30 November 2009

Crafts in the Life of the Child {Part I}

There was a time when I thought I was a horrible mother because I hated crafts. First, there was the mess. I did not like getting everything out because this was soon followed by the tedious job of putting everything back. Second, there was too much stuff. If you have four children making a craft in four separate Sunday School classes on four Sundays per month, this math shows the problem:

How many crafts come home per month?

4 x 1 x 4  = 16
Perhaps you didn't catch that.

SIXTEEN CRAFTS PER MONTH.

Sixteen sheep made out of cotton-balls. Sixteen paper place mats that bleed ink onto your dining-table the second someone spills their water. Sixteen watchamacallits and thingamajigs.

Sixteen.

Wow. I never really did that math before. It was worse than I thought.

So you see, having boatloads of junk crafts pouring into my house and languishing on my counter tops {because I feel guilty throwing them away} was enough to keep me from adding any crafts whatsoever to our days.

But then, Neighbor M.'s dad brought craft supplies over one day. The children were so excited that I couldn't say no. So I said yes. And they made a happy, sticky mess all over my living room. Some of what they made was actually quite good, so I cannot begrudge them their fun even a little bit.

However, they suddenly decided it was time to go play and they all left. I surveyed the living room and it was Not Good. I worked hard to get it safe enough to set Baby O. free after his nap.

Since then, I have slowly come up with a plan for allowing craft time without losing my mind. Here is what works for me, not necessarily in particular order:

  1. Keep all supplies in one giant box. {Disclaimer: no paint is allowed without supervision ever, ever, EVER.} I actually had the children decorate the box on the first day we used it. It says "CRA-FS" on it. Guess we aren't done learning to spell yet, now are we? This box is big enough that everything fits in it. I even looked in nooks and crannies all over my house and added whatever I could to it that I had stashed somewhere else. Clean up now involves only two steps: put trash in the trashcan and all of the supplies back into the box. They don't even have to be put back neatly. Little people can dump armfuls of construction paper into it, for all I care.
  2. Have someone to give/mail the projects to. This keeps me from feeling guilty. No throwing away necessary.
  3. Make sure the children clean up before Baby O. wakes from his nap. This prevents chaos.
  4. Four special frames for four special people. Each child has a frame in the playroom that fits one masterpiece. We do not change them very often, and it adds a fun, needed touch to the room.

So that, my friends, is how I manage, as a non-crafty mommy, to allow crafts after all.

However, this is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg on this subject. What I really want to begin to explore is whether or not crafts have any inherent value for children. Are they a waste of time? Do we really need to encourage crafts to be good mothers, or good teachers? Are some crafts superior to other crafts? Are crafts a symptom of a certain type of culture? Think about it, and we'll talk more in Part II.

28 November 2009

Rembrandt Options for DecemberTerm 2009

Rembrandt Options (Portrait)




Rembrandt Options (Landscape)

Philosophy of Giving and Five Gifts for Littles

I've been spending the morning wrapping Christmas gifts, drinking coffee, and generally enjoying the beginning of the season, and so I thought I'd write one my usual "gifts and philosophy of giving" posts a bit early this year. We'll start with philosophy and end with gifts.

Worthy of Celebration

Kendra recently quoted a wonderful little piece by Nancy Wilson called Christmas Worldliness:
Christian people are the only people on earth who can truly celebrate Christmas, even though we do so inadequately. But we can’t help ourselves. We’ve heard the angels singing and the shepherds’ announcement. We’ve visited the manger and heard Mary’s song. So we celebrate by making a great feast. We buy the best wine and cheese that we can afford, and our ovens are bursting with Christmas delights. And the gifts! The stockings are loaded, the closets bulging with gifts stored up for the day they go under the huge, glorious tree. The silver is polished, the linens are pressed, the china is standing by. And the month of Christmas seems too short for all the singing and celebrating we want to do. This is the way it should be for God’s people. Each year should be a better feast than the last, with more of Christmas each year, more food, more presents, more delight. We are growing in our sanctification and learning how to rejoice around our tables with more exuberance, more reverence and fear, more holy awe.
I love this picture of rejoicing. It is a far cry from our tendency to think that because materialism is wrong, then material {meaning real, earthy things} is wrong.

However, comma.

There was a day when reading something like this would have been very discouraging. Is Christmas really for the rich?

Or maybe a better questions is: What does a joyful Christmas celebration look like for a family of modest means?

Even now, when I read the words above, a part of me is so happy to see Christians celebrate Good Things unashamedly, and the other part of me gets nervous. Bulging closets? Loaded stockings? Heavens, who's going to pay for all that?

That is my inner Scrooge speaking, perhaps.

This is where Good Books come in. I mentioned before that the children and I are reading Little Women. This book contains a beautiful picture of celebrating Christmas in poverty. It maintains the balance of reality--that what is purchased is what can actually be afforded--with the superiority of the day--that Christmas is a day set apart, worth saving for, worth scrimping for, worth giving to one another for.

But instead of a pile of gifts, the girls get...one book each.

This is completely unexpected {it was thought there would be no gifts}, and the girls accept them with full hearts.

Giving Needed Things

I think I've told this story before, but I'll tell it again. Growing up, my mom always got frustrated with a family we knew because the children were never given any gifts to speak of. However, three weeks before Christmas, we would see them with something new they needed--a hat or gloves or something like that. These may be small things, but they are needed things that simply must be bought. If things that we must buy can be saved for Christmas, why not? This makes those stockings a little stuffier, does it not?

A year or two ago, I watched with amusement a debate between mothers over whether or not necessities should be given for Christmas. I laughed, thinking that these folks didn't know what it was like to not have enough money to buy gifts. Otherwise, they would not suggest that it was "unloving" to give children necessary items as a Christmas gift. Impoverished parents who think this way just might end up with...no gifts to give on Christmas.

In addition to this, I might suggest that it is noble and laudable for our children to approach necessities as the gifts they are. When we wrap up, for instance, a pair of socks, we can remind them than God takes care of us in the little things.

If our children are raised to think that only luxuries can be viewed as gifts, they just might miss all the simple, beautiful, everyday reasons for gratitude and joy.

Avoiding Materialism

I think we all fear that all this gift-giving will go to the heads--and souls--of our children. Every Christmas, I find myself wondering how we can fight the monster of materialism without throwing out generosity itself. Is there a way to give without corrupting the recipient? Surely there must be, for God commands generosity, and He does not corrupt.

One of the things that helped me frame this was reading some advice in the book Teaching the Trivium. It was something along the lines of give your children toys with which to explore rather than toys to be adored.

