29 October 2010

CiRCE Talks: Kern's Imitation: The Forgotten Path to Liberty

I always appreciate that Andrew Kern begins his talks with his thesis. This helps me know what I am trying to learn in my listening. Sometimes, an idea in a Kern lecture which seems initially like a digression, turns out to be firm supporting evidence for the thesis when I review my notes, and all because there is a clear thesis written down, that I might not forget it.

The thesis he states this time is:
Throughout human history, imitation has been highly honored, but in the last hundred years or so, we despise it, we consider it monkey-see-monkey-do, aping, rote...We regard imitation as, fundamentally, a problem.
His real thesis is basically that imitation is integral to learning. He wonders if perhaps it is the only way we have ever really learned anything. If imitation is integral to learning, we need to understand how the process of imitation takes place.

Kern refers us back to Guroian's talk Mentor. Guroian says that without mentors, the arts perish. In context, he's talking about the fine arts--dance, painting, etc. Mr. Kern extends this to...the liberal arts. As usual, I have trouble remembering that the liberal arts are arts rather than subjects, and I am grateful that the CiRCE Institute is always faithful to hone my understanding of this important idea.

Kern tells us that the liberal arts cannot be taught in an academic fashion. Students, he says, must be discipled or mentored in the liberal arts. Freedom, he says, is an achievement which requires a mentor. It isn't a condition at birth. The mentor takes on the role of eye-opening coach, enabling the mentee to see.

Mentoring done properly is done through mimesis, which is the Greek word for imitation. I felt like I understood this whole concept better because my son E. and I are currently walking slowly through Marryat's The Children of the New Forest. A boy in the story has just received his first deer hunting lesson. He was not placed in a classroom where he read books about hunting, learned the vocabulary, and so on. Instead, he and his mentor walked in the forest together. He watched his mentor, and his mentor gently corrected any mistakes, explaining why they were a bad approach to hunting. And so on.

As an aside, this was the point where I began to be convicted (once again) that if we are actually taking on the position of mentor, we are taking on the position of...master. The children imitate us, no? How important our own education, if we are to disciple our children in the arts of freedom!

Everything we learn, we learn through imitation, he says. I wasn't sold on this until he explained the steps of the process. After that, I was more convinced. Of course, we also have the idea floating around that knowledge is revelatory. What about that? Kern answers that objection also. Yes, his listeners laughed. There is always a lot of laughter and delight in a Kern speech.
This is not to say there's no such thing as inspiration and all that. I do believe in calling on the Heavenly Muse as John Milton did. But I also believe that if the Heavenly Muse comes to you and you haven't ever read a poem, and you don't have any vocabulary, the Heavenly Muse will be just as frustrated as you are.
Kern admits that we can show a child a picture of an animal, tell him the animal's name, maybe the sound it makes, and this is a form of imitation. But it is a shallow understanding, literally two-dimensional. Kern contrasts this traditional (in a modern sense) classroom method with God's approach of having Adam name the animals. Kern believes that Adam came to know the animals, and his naming of them was a form of imitation--a priestly presentation of the animals back to God in the form of a symbol. Adam takes what God presented to him and he represents it to God.

I took the textboook approach when my oldest was two. I showed him pictures of animals and told him about them. I was on bedrest, so I don't know that I could have done anything differently. But I can't help but contrast this with how my current 2-year-old is learning. Once a month, we head down to our beloved feed store to buy bags of layer pellets for our flock. The store has a "petting zoo" out back (well, that is how the children perceive it; we adults know that this is a place where certain animals are being finished off before butchering). Little O. runs out there screaming with delight. Any time an animal makes a noise, he's off running to it. Never mind that two of the roosters are separated in cages by a giant yard, when one crows, he's off, and when the other responds to the challenge, he's back again. There is a little bench where he loves to sit, swinging his legs, watching the chickens in their caged area.

Little O. has had a calf "nurse" his fingers. He's had a llama sniff his hair. He begins to name the animals on his own, using the sounds they make. I correct him with the proper name, of course, and I can't help thinking that whereas my oldest knew what a cow in a picture was, my youngest knows a cow. It gets even more personal when I think about how my children don't know ducks in general, but six specific ducks, their names, how they behave, what they are like. This is a sort of intimacy that isn't achieved in the vast majority of classrooms.

But I digress.

What does the process of imitation look like?
  1. Attentive perception. Earlier, Kern called it "observation," but he refined it midway through the talk. We've talked before about how attention is an act of the will to which children can be trained. Children in our culture are trained to not attend. They are not held accountable for not attending (unless you count drugging them). We train them to be easily distracted by putting them in front of a screen that feeds their sensuality, overstimulates them, and causes them to crave more distraction. It makes them dissatisfied with the real world around them, and careless in their observation of it. Perception, Kern tells us, depends upon the will. Everything in life, he says, depends on what you attend to--you choose to be a certain person by choosing what you give your attention to. The reason we do not train a child's will and train them to attend--to the voices of their parents, to the world around them, etc.--is because years ago science told us we were complicated animals, or possibly machines--that there was no soul. And so we stopped cultivating the soul, disciplining the will. We have replaced this discipline of cultivation with entertainment and distraction in the form of electronic media, which causes atrophy of the soul--and I loved what Kern said here--the opposite of what happens when you meditate on the law of the Torah day and night and your leaves will never wither. The scary thing is that it seems to be implied that children who are not disciplined and cultivated will never get past step one--their path to wisdom has a roadblock right at the starting gate.
  2. Contemplation. This has three components: memory, imagination, and comparison. Comparison is when we look for similarities and differences. There are differences in quality, quantity, kind, and degree. We do this involuntarily whenever we see anything, but the mentor can help pull it into the conscious mind so that it is harnessed for actual learning. Imagination enables us to see into the life of things--it is not calculated, but a perceptive power and act of the soul, and the ancients saw this as the beginning of reason.
  3. Formation. This is almost completely passive. As steps 1 and 2 are engaged in, the idea begins to form itself in the soul. We begin to understand cow-ness or duck-ness. We can know what things are, but this is different from knowing the thing itself. Most of our knowing today is shallow and lacking in understanding because we do not follow the steps of imitation, nor do we make it to the point of formation.
  4. Re-present it. This fulfills our priestly duty of offering the thing back to God. Re-presentation can take many forms--speak it, write it in a story or poem, sing it in a song, and so on.
Kern made a few important points that flesh out some of the details:
  • Freedom is a long process, and the liberal arts are the disciplines of freedom. Fully mastered, they are the ability to use and interpret symbols, meaning they are the ability to do what is uniquely human. There are many small steps between not knowing math and mastering calculus. Kern encourages us to discipline the children in the arts every step of the way, taking little, detailed steps. To get to calculus, we start with counting, and then addition, and so on.
  • Play complicated, syntactical music for them to hear. Read Shakespeare or Milton to them. Don't worry about the fact that they (or you!) can't understand it. "Understanding what you read is vastly overrated."
  • Seeing is important, and this is what painting and drawing are for. They train us to see things, which is perception. If you want them to see something, have them imitate it--tell about it (narration, anybody?), paint it, write a story about it.
  • In literature, the key question is, "Should he have done it?" Should Edmund have followed the White Witch? Should Washington have crossed the Delaware? This gets us into the heart of the story. I wonder if narration without this question is really sufficient.
  • In teaching reading, ask them about what they are reading.
  • If you want them to be it, show it to them. If you can, be it yourself. If not (because none of us are perfect), read a book about it--for instance, find a story which embodies justice.
  • Kindergarten 101: teach them how to pay attention, how to will themselves into attentiveness.
Personal Application
This talk reaffirmed to me some things that I was beginning to doubt myself on (because they are sometimes hard and the children aren't particularly fond of them) as well as gave me a vision for some things I can add.
  • I needed to continue to work with A.-age-five on narration. She resisted (they all resist) in the beginning. I read a Bible story from Genesis out of the King James every morning. Her job is to remember one thing she heard. In the beginning of the year, she couldn't do it. Now, ten weeks later, she narrated almost the entire story. But two weeks ago, I was about to give up. That was when I first listened to this talk. I realized that the problem was really an undisciplined mind. So I pressed her on it. All in two weeks she went from maybe remembering one thing to giving me a full narration. And this from the child I often think has a bad memory. What she has is what we all have: inattentiveness. And she can be trained because she is a child with a soul which can be cultivated. Goodness, I am struck by how important is our theology of man in all of this.
  • I am not asking enough "ought" or "should" questions in regard to stories. I am resolving to pick out of my son's narrations one event, and ask him of someone ought to have done something, and why. I'd like him to use Scripture when at all possible.
  • I am not requiring enough imitation. This term, we are studying the virtues. On his term exam in two weeks, he will be asked to write a story that embodies one of the virtues we have studied.
  • I need to work on drawing and painting with my little ones. I have the eight-year-old doing a weekly drawing lesson, plus a weekly craft that hones a skill that will be handy for him later, but I have neglected the little girls.
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Read More
-Mystie's post

