Full Life.–– We begin to see what we want. Children make large demands upon us. We owe it to them to initiate an immense number of interests. ‘Thou hast set my feet in a large room,’ should be the glad cry of every intelligent soul. Life should be all living, and not merely a tedious passing of time; not all doing or all feeling or all thinking––the strain would be too great––but, all living; that is to say, we should be in touch wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest. We cannot give the children these interests; we prefer that they should never say they have learned botany or conchology, geology or astronomy. The question is not,––how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education––but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?” {Charlotte Mason, Vol. 3, pp. 170-1; emphasis Lynn's.}
I cannot urge you enough to read her post through to the end, first quickly, and then slowly after that. Lynn gently leads us to a stunning conclusion:
Can we concur, then, that worship is the basis for... school?
Yes, we can, friends. Did I mention you should read this?

Today has been full of beautiful things, including three sparkling little girls who have been all smiles {a nice change after a couple weeks of constant sickness}. Every week seems to be highlighted by a discovery. For instance, today we spent time listening to nature, and Neighbor M. was chattering away about how she had "never done this before." She was thrilled by the simplest things--the sound of a bee, or a dog barking, or the wind in the leaves.

Today, in the spirit of leisurely learning, E. and I were able to connect Chanticleer and the Fox to chapter four of The Little Duke. Because of Chanticleer's warning against flattery, E. recognized the methods of King Louis upon meeting Duke Richard. And so a simple narration became a conversation about flattery and pride. Years ago it was hard for me to imagine that I'd ever have conversations with my children that made me think, too, and yet now here we are, living and learning together.

There is much to be grateful for.

21 October 2009

Teaching Letters

I have a great secret: teaching letters has always made me nervous. I'm serious! I have said here many times that I was once a reading tutor. I gained a lot of confidence in teaching a child to read, and also in the ability of children to be taught to read.

However, comma.

Every child who ever came to me for tutoring, came with a basic knowledge of letters, both upper- and lower-case.

This means that while teaching phonics was something I already knew how to do fairly well, when it came to the alphabet, I approached my own children with fear and trembling.

It was very helpful when, on his second birthday, my firstborn received from my mother-in-law a big plastic backpack brimming with stuffed capital letters. We played with these letters while I was on bed rest for my second pregnancy, and lo and behold, he learned his letters.

His capitals, anyway.

This gave me some confidence, and so I boldly went where I had never gone before: the lower-case letters. This didn't go nearly as smoothly. My son was utterly offended by my assertion that a had the same name as A. Why, they look nothing alike! he said {loudly}. We had to take a break of many months before coming back to them because they upset him so.

Now, I'm working with Number Two, also known as my daughter A. I knew the plush letters would only confuse her, so we learned the capital letters with a beautiful book for little girls, A is for Annabelle. This took some time, but went fine.

This year began with me facing two girls {A. and Neighbor M.}) who didn't know their little letters well. A. didn't know them at all, and Neighbor M. needed review. Because of my experience with my oldest, I was very nervous! What if the existence of lower-case letters enrages them?

Thankfully, all is well here on the microhomestead.

In the process of working through all of this, I have learned something very important: it is very helpful if children come to phonics with the idea that A and a are the same {as well as B and b and so on and so forth}.

So I developed this:
Little-Big Letter Matching

No, I didn't develop the alphabet. This is just a printout I typed up, but it has ended up being exactly what I needed. It is actually a game. I decided that in order to build the A-a B-b connection, a matching game was just the thing.

This is what I'm doing: I cut each letter out into its own little square. I printed all of this out twice so that each girl has her own set. Every day, they get a new letter. Neighbor M. is going faster than A. on this now, receiving two letters per day instead of one, but I expected that since A. is a bit younger and likes to go slow anyhow, while Neighbor M. is a firstborn go-getter.

So as I was saying, I cut them all out and matched them into pairs. On the first day, each girl got a set of letters where the capital and lower-case versions match exactly except that the lower-case letter is smaller. This means they received the letter pairs for C, O, S, V, W, X, and Z. For a few days, they simply played matching games with the letters while I drilled into their heads the idea that they were the same. As an example, I used their selves. Right now, they are little girls. When they are older, they will be big girls. But always, always, always they will be A. and M. Then we talked about other examples, like a big cat and a little cat are both cats. A baby boy and a grown man are both human beings. Etcetera.

The idea I was trying to teach them is that big letters and little letters have the same names. This is an important place from which to begin phonics because they also make the same sounds.

After they seemed to get the idea, I've been adding one letter set a day, beginning from the little letters that are almost exactly like their capital counterparts {like u and p} and moving toward the letters that look nothing alike {as in E and e}. Neighbor M. is set to be ready for a phonics binder sometime next month. My own little A. will take a bit longer.

With all of this said, I'm providing the "game sheet" of letter pairs in case anyone else out there finds it useful.

Even though I've been very interested in doing cursive first, having the girls practice tracing the pairs has been helpful for reinforcing the symbols, especially for A. I think Neighbor M.'s parents prefer printing anyhow. With A., I plan to use the printing worksheets only to help her with symbol recognition, and then move quickly on {in kindergarten or first grade} to cursive so that all copywork can be done in cursive from the very beginning.

