30 August 2012

Book Club: Ideas Have Consequences
{Chapter 8, Part 2}

Yesterday, we discussed some of the comments that Weaver makes about education throughout chapter eight, The Power of the Word. Weaver sees education as not only contributing to the decline of language in our culture, but also as the easiest route for reformation.

Teachers {and others in similar positions--pastors come to mind here also} have dropped the language ball:
What has happened to the one world of meaning? It has been lost for want of definers.
How many teachers and pastors do you know who are careful of the definition of words, of the protection of language?

The breakdown of language necessarily results in the breakdown of community.
Ideas Have Consequences
by Richard Weaver
[W]e witness today a breakdown of communication not only between nations and groups within nations but also between successive generations...Drift and circumstance have been permitted to change language so that the father has difficulty in speaking to the son; he endeavors to speak, but he cannot make the realness of his experience evident to the child. This circumstance, as much as any other, lies behind the defeat of tradition. Progress makes father and child live in different worlds, and speech fails to provide a means to bridge them.
This is a good reason to read aloud together as a family.  I have found nothing to be quite so powerful at building our family culture as this habit {which includes the reading of Scripture, of course}. Reading aloud--and its great companion, memorization--have given us a common vocabulary and a common base of analogies to which we can refer. {And all you thought you were doing was reading a story!}

Rehabilitation of the Word

Weaver says there are steps we can take to counter what has happened. He's speaking to my grandparents' generation, but I don't find his suggestions to be any less true. In fact, they are more important than ever. I suggested reading aloud as a way for the family to begin to restore the proper use of language {of course, they must choose good books for this to be true}. Weaver says there must be a rehabilitation of the word and that is a task...for education.

What follows is basically a curriculum outline. It's simple enough, having three main parts. We'll go over each of them briefly.
  1. Great Poetry. Weaver warns against sentimentality on the one hand and brutality on the other. The antidote, he says, is good poetry, rightly interpreted. This poetry will offer the students
    a pure or noble metaphysical dream, which our studets will have all their lives as a protecting arch over their system of values
    I find a certain irony in this because we all seem to know that graduating students with a strong worldview is imperative if they are survive in the "big, bad world out there," but we do it through analysis, which is about as opposite of poetry as we can get. I'm not saying there isn't a place for analysis, or a place for a "worldview curriculum" {hey, my own husband wrote a book used here in private schools and churches for an introductory worldview curriculum!}, but Weaver says that first and foremost, the worldview is formed by good poetry. Perhaps this is because a worldview is formed in the affections first, and no amount of analysis can make up for lack of heart. I think that in addition to poetry, great books in general will work, though I'm sympathetic to Weaver's preference for poetry here. Still, I can't get out of my mind that Kirk thought that Pilgrim's Progress was an inoculation against Hobbes' Leviathan.
  2. Latin and Greek. Ah, the dead languages, for which my fondness is continually growing. I only wish I had time to actually study them well. The question here would be why languages? and thankfully Weaver answers the question.
    Nothing so successfully discourages slovenliness in the use of language as the practice of translation. Focusing upon what a word means and then finding its just equivalent in another language compels one to look and to think before he commits himself to any expression. It is a discipline of exactness which...is growing as rare as considerate manners.
    This is, by the way, why I am wary of pastors who are not familiar with their Greek. Weaver connects our carelessness with words to our materialism, saying that when we exalt things, we depress words. As many educated early Americans {men, at least} used to study their Greek and Latin, and were able to read their personal Bible in Greek, do you think that our materialism has anything to do with our abandonment of this tradition?
  3. Socratic Dialectic. This is where we learn to reason, and remember that Weaver already established that we reason using words. So this is still a restoration of language. Weaver says that our sloppy speaking has led us straight into the land of the excluded middle, which is to say, confusion.
    From this failure to insist upon no compromise in definition and elimination come most of our confusions.
    By learning to carefully define, we gain clarity! This extends all the way to our laws.
    Actually stable laws require a stable vocabulary, for a principal part of every judicial process is definition, or decision about the correct name of an action.
    The dialectic student, as he is trained in definition, will be trained in how to think.
Doesn't this make you want to stay the course, even when people may say that the education you are offering your children is not "practical." By practical, they simply mean that it is not directly tied to making money {and they're right--the focus is growing souls}, and that is exactly the sort of materialism that Weaver says depresses language in the first place.

Read More:
-More book club entries linked at Mystie's blog
-Buy the book and join in the conversation!

29 August 2012

Book Club: Ideas Have Consequences
{Chapter 8}

This chapter is, I think, one of my favorites so far, probably because the ideas are beginning to coalesce in my mind. This is one of those books that I'm sure I'll understand much better upon a second {or third} reading. Entitled The Power of the Word, I absolutely adored his defense of language and his acknowledgement of a spiritual component to the words we use. This makes sense, of course, when we consider that those of us who use words are spiritual beings, rather than merely physical.

As usual, I want to focus on what Weaver said about education, but I think we have to acknowledge that what he says about education later in the chapter is directly tied to what he says about language in its beginning:
The impulse to dissolve everything into sensation has made powerful assaults against the forms which enable discourse, because these institute a discipline and operate through predications which are themselves fixities...All metaphysical community depends upon the ability of men to understand each other.
How, might I ask, can education possibly take place if we do not have a unified language with which to understand each other?

The Beginning of Education

Weaver begins at the very beginning of education, when God brings the animals to Adam and has him give them names. If you do not initially view this as a form of education--or at least a source of what later becomes education--consider this:
Having named the animals, he has in a sense ordered them, and what other than a classified catalogue of names is a large part of natural science? To discover what a thing is "called" according to some system is the essential step in knowing, and to say that all education is learning to name rightly, as Adam named the animals, would assert an underlying truth.
I always remember the tale related by Charlotte Mason:
Ideas Have Consequences
by Richard Weaver
Some of us may have heard the late Dean Farrar describe that lesson he was present at, on 'How doth the little busy bee'–– the teacher bright, but the children not responsive; they took no interest at all in little busy bees. He suspected the reason, and questioning the class, found that not one of them had ever seen a bee. 'Had never seen a bee! Think for a moment,' said he, 'of how much that implies'; and then we were moved by an eloquent picture of the sad child-life from which bees and birds and flowers are all shut out. But how many children are there who do not live in the slums of London, and yet are unable to distinguish a bee from a wasp, or even a 'humble' from a honey-bee!
The children's lack of understanding kept them from engaging with a simple poem about the bee. Think of this! We wonder why children do not seem interested in things, and yet a certain amount of vocabulary is required to spark interest. This is why nature study is so important. I was going to say it is important in the early years, but I think it is important always.

Which is why I keep trying to work away at it even though it doesn't come naturally to me, I'm neither good at it nor consistent with it {I'm sure the two are connected}, and the lazy side of me would prefer to give it up. Words name things and familiarity with those things solidifies the understanding.

