30 April 2010

Wendell Berry and Compliments in Education

Last night, while popping some popcorn on the stove {hope my chiropractor isn't reading this--she keeps telling me to ditch the popcorn--ahem}, I picked up my slightly neglected copy of What Are People For? and reread the essay I had completed a month ago, which is to say, Wallace Stegner and the Great Community.

Wendell Berry, when he was a younger man, was given a Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University. If you are unfamiliar with Wallace Stegner {and I was, by the way}, I did a little digging and learned that he is called "The Dean of Western Writers" and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1972 for his novel Angle of Repose.

It is obvious from the essay that Berry admires Stegner very much, not only for his proficiency in writing, but also for the type of man and teacher he was. He writes:
Mr. Stegner's teaching, then, as I have come to see it, was as important for what it did not do as for what it did. One thing he did not do was encourage us too much. If we wrote well, he said so. But he did not abet any suspicions we may have had that we were highly accomplished writers or that we were ever going to be highly accomplished. In this, I think, he respected the past, for he was better acquainted with the art of writing than we were and knew better than we did how much we had to learn. But he was being respectful of us too. He did not want to mislead us or help us to mislead ourselves. He did not say what he had not considered or did not mean. He did not deal in greetings at the beginnings of great careers. {emphasis mine}
This is, I think, important. I am incredibly tempted to drown my children in praise. I did this a bit with my oldest when he was younger, and I ended up having to crush a bit of his pride later with a dose of reality. It takes a bit of art, I think, to learn to praise a student's progress without giving him the impression that he has arrived at his destination already, or that he is better at his work than he really is, or that he is superior to his peers in some way.

My daughter A. has been awakening in so many ways lately, and I am, as we mothers so often are, almost bursting with pride. But I find myself holding my tongue until I have found the right words, until I can moderate the praise with reality and say, "I sure like the way you are trying to imitate that painting" instead of declaring to her something meaningless such as, "That is just so pretty and wonderful and so on and so forth" ad nauseam.

I see that the need for this moderation of praise doesn't end, even when you are Wallace Stegner and teaching some of the future great writers of our country.

Perhaps it is even more important at that point, when Stegner just might be the teacher who has the power to influence the students for greatness or something else, something which misses the mark, because the student doesn't reach his full potential.

Berry continues:
He did not pontificate or indoctrinate or evangelize. We were not expected to become Stegnerians. None of us could have doubted that he wanted us to know and think and write as well as we possibly could. But no specific recipe or best way was recommended. The emphasis was on workmanship. What we were asked to be concerned with was the job of work at hand, what one or another of us had done or attempted to do. Our teacher was a writer, he too was at work on what he had chosen to do; he would help us if he could.
The portion was reminiscent of what David Hicks was talking about when he portrayed the teacher as a type of fellow sojourner. The teacher teaches by modeling the Ideal Type to his students. His entire life is the convincing proof of what he is teaching.

One last quote:
And so what I began by calling reticence--at some risk, for it is not a fashionable virtue now--finally declares itself as courtesy toward both past and future: courtesy toward the art of writing, which needs to be carefully learned and generously passed on; and courtesy toward us, who as young writers needed all the help we could get, but needed also to be left to our own ways.
This is the balance I have been pondering lately in regard to my oldest. As he grows, I find myself wanting to tread carefully, to both recognize his need for firm, formal teaching, as well as his unique soul and gifting, and his need to learn a few things by tackling them on his own. It seems to me that this will get increasingly difficult with each passing year. It is so easy when children are under five and a sort of parental tyranny is in order--do this, now do this, your day will run mostly according to the way I have planned it. It is appropriate to give the two-year-old the security of ordering his life for him. But letting them fly--and knowing how far and how fast they should be allowed to do so--is tricky business.

And I know this instinctively, for I have yet to really live any of that. I tremble sometimes, when I think of the task we have before us, don't you?

Because the Water is Flowing

My son was shocked this morning when I told him we had "done school." He insisted that we hadn't. After all, he spent almost two hours with his friends digging on the shore of the river {and being yelled at by two nervous mothers: "Get back! You are too close to the canal!"}. How in the world digging in dirt counted as school was what he wanted to know.

Our budding naturalist did not realize that such a morning was exactly what Charlotte Mason prescribed for children seven and under in her masterpiece Home Education.

My friend and I enjoyed it all, too, as did all the other children. The sound of water running in our river bed, something that hasn't happened in quite a while {as Northern California only believes in allowing water to flow with its permission; isn't it amazing how the Green religion forgets that down the river are indigenous trees and wildlife that--gasp!--need water, too?}, was so relaxing that I'd have been tempted to skip lunch and go straight to nap if I didn't think I'd have a mutiny on my hands.

Why, oh why, can I not believe in eating out? Our frugality in regard to food is the bane of my existence, I tell you.

So. Wildlife. Flowing water, digging for clams, identifying birds, and generally enjoying our unseasonably cool weather. That, my friends, is a pretty good day of school.

But really I can't say we've been all that nature deprived, thanks to daughter A.

One of my informants {who generally ignores the fact that I do not allow tattling unless someone is in mortal danger and/or bleeding} had already told me that she was torturing carrying around frogs. I was still shocked, however, when she walked into my office. It was mainly the size of the frogs that did it. These guys were a handful and a half, only looking vaguely related to the little guys we feed to our ducks when we find them. {Have you ever seen a duck eat a frog? They look like they are dying, a la Grandfather Frog and Thornton Burgess, but then they are so happy afterwards.} One was particularly uncomfortable and noisily complaining.

And then he hopped down and jumped under my desk.

So that was fun.

Today, just now actually, she came in exclaiming, "Look mom! Babies!" Well, I turned around expecting tiny froggies, but no. She was carrying a handful of infant mice. They were about an inch-and-a-half to two inches long, hairless, eyes still closed, and to be honest they looked cold.

I don't like mice, but I just can't bring myself to do harm to a baby anything, so I told her to put them back where she found them and then wash her hands 773 times due to my unnatural fear of bubonic plague and the Black Death {is that the same thing?} and also some guy named the Pied Piper.

I think I may need that kitten they offered me at the feed store after all.

So this nature moment has been brought to you by the letter A and the number 7.

Now I am going to grudgingly make some lunch while wearing my apron, the pockets of which, incidentally, are full of body parts belonging to a certain Mr. Potato Head. My baby has a death wish, and if I find him choking on eyeballs or ear lobes one more time, the potato is going to be evicted.

29 April 2010

Charlotte Mason's Formation of Character

I am still plugging away at Volume 5, Formation of Character, and I am still reeling from the sheer magnitude of ideas on every page. Chapter 2 is called "A Genius at School" and it traces the education of the poet Goethe. "At school" is a bit of a misnomer, for Goethe was mostly home educated, though I use the word "home" loosely, for he seems to have spent his time collecting bits and pieces of knowledge and wisdom as he went along. He was the sort that was constantly learning, no matter where he went, and he was privileged to have a generous amount of freedom to move about.

Formation of Character by Charlotte MasonA lot of the information in the chapter was gathered from Goethe's Wilhelm Meister, which was technically a novel, though inspired by Goethe's real childhood. Mason explains that "Goethe confessedly images himself more or less in all his written work."

Mason once again seems to have so much appreciation for ideas which are considered "classical" in the world of education. For instance, we see the child experiencing a spontaneous mimetic {imitative} approach to his learning:
Many parents, who do not imagine their children to be embryo poets, are a little perplexed by the delight they take in any manner of acting,...and they wonder how far it is well to encourage a taste which may come to interfere with serious pursuits. Children are born poets, and they dramatise all the life they see about them, after their own hearts, into an endless play. There is no reason why this nature gift should not be pressed into the service of education. Indeed, it might be safe to go further: the child who does not dramatise his lessons, who does not play at Richard and Saladin, who does not voyage with Captain Cook and excavate with Mr Flinders Petrie, is not learning. The knowledge he gets by heart is not assimilated and does not become part of himself.