20 October 2009

Leisure: The Basis of Culture {Chapter 5}

I liked this last section of the first essay. In it, Pieper comes full circle, bringing us back to some of his original questions. He begins by asking whether the realm of leisure can be saved by an appeal to humanism, which is, he says, an appeal to a humanum. His conclusion, to those of us who Believe, is probably not all that surprising: No, it cannot.

Man, isolated from God and religion, is not sufficient to rescue the realm of leisure.

Then, he jumps to an idea that was perhaps hinted at before: The soul of leisure lies in celebration. I wish I had the time to track through all of his reasoning like I did in my last post, because I think that really helped me follow Pieper better. However, the reality is that I spent half of naptime baking apple bars with my older daughter, and I don't regret anything other than that I don't have the power to add an hour to my day.


As far as where celebration comes into all of this, as far as I can tell, it is in the idea that the essence of leisure, or what it means to be at leisure, is antithetical to utility. As a disclaimer, I must say that I haven't decided whether I agree with Pieper here or not, but come to think of it, I probably do as long as utility is very narrowly defined and probably connected to having monetary value.

I loved that Pieper connected festival {or celebration, depending on your translator} to worship. He does this because he claims that, even though secular cultures will try to create silly days like Labor Day, a culture can't have an authentic celebration without a religion to inspire it. My church has called our Sunday gathering "celebrations" at times, so I follow the connection naturally. With that said, I loved Pieper's history lesson on temples. He explains that the root of the word temple, in both Latin as well as Greek, has the sense of meaning "cut off," which refers to the fact that physically, a portion of land was cut off from all practical, economic use. This part of land was surrendered to the Lord.

One translator then says:
Divine worship means the same thing where time is concerned, as the Temple where space is concerned.

Here is a time when I actually prefer how it is rendered by Malsbary:
Worship is to time as the temple is to space.

But let's appeal to Dru for the explanation:
[I]n divine worship, a definite space of time is set aside from working hours and days, a limited time, specially marked off--and like the space allotted to the temple, is not used, is withdrawn from all merely utilitarian ends. Every seventh day is a period of time of that kind: that is what a feast is, and such is its only origin and justification.

So leisure is utterly and completely frivolous, in the best sense of the word.

Was it John Hodges who pointed out that somewhere in the Alps there is probably a flower that bursts into beautiful bloom, and is never seen by human eyes? I think it was Hodges. His point was regarding how God has lavished beauty upon the world, and He does not do this pragmatically, as if it was only worth it if someone somewhere saw it and thanked Him for it. He delights in this sort of frivolity and excess, and it seems to me that this is the way in which we can follow Him into leisure without falling into self-indulgence.

I am not a natural play-er. It is hard for me to relax and "celebrate." I see from all of this that I have something to learn from God Himself.

And also probably Chesterton.

Read More:

-More book club entries over at Cindy's.
-Online version of Leisure: the Basis of Culture

19 October 2009

In Defense of Slow Math

What is the nature of mathematics? This is something I've thought about on occasion, and it seems to me that it is an important question if I'm going to teach "math" to someone else. In my early years, I was taught that math was a trick that you do. You memorize all the answers, and then when a teacher quizzes you, you spit them out.

And then, as the elementary math progressed, I found myself feeling lost. Math didn't "connect" in my brain. It was extremely difficult, and also frustrating for my father, who had to help me learn it anytime I had math homework. And then, one day, math did connect. It was like magic, really, for I don't remember trying any harder than I did any other previous day. It was just that, all of a sudden, I could understand it.

I was ten-years-old, if I remember correctly, which is about the exact age that the brain is appropriately myelinated for the understanding of mathematics anyhow. Coincidence? I think not.

But enough about me. I am actually writing about math in regard to my own children. I daily fight the feeling that they are "behind" in math. I fight it because I don't think that math is approached correctly within our culture, which is what leads to the vast majority of the population being practically "illiterate" when it comes to arithmetic. I also fight it because I have never read any actual evidence that says that children who delay math in the early years are actually behind their peers when all is said and done.

But mostly, I delay it because I believe in mastery rather than getting through the material. This is a hard position to take in a culture that prefers children to pass tests and keep up with their peers, no matter what.

You see, I haven't yet encouraged my son to memorize even his addition math facts. And now I'll explain why.

Bear with me. I am sorting this out while I write.

First and foremost, I chose to skip math entirely during kindergarten because he was struggling with a tic disorder, and I had read a few research studies connecting early math with such disorders. I spent his kindergarten year nourishing his mind on stories {both true and fairie} and reinforcing his phonics.

When first grade came around, we began math at a low key. He did one page per day, about four days per week. We use Math Mammoth because it is mastery-based rather than spiral, and also it is affordable. To be honest, I would have skipped it entirely again, but the State requires all private schools to teach math beginning in first grade, and so I complied.

Being that this was first grade, we started with addition, and he did fine. The next step was subtraction, and he had trouble with the transition. Because I believe that the primary cause of math struggles at early ages is due to physical brain immaturity, I immediately dropped subtraction.