I have thought about this off and on over the years, and it seems to me that this is very wise. What is materialism but the adoring of things? If we select things for our children that are designed to command their admiration, we assist them on their way to materialism. But if we select things for our children which help them grow in some way, we direct their attention outward, into the world God created. The thing becomes a tool with which the child can grow and learn.

We give our children three gifts each {unless they are babies, and then they get a single book for their new library}. I won't go into this much because I have written about this twice so far. The gifts fall into three general categories: clothing, book, and toy.

It is always the toy that I spend the most time thinking about. How can a toy help that child grow or develop talents? What toys will direct them toward materialism? What toys will also avoid the entertainment trap, which feeds self-worship?

This year, for my two oldest, I decided to be inspired by Charlotte Mason and buy "toys" that develop the children in the area of handicrafts, meaning the ability for them to produce something good with their hands. These should have appeal on rainy winter days, and the focus becomes not the gift itself, but what they can make using their new tools. And what they make can even be given as a gift to someone else.

Five Gifts for Littles

Along this vein, I thought I'd share five ideas for children under eight that I think fit this criteria for gifts...just because it is fun.

1.
Potholders and Other Loopy Projects


2.
Klutz Book of Knots


3.
Lauri Alphabet Puzzle Boards


4.
Bubber


5.
Kumon Workbooks


If all else fails, just give a little boy a box of plumbing parts and set him loose.

24 November 2009

Benefits of Home Education {II}

I assume that this series will drag on over the years, the category giving me a place to keep my happy memories of this time in our lives. But before I get to the subjective, peculiar-to-our-family benefits, I want to talk about the benefit I think is generally possible, to varying degrees, for Christian home education projects. I think this benefit has huge, culture-changing, culture-strengthening ramifications.

Here's my assertion: A powerful benefit of home education is the strengthening of the older generations. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if we want a culture that is highly educated {in the strict, spiritual sense of the word, not in the standardized-test-passing sense of the word}, firm in conviction, and thriving, you need a large percentage of the population involved in deliberately passing on knowledge to the younger generation.

Looking to His Word

Last night, I was rereading Deuteronomy 6-8. These passages have inspired many a lesson plan here on the microhomestead. Deuteronomy 6:6-9 tends to be popular with Christian homeschoolers in general:
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.
There is really so much more than this, if you keep reading, keeping in mind what sort of lifestyle Israel is called to. For instance, in verse 20, the LORD says that once the children are taught in this manner, sons are going to show up asking what it all means. And are the fathers to lecture children on what the meaning is?

No. At least, not exactly.

They are to give a history lesson:
[T]hen you shall say to your son, "We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and the LORD brought us from Egypt with a mighty hand. Moreover, the LORD showed great and distressing signs and wonders before our eyes against Egypt, Pharaoh and all his household; He brought us out from there in order to bring us in, to give us the land which He had sworn to our fathers."

--Deuteronomy 6:21-23
We are shown that the meaning of the LORD's law was found in history, in what He had done, in the works of His hands. This is why learning cannot be viewed as the consumption of various disconnected utilitarian subjects. Truly all things are summed up {ἀνακεφαλαιόω} in Christ.

Before this suggestion that history is the answer to the question "Why?" we have a warning. The same warning comes again afterwards. The LORD says He is going to bring the people into a good land, and they are going to receive all of these good things: houses, crops, wells, etcetera. They will eat, He says, and they will be satisfied. In that moment of satisfaction comes the temptation:
...then watch yourself, that you do not forget the LORD who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

--Deuteronomy 6:12
In chapter 8, we see the same thing. This time, the LORD gives them a history lesson concerning forty years of wilderness living, manna from heaven, and clothes that did not wear out. He tells them again of the good gifts which will satisfy them. And then comes the warning:
Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today; otherwise, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them, and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

--Deuteronomy 8:11-14
We see here a pattern of satisfaction breeding pride, which causes the people to forget God. And how is God forgotten? In not keeping His commands.

God's Antidote to Memory Loss

Isn't is interesting that His command to teach the children and talk about Him all day and write about Him on walls, all of this is what would not only pass the faith to the next generation, but also help the current generation remember?

I experience this first hand. When a seven-year-old and a five-year-old start arguing over the Trinity, and look to me to settle it, suddenly I'm remembering the theology I've been taught. As I pass on the faith, I myself grow in my faith.

Now, remember, I said that benefits are not the same as reasons for. This is so important, because if I go into this seeking myself, I'd have it all wrong. But as I journey in seeking to do the Lord's will, I find that my children aren't the only ones who have grown.

We get our our growth as a result of feeding and watering someone else.

But...This is not my Experience

Let's say that Molly the Homeschool Mom (an entirely fictional person, to be sure) says that she home educates from a place of conviction. However, comma, she does not regularly experience growth through the lessons. How in the world might first grade inspire a grownup? That is what baffles Molly the most.

There are a few things possibly going on here.

1. Molly is simply in a hard stage. Life is a valley right now, not a mountain-top, and the family's education, and her own lack of growth, reflects this. What she needs, then, is comfort and support. I get very tired of families being told that they are morally obligated to provide their children with a Christian education, and then no one equips them and no one helps them when they are at the end of their wits. If we do not step in when times are hard, or the task of schooling seems insurmountable, we should not be surprised when some of our children are abandoned back into the public schools.

However, comma, we need to look at the other possibilities.

So...

2. Molly herself was trained by the "traditional" {for the last 100 years, anyhow} school system to be completely unaffected. See John Taylor Gatto's Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling if you want to really understand this "lesson" which the school system in America teaches. In his essay The Seven-Lesson Schoolteacher {which is actually a speech given upon being awarded "New York State Teacher of the Year" in 1991}, the third lesson he teaches is indifference. He writes:
I teach children not to care too much about anything...How I do this is very subtle. I do it by demanding that they become totally involved in my lessons, jumping up and down in their seats with anticipation, competing vigorously with each other for my favor. It's heartwarming when they do that; it impresses everyone, even me. When I'm at my best I plan lessons very carefully in order to produce this show of enthusiasm. But when the bell rings I insist they drop whatever it is we have been doing and proceed quickly to the next work station. They must turn on and off like a light switch. Nothing important is ever finished in my class nor in any class I know of. Students never have a complete experience except on the installment plan.

Indeed, the lesson of bells is that no work is worth finishing, so why care too deeply about anything? Years of bells will condition all but the strongest to a world that can no longer offer important work to do.
Most of us were taught this lesson for at least thirteen years of our lives. In fact, I spent college learning to care about ideas again. Having the type of father I have spared me from complete indifference, for he cares so passionately I fear he may someday burst.

Most of us are damaged goods, and there is a chance that lessons are uninspiring not because there is something wrong with the lessons, but because there is something wrong with us. We are born into this world naked, true, but gifted with a generous supply of awe and wonder. And then people are paid to trample on it for our entire childhood. The result is a culture of apathy.

