31 January 2011

Miscellaneous Musings on Monday

My husband and I, along with some friends, went to our first-ever homeschool conference and lived to tell about it! Actually, it was called a "Winter Encouragement Seminar." It was great. I have to admit I was intimidated to go be in a room with a bunch of other homeschooling strangers. I was afraid I'd be nervous all day, but it was small enough to be comfortable. My extroverted husband, of course, grabbed the flyer advertising the Pacific Homeschool Superconference. I freaked out for about ten seconds, and then remembered that he would never spend the money to go to something like that. I mean, there are conferences and then there is eating food and paying the mortgage, if you know what I mean.

In other news...
  • Did you know "test-taking" is the best way to learn? There was an article from the New York Times making the rounds in the Ambleside Yahoo group last week, and I thought I'd share it here: To Really Learn, Quit Studying and Take a Test. Why does this interest Ambleside mommies? Well, because the "test" being referenced which is so helpful to learning, which they also referred to as "retrieval practice," is very similar to...Charlotte Mason's practice of narration, which is foundational to the CM method.
  • Apparently there was a "sign war" between a Catholic church and a Presbyterian church somewhere. The Catholics won, hands down. Too funny! (HT: Ellen)
  • My children are young enough that the whole college discussion seems a long way off. However, I really appreciated the post from Kim over at Large Family Logistics. She titled it "testing" but what I took away from it was more about college than whether or not to give children standardized tests. I keep hoping that the college bubble will burst before we get to that age. Maybe then we'll be able to afford a real college education, instead of the jump-through-the-hoops sort.
  • I've been checking out the Schwarzbein Principle. A woman my parents know recovered her thyroid function this way. I would love to get off of my thyroid meds. We'll see. This is not the only avenue I'm exploring.
  • Have a child with learning disabilities? Rebecca from Leading Little Hearts Home hosted a fabulous guest post last week, Healing and Hope for Struggling Learners.
  • Ever been poor? Cindy wrote a wonderful, perfect post on being "middle class poor" in the church. I especially appreciated her description of how the church unconsciously puts pressure on the poor to spend money. Personally, I have experienced more than once the feeling that we could not "afford" to really be a part of a Chrstian community.
Have a great Monday, everyone!

28 January 2011

What to do With Preschoolers: Pre-Ambleside 201

Yesterday, we discussed Charlotte's Formidable List of Attainments for a Child of Six. I already pointed out that a number of these goals can be accomplished through Circle Time. The question is, is there anything outside of Circle Time to be done? I would give this question a resounding yes.

I really don't do a lot of formal lessons with my children. I believe there is time enough for that starting at age 6 or 6.5, when my children are required by law to be "in school." I figure that, on average, I work with my preschoolers an hour each day, and that is including our 30-45 minutes of Circle Time.

The only other thing outside of Circle Time that I consistently do with them is...reading lessons.

My number one "academic" goal for my little ones is that they read well by age seven.

The Details of Reading Lessons
I don't have a set age at which I begin reading lessons. My rule of thumb, which has served me well thus far, is that we begin when a child asks to learn. So far this has happened at age 3, age almost-5, and age 3.5. I think three is really young for reading lessons, but so far I have had two three-year-olds who were insistent.

Let me tell you now that it is much easier to teach a five-year-old to read than it is to teach a three-year-old to read, even if that five-year-old is "average" and the three-year-old "bright." Some of these things are simply an issue of brain development, and I don't know that I'd require reading lessons of a child who was hesitant until age 6.

One of the things on Charlotte's Formidable List is "to read." Both of my girls have asked to learn to read, and so they both receive reading lessons three to four times per week. Lessons for the just-turned-four-year-old last about 10 minutes, while lessons for the almost-six-year-old are closer to 15. (The extra five minutes are due to the amount of review practice.)

If you are interested in teaching reading, you can see my other blog, Teaching Reading with Bob Books. It contains details on what I do with the girls, and it is updated about twice per week. As a disclaimer, this is not the CM method of teaching reading, but it has the method I have used forever and I'm not in the mood to learn new tricks right now, though I suppose I do try and incorporate a bit of her approach along the way. All that to say, it is not the only way to teach reading, but it is possibly one of the cheapest!


The Importance of Reading in Ambleside
Ambleside is full of rich literature. The reason why my goal is to have a child reading well by age seven is that the goal in Ambleside is to have a child reading his own material (for the most part) by around age nine or ten. These are not easy books. This is why, whenever my children are ready, we jump on reading lessons. I have noticed by observing other mothers using this curriculum that it is really hard to have a struggling reader because the curriculum is almost entirely reading.

Geography? Reading. History? Reading. Literature? Reading.

You get the point.

I'm not saying the curriculum is impossible for non-readers. It's not, and I adore the work of Paula Flint of Flint Academy, where this rich literary heritage is offered to the least of these--the disabled, the dyslexic, and the badly behaving. I think it is completely in line with Charlotte's thinking to give children a full, living education, whether or not they can read.

However, comma.

We can also do ourselves some favors, and teach the children to read.

That's all I'm saying.

If we fill their minds with beautiful thoughts during Circle Time, and then spend a handful of minutes in unlocking the door to reading, we will find we are well on our way to being prepared for Ambleside Year One.

27 January 2011

What to do With Preschoolers: Pre-Ambleside 101

I received an email last week concerning what I do with preschoolers, and my reply grew...and grew...until suddenly I realized I had a post on my hands! I sent the reply, but I thought I'd work some of it out here. The email was asking what I do with my four- and five-year-old girls. What do I teach them? What are my educational goals for them? Do we do formal schooling at these ages?

And so on.

In writing my answers, I realized that I have changed almost everything I do with preschoolers in the past few years.

When E. was a preschooler, I was all academics and organization. He was a great reader, but our reading lessons were far too lengthy. I thought that if 15 minutes was good, 30 was better, and if an hour of lessons was fine, maybe two were great! Some of what I did was perfect for him; he had things he wanted to know, and I helped him learn. I do not so much regret what I did as what I overdid.


I've realized that a lot of what I now do has a lot to do with two things. First, I'm preparing my children to be educated at home. Just like folks might send their children to preschool a couple days per week to "get them ready" for kindergarten or first grade, so the things I do throughout the week flow from preparing them to study with our family. Little things, like teaching them to respect their brother's need for quiet when he is laboring over his math, send a message about how lessons are going to work when they are older.

Second, I'm preparing them for Ambleside.

The Charlotte Mason approach to learning is different than other approaches, and I find that what I do with my girls is directly related to what they will need to be doing when they are old enough for their very own lessons.

For today, we'll touch on...

A Formidable List of Attainments for a Child of Six
Some folks actually use this list as their child's kindergarten or first grade year. I wasn't aware of this list until after my son had already commenced with Year One, but I knew it was a treasure when I read it. These are the things that Charlotte herself thought were important for young children! The list is full of beautiful things, while so many preschool lists are all triangles and bold colors.

Charlotte believed in the noble humanity of the child, and treated him accordingly.

I'm adapting this for homeschooling, though. In Charlotte's world, the Year One student was at school or under the tutelage of a governess. This left the mother or nurse free to work on the Formidable List with the six-year-old. I won't go so far as to say that this is impossible for the contemporary homeschooling mother, because it's not, but the more children you have, the more likely it is to find the Formidable List truly formidable.

So I have, first of all, made this list my reference for all years leading up to Year One. This means that I am considering the list even now, with my four-year-old.

I do not think we will reach all the goals on the list, but I have continued to incorporate the goals, and when we reach one, then we immediately aim for another.