I interrupt this anecdotal evidence with this:
If we present a child with learning tasks prior to the myelination of the areas needed to handle these tasks, we may be forcing the child, in its efforts to perform, to use less appropriate neural networks. By asking the learner to perform before the appropriate area is developed, we may be causing the failure and frustration seen in many children today.
We now return to our regularly scheduled blog post.

Like I said, we dropped subtraction. Instead, we worked on some other aspects of life that are typically considered to be part of the realm of mathematics. We learned to tell time to the half-hour. We learned to count coin money. We touched on some basic functions of shapes {sounds more impressive if you call it geometry}. And then I eased back into literal number work by focusing on place value for about three weeks.

When we returned to subtraction, which was actually the beginning of this year {second grade}, he flew through it. He begged to do many pages a day, so I gave him free reign. One day, he did six pages. He was enjoying playing with the numbers.

The big test came when we tried switching back and forth between operations. We'd begin with two groups of balls--say, 4 yellow balls and 3 blue balls--and we'd combine the groups {an act of addition} and then we'd divide them back up {an act of subtraction}. Over and over I was pressing for one thing: an understanding of the nature of numbers. Do you understand that numbers are quantitative in nature? was the question asked by every exercise.

It is only now, at almost seven and a half, that I can answer in the affirmative. So, in a couple weeks {when he finishes his current section}, we'll spend some time memorizing the addition and subtraction facts. My goal was that memorization be preceded by understanding, so that he was never tempted to view it like his mother once did, as an impressive trick that pleases teachers.

So what is the proper view of math, exactly? Well, I think we can start with this quote from The Paideia of God:
Numbers do not exist on their own. If I add one apple to another apple the result is that I have two apples. By the same token, if I add a green apple to a red apple I get exactly the same result--two apples. Numbers are only adjectives, descriptive of those things that exist in the world God made. They have names, and because we intend to call them by their names, we are nominalists. These adjectives do not stand alone in some realm of the Forms or in any realm or dimension like the realm of the Forms. Using one as an abstract noun is fine, as long as we do not forget ourselves and begin thinking of it as having its own freestanding reality.
I would say that teachers generally teach math in a way which assumes numbers have their own "freestanding reality" and if the concept of quantity is introduced through the use of manipulatives, it is only in order to reinforce number work in general, not out of a real recognition that numbers by their very nature are quantitative.

As a number of us have been debating the definition of classical education, I got a chance to reread CiRCE's official definitions for the seven liberal arts. I had never considered before that the quadrivium is so...connected. CiRCE says that arithmetic tells us how numbers behave, while geometry tells us how shapes behave, while music tell us how numbers behave in relation to each other {there's that broad harmony concept again}, while astronomy tells us how shapes behave when they are moving.

So arithmetic tells us "how numbers behave." This is the nature of math. But numbers don't exist in their own world, being rather helpful adjectives with which we are able to signify quantities.

So we aren't learning math, but rather math is teaching us about the world, explaining reality to us. In this way, math is our tutor. If this is so, it is important not to rush it. Our memory verse last week was Proverbs 19:20:
Listen to counsel and accept discipline,
That you may be wise the rest of your days.
If math is counseling us on how quantities interact, we must listen. Some children, will "hear" quickly. Others will take more time. My thoughts on math now are not that math should necessarily be slow, or necessarily any speed at all, but that velocity is not the point. In all things, we are seeking wisdom. Wisdom necessitates understanding. And understanding takes some of us longer than others.

When we who teach hear of some child, somewhere who is doing multiplication at the age of six, we should not consider this to have any bearing on our own students whatsoever, for our aim is nothing less than that each child might understand.

16 October 2009

Quotables: Understood Betsy

Understood Betsy
It is possible that what stirred inside her head at that moment was her brain, waking up. She was nine years old, and she was in the third-A grade at school, but that was the first time she had ever had a thought of her very own. At home, Aunt Frances had always known exactly what she was doing, and had helped her over the hard places before she even knew they were there; and at school her teachers had been carefully trained to think faster than the scholars. Somebody had always been explaining things to Elizabeth Ann so carefully that she had never found out a single thing for herself before. This was a very small discovery, but it was her own. Elizabeth Ann was as excited about it as a mother bird over the first egg that hatches.

{p. 21}
"Well," said the teacher, "there's no sense in your reading along in the third reader. After this you'll recite out of the seventh reader with Frank and Harry and Stashie."

Elizabeth Ann could not believe her ears. To be "jumped" four grades in that casual way! It wasn't possible. She at once thought, however, of something that would prevent it entirely, and while Ellen was reading her page in a slow, careful little voice, Elizabeth Ann was feeling miserably that she must explain to the teacher why she couldn't read with the seventh-grade children. Oh, how she wished she could! When they stood up to go back to their seats she hesitated, hung her head, and looked very unhappy. "Did you want to say something to me?" asked the teacher, pausing with a bit of chalk in her hand.

The little girl went up to her desk and said, what she knew it was her duty to confess: "I can't be allowed to read in the seventh reader. I don't write a bit well, and I never get the mental number-work right. I couldn't do anything with seventh-grade arithmetic!"

The teacher looked blank and said: "I didn't say anything about your number-work! I don't know anything about it! You haven't recited yet."