Therefore it is well that children should, at any rate, have the outlet of narration, that they should tell the things they know in full detail; and, when the humour takes them, 'play' the persons, act the scenes that interest them in their reading. {emphasis mine}
Mason describes Goethe growing up in a city rich with history. He walked, for instance, where Charlemagne walked, and the culture in which he was reared took great pride in its past, and was, as a result, completely unembarrassed when it came to sharing the details of the great moments which took place within its geography.

Where we live, there is little history. What I mean is, we are relatively young. No great battles have been fought here. No great works of art originated here. We could, I suppose, break out the Steinbeck and take a tour through his eyes, and that would offer a bit of family history to our children as well. But this is the extent of it. {I am always amazed when we visit my mother-in-law and she points out battlegrounds from the Civil War, old plantations, and huge statues commemorating various generals and leaders from the area.}

Mason explains that this is what should be in Great Britain, which is also rich in history and geography and art and so on, and yet it is not so. She writes:
There appear to be two or three reasons for our defective education in this respect. In the first place, we have been brought up to believe in what is 'useful' in education: it may help us to gain a living if we can read and write and cast accounts; may help us in society if we can play and sing and chatter French; or in a career, if we can scrape up enough classical and mathematical knowledge to win a scholarship. But where's the good of having an imagination furnished with pictures that open out in long perspective, and enrich and ennoble life?

It is the old story; utilitarian education is profoundly immoral, in that it defrauds a child of the associations which should give him intellectual atmosphere.

Another notion that stands between us and any vital appreciation of the past is, that--'we are the people!' We are cocksure that we know all that is to be known, that we do all that is worth while; and we are able to regard the traditions and mementos of the past with a sort of superior smirk, a notion that, if the book-writers have not made it all up, this story of the past is no such great thing after all: that 'a fellow I know' could do as much any day. There are few things more unpleasant than to see the superior air, and hear the cheap sneers, with which well-dressed people...disport themselves in the presence of any monument of antiquity they may make a holiday to go and see. We have lost the habit of reverence. {emphasis mine}
I have been thinking about this word lately: atmosphere. Charlotte Mason said that education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life. It is the first of this list with which I think we struggle most. We have devoted our lives to educating these little ones, and we do it daily, forgoing phone calls and other distractions to accomplish what we have set before us. But the atmosphere! How quickly it can slip away with one scowl on a child's face, one little soul who got far too little sleep the night before.

A desk full of art supplies. A library full of books. A backyard full of ducks and trees and frogs {!} and discarded lumber.

These are a start.

But I think again about Mason's picture of the child out in the world, learning about what happened on the street corners of his city, and I think about the wise man in Proverbs, taking his student out into the world, pointing out the good and the bad and using life as an opportunity to teach, and I think that atmosphere is more than the things we have or don't have. It is, to some extent, the teacher...making the most of each and every opportunity. Mason writes:
I have heard a father in a valley of the Harz telling his little boy of five that here was the scene of Tilly's famous march...[A]t the Hague you meet a working man taking his children round the picture-galleries, and explaining, you do not know how or what, but certainly the children are interested.

27 April 2010

Norms and Nobility: United in Christ

Had I read a bit further {or remembered my reading from a year ago}, I would have seen that Hicks makes the same points I made about Christ as the logos {only better, naturally}. In fact, I have a hunch that I only made the points I made because I read this a year ago, forgot about it, but the ideas took hold, oddly enough, and surfaced once again upon my reading of Chapter II Part I.

Only giving credit where credit it due here.

Norms and Nobility by David HicksAnyhow, I thought a good way to wrap up this chapter would be to review what Hicks said so well. Hicks is not favoring myth {story} alone, nor is he promoting reason {logos} alone. Rather, he is pointing out that we have, as a culture, run fully into the arms of Rationality and not only left out myth, but condemned it. To this, Hicks asks the question:
Would such a reasoning method tell [man] the truth about himself, or would it force man to label himself incorrectly as a programmed mechanism, so that scientific analysis would remain the preeminent means of studying him?
I don't want to belabor this point any further, so I will move on by saying that we know not only by the manifestation of Christ, but by His nature, certain things are true about man. For starters, we know that a purely rational approach to man is inappropriate, as Christ, the ultimate Man, the Ideal Type, if you will, was a unity of the mythos and logos. This is why we see, after His resurrection, Christ walking with his followers and using the entirety of Scripture to explain Himself.

It was C. S. Lewis who said:
I believe in Christ like I believe in the sun, not that I have seen Him, but that by Him I see all things.
By Him I see all things. This points to the importance of keeping Christ central, even in our discussions of educational approaches.

Hicks says:
One of the most luminous metaphors of all time, Saint John's use of the logos to describe Christ, rests on this paradox. Christ, the inward thought or reason, anticipated creation; Christ, the expressor of the inward thought or reason, created; and Christ, the naked aboriginal word itself, became flesh and dwelt among men to become the myth incarnate. Christian faith shares this mystery with language: it is impossible to ascribe a beginning to the word that is not at once denotative and connotative, material and immaterial, temporal and eternal, finite and infinite.
And thus ends my thoughts on Chapter 2. Or rather, David Hicks' thoughts.

Amen.

26 April 2010

Norms and Nobility: C. Mason Weighs In

I am still plugging along at Volume Five of Charlotte Mason's Original Home Schooling Series. This is a remarkable volume, and I wonder that it is not more highly recommended to mothers of young children. Though Mason seems to have discovered the pound of cure for some of what ails many youths {i.e., bad habits}, she also offers enough warning to serve as more than the proverbial ounce of prevention.

Norms and Nobility by David HicksIn my previous post The Mythopoeic Nature of Language {titled because of my recently discovered affection for the word mythopoeic}, I said something poorly which I have discovered Mason said well. This is one of the rare instances in which I thought something before I read it. However, comma, I think we can all rest assured that my thinking it, because it occurred some hundred years after Mason jotted down a similar {superior and more eloquent} thought, still qualifies as an afterthought.

Ahem.

First, a little background. Part IV of Volume 5 contains character studies, or perhaps we should call them "living pictures" of what she has been discussing throughout the work. In Chapter I of Part IV, she holds up two peasant boys and their upbringings--both the similarities and disparities--as the first study. The boys at hand are Jörn Uhl from Gustav Frenssen's book by that title, and Diogenes Teufelsdröckh, the hero of Thomas Carlyle's Sartor Resartus.

What struck me as connected to the Norms and Nobility reading are the observations she makes about the means of educating these boys:
Of all our sins of omission and commission, none perhaps are worse than the way we defraud children of those living ideas which are their right.
She explains that Diogenes calls his school education "insignificant." He did, however, devour any sort of reading in any sort of book {or scrap of paper} he could get his hands on. She writes:
Formation of Character by Charlotte MasonHe got something out of this random reading, bits of history and bits of fable, real, both of them, out of which his mind got its necessary food. Now, here is a point worth attention. How seldom do we hear of a famous man who got that food for his mind which enabled him out of his school studies! And how often, on the other hand, do we read of those whose course of life has been determined by the random readings of boyhood! We go on blindly and stubbornly with our school curriculum, as if this were a fact of no significance, because, say we, the boy will have chances after his school-days to get such pabulum as he needs; but life is not long enough to afford the waste of some dozen years, its freshest and most intelligent period. And, what is more, the boy who has not formed the habit of getting nourishment out of his books in school-days does not, afterwards, see the good of reading. He has not acquired, in an intellectual sense, the art of reading, so he cannot be said to have lost it; and he goes through life an imperfect person, with the best and most delightful of his powers latent or maimed. Why in the world should we not give children, while they are in school, the sort of books they can live upon; books alive with thought and feelings, and delight in knowledge, instead of the miserable cram-books on which they are starved?
That, my friends, is a good question. But there is more. Remember what Hicks wrote in regard to "detached analysis" being heaped upon our children, causing them to bear the burden of rationalism in their reading? Here is what he said:
Scientific rationalism and its methods of analysis demand a language of pure denotation to explain programs, techniques, and mechanisms. When the analytical methods and denotative language of scientific rationalism are forced on human learning, however, a reverse distortion occurs, with behaviorism replacing humanism and a mood of professional disinterest supplanting the emotional atmosphere of the ancient classroom. Where distrust of connotative language--with the baggage of value it carries--invades the modern school, there is a methodological tendency to exclude myth and to encourage detached analysis at the expense of the imaginative mind. Words like valor fall away...