This requires nothing short of repentance, and the tutoring of the Holy Spirit, teaching us how to care, and therefore how to really learn.

What if adulthood wasn't meant to be the serious, joyless, unaffected life it seems, on the surface, to be?

But there is one more possibility.

3. Molly's lessons or curriculum or whatever she likes to call it are fact-based rather than ideas-based. As she plows through one sanitized textbook after another, she remembers why she hated school, but she tries her best to look excited so that her children don't hate it as much as she did.

I saw this quote on Mystie's blog the other day:
And I think it possible that by confining your child to blameless stories of child life in which nothing at all alarming ever happens, you would fail to banish the terrors, and would succeed in banishing all that can ennoble them or make them endurable. For in fairy tales, side by side with the terrible figures, we find the immemorial comforters and protectors, the radiant ones; and the terrible figures are not merely terrible, but sublime. It would be nice if no little boy in bed, hearing, or thinking he hears, a sound, were ever at all frightened. But if he is going to be frightened, I think it better that he should think of giants and dragons than merely of burglars. And I think St. George, or any bright champion in armour, is a better comfort than the idea of the police.

--C.S. Lewis
And another is like it:
No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally worth reading at the age of fifty.

--C.S. Lewis
Sometimes, curriculum is the problem. Unaffected writing leads to the memorization of meaningless dates and names which leads to unaffected hearts. Put the meaning back into the dates and names, and then they will be worth putting in the effort to remember. You will remember the year 1066 and wonder why such a wonderful king {Harold II} would triumph so beautifully at the Battle of Stamford Bridge only to be buried months later at the Battle of Hastings. And then you will have to let go of that anxiety and deal with the fact that it was simply the Lord's will that William the Conqueror...conquer.

Or you will read of the courage of Ambrose {Bishop of Milan in the 300s}, of how he denied Emperor Theodosius communion and the result was not martyrdom, but a beautiful triumph in the soul of the emperor, who repented of his deeds, which led to changes in state policy, and more importantly, a better emperor in general. And then when you read the news and learn that Rep. Patrick Kennedy was encouraged by Bishop Tobin of the Roman Catholic Church to forgo the taking of communion due to his support and encouragement of abortion rights, having more blood on his hands than Theodosius himself, you will take heart that there are still brave bishops somewhere in the world, that the courage and bravery of the great saints is still alive and active in the world today.

And you are raising up yourself and your children to follow in the footsteps of those who went before, the great household of faith and courage and conviction. This, my friends, is nothing less than changing the world.

In Conclusion

I could tell you that Abraham Lincoln said that the "philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of the government of the next," but I'd rather end with the poem that has been hanging on my refrigerator for at least five years now. It is inspired by Wallace's poem The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, and I would highly suggest reading the original. But this short one is nice, too:
They say that man is mighty,
He governs land and sea,
He wields a mighty scepter
O'er lesser powers than he;

But mightier power and stronger
Man from his throne has hurled,
For the hand that rocks the cradle
Is the hand that rules the world.
What we sometimes miss is that it changes the world, because it changes not only our children, but us as well.

Benefits of Home Education {I}

File this post away under "disclaimer." I have wanted to do a series like this for some time. When we first decided to home educate, I had no idea that it would give us a rich family life. However, I am often hesitant to say as much because...I don't think that the benefits of home education should be used as reasons or arguments for home education.

Allow me to explain.

If I decide to home educate because someone told me that a benefit was that their children seemed to catch fewer colds, then I'd be pretty tempted to quit the first time we spent all winter with the sniffles. And if I decide to home educate because someone told me that a benefit was that their children seemed to have strong sibling relationships, then I'd be pretty tempted to quit the first time I spent a week breaking up sibling squabbles every ten minutes. And if I decide to home educate because someone told me it was fun, then I'd be pretty tempted to quit when it got hard and I felt like escaping.

See what I mean?

There are benefits, yes. Real, tangible benefits. But benefits are almost completely subjective. I might find something fun or exciting that someone else doesn't. I might find something hard that someone else finds easy.

Because of this, home education needs to flow from conviction. That conviction is best found in Paul's use of the Greek word paideia in Ephesians 6:4.

Now, to be fair, I think the full sense of the word paideia can include delegation--the hiring of tutors, and Christian schools as well. For our family, home education is not only the most direct route to fulfilling God's commands, it is also pretty much the only route available to us. We cannot afford Christian schools or tutors, and I will not get a job to pay for one because I have many young children who are not school age and who should not be abandoned in order to provide an education for the older children.

Sometimes God makes His will obvious by eliminating all but one way to fulfill it. Limited means can offer direction in its own way, and this is not a bad thing.

Ahem.

So as I was saying, please take this series for what it is: benefits I have observed in my own home, or in the homes of beloved friends who have chosen this same path. It is Thanksgiving soon, and I am thankful for this journey. Waxing nostalgic with pen and ink keyboard and coffee is my own way of celebrating.

23 November 2009

DecemberTerm 2009

The children around here call DecemberTerm "Christmas School," but I still prefer DecemberTerm, especially since I hesitate to use the word "school" to describe what we do in our home. No one is required to sit still in a desk all day, after all. In fact, a certain male student is allowed to be upside down during narration.

He claims it helps him think.

Ahem.

Moving on.

A Brief History of DecemberTerm

Last year was our first "official" school year {there's that word "school" again}, meaning that it was the first year any of my children were required by law to attend a school. This means it was the first year that I got really organized, with a plan for the year, an attendance sheet {required by California state law, in case you thought that was weird}, and so on and so forth.

Last year, when we hit our break after Term One {which is, conveniently, the week of Thanksgiving}, I found myself wanting to savor the holidays. True, I was exhausted from caring for a newborn. I think, to some extent, it was because I was exhausted that I needed something like DecemberTerm.

I needed to make sure that another Christmas didn't fly by in a blur.

To some extent, I feel like I missed six years of Christmases. I was either pregnant, or caring for a newborn, all of those years. I never stopped and celebrated the important things in my heart. And I feared that the tradition of not really celebrating was what was rubbing off on my children.

Suddenly, my oldest "baby" was six-years-old, and I felt like he deserved a better inheritance than what I was giving him.

On top of this, Si and I had been discussing for years that we wanted our holidays to be more festive. Pieper was right. Celebrations devoid of religious significance taste stale in our mouths.

DecemberTerm became my action plan, my way of tilling the soil of my children's hearts, preparing them for Christmas Day.

What is DecemberTerm?

DecemberTerm is basically an extended Circle Time. We do everything together save the most basic of lessons {Neighbor M. will still get solitary reading lessons; E. will still do math, copywork, and spelling daily; A. will still "play letters" with me}. We take a break from Ambleside until after the New Year, and this in turn tends to give us more time for the leisurely activity of reading aloud.