The Importance of Analogy 

I distinctly remember the day I first learned the importance of being able to think analagously because I immediately made up a game that I like to play with my children. It's where we simply try to say that one thing is like another. The other players have to be able to follow the connection, of course, but it can be as outlandish as they like. For instance, yesterday when our goat Charlotte was misbehaving and I never could get her into the shed, which means she wasn't allowed her grain ration {she must enter the shed to get it}, I came in and said, "That Charlotte was so naughty today. She was as naughty as--"

And then they needed to fill in the blank. This is not a good example, though, because they always say "as naughty as Son O." which is actually quite mean of them, don't you think? {They aren't allowed to say that in front of Son O., of course, even if he does get himself into a multitude of scrapes.}

Weaver explains a process in which some sort of researcher was trying to get to the "end" of language by backing his subject into a corner. This corner was wherever a person began to define one thing with another. The example given in the book is defining "space" by "length" and vice versa. Weaver explains:
He is here frustrated because he cannot find any further analogues to illustrate what he knows.
He later says:
Primordial conception is somehow in us; from this we proceed as already noted by analogy, or the process of finding resemblance to one thing in another. 
Do you recall that Charlotte Mason said that education was the science of relations? This is why.

Education Requires Language

This seems a normal enough thing to say, but Weaver discusses it from perhaps a less commonplace angle:
Language...appears as a great storehouse of universal memory, or it may be said to serve as a net, not imprisoning us but supporting us and aiding us to get at a meaning beyond present meaning through the very fact that it embodies others' experiences. Words, because of their common currency, acquire a significance greater than can be imparted to them by a single user and greater than can be applied to a single situation.
If you are new around here, you may not recall my defense of the use of the word "religion" in regard to the Christian faith. Unfortunately, the new gnostic fad in our country {thanks to Tim Keller} is to redefine the word "religion" as referring wholly to pharisasim. I cannot tell you how many times I have sent this article, or versions of it, to various people, in an attempt to defend the traditional meaning of the word--which is to say, that it defines a formal relationship between man and God which may be false or unorthodox but may also be quite true and in line with biblical teaching. Every man has a religion; the concern must be with whether it is the right one.

But there is this new idea out there that religion is somehow at war with the Gospel, and since the idea has been back by popular teachers like Tullian Tchividjian and the aforementioned Tim Keller, people immediately think this is true without giving it some thought. The fact remains that the word "religion" is what Weaver says--a great storehouse of universal memory. And since it was used with reference to the Christian faith in a positive sense for two thousand years, up until about last Friday, we redefine it and dispose of it at our peril. How can the next generation read anyone from Augustine and Athanasius to C.S. Lewis and John Piper if they have been taught that the word "religion" refers to something that is always and only wrong, bad, and unfaithful to the Gospel?

Yes, some words change over time. For instance, the word liberal doesn't mean today what it did at the time of our nation's founding. That is bad enough. I suppose if Tim Keller wished to redefine the words "worship" or "faith" we should just allow it because he is so much smarter than the rest of us?

Something to think about.

The point here, though, is that education stands upon language as, once again, the "storehouse of universal memory." This is perhaps the best argument for the study of Latin. I love, for instance, that Visual Latin wants to teach Latin not so that we can read Cicero in the original {though that is well and good}, but that we might have access to a thousand years of Christian writings. In other words, Latin was how the Church talked to herself for a millenia.

Brave Enough to Spend Time on the Trivium

I've noticed a cultural move to what we call STEM studies--science, technology, engineering, and math. Now, I'm not about to discard the quadrivium {arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy}, but there really does seem to be a doubt about the helpfulness of the humanities. Perhaps we should only give our students the most cursory of overviews, that we might spend more time preparing them for professions in which they will exert power over the material world and, incidentally, make a good amount of money in the process?

Weaver says:
[I]t is true historically that those who have shown the greatest subtlety with language have shown the greatest power to understand.
I read a paper once that declared that Hispanic students in the United States were failing in science because the teaching wasn't in their native tongue. In other words, science requires language ability. Guess what? If we neglect the Trivium, our students won't be able to think or communicate scientifically when the time comes. In fact, if language is in a sense the foundation of a community, there won't be a scientific community without the Trivium.
American universities have found that with few exceptions students who display the greatest mastery of words, as evidenced by vocabulary tests and exercises in writing, make the best scholastic records regardless of the department of study they enter. For physics, for chemistry, for engineering--it matters not how superficially unrelated to language the branch of study may be--command of language will prognosticate aptitude. Facility with words bespeaks a capacity to learn relations and grasp concepts; it is a means of access to the complex reality.
Language matters everywhere.
Evidently it is the poet's unique command of language which gives him his ability to see the potencies in circumstances.
And if you were thinking about dropping poetry, Weaver throws in this little tidbit:
If we should compile a list of those who have taught us most of what we ultimately need to know, I imagine that the scientists, for all the fanfare given them today, would occupy a rather humble place and that the dramatic poets would stand near the top.
Because we need to order our affections more than we need to manipulate the material world.

Combating the Demise of Language at Home 

This is hard for me to write because I regularly utilize hyperbole when I speak {to my husband's great chagrin}. But Weaver, like Charlotte Mason before him, rejects this practice:
We live in an age that is frightened by the very idea of certitude, and one of its really disturbing outgrowths is the easy divorce between words and the conceptual realities which our right minds know they must stand for. This takes the form especially of looseness and exaggeration. Now exaggeration, it should be realized, is essentially a form of ignorance, one that allows and seems to justify distortion.
I remember reading once that C.S. Lewis was required at home to say exactly what he meant. Perhaps this is another "game" I ought to introduce in our home...if I am able to play along!

Language matters. After all, David Bentley Hart recently wrote:
It is a truth universally acknowledged that it is only a short road that leads from grammatical laxity to cannibalism.
I'm sure Weaver would say the same thing concerning language. Either that, or he'd accuse Hart of exaggerating.


I'm running out of time, so this is it for today. Weaver has more to say, however, so I hope to come back and follow up with a second part tomorrow.

Read More:
-More book club entries linked at Mystie's blog
-Buy the book and join in the conversation!

28 August 2012

Possibly Insane: New School Year, New Special Diet

You probably noticed in my last post that I mentioned that horrid byword GAPS. Sigh. It's been a few years since I first began reading GAPS anecdotes. I wondered if my children, who, as you know, have a long and horrible history with food allergies, would benefit from this sort of diet, but I pushed it to the back of my mind.

No, no, NO!

No more special diets! I am determined that we be as normal as possible {whatever that means}.

But then problems began to pop up, and fixing them began to look expensive and my children, after all, do have a history of responding well to special diets.