I was thinking this was something fairly new {i.e., a result of modernism}, but Mason points out that students have been suffering under this learning paradigm at least since Thomas Carlyle wrote the semi-autobiographical Sartor Resartus. She explains:

[H]e tells us that "we boasted ourselves a Rational University; in the highest degree hostile to Mysticism; thus was the young vacant mind furnished with much talk about Progress of the Species, Dark Ages, Prejudice, and the like; so that all were quickly enough blown out into a state of windy argumentativeness; which by the better sort had soon to end in sick impotent Scepticism; the worse sort explode in finished self-conceit, and to all spiritual intents become dead."

This invective discovers a mistake in our educational methods. From the time a child is able to parse an English sentence till he can read Thucydides, his instruction is entirely critical and analytic. Does he read "The Tempest," the entrancing whole is not allowed to sink into, and become a part of him, because he is vexed about the 'vexed Bermoothes' and the like. His attention is occupied with linguistic criticism, not especially useful, and, from one point of view, harmful to him because it is distracting. It is as though one listened to "Lycidas," beautifully read, subject to the impertinence of continual interruptions in the way of question and explanation. We miss the general principle that critical studies are out of place until the mind is so 'thoroughly furnished' with ideas that, of its own accord, it compares and examines critically. "The hungry young," says Teufelsdröckh, "looked up to their spiritual Nurses; and, for food, were bidden to eat the east-wind"--"vain jargon of controversial Metaphysic, Etymology, and mechanical Manipulation falsely named science." {emphasis mine}


That is a long quote, to be sure, and worth reading at least twice.

I'll wait while you read it again.

Ready?
 
Mason, being the Victorian she is, can go on and on. Some of us find this easier to bear than others. But none of us can deny her brilliant observations: that critical analysis is distracting to the young reader, that it is highly inappropriate as an approach to reading as an art, that it will arise naturally out of a "fully furnished mind" {I love her illustration here}, and so on. But perhaps her most important observation brings us back to where we started: what if we faced reality and admitted all of these things about learning? What if we recognized that very few great men, great thinkers, believe school did them much of any service? And then what if, instead of eliminating school {as some are apt to do}, we designed a curriculum which fit with the way that the soul is designed to learn? This was the question of the year for CiRCE in 2009: what if we teach the child according to his nature? What if, instead of starving his mind, we saw it as our moral duty to nourish him in every way?

22 April 2010

Norms and Nobility: The Mythopoeic Nature of Language

Hicks begins Section II of Chapter II with some comments on Plato I won't go into, mostly because I don't pretend to understand the context of his discussion, having only read a couple of very brief excerpts of Plato which I no longer recall. I have Plato's Republic sitting on a shelf in my library, and I keep telling myself that someday I am going to read it.
Anyhow, Hicks writes:
Plato's sin {and that of all antiquity} is that he tried to think with language.
What is so wrong with language? Well, all that Hicks explains boils down to the fact that it is not precise. It carries associations from the past--the far distant past. It is "value-ridden." These qualities are what give it what Hicks calls its "mythopoeic character." I love that word: mythopoeic.

See? Words are distracting. The mere sound of a beautiful word has turned my head already.

Mythopoeic language might have been fine for Plato and his cronies, but we moderns have Advanced. And because we have Advanced, our Experts have helped the language keep pace by neutralizing it, cutting off its connection to "mythopoeic imagination." Hicks explains:
Norms and Nobility book cover
Scientific rationalism and its methods of analysis demand a language of pure denotation to explain programs, techniques, and mechanisms. When the analytical methods and denotative language of scientific rationalism are forced on human learning, however, a reverse distortion occurs, with behaviorism replacing humanism and a mood of professional disinterest supplanting the emotional atmosphere of the ancient classroom. Where distrust of connotative language--with the baggage of value it carries--invades the modern school, there is a methodological tendency to exclude myth and to encourage detached analysis at the expense of the imaginative mind. Words like valor fall away...
I happen to have here in my hot little hands a teacher's guide for the second grade Rigby Literacy curriculum. On page T14, there is a section entitled "Determining the Purpose." Here is a sampling:
  • You model and children practice a single comprehension strategy throughout...This clear, direct instruction helps children learn the comprehension strategy and how to use the strategy as they read.
  • When you focus on word level skills, you help children learn to look at word structure and patterns and develop their vocabulary.
  • When you focus on  sentence level skills, you help children learn to look at sentence structure and use cuing systems to read sentences that make sense...
  • When you focus on text level skills, you help children learn to look at the book as a whole, examining literary elements such as text structure, organization, and writing.
The above is exactly what Hicks is talking about. This is the teaching of reading as a method of detached analysis--as a science. And yet I have yet to meet a strong reader who does any of these things. Do you have a comprehension strategy? Do you use "cuing systems to read sentences that make sense?" {Did the author of the book seriously believe that it made sense that one would need a system to read a sentence which already made sense?}

Yes, as you know I am a firm believer in phonics. But I am under no illusion that teaching phonics is the same as teaching reading. Phonics is a skill, yes, and I believe it to be a very helpful one to possess. But to read in such a way that one is formed by the reading is not possible with phonics alone. Phonics simply unlocks the door to the Room of Knowledge in the first place. The nonsense above does not teach reading any more than phonics does. In fact, my guess is that the vast majority of children learn to use these "skills" to pass tests, but remain in the dark about reading as a form of participation in the conversation of men throughout history. I am reminded that Dr. James Taylor wrote:
[O]ne cannot really read and know the words--the signs of things--without first a knowledge of the things themselves, which we must come to love.
That reading is being taught this way in our schools reveals one important thing: the schools believe that the purpose of reading is to gain information.

But if reading is, at its core, character forming {an act of spiritual formation, even}, we would need to take Dr. Taylor's approach, no?

I will conclude with one last quote from Hicks on this subject:
A student cannot experience valor through analysis any more than he can a distributor cap through the imagination; hence, the analytical method itself calls into question the utility and reality of such concepts as valor, while affirming that of the distributor cap.
Reading which builds a better culture is not what Rigby Literacy and programs like it are doing. They are building a world in which the proverbial distributor cap prevails. The method is utilitarian, and the children are formed by the method in ways unseen at first {though who can deny that we are producing utilitarians left and right?}.

A child immersed in myth is impassioned. Oh, he may not know the word valor in second grade {then again, he might!}. But he is beginning to sense the rights and wrongs and questions in the world. He reads and hates Prince John, loves the knight Ivanhoe, and has mixed feelings about Robin of Locksley who is so darn appealing but then there there is that outlaw aspect.

Robin Hood troubles us all, does he not?

But I digress.

In the modern methods, the book is mastered. In the poetic method, it is the man who is mastered.