What is New This Year?

This year, I decided to break up the baking days so that I am cooking alone with just one child. Last year, trying to make sure that everyone got a turn became overwhelming, and I didn't feel like anyone really learned anything about cooking, or connected with me. So this year, each child will bake with me twice during the term.

Also in the baking arena, we are going to work more on candying nuts than baking cookies. This is my attempt to make our treats a bit healthier. We will make a large batch of cookies at the end, and those will probably go to Si's office, or to neighbors.

We also have some additional newness in the form of new books, new poems, and so on. I'll post a "resources" section near the end. We are going to study Rembrandt every DecemberTerm from now on, but my plans only say something basic like "Rembrandt" because the book hasn't yet arrived.

In addition to the DecemberTerm plans, we are also going to return to an evening Advent Reader, which I will link to in the Resources.

And What is Old?

I've decided that reading Dickens every year is going to be a tradition. If Ralph Moody's mom can do it, why can't I? Planning this year was easier for me because I'm following the same rough plan, just with new information. I am learning that planning the first year of something is the hardest. The following years, I am not starting from scratch, but rather improving upon what we've already done, smoothing out what did or didn't work.

Anything Else?

Well, when you look at my plans, please keep in mind that this is only a rough order of events. Usually, I figure out within a day or two how it flows best {where poetry best fits, for instance} and then stick with that. Also, the discussion questions are just to stimulate my brain. We do not necessarily go through all of those questions.

If you are wondering why food seems to be such a big issue, please keep in mind that my children used to have food allergies. This has somewhat tainted their approach to food. When you have spent years of your life having food make you feel badly, or having your parents say that it is "bad" for you, you grow a habit of thinking negatively about food. So this year I'm trying to focus on helping them see that food is a gift to us from God to be accepted with gratitude.

The Official 2009 DecemberTerm Plans

Without further delay...

DecemberTerm 2009


Resources

Recipes

Books
Rembrandt: The Christmas Story


The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey


A Christmas Carol


The Jesus Storybook Bible

Beatrix Potter:
The Complete Tales


Gingerbread Baby

You Can Do It, Sam


Evening Advent Reading
Jotham's Journey:
A Storybook for Advent

Atmosphere
Christmas music as the children do their morning chores, and hot tea or cocoa to sip on during Circle Time {except for two-year-olds who cannot handle the responsibility} make the morning a special treat.

How About You?

If you post your plans for DecemberTerm {or something like it}, please link it in the comments!



View DecemberTerm 2008
Mystie's 2009 Holiday Term

20 November 2009

On Training Children

Mystie and I got into a discussion on manners in the comments, and that made me think about a little "trick" {if I may call it a trick} we learned somewhere along the way. I think of it as "car-training." I really wish I remember who taught this to me. They deserve a thank-you note, for I am in their debt.

Let's say we're on the way to church. Our children sit in church with us, except for the baby younger toddler, who I take into the Cry Room and with whom I have a wrestling match for about a third of the service. They are expected to behave. This means that the two-year-old needs to sit still on her bottom {except during standing times}, not talk, and remember not to wet her pants. This means the four-year-old needs to sit still on her bottom {except during said standing times}, try to sing, and draw quietly during the sermon. This means the seven-year-old needs to conform to adult-like behavior, take communion reverently, try to sing the songs he knows, and take notes during the sermon.

Most Sundays, we remember to do some form of Car-Training. This means, before exiting the car, the children are reminded of what good behavior looks like. If we don't instruct anyone else, we must remind the two-year-old, who is most likely to disobey.

This is an approach that we have used before going into a store, spelling out to each child what is good behavior in that store. We might say to Q. before going to the grocery store, "You are going to sit in the cart and you are not to suck on the handle {I know. I hate that I have to say that!} and you will not stand up and you will not grab anything from the shelves." Before going into a restaurant, which we rarely do, we might explain to the children where and how they will sit, how they will act, and so on.

We went to a restaurant with Granmama and the Great-Grands last Wednesday, and I kicked myself for not remembering their car training. The four-year-old had to be scolded more than once for wallowing in the booth, and the two-year-old kept getting out of her booster seat.

It is amazing to me how much car-training helps. I remember when we were intensively training Q. to sit nicely in church. We reached a point where if we remembered her car training, it went well, and if we forgot it was horrible. There was a direct connection to whether or not we put instructions fresh in her mind.

Car-training has saved me a lot of discipline, I think. And also a lot of stress and/or embarrassment. It really is amazing that a few extra minutes of instruction can make such a difference.

19 November 2009

Tomato Staking

Are any of you familiar with the concept of tomato staking as a parenting/disciplinary approach? The concept is one I ran across years ago, and right when I needed it. I had a child who was misbehaving every time I left him alone {guess who it was}. This book pointed out what should have been obvious to me, but wasn't: then don't leave him alone. I would sum it up, but the authority on this approach has done so already:
Think of your child as a tomato plant. Most parents provide too little staking for their growing young tomatoes. They care for them intimately when they are babies, but soon afterwards, begin letting them grow their own way.

[snip]

Ours is a Tomato Staking lifestyle. Usually my younger children are all within eyesight and earshot of me in the same room, even if they are behaving well. Right now, my five youngest, preschoolers to preteens, are just around the corner from me. I know exactly what they are doing, and I can clearly hear them talking and interacting. Should they begin to bicker or get rowdy, I will stop them immediately. If they continue to misbehave, despite my verbal rebuke, I'll summon the offenders and sit them right next to me, allowing them to do nothing until they are bored stiff and motivated to obey. That would be more intensive Tomato Staking. Once under control and worthy of my trust again, I will direct them to some other activity closer to me than before, where I can see and hear them. That's still Tomato Staking.
You can read the whole article by clicking the link if you are interested.

Now, I'm not sure that a preteen necessarily needs tomato staking. However, comma, in my own house no one is over seven anyhow, so objections to this concept based on age-appropriateness are irrelevant for me.

The other day, I was thinking about how brave my two-year-old had gotten. At first, when we installed the Hobbit Hole, there was no real change in her life. She was too timid to go outside very much, especially if I wasn't going with her. Plus, Neighbor M.'s dog tended to break into my yard to ogle the duckies, and she was terrified of him.

But gradually, she's become more confident braving it out there alone.

For the most part, I thought it was a good thing. She has courage she needed to acquire. She is beginning to take her place in creation, realizing that she should master the animals rather than letting the animals master her. These are good things.

But one hour grew into two hours. And then she began to spend entire afternoons away from my presence.