28 October 2010

Quotables: Standing on the Promises

Standing on the Promises: A Handbook of Biblical Childrearing
Standing on the Promises:
A Handbook of Biblical Childrearing
by Douglas Wilson

[W]hile we may trust God for the character of our children, He has not promised us anything about our children's intellectual capacities. Suppose parents have undertaken a rigorous program of homeschooling, or they plan to enroll their child in a world-class private Christian school. Having done so, they announce to their friends that their child is going to be a NASA scientist, or that he'll be reading the Greek New Testament by the age of four. Well, maybe. The best educators in the world cannot put in what God left out.
Parents must not kid themselves. An unregenerate sinful nature begins to appear in its true colors during [the teen] years, and in such a situation parents often have to work very hard to persuade themselves that their child is truly regenerate.
[T]he gospel applies to everything. Those who make such an application have a Christian worldview. Those who do not make such an application may of course be saved, but they do not think like Christians.
It is very important for parents of teenagers to maintain the distinction...between house rules and God's rules. A great deal of damage is done when kids grow up in a Christian home where biblical law and house rules are confused. The bad will drive out the good, the traditions of men will replace the commandments of God--with moralism as the result. The result can be grown children who are aghast at the drinking of beer, but who tolerate gossip as a matter of course. But God never prohibited the former, and He strictly forbade the latter. What biblical parents want is morality, not moralism.
"Let each be fully convinced in his own mind" (Rom. 14:5b). The Bible makes room for house rules. This instruction from Paul comes in the context of settling a dispute in the church about eating vegetables and observing special days. But the principle here merits our close attention because the modern church has more than her share of "debatable matters." Unfortunately, the fact that we have many opportunities to apply Paul's instructions does not mean that we necessarily do. Many of the debatable areas concern our teenagers.

The Bible does not teach, "There is no answer on these debatable issues, so leave the other guy alone." Consideration and courtesy are not relativistic. There is a correct answer. Paul for example, gives us the right answer on the vegetarian issue, but also says that those who know the right answer are to defer to the weaker brother's conscience. The strong are to defer to the weak. So Christians have the right, according to Scripture, to eat only vegetables, even though God calls it a weakness. Now if someone becomes imperialistic and insists that everyone else eat only vegetables, the clear duty of the church is to oppose such legalism. In Colossians, Paul requires us not to submit to decrees which say we are not to handle, taste, or touch (Col. 2:20-22). Christians simply must not obey the legalist. But if a weaker brother (or simply a brother with whom we differ) is applying this standard to himself alone, or to his own household, then we are to leave him alone.
The parents should view themselves as successful if their seventeen-year-old boy wants to be away from home.
After the child has left, he still honors his parents by respecting them and by supporting them financially when they are older (Mark 7:11-13). This may involve taking them into the home to care for them. Of course, there are certain situations where it is medically impossible to have elderly parents live in the home. But in a godly society, with godly family order, the common practice of placing elderly parents in old folks homes would not exist. The proliferation of these emotional hellholes where people go to die, and where they spend the last 15 years of their lives in lonely isolation, is an abomination.

27 October 2010

CA Politics: Prop 19, Brown for Gov, and More!

If you've been reading here for a while, you know that this blog gets political around election time. Consider yourself warned. If you don't live in California, you might not find this terribly interesting. That's okay. I won't be offended if you click away and come back tomorrow for something more to your liking.