Further Reading:
An Argument for Good Books
A Brief Argument for Reality
Cindy's Chapter II Wrap-Up

20 April 2010

Norms and Nobility: Story and Reason in Love

I just noticed that Cindy has begun blogging Chapter 2. Since I try to blog my own thoughts before reading what others have to say, I'm going to buckle down and blog Section 1 of the same chapter. Incidentally, for those of you who don't have your own copy, Chapter 2 is called The Word is Truth.

Before we go on, let's note that the term logos {λόγος} has a meaning within our faith. The Greeks, used the term a little differently, but since the Bible uses it, we should probably talk about that first. Perhaps the most well-known passage of Scripture utilizing this term is from the beginning of John 1:
In the beginning was the Word {λόγος}, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
If you look at a Bible containing cross-references, you'll find some other verses which flesh out this logos concept a bit more. Verses such as:
And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.

Colossians 1:17
And also:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word {λόγος} of life;

I John 1:1
Once upon a time I had a pastor {or was it a professor?} attempt to explain the concept of logos to me. I'm not sure I can reproduce what he said, but I'll try. He told me that the logos was the something behind. It was the reality beyond what we see. The ancients, he said, were trying to discover a great unifier, an abstract concept which held all other things together. We do not really search for such a thing within our own culture, he said, so it is hard for us to wrap our minds around it. He told me that the ancients were searching in a Platonic sense--that the reality of the logos existed in the realm of ideas. It was real, but we couldn't see it; it was only represented in a lesser sense upon the earth.

However, Christianity took the concept and ran with it. Instead of searching for a concept, the concept was based upon, or was a person: Jesus the Logos. When you look at these passages, you can see the connection: He was in the Beginning {i.e., before Creation} and all things were made by Him and through Him.; He is the source of life and light; He is the great concept behind all other concepts, the great unifying idea.
 
But this was scandalous because He was a person. And not just any person--He was a person who died a criminals' death. While philosophers of the day so glorified an introspective life that they maintained servants to perform almost every physical task for them, Jesus was down on the ground washing the feet of His followers--being a servant.
 
The logos, it seems, was not what had been expected.
 
According to Hicks, this wasn't the first time the logos was controversial. Back in the days of its birth, it was Socrates scandalizing those around him:
Socrates shocked his contemporaries by arguing that virtue and vice are not the inherent properties of objects; they result instead from the rational or irrational use of objects. More incredibly, he taught that it is worse to wrong another than to wrong oneself. Such unorthodox notions seemed to contradict the evidence of human experience, especially as recorded in the myths. {emphasis mine}
Hicks' first section in this chapter discusses the effects of the ensuing "violent collision between Socrates' dialectical logos and the dogmatic mythos." Now is probably a good time to cover Hicks' definitions.
Logos: the word by which the inward thought is expressed {early def.}; the inward thought itself; the intrinsic-abstract-rational principle governing all things {later defs.}

Mythos: the written mythology which represented man's imaginative and spiritual effort to make this world intelligible
How did Socrates begin some sort of epic battle between the logos and mythos? Quite simply, he juxtaposed them. He said things about the logos which directly contradicted the overt lessons of the written mythology of his day. Hicks illustrates this using an example from Plato's Republic:
Almost immediately...reasoning Athena began to criticize her mythological father--although not without a show of deference and a willingness to quote father whenever his authority assisted her argument.
In other words, reason {and the search for the logos} stood in judgment over and above myth. Myth was still seen as useful if it could advance Reason's arguments, but Reason became the ultimate authority.

Or did it?

Hicks hints that maybe the battle is not over when he writes:
But...myth defies analysis, especially in instruction, and happily, usually survives it.
However, Hicks insists the the division between mythos and logos is a Permanent Thing:
It has become almost commonplace to divide ancient consciousness thus between the logos and the mythos, but when fully understood, this division is recognized as timeless--a precondition, as it were, of the human mind.
I ask myself: is this so? I don't think this must be so. I was considering the great stories {which Hicks calls myths} of our faith. Within Christianity, there is complete harmony between the stories {the myths} and the Logos {Christ}. Each myth anticipated the coming of the enfleshed Logos, the One who both preceded the stories {because He was present at and the Cause of Creation}, and also postdated them {they predicted His coming, and also predict His final coming}. Christ was and is a living, breathing Governing Principle, the ultimate good king.

Unlike the Greeks, who had to struggle with the behavior of gods being completely irrational and in conflict with their conception of the logos, Christianity is able to flow nicely from the Logos to the stories and back again, with the stories teaching about the Logos and the Logos informing and deepening the stories. This is a treasure.

At this point Hicks begins to extol the virtues of myths:
A good myth, like a good map, enables the wanderer to survive, perhaps even to flourish, in the wilderness. To this end, classical education, like Hebrew education, carefully preserves the best myths within its tradition and insists that each new generation of students learn these myths, imprisoning them in their hearts.
This is why Ambleside has my Year Two student reading The Pilgrim's Progress, famous poems, and stories about heroes of the Christian faith. This is why our Circle Time this term is focusing on having the children internalize all of the major stories from the book of Genesis.

Hicks writes:
The mythos is the very skeleton of civilization. Remove it and watch all the flesh of political stability, scientific invention, and social sophistication collapse. Myths...remind man to think and to act out of a sense of responsibility toward the past...Myths inspire men to perform great and selfless deeds by assuring and warning them that their actions are not individual, but symbolic.
Again, I am reminded of the Christian cohesiveness between the Logos and the mythos. God enfleshed all that the mythos was trying to tell us in the first place. Jesus was the Story walking among us, living out the Ideal Type. God did not send a philosopher to speak with kings, but rather He sent His Son to embody the virtues, live spotlessly, and to redeem the world. Within Christianity, the Logos Himself has a mythological component, in the sense that He is epic and iconic--even to the unbeliever. He was not an argument, but an embodiment. I'm not saying that Reason should be dispensed with because of this, but simply that Christ Himself showed us the value of story. It was how He taught, and ultimately how He lived His life. It is how we know Him today.

To bring all of this back to one of the themes of this ongoing conversation, we currently have an educational system which ignores the mythology of Christendom in particular, and the West in general. The approach is pure Reason--isolated facts sans context. This is uninspiring on many levels. Today I am reminded of how powerful and motivating are the stories of the truly great. How many times have I felt motivated by Christian and Faithful, by Mrs. March and her daughters, and, naturally, by Christ. Many facts can be learned through story--they need not be mutually exclusive--but to the extent that the Good Book, good books, and the great books have been banished is the extent to which students are doomed to a type of mundane, unenlightened life.

___________________________
Further Reading:
Morality, Myth, and the Imagination
Cindy's post on Chapter II, Section I

Quotables: The Blood of the Moon

The Blood of the Moon: Understanding the Historic Struggle Between Islam and Western Civilization (Dennis and the Bible kids)
 by George Grant

Clearly the conflict between the Jews and the Muslims is not a question of borders or settlements or political self-determination. Thus, it cannot be solved by manipulating the political apparatus. It is an intractable spiritual problem. And it must be dealt with in spiritual terms...

[snip]

To approach the current East-West crisis in any other fashion is to invite disaster.

{p. 102-103}
When the reality of the Turkish conquests was fully comprehended throughout Christendom, there was panic in the streets. Economic fortunes were lost overnight. Political careers were destroyed. And whole theologies were suddenly cast into bankruptcy. The heathen had overrun the greatest symbol of Christian culture [{Constantinople in 1453}]--and Europe's link to the mysteries of the East.