I began to miss her, but I didn't think that was good enough reason to stop her. I remember musing to myself that I would never have let my previous two-year-olds run wild in that way. If I had paid attention to my own words, I would have been more alarmed at the idea of running wild, but I didn't.

And then this week, I realized that this is just what is happening.

I could list off what I noticed, but I don't think it is necessary. We all know what a terror two-year-olds can be if left to their own devices. In fact, it was yesterday that this verse remembered itself to me:
The rod and reproof give wisdom,
but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.

--Proverbs 29:15
It dawned on me that this was too much. My poor baby had been left to herself, and I was one who was setting herself up for shame.

Thankfully, the Lord is kind to me, and this little tomato is still plenty tender for staking.

When I told her yesterday that she would be staying inside with me after nap time, and all evening long, she cried {sadness}. In fact, she went through all the stages of grief. She stamped her foot {anger}. She said she was going outside anyhow {denial}. Eventually, though, she accepted her fate and agreed to help me make dinner.

Later, while I finished up preparing the meal, she and her one-year-old brother were in another part of the room, sitting in a pile of toys, giggling together. She looked up at me and smiled. Her curls were wild. Her clothes were wild. But her spirit was already calmer than before.

Two-year-olds.

It is hard to know what to do with them sometimes. Mama, I think, is often their best medicine.

18 November 2009

Reflections on Faithfulness

FA'ITHFULNESS, n

1. Fidelity; loyalty; firm adherence to allegiance and duty; as the faithfulness of a subject.

2. Truth; veracity; as the faithfulness of God.

3. Strict adherence to injunctions, and to the duties of a station; as the faithfulness of servants or ministers.

4. Strict performance of promises, vows or covenants; constancy in affection; as the faithfulness of a husband or wife.

--Webster's 1828 Dictionary
Every week during Circle Time, we have a new "manner" we study. I use the term manner loosely, referring to proper behavior. This is how I get away with throwing the virtues in along with remembering to close the toilet lid.

This week, our focus has been faithfulness, and we are using as our theme verse Galatians 5:22, which says that faithfulness is a fruit of the Spirit, so we know that this isn't just some trick we learn to perform, but something that grows from inside of us as we submit to the work of God in our lives. I want them to know from the very beginning, just like Timothy, who was taught the Scriptures from his infancy, that when they struggle with faithfulness, it is a spiritual struggle.

I have to admit that when I turned the page to Week 12 in my notebook, I was shocked that I had chosen faithfulness. What was I thinking? I asked myself. Suddenly, it seemed so abstract, and as I turned to the children I was doubting my ability to convey the concept.

It got worse when I had the bright idea of asking anyone if they knew what faithfulness was.

No one did.

When I asked if anyone knew what loyalty was, it wasn't any better.

No one did.

And for a moment I prayed, asking God to help me define faithfulness without using the word loyalty, or rather to be able to convey the ideas of loyalty and faithfulness at the same time.

Thankfully, God is faithful.

Ahem.

So in the course of discussion, I realized something I'd never thought about before. {You know you are studying something worth while if you as the teacher come away thinking, too.} I realized that, most of the time, faithfulness doesn't really kick in in any tangible way until things start to go wrong in the relationship or in life.

As my son was trying to process the concept, he said something like, "Faithfulness is still being a friend even when it gets boring or hard."

This reminded me of a verse:
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.

--Luke 6:32
The same logic can be used when discussing faithfulness: if I am only there for my God/friend/husband/parents/sister/cousin/church/etcetera when times are good, what credit is that to me? Even a sinner {the Greek here means a man who is wicked or devoted to a life of sin} can do that. It is a work of the Lord when my care for another extends, consistently and firmly, into the difficult times.

Faithfulness is an objective Good in the metaphysical sense.

So, as I said, I prayed that the Lord would help me explain this to these young ones. If I had only known what I was asking for! This week, most of the children have had the sniffles, and the result has been poor tempers. Couple this with typical childish sins, and I had the making of a disaster object lesson.

I tried my best that first Monday morning, but things got interesting late morning during playtime. I heard various voices say, "I'm not going to be your friend anymore!" I saw the silent treatment given by more than one little culprit. I saw, in essence, a complete and total lack of faithfulness.

They--all of them--were fair-weather friends.

Tuesday was worse. It wasn't until Tuesday afternoon that I realized that this was a teachable moment. This was their chance to work out what it means to be faithful in their own little lives.

So this morning, when we read yet another verse on faithfulness, and also reviewed the theme verse for the week, I chose not to point fingers. Instead, I was reminded to ask questions:

"Neighbor M., what does it mean to be faithful when your friend is sick? What does unfaithfulness look like?"

"E., if you were playing in the backyard with Friend C. and you got mad at him, what does it mean to be faithful? And unfaithful?"

This, of course, led into various discussion on tattling and also whether or not anger is a sin {it's not}. But, red herrings aside, I think they are beginning to get the point.

We talked also about faithfulness extending into the future. What does it look like to be faithful when your husband/wife is cranky? What does it look like to be faithful when your parents are sick or old? Children have a keen sense of justice, so once they grasped what faithfulness was, they were quick to apply it to these situations.

It is never too early to teach them that they have to babysit me when I'm old. Ha.

I left off encouraging them to practice faithful friendships in their own yards. So far today, they're trying.

And in the process I realized something that I'll be talking about in more depth soon: When we teach things to our children, we ourselves are refined. I know more about faithfulness now than I did last week.

17 November 2009

On Little Women

I recently began reading Little Women aloud to my children during lunch. We usually have a lunch book going, but this is the first time I have dared to read...a "girl" book. For years I spent time building up a library of boy books for our oldest, knowing that I had a number of desirable treasures from my own youth hidden away for our girls. Recently, our four-year-old daughter became interested in longer works. Whereas previously she merely tolerated book-length read alouds, she suddenly was very obviously intrigued by Ralph Moody. This was how I decided to dare and venture into the world of girl books. I knew my son could handle it as long as it was well-written enough to be enjoyable, and I finally had a girl who might love the book like I do.

Now, I say I love the book, but the fact remains that I haven't been a very good friend over the years. This book has languished on my shelves since I was in my teens. I often told myself I should read it again, especially during Christmas time, but something always got in the way.

I have spent most of the last seven years reading children's books literature, a worthy genre, to be sure. And, due to the influence of Ambleside Online, the children and I are halfway through Little Pilgrim's Progress, which we are reading in preparation for reading the real thing next year.

If you know Little Women better than I knew it in my youth, then you can already see where this is going.

I was shocked when we began the reading. I expected it to be like running across an old friend. I thought I remembered. But, you see, we can only remember what we truly knew and, it turns out, I didn't know the book as well as I thought I did.

And do you know why?

Because I didn't read Pilgrim's Progress until my adulthood.