And then I had the most horrible summer. I felt terrible all the time and was having trouble putting one foot in front of the other when a blood test finally revealed a B-12 deficiency serious enough that I was headed toward pernicious anemia. {Yes, I'm supplementing now and beginning to feel better.}

I'm not going to give the long list of health complaints for my children because they are things I'm sure they'd rather me not share publicly. But I can tell you that when I did a bunch of research on the most common causes of B-12 deficiency, they were both digestive in nature.

Which brought me back to the GAPS diet. I began reading the book, Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Dr.  Natasha Campbell-McBride, and I felt like I was encountering at least one person in our family on each page. I'll share some quotes in the future, for sure.

I talked with my husband and he thought we should do it. This time of year is our longest stretch without any holidays or birthdays; the goal is to try to be as "done" as possible by Thanksgiving.

If you're familiar with the diet, then you know that there are two phases: Introduction and Full. The Introduction Phase has six stages.

What is the GAPS diet? It is a special diet based upon the Specific-Carbohydrate Diet, but emphasizing certain gut-healing foods and supplements {think bone broths, sauerkraut, and probiotics}. What I like about it, when compared with other special diets out there, is that it isn't intended to be forever. The goal is healing and then slowly going back to eating normal, healthy foods. As long as you don't have a severe problem or a true, anaphylactic-type food allergy, the goal is to live normally. I mean, yes, you might not ever be able to eat tons of sugar or even dine in restaurants, but normal, home cooked foods {including bread and dessert!} should eventually be fine.

I also like that unlike other special diets I've encountered, there doesn't seem to be the temptation to call what God said was good, bad. Everywhere you turn out there, someone is calling part of creation bad: wheat is bad, meat is bad, dairy products are bad, cooked vegetables are bad, "unclean" meat is bad. It's like people don't even read the book of Galatians anymore. Foodism is the new religion, you know? We love the Law or, at the very least, we love to make our own laws.

None of that sort of attitude fits with my theology of food.

But here we say the diet is therapeutic. The goal is healing. These foods only bother us because we are broken, not because certain foods are evil.

Actually, specific foods don't bother us at all. The concern is various signs of generalized poor digestion and yeast overgrowth, of a weak gut.

In weeks to come, I'll probably write a little about our GAPS journey, and share some resources {like the super-powered probiotic supplement we chose--it's clinically proven, by the way}, which is why I'm writing about this today. Have any of you done GAPS or considered GAPS?

27 August 2012

Miscellaneous Musings on Monday

This weekend, we had a fourth birthday party for my baby. Si was really helpful and, on the morning of the party, reminded me that this was our family's last fourth birthday party. It's like he knows all this growing up business is traumatic for me, and he enjoys rubbing it in a little. Sigh.

I will try and post photos of the Cookie Monster cupcakes I made sometime later in the week, as long as the second week of school doesn't kill me.

It won't, right?

Kill me, that is.

Did any mother ever actually die by homeschooling? I'm just curious.


In the news...

  • When I mentioned on the Ambleside Online forum {That's right! We started a forum!} that I was trying to figure out the progymnasmata, Katie pointed me to her blog, where apparently she did something similar beginning in January. Here are her two posts: Progymnasmata and Still trying to figure it out...
  • Blogger Giving Advice Resists State’s: Get a License from The New York Times.
    Karen Gale of Indiana said she was pleased with the advice she received from Mr. Cooksey after getting to know him on Facebook. “I am in disbelief that in the United States it is against the law for a friend to give another friend uncompensated advice about what food to eat,” she said in a sworn statement filed in the case.

    In his lawsuit, Mr. Cooksey, a 51-year-old service manager at a medical equipment company, said that forbidding his “personal, ongoing, uncompensated mentorship of Karen Gale and other friends like her is an unconstitutional prohibition on something that Americans have done since the inception of the United States: share advice among friends, acquaintances, readers or family about what is the healthiest way to eat.”
  • The Miracle Cure That’s Hiding in Plain Sight from Gizmodo. A vaccine that cures other stuff? Interesting!
    Jumping from TB to cancer is quite a leap, but it's one BCG has made time and again. As far back as 1979, a clinical trial declared that "BCG is beneficial in the treatment of lung cancer". Then, in 1991, a study published in the new England Journal of Medicine suggested that the BCG vaccine offered strong protection against the recurrence of bladder cancer.
  • US teen invents advanced cancer test using Google from BBC News.
    Jack Andraka has created a pancreatic cancer test that is 168 times faster and considerably cheaper than the gold standard in the field. He has applied for a patent for his test and is now carrying out further research at Johns Hopkins University in the US city of Baltimore.
  • Antibiotics Might Be Fueling Obesity Epidemic from Wired.
    Farmers don’t just use the drugs to fight infections, but to enhance growth. For some reason, animals given steady low doses of antibiotics grow larger and faster than usual. Blaser wondered why this was, whether it was related to the animals’ microbiomes, and whether something similar could happen in humans.
  • Fussy Eaters from DoctorNatasha.com. We're about to start the GAPS diet, something I'll write more about later. But for now, would you have guessed it helps with picky eaters?
    James had limited his diet severely to a minute variety of sweet and starchy foods and processed carbohydrates. And even these did not interest him too much. I certainly couldn't get him interested in any food enough to actually want to feed himself. Instead, I would follow him around the house to try to get in a mouthful of rice here, a bit of pasta there, a GF cookie or glass of rice milk. Often I would feed him in the bathtub as this was the only place I could contain him. So my major fear and concern was how on earth I was going to get him to eat GAPS food. 
And that's all for today, folks. Have a great week!

21 August 2012

Book Club: Ideas Have Consequences
{Chapter 7}

I have to admit that I was a little disappointed in this chapter, which is called The Last Metaphysical Right. He's referring here to private property. I have a feeling I would have thought this chapter was incredible had I read it back when Weaver was still alive, but living now, when we've witnessed so much erosion of private property rights through zoning, eminent domain, and the like {and those are just the tip of the proverbial ice berg}, that I was hoping he'd have some other alternatives.

Good thing we still have the Gospel, the only idea big enough to carry the weight of the world!

It is true, though, that we still have private property {though some of it is, according to Weaver, too abstract to be useful in this particular endeavor}, and we also still have private money financing private endeavors.

And that is where we're headed today, folks: private education.

Private Education

Weaver himself makes this jump, so I know I'm not just wildly speculating here:
Nothing is more certain than that whatever has to court public favor for its support will sooner or later be prostituted to utilitarian ends.
Weaver thinks that public, government-funded education, is the perfect example of this.

We know that early education in American was quite impressive, that the literacy rate {even including slaves and "uneducated" women--I'm sorry I cannot find the link for the statistics right now} was supposedly superior to our current day, that the pioneers that we perceive to be uncultured often owned a New Testament in Greek {which they were actually capable of reading}.