Doomsayers had a heydey. They predicted catastrophe and destruction. Experts on Bible prophecy began to expound new theories about a coming Great Tribulation and a terrible Apocalypse. Talk of the last days and the end times occupied the attention of Christians everywhere. Complex formulas were contrived to prove that the Antichrist and False Prophet had come and that the Great Whore of Babylon had been revealed. Charts were drawn up to show the increasing frequency and intensity of earthquakes, famines, and plagues. The "signs of the times" seemed to indicate that the countdown to Armageddon had actually begun.

{p. 118-119}

19 April 2010

Gluten Junkies

Unraveling the Mystery of Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorder: A Mother's Story of Research & Recovery

by Karyn Seroussi

An email I received this weekend reminded me of a topic I always meant to post on, but neglected to do so. With allergies mostly in the rear-view mirror of our lives, it is easy to forget some of the details. Because of this, I thought I'd type this up before the well-trodden paths of my mind on this issue grow over due to disuse.

Many times, when I've mentioned in passing the extreme special diet my children were on for over a year {for those of you who joined us more recently, they were gluten-, corn-, soy-, casein-, chocolate-, caffeine-, coffee-, artificial flavors-, nitrate-, nitrite-, and artificial food coloring-free} due to extreme food allergies and sensitivities, mothers have told me that they just couldn't do it. Now I understand this. I cried when I realized what it was going to take to help our children. I didn't want to work that hard, and I didn't want to admit that we couldn't ever go out to eat.

It helped when we realized we could order a pizza after the kids were in bed!

Ahem.

But there were a few mothers out there who would say they were pretty sure that their child had allergies, but they couldn't bear to take that child's favorite food away. Some of these mothers are simply having compassion on their child. Others are terrified of their child, who feels very passionately about the foods he likes. They know that he will throw a giant, horrible tantrum. He will steal food from other children at church. {Ask me how I know.} He will sneak crackers out of the pantry when no one is looking. And so on.

My friends and I used to call these children Gluten Junkies.

Let me tell you a secret about allergic children: they often crave the things which are bad for them.

In her book, Unraveling the Mystery of Autism, Karyn Seroussi explains that, in some autistic children, the gluten and casein proteins actually impact the child's system like a drug. Due to a combination of leaky gut and improper digestion, these proteins break down to an opiate form which can literally give the child a "high" feeling and result in a sort of food addiction. {You can read about the urine tests for this condition here.} So, in the case of some autistic children, you have a literal addiction. We can't blame these children for feeling passionately about their food!

But the situation really goes beyond this. I cannot tell you how many times I've met diabetics who crave sugar, alcohol, and white flour, or arthritics who crave nightshade vegetables. The sick body seems to malfunction at an incredible level, craving the exact food which encourages its downward spiral.

I don't know why this happens.

This condition is in no way limited to gluten, though Gluten Junkie does have a certain ring to it, doesn't it? Plus it gets the point across: we can view the situation somewhat like an intervention with an alcoholic than anything else. Just as with an alcoholic, their condition has caused them to no longer accept what is best for themselves, and so the adults are taking the situation in-hand.

Of course, children are born not knowing what is best for themselves, so it is hard to know where typical childhood leaves off and actual addiction begins. Some kids just really want candy and cookies.

But whatever the cause, especially with very young children, Mother might just have to be forceful firm. Here is dinner. Now eat it.

Of course, the child can be informed at the outset that he is going on a new diet, and this is why. Our children were. Some children will not be on the diet very long at all, because it will turn out they do not really have allergies {though one might want to have the peptide test ran before commencing with the diet--leaky gut is not an allergy, even though there are neurological complications attendant to the situation}. Other children will feel so good on the diet that they won't want to go back.

An older child would have to be dealt with differently. I have never parented an older child, but I did have bad health in my teens. There were a lot of things I didn't want to do during that time: physical therapy, taking my medicine, and so on. My parents pretty much asked me if I wanted to get well or not. That is the approach I'd probably use with an older child in the situation, but it is the only option I know of, and I tend to view the whole thing from the perspective of a child rather than a parent. But that is part of growing up. Learning to do what is best rather than what is comfortable. Some of us get harder lessons than others, and that is life.

If you have an autistic child with suspected allergies, Seroussi's book is very good, and reads like a mystery novel. Her son is now normal, by the way. Diet change did a world of difference for him. She once wrote:
When I discovered that taking away some milk made a slight difference, I immediately took away all milk. When I discovered that gluten might be implicated, I took that away as well. It wasn't easy, but it was easier than spending the rest of my life with an autistic child.
Indeed.
_____________________________
Related Posts:
-Defeating Autism
-Mystery of Autism Quote Selection
-More Mystery of Autism Quotes

16 April 2010

Norms and Nobility: How is Virtue Taught?

I don't have a ton to say about this portion because I touched on some of it in my previous post covering this subject. Needless to say, this section assumes what is discussed in the prior section, namely: that virtue can be taught. The discussion concerning how virtue is taught must take place within a group of people who believe that it is possible to teach it in the first place. Otherwise, the entire debate will be fruitless.

Hicks writes in Section III:
Can the knowledge of good, the love of beauty, the vision of greatness, and the passion for excellence be learned in a classroom? No notable or influential ancient, it is fair to say, ever answered this question in the negative.
Looks like our modern assumption that virtue happens by accident is a bit peculiar, as far as the scheme of history is concerned. It is also peculiar, when one considers the scope of Scripture. I've got a smattering of verses that come to mind, a sampling which is not at all exhaustive. But let us consider:
My son, observe the commandment of your father

And do not forsake the teaching of your mother;
Bind them continually on your heart;
Tie them around your neck.
When you walk about, they will guide you;
When you sleep, they will watch over you;
And when you awake, they will talk to you.
For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching is light;
And reproofs for discipline are the way of life
To keep you from the evil woman,
From the smooth tongue of the adulteress.
 
-Proverbs 6:20-24
Here we see it acknowledged that the parents can teach something which has an impact on the child's moral life. The combination of commandments, teachings, and discipline can spare the child from falling into the trap of the adulteress woman. And then we have:
Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,

But he who hates reproof is stupid.
 
-Proverbs 12:1-3
This reveals a connection between discipline, which we assume has a behavioral aim, and knowledge, which we tend to assume has an intellectual aim. I think a comprehensive search of Scripture would reveal that, in the life of the wise, there is no dividing line between what one knows and who one is. A fool {who is synonymous with an unrighteous man} reveals he knows little of real importance.

Another thought I have along these lines is that our society has it all upside down. The knowledge which makes righteous is a knowledge which is superior to other knowledge. That we focus on something other than the former in our schools reveals that we, who were born to aim for heaven, are aiming for earth, so to speak.

Not that we want to run away from practical knowledge. I think this involves more the spirit of the thing and the aim of the thing than the thing itself.

I am reminded of one more verse:
For [our earthly fathers] disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

-Hebrews 12:10-11
That discipline, which is a form of instruction, leads to virtue. The aim of the Lord when He instructs us, teaches us, and disciplines us is to "yield the fruit of righteousness." He Himself is bringing about virtue. Because we are His followers, we can aim to do the same...but only in light of Christ. I wrote about this part of the chapter about a year ago, and I stand by most of what I said back then {my understanding of classical education has deepened a lot over the course of the year}. Children cannot be saved without Christ. Period.

However, comma.

The Lord Himself caused them to be birthed into a Christian home, and commanded that they be raised in the discipline and instruction {παιδεία} of the Lord. The fact that righteousness is impossible apart from Christ does not nullify God's command in regard to the rearing of children {which, Biblically speaking, is an educational process}. Rather, I think we learn here that God uses parents as a primary instrument of bringing about that virtue. In other words, God works through us in their lives.

With that said, I see one more thing in this section. Who the teacher is becomes extremely important. There is a saying that "more is caught than taught" and it is true. My children tend to have my faults! The ancient teachers sought to embody virtue before their students. {Jesus did this perfectly.} They were a living example of the curriculum--an incarnation, if you will. I am reminded again of how dependent on God we are for any sort of success in this endeavor.