Incorporating the Goals into Circle Time
We have Circle Time four mornings per week, on average. Everyone is present at Circle Time because it is our special time in the morning. The two youngest usually play with blocks or trains, but they are always listening. During this time, we read Scripture, we sing, we read from various books, we look at beautiful paintings and drawings, and we do memory work. We do not do all of this all of the time, but we do all of this over the course of a week or a month.

If you look at the list, you will see a fair amount of memory work. A child of six ought to memorize (and recite beautifully!) six easy poems, a parable, a psalm, etc. For me, this was the easiest goal to start working towards. Since we do daily memory work, I first made sure that my girls were participating. Until recently, the poems definitely fell into the category of "easy" and were perfect for them. When it was time to choose new Scripture memory work, I chose a psalm. When the two oldest had it memorized (the four-year-old had it mostly memorized), we moved on to a short parable, keeping the Psalm for regular review.

In Circle Time, we already had a time of singing, so, again, I simply became more deliberate with my girls, inviting them to join us. I found, to my astonishment, that my four-year-old (who was three at the time) actually had most of the songs memorized, but had never bothered to sing with us. Now we all encourage O.-Age-Two when he tries to sing with us, even though no one understands what he is saying. He, too, is learning to join the ranks of the learning class.

The outdoor work always falls off the map during the winter for us, but when spring comes again, we will work our way through identifying trees. We have been birding as a family for a few years now, and the girls tend to know their basic birds, such as mourning doves, robins, sparrows, house finches, and starlings, so this year I think we will try and listen better to their songs.

Importance of the List
The more experience I have with Ambleside, and the more I read of Mason's works, the more I realize that this list embodies Charlotte's heart for young children. I said earlier that typical preschool lists are all triangles and bold colors. Looking at the academic goals for preschoolers over at Education.com, we see colors, shapes, position (in a sequence), and so on. These are the sorts of things I spent time on with my oldest, because I didn't know what a living, liberal education was, and so I was preparing him for a life of collecting facts.

The funny thing is, I've found that children pick up these facts easily enough, without direct lessons, and so I was likely wasting my time. (Is it really important that a child know "circle" at 2, when he can know it at 4 without having been directly taught? Is this really a good use of time? I once thought that it was.)

In Charlotte's list, we see that she is preparing the child for a relationship with the world. She is preparing them to have ideas by filling their minds not with lifeless facts, but with words worth pondering--beautiful passages of Scripture, lovely poetic words, and the like. This is not just foundational for the Ambleside approach to learning, but foundational to the child's humanity in that it fills the soul with noble thoughts to think upon.

26 January 2011

Book Review: The Charlatan's Boy by Jonathan Rogers

I've said around here before that I believe that there is very little well-written fiction these days. As a general rule, I abide by the if-it's-new-it's-probably-inferior school of thinking. And literature? It just isn't written anymore, it seems. (I know many of you are shaking your heads in agreement here.) Well, if I say that there's not much being written well for adults, it is even truer (if something can be truer than true, which is debatable, I agree) for children and young adult fiction.

This is why N. D. Wilson has been considered by some to be the last best hope for the great art epitomized by the likes of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien.

Not so fast, Mr. Wilson. Jonathan Rogers, in The Charlatan's Boy, is giving you a run for your money, and he doesn't even go by his initials!

Why I Selected This Book for Review
The Charlatan's Boy: A NovelOkay, so I was browsing the Blogging for Books website, and I stumbled into the fiction section. Not being a big fan of the Christian fiction genre, I was preparing my quick exit when I noticed something. See that cover over there at the right? Well, now, isn't it something? Doesn't it awaken your curiosity, if only a little? It did mine. What's a gypsy cart doing on the front of a YA novel?

So I clicked.

I wasn't sure about the back matter, but what caught my eye was this little bio of the author:
Jonathan Rogers grew up in Georgia, where he spent many happy hours in the swamps and riverbottoms on which the wild places of The Charlatan's Boy are based. He received his undergraduate degree from Furman University in South Carolina and holds a doctorate in seventeenth-century English literature from Vanderbilt University...
I repeat: a doctorate in seventeenth-century English literature. It stopped me in my tracks, it did.

Maybe, I thought, this guy can actually write.

First, I'm going to give some background without spoilers to whet your appetites.

Jonathan Rogers has created another world. It feels sort of like Tolkien's Shire, early America, even earlier Britain, Georgia, Florida and something out of a Mark Twain novel all rolled into one. This world is called Corenwald, and it's an island off the coast of the United States, I suppose, which reminds me of the Island "nation" featured in one of my favorite modern novels, Ella Minnow Pea.

Our hero is a boy named Grady who lives a gypsy-like life with a man named Floyd, who isn't his father, and who claims to have found him under a palmetto bush. Floyd has Grady pretend to be a "feechie" as part of a great, traveling dramatic scam off of which Floyd and Grady make their living.

What is a feechie, exactly? Well, a feechie is, I suppose, a creature--human or something else is probably up for debate--indigenous to Corenwald. Like our own Native Americans, I would venture to guess they preceded the Corenwalders in their residence on the island. Feechies remind me of hobbits, only ugly ones. They are described as being sort of monkey-like, wiry and good at climbing, very fast, and agile in the tree tops. Like hobbits, we get the sense that they, too, possess something of the divine image. Despite their ugly features (ears which stick out like a monkey's, and the characteristic unibrow, for starters), we get the sense that they are noble creatures nonetheless.

Of course, we also get the sense they may not be real, but only a figment of the the Corenwalder imagination, fed by the sounds of the swamp at night.

It is upon this nutritious feast of dreams that the story of Grady and his adventures nourishes itself.

Why I Loved This Story
The story itself is great. I don't think I have anything to complain about, and there is a lot worthy of praise. But I don't just love this book because of the story. There are a number of good stories out there. This book is a light in the darkness because Mr. Rogers has a way with words. Sometimes, his sentences were so perfect I read them two or three times, just for the joy of witnessing a phrase written by a living author turn so beautifully. The Bible tells us:
A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.

-Proverbs 25:11
Sometimes I felt like I was in a whole orchard of golden apples!

There is a moment when little mother-hungry Grady is looking into the window of a one-room schoolhouse. He sees the beautiful school teacher, and he thinks to himself,
The marm at that school was a young woman, so trim and so big eyed that she put me in mind of a she-deer. Just looking at her through the window, I could tell she smelt good.
I love that he thinks about what she smells like while he is watching her. Here is an author who knows something about humanity, that we do not merely see, but feel and hear and taste and smell as well.

What I Told My Son Before I Handed Him the Book
My son is only 8-years-old, but he's a fine reader, and I have only one reservation about letting him read the book. At the very back of the book, we learn a little more about the author:
[Rogers] is a lifelong devotee of the vernacular storytelling traditions of the American South...

He has spent most of his adult life in Nashville, Tennessee, where he and his wife Lou Alice are raising a houseful of robustious children.
The book is written in the first person, and it is Southern vernacular from beginning to end. This is one of the reasons why I said it was one-part Mark Twain. Grady and Tom Sawyer would understand each other completely.

My son, on the other hand, is California born and raised. He has rarely heard a Southern accent. So I told him two things:
  1. This book is written with a twang (I did my best imitation). So, when you're reading the book, you need to hear that twang in your mind to get the proper effect.
  2. Do not learn to spell from this book. Or else.
That last one was my reservation. If he comes out spelling professional as perfessional, I suppose I might kick myself.

**Spoiler Alert: Last Chance to Turn Back!**
Throughout the book, Grady is looking for his mother. He aches to have a family, a community, to be loved. Sometimes, his longing for community is so palpable, I could have sworn Mr. Rogers had handed the reigns over to the great Wendell Berry himself. The book is full of adventures and intrigue, but that search for a mother provides the backdrop for almost every chapter.