Elizabeth Ann's head whirled with this second light-handed juggling with the sacred distinction between the grades. In the big brick schoolhouse nobody ever went into another grade except at the beginning of a new year, after you'd passed a lot of examinations. She had not known that anybody could do anything else. The idea that everybody took a year to a grade, no matter what! was so fixed in her mind that she felt as though the teacher had said: "How would you like to stop being nine years old and be twelve instead?"


Elizabeth Ann fell back on the bench with her mouth open. She felt really dizzy. What crazy things the teacher said! She felt as though she was being pulled limb from limb.

"What's the matter?" asked the teacher, seeing her bewildered face.

"Why--why," said Elizabeth Ann, "I don't know what I am at all. If I'm second-grade arithmetic and seventh-grade reading and third-grade spelling, what grade am I?"

The teacher laughed. "You aren't any grade at all, no matter where you are in school. You're just yourself, aren't you? What difference does it make what grade you're in? And what's the use of your reading little baby things too easy for you just because you don't know your multiplication table?"

"Well, for goodness' sakes!" ejaculated Elizabeth Ann, feeling very much as though somebody had stood her suddenly on her head.

"What's the matter?" asked the teacher again.

This time Elizabeth Ann didn't answer, because she herself didn't know what the matter was. But I do, and I'll tell you. The matter was that never before had she known what she was doing in school. She had always thought she was there to pass from one grade to another, and she was ever so startled to get a glimpse of the fact that she was there to learn how to read and write and cipher and generally use her mind, so she could take care of herself when she came to be grown up.

{p. 64}
As the little girl sat down by her, munching fast on this provender, she asked: "What desk did you get?"

Elizabeth Ann thought for a moment, cuddling Eleanor up to her face. "I think it is the third from the front in the second row." She wondered why Aunt Abigail cared.

"Oh, I guess that's your Uncle Henry's desk. It's the one his father had, too. Are there a couple of H.P's carved on it?"

Betsy nodded.

"His father carved the H.P. on the lid, so Henry had to put his inside. I remember the winter he put it there. It was the first season Mother let me wear real hoop skirts. I sat in the first seat on the third row."

Betsy ate her apple more and more slowly, trying to take in what Aunt Abigail had said. Uncle Henry and his father--why Moses or Alexander the Great didn't seem any further back in the mists of time to Elizabeth Ann than did Uncle Henry's father! And to think he had been a little boy, right there at that desk! She stopped chewing altogether for a moment and stared into space. Although she was only nine years old, she was feeling a little of the same rapt wonder that people in the past were really people, which makes a first visit to the Roman Forum a thrilling event for grownups. That very desk!

{p. 72}

15 October 2009

Latin, Greek, or Both?

About a year ago, I decided that we were going to learn Latin. This wasn't an easy thing to do, for I have never displayed any aptitude for languages. I passed Spanish in high school, and again in college. But passing is far from actually learning a language. I remember when reading about Latin and Greek study in Teaching the Trivium that I was utterly shocked by the concept that someone would study a language in order to learn it.

In my mind, the purpose of language study was "exposure," or to fulfill some sort of requirement put upon you by the State of California. If you had a job that required you to speak another language, then maybe you would learn it. But to learn it...just to learn it? I had never thought that way about language study.

Around the time that I was reading the aforementioned book, I came across blogs by older homeschooling moms {I was looking for pointers}, and they would say things like, "My daughter loves to study Latin and works at it daily. We no longer require language study, but she does this anyhow because she wants to be literate in the language."

Latin appealed to me on the pragmatic level. After all, with it, English shares all of the same letters except w. So many English words have Latin roots that Latin can even been seen as reinforcing mastery of English, which is something I desire for our children. And Latin is such a logical, structured language, that children will, once again, have their English thinking reinforced, while also perfecting logic skills.

There were lots of good arguments for Latin, but probably the most compelling for me was that I thought I might actually be able to learn it, and that was really saying something. After all, while other moms worry about high school because of what they'll do for math and science, I am one to approach language study as the most fearsome adversary I will have to face.

So then, naturally Si suggested the children and I learn Greek instead.

I'll say it again: Si suggested the children and I learn Greek instead.

To which I casually replied, I've come a long way, Baby, but not so far as that.

And then I realized he was serious.

So I explained to him all of the pragmatic reasons for learning Latin, and then I pulled out the I-don't-know-Greek card for full effect. When nothing worked, I tried begging. Please, please, please can we learn Latin instead of Greek? I don't feel capable when it comes to Greek!

So my husband let us go ahead with Latin, and probably starting praying for his wife's poor soul, hunched over her Wheelock's like she had something to prove.

I still don't know exactly why Greek frightened me so.

Anyhow, we all love Latin. Strangely enough, my four-year-old has shown an uncanny aptitude for picking up the words, which is all we are doing right now. Our seven-year-old does a bit of copywork in Latin, but that is all. We like this rule: No formal grammar...in any language...until ten-years-old.

But, God has been slowly working on my heart. Si, after all, was interested in the learning not just of Greek, but of koine Greek, so as to enhance each family member's meaning of Scripture. He wasn't just being pragmatic in this {like his...wife!}, but really saw its potential to expand the soul.

It took me longer to see it, but I'm coming around.