15 April 2010

Wonder-Based Science

Very early in my mothering journey, I was given a gift from my mother-in-law. It's an unlikely treasure, to be sure. I don't think I've ever seen a copy in anyone else's library, though board books are notorious for their tendency to wander to and fro. I read this book almost daily to E. when he was a little one-year-old guy. He loved to listen to it; it was one of his top two favorites.

Grandma's Special Stories for Little Boys: What a God We Have (Board Book)What I didn't realize at the time was that Mommy was learning something from the book, also. I've blogged about this little tome before {can a board book be called a "tome"?} in a different context, but I find myself compelled to share its goodness once again. The title is Grandma's Special Stories for Little Boys: What a God We Have, and I've never read another quite like it.

The story is pretty predictable. Little boy Matthew goes to visit his grandma. They do enough together that he must have stayed for a week or so. Every time Matthew and Grandma witness something seemingly simple {ants scrambling around, seeds growing in the garden, etcetera}, Grandma tells Matthew, "What a God we have!"

Indeed.

One of my hesitations with science books has been that, while detailing such amazing facts about creation, any amount of awe or wonder is completely absent.

Wonder is, in my mind, a reliable antidote to that peculiar arrogance fed by study which we sometimes call hubris. Wonder contains within it a sense of powerlessness, because it acknowledges how small one is in relation to the world and its Maker. Wonder gives us the posture of Mary, sitting at the Lord's feet, thirsting to learn. Wonder also reminds us of how much more we have to learn--how much we don't know.

Recently, I was grumbling a bit {again} about trying to find things for my son E. to read. I often feel behind. His appetite is voracious, and sometimes I wonder if I am starving him. My father {the funny one} mentioned to us that we should be giving him nonfiction to read also. I didn't object, but I had yet to see a science book of any significant length that I can just hand over to him. Besides being filled with all variety of political metamessages {also known as propaganda}, science texts consist of just plain facts. Facts isolated from wonder and historical context cater to a sense of power and pride.

Exploring Creation With Zoology 2: Swimming Creatures of the 5th DayBut in the back of my mind I was determined to find something to give the poor boy. Besides, his birthday is coming up next month, and we aim to feel like we are giving him a feast when we hand him his birthday book each year. So I went on a search, and I kept coming back to the same recommendation from various respectable folks: Apologia's Exploring Creation series for elementary students. I ended up choosing Exploring Creation With Zoology 2: Swimming Creatures of the 5th Day because Ambleside has us reading about a whaling boat and a hermit crab's life in two separate books this term, and I know that his appetite has been whetted for marine life. {Also: I found an inexpensive used copy in great condition, a definite bonus.}

You know what sold me on this? Well, first of all they are written in a conversational style and contain sustained reasoning. I recently paged through a handful of public school textbooks, and even though there are a number of facts we can master through reading those books {and we will look at some of them together}, I was struck by the ADHD nature of the text. It was flashy, attention-grabbing, and had a tendency to have that magazine style of bullet points and disconnected reasoning.

We certainly don't want to hand our children texts which unteach the habits of thought we have been striving for.

But what really sealed the deal was this phrase from the online sample lesson: "Isn't that amazing?"

The author wasn't afraid to stand in awe before her subject, right alongside her readers. I was immediately reminded of Grandma and Matthew from so many years ago: "What a God we have!"

The author also points out what scientists do not know. Often, we do not know why things happen, only that they happen. For instance, in the sample lesson, we learn that no one knows why a whale breaches, the specifics surrounding a narwhal's tusk, where are the breeding grounds of the blue whale, and so on. She does this in a way which encourages the child to want to find out himself. It awakens the naturalist inside each of her readers.

I am excited to be able to hand my son a book that will take him days to read and will teach him facts, yes, but in light of how the world works and Who designed it to be so.

We have been rereading the creation story every morning this week. Even God stood stood back, looked at His work, and declared it Good. Should we not do likewise?

14 April 2010

Pasteurized Milk: Not a Whole Food?

Last night, I received an email newsletter from our dairy, the infamous Organic Pastures. I adore our dairy. We have visited it, and can assure you that you have never seen happy cows until you have seen the herd at McAfee's dairy basking in the California sun. It is a wonderful place from which we are happy to purchase our milk.

Last night's newsletter asserted something that I really thought was inaccurate. Here is the situation: Whole Foods {the grocery chain} has decided to discontinue their sales of raw dairy products. Our dairy had shelf-space at Whole Foods, so obviously this is an issue for them. You see, the newsletter declared their sorrow at this move by Whole Foods because, in their words:
We are very disappointed in this decision and believe that it is a move away from “whole food” being sold at Whole Foods. We all know that raw milk is a whole food, whereas pasteurized and ultra pasteurized milk are partial foods.
Well, to be honest, I was shocked by this. My belief has always been that it was homogenization, which fragments fat particles, that created a type of milk which was not a "whole" food. But my {limited} understanding was that pasteurization apart from homogenization simply took a living whole food and turned it into a dead whole food. Not optimal, but no different from what happens when I soak my pancake batter in homemade raw buttermilk and then proceed to fry the batter. This results in pancakes which are "whole"--meaning they consist of unfragmented ingredients.

Follow me?

So I thought that pasteurization was akin to what happens when I cook my dairy-filled pancakes, and I was intending to write a post on how wrong I thought the raw milk folks were to try and draw a dividing line where there was none.

Turns out, I was the one in error.

Now, before I tell you what I learned, I want to make it clear that I don't really care what sort of milk you have in your refrigerator, if you have any at all. What matters is that, whether you eat or drink, you do it all to the glory of God.

However, comma.

I do care about definitions and clarity, about maintaining the boundary of terms, and so on. I was convinced, when today began, that Organic Pastures had a too-narrow definition of whole foods.

So much for that.

After reading two extremely dull research papers on the topic of pasteurization, ultra-pastuerization, and homogenization {Processing Effects on Physicochemical Properties of Creams Formulated with Modified Milk Fat and Influence of Pasteurization on Milk Protein Breakdown in Cheddar Cheese During Aging}, I learned that the process of pasteurization--alone without ultra-pasteurizing and homogenizing--does in fact change the milk at a microbiological level. Among other effects, the various proteins are destroyed, flattened, or denatured.

If the definition of a whole food is that it is, at the microbiological level, intact, meaning that the proteins are whole, the fat is whole, the cholesterol is whole, and so on, then I suppose Organic Pastures is correct, after all, and raw milk is the only whole food milk.

Of course, in the process of cheese-making, the milk is also changed in structure. If you age cheese, the proteins begin to break down or change because cheesemaking is, at its core, a chemical process. Now, this happens quite naturally. I recently made homemade cream cheese from raw milk {the original "cottage" cheese} on my kitchen counter. It took less than a week {and requires no labor on my part save the effort of patience}, but the milk transformed from one thing {milk} into two others things {whey and soft cheese}. Could it not be said that cheese, therefore, is not a whole food?

This is why I think that we should never say that whole foods are the only foods which ought to be eaten. Cheese is a wonderful way to preserve summer's nutrient-dense milk harvest for the winter months or for travel.

But back to the issue at hand.

I am going to have to agree with Mr. McAfee that raw milk is the only whole food milk, as much as I didn't believe this, oh, about two hours ago. With that said, I'm not sure I that any chain store is going to be able to take the legal risks which go along with selling an unpasteurized product. Granted, I don't think that raw products, especially products produced by dairies as meticulous as Organic Pastures, are exceptionaly risky in reality.

But that doesn't matter.