Two things happen at the end that forever change Grady's life. First, he is betrayed by Floyd, whom he has served as faithfully as a pet dog for as long as he can remember. When things go wrong in their act, Floyd decides the boy Grady is too much baggage. Floyd manages to abandon the boy to the crowd and raise the price on admission to his "lecture" all in one fell swoop.
Floyd sold me for a two-copper raise.
We are just as astounded as Grady, and we cannot help but be reminded that our Lord Himself was sold for thirty pieces of silver.

Shortly thereafter, the story really picks up the pace, and we see a chase scene and a revelation: feechies are real.

And Grady might just be one of them.

A feechie named Tebo takes Grady home with him. The details are fabulous, but if you want them, you'll have to read it for yourself. Tebo takes Grady all the way to his long-lost father and mother. They are reunited, and there is a big party.

This is not really the notable part.

What is perfect is this: Tebo recognized Grady because of a song. Grady's real name is Cato, and he'd been missing for over a decade. His mother had sung a song about him at every big feechie cultural gathering since he'd gone missing. One stanza says this:
We'll never forget your sweet eyes, Missing Cato--
One green, the other one blue,
A little close-set; otherwise, Missing Cato,
A perfectly formed set of two.
It's not a rune from Tolkien, granted, but just the idea that song was incorporated into the culture of a fantastical world is satisfying for me, especially because Rogers seems to understand the nature of folk music:
It was that song that saved me, you know. When Tebo was staring at me in the bamboo cage, it was because he remembered the song about Missing Cato's eyes: "One green, the other one blue." He knew who I was because my mama never let anybody forget.
And so it was that Grady Cato was saved by a song.


Note: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for the purpose of this review.  If you have the time, I'd love for you to rank my review over at Blogging for Books. Just click the icon at right.

25 January 2011

Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child: Method 2

Today we read about Method #2: Never leave children to themselves. It is here that Esolen discusses the modern tendency to micromanage our children. Children's lives, culturally speaking, consist mainly of organized activities and car rides. We organize them young and early, herding them to preschool and Gymboree and the like. They get older, and we send them to school, where their days are strictly managed, and then we offer them a buffet of organized "after-school activities" to keep them busy.

Stereotypically speaking, this is what goes on with children.

It's funny, because I know this is true, but our close personal friends, though their kids might take a ballet class or we might take some swimming lessons (so I don't have to hold four kids in the pool at once in the summer, ya'll!), allow their children plenty of free time to wander around, and I'm thinking this might be the case with you, too.

My problem is that, in talking with non-homeschoolers (or even worse: school teachers), I find that communication can quickly break down sometimes. Unorganized activities don't seem to count. Inventing games doesn't count. There have been a few times where someone clucked their tongue at friends of mine, and questioned whether they ought to have more children, because they "couldn't afford" to put their children in organized activities.

It never dawned on this person that this family had no interest in organized activities, and couldn't have cared less about affording them or not.

Wendell Berry, in his essay The Work of Local Culture (available in the compilation What Are People For?) talks about people just like this, and explains:
To have everything but money is to have much.
Because this "much" cannot be weighed and measured, nor bought and sold, I find it makes some people very uncomfortable. Yes, this family had wonderfully happy children and a vibrant family culture, but couldn't the children please get a trophy or win a prize or something? That was the general sentiment of this person.

TEN WAYS TO DESTROY THE IMAGINATION OF YOUR CHILDThe same type of people insist that children cannot be "socialized" outside of organized activities--especially the organized classroom. But Esolen tells us that we have so organized children that
[c]hildren no longer play because we have taken from them the opportunity and, I'll insist, even the capacity to play.
I really have met children who cannot seem to think of something to do, and their mommies seem a little like slaves.

With that said, Esolen claims that he hasn't seen children playing pick-up baseball for a decade, and I found myself wondering if all really is lost in New England. I don't know that baseball is the thing around here, but there are plenty of pickup basketball games, skateboarding groups, and so on, for those who are interested. Granted, all the children are not outside, the way I remember it being when I was a child, but there are still some here on my edge of the country.

I found myself wondering what Esolen would think of Charlotte Mason. His claims that children need to be by themselves to be themselves reminded me of Charlotte's concept of masterly inactivity. This is where the parent--or even the teacher--wisely lets the child alone to learn something for himself.

Of course, he also picks on the Forty-Five Minute Lesson Rule, where everything in a classroom apparently is allotted 45 minutes. Charlotte Mason believed in short lessons. She did not think that it was wrong to have a child read a book slowly, devouring only one chapter in a day. Of course, outside of the classroom there was plenty of time for free reading at whatever speed the child chose. Though I wondered if Esolen would frown upon Ambleside's careful monitoring of the reading pace of the assigned texts, I have seen great fruit born of forcing a child to slow down and absorb the ideas in the book. My initial response is that there is room for both, while still allowing a child to pursue ideas, and never diminishing the importance of ideas. Narration and discussion are probably the perfect remedies to the Forty-Five Minute Problem.

Two or three times a month, my son and his best friend play this game they call Dark. It started with just the two of them, but recently they began organizing their younger sisters into teams. I'm not sure exactly what the game is all about, but I know that it can only be played outside at night, and it is so much fun that winter has little impact on its appeal (granted we do not have freezing temperatures for the most part), and sometimes they almost break the play nook window.

I always thought this an amusing waste of time, but seeing as Esolen thinks children no longer invent games, I find myself rejoicing over this simple pleasure of theirs.

-Head over to Cindy's for more book club entries.
-Buy the book and join the club!

24 January 2011

Miscellaneous Musings on Monday

It's been beautiful around here lately. Lots of morning fog, yes, but when it burns off (and so far it has consistently done so), we're in the low-60s, which means the little ones are once again spending a good amount of time outside. Little O., who lives for outside ("ow-sy"), has been thrilled to be able to run right out (for the most part), rather than bundling up first.

In other news...
  • What does a holistic approach to cancer look like? Well, if you can get past the historical revisionism at the beginning of this article, you might find it interesting. Using the GAPS diet as a foundation, this doctor is treating cancer in a way I've never read of before. What I found most interesting is waaaaaay at the bottom, where he promotes a high-fat diet (ketogenic, I think it is called) for cancer patients. Fascinating. 
  • I've been meaning to thank you all for clicking the Amazon links and using the Amazon searchbox in the sidebar. You helped me purchase many a Christmas gift this year (using my referral fees), and I appreciate it more than you know. So I'll say it again: thank you.
  • Coming up this week: I'll post my first Blogging for Books review, of a wonderful little book called The Charlatan's Boy. For now, I'll just tell you that I really, really liked it, and have already handed it over to my 8-year-old, who is thrilled to have something new to read.
  • Nourishing Kitchen has a particularly moving post this morning. Jenny and her husband have decided to share some of their family's personal journey with using nutrition to combat mental illness. Jenny's devotion to her husband is evident as she shares their journey of her husband's return from the brink of insanity.
  • My lovely sister-in-law, Kristen, has started a blog. It's called Dem Golden Apples, and she's even written her first real post, which I am excited to read this morning before school starts. Kristen is the wife of my husband's twin brother, and she has given me beautiful nieces that I don't see enough of because we live about as far away from each other as is possible to be while still being in the same country. The one thing you need to know about Kristen is this: she loves the Lord. A whole big bunch. She is also the sort of person who ponders what she writes, as a sort of gift from her to you. If you head her way, be sure and give her some encouragement if you like what you read!
Have a fabulous Monday, everybody.