I've started relying heavily on BlueLetterBible to help me understand things. In the last few months, I have realized that a lot of my understanding of the English translation was quite close to a misunderstanding, or at the very least an incomplete understanding. Our English words do not carry with them the same tones and nuances as their Greek counterparts.

Here is an example from yesterday:
Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!

II Peter 3:11-12
My questions began when I realized the context of this passage was Noah's deluge. This made me wonder about the word "destroyed." After all, I Peter 3:6 uses the same word, saying that the world at Noah's time was "destroyed, being flooded with water." Well, in my mind "destroyed" means complete annihilation, but at Noah's time it meant that a lot of things were washed away, while a lot of things remained.

When I checked out some of the Greek words, I learned that there was a lot more to this passage than met the eye. For instance, the word which is translated as "destroyed" in verse 11 is λύω {lyō}, which means to unbind or set free from chains. So there is a sense in which this passage says not that God is coming to blot out the existence of the world, but to complete His salvation of it by destroying the things which hold it in bondage. This is the same word in verse 12, where it is said that the heavens {οὐρανό--ouranos--meaning the "vaulted expanse of the sky," the place where storms are born} will be destroyed. Again, the sense is of being set free from bondage.

This freeing comes about through...burning of the elements {στοιχεῖον--stoicheion--meaning the first things--it is usually used in the New Testament in the sense of the elementary principles of something, and here may very well refer to the way the heavenly systems work, their natural laws}. This is always why I thought of it as total elimination of the thing: When I burn something, there is pretty much nothing left for my eye to see, nothing worth saving. But here the sense of burning can be that something is melted, refined, the dross burned away.

So perhaps God gets to the very essence of what is worth saving, in a way that didn't happen even with Noah, and, just like with Noah, what is left is purified. But this time it isn't just closer to redemption. Rather, it's actually redeemed.

Okay, so I meant all of this as an exercise, not to actually talk theology, even though that is one of my favorite things to do. My point is that there was a lot there that I didn't see when I read it in English.

So, Dear Husband, I'm rethinking Greek. We already started Latin, and I'm a firm believer, but I do believe we'll start Greek in a couple years, and that is now okay with me.

Also, I think all of this begs a question, be it one fairly unrelated to my post: What would have happened to the world if, instead of translating the Bible into German or English or whatnot, the Reformers instead taught the people Greek, Latin and Hebrew? I know that sounds like an insurmountable task, but I do wonder if Christendom would have benefited far more from learning the languages, especially when there is so much that is embedded in them that doesn't carry over into the English.

A friend once told me that a translation was like looking at the back of a tapestry. You could see what the point was, but you didn't see the fullness. I think I'm starting to see what he meant.

13 October 2009

Leisure: The Basis of Culture {Chapter 4}

I think that this time around I'm going to try to write an in-depth outline to help myself visualize some of Pieper's arguments. I, once again, read both translations, and let me just says that Malsbary is inferior to Dru. If you have the book on a wishlist out there, you might want to specify your translator.

  1. We begin with a reminder.
    Leisure, it must be remembered, is not a Sunday afternoon idyll, but the preserve of freedom, of education and culture, and of that undiminished humanity which views the world as a whole.
    Do you see? Four chapters in and we finally have a concise statement on the nature of leisure! Viewing the world as a whole is something we talk about a lot here on the microhomestead. If Christ is the Logos, and we know that He is, then He is that which is behind and underpins all things, nothing exists outside of His reach, and everything is tied up in Him. Therefore we have a Person Who makes all of our existence understandable.

    One of the things I have been learning lately is that sin fractured the world, the whole wide world. This is why the traditional task of education was to, in a sense, put humanity back together again. Only humanity wasn't the same as Humpty Dumpty, and it was actually possible. Modern education {in both public and private, including many Christian schools}, however {and we will get back to this because Pieper discusses it later on}, reinforces the fractures. It studies "subjects" and it encourages specialization. The result is disintegrated persons rather than whole human beings.
  2. Which brings us to the question Pieper is trying to answer in this section:
    [I]s it going to be possible to save men from becoming officials and functionaries and 'workers' to the exclusion of all else?
    Even though our own culture is dominated by a quest for entertainment, there is a subtext of work throughout. If we think of it, from their first day of school, our children are trained to think of themselves, first and foremost, as future workers in our great economy. They write essays on what they want to be when they grow up, and saying "be a mommy" or even "be a farmer" is unacceptable. Why is saying "be a mommy" taboo? I'm not just harping on this because I want at least forty grandchildren. The answer is because being a mommy is an occupation that exists outside of the industrial economy. Contributing to the economy is what we mean when we ask a child what they want to be.

    Has anyone ever heard of a kindergarten teacher asking her students what sort of person they want to be, in a way that includes the whole person, all parts of life, integrated together? No! It is always about one thing: what sort of work are you going to do?

    And so we allow work to begin to define our children.

    And now there is talk of having high schoolers pick a major {which is pushing the industrial economy downward in grades and invading childhood}. I have heard of second-graders learning to give PowerPoint presentations. All of this is reinforcing the idea that we see education not in the sense of expanding or growing a soul, but of building a machine: a worker for the Great Society.

    We are more German that we think.