Heck, Ralph Moody's Mom read the family Shakespeare plays for fun!

So, why the decline? I mean, we are obviously spending far more than ever in American history on education. If there is anything we can initially conclude, it is that funding does not an education make!

According to Weaver:
Virtually without exception, liberal education, that is to say, education centered about ideas and ideals, has fared best in those institutions which draw their income from private sources. They have been able, despite limitations which donors have sought to lay upon them, to insist that education be not entirely a means of breadwinning. This means that they have been relatively free to promote pure knowledge and the training of the mind; they have afforded a last stand for "antisocial" studies like Latin and Greek.
Why? Weaver goes on:
In state institutions, always at the mercy of elected bodies and of the public generally, and under obligation to show practical fruits for their expenditure of money, the movement toward specialism and vocationalism has been irresistible. They have never been able to say that they will do what they will with their own because their own is not private.
Keep in mind that Weaver lived long before the federal government got involved in education. That only happened shortly after I was born. {Did you know that this sort of large-scale federal meddling is a fairly new idea?} It has only gotten worse, of course.

Ideas Have Consequences
by Richard Weaver
Weaver says that when the State funds the schools, it requires proof of the effectiveness of dollars spent. We all know that the most important things cannot be measure--that a growth in character or a grasping of universal truth cannot be placed upon a standardized test. So the temptation, to which we have almost universally yielded now in both public and private schools, is to measure that which can be measured, and use those results to gauge success. We can measure technique. We can measure material things. We can also measure "job preparedness." It's really short-sighted because we all know that, ultimately, character and general intellectual ability trump "skills" when it comes to most jobs, if not all jobs, but since we can't measure those things, we dispense with them.

Government Funded Charter Schools

In our town, we have a public charter school that is very popular with homeschool families. The appeal, from what I can tell, seems to be the PE money, which translates into free swimming lessons and gymnastics and karate classes and basically all those things families like ours tend to not be able to afford. There are also enrichment classes, allowing children to take classes on campus once per week.

I have met a number of homeschoolers here who are out-and-out against the charter school, and though I see their point, I can't bring myself to that position for the simple fact that I know people who would not have begun homeschooling without having the charter school as a sort of middle-step. In other words, I think it has served and is serving a purpose {though that is likely not its intent!}.

But, after a time, I find that this same school has the opposite effect, and I think I am identifying exactly what Weaver is talking about. I have now spoken with a number of families who have had to leave because they find that merely being associated with this school, even if they express the freedom they are "allowed" through teaching Bible and infusing Christian thought into the regular lessons {they do have the right to choose their own curricula, though the more secular it is, the more likely it is that the school will pay for it}, they are {1} encouraged to focus on material things and {2} discouraged from teaching ideas and spiritual things.

It's funny, because no one is sitting over these families telling them what they must and must not do in their own homes, and yet the effect is palpable over time. The school, for instance, requires standardized testing, and so especially during test time, parents find themselves scrambling to teach the Measurable Things.

{Interestingly enough, a number of our local private umbrellas also require or encourage standardized testing. But I digress.}

It is all very interesting to me. Because our funding is private--from our very own pockets--we can choose what we think is best. I see this as a tangible example of what Weaver is talking about. Outside of some broad state requirements--ones that I would have followed anyhow, without any law requiring it of me--it often feels like my "freedom" {educationally speaking} is limited only by my own time, energy, and pocketbook.

The Impact of Standardized Testing

What I find interesting is that the private schools, which Weaver believes have such freedom, tend to willingly bind themselves to this public school problem. At least this is true here. I see the largest Christian high school, for instance, spending lots of time and money on accreditation, which of course requires, among other things, "data-driven instructional decisions" and a curriculum that is "relevant" and "standards-based."

If this world is all there is, Latin and a Gospel-Driven educational model is completely irrelevant, wouldn't you agree?

But here is what I'm getting at: a school which ought to be free has, through accreditation concerns and standardized testing, become, over time, a baptized version of basic, secular Darwinian education a la John Dewey. So while Weaver thought that private funding protected these schools, we see that the secular state has a way of wooing even private money into its service.

Personally, I think that the tiny, modest Christian classical schools and the homeschools are the last bastion of education freedom.

And even we are tempted sometimes, are we not?

Read More:
-More book club entries linked at Mystie's blog
-Buy the book and join in the conversation!

20 August 2012

Miscellaneous Musings on Monday: First Day of School Edition

Well, howdy, folks! We had a fabulous first day of school, and even though I am not naive enough to think that this means that all of school this year will be perfect and problem-free, it was encouraging. I was very concerned about juggling so many non-readers, but what I learned today is that as long as I can discipline myself to stay completely on task, we should get through most days unscathed.

Unless, of course, someone wakes up on the wrong side of the bed. And, as Mary Poppins says, on those sorts of days, both sides of the bed are the wrong side.


In the real news...
  • Mere Motherhood by Cindy Rollins.
    The temptation is to say that no one was listening because of heart issues and in the past I would have been listening to teachers who were constantly examining the hearts of their children and teaching others how to do this too. But the boys made so much fun of all my horror stories that began with "A good homeschooled boy from a nice family...." That I had to step back and actually see what they were reacting against. I was like the moral police trying to avoid every possible future scenario from car wrecks to drums in church, from snakes to stupidity. If there is one thing I haven't been able to cure it is stupidity.
  • “I Believe in the Maker of Moderate-Sized Dry Goods” by Fred Sanders. Something in case you want to give your brain a good old Monday Stretch.
    Here’s a related issue: God made everything, and he made the stuff everything is made of. But it’s one thing to affirm that, and another thing to specify what the stuff is. Atoms? Great, God made those little critters, and also created {or did he con-create?} all the ways those indivisibles are arranged and built up: the compounds, the molecules, the tissues, etc. But if you go smaller than atoms, things get weirder and all quantumy, and while the quantum world is a nice place to visit, nobody wants to live there. Heck, depending on who you believe about quantum phenomena, there’s no there there anyway: locality does not apply. I’m staying right here in Newtonian land, thank you very much.
  • Pedophiles want same rights as homosexuals: Claim unfair to be stigmatized for sexual orientation by Jack Minor. You didn't really think we could avoid this, did you?
    Republicans attempted to add an amendment specifying that “pedophilia is not covered as an orientation;” however, the amendment was defeated by Democrats. Rep. Alcee Hastings {D-Fl} stated that all alternative sexual lifestyles should be protected under the law.
  • The Dangerous Article for Boys: Why boys don’t need to get in touch with their feelings and how you can protect them from people who think they do (with a list of books to help you fend these people off) by Martin Cothran. Let's let boys read "boy books," shall we? And by the way: girls usually like these sorts of books as well.
    Okay, let's get something straight here: solutions like this are part of the problem. I'm normally against shooting spit wads in class, but I am willing to make an exception in this one case. The entire educational establishment has tried for over 50 years to force boys into their effeminate mold, and in the process, they've succeeded in evacuating literature of all the things boys like in books: action, adventure, danger, bloodletting--and an iron moral code that is taught, not by smarmy sermonizing, but by immersing them in the moral universe of a story about a hero who not only believes in this code, but enforces it with a vengeance.
  • HANDRAHAN: Executive branch porn problem: Bureaucrats risk national security breaches from The Washington Times. Shock: sin puts nation at risk!
    Bloomberg quotes a cybersecurity expert saying the Missile Defense Agency’s use of porn is concerning because “many pornographic websites are infected and criminals and foreign intelligence services such as Russia’s use them to gain access and harvest data.”