So let's talk.
  1. Proposition 19: The Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act. I mentioned this on Monday and received a surprising (to me) pro-marijuana legalization response, so I did a bit more research. Here are my conclusions:
    • The motivation behind this act, besides having a get-out-the-Democrat-vote angle, is also an attempt to have to avoid the painful cuts in spending this state needs to make. Instead of cutting, they are constantly looking for new sources of revenue. What they see in marijuana is a chance to take money off the top. Remember, in growing food there is no sales tax in this state. So if they make a special law that classifies marijuana as a product, they can tax it. Then they say things like this will be used on "schools and police officers."
    • Proposition 19 is poorly written, so even if you are hypothetically in favor of drug legalization, you might want to rethink a yes vote on this particular version. You see, the law creates a special class for marijuana that is not enjoyed by our other legal mind-altering substance, alcohol. So, for instance, bus companies and schools that hire bus drivers can test for alcohol use, even though it is a legal substance, in order to protect their clients and students. That is not allowable under Prop 19. Instead, the employer will have to prove that the use actually "impairs job performance." As there is no legal definition of this, it is completely subjective and might not hold water in a lawsuit against an employer for firing an employee. An employer will have no right to discriminate against pot users when hiring.
    • The title of "regulation and control" is a misnomer because the act doesn't actually provide a form for regulation and control. It only provides for the tax, as well as some ancillary issues. See why I think the point is to provide a new stream of revenue for our gluttonous state?
    • We talked Monday about marijuana's fat solubility, and I still consider this a strong argument against it. Long after someone quits using, they are mentally impaired--in a word, they are stupid. This is a travesty! We who say that virtue is a primary goal cannot also tolerate the mental impairment of citizens. Do you not think that once it is legal, politicians will actually promote its use to new users in order to increase the state's income? Remember, we are talking about California--where politicians could care less about virtue, but they care a lot about their pet spending projects and their well-padded expense accounts.
    • I am highly concerned about what is commonly called "contact buzz"--meaning that a person can get slightly high from merely being in the same room with marijuana smoke. This all goes back to the fat solubility issue. Will I have to tolerate marijuana smoke when I am walking out of doors? I am assuming here that our indoor smoking bans will apply here. What if they don't? I need to read the whole law. But let's say it follows the same logic. Okay. So smoking is allowed in parks. Will I have to deal with potheads at my local park when I take the children? Will I have to leave because I will not tolerate my children inhaling even a bit of a mind-altering substance, especially one that lodges itself in the brain for the long haul? I was never a fan of the smoking ban, the nature of marijuana and its ability to impose its effects of passersby is an issue for me.
    • I can't get away from the virtue issue. Please tell me how this is a positive step for our state. I just cannot see it.
  2. Vote no for Jerry Brown. Not that I'm telling you what to do, but seriously...vote no. Look, I'm not a huge Meg Whitman fan, either, but Brown is a disaster waiting to happen. He concerns me with his conservative ads he's running in our area on talk radio (I don't watch television, so I don't know what is going on there)--lower taxes, he says, smaller government, he says. Hogwash. He said the exact same thing when he ran for (and won) the gubernatorial office when I was a child:
  3. Bakersfield Pension Reform, Measure D. This is about as local as it gets, but the police officers and firemen in our city are driving me crazy with their "no on D" signs. I told Si I want a "yes on D" sign. Maybe we could say something like: "Yes on D--because safety officers aren't a special class of citizens." Or "Yes on D--because no one group of people has the right to bankrupt a city." Or how about "Yes on D--because we all know that most of your have second jobs and are double-ending this thing all the way through, and then you want to retire at fifty so that you can work your second job while getting paid for not doing your first job??" I don't think that last one will fit on a sign, but there you have it. Safety is the most protected class of employees I've ever encountered. This measure is not enough to fix the pressure that public pensions are putting on the system, but at least it begins by making up a little bit of the gap between the special treatment of new (this doesn't change anything for those already employed) safety employees and everybody else. I am almost to the point where I have decided it is immoral for us to pay people for not working, especially when they are retiring before the age of 60. We are taking able-bodied people out of the workforce and putting them on the public dole. The safety pension is their own special middle-class food stamp. There. I said it. Thankfully, my husband cannot read my blog at work.
  4. Let's see. What else for today?
  5. Carly Fiorina v. Barbara Boxer. Um. Is it really necessary to discuss this? Of course we want to fire Barbara Boxer. Fire her good. Carly seems to be very conservative, but even if she's not, remember that certain things in Congress run based upon seniority, so either way we are taking down a powerful, destructive liberal, removing her from all her positions on committees. There's really no down side.
  6. Prop 26. Um. Yes. I do think that a supermajority should be required for all new taxes, rather than just taxes we call taxes. Our leaders have this odd habit of calling something a "fee" or "license" in order to get more money without needing the larger amount of votes. That habit has gotten old.
  7. Secretary of Public Instruction. The warning flags are up for Tom Torlakson--an experienced Democrat state legislator who is endorsed by the dreaded CTA. According to Robin Nordell, Torlakson has a zero percent rating from the 2009 CRA Legislative Scorecard. That's no laughing matter! This guy is progressive to the bone, folks. Aceves, on the other hand, says he has an "open mind" to alternative educational forms like private and charter schools. Need I say more? 
Okay. That's it. No sense giving myself a stroke. I have small mouths to feed (it's lunchtime, after all).

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Reading Options:
-Arguments Against Proposition 19: Why the Marijuana Initiative is Bad for California
-Home-Grown Reefer Madness
-Information on Measure D

26 October 2010

On Bone Broth

In honor of the fact that the first pot of bone broth for the season is simmering away happily on my stove top, I thought we could discuss it a bit. My house smells like food, so that's pretty much all I can think about.

I began making my own bone broths during the allergy-period of our family's life together. Average, canned chicken broth, for instance, contained a number of additives to which my children reacted. For a time, I bought organic broth, but anytime I wanted to make a soup, the cost of that quickly added up--at almost $2 per quart, I might use a gallon, which often more than doubled the cost of the soup. I quickly learned that I could boil the carcass of a chicken we had already eaten at nominal additional cost, and the result was a soup that tasted superior than the equivalent made with purchased broth.

I knew there was a recipe for bone stock in my new-to-me-then Nourishing Traditions cookbook. This was a big step for me, as I formerly purchased only meats that didn't actually resemble an animal--boneless, skinless, you get the picture. But you can't have bone broth without...bones.

It took me awhile to adjust.

Ahem.

Now I gross Si out whenever I play with the internal organs of a chicken.

Ha!

Moving ever onward.

A stock is a set recipe that is used as a base for other things--soups and sauces, mostly, though when we have a flu or cold, I serve it as a drink. A broth is simply when you boil something until the flavor and nutrients are leached into the water. No recipe required.

Over the years, I have moved from making stock to making broth because I felt silly buying extra vegetables only to boil and discard them, or, on the other hand, not using what was in my refrigerator because it wasn't "on the recipe." So now, I use what I have in the kitchen, and if it is only bones, that's what I use.

Here are some common and not-so-common ingredients in bone broth:
  • Bones. In the winters when I am making broth weekly, I buy whole chickens and roast them. I use the carcasses for bone broth. More than once I have entertained the idea of buying soup bones from my co-op--they sell lamb bones for a good price. My understanding is that lamb and beef bones ought to be roasted first if you want a dark, rich broth.
  • Vegetables. Whatever you have on hand. Last night, I only had carrots, so that is what I used. I happen to love the taste of boiled cabbage in the broth, but I'm trying to stay away from cruciferous vegetables to protect my malfunctioning thyroid, so I don't do that as often as I'd like. Onions, potatoes, and celery are very traditional for broth.
  • Leaves and seeds. Bay leaves are good. Whole allspice is a wonderful addition. Juniper berries (just a couple as they can be hard on young children's bodies). I never never do spices because I want to be able to individually flavor my soups as I go (I freeze the broth in gallon containers), but I find that these things, in small amounts, are very subtle and add a layer of depth without overpowering the broth.
  • Sea vegetables. This is my latest addition. Sea vegetables are a wonderful source of nourishment, and a single strip of kombu, for instance, goes a long ways. The key with sea vegetables in a bone broth is to use a small amount. If you get too much of the flavor, the broth will only fit with Asian- or Indian-style soups. My single strip of kombu was for a 16-quart stock pot, full to the top.
  • Vinegar. I really should have put this at the top, but adding vinegar (I tend to use apple cider vinegar) to the stock helps leach the nutrients out of the bones. Don't worry, in small amount there is no residual acid flavor.
Technique
Right now I'm using a huge stock pot because I need a large amount of broth this week. But when I only need a gallon or so, I prefer to use my large crockpot. This keeps my stovetop free for cooking meals. Simmer at least 24 hours, but I have found closer to 48 to provide the best flavor. Strain before using it for cooking or storing it. An optional step is to then put it in the refrigerator overnight and then skim the fat off the top. This makes for a prettier broth, but is unnecessary if you are in a hurry. If you are making the broth to drink, though, I'd highly suggest skimming. Greasy broth may enhance the flavor of a soup (as well as encourage uptake and assimilation of any fat-soluble vitamins in the broth), but it's hard to swallow down when you have the stomach flu.