When my husband was sick, doctors and the authorities at disease control kept pointing their fingers at two things: our raw milk, and our pet ducks {who were just ducklings at the time}. Every single time I tried to mention that I had my suspicions about some ground beef I had purchased at a local store, the conversation would come back to our habit of drinking raw milk. {I had the ducklings tested to rule them out.}

The fact is, because what we drink is unconventional, it was what drew attention when folks were searching for a source of infection. People really want to believe that if a person does everything just so and follows all the rules, then they will be safe. It wasn't until over 50,000 pounds of conventional beef were recalled from our state that it was admitted that, yes, perhaps that was the culprit after all. {(And did I still have the bar code? Are you kidding me? Who keeps the packaging from their ground beef on the off-chance that it almost kills someone?}

Ahem.

I now buy my ground beef from Organic Pastures. I have become somewhat paranoid about conventional beef, and knowing that McAfee farms regularly tests their milk supply for the virus that almost took my husband gives me comfort. We know the danger of eating food.

However, Whole Foods has to think about this issue at the legal level, rather than the personal level at which our family makes its decisions. They have to know that when there is an outbreak of something, the finger will be pointed at raw milk and other unconventional products first. I know, because I experienced this firsthand.

So though some wish to vilify Whole Foods for their decision, I think it might be more helpful to just try and understand. At the end of the day, Whole Foods is not some sort of intimate connection to a local farmer. It is a business with a nutritional marketing angle, with a bottom line to serve and a business to legally protect. The situation is what it is.

In my personal opinion, co-ops like the ones I belong to are probably the future of buying unconventional foods, for the most part.

If buy it we must.

I, on the other hand, am still occasionally lobbying my husband for a pygmy dairy goat.

You know.

For the kids.

12 April 2010

Norms and Nobility: Can Virtue Be Taught?


There are so many posts rolling around in my head, and very little time. Today, after all, is the first day of Term Three, with our new and improved longer Circle Time, and so on and so forth. Life speeds up in springtime, does it not?

Ahem.

David Hicks begins this section by declaring:
[T]he Greek achievement in education found its abundant source in Plato's question: Can virtue be taught?
Norms and Nobility: A Treatise on EducationNot to jump ahead too far, but Hicks explains in Section IV that the debate between the rhetoricians and philosophers in the ancient world was productive because it was concerning how virtue ought to be taught. In other words, it was assumed that virtue could be taught. The approach to teaching it was what was up for grabs, and the debate was often a case of iron sharpening iron, one side keeping the other side in balance, and vice versa.

Today, however, we find the debate to be...nonexistent for the most part. The vast majority of schools--public, private, and possibly even at home--are caught up in the teaching of facts alone. At first, I thought that perhaps today's debate has moved backwards one step, and concerns Plato's original question, Can virtue be taught? But I actually think we're far away from that question as well. Hicks writes:
To hold that virtue can be taught and that it is the chief duty of the school to teach it need not imply a belief in the perfectibility of man. Rather, it implies a belief in the ideal of virtue, as well as in the value of an education based upon the attempt to know and to emulate this ideal.
I can only conclude that our modern debate--if there even is one at all--is over whether there is such a thing as virtue in the first place. This is why, when we try and discuss what we are trying to accomplish in our lessons at home, we often feel like we're hitting a brick wall. Why do others not understand us? Why do we feel like we are speaking a foreign language?

Because, for the most part, we are.

We are a number of generations away from the time when the existence of virtue was a foregone conclusion. There is no debate, for those of us reaching for intangibles in our daily lessons are reaching to places completely untouched by the modern materialist mindset.

The Original Home Schooling SeriesCharlotte Mason's approach to education is also called, at its core, "character education" or a road to "character formation." Before reading her fifth volume {titled Character Formation}, I rejected this as some sort of manipulation technique based on associations I had from life experiences in the public schools pushing "values" that are "clarified" by the student and his preferences.

This is nothing of the sort. Mason is simply part of that ancient debate over how virtue ought to be taught. That virtue can and should be taught is assumed throughout her work.

Yesterday evening, I was reading her chapter The Young Maidens at Home, which deals with the family who is being reunited with a daughter--a young lady--returning home upon the completion of finishing school. This chapter looks at the child, almost an adult, who is birthed by the educational process. Mason's dire warning in this chapter is that virtue can also be untaught.

First, Mason asserts that a girl should not be assumed to be "finished" even upon completion of finishing school. I do not know much about the process of finishing school in Victorian England, but what I have gathered from my reading seems to be that the girls returned home, were debuted into society as eligible maidens, and hopefully, if all went as planned, matched and married off within two to four years of their return.

Mason implies that the parents were tempted to let the young girls spend their days in nothing but pleasure--playing, dancing, and spending time with friends. The reason for this is that they were at the "end" of their childhood. The parents wanted to provide them with one last indulgence before they entered motherhood, but Mason warned the result of this is that
the gain of the girl's whole education hitherto is at stake. She might as well have been allowed to play ever since she was born as to play uninterruptedly now. For the gain of her education is not the amount of geography, science, and French that she knows; she will forget these soon enough unless well-trodden tracks be kept up to the brain-growth marking these acquirements. But the sold gain education has brought her lies in the powers and habits of attention, persistent effort, intellectual and moral endeavour, it has educed.
Do you see? All of the subjects were the rigorous means through which virtue was formed in the soul. And the parents are undoing all of it through indulging the grown child. Mason explains why this is so:
[H]abits which are allowed to fall into disuse are all the same as though they had never been formed; powers not exercised grow feeble and are lost. The ground which has been gained in half-a-dozen years may be lost in a single one. And here we have the reason why many girls who have received what is called a good education read nothing weightier than a feeble or trashy novel, are not intelligent companions,and show little power of moral effort.
And this is such a disservice, for
if she is to recover the ground lost, she must begin all over again, and at an age when it is far more difficult to acquire habits and develop power than in childhood. Again the taste for parties of pleasure, for what may be called organized amusement, is an ever-growing taste, and dislodges the habit of taking pleasure in the evening reading, the fireside games with the children, the home music, the chat with friendly neighbours, the thousand delights that home should afford.
The Lord, incidentally, saved my husband and I from this. I was, to put it mildly, disappointed to find I was to be a mother so quickly after our marriage. We had plans. Most of those plans consisted of having a lot of fun. To indulge ourselves. To enjoy having extra money to spend on our pleasures. And so on. College is a great way to develop a taste for an indulgent life, a life where very little need be sacrificed for others. This was definitely the case for me, though many good things were gained from college as well. But I was intending to go from college to graduate school and marriage with more of the same. Emphasis on more. Marriage itself required little sacrifice on my part as we were kindred spirits.

Our intention was to spend many years playing alone together.

And we would have declined steadily into a life of self-centeredness, to be sure. I see this so clearly, and I know what my heart was like at that time. But God grabbed hold of our lives and our hearts and didn't allow this. He Himself was our disciplinarian. Having a newborn forced us to learn to value the pleasures of home while forsaking that "increasing taste for organized amusement." In a word, He did not allow any virtue we had gained to be undone, and also forced our growth. What better way to grow in virtue than to be granted a new life to raise, and also the heart, softened by love, to do that raising properly?

But I digress.

Mason, as I was saying, assumes that virtue can and must be taught. She assumes that it has been taught. She assumes that a single year can undo the lessons of a decade.

And I find myself more grave, and more desirous of being deliberate.

One last thing: her solution is not to forbid pleasures. She is very balanced. Her goal is to not allow the life to consist of so much pleasure-seeking that the soul itself is damaged.

10 April 2010

The Laundry Tax

There was a day when I was baffled by the title of the Rocks in my Dryer blog. Why in the world would she do that to her dryer? I asked myself. And then it began to happen. You see, I have a little girl who is inclined to collect rocks...and put them in her pocket. I suppose the phrase rocks in my dryer should have been obvious, but it wasn't until recently that it all clicked for me.