    The only possible response is: Duh.
  • F.W. Robertson’s Life and Death by Fred Sanders. A lesson from vague preaching.
    One reason we don’t know is that Robertson’s sermons, whatever other merits they may have, are pervasively vague. They are vague with their liberal theology, they are vague as to personal application, and they are vague with poetic suggestiveness. The classic evangelical take-down of Robertson’s overblown reputation is the line: “Robertson believed that Christ did something or other, which, somehow or other, had some connexion or other with salvation.” Spurgeon didn’t coin that one, but he loved to quote it. 

And may you all have a lovely, wonderful week. Ciao!

16 August 2012

The Progym Plan: Fable Stage

I mentioned awhile back that I planned to begin using the progym with my Year Five student. {Please note that he is advanced in writing and has done written narrations for a couple years now--I am not suggesting that a child who has never done written narrations attempt this sort of thing!} I did a lot of research; I read articles and blog posts and random online Aphthonius translations. I tried to get a sense of it all so that I could do it on my own, but I finally decided to break down and buy a copy of the teacher guide for the fable stage of Classical Composition by James Selby. I'm so glad I did because it gave me a chance to see what it might look like to actually teach the progymnasmata to an actual student.

Teaching is 2/3 imagination, right? If we can't visualize it, we can't do it.

At least, I can't.

Now, you have to understand that it was quite hard for me to make a purchase like this because I knew I wouldn't want to follow the book exactly, and it was expensive. I can't remember the last time I spent $30 on a single item for lessons. But I didn't think I'd be able to teach this without some sort of guide that explained the day-to-day aspect, and I'm glad I did it.

What I want to share here, though, is my plan for teaching, because it is quite different from Selby's. This is my basic outline, and I'm holding all of this with an open hand because I know that I might find that things go other than wonderful when I put this into action.

First, let's talk about the progym.

Disclaimer One: I am no expert.

I'm going to tell you a bit of what I have learned so far, and it's up to you to check my work. I'm just saying.

So the entire progymnasmata is a progressive series of writing exercises, some of which correspond to the formal stages of classical rhetoric. This year, I intend to try my hand at the fable stage, and if we fly through that, then we'll head to narrative. This post will only discuss the fable stage; I didn't even purchase anything for narrative yet.

Disclaimer Two: I am trying to make this as CM-styled as possible.

That doesn't mean I succeeded. Feel free to throw tomatoes.

So now I'll explain my plans.

Ps. If you have suggestions on how to make it even more CM-friendly, I'm all ears.

Day One

On the first day, we will read a fable from Aesop. We will do only a single reading, and immediately afterwards, my student will give a narration. Also, I will make an attempt at Grand Conversation by having my student guess the moral of the tale, or by asking questions, especially, "Does this remind you of anything else." As you can see, the first day is explicitly Charlotte Mason-style.

Day Two

On the second day, we're going to write an outline of the story. If you are looking at Selby's teacher guide, then you know that I've already departed from his sequence. I feel free to do that because {1} Selby is not my boss, and {2} I'm the teacher. Frankly, because I'm so unfamiliar with this, I feel I need to do it in a way that makes sense to me, and outlining before rewriting makes a lot of sense to me.

On the first day, Selby has the teacher give lessons on elements of style such as Recognition, Reversal, and Suffering, and has the students identify these. But later he says that they should note it in their outline. I like to teach as organically as possible, so I'm not going to give a lesson on these things, or press my student to identify them. Instead, I'm going to tell him the official word for the thing when it pops up in his outline. {"Do you know what that's called? That's Reversal, where the high are brought low!"} As he learns to outline well, whatever of these elements that appear in the fable should definitely appear in his outline.

Of course, I may come back and publicly repent of changing Selby's order. Consider yourself warned.

Day Three

On the third day, then, I'm going to have my student write it shorter. I don't notice that Selby focuses on this, but everything else I've read says that learning to retell in a concise manner is essential in the fable stage. My student is very wordy, so I think this might offer him the greatest assistance in his writing, at least in the short term, so I want to make sure that we touch on this each time.

Using his outline, I think it should be fairly simple {once he gets the hang of it} to write a short, "just the facts" version of the story. The key is that he has to write it shorter than the fable itself, even if the fable is already quite short {and many of them are}.

Day Four

On the fourth day, he will write a variation, choosing from these options {and he can't choose the same one two lessons in a row}:
  1. Write it longer. He will need to be creative and imagine more to the story than is there, but not in such a way that he changes the essence of the plot. He can describe a character's body {Selby calls this Effictio}. He can describe the landscape {Geographia}. I am making the rash assumption that my student can figure this out. If not, Selby has lots of helpful description exercises to help him get started.
  2. Write it from the perspective of one of the characters in the story {sermocinatio}. Using the first person, he'll rewrite this {and every other variation} from his outline, not the original text. This could possibly be styled as a monologue.
  3. Invert the sequence of events. This might be the hardest one, and I'll be thankful if he saves it for last. Selby offers some handy transition sentences in order to make this happen, but I'm personally not good at telling a story out of sequence, so it could get interesting.
  4. Write the same plot, but with different characters and setting. So if there's a grasshopper and some ants out in a field, the new version might have two very different animals, or even some humans, in a desert or at the beach or in a garden. This one sounds like fun to me.
I might think of--or discover--more variations as time goes on, but this is the list I'm starting from.

Day Five

This is the last day, and we'll edit and revise, ending with a final draft. For editing, I usually have my student read his work aloud to me. When he does this, he catches missed words, bad spelling--all sorts of errors. After that, I plan to pick a sentence or two and help him refine it by asking him some questions. Finally, he'll rewrite it all in his best cursive.

The Very First Week

I've always thought that modeling was a superior sort of teaching, so my plan is that, for week one, I will work through this process, and he will watch. I will try to do all of my thinking aloud so that he can understand what I'm doing. By the end of the week, he should have an idea of the process and be ready to try it himself.

Am I Glad I Purchased Selby, Since I'm Changing so Much?