This goes hand-in-hand with my notes from Dr. Taylor I posted last night. He said that we read the Good Books in order to read the Great Books. Reading, in other words, is preparation for reading. I would add that many good books are purposefully echoing the great books, only many of us {like me until about last Friday} never notice because we are wholly unfamiliar with the greatest works of humanity.

So, you see, I had only a passing familiarity with Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. Now I feel I can love them for we share the same books.

I vaguely remembered that the book began with overt references to Pilgrim's Progress, but, having never read it, I didn't see the parallels. The first chapter of Little Women is called Playing Pilgrims. In fact, my children recently began imitating this passage:
Mrs. March broke the silence that followed Jo's words, by saying in her cheery voice, "Do you remember how you used to play Pilgrim's Progress when you were little things? Nothing delighted you more than to have me tie my piece bags on your backs for burdens, give you hats and sticks and rolls of paper, and let you travel through the house from the cellar, which was the City of Destruction, up, up, to the housetop, where you had all the lovely things you could collect to make a Celestial City."

"What fun it was, especially going by the lions, fighting Apollyon, and passing through the Valley where the hobgoblins were!" said Jo.

"I liked the place where the bundles fell off and tumbled downstairs," said Meg.

"My favorite part was when we came out on the flat roof where our flowers and arbors and pretty things were, and all stood and sung for joy up there in the sunshine," said Beth, smiling, as if that pleasant moment had come back to her.

"I don't remember much about it, except that I was afraid of the cellar and the dark entry, and always liked the cake and milk we had up at the top. If I wasn't too old for such things, I'd rather like to play it over again," said Amy, who began to talk of renouncing childish things at the mature age of twelve.

"We are never too old for this, my dear, because it is a play we are playing all the time in one way or another. Our burdens are here, our road is before us, and longing for goodness and happiness is the guide that leads us through many troubles and mistakes to the peace which is a true Celestial City. Now, my little pilgrims, suppose you begin again, not in play, but in earnest, and see how far on you can get before father comes home."
So, for those of us who are rather dim, Alcott spells it out. The girls used to play Pilgrim's Progress, and now their mother wants them to do it in real life.

Because I had never read the book, I couldn't fully appreciate Little Women. Here are some chapter titles which are direct references to Bunyan: Burdens {those things that fall off your back when you encounter the Cross}, Beth Finds the Palace Beautiful {a place where pilgrims can rest and be refreshed, a picture of the church meeting place}, Amy's Valley of Humiliation {where Christian fights and defeats Apollyon who, in the children's version, is aptly named "Self"}, Jo Meets Apollyon, Meg Goes to Vanity Fair {this is the city built on either side of the King's Highway which serves to distract the King's pilgrims with fun, keeping them from traveling to the Celestial City}, Little Faithful {Christian's beloved friend who serves the King unto martyrdom}, Pleasant Meadows {which I am guessing is a reference to Immanuel's Land in the Delectable Mountains}, and The Valley of the Shadow {through which all pilgrims must travel upon the King's Highway, and in which they are comforted by the 23rd Psalm}.

And so we see that the entire book is actually a pilgrimage. When we read it through this lens, we see the beauty of Alcott's ability to take the heavenly metaphors of Bunyan and bring them back down to earth in the form of four faithful little women.

What is remarkable to me is watching my children eat up this book. Whereas I read it in the same manner I read my multitude of Baby-Sitter's Club books, my children immediately latched on to the similarities to Bunyan.

I was delighted to see them traveling the backyard with burdens on their backs, letting them fall, just like the March girls did once upon a time, when they met the Cross.

16 November 2009

Notes from Dr. James Taylor on Knowledge from Literature

I was delighted that one of the donor giveaways from CiRCE was a talk from James Taylor, author of my beloved Poetic Knowledge, called Knowledge from Literature. I typed out a whole bunch of quotes, but I found that the "lecture" had the feel of a conversation. How can I pull out a snippet and expect anyone who hasn't heard the context to understand it?

For the most part, I can't.

But there were a few thoughts which stand alone, and I'll relay them here.
I have become, in the last twenty years, or maybe even longer, a champion of reading the Good Books before we read the Great Books. That would be to say...that our students in lower grades would be reading Tom SawyerRebecca of Sunnybrook FarmAnne of Green Gables--those kinds of books, Tom SawyerHuckleberry Finn, these standards--Good Books--as a way to prepare for reading HomerThe AeneidShakespeare.

I had a professor one time who said,
If you really want your students to read Shakespeare, hope that they were raised on Mother Goose.
I am beginning to see this. I think of the ability to read and appreciate the greatest works of humanity {and I would include here also paintings and music and so on} in the way that I think of my backyard. The soil there is so...lacking. But I firmly believe that if I consistently lay down compost, winter ducks on the land, and plant clover in just the right places, that there will be a transformation. The land that once bore little fruit will bear much.

Compare this with a child's mind. If he is born and fed on Baby Einstein and then Hannah Montana and so on, he will be incapable of the greatest thoughts. But if we lay down layers of good things and water generously with the Scriptures which hold all good things together, he will, when it is time, burst forth with the blooms of a thousand great ideas.

At least, this is the hope. For now we labor precept upon precept, working toward an end only God can see.
I think "children's literature" is almost an unfortunate term...I mean, for example, I don't think we need a scholar to tell us...that the Grimm's Fairy Tales were not written even for children. There's very, very strong evidence that children got on to them, but they were really folk tales by the fire in those dark forests of Germany--nobody knows where they come from in the oral tradition--that were told in the family; they weren't exclusive to children.
He says that true "children's literature" can be appreciated by adults. I am learning this. When I first had children, I had little idea how to tell a good book from a mediocre one. A book had to be pretty bad for me to toss it because I had bought into the idea that a child should be surrounded by books. But somewhere along the line I was influenced by Charlotte Mason's definition of a living book. Like those enzyme-rich living foods which enhance the health of the body, living books nourish the soul and cause the life of the mind to flourish.

And so I ripped through our library and sent at least a third of it to PaperBackSwap, never to be seen or heard from again.

There are many wonderful descriptions on how to tell a living book from a dead one, and I still cannot convey the idea very well. But I do have a little trick that seems to work: a living book is a book that not only can, but should be read over and over. When your four-year-old says, "Mommy, read it again," a mediocre book is the one you shudder at, while a living book is the one that you can embrace just as eagerly.

Our favorite living books these days are Saint George and the DragonGingerbread Baby, and The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh. These books require library binding so that they are still in good condition when the children read them again when they are old.

Some stories are never outgrown. A living children's book is one that the parent secretly knows the child will not fully understand until they are grown.