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Additional Resources:
-The Benefits of Bone Broth
-Marine Plants and Fresh Water Algae to Enhance Health, Boost Immunity, Detoxify (scroll down to read the article--there are ads and links at the top)

25 October 2010

Miscellaneous Musings on Monday

I just love weekends. Time spent with a husband, children, extended family, and/or friends is time well spent. Last week was a less-than-stellar week of school, so it was nice to refresh ourselves the past couple days and be ready to begin anew this morning.

In other news...
  • My three-year-old, Q., has always been an adventurous type. She went through a stage where she told me all the things she wanted to do--skydiving, for example. I am, to put it mildly, not adventurous. Because of this, I've always found her fascinating. Well, she got her fill on Saturday, and she is still talking about it. She shot a rifle for the first time, and whereas I hated didn't like it much, and daughter A. cried, on our respective first shots, Q. was thrilled and bragging about how well she did. Her favorite part of the weekend was riding a motorcycle up a "mountain" (in California, we call them hills, but in Kentucky they'd be mountains, and that's what they are to Q.) with Daddy. She returned beaming. I hope her future husband will be able to keep up with her.
  • I convinced Si to watch a chick flick with me on Friday night after our date. It was good! Or, at least, I thought so. He tolerated it well.
  • I cannot believe we are already in week 10 of the term. Next week is our last week because we use week 12 as an exam week.
  • On Tuesday, The Wintons (the only folks I know for whom I capitalize "the") spent the night. E. got a guitar lesson out of it, and he is still excited, in his own quiet way. I think I said this before, but I still believe this: The Wintons are good people.
  • On Friday, I purchased some ornament kits from Michael's (with my 40% off coupon, thankyouverymuch). Last year, KM made ornaments with her children to give as Christmas gifts, and I made a mental note to do the same in the future. So here we are. I wasn't feeling particularly crafty (I'm usually not), so when I saw these handy little kits for making simple beaded ornaments, I knew I'd found a good fit for us. This will give us a project during naptime for the littles over Thanksgiving week and DecemberTerm., and something nice and pretty to give to others. Don't tell anyone, but I'm excited to do a craft.
  • I am about to make my first batch of chicken broth for the season (I don't make much--if any--during the hot months), primarily because I need it for the soup I'm serving at our Reformation Day party. I can't wait. I have some chicken carcasses saved in my freezer that have been waiting for this moment.
  • California is voting on the legalization of marijuana next week. I am voting no, of course. Our state doesn't need more stupid people than it already has, and I really think this is a ploy to get the pot-heads out to vote Democrat. If using the word "stupid" sounds harsh to your ears, consider this excerpt from The Mood Cure:
    Marijuana's most potent, mood-altering ingredient, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), is fat-soluble; it lodges in the fatty cell walls of your brain cells and lingers in your body longer than other drugs or alcohol. This means that marijuana can significantly alter your brain and your mood even between highs. This is why people can have consistent personality changes after they start smoking marijuana but have no awareness of it. The tendency for marijuana to store and build up in your brain means that if you've been a heavy marijuana smoker, it can take a year or more to get marijuana completely out of your system and get you back to your real self. The fog will clear only gradually.
That's all for today, folks! Hope you had a wonderful weekend!

22 October 2010

Quotables: Standing on the Promises

Standing on the Promises: A Handbook of Biblical Childrearing
Standing on the Promises:
A Handbook of Biblical Childrearing

The first thing to note is that effective discipline is painful. Hebrews 12:11 says it this way: "Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it." Short-term discipline is painful. The long-term result of discipline is the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
God disciplined the Hebrew children in the wilderness for their grumbling. Because of our connection to Adam, children will start grumbling as soon as they figure out how. The parents must respond, "In God's book, complaining and grumbling and whining were not permitted," and then the child must be disciplined for it.
We tend to think that forgetting is a reasonable excuse [for not obeying], whereas in Scripture it is an additional offense. "They forgot God their Savior, Who had done great things in Egypt, wonderous works in the land of Ham, awesome things by the Red Sea" (Ps. 106:21-22).
Another aspect of effective discipline is that it cannot be prolonged. Pleasantness should reign in the biblical home, and discipline should be a brief event. But in many homes chronic unpleasantness reigns all the time. When discipline occurs, it is simply a matter of going from bad to worse. Godly discipline is not like that; of course there will be acute unpleasantness from time to time during the discipline, but an atmosphere of joy and peace and graciousness reigns most of the time.

21 October 2010

The Objectivity of Beauty (Part I)

Mystie made what I thought was an excellent point in the comments of my Poison of Subjectivism post. Remember, Laura Berquist asserted that subjectivism is "the view that there is no objective reality by which we are measured." Her conclusion is that a good defense against the falsehood of subjectivism is to come to know something. Mystie's criticism was this:
I was a little disappointed that she only dealt with subjectivism in truth and goodness but did not deal with subjectivism with regard to beauty. That's the aspect I have a harder time with. I hold that there is an objective standard of beauty because I've come to that logically, but I have to stop there because I don't really know what it is or means or implies.

I had to agree with her. I, too, have come to realize that if I'm going to reject subjectivism, I necessarily must reject the idea that beauty is in the eye of the beholder--that beauty is completely subjective.

But what does that mean? And what is beauty in light of this?

That is where we stumble and fall. We are so far removed from a culture of objectivity that talking about beauty objectively may just as well be done in a foreign tongue as in our own, because either way there is hardly a hook in our brain upon which the idea might be hung.

I've known this, and that is why I purchased Umberto Eco's Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages. I've been reading through it, sometimes only a page at a time, for almost a year. It is tough reading for me, and many times I've resorted to beginning anew in hopes that when I reach the same place again, I won't be completely lost.

So far, no dice.

However, comma.

Mystie's comment seems to have honed my focus a bit. Last night, I picked it back up, asking only the question: What does it mean for beauty to be objective? What did the ancients think? Why did they think it? What was the practical result of this?

Lo and behold, Eco has a lot to say about this!

Who knew?