21 January 2011

John Piper's Future Grace: Chapter 2

Chapter Two is a bit redundant, if you ask me. The title is When Gratitude Malfunctions, and it definitely builds on the previous chapter, and yet I still think the majority of the chapter was a restatement of the previous chapter with a few added comments.

With that said, it provided fodder for interesting conversation, that is for sure!

So...what does Piper mean by gratitude "malfunctioning"?
Gratitude looks back...

But we do not live in the past. None of our potential obedience can happen in the past. All of our life will be lived in the future. Therefore when we try to make gratitude empower this future obedience, something goes wrong. Gratitude is primarily a response to the past grace of God; it malfunctions when forced to function as a motivation for the future--unless it is transformed into faith in future grace.
So far, my best guess is that Piper views gratitude as a motivation or builder of faith, and it is faith which gives birth to works, if that makes sense. Before we get into possible objections or anything else, let me briefly outline his major arguments.
  • Using gratitude as a motivation for works leads to legalism. Piper constantly connects gratitude as a motivator as an attempt to pay God back for what Christ has done. The second we turn our relationship with God into a business deal with a transactional nature, we nullify grace.
  • Obedience must be by faith. His evidence for this includes:
  • Gratitude looks back. This statement seems to be very important to Piper's argument. His reasoning seems to go like this: Gratitude looks back. It is hard for gratitude to encourage future action without ending up with the Debtor's Ethic he discussed in Chapter 1. Faith looks forward. All of our future obedient acts are, obviously, in the future. It is easy for faith to motivate future action because that is its natural direction. By using gratitude to fortify faith, we connect the past to the future and have both assurance (from gratitude) and strength (from faith) for future action.
  • Not all of God's glory is in the past. When Piper is speaking of faith, it can sound very heady to those of us who aren't used to the language. I felt like he said "faith in future grace" a thousand times, and I was sort of spinning because I wasn't completely sure what that meant. I had an idea of what it meant, but I wasn't even sure Piper and I were on the same page. I am beginning to realize that this idea of God's glory also being future is part of what he's getting at. There is a lot to look forward to. We are grateful for the past, yes, but the building of God's kingdom is still before us, and there are many great and noble deeds to be done.
Possible Objections
Mystie already brought up the Heidelberg Catechism a couple times, so let's talk about it. The Catechism says:
Question 86. Since then we are delivered from our misery, merely of grace, through Christ, without any merit of ours, why must we still do good works?

Answer: Because Christ, having redeemed and delivered us by his blood, also renews us by his Holy Spirit, after his own image; that so we may testify, by the whole of our conduct, our gratitude to God for his blessings, and that he may be praised by us; also, that every one may be assured in himself of his faith, by the fruits thereof; and that, by our godly conversation others may be gained to Christ.
I read through the supporting Scriptures, and I didn't actually see any reference to gratitude. Goodness, I hate to criticize a document written by faithful men much wiser than I. So I want to walk carefully here. The only supporting Scripture among those listed that I think even has the potential to imply gratitude is this:
For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.

I Corinthians 6:20
Read in context, though, I am not sure if Piper wouldn't use it as an argument for faith. The verse directly prior to this one says this:
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?
The Greek word used there for know is οἴδατε, which deals with sensory knowledge. Sometimes it deals with cherishing knowledge, but for the most part, the idea is one of knowing, understanding, and paying attention to. I think if we were to take these verses Piper-style, we could paraphrase them as, Don't you understand that God bought you and His Spirit lives in you? Have faith that you are His, and therefore show the world that your body is His.

It's a fine line, I agree.

A second possible objection was one that my husband raised at our book group meeting. Jesus said, in John 14:23, that if a man loved Him, he would keep His commandments. It is possible to read that as a motivation. I have certainly thought of obedience as being motivated by love.

In context, though, the passage seems to be using obedience the way James uses obedience: as an evidence of faith. In verse 23, Jesus declares that a man who loves Him will keep His word. In verse 24, He says that one who doesn't not love Him does not keep His words.

Let's think about this logically. Is Jesus really saying that the man who disobeys is motivated by that lack of love? I don't think so. I really don't think that nonbelievers walk around saying "because I don't love Jesus, I'm going to do X." Rather, the lack of conformity to God's Word is just another evidence of the lack of love--or love for self or an idol, etc. I don't think it is a jump to say, then, that those who have faith have love and also works, while those who do not have faith do not have love for God (what is to love if you don't believe?) and therefore do not have works.

So again we see that another possible objection seems to actually be talking about a different issue. I don't think we can say that the John passage is answering the question "what ought to motivate the Christian to obey?"

What Motivates Me to Obey?
This question was one a member of our group put to himself. His answer is almost exactly what I would have said. I want to obey God because He said so. At the end of the day, that is the reason.

Is this different than what Piper is saying?

At first I thought it was, but now I'm not so sure.

I would never arbitrarily choose some guy in the room and say, "See that guy over there? I'm going to do whatever he says, just because he says so." That would be ridiculous!

So I see that I am comfortable saying that I want do what God says because He said so, because I have faith in who God is. I believe that He created me and knows what is best for me, that He is infinitely wise, and that He knows how the world best operates. I believe He works things according to the good of His people. I believe that He will bring about justice in the end.

And so on and so forth.

The simple assertion that a Christians does what God says because He says so may sound light as a feather, but it holds the weight of God Himself. It is the Object--the Who behind the commands--that makes the whole sentence respectable.

I don't know that I would go so far as to say that this is the exact same as what Piper means by walking in faith of "future grace" because I'm not exactly sure what that means yet. But I do think this is walking in faith in God. I believe what He says, and I believe that He is Good, therefore I want to obey.

What is behind Christians who have the solid habit of obedience? I think Piper would say that it is simply...faith.

In Closing
I looked through the Heidelberg Catechism a little bit more, and noticed that Question 86 is not the last word on works.
Question 91. But what are good works?

Answer: Only those which proceed from a true faith, are performed according to the law of God, and to his glory; and not such as are founded on our imaginations, or the institutions of men.
For now, I personally think that it is not gratitude or faith, but gratitude and faith. Gratitude building our faith, faith hopefully expecting to see even more to be grateful for. Both of these are impossible without rebirth, and in this we see that all is the gift of God.

20 January 2011

Flower Cupcakes

Daughter Q. turned four on New Year's Eve, and I almost forgot to share my photos! Good thing I noticed them when I was (finally) uploading Christmas photos today. I was thrilled when Q. declared she wanted cupcakes for her birthday, as they take a lot less time to decorate. When she said flowers, even better. These were simple and easy, and yet pretty.

My friend had a couple cupcake display towers she let me borrow. Q. and I sat down and picked our four different kinds of flowers, and then I went to work. By displaying them mixed together, they sort of looked like bouquets.

...yellow flower...

...pink flower...


...purple rose...

...bouquets of cake...

For those of you who enjoy such things, if you have some basic cake decorating tools, these flowers are super simple. In fact, it takes more time to tint the frosting than it does to create the flowers! Here are some tips for making these cupcakes:

19 January 2011

Review: Childhood Vaccinations: Questions All Parents Should Ask

This is rare for me: I read a borrowed book. This only happens a few times a year {because I live nowhere near the library that is only open a couple days for a couple hours each week anyhow}. I borrowed this book because I was asking my chiropractor's opinion on exposing my children to wild chicken pox. I think perhaps my oldest had one of the varicella shots, but other than that they are clean. So my question was whether I should make sure they get it before they get to the age where it can be dangerous.