Another idea Taylor broached near the end of his talk was that the Good Things about which we find ourselves apathetic point to a gap in our formation, not just in our teachers, but in ourselves. Taylor identifies mathematics in himself. His appreciation for math came late. He mentions grownups who do not appreciate Shakespeare {not that they have to be big fans, but able to appreciate him}. Humanity was born into a world worthy of awe and wonder, and when we produce adults who have no capacity for such things, we are producing damaged goods.

Lastly, in regard to poetry he says,
How do you test on Windy Nights? Well, you see, I wouldn't. I'd have them memorize it.
And then he suggests that the teacher memorize it first, and set the example, teaching it to the children by giving them two lines per lesson until they have mastered it. This is going on my to-do list. We do a lot of memory work, but I have knowingly been neglecting poetry, and I think Taylor has convinced me that memorizing poetry is the only way to move from mastering a poem to being mastered by a poem.

15 November 2009

CiRCE Booklist {III}

I finally filled up another page after taking some time off to meditate on some of what I'd learned. This list includes not only books suggested by the person giving the lecture, but also any books that I heard a student mention favorably, especially if the teacher responded positively when the title was mentioned.

Enjoy!

Lecture: {Workshop 13} Integration, Imitation, Contemplation: The Natural Order of the Curriculum
Lecturer: Leah Lutz


Norms and Nobility:
A Treatise on Education
by David Hicks
Leisure: The Basis of Culture
by Josef Pieper


Home Economics: Fourteen Essays
by Wendell Berry
{specifically, the essay Loss of the University}

Lecture: {Workshop 10} The Nature of the Arts and Their Place in the Curriculum
Lecturer: John Hodges


Ideas Have Consequences
by Richard Weaver



Perelandra
by C.S. Lewis


That Hideous Strength
by C.S. Lewis
{specifically, watch the character Merlin's
perspective on modern culture}

In addition to specific titles, there were authors suggested: C. S. LewisPlato, and Saint Augustine.


Lecture: {Workshop 15} The Deep Logic of the Language Arts
Lecturer: Andrew Kern


Ideas Have Consequences
by Richard Weaver
{you know it's a winner if it is on the list more than once,
from more than one lecturer}



Summa Theologica
by Thomas Aquinas



The Book of Memory:
A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture
by Mary Carruthers

The Craft of Thought:
Meditation, Rhetoric, and the Making of Images
by Mary Carruthers

Kern, also, mentioned a couple authors. Maybe you have heard of them before: Aristotle and Plato.

I will try to detail more of my notes on these lectures later. Of this particular list, Andrew Kern's The Canons of Rhetoric was my favorite.


Possibly Related Posts:
CiRCE Booklist
CiRCE Booklist {II}

13 November 2009

Notes from Debbie Harris on Beauty

I just finished listening to one of my recent CiRCE downloads. And, by the way, let me remind you that CiRCE's fundraiser, Further Up and Further In, is still going on. If you donate any amount, you will be able to download up to 7 wonderful lectures as well as a large excerpt from Vigen Guroian's Rallying The Really Human Things. Now that I said "any" amount, might I also say that this is a cause worthy of generosity?

Ahem.

As I was saying, I just finished listening to Debbie Harris' lecture Understanding and Instilling a Love of Beauty. Here are a few choice quotes:
What we want them to love are specimens of art that are so filled with the attributes of natural law and God that they can be endlessly examined.
Might I suggest Raphael's Sistine Madonna? We studied this for a few weeks recently. I was staring at it recently because it {well, a copy anyhow} is hanging by my dining table. I was thinking that the clouds looked funny, and then I realized there were faces sort of floating in them. A great cloud of witnesses, anyone?
If we train the mind...to see...beauty, what's going to happen is, the child is going to go about their everyday life overwhelmed by God's revelation and Who God is.
This reminds me of Charlotte Mason's idea that we offer children a generous education.
Self-expression through art should mostly be done in the rhetoric stage. That's why artists studied under masters in the first place, didn't they? They imitated them, for greater understanding of technique first. Just like Dorothy Sayers says with the tool, if you were to paint with a brush, you don't paint your painting first, do you? No. You take the brush, you go to a scrap piece of paper, and you play with it a little bit. Well, that's what you're trying to do here.
I remember last year that a teacher suggested to me that I have my son write poetry. Maybe a haiku or something, she said. He was six at the time. When I told her I didn't think that was the best use of our time, she seemed baffled. All the first graders at her school had written a haiku. I don't know if I ever got the idea across, but my point was that his job in his youth is not to create ex nihilo. Only God does this. His job is to study the Master, and all His submasters. I would rather spend an hour reading great poetry than an hour trying to help him write a poem.

His time has not yet come.

This is not to say that I would shut him down if, in his spare time, he tried to write a poem. On the contrary, I would offer whatever compliments and praise were appropriate. However, comma, I do not think that the bulk of his time should be spent in producing. He, as well as my other students, are in a stage of life where their job is to absorb good things. This will result in older students who can produce good things.

There used to be a saying about this sort of thing: Don't put the cart before the horse. This doesn't mean that putting things in their proper order is anti-cart. It just means it is more appropriate and effective to let the horse go first.
Expose them to the loveliness of a thing well said.
Yes, yes, yes! This is why I absolutely adore Ambleside Online. Every single thing we read is beautiful. Everything is worthy of being read. Putting aside sanitized textbooks, where any and all beauty has been replaced with cold, dry, inhuman "facts," has been an amazing experience so far.
Teach them to delight even in the beauty of penmanship.
Methinks my daughters will be more receptive than my sons. However, I think my sons can be like their father and appreciate a woman's beautiful writing, even if not interested in producing beautiful writing themselves.
What an amazing thing to be involved in training students up so that one day they couldn't be able to go through their day without seeing God in a hundred ways.
Indeed.

12 November 2009

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

The reason why the philosopher can be compared to the poet is that both are concerned with wonder.

-St. Thomas Aquinas

Thus begins the first chapter of the second half of Leisure: The Basis of Culture, aptly titled The Philosophical Act. From scanning this portion, I'd say that the key idea throughout is going to be that the philosophical act {philosophizing?} is the ultimate act of leisure, which is why the two parts are joined together. They are one thought: humans need leisure, and philosophizing is the ultimate form of leisure, at least according to Pieper.

This is my guess based on scanning, as I said. Only time will tell if I'm actually correct.

Now, to dig into chapter one a bit. I'd give a summary, but Mystie does a far superior job at that, so I'm voting for her to do it. I will just pick a few quotes and discuss them.

But First, Why This Section Makes Me Tense

I'm feeling torn again, and I think that Pieper might be the one doing the tearing. He is back to where he was the last time he made me uneasy, which I believe was in Chapter 4, where I thought he went a little gnostic on us.