    We even have kindergarten.
  3. In Pieper's day {during the German rebuilding period}, there seemed to be three main attempts to stave off the encroachment of Total Labor:
    1. An appeal to tradition or classical antiquity {depending on your translator ahem}
    2. A struggle to retain classics in the schools, which Malsbary calls "the battle of the Gymnasium [the academic high school]"
    3. The character of the universities

    4. This begs a question for me, for the character of the German university eludes me. What does he mean by this "character of the university"? I know that my own "university" education was actually, for the most part, a multiversity education. For it was not all things being brought together into One, as at certain other schools, but rather a place at which one could pursue a portion of specialized knowledge--a fracture, if you will. {However, I will note here that because the university was Christian and all students were required 30 units of Bible courses, there was more tying it all together--and all the students together--than at most other schools in the country.}
  4. Next, Pieper says we need to discuss what is meant by proletarian. This is not a word we Americans use with great regularity. For instance, the Random House dictionary uses a very shallow definition: {in ancient Rome} belonging to the lowest or poorest class of the people. An etymological dictionary gives more detail, for the characteristics of this "poorest class" were what has caused the word to be carried on into current usage: they were a property-less class who paid no taxes and gave no military service, whose primary service to the state was having babies. They were the poor workers and slaves who produced more poor workers and slaves.

    Here I must contend that most schools in the United States, both public and private, both religious and secular, are in the business of producing just such a proletarian class. Now, I will skip ahead a bit in the reading, for Pieper makes an interesting point that goes along with this contention:
    [A] proletarian and a poor man are not the same. A man may be poor without being a proletarian...Equally a proletarian is not necessarily poor: a mechanic, a 'specialist' or a 'technician' in 'totalitarian work state' is certainly a proletarian...[T]he negative aspect of the notion of 'proletariat', the thing to be got rid of, does not consist in the fact that it is a condition limited to a particular stratum of society.


    [T]he proletarian is the man who is fettered to the process of work.
    If I could sum up Pieper here, it is that the proletarian is a man of utility. His worth is wrapped up in his work, and he is defined by his work. He is, as Dana said last week, a functionary. We don't want to view ourselves this way, and yet a culture which is willing to kill their unborn while warehousing their young, their disabled, their sick, and their elderly is essentially measuring and valuing people in terms of their functionality.
  5. Pieper then explains that there are two competing solutions to the problem of the distinctions between those who are proletarian and those who are not. He fears that, in his day, the reigning solution is to make everyone proletarian! His argument hinges on the idea of intellectual work. He says:
    [A] modern German dictionary...maintains...that the relatively modern terms 'intellectual work', 'intellectual worker' are valuable because 'they do away with the age-old distinction still further emphasized in modern times, between the manual worker and the educated man.'
    The idea is that instead of elevating the proletariat, they lower the educated man to being himself a functionary. Dewey would have loved this, as, by his definition, education is not even a gaining of knowledge, but rather an acting out of the Darwinian process whereby the student is an organism learning to adapt itself to a changing environment. All of education, in Dewey's brave new world, was functional.
  6. Pieper suggests the opposite, for he desires nothing more than the complete abolition of the proletariat. But first, let's list out Pieper's theories on how the proletariat ends up being...proletarian:
    1. Lack of property:
      Everyone who is a propertyless wage-earner is a proletarian, everyone who 'owns nothing but his power to work', and who is consequently compelled to sell his capacity to work, is a proletarian.
    2. The dictate of the total-working State:
      [I]n this case, everyone {whether he owns property or not} who is utterly subjected 'to the necessities of an absolute economic process of production,' by outside forces, which means that he is entirely subject to economic forces, is a proletarian.
    3. The inner impoverishment of the individual:
      [E]veryone whose life is completely filled by his work {in the special sense of the word work} is a proletarian because his life has shrunk inwardly, and contracted, with the result that he can no longer act significantly outside his work and perhaps can no longer conceive of such a thing.
    Pieper says that the last two {totalitarian working state and internal impoverishment} feed on each other, for the totalitarian state requires a "spiritually impoverished functionary" while an impoverished, functionary soul is inclined to be attracted to the totalitarian working state. It's cyclic in nature.
  7. "Ripe and ready?" This is where Pieper explains something that I have attempted to discuss here on the blog -- the idea that our educational methodology is precisely what has led to a people who are attracted to Big Government, industrial global economies, and the like:
    [T]he inner chains which fetter us to 'work', prompts a further question: 'proletarianism' thus understood, is perhaps a symptomatic state of mind common to all levels of society and by no means confined to the 'proletariat', to the 'worker', a general symptom...; so that it might be asked whether we are not all of us proletarians and all of us, consequently, ripe and ready to fall into the hands of some collective labour State and be at its disposal as functionaries.
  8. At this point, Pieper practices a bit of antithesis. He contrasts the liberal and servile arts, and also the concepts of honorarium and the wage. Frankly, the latter was much more helpful for me, and I think part of that was simply due to its novelty, as I've given a good deal of thought to liberal arts and am already convinced of their value to producing a mature humanity.