She was sort of ambivalent about it also, so she handed me Childhood Vaccinations: Questions All Parents Should Ask and told me to read it.

Here are a few of my thoughts on the book.

Preface to the 2010 Printing? Boo hiss.

I really, really didn't like the preface. It contained a lot of the straw man fallacies I encounter among anti-vaccination voices. By the end of the book, I understood why he said some of these things, which tells me that I would have accepted it much better as an afterward.

I keep hoping I'll find a book on vaccinations that decides to do away with logical fallacies and examine the evidence. This book attempts to examine the evidence, but the sloppy reasoning at the beginning of the book discredited it for me, and it took some time to earn back my ears.

And we don't even vaccinate! Imagine if I was thinking about this for the first time!

Understanding Infection

For a long time, I have wanted to know more about the competing theories of disease from the time of Louis Pasteur. I am aware that Pasteur was a voice surrounded by dissent {from the likes of Claude Bernard, Rudolf Virchow, Rudolf Steiner and Max Pettenkofer, according to the book}, but I never understood what the opposing theory was. I won't go into explaining it here, because it would take over the entire post, but suffice it to say I felt like it was a good primer on the issue, and I have a foundation to stand on when I finally get around to reading the dynamic history of the intellectual battle between Pasteur and Bernard.

Excellent Questions

The author is obviously inquisitive, and I think he has a great supply of questions missing from the vaccine debate at large. He brought up a couple that, in retrospect, seem so obvious, but I had never thought of them before. For instance, his first question is, Are vaccinated children healthier than non-vaccinated children? Well, that is an excellent question, but I'd never thought about it that way.

Looking around my own house, I'd have to say that the unvaccinated children are healthier by far. In fact, I cannot even begin to compare the difference in the first three years of life. While my vaccinated children had repeated ear infections and constant colds and flues {my older daughter doing three rounds of antibiotics before her first birthday}, my unvaccinated children have never taken antibiotics, or even a Tylenol. They rarely get sick, and when they do, they fight it fine on their own. The scariest sickness we've had with an unvaccinated child was food poisoning.

But my "evidence" is hardly scientific. My oldest child had severe vaccine reactions, so it should not be surprising that vaccines made him less healthy. {Or perhaps he was already less healthy, and that is why he reacted...it is hard to tell when we vaccinate them in the first week of life, no?} But I think that'd be an interesting study. For instance, the book quoted one doctor that claimed he had never treated a childhood cancer in an unvaccinated child.


Again, it's anecdotal, but I think it'd be an interesting research project!

Other interesting questions include, Do vaccines cause SIDS?, Can vaccines cause cancer or fertility problems?, Are there benefits to a child having acute infectious childhood diseases?, What about polio?, and How do vaccines work on a cellular level?

What surprised me was how many times throughout the book the answer was "we don't know." Did you know that there has never been research done on whether or not vaccines are carcinogenic? Now, we know that they contain a number of carcinogenic ingredients, some over and above the recommended "safe" level, but research has never been done on vaccines themselves. Did you know that there are no longitudinal studies on vaccines in existence?

Or so the author tells me.

The author also pointed out something I found in my own research when we were making our decisions about vaccination: that most {if not all} of the vaccine studies do not use an unvaccinated control group. I certainly have never seen one that did. So, for instance, a study might compare a fully vaccinated child who receives an experimental vaccine to a fully vaccinated who does not receive an experimental vaccine--or even to a child who received a different experimental vaccine! In most of the studies I read, I found that the research only proved that one vaccine was slightly safer, or equally risky to, another vaccine. The research never proved that being vaccinated was safer than being unvaccinated.

Interesting, Hm?

In all, I was struck by what we don't know about an accepted medical practice. But we did not make our decision on vaccines based on research that we may or may not understand, or which may or may not be accurately represented in the summaries and abstracts. Our decision was based on morality. We simply couldn't get past the use of aborted fetal tissue in the development of vaccines, and it is hard for me to believe that an industry based on so much destruction of human life could really make us flourish as a people.

I know that, for the most part, the vaccines are perpetuated using tissue from past abortions, and do not require new abortions to maintain them. Some folks can rest easy in that. There are no new deaths necessary. I am reminded of how important it is that we do things in faith. Some folks have faith for this, and surely I do not condemn them! I simply do not, mostly because I am suspicious of sin. I think it taints everything it touches. And that is why I can't say I was surprised that researchers and scientists wrote a letter to President Bush in 2001 which used this past vaccine practice to push for fetal tissue and fetal stem cell research. The past, in the minds of these men, at least, exists as a set precedent to justify even more destruction of human life.

And that is why our family just can't do it. Well, that's why we just can't do most of the vaccines. There are a number of vaccines that are ethically produced using egg cells or yeast cells or even the cells of endangered African green monkeys.


I didn't mean to go into this much detail. I suppose reading this book brought back a lot of old feelings, especially the feeling of being betrayed by my doctor. It turns out, she was only ignorant.

18 January 2011

Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child: Method 1

Now we are finally getting into methods. The first way to kill your child's imagination is: keep your child indoors as much as possible. Of course, experience tells me that being inside can provoke the imagination, too, in its own way, so it is best to fill the indoor hours with activities which prevent the child from having a thought or idea of his own, such as homework, television, movies, and video and computer games. The combination of being inside, along with being entirely absorbed in an artificial world, really prepares children for growing up to take their places in the global economy.

Okay, so assuming that we here all don't want to destroy imaginations--in fact, that we want to build them as much as possible--what does this chapter say to us?

I'll pull out a few ideas, and then you all skip on over to Cindy's and read the other entries.

Don't Feel Guilty for Saying "Go Outside"
This is perhaps my favorite phrase ever. Sometimes I have met supermoms who organize all these activities for their children, or get down on their hands and knees and play (a lot) with their children (almost to the point of doing this in lieu of their children learning to play on their own and invent games with their own toys). When I encounter such women, I start to doubt myself. Maybe I'm not doing enough? Or I wonder if my children are learning enough, what with me giving them so much free time to do what appears to be useless--digging in the mud or riding their bicycles.

Summer is Okay
I have to admit feeling guilty that we don't do year-round school. I've met so many homeschooling families that school year-round, and I have often felt like something was wrong with me, like perhaps the public school system had crept into my blood and left me dependent upon three months off in the summer. Now please don't take this as a criticism if you are a year-round schooler. Just understand that I've occasionally felt a little bit insecure about our own decision to take summers off.

Esolen implies that it is important to have a long stretch of time off (he talks about this more later in the book, but I'll leave that for when we get to it):
Few parents grasp the danger of children playing outside. The most enlightened educators do grasp it, and have taken steps to ensure that children will be left to their own devices, outdoors, as little as possible. They have shortened the summer vacation, parceling out free days here and there through the school year. The effect is to keep children from developing the habit of learning things outside of school...After all, it takes children a week or so just to get used to the summer, and a week or two at the end of August to prepare for the new school year. Then, too, schools have heaped books upon the children to tote around during the summer, much as you would heave sacks of grain and skins of wine atop a camel before crossing the desert. The idea is not to instill a love of reading excellent literature. Recall that so-called great works of art are dangerous, as they rouse the imagination. No, summer reading ensures that no mental break occurs between June and September...
Of course, what might be even better than an imaginative summer is for children to have time for poetic encounters every single day, that they might not need two weeks to "get used to" the summer. This encourages me not to let lessons consume our entire day. Get up early, start on time, and get it done. Being organized helps me with all of that, too. The discipline required for that insures that my children still have time to build forts, learn to ride their bikes (my five-year-old learned to ride her bike today!!), and pretend to be various animals.