My problem is probably rooted in the fact that I still cannot wrap my mind around what it was like for Pieper to live within a culture dominated by technopoly and Total Work. I, after all, spend my days in a world where leisure and work tend to hold hands, flowing seamlessly together. Or, at least, ideally they do this. When they don't, it tends to be my own attitude which is the obstacle, not Total Work.

When I read Pieper, I cannot help but think that he is simply fighting for a place for leisure within the technopoly. I am the type of person who wants to dispose of the technopoly altogether. I think that work can be leisurely, but not most post-Industrial computer and factory-type work. If leisure is essential to being human, then we must call these things dehumanizing and eliminate them from the culture.

After all, our goal in teaching humanities to our children is to humanize them, to make them more human, not less. Why allow less-than-human processes to dominate our culture?

Here is an classic example of this leisure/work dichotomy from the text:
[T]o philosophize is to act in such a way that one steps out of of the world of work in which man earns his bread by the sweat of his brow.

Having just finished reading two very agrarian books, I cannot help but ask what money has to do with it? My guess is that Pieper is imagining work within the context of Nazi Germany, a sanitized, isolated world of total work. However, I think of a farmer, plowing a field -- horse-drawn or tractor, it makes only slight difference -- and there he is, out in Creation. On a tractor, he can tackle the problems of the world or on the farm. On a horse-drawn plow, he can hear well enough to listen to Creation, or even a child, come to visit Daddy.

There exists in the world a type of work which is human, where community is built through the work itself, where minds are not so tethered to the work that they cannot soar to the heavens if they like. This is why I have trouble with Pieper sometimes. It is not that I disagree with him -- I agree that contemplation is a necessary part of being human. Where I disagree is in feeling the need to stop working in order to start philosophizing.

If we can recapture a culture in which work and leisure fit together more neatly, rather than vie for primacy in our lives, this would be altogether a Good Thing.

This Bears Repeating

I've heard this preached more than once, but I thought it was well said, and worthy of consideration:
It is possible to pray in such a way that one does not transcend the world, in such a way that the divine is degraded to a functional part of the workaday world. Religion can be debased into magic. Then it is no longer devotion to the divine, but an attempt to master it. Prayer can be perverted in this way, into a sort of technique whereby life under the dome is feasible.
It is not that we do not approach God with the cares of our lives so much as we do not consider Him a genie and prayer the power of the lamp.

Functionality and Art

Then again, there is a pseudo-art and a spurious poetry which, instead of bursting through the dome, merely paints and decorates its inner surface, as it were, either in a private or in a political capacity. These shams produce a poetry and an art that are 'useful' to the workaday world: the sort of poetry that never pierces the dome...
Well, folks, our own president takes advantage of the inability of modern artists to "pierce the dome" as it were. Not long ago, audiotapes of a controversial phone call were revealed. These tapes contained details concerning the Obama administration's attempt to harness the National Endowment of the Arts and have it plow the field for their radical political agenda:
[T]he President has a clear arts agenda and has been very supportive of using art and supporting art in creative ways to talk about some issues that we face here in our country, but also to engage people. And I think all of us who are on this phone call, you know, were selected for a reason.

[snip]

And so I’m hoping that through this group, and the goal of all this, and the goal of this phone call, is through this group we can create a stronger community amongst ourselves to get involved in things we’re passionate about as we did during the campaign. But to continue to get involved in those things, to support some of the President’s initiatives, but also to do things that we are passionate about and to push the President and push his administration…

--voice of Michael Skolnick

I think this was mainly controversial because it was a secretive attempt to do something that hasn't, as far as we know, been done in this country before, which is an attempt not to use art to propagandize, but to use The Arts to propagandize. It is a fine line, but the Obama administration definitely crossed it.

Of course, most Americans already knew that the NEA sunk to the bottom of the artistic pool in at least the 1980s, but if the only purpose they can find for themselves is to stay tucked away well inside the dome pushing socialist agendas, I'm thinking they better consider self-funding instead of public funding. When art serves the public good, the idea is the piercing-of-the-dome Pieper speaks of, not pushing poor economic and social policies.

Of course, we can blame this on the President, but the fact remains that the arts in this country are wandering aimlessly, hence their feeling of importance when The Flatterer tells them how they can "help" the President.

This isn't the first time that the President has shown poor taste in all things art. Do any of you recall the inaugural poem? This was a public display of spurious poetry. Read it and weep at the state of the arts. Poet Elizabeth Alexander basically lists off details of life inside the dome, and then suggests that some vague sense of love might make life here on Earth more tolerable, love which is nebulous, love which cannot be defined except to say what it is not.

Sallie was Right

I was unable to locate the old post over at A Quiet Simple Life but I think I'm recollecting correctly. I vaguely remember Sallie getting upset over a Home Economics program that was highlighted in an article about some college somewhere here in the States. She suggested that women learn to cook elsewhere and take theology classes instead. I didn't completely understand the problem with the courses at the time, but I think I see more clearly now. Let's start with some Pieper:
In a dialogue of Plato, Socrates asks the sophist Protagoras just what he teaches the youth who flock to see him? And the answer is, "I teach them good planning, both in their own affairs, such as how one should best manage his own household, and in public affairs, how one can best speak and act in the city-state." That is the classic program of "Philosophy as Professional Training" -- a seeming philosophy only, with no transcendence.

I am only beginning to understand that the vast majority of college degrees handed out today have absolutely nothing in common with university education as it was once known. I'm not talking about the dumbing-down, which of course has been done. I am talking about job training. I see this everywhere. There is a particular Christian university that has a branch in our city. Their advertisements lately for their Masters of Arts in Education is that "schools hire our graduates."

I am not kidding.

Talk about keeping it inside the dome.

Today's universities, with rare exceptions, are nothing more than trade schools for white collar workers. Remember the hierarchical nature of learning? The idea was that college study took a student up the ladder.

And there was only one ladder.

Period.

The idea was not job training but the formation of a man of virtue and a virtuous culture in general. Our educational processes in this country are so inside-the-dome, should we really be surprised at the growing number of new atheists?

Perhaps Pieper said it best when he said:
The totalitarian demands of the working world have conquered the realm of the university.

Understanding What Is

In order to end on a brighter note, let's think for a moment about what Pieper says is the goal of philosophy, which is quite close to the goal of a true education:
[T]rue philosophy rests upon the belief that the real wealth of man lies not in the satisfaction of his necessities, nor, again, in "becoming lords and masters of nature," but rather in being able to understand what is -- the whole of what is. Ancient philosophy says that this is the utmost fulfillment to which we can attain: that the whole order of real things be registered in our soul--a conception which in the Christian tradition was taken up into the concept of the beatific vision: "What do they not see, who look upon Him, Who sees all?"