    Have you ever been paid or paid an honorarium? Are you familiar with the term? I had forgotten the term, but I found Pieper's definition to be concise and accurate:
    [H]onorarium means a contribution towards the cost of living, whereas a wage...means payment for a particular piece of work, with no reference to the needs of the individual concerned.
    This reminds me of something Larry Burkett discussed in Business By The Book many years ago. Burkett was the first to introduce me to the concept of a living wage in a way that did not require an enslaving of the populace {i.e., socialism and communism}. He contended that business owners must be aware of the humanity {though he didn't put it in those terms exactly} of the people they were hiring, and that if they could not afford to hire a man and support his family, then they should be hiring a college kid or a teenager, for men should be paid in a way that allows them to support their families. Of course, these days the government has laws against such things, bringing us back to Pieper's point above that the totalitarian State is constantly reinforcing the existence of a proletariat.

Before I finish up here, I feel compelled to point out that Malsbary has a chapter five, while Dru seems to go on to the end here. However, I feel this is enough to think about so I'm going to stop, and we'll just see where that leaves everyone else. Hope I don't end up behind!

There is a lot to think about here, and yet I myself think the best thing to do is focus on my own area of influence. Right now, I am a wife, a mother, a teacher. I consider, first and foremost, my five little students. I can ask the question: What is the nature of redeemed man? and teach them accordingly, raising them up as the heirs of the Kingdom that they are.

With that said, I cannot leave off without a last swipe at the Greeks and Romans. Pieper quotes Plato:
Now this, O Theodorus, is the way of each one individually: the one whom you call a philosopher, is truly brought up in freedom and leisure, and goes unpunished though he seems simple and useless when it is a matter of menial offices, even though he should not, for instance, know how to tie up a parcel that has to be sent on, or how to prepare a tasty dish.
There was such asceticism at the time, that grown men frowned upon something menial...like tying their own shoe. And so we see a man that can think but is incapable when it comes to the use of his hands.

This is the part where I resist such a form of gnosticism.

A man is, once again, whole man. We live in a culture that is apt to define a man by the work of his hands and deny any significance in regard to the soul. However, comma, we must always guard against denying the real, physical work that God has given us to do. God, in His Word, does not seem to equate work with slavery, when work is defined strictly {here I do not speak of Total Work}. It is possible to be a free man and tie your own shoe at the same time.

Read More:

-More book club entries over at Cindy's.
-Online version of Leisure: the Basis of Culture

12 October 2009

Quotables: The Fruit of Her Hands

The Fruit of Her Hands:
Respect and the Christian Woman
My parents taught me to love and respect my Grandma. That meant writing thank-you letters when I received a gift, as well as writing newsy letters from time to time. I remember my mother {Granny's only child} writing her mom once a week. I also remember the trips to see Granny and her trips to visit us.

Over the years, she gradually became cranky. Still my parents would travel a couple thousand miles each year to see her. In between times they called and wrote and sent gifts. The last time they went to visit she wouldn't let my mother even use her washing machine, so my folks went to the laundromat. Shortly after this visit ended, Granny had a stroke. My parents hurried back to take care of her.


Mom and Dad were living in a mobile home while they were building their house. Dad rearranged the floor plans so Granny could have a room near theirs.

It wasn't easy. But God never promised obedience would be easy. He did promise blessings and grace and strength, and that is what He gave...Initially, Granny was not always pleasant, but God began to work a wonderful change in her. Though her speech remained garbled and confused as a result of her stroke, her heart cleared...She became a sweetness and a joy.


I will always be grateful to my parents...for teaching me to love and honor [Granny], and for honoring and loving her themselves.

New American Standard Bible

Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you.

-The Ten Commandments
By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.


09 October 2009

Muses, Music, and Harmony

On Tuesday, I began listening to conductor John Hodges' CiRCE lecture, The Nature of the Arts and Their Place in the Curriculum. I have been attempting to wrap my mind around the concepts, but they are so foreign to me that I have found myself listening over and again, day after day, as a way on chewing on what I'm hearing. Maybe writing will help.

In one of his other workshops, Hodges had already explained that the nine Muses of Greek myth were the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, who was the goddess of memory. I believe that Hodges was making the point that the arts are best when informed by history, being the very offspring of it, if you think in Greek.

So in this workshop, Hodges goes into greater detail about the Muses themselves. The Muses were the inspiration for the nine areas of study. Their method of inspiring was through the vehicle of singing. To relate this to the discussion from chapter 2 of Leisure: The Basis of Culture, when knowledge is revealed to a man, it is as if he caught a drift of the song of a Muse. Inspiration comes from the singing of the Muses, says Hodges, and this is why we call singing and organized sound music. Music is the art of the very Muses themselves and is the way in which they inspire. Hodges, when thinking through this history of our word music then says that singing inspires every significant human activity.

So my first instinct was actually to pass this off as an interesting history lesson, but only that. After all, this is the stuff of mythology, and we Christians aren't to put much stock in the invented gods of this world, past or present.

However, comma.

C.S. Lewis had Aslan create Narnia using song. And George MacDonald writes in At the Back of the North Wind:
"I will tell you how I am able to bear it, Diamond: I am always hearing, through every noise, through all the noise I am making myself even, the sound of a far-off song. I do not exactly know where it is, or what it means; and I don't hear much of it, only the odour of its music, as it were, flitting across the great billows of the ocean outside this air in which I make such a storm: but what I do hear, is quite enough to make me able to bear the cry from the drowning ship. So it would you if you could hear it."