So I'm beginning this new series, and it'll probably take me a year to conclude it because I just can't read Eco quickly, even when I've tried. I have contented myself with the thought that some ideas taste best when simmered slowly, and that's what I'm going to do with Eco.

Today, I'll just leave you with a single thought on the objectivity of beauty, courtesy of Eco via the ancient Greeks and a smattering of Christian saints: a foundational element of beauty is proportion. We will come back to this again and again, because Eco himself spirals out from it, only to return in almost every single chapter.

An application of this idea is the beauty of the human body. The human thumb is not particularly beautiful, no? Nor the knee. An eye on its own looks quite odd, or even gross, as we see this time of year when fake eye balls are all the rage in Halloween decor. So how is it that all of these elements can come together and form something that is beautiful and pleasing? (And how is it that sometime the same parts come together and are not beautiful?)

The answer is: proportion.

Eco quotes Galen as defining beauty thus:
Beauty does not consist in the elements, but in the harmonious proportion of the parts, the proportion of one finger to the other, of all the fingers to the rest of the and...of all parts to all others...
We see the opposite in Leonardo da Vinci's odd drawings of ugly people. What do they all have in common? To put it simply, their features are disproportionate. (An example may be viewed here.) The chin or nose are too large for the face, the eyes are not set at even heights on either side of the bridge of the nose, etcetera. None of us are perfect, and yet we all tend to agree that the most symmetrical people are the most objectively beautiful, and we often do this instinctively. (Here is an interesting application of math to human beauty.)
 
The point is this: tangible beauty has certain contributing factors that can be ascertained objectively. Now, we all know that there is more to beauty than meets the eye. We have all seen the beautiful woman who, upon opening her mouth and revealing her heart, no longer seemed so attractive. But the idea here is that beauty has certain objective standards, built by God into the universe, which we can observe and understand. Knowing and understanding this will help us combat subjectivity in our own home, yes, but we can also be certain that in knowing and understanding this, our own souls will grow as well. Because, you see, another description of proportion is harmony and understanding harmony gives us greater access to peace, and greater ability to be ministers of peace.
 
Scripture tells us that we have been given the ministry of reconciliation. To reconcile means to bring the elements back into right relationship with each other. In this way, our striving for physical beauty is symbolic of our ministry. And the physical beauty we see illustrates the beauty of our task--we are ministers of beauty, returning the elements to harmonious coexistence, striving for the proper proportion of all things.

20 October 2010

CiRCE Talks: Final 2010 Lineup

This is the final list, folks (Mystie!). After this comes Thanksgiving, followed shortly by Advent, and who has time for CiRCE Talks at that point? I certainly don't. And such is life. I feel like I'm leaving out so many wonderful, beautiful speeches, and yet the fact remains that there are only three weeks left with which I can work (because I have a date on Friday, see?), and so I feel obligated to touch on the biggest, best, and most obvious.

I might post on it on my own time shortly, but just in case, I'd like to draw your attention to Dr. Paula Flint's And Liberty for All: Including Students with Learning Disabilities in the Classical Classroom. This one is available for download for $5 on the CiRCE website, if you are interested. Dr. Flint runs Flint Academy in Texas, a classical, Charlotte Mason day school. Listening to her was like listening to myself describe what our home would look like if I could actually attain the ideal. To be honest, this is the only time I've encountered a private school that could actually tempt me.

Not that we live in Texas, but you see what I mean.

Ahem.

Without futher ado, here is the last of the schedule for this year:
And that's all. My, that went fast. I feel like this term is already flying...can't believe we've almost completed week nine. I regret that we didn't fit in so many goodies, but I suppose we don't have to discuss everything...

Reversing Babel

Over the course of the past five or six months, we've been reading the book Faith of Our Fathers with some friends. Overall, I'd say that the first half of the book wasn't quite what I expected. I expected it to focus first on the history of the Nicene Creed and why it was significant and important. Then I expected to have its meaning explained.

The author does go through the creed phrase by phrase, but the history and magnitude came later in the book. The first half of the book felt more like a devotional reflection upon the creed. The second half is more what I expected, and I like it. We're learning a lot.

Chapter 15 is called One Church and it focuses on the phrase "we believe in one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church." Today I thought I'd share a few quotes as it has turned out to be my favorite chapter (so far, but then again we are almost through).
[F]ew American Protestants and fewer still evangelical Protestants would readily include a belief in the church as part of their gospel confession.

To many Protestants, this portion of the creed seems believable, but not a vital part of their Christian confession. This way of thinking emphasizes that the gospel has to do almost exclusively with individual salvation, and the church is not essential to this individual experience.

[snip]

[W]e should note that such a mindset is a striking historical break with the confession of the earliest Christians and with the most ancient ecumenical creed of Nicea. Like it or not, many evangelical Protestants are at odds with the faith of our fathers at this point.
I can speak of this personally, for I went through a small "crisis of faith," as some might call it, during which I questioned not the faith, but the Church. It was hard for me to wrap my mind around why the Church was important at all. This is definitely a weakness peculiar not just to Protestantism, but to those of us living in lands heavily influenced by the idea of rugged individualism. To be honest, even though I have repented in my heart, I am still trying to wrap my mind around the idea of the importance of the Church.

The author points to the names of churches as symbolic of this decided minimization of the Church's importance. For example, there is the "Christian Life Center" or the "Family Christian Center."
[T]hey act as if they are ashamed to use the word church as part of their name at all.
We live at the edge of town, and there are a number of church plants out here. We receive mailers and flyers from these churches with great regularity. One thing I've noticed is that the ads are very deliberate to claim they are a church that is not like church--there are extensive, purposeful attempts to make their church distinct from the idea of church. So while the author says that certain churches are ashamed to use the word church, I'd go so far as to say that certain churches are ashamed...of being churches.

The creed, however, confesses that the Church is holy.
This indicates that the church is not a human institution that can be taken or left as we have need of it. The church is set apart by God.

[snip]

To be holy in this sense is very much to be the unique creation of God.

[snip]

Becoming a Christian means becoming part of the church.

[snip]

By virtue of our new birth, we are members of a new household and we are fellow citizens with one another.

Salvation is covenantal and corporate.
Anyhow, in the next portion the author discusses the idea that the Greek word ekklesia, which we translate as church, means "the called out ones." We are called out of the world and into community with each other.
The holy church is not tribal but universal.
What I loved most in chapter is how he works this out by pointing to Babel, and saying that it was reversed at Pentecost:
Indeed, the church was formed at Pentecost as the antithesis and answer to Babel.
Acts 2 is modeled on Genesis 10-122. Like Genesis 10, Acts 2 contains a "table of nations" (v. 9-11), and like Genesis 11, Acts 2 records a miracle of language. These parallels serve of course to highlight the contrast between Babel and Pentecost. While the diversity of tongues at Babel divided and disrupted the nations, the diversity of tongues at Pentecost had the opposite effect of joining all the nations into one people. The gift of the Spirit thus implies that all tribes and tongues will confess Jesus as Lord; the outpouring of the Spirit is for the purpose of gathering the nations.*
He ends by saying,
The church and not our own interests are central to God's plan for history. Is it central to yours?
I am still pondering my answer to that. For now, the question haunts me.
*Here he is quoting Peter Leithart.