Of course, it clicked when certain garments came out with holes because there were so many rocks in my dryer.

In addition to rocks, I began to find small rubber balls, paper clips, and money.

Lots of money.

Pennies, dimes, nickels, and even dollar bills from time to time.

I could be rich, I thought to myself.

And then I scolded, oh, how I scolded. I told them all emphatically that they simply must clean out their pockets before putting anything in their hampers.

And then I pleaded, oh, how I pleaded. I begged them to clean those pockets.

Nothing changed. If anything, it got worse.

One day, instead of having a conniption fit {something I was seriously considering}, I decided to institute The Laundry Tax.

The way The Laundry Tax works is this: if you clean your pockets, you get to keep your stuff, and if you don't, Mommy keeps your stuff.

The Tax didn't have much effect in the beginning because no one seemed to realize what it was they were losing.

On a particularly frustrating day of laundry, I discovered not one, not two, but three dollar bills in the laundry. I went to put it in my stash when I decided I'd use the opportunity to drive home the lesson. I lined up three children and counted out one, two, and three dollar bills. I told them they had been left in pockets, along with an odd assortment of toys and trash, which I also showed them. {One child whimpered to have her trash back!} And then I told them we were all getting in the car because today was the day they all treated Mommy to Starbucks.

How would they do this? They wanted to know.

Simple. I was going to spend their dollars right then and there. And they were coming along for the ride.

Oh, the cries of anguish which ensued! They were horrified.

I, on the other hand, could feel my victory approaching.

We drove. We spent. I drank. They watched.

We returned home, and laundry continued that week. But something strange happened. There were no more rocks, paper, scissors, money, trash, etcetera at all.

Clean pockets daily.

A couple weeks later, I gave a twenty dollar bill back to my oldest. Even I am not that heartless.

Now, if I could just get them to turn their socks right-side-out.

08 April 2010

Norms and Nobility: The Pursuit of Happiness

Part Two of Chapter One was read aloud to my husband. It had certain political overtones I thought he'd appreciate, and talking it out with him was interesting, to say the least.

Hicks begins this section with Aristotle, who believed that
a happy, well-adjusted individual is the true end of learning.
This, naturally, flies in the face of folks like our Dear Leader who thinks that Jobs are the most important thing in the world, and that we need P-16 {yes, friends, 16--meaning college} tracking and national standards so that children are "prepared for life in a global economy."

Norms and Nobility: A Treatise on EducationIf education is not about jobs and economic contribution, but rather about character, virtue, and all of those intangibles which are inconvenient because they cannot be measured using a standardized test, one must then answer the question as to what is meant by words like "happy" and "well-adjusted."

I have met mothers, for instance, who want their children to be happy, and this means that they are to get what they want, when they want it, how they want it, and they will be quite antagonistic when anyone stands in their baby's way. Is this what Aristotle meant? That children should be educated in such a way that they are able to indulge their flesh as much as possible?

Hicks says no. He, thankfully, walks his readers through Aristotle's logic:
According to Aristotle, the perfect end of education will be an activity that is engaged in for its own sake, complete and sufficient unto itself. Aristotle calls the activity for which education prepares man--happiness.
Hicks then explains that there are three typical definitions for happiness: the life of pleasure, the practical life, and the theoretic life. He claims that Aristotle defined happiness in terms of the theoretic life. The life of pleasure is defined as
a never-ending list of luxurious accessories, the acquisition of which wears man down with work and worry.
Hicks explains what Ecclesiastes told us long ago, which is that this is a chasing after the wind, a pointless vanity.

The practical life, then, is what we usually hear from modern educators. Students are viewed as units of Industry. They go to kindergarten and preschool so that they are "ready" for first grade. They go to junior high in order to get into high school. They do well in high school so that they can be accepted to college, and the more prestigious the college the better. They go to college, and perhaps pursue graduate studies, so that they can get a job. They get a job so that they can make money and pay taxes, contribute to the Industrial economy, and send their 2.05 children to kindergarten so that they, too, can grow up and pay taxes.

And so it goes.

The entire process is viewed in a vacuum. There is never any reason given for why we do these things, why we pursue this course. We do it because it is our cultural gospel. When you do otherwise you are shortchanging your children, so the thinking goes. Hicks points out this flaw when he writes:
The wealth one acquires in business is a useful thing, but as such, it exists for the sake of something else...Happiness must be something that belongs to a person and cannot be snatched from him at the whim of the demos.
Aristotle settles on the theoretic life as the true source of happiness because it consists of intangibles residing in the soul of man which cannot be swept away by a hurricane, an economic depression, or any other circumstance of life. And what are the details of this theoretic life?
[T]he theoretic life is the life of virtue, so long as we mean by virtue all that the Greek arete expresses: the life that knows and reveres, speculates and acts upon the Good, that loves and re-produces the Beautiful, and that pursues excellence and moderation in all things.
So let's review. Aristotle says that "happiness" is the goal of education. He defines happiness as the theoretic life. The theoretic life is the life of virtue. The life of virtue is described in that last quote above; the virtuous man is compelled from within by the Good which he not only knows and reveres, but also thinks about and acts upon. The virtuous man loves Beauty--this is more than mere physical beauty, but does not exclude physical beauty--and imitates that Beauty. The virtuous man is excellent and moderate in all things.

Hicks goes on to conclude:
The life of virtue has nothing to do with one's prospective pleasures, possessions, or practical affairs, but concerns the manner in which one is prepared to spend one's leisure hours.
I wouldn't go so far as to say that it has nothing to do with the former part of the list, but I would definitely agree that it begins and ends with leisure. I just think that virtue seeps into all areas of life. Virtue will give pleasure. Think of the level of prosperity and contentment reached when there is an abundance in the land. Virtue will also contribute to industry. A good man will produce good things and conduct all of his business in an honorable and noble way. However, I think what Hicks is getting at {and I agree with him} is that when you aim for pleasure and utility, virtue never comes.

My interest, due to my conversation with my husband, lies in this final thought of Hicks:
The public interest in the individual's life and learning is not that of a prospective employer or bureaucrat.  Although the individual must live in harmony with the community, his life of virtue ought not to be subsumed by the political purposes of the state--for ultimately, the state's only justification is that it makes the good life, the life of virtue, the life that takes responsibility for what it knows, possible. The self-improvement flowing from this life, as pursued passionately in pastimes, redounds to the benefit of the community, the pleasure of the individual, and the true happiness and harmony of both. {emphasis mine}
My husband's first response to this was, "The pursuit of happiness!" That's right folks. His theory is that, since the Founders of our country spent so much time studying the Greeks and Romans in their search to devise a noble Republic, that the Constitutional phrasing which guarantees to each man "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" was referring directly to Aristotle's theoretic life.

As an aside I might add that our lack of virtue is revealed when we no longer find this list of intangibles sufficient, but yearn for the right to jobs, health care, and protection. Because we as a culture no longer possess a theoretic life, we seek pleasures with one hand and utility with the other.

To the extent that we have abandoned virtue in favor of fleshly pleasures in our free time and utility in school and work, we have caused our own demise. Is it any wonder that virtue no longer abounds in this land?

I asked my husband an important question: "Do you mean to tell me that you think the Constitution might actually guarantee the right to a classical education?" To some extent, the answer seemed to be yes.

Notice that classical education, in the world of Hicks at least, demands a limited government, whose job is only to foster that happiness, to ensure that nothing impedes the theoretic life. This is a bare minimum, indeed, and something to think about when engaging in political debate.

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Read More:
Thoughts on The Good Life by Cindy
Notes on this same section by Krakovianka