"No, it wouldn't," returned Diamond stoutly. "For they wouldn't hear the music of the far-away song; and if they did, it wouldn't do them any good. You see you and I are not going to be drowned, and so we might enjoy it."

"But you have never heard the psalm, and you don't know what it is like. Somehow, I can't say how, it tells me that all is right; that it is coming to swallow up all cries."

"But that won't do them any good--the people, I mean," persisted Diamond.

"I must. It must," said North Wind, hurriedly. "It wouldn't be the song it seems to be if it did not swallow up all their fear and pain too, and set them singing it themselves with the rest. I am sure it will."
It seems to me that MacDonald and Lewis both comprehended an importance of song, and put it into their books. Is this the same importance that was understood in the time of Bach? In Evening in the Palace of Reason author James Gaines writes::
[T]he learned composer's job was to attempt to replicate in earthly music the celestial harmony with which God had joined and imbued the universe, and so in a way to take part in the act of Creation itself...[T]he practice of threading musical voices into the fabric of counterpoint...[has] been endowed with...metaphysical power.

The key is music's relation to number, a connection that was as old as Plato and as new as Newton...

For Western music, the most important discovery attributed to Pythagoras was that halving a string doubles its frequency, creating an octave with the full string in the proportion of 1:2. A little further experimentation showed that the interval of a fifth was sounded when string lengths were in the proportion of 2:3, the fourth in that of 3:4, and so on. This congruence was taken to have great cosmic significance. As elaborated over a few centuries around the time B.C. became A.D., the thinking (much oversimplified) was that such a sign of order had to be reflective of a larger, universal design--and sure enough, the same musical proportions were found in the distances between the orbits of the planets. Further, since such enormous bodies could not possibly orbit in complete silence, they must be sounding out these intervals together, playing a constant celestial harmony...


No less than the seventeenth-century astronomer Johannes Kepler gave Luther's position the stamp of scientific certainty in his great work, Harmonices Mundi, where he correlates the orbits of the planets to the intervals of the scale and finds them to be "nothing other than a continuous, many voiced music (grasped by the understanding, not the ear)." This last point was debated: Some thought the celestial music was abstract, an ephemeral spiritual object, but others insisted it was real, inaudible to us only because it had been sounding constantly in the background from the time of our birth. In either case, music was a manifestation of the cosmic order.

All of this made me want to investigate what Scripture has to say about song. After all, the Romans believed in the Logos, but that doesn't mean they were wrong. It's more that they thought about it the wrong way. It was a stumbling block to them because the Logos became flesh. The idea that Truth is a person rather than a concept, or that the Logos, the ultimate unifying principle, could be born in a manger, tripped up a lot of Romans. But it meant that they misunderstood the Logos, not that the Logos didn't exist.

So perhaps the same could be said of the Greek understanding of the nine Muses? The fact that Zeus was a false god doesn't meant the Greeks weren't on to something regarding music.

When I looked through the Bible, I found that most of Scripture points to music as we think of it: people singing and making music, usually unto the Lord. There are also songs of, for instance, triumph and celebration, and also sadness and grief. This is song expressing human emotion. But then we get into the strange verses. For instance, the trees of the forest will sing for joy {c.f. Psalm 96:12}. A heart can sing an inaudible song. The earth sings, rivers clap their hands, and mountains sing, too.

And while we're at it, what does it mean that the LORD is my song?

Perhaps the most interesting verses I found, however, were from the New Testament. II Corthians 6:15 asks the question:
Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?
The Greek word translated here as harmony is συμφώνησις {symphōnēsis}, from which we get the English word symphony. Again, in Philippians 4:2, Paul writes:
I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord.
This time, the word translated harmony is φρονέω {phroneō}, which has more to do with the idea of understanding each other and agreeing to live humbly with each other.

Hodges explains in his lecture that harmony is when two disctinct things are brought into right relationship with each other. He equated it to marriage, where two different types are fit together until they create harmony.

So lets go back to συμφώνησις {symphōnēsis}, which I think is a stunningly beautiful word to use. The definition of the word in Greek is concord or agreement. Plato and Aristotle used it to describe instruments sounding together in one accord. So there is this musical undertone to being in agreement. In other words, when we say that Christ has no agreement with Belial {which is the way the more lifeless translations render it}, we are saying that the relationship is dissonant rather than harmonious.

There is therefore so much conflict between Christ and Belial that they do not belong in the same song.

I still don't know that, biblically speaking, the case can be made that singing inspires every significant human activity. However, I do think that a case can be made that our ministry of reconciliation that we were given as part of Christ's great work of reconciling the world to Himself, has a musical connotation. The idea of reconciling a fractured creation, a fractured humanity, back into their rightful places, back into favor {which is the more literal meaning of the word}, reminds me of resolving chords in music. There are certain chords which demand resolution, to be brought back into harmony. It's like everything that is unresolved in this world is demanding resolution, and Christ is methodically bringing all of it about.

And then one day we will get to the part where everyone and everything is playing the right note at the right time, and what a symphony that will be.