19 October 2010

You're Grounded (Redux)

During my vacation week, I autoposted a rerun called You're Grounded. I think the concept that as believers we ought to opt for restitution instead of groundation is one of the more profound I've come across in my reading of parenting books (and I read a lot of them). Right now, Si and I are slowly making our way Doug Wilson's Standing on the Promises: A Handbook of Biblical Childrearing, and I was surprised to discover that Wilson both references the book I referenced in my grounding post (Bruce Ray's Withhold Not Correction), but also that he reiterated the point about grounding, and with more clarity than Ray.

It's always easier to improve upon an idea than to try to come up with your own original one. That, my friends, is why this blog is called Afterthoughts.

Ahem.

Anyhow, I thought I'd share a couple paragraphs:
There is a popular form of discipline for teenagers which appears to meet this need [for alternatives to spanking when children are older], but which has its problems. It is called grounding. When a teenager is grounded, the result is frequently two weeks of unpleasantness in the home. But the purpose of discipline is to restore pleasantness to the home. All too often grounding says, "You can't go out and do that; you have to stay here and mope." Suppose they start to mope and are told, "You can't mope." They can think, "Well, what are you going to do if I do anyway--ground me?" If the teenager is grounded and not pleased with the discipline, unhappiness is going to remain in the home.

The heart of the New Covenant is centered around forgiveness of sins. We are forgiven sinners. If children are reminded of their failing on a daily basis for two weeks, then they are going to become discouraged because they are being taught a doctrinal falsehood. The parents are saying that what Isaiah said was false when he wrote, "Come let us reason together, though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow."...When the "grounded" teenager has an attitude problem and grounding cannot be put on top of grounding, the relationship has been disrupted. But the whole purpose of discipline is to restore the relationship between parents and children.
Wilson goes on to explain that the biblical pattern is restitution, and he specifies that it should be "directed to the person against whom he has sinned." Sometimes, it is as simple as an apology. Sometimes, it would be money to pay for what was damaged or lost or broken. I got the sense that wisdom would be required in order to fit the restitution properly to the crime.

My one question in all of this is where removal of privileges comes in. I have never parented a teenager before, but I have experienced moments where I thought my child was ready for some new privilege/responsibility, and then I figured out I was wrong. My response in those times was not grounding, because grounding is temporary. My response was an apology--I'm sorry I allowed this because I thought you were ready, but you are not, and so now I repent and take this away from you until further notice.

As an example of this, I offer up: toothpaste.

That's right. My little girls wanted to prepare their own brushes, and I showed them how and thought they could handle it. When they went through an entire tube in two weeks, and I also found giant gobs of toothpaste on the counter, we had to step back and survey our options. One was to carefully train them in a proper technique. The other was probably a cop out, but it was to have their older brother (or myself or Siah) do it for them for the time being. As the latter was most expedient for the time being (seeing as I am usually wrestling a toddler at that time and not available for habit training--so sorry, Charlotte!), this was what we did.

Please note that I am teaching a certain five-year-old proper habits in shampoo and conditioner bottle squeezing.

I'm just saying.

I am guessing that teenagers can also reveal they aren't ready for some new freedoms. It seems like taking those freedoms away might be necessary sometimes, and appropriate as a consequence.

We now look for opportunities for restitution, and we have for a while. If our children break a toy, for instance, we try to remember to have them pay to replace it. It seems to me that we don't have to wait until they are teenagers to teach them to take responsibility for their actions and make things right with those against whom they have sinned, even if we are also disciplining them.

18 October 2010

Miscellaneous Musings on Monday

Well, we had an extra nice weekend, and I hope you all did, too! The only downside is that I ended up doing my school prep late into the night last night. I had started it on Friday, but I couldn't give it my full concentration until the last minute. On the whole, I think it was worth it!

In other news...
  • A couple weeks ago Si and I watched Food, Inc. I kept meaning to write a post on it, but I think this little snippet right here is all I'm going to have time for. Suffice it to say that it was very, very interesting to watch it after studying John Hodges' Principle of Cultivation. All of the political tensions Hodges mentions in his talk are palpable in this documentary, and then you have Joel Salatin playing the part of the man of virtue, the free man, who stands above the nonsense on both sides, who needs not the law because he is governed from within. Seriously, a great exercise in application. This would probably be excellent with teenagers, if you were up for it. Download Hodges' completely awesome talk for $6 on the CiRCE Website. Listen to it two or three times, taking notes and discussing. When you've mastered it, rent or buy and watch Food, Inc. Fun!
  • We've had some new arrivals to the family library. My ongoing quest for a rich library is slowly being rewarded by my PBS wishlist! The latest additions are: Oliver Twist, Sense and Sensibility, The Jungle (in honor of Food, Inc., I suppose), Kidnapped, The Cross Centered Life, and You Can Teach Your Child Successfully.
  • Eight-year-old E. recently read Unknown to History by Yonge. He loved it. As you can see, the new paperback editions of this book are quite pricey, as these things go. We imported ours from the UK for less than ten dollars. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of checking AbeBooks and Alibris when shopping for old books. Someday I will become an associate of these other sites so that I can link to the absolute best price when I am talking about books.
  • And since books seem to be the theme today, I'll end with this: this month I read two modern fiction works, something I never do: Life of Pi, and In Search of Eden. I remembered why I generally don't read fiction during the school year (if you don't count the books we read together as a family and for lessons): the dreaded book grip. I just get sucked in. I can't concentrate on what I am supposed to be doing. I just don't do a good job at the gig, you know? So I have resolved not to pick up another fiction book until the term is over. I always think Advent is a good season for reading Dickens, anyhow. As a quick review, Life of Pi was enjoyable and, shall I say, unique? To the very end, it reminded me of Stevenson or Defoe or Kipling or something like that (with a shipwreck of course). The problem was that it lacked redemption. The main character was depicted as already being redeemed, a source of frustration when he really wasn't, being that syncretistic Hinduism/Islam/Catholicism is not salvific (and yet syncretism is a common issue with Hindu "converts"). The author had a way of making the reader feel stupid for asserting this truth, however. In addition to this, he was gory and overly graphic in parts, common in modern novels, but lacking in that special tact the old Brits had. In Search of Eden was, likewise, a delight. It was overtly redemptive, lacking the subtly of, say, Kipling's use of the sea as baptism imagery, but still, it managed not to be cheesy. In addition, the plot was surprisingly well-woven. Nichols is good at spinning an elaborate yarn. Escapism at its best. HA.
Now I'm off. It's been raining, and our day has been less-than-stellar. I just might take a nap.