Lately, I've noticed a trend among friends of mine who have chosen to send their children to school. Private or public, it makes no difference: they seem to be spending far more hours of their day "doing school" than I am. The homework follows the child home and dominates the hours of family time in the evenings. So many folks think that children are indoors because of electronic devices, and to some extent this is true. But I think I have now realized how many hours the school as an institution has determined to steal from children. As Esolen says:
All of this the parents will accept, as canceling out years of their children's lives, which otherwise would have to be genuinely lived, with all the risks that genuine life must run.
We have quarantined all learning and made it a function of the school, therefore we (as a culture, mind you) do not value the time children spend on their own, exploring their world. And, of course, if they have 24-hour unlimited access to electronic entertainment devices, then they tend to not spend their spare time exploring their world much at all.

Beholding the Sky
I still remember a dreamy day, when I had fewer children and more time on my hands, that I spent some hours laying on a blanket with my oldest, looking at the clouds in the sky and trying to see pictures in them. To this day, he remembers that, and asks me, "When are we going to look at the clouds again?" I often tell him that, of course, he can do this on his own whenever there are clouds around, but apparently it was special to do it with Mom. Maybe I ought to go outside more myself!

Esolen shares a bit with us concerning the great history of beholding the sky, and he warns us of the danger that the sky poses. It seems so harmless, and yet the sky itself is a doorway to imagination:
[T]he vastness of the sky will naturally lead the mind to contemplate infinities; it is wholly apt to associate the sky with expansiveness of the spirit, with joy and freedom and holiness.
Esolen tells us there are a few ways to help prevent a child from noticing the sky, even though it is there. All of these ways can be summed up in the word: billboard. Esolen uses this word both literally and figuratively. First, there are very real billboards crowding up the world, preventing us from seeing things that are beautiful and awesome, including the sky. Also, there are distractions, such as internal appetites:
The itch to be what is called "important" functions as a billboard, as does the itch to be "doing something productive" or to be playing a video game or to be sitting in front of a television...A child that has been blared at and distracted all his life will never be able to do the brave nothing of beholding the sky.
I have been surprised how many times lately I see those cars with the built-in DVD systems, playing movies for children...as they speed around town. Everyone I know who purchased one when these first debuted intended to use them for long trips, much like how our own family uses read-alouds to pass the hours of a long drive. But lately I see them in use during short drives to the grocery store, or while running errands. This brought the concept of the "child that has been blared at and distracted all his life" to a whole new level.

What broke my heart, though, was this:
He will not be able to ask, with the Psalmist,
When I consider the heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou has ordained;
What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
Earlier, Esolen had equated hiding the sky from the child to "putting a lid" on him.

I remember once worrying about my children having to be on a gluten-free diet. It wasn't about their nourishment (though later that, too, became a concern). It was about the negative attitude the diet was giving them toward bread. I wondered how, especially if I didn't learn to make gluten-free bread (which is not easy, and there wasn't much help out there when we were doing the diet), they would handle verses such as:
Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works.

Ecclesiastes 9:7
And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.

Luke 22:19
And especially:
For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.

John 6:33-35
How can a child who views bread as "bad" or "dangerous" comprehend bread as satisfying to hunger, or come to desire the "bread of life?" I was fearful that the diet would cut my children off from whole portions of Scripture.

Putting a lid on the child's relationship to the sky is similar. He mentions poems from Francis of Assisi and Gerar Manley Hopkins and declares:
The object of our schooling, note well, is not to ensure that such poetry as this will never be written again. Of course it can hardly be written, when it can hardly be read. Our aim is more complete. It is to ensure that the feelings that inspired Hopkins' work will never be understood again. (emphasis mine)
By sequestering the child, we do not merely cut him off from a relationship with nature, but from the wonder that opens his soul to the Creator of all things.

Parks and Zoos Aren't Everything
I can count the times our family has traveled on two hands. It just isn't something we can afford to do. One of our children has been to a zoo. Two of them have been to a national park (and one wouldn't remember it). And so on. It is easy to marvel at what other families are able to do, and feel like maybe we are missing out. But I felt like maybe we're doing okay when I read this:
One way to neutralize the fascination with the natural world is to cordon it off in parks and zoos, and then to act as if only the parks and zoos were worth seeing. Persuade a child that a giraffe he sees once every couple years is really impressive, but the wren on the fencepost is only a drab little bird...Persuade the child that the Grand Canyon is worth seeing, or Yellowstone National Park, or Mount Rushmore, or the breakers of the ocean on the Florida coast. But ignore the variations of hill and valley, river and pond, bare rock and rich bottom soil, in your own neighborhood. Children should be encouraged to think they have "done" [nature]...in the way that weary tourists are proud to have done Belgium.
Culturally, I'd say that our fascination with zoos definitely coincides with a lack of delight in the simple things around us. We are an entertainment culture, and we want a show. But, of course, not going to a zoo doesn't necessarily mean anything, not if we don't also take the time to enjoy our daily surroundings with our children. It often strikes me that my husband brings a lot to the table in this regard. In not growing up on the Left Coast (he is from Florida), he sees things with fresher eyes than I do.

For our family, though we can't go to a zoo, we chose to buy a property with enough land to actually do a few things. So we have an orchard (sort of). And a (struggling) berry patch. And a flock of ducks. And maybe more someday. The few things they do see and know, they know with intimacy. I take comfort in that.

-Read more posts over at Cindy's book club party.
-Buy the book because it isn't too late to join.

17 January 2011

Curriculum Review: Critical Thinking Press Workbooks

This review was supposed to be posted on Saturday, but I've been sickly for quite some time now, and I'm only now feeling up to it. So, let us thank the Lord for my autopost function, which is why this blog happened at all last week. The regularly scheduled Miscellaneous Musings on Monday will be back next Monday (Lord willing and my cough continues clearing up).

Quite honestly, when Timberdoodle contacted me and offered to let me review some workbooks from Critical Thinking Press, I was thrilled.

And I am not a workbook person.

All but one of these was sent to me by Timberdoodle (gratis, mind you), that I might reveiw them. I went ahead and added in the workbook that I have already been using with my 8-year-old son, as it is part of the same happy workbook family.

First, a Note on Workbooks
I have a lot of angst concerning workbooks. In general, I think they are a poor way to teach...well, anything. I also usually think they are developed for the purpose of keeping children busy (please see Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child if you do not see why this is a concern).

With that said, I was at a loss a year or two ago. My son was struggling with math, and he started telling me he was "bad at math." At these early ages, I think it is so much more important to grow in love for learning than it is to be at any particular level of any particular subject. So, I began to ponder what to do about the situation. After searching the internet and talking with friends, I decided to purchase a workbook from Critical Thinking Press called Beginning Thinking Skills Book 1. I read about these workbooks improving math skills, and even though test scores are not my particular concern, I wondered if it managed to work with the brain without looking and feeling like math. So, I bought the workbook and used it to replace math for about two months.

Which brings me to my first review.

Beginning Thinking Skills Book 1
When I flipped through this for the first time, I was pretty doubtful. To me, the first half just looked like pages and pages of shapes. But I had already invested, so I figured we should try it out. One of the things I love about these workbooks is that they come with reproduction rights (meaning you can make copies). So, I copied the first few pages and gave them to my son, who was six or seven at the time.

About fifteen minutes later, he came back telling me that he loved these pages, and could he please do some more? I still remember the smile on his little face. I also remember feeling baffled that something that appeared so boring (to me) could be called, in his words, "fun."

So, we stuck with it. We did just thinking skills for a couple months, and then we dove back into math. We weren't finished with the workbook, though (which is quite lengthy), and so he still does a few pages per week "for fun."