I'm adding this because it seems like an obvious question. My answer is: most definitely yes. First of all, I'm not going to pick the fables; I'm going to use Selby's selections. At least, I am for the time being. {I've toyed with adding in some parables of Jesus as well.} In addition to this, I would never have been able to write up a plan like this without the guide. I was having trouble moving from theory to practice. And perhaps most importantly, I feel like I have a safety net in this book. If my student gets stuck and has trouble moving forward anywhere in the process, Selby has exercises and ideas to help him get over the hump and continue writing. There are example outlines. Also, not every fable contains every element of style that the entire body of fables can teach us. So I noticed by looking through all of the lessons that as we go along we'll also be able to pick up more of the language of classical writing, which will hone our ability to think about writing in the first place.

And That's That

Anyone else attempting the progym this year?

15 August 2012

Book Club: Ideas Have Consequences
{Chapter 6}

I think a lot of what Weaver says in Chapter 6 {The Spoiled-Child Psychology} has been, of necessity, said many times in recent years. There are a lot of people talking about the entitlement mentality, which is basically the modern wording for "spoiled-child psychology." If you were reading along and wondering if I'd be able to make the leap to education this week, well...all I can say is it's in there!


How the Spoiled Child is Made

A lot of what Weaver says here is what we've heard before, but it is fascinating to me that he said all of this in the 40s. He's practically a prophet!
The spoiled child has not been made to see the relationship between effort and reward. He wants things, but he regards payment as an imposition or as an expression of malice by those who withhold for it. His solution...is to abuse those who do not gratify him.
Ideas Have Consequences
by Richard Weaver
Weaver also blames the predomination of the city over the country. He believes that country living keeps us in touch with certain harsh realities which cities seem to be able to gloss over. This is definitely true, I think, with simple things, such as where food comes from. I remember reading an article once in which two little city children refused to eat a carrot fresh out of a garden because they were horrified that it came out of the ground! I'm not sure I'd even call that a harsh reality--it's just reality. Cities don't have to be this way, but I think they often are.

In general, though, Weaver says that spoiled children have been allowed to be overrun by their own appetites--by their desire to consume. That desire trumps everything else, even the right of the rich man to keep the money that he worked hard to earn.
The spoiled child is simply one who has been allowed to believe that his consumptive faculty can prescribe the order of society.
[Capital] may be the fruit of industry and foresight, of self-denial, or of some superiority of gifts...The attack upon capital...is likely to be born of love of ease, detestation of discipline, contempt for the past; for, after all, an accumulation of capital represents an extension of past effort into the present. But self-pampering, present-minded modern man looks neither before nor after; he marks inequalities of condition and, forbidden by his dogmas to admit inequalities of merit, moves to obliterate them. 

Spoiled Children and Heroism

The most fascinating thought in this chapter, in my opinion, was the idea that the entitlement mentality stands in contrast to heroism:
The truth is that he has never been brought to see what it is to be a man. That man is the product of discipline and of forging, that he really owes thanks for the pulling and tugging that enable him to grow--this concept left the manuals of education with the advent of Romanticism.
[H]e who longs to achieve does not ask whether the seat is soft or the weather at a pleasant temperature, it is obvious that hardness is a condition of heroism. Exertion, self-denial, endurance, these make the hero, but to the spoiled child they connote the evil of nature and the malice of man.

The modern temper is losing the feeling for heroism even in war...
This is, in conclusion, a story of weakness...
We really are weak. Every time I read an old book I become frightfully aware of how weak I am personally, as well as how weak we are culturally. I am a big baby who needs an air conditioner to survive the summer. I am no Ma Ingalls.

Educating for Heroism

I do not think that there is any magic bullet when you're dealing with a cultural pandemic of weak, greedy, consumptive personalities. But we can deal as well as possible with what we face in our own homes when we design our own lessons.
Anyone can observe in the pampered children of the rich a kind of irresponsibility of the mental process. It occurs simply because they do not have to think to survive. They never have to feel that definition must be clear and deduction correct if they are to escape the sharp penalties of deprivation.
So step one appears to be to make them think. We must require it. We must wait patiently when they do not have an answer. We must refuse to fill up the lesson time with our own incessant chatter and explanation. We must ask good questions. We might even need to play Devil's advocate. But the sloppy, trivial thinking allowed by education-via-worksheets is not good enough by a long stretch.

When Weaver speaks of the heroism of the Greeks, he gives us this interesting description:
Privations of the flesh were no obstacle to his marvelous world of imagination.
This reminds me of Jesus, who had no place to lay His head, and certainly knew privation during the time of His ministry, and yet He was not deterred because He knew what was set before Him. The future goal--the triumph over death and evil, the salvation of the world--animated His struggles in the present.
[B]ecause culture is of the imagination, the man of culture is to a degree living out of this world.
So step two needs to be something along the lines of develop a heroic imagination. Childhood is the time to furnish the rooms of the mind. Hero tales are imperative. Theology, likewise, is indispensable.

I think I'd also add a third step, which is to create an environment in which cause and effect, reaping and sowing, effort and reward are tightly connected. What I don't mean is that we must create a silly system of grades and sticker charts, which is more like bribing. I'm thinking more about modeling and celebrating the intangible reward of a job well done. We can perfect an art. Document progress in our learning {See how far you have come in x number of months or years? All that hard work pays off!}

We can also require our children to get a job and pay for their own stuff. This is what my parents did with me, and what we plan to do with our children. This is really the only way for someone to understand the cost of something.

How do you avoid encouraging an entitlement mentality in your own children? Or perhaps a better question is: how are you training heroes in your home?

Read More:
-More book club entries linked at Mystie's blog
-Buy the book and join in the conversation!

13 August 2012

Miscellaneous Musings on Monday

Greetings from sunny California! Ohmigoodness it has been so hot lately. I know some of you back east think I do not have a right to complain, but we had a pretty mild summer until the past couple weeks. It was already hot when I went out at 5:15 this morning--my shed was sweltering! The high today is 108 and I'm pondering how to get out of that picnic my husband expects us to show up at this evening. Hmmm...

In other {real} news...

  • How to Grow a Man Without Even Trying by Cindy Rollins. Love love love this post!
    There is not a poem in the world that is easier to debunk than The Charge of the Light Brigade. We can tear down its rhyme scheme, its structure, its poet, its last verse, its romanticized view of a terrible thing that happened during the Crimean War, and its entire Victorian view of everything.

    We could do that. That's how it's done these days-poetry.