15 October 2010

CiRCE Talks: Laura Berquist's The Poison of Subjectivism

I sometimes think that Laura Berquist is someone I'd be very fond of in real life. Part of it is probably because the way she speaks reminds me of my friend Rahime. Regardless, I have to say that I like Laura Berquist, and being that she is one of the only classically-educated women I've ever encountered, I respect her as well.

Her talk takes its title from C. S. Lewis' essay of the same name (available in the collection Christian Reflections). The idea is that subjectivism is like a poison--it kills the most valuable things in our culture.

But first: what is subjectivism? I took it upon myself to try and describe it at the outset, and decided that subjectivism is embodied in our idea that something can be true for me, and its opposite true for you. In other words, it is the idea that there is no capital-T Truth, but rather each person discovers his own local truth.

Berquist has a better, more insightful definition (as I was dealing mainly with symptoms):
Subjectivism is the view that there is no objective reality by which we are measured.
The ramifications of this are huge. The eventual result is tyranny. If there is no absolute truth, morality and goodness become defined by local contexts. In the end, then, the only litmus test is conformity to what is accepted, and Berquist rightly points out that it follows that what is accepted is what is what the people in charge say is accepted.

Confusion also follows, because subjectivism is not internally coherent. How is it that one can say absolutely that there is absolutely no absolute Truth? One cannot, and when one tries, logic breaks down. The result of this, sadly, is not repentance, but rather a questioning of logic and reason. Perhaps they don't exist? Perhaps there is no cause for accepting logic and reason?

Morality becomes based not upon absolute standards, but upon will and desire, says Berquist.

And, since our discussion really centers on education, it is important to note that education itself breaks down. Learning become impossible because there is no truth. As Berquist says,
There is nothing to know.
Berquist doesn't exactly put her argument in this order, but after listening to her talk, it became very apparent to me why we have traded a liberating education for a slave's education. If there is no truth, a liberal arts education is fraudulent at best. Berquist herself says that
without objective measure, man turns his attention to control of his environment [(i.e., technology)], and he uses his reason as a problem-solver and a deviser of techniques. The concern for true and false, for good and evil, is replaced by a quest for power.
So we have high schools now that train students in techniques. It may be how to pass a test to get degrees to get a high level academic job (a form of intellectual power-wielding) if you are bright. Or it may be any number of job-training foci. In our town we have high schools (or, at least, we did a few years back--I'm a little out of touch) that train students for nursing, for film, for the beauty industry, whatever. Folks think this is just wonderful. We can only think this because we have traded the truth which can and must be known and which sets us free for the lie of subjectivism. Our only option becomes turning to power, which, when translated into education, means training students for jobs so that they can have money.

Money is seen as power. Technology is also seen as power, but one cannot have it without the money to purchase it, and so we return to the need for a job.

The "best" job in this subjective world is then seen as that which offers the most money any particular student is capable of earning.

And thus darkness conquers America without a shot.

Just something to think about.

Now, I'd like to focus on some important thoughts that Berquist that I found helpful. Most of us were educated by a subjective curriculum and teachers who were at least functional subjectivists. We were in a total immersion program, folks, and we picked up the language and thought patterns whether we like it or not.

Berquist's ideas, then, can be cleansing.

  • Berquist made a comment about subjectivism which was striking to me. In sharing what a subjectivist high school teacher had taught her (even she had one!), she explained that his lessons taught them that 
    the currently prevailing way of thinking, which was not measured by anything given in the order of nature or grace was what we were supposed to adopt.
    I'd like to focus on the idea here of measuring by something given in the order of nature or grace. The more time we spend knowing the orders of nature and grace, the more we are protected from subjectivism. So, for instance, grace has revealed certain moral laws. When we measure ourselves against these laws, instead of against our own passions, we do well and subjectivism is purged from our morality. Nature, too, reveals her lessons to those who are willing to listen.
  • One of the side-effects of subjectivism is that it has become offensive in our culture to say that one thing is better than another. Is this not the cause of many a mommy war? Berquist gives us a philosophy lesson to aid us:
    To compare two things involves a standard against which both are measured. Something can't be better than something else unless there's a third reality that is measuring both things. When one says something is "better" one is saying that it is more like what it should be than the alternative. This means there has to be a third reality against which both are measured.
    Let's think about this for a minute. This means that we have to study and know that objective, third reality. In recent years, I've had folks question our choice to homeschool, or homeschooling in general, saying that "if we all abandon the public schools, it'd be a tragedy," and so on. For years, I didn't really know what to say to that. Now, I know that the best response is in using an objective standard. The standard is the Bible's use of the Greek word paideia in Ephesians 6:4, where fathers are commanded to raise their children in "the paideia of the Lord." As paideia refers to a form of education that was total immersion, I can confidently state that Christian fathers are commanded to insure a Christian education for their children. Period. Their argument, then, is with God and not with me. Do you see how this lifts us out of subjectivism? Now, instead of saying that my opinion is this and theirs is that, we can go together to the Scripture and discover what that Christian education might look like. And so we see that subjectivism brings to the table a lot of tension, while knowing and studying the objective reality brings peace and community.
  • Berquist tells us how she thinks we can avoid subjectivism, and both points above are actually examples of this. She says we avoid it by knowing. When we discover Truth, subjectivity flees before us. She uses Euclid's Elements as an example. By the time a student has worked through all thirteen books, he knows something that is True in the order of nature. He is astounded, amazed. And any bit of subjectivism that was in his heart in this area fades away. Truth, we must recall, sets us free, and it can set us free from our cultural bondage to subjectivism.
  • Therefore, liberal education itself is a means of combating subjectivism. As Berquist beautifully concluded,
    Man desires to know, and when he knows, he is doing what he was made to do. This is freedom, for freedom is found in learning what one is supposed to do, and doing it. The free man is able to direct his own life and the life of the community. He is not the slave of his passions or of fashion in thought. He recognizes that he should work to come to an understanding of the truth.
Your Turn--Add Your Links Here!
You have all weekend, my friend. Remember that you can download the talk for only $5 on the CiRCE website.

14 October 2010

The Darndest Things: Learning to Help Clean Up

Good news: today, when someone filled one of my outdoor chairs with water, two-year-old O. took it upon himself to clean it up. Bad news: his method was to fill his mouth with the water and spit it into the cup holder.

The Darndest Things: Where Vegetarans Come From (Redux)

Actually, I should call this post "Where Animal Rights Activists Come From," but you get the general idea. My first post is here, for those of you just joining us.

A little background to one of these recent stories: at our garage sale on Saturday, I was attempting to sell a very pricey item: a vintage, Jackie O.-style real fur and lamb's wool leopard coat. It is an item I inherited it from a very wealthy old woman who happened to take to Si and to me (no relation). (If you want to buy a coat, let me know!)

Daughter A. was horrified when she realized my jacket was made from an animal.

A few days later, she brought me a colorful towel. She eyed it suspiciously, and then she eyed me suspiciously.