Math, by the way, hasn't been a problem for him since we did this. I don't know if it was that the workbook actually helped him, or that his brain really did need a break, and came back refreshed, but either way he is happy, which means his mama isn't doing too badly, either.

Beginning Word Roots (Grades 3-4)
When the folks at Timberdoodle said that I could pick a workbook for each of my children (except O., of course, who is a bit young and doesn't actually sit down), I jumped on it. Since we already had the workbook I mentioned above, I chose Beginning Word Roots for my son.

Again, I flipped through it and felt dubious. I confess: I am a workbook cynic.

And, again, my son really liked it.

With that said, workbooks are not my preferred method of instruction, especially for grammar and language. However, I see this as an introductory step, and he is definitely learning some things. I think I've talked with him before about prefixes and suffixes, but he never really understood that they had meaning and that if you know the meanings, you can sometimes figure out what a new word means by breaking down its parts.

I think the workbook makes words feel a bit like a puzzle to him, and that is why he's enjoying it. We will definitely continue this until we finish it as he is having a good time playing with words, and play is important in learning.

Beginning 2, Mathematical Reasoning
I am less thrilled with these last two workbooks, but I'm not sure that this means there is anything wrong with them. I already admitted I had angst about workbooks, and that really hit home with this workbook.

I don't know what I expected, but I've decided that workbooks, if they are not a fit for our family in general, are especially not a fit when it comes to my littles. This is just (1) not the early learning experience I want for them and (2) not the way I want to relate to them as their mother, nor as their teacher.

To keep the workbook from separating me from my children, I used it more like a person would use a chalkboard. I didn't give the girls (ages just-turned-4 and almost-6) workbook pages, but rather opened the book on my lap, with one girl on each side, and talked with them about the pages.

Probably 90% of what is covered by this workbook can be taught in daily life. For instance, counting objects is much better done by having children count real objects, rather than drawings on a page. (But the girls loved being asked to count pictures!) The same goes for learning the concepts of tallest or taller, shortest or shorter, longest or longer.

With that said, I like to keep books like this on hand. I have always done so. I use them when I am sick (and let me just say that they definitely came in handy during Bedside School last week when I was dying ill). I also like to flip through them and see if there is anything I am forgetting in our School of Daily Life. Sometimes when a child seems bored, I flip through some books to figure out what I can teach him next. I may or may not actually use the book with the child, but the books still stimulate my imagination when it comes to teaching the child.

Building Thinking Skills Beginning
A lot of what I said about the previous workbook can be said about this one. There is a huge focus on learning colors here, and I really think that colors are best taught by doing laundry. I am serious! It is amazing how many colors children pick up if you let them do laundry with you and talk to them about the clothes.

"Pass me that blue dress."

"Do you like this red shirt?"

Having them match socks is a great activity for little ones, too.

I did have one child (my oldest) that had a little difficulty learning his colors, and so perhaps I would have appreciated it more then than I do with two little girls who know all their colors backwards and forwards, even though I don't remember teaching them brown or black or white.

There was one activity that I really appreciated. It was called Can You Find Me? Basically there'd be four similar pictures on a page, and there would be a little poem that gave clues, and at the end it'd say, "Can you find me?" The girls then had to figure out which picture the poem was referring to. They really had to think about it (including the almost-six-year-old, even though she is technically "too old" for the book), and I think it was great for their minds.

There was one activity that my girls did poorly on. This was sequences. There would be a line of shapes in a pattern (red circle, blue square, red circle, blue square, for instance). Then, there'd be this little magician looking person covering up the next shape, and they were supposed to guess what the next shape or color would be. The little magician guy was so distracting for the girls! They kept asking me why he was there, and I never did figure out if they understood sequences and could guess the next shape. I keep thinking that if I set up a sequence with blocks, and covered one block, then maybe they would understand the concept.

In Summary
I'm keeping all of these, but my usage with the little girls will be much more sporadic than with my oldest. He'll continue doing a few pages per week. For the little girls, I'll mostly keep them for reference, or as something to do when Real Life Lessons just aren't happening, for whatever reason.

13 January 2011

John Piper's Future Grace: Chapter 1

This first chapter is called The Debtor's Ethic: Should We Try to Pay God Back? Piper seems to think that many, if not most, Christians, put a lot of pressure on themselves to obey God and do what is right out of a sense of debtor's guilt*. This chapter proposes that there are better reasons to obey and do good, and that the debtor's ethic actually nullifies grace.

Let's see if I can break it down.

First, Piper defines gratitude as:
the pleasant sense of the worth of what we've received and the goodwill behind it...a spontaneous response of joy to receiving something over and above what we paid for.
Please note that this is a general definition of gratitude. His "what we paid for" at the end is, contextually speaking, explaining the phenomena of experiencing a sense of gratitude even upon purchasing something. We are grateful because the thing we bought turned out to be even better than we expected, or came with a free gift, etcetera.

I had to admit at this point that I have difficulties with gratitude in a general sense. We discussed this chapter with friends shortly after Christmas, and all of my Christmas guilt was still weighing upon my shoulders. Si has a couple relatives that spoil us more than we deserve, and certainly more than we could ever repay. I spend a decent amount of time each Christmas feeling terrible that the gifts we give can never begin to compare with the gifts we receive.

Piper convicts me on a basic level. True gratitude is simply a response of joy. Accept the gift, recognize its worth, and also accept the accompanying love of the giver.

Well, and perhaps a thank you card is in order.


Piper defines the debtor's ethic as:
an impulse to pay for the thing that came to us gratis.
Piper tells us that this was not what gratitude was designed to produce. Further, he tells us that this impulse to return favors nullifies grace. He explains that when we use gratitude as the reason for self-sacrifice, we pervert it into this debtor's ethic of attempting to pay God back--even though most of us acknowledge that paying Him back is impossible to do. Good deeds, then, become our "installment payments." The interesting thing is that we say, for instance, that we obey God's commands because of our gratitude for all He has done, but the Bible
rarely, if ever, explicitly makes gratitude the impulse of moral behavior.
Here is the challenge: instead of letting past grace make debtors out of us, we ought to let past grace make believers out of us.

One example that comes to mind is the children of Israel during the time of Moses. Our family is reading these old stories during this term. The Israelites are constantly looking back. They have seen amazing deeds of God, experienced Him in breathtaking ways, and yet they wonder if perhaps it would have been better to be left behind in Egypt.

When the Israelites are at their best, though, what is notable about them is not their gratitude, but their faith:
And Israel saw that great work which the LORD did upon the Egyptians: and the people feared the LORD, and believed the LORD, and his servant Moses.

Exodus 14:31
To contrast, when Moses behaved badly and struck the rock with his staff, this was his reprimand:
And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.

Numbers 20:12
The LORD doesn't say that this is because they weren't grateful enough. It is because they failed to believe God.

As I have thought about this more, I consider that of course if we are aware of what God has done, we are grateful. But trusting Him into the future--believing all of His promises--this is something that reaches beyond gratitude.

And Piper says that this--this belief in God's promises--is what walking in faith is all about.

*Even though I agree with Piper on what the Debtor's Ethic is and why it is unhealthy as a motivator, I'm not sure that I agree with him that the vast majority of Christians are motivated by guilt or debt. I totally admit I might be wrong as this is based on a very unscientfic sampling of close friends.

12 January 2011

What Does it Mean to Support a Marriage?

There is a poignant scene in the juvenile fiction book Caddie Woodlawn. A family in the community is inter-racial. The mother is American Indian, while the father is white. The children are repeatedly called "half-breeds" throughout the book, which I'm sure is an accurate portrayal of early America.