    But then how would our children grow up to run marathons or climb Mt. Everest or deal with the pain of losing both legs or chose to put others first for no good reason?
  • THE COURAGE TO PUT AWAY OUR CAMERAS from The Rabbit Room. A long time ago, I decided that I wasn't going to subject my children to more photos than my parents had me, and it's worked out okay. I hate putting a camera between me and life because I find that the camera captures a memory I didn't actually make, for the most part.
    In our amazing era of digital immediacy, I can tell the world where I am and what I’m doing while I’m doing it. I can present myself as a busy man living a rich and full life. I can take pictures of my meals, log my locations, snap photos of the people I’m with, and weigh in on what’s happening around the globe 140 characters at a time. But none of these things mean I’ve been paying attention.
  • Jan Brett's Channel on You Tube. Need I say more? She has little how-to videos for drawing that I think my children will enjoy.
  • Some Thoughts on The Sabbath of Learning from ChildlightUSA. Breaks are so, so important.
    After learning something new children need a Sabbath, a time to process, internalize, to find pleasure in the new learning, and to make connections to previous learning. The new creation (new learning) is not complete without this Sabbath. Frequently children do this when they are playing or having “time” that their minds can work on the new learning. An example is the seven year old who said that he remembered what he learned in the morning during recess.
  • The Purpose of Mathematics in a Classical Education from The Imaginative conservative.
    The mathematics curriculum in a classical education will seek to promote the understanding of order and harmony in the universe. Mathematics, as a language, reveals this order and harmony, yet it should also be lifted from this concrete foundation and brought into the world of the abstract. The study of mathematics will engage this endeavor by training students in the context in which the discovery of its concepts arose as well as the reasoning which provides its structure. Although the study of mathematics has fallen well short of this purpose in modern times, its implementation will deepen a classical education.
  • CALIF. FISH & GAME PRESIDENT OFFICIALLY OUSTED AFTER PICTURE SHOWS HIM LEGALLY HUNTING MOUNTAIN LION IN IDAHO from The Blaze. Really? We live in an intolerant world. There is something very ironic about Newsom's statement, don't you think?
    He told the Mercury News he didn’t poach, didn’t import exotic animals, or do anything other than offend those who don’t like mountain lion hunting.

    “There’s no chance I did anything wrong,” Richards told the newspaper. “I did everything by the book.”

    California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) had been particularly vocal in trying to get Richards to step down, writing him a letter that stated, “I do appreciate that you did nothing illegal in Idaho, but it is clear that your actions do not reflect the values of the people of California.”
Have a great Monday, folks!

10 August 2012

How to Have a Grand Conversation

These days, it feels like I am constantly talking with other moms about educating our children, and there is one question that comes up a lot. It is always some variation of: How do I talk to my child about ideas? Charlotte Mason says that ideas are the food of the mind, and many of these women are quite good at conversation. But when they are attempting to talk to their children and the response is something along the lines of, Can I have a cup of milk?, they start to think they're doing it wrong.

I like to talk about ideas because I like to think other people's thoughts after them. But I can't say I've always been able to get my children on board. Lately, however, it's been going a lot better, and I attribute that to two questions I've learned to use.

My theory is that if I can get my children to have a habit of talking about ideas when they are little, it'll come naturally to them when they are older.

The first question was one I learned from the immortal Andrew Kern and it is: "Should x have done y?" The second one has really enhanced the conversation I was getting out of the first, and it is from the brilliant DHM over at The Common Room: "Does that remind you of anything else?"

Allow me to give a recent example of this, a conversation with my child who is perhaps my most difficult to converse with on a deeper level.

We've been reading slowly through John Ruskin's Then King of the Golden River, about one chapter each lunchtime. We were taking a drive, and I decided I'd try to talk with her about it.

"Do you think that Gluck's brothers should have taken his golden mug and melted it down like that?" I asked her. I told her in advance that I was going to talk to her about the book so that the question didn't seem to come out of nowhere.

"No!" she exclaimed.

And said nothing more.

Not deterred, I asked her why not, and she declared that it was mean and selfish and all sorts of awful things, but of course his brothers were always like that.

"What do you think about how Gluck responds?" I asked her. {Because it's not a formula. We really can ask questions other than the two I mentioned. I'm only saying this in case you are like me and sometimes Follow Rules Religiously.}

"He's always so nice and kind," she said. "He never does means things back to them, no matter what they do."

I, of course, was thinking about Jesus at that point, but I was more interested in what she was thinking.

"Does that remind you of anything else?" {Education being the science of relations and all...}

"Cinderella," she said, without skipping a beat.

And then nothing more, of course.

I decided to push a little more. "Why?"

"Because her stepsisters are so mean to her and she is always kind back, too."

And that was it.

But wasn't it a good conversation? Now, if I had been at home, I would have been tempted to tell her that that reminded me of a verse, and then we could have talked about how Jesus responded to other people, or how Paul instructed us to never return evil for evil. But in and of itself, even without all of that, it was a truly good conversation.

If you try these conversation starters with your children, please come back here and share a story or two.

09 August 2012

Quotables: Ideas Have Consequences

Ideas Have Consequences
by Richard Weaver
As the modern world is organized, the ordinary readers seems to lose means of private judgment, and the decay of conversation has about destroyed the practice of dialectic. Consequently the habit of credulity grows. {p. 97}
Jefferson observed at one time that it would be better to have newspapers and lack a government than to have a government and be without newspapers. Yet we find him in his seventieth year writing to John Adams: "I have given up newspapers in exchange for Tacitus and Thucydides, for Newton and Euclid, and I find myself much the happier." {p. 98-99}
The radio is...the cheerful liar. {p. 103}
For turning whole populations into mute recipients of authoritative edicts, what better means could there be? {p. 103-104}
[T]he operators of the Great Stereopticon have an interest in keeping people from breaking through to deeper significances. Not only is the philosopher a notoriously poor consumer, he is also an unsettling influence on societies careless of justice. {p. 105-106}

07 August 2012

Book Club: Ideas Have Consequences
{Chapter 5}

If, last week, I was seeing parallels between Weaver and Schaeffer, this weeks I do declare that I've had sightings of Neil Postman and Marshall McLuhan everywhere I look! It is entirely possible that Postman was channeling Weaver when he wrote Amusing Ourselves to Death, if not Technopoly as well. In fact, one of the best ideas I came away with after reading Postman was that content is not all that matters when it comes to media. The idea that formatting also matters--that juxtaposing a tragic murder with a trivial deodorant commercial on the nightly news is injurious to the soul--profoundly impacted our family. That is why this jumped off the page at me {literally, Mystie--it did!}:
[W]e are made to grow accustomed to the weirdest of juxtapositions: the serious and the trivial, the comic and the tragic, follow one another in mechanical sequence without real transition. During the recent war what person of feeling was not struck by the insanity of hearing advertisements for laxatives between announcements of the destruction of famous cities by aerial bombardment? Is it not a travesty of all sense to hear reports fraught with disaster followed by the comedy-variety with its cheap with and arranged applause...
Ideas Have Consequences
by Richard Weaver
Echoes of Postman {or, more accurately, Postman's works were echoes of Weaver} abound in this chapter. Weaver is talking about the radio, while Postman is concerned about television, and I'm sure we're all dying to know what they'd think of the internet!