"Mom? A giraffe had to die to make this towel?"

Did I already mention that I had to explain that no goldfish were harmed in the making of goldfish crackers?

Ahem.

Yesterday evening, she got a little more confrontational. I was getting chicken out, and she was sitting on one of my new barstools and she gave me The Look.

Little did I realize that purchasing bar stools means that, hypothetically, all four children can glare at me at one time.

I knew I was in trouble, being that I was handling meat and all.

"Mom."

It was a statement, not a question.

"A." I looked her in the eye. I am still in charge, right?

"What is that?"

I sighed. "Chicken."

She sat there for a very, very long time. I seriously thought the conversation was over.

And then she glared at me.

"I would have saved that chicken, Mom!"

13 October 2010

At School with Charlotte: Issues in Regard to Intellectual Training (Part II)

Today, we're going to finish up chapter 11 of Charlotte Mason's Volume 3: School Education. This is where she begins to apply her ideas to the real world in practice. But first, a couple additional ideas to get the ball rolling.

First, what, exactly, is ability? Some children seem more able than others, no? Well, Charlotte assures us that what we call "ability" is really "the possession of some half-dozen [intellectual] habits." Interesting, hm? These habits (and we'll get to what they are in a bit) empower students.
They make a man able to do that which he desires to do with his mental powers, and to labour at the cost of not a tenth part of the waste of tissue which the same work would exact of a person of undisciplined mental habits.
I am still tempted to say that some children are born this way. I have a couple children who are obviously what folks would call "gifted." I have a couple others who are more average. Some of them have habits I know I didn't teach them. I like to think my husband's good habits are genetically transferable, and I get to benefit! Charlotte doesn't actually differ with me here:
We know, too, that the habits in question are acquired through training and are not bestowed as a gift. Genius itself, we have been told, is an infinite capacity for taking pains; we would rather say, is the habit of taking infinite pains, for every child is born with the capacity.
I'm asserting that some children are born more naturally inclined than others. She's saying all children have the capacity to acquire habits. I agree. I have a particular child I have worked very hard with, who would probably, if left to her own devices, have some form of ADD. But she's much more able than even I expected, and I'd say it's the power of the habits she's been forming.

Blindly Trusting in Subjects
Charlotte explains that we often will trust in some isolated activity or school subject to form a habit in the children.
The classics...cultivate in one direction, the mathematics, in another, science, in a third.
We think that math especially disciplines the mind, no?

Well, Charlotte has a warning for us: these subjects discipline the mind in isolation. They cultivate habits for that particular subject rather than universal habits which bleed over into all of life.
Remove the mathematician from his own field and he is not more exact or more on the spot than other men...The humanities do not always make a man more humane, that is, liberal, tolerant, gentle, and candid, as regards the opinions and status of other men. The fault does not lie in any one of these or in any other of the disciplinary subjects, but in our indolent habit of using each of these as a sort of mechanical contrivance for turning up the soil and sowing the seed. There is no reprieve for parents. It rests with them, even more than with the schoolmaster and his curriculum, to form those mental habits which shall give intellectual distinction to their children throughout their lives. (emphasis mine)
Take a man out of his subject, and we discover his subject hasn't made him a superior man. Charlotte seems to believe that we parents desire to rely on the subjects for habit formation because we either can't, won't, or don't know how to help them ourselves. But, as she says, there is no reprieve for us. We parents are looking to pass our duty off to curriculum, but it simply can't be done.

Intellectual Habits
So, what are these habits which, once collected, we call "ability?"
  1. Attention: This is a passive habit, the turning of the whole force of the mind upon the subject.
  2. Concentration: This is attention's active counterpart, the mind actively engaged on some given problem.
  3. Thoroughness*: Dissatisfaction with slipshod work, with an imperfect grasp of a subject. We all ought to be uneasy until a satisfying measure of knowledge is obtained.
  4. Intellectual Volition: The power to make ourselves think about a given subject at a given time. This requires mastery of our own will.
  5. Accuracy: Not just in math, but in daily life.
  6. Reflection: The power of rumination--not allowing impressions to pass over the surface of our minds, but retaining and assimilating. Journaling comes in handy for this sort of habit, I think.
  7. Meditation: This is not referring to Eastern meditation, which is the emptying of the mind. Rather, this in the Christian sense, and therefore refers to the ability to use our minds to follow out our subject to all its issues. Meditation and reflection are mirror-image twins--the latter assimilating what is known, the former taking what is known and following its trail of implications out to the end.
Other Issues
Here are a few other points that Charlotte makes along the way:
  • The intellectual life has as its food living ideas. Children, she claims, have no natural appetite for twaddle, but rather they acquire it when we treat them childishly. I don't know that I agree. I sometimes wonder if twaddle isn't more akin to sugar--something bad for us that we like, and the more we consume, the more we desire. Regardless, I loved her thoughts here:
    It is not possible to repeat this too often or too emphatically, for perhaps we err more in this respect than any other in bringing up children. We feed them upon the white ashes out of which the last spark of the first of original thought has long since died. We give them second-rate story books, with stale phrases, stale situations, shreds of other people's thoughts, stalest of stale sentiments.
    And if we think she is talking only about the content of their books, it is important to note that she also criticizes the illustrations. I wonder what she would think about the irreverence involved in the multitude of cartoon Jesuses.
  • Intellectual development is individual. We initiate. We direct. We do not control. We do not dominate.
  • There is a place for children to select and appropriate their own ideas. There is a prerequisite for this, though: "given a bountiful repast." In other words, if we offer them a library in which every book is beautifully written, beautifully illustrated (if it is illustrated), teeming with ideas and so on, then they are sure to select and appropriate good ideas as they go along. Given a table of junk food, we needn't be surprised at their selections, nor at their resulting ideas.
  • Beware of skimping on book expenditures. Children need books. They need good books. They need living books. And this is going to cost money. I can tell you now that if you learn how to shop used, it won't cost near as much as going to Amazon and purchasing everything brand new. But we ought to make the acquisition of living books a family priority. Charlotte suggests we purchase
    • Child-appropriate fiction, poetry, travel books, adventure books, history, and biographies.
    • Books which contain ideas of life and conduct
    • Books which contain ideas of duty
    • Books which contain ideas of nature
    • Books which contain
      the leading, vitalising ideas in the subjects of school study, as geography, grammar, history, astronomy, Caesar's Commentaries, etc., etc.
Plato's Educational Aim
Charlotte-the-classicist ends with a quote Coleridge concerning Plato:
He desired not to assist in storing the passive mind with the various sorts of knowledge most in request, as if the human soul were a mere repository or banqueting room, but to place it in such relations of circumstance as should gradually excite its vegetating and germinating powers to produce new fruits of thoughts, new conceptions and imaginations and ideas.

*This is a habit I'm working with my Year Three student on. I'm noticing the vast majority of errors in math, especially, are due to rushing through rather than being slower and more meticulous.