There isn't officially a divorce in the book {were there officially marriages on the plains at that time anyway?}, but the father sends the mother away. The scene I can't get out of my mind is when the mother comes to tearfully bid her children farewell, saying, "I go to my people."

That evening, the Woodlawn children speak to their mother about what happened. Here is her explanation:
"You see, Mr. Hankinson married her when there were very few white people in this country. He was not ashamed of her then. But now that there are more and more of his own people coming to live here, he is ashamed that his wife should be an Indian. I daresay the massacree scare had something to do with it, too. Folks seem to hate the red men more than ever they did before. Though why they should, I can't say. Goodness knows, the massacre was only in their own minds. But Sam Hankinson hasn't a very strong character. Now if your father had married an Indian--"

"Father marry an Indian?" cried Tom. "He never would!"

"Perhaps not," said Mrs. Woodlawn..."But if he had, you may be sure that he would never have sent her off because he was ashamed of her. No, not a good man like your father!"

It is undeniable that some men have greater virtue than others. But something haunted me about this passage. This half-Indian family had been mentioned off and on throughout the book, and they were always treated as different--and they were. But the treatment certainly reinforced to this weak man that his marriage was a mistake.

I got to thinking about whether or not this tragic familial disintegration might have been avoided. What would have been the result, had the white women embraced the Indian woman, inviting her to tea and teaching her to quilt {and letting her teach them to parch corn or weave, too}?

I wonder how many times weak marriages fall apart because there was no tangible support in the community around them. I don't mean to absolve those of poor character of their guilt in these things, but I also wonder what supporting a seemingly "wrong" marriage would look like today.

Mixed marriages are accepted more than they used to be, but certainly not everywhere. In addition, many folks have people in their lives that they truly believe married the wrong person. Perhaps a friend or family member married too poor or too rich, into a culture that was too different, or even married outside of the faith {or simply the preferred denomination}.

I'm not saying that differences aren't something to be considered before the marriage in the context of pre-marital considerations. I remember once being told that similarities were like money in the bank, while differences were debts you owe. It doesn't mean you can't get married, but differences can take their toll, especially if they pile up high.

But after marriage, ought not people to support the marriage as best they can? To treat the marriage like they do all other marriages? In other words, doesn't every marriage have the right to be revered and protected by the community?

In the context of Caddie Woodlawn, it is likely true that Mr. Hankinson became ashamed of his wife. He was a weak man, of that there is no doubt. But I also suspect that the treatment of his marriage by the other settlers reinforced in his mind that he had made a mistake and encouraged him in his decision to send away the mother of his three young children.

Surely this is a tragedy that can be avoided.
Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men. See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.

I Thessalonians 5:14-15

11 January 2011

Ten Ways to Destroy Your Child's Imagination: Chapter 1

This first chapter is not the Number One Method for Imagination Assassination. No, that comes in the second chapter. Chapter One is more of a foundational principle. And the principle is this: truth is your enemy. Esolen even goes so far to say that if one is truly seeking to destroy the imagination, one must even consider facts--insofar as they contain truth, truth which can interest a child--our enemy.

Esolen mentions all sorts of facts--historical, mathematical, grammatical.

I was particularly interested in the grammatical.

Esolen mentions that there are a number of ways to kill grammar. For instance, I can teach it while belittling it. I can explain to them how unimportant it really is, how no one really knows all these rules, and they are kind of silly anyhow. This is, in effect, killing two birds with one stone, because while I kill English grammar proper, I also kill enough of the reverence for rules that the children become unable to learn the grammar of any subject.

In relation to this, Esolen explains that while I am minimizing grammar, I can simultaneously encourage faux creativity, imagination's ugly stepsister:
Imagine a serpent whispering into the ear, "Young lady," or "Young lad," as the case may be, "do not fear those rigid threats of Death. Bad grammar will not kill you. How should it? It is itself weak and foolish. All structure is foolish. Be creative. Do what you please. So what if some old fashioned Tyrant up above calls it gibberish? It will be your gibberish. There are no rules. Isn't this apple shiny, though?"
There are no rules. Rules seek to stifle you. Rules crush your creativity. Do what you want. Listen to your heart. Yada yada yada.

When I was fourteen or fifteen years old, I remember telling my piano teacher I wanted to learn jazz. Instead, she bought me a collection of Czerny studies. I will never forget her telling me that if I wanted to play jazz, I needed to learn to play classical. Classical would teach me everything I needed to know, and the reverse could never be true.

I came up against a similar wall in college when I was studying voice. Opera?? Quite honestly, it had never struck me that they would try to make an opera singer out of me. Once again, the answer was the same. "Learn opera and you can sing anything."

In both instances, the study was organized in such a way as to teach me to master the grammar and the logic of the subject.

I am thinking about the grammar of music today because I am studying up for teaching piano for the first time. In the back of my Pianophonics book are notes to teachers. The author explains that he wrote his own curriculum because none of the others he'd found actually taught...the grammar of the subject. Among other things, there was no emphasis upon reading music. The author, Mr. Freer, equates his approach to the battle between whole word reading and phonics reading. He writes: [
B]y youngest daughter we had less time and marginally more wisdom. We had come to value rules, rather than unthinkingly and cavalierly prejudging them, hippie-fashion, as stifling, boring, outdated and useless. True, rules in themselves are not especially interesting, and nor are they meant to be. Learning them is work rather than play. But they have the power to unlock new worlds because they encapsulate an essence, in this case the essence of English spelling, just like the essence of vanilla encapsulated in a bottle. Essences are potent stuff, and a little goes a long way. You can't just drink them out of the bottle. And the more 'essential' an essence is, the more concentrated and powerful it is. Those 70 phonograms take some effort to learn, but it certainly beats having to cold-memorize thousands upon thousands of different shapes...Rules make things easier when you know how to use them.
He later explains that the grammatical rules of, in this instance, musical notation, are like the boundaries of a game:
The first step of all is to place stickers on those two black keys, defining and delineating our playground, our initial zone of engagement. Boundaries are built into nature, and are integral to everything, including Pianophonics. We can only work during the day because we have slept at night; and as Chesterton pointed out, one is able to jump for joy only because the ground is hard and unyielding. Games fascinate us because in them we enact a metaphor of this. Within the physical boundaries and those defined by the rules there is absolute freedom. You can do whatever you like within the rules. But outside of them there is no freedom. Outside is a 'non-place' where the game ceases to exist--a no-go zone of meaninglessness. 'Out of play' means only one thing: get back into play. The rules engender the freedom...
It's so counterintuitive, because our culture is constantly sending us the message that the rules prohibit freedom, that we cannot be free unless we are free from the rules. In regard to carseat laws and gun control laws, I see the point. But generally, we cannot (and ought not) be free from the laws of nature, and without a certain amount of law, there is no order, and therefore no freedom.

What does this have to do with school?

Well, if the goal of the school is to destroy the child's imagination and fit the child for the global economy, it must not allow the child to learn the rules. In learning them, he might accidently find freedom, and free people do not fit very well into said global economy. Free people do crazy things, like saving their own seed instead of buying it from Monsanto. This we cannot have, for in fitting children for the global economy, we are training them not only to be employees, taking orders from some huge corporation somewhere, but also to be consumers. Let the factories produce, and let the children learn to buy!

This is how the world goes 'round.

A lot of the methods in this book, by the way, can be reduced down to methods of killing the grammar of something or other--to eliminating the grammar and form...of life.

Read more:
-Head on over to Cindy's for other book club entries.
-Buy the book.
-Check out Pianophonics.