Neil Postman is the reason there is not a television in our living room. He's the reason that the media doesn't have open access to our home. Once per week, Si and I rent a movie. One a month or so, we watch a movie with the two older children. I know the children watch cartoons and videos at their grandparents and, to my chagrin, at church events.

There is, however, a lot of internet in our house. The children do not have "screen time," but it is not unusual for Si to show them a YouTube video. This doesn't bother me--now that all of the children are over two, I'm not an absolutist about these things {yes, I had a mental cutoff age of two--no video anything before two was my rule of thumb}.

I've mentioned this before, but I'll say it again. As much as this started as a deliberate, conscious decision, it is now simply normal to us. We don't think about it. It's not a choice we make over and over. I am sometimes struck by the size or amount of televisions in other homes, but that is because I am completely unaccustomed to how most other members of our culture live!

I like how we live. I always wanted to build a vibrant family culture. Family culture is, in many ways, about how we spend our time. For every hour that we do not watch a show, we are spending it reading or playing or whatever. And honestly I feel so busy in the evenings--there is such a short amount of time between when Si returns home and when bedtime needs to happen--that I don't know how we would manage to really connect with each other if we had screens on. I even turn off the radio when Si comes home because I know I cannot really listen to him with it on.

Okay, so enough about television and movies, says the hypocrite woman typing on a computer. He he.

Education and Technology

Probably the biggest danger in a technological society is the mindset it tends to nurture. The things in our lives--the gadgets and gizmos--exist to serve us and make our lives more convenient. That alone can shore up our natural self-centeredness! In addition to this, a diet full of television, video games, and yes, even the internet, can encourage the habit of being entertained. Have you ever seen a child who literally did not know what to do without something flashing to look at? I have, and it is very sad. But it is the logical outcome of hours per day of entertainment.

The problem is that, according to a number of teachers I've talked to, children are now entering kindergarten with this mindset. And then the teachers are trained to capitalize on it. The teachers need to figure out how to gain and maintain the children's attention, and they do this using by making what Charlotte Mason called an undue play upon the child's natural desires. They may bribe and coerce using some sort of ticket or sticker or bucks system. They may enslave children to their magnetic personalities, causing them to desire approval from their teacher. They may use antics and videos to gain their attention.

All of this undercuts the love of knowledge for its own sake, by the way.

So the children come to school poised to be entertained, and the school trains the teachers to reinforce this. At least, this is what local teachers have told me, and my hunch is that it is generally true. My hunch is that the teachers are also very tired of this sort of hamster wheel approach to learning; they are, after all, the hamster.


Weaver begins his chapter by saying that the main problem with all of the problems {yes, it is possible to have problems with problems} that he discussed in the previous chapters is disintegration, fragmentation. The culture hangs in shreds when its foundation is slipped out from under it, and those in charge find that they have a great need to figure out how to keep it all together.
These leaders adopted the liberal's solution to their problem. That was to let religion go but to replace it with education, which supposedly would exercise the same efficacy. The separation of education from religion, one of the proudest achievements of modernism, is but an extension of the separation of knowledge from metaphysics. And the education thus separated can provide their kind of indoctrination.
Weaver goes on to say that while this can happen in the classroom, there is a much easier way to educate our culture in the way the leaders want it to go:
[T]he education which best accomplishes their purpose is the systematic indoctrination from day to day of the whole citizenry through channels of information and entertainment.
This is why Wendell Berry likened the television to a giant tube pumping meaning out of the home. He knew that homes once had a culture and passed it on lovingly to the next generation, and all of that culture was pumped out of the home when the television was turned on. Or, as Weaver would say, when the radio was turned on.

I don't mean this to argue for no-media-at-any-time, but if you have never thought about the fact that the media in a child's diet forms his worldview, or as Weaver so eloquently puts it, his metaphysical view of the world, now is the time to have just such a thought.
[T]he beliefs which underlie virtually every movie story are precisely the ones which are hurrying us on to perdition. The entire globe is becoming imbued with the notion that there is something normative about the insane sort of life lived in New York and Hollywood--even after that life has been exaggerated to suit the morbid appetite of the thrill-seeker.
The media surrounding our children in some way define what is normative for them, especially if we never say anything to cause them to become thoughtful about it.

Lesson One: The media to which we expose our children is an education, and we should approach it with as much care as we do when we choose the various curricula for their formal education.

But there is another lesson I want to draw out before I go, and that is based upon a small nugget of truth I found nestled in the chapter:
If the realization of truth is the product of a meeting of minds, we may be skeptical of the physical ability of the mechanism to propagate it...
If education is meant to bring about this realization of truth, and realizing truth requires a "meeting of minds" then we just might have a problem if our education depends mostly upon special projects, educational movies, and "learning" video games.

Obviously, we can take that last sentence and run too far with it, and also not all gadgets are created equal. Whereas a Kindle most definitely can facilitate a meeting of minds, iPads and Skype are going to require more diligence in order to make that happen.

Just remember: a child watching Baby Einstein is actually getting stupider.

Lesson Two: Not all technologies purported to assist in education are actually fostering a meeting of minds or an ascertaining of truth.

Of course, not all textbooks are either, so buyer beware.

Read More:
-More book club entries linked at Mystie's blog
-Buy the book and join in the conversation!

06 August 2012

Miscellaneous Musings on Monday

Good morning! I hope you all had a good weekend. Ours was fine. Most notably, we are done with our "church shopping" process. At least, we think we are. We are excited to have a new church home, and it doesn't hurt that the teaching is really quite good.

In the real news...

  • Loving What Must Be Done by Christoper Perrin. I love this as an antidote to procrastination!
    Remember the maxim of the slacker: Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow? In contrast, we find encouragement of a different sort from the German poet Goethe: Cease endlessly striving for what you would like to do and learn to love what must be done.
  • The Only Tolerable Form of Behaviorism {in My Humble Opinion} from Aut-2B-Home in Carolina. Applying Charlotte Mason's philosophy to autistic children.
    Lest you fear I have turned my back against a Charlotte Mason philosophy, I have not. I plan to demonstrate my point through a case study Charlotte Mason wrote on a imaginary boy named Guy Belmont, whose meltdowns remind me very much of what children in the autism spectrum do today.
  • How Kids Benefit From Chores by Laura Grace Weldon. Not that any of you thought the benefits of chores were up for debate, but this is still a worth read.
    After that day the neighbor girl asked if she could do chores every time she came over. It seemed funny at the time, but I think now that she recognized she’d been missing the sense of accomplishment and camaraderie found in working together.
  • Technique Vs Relationships from The Common Room. Some ideals, however, are not as feasible in larger churches.
    This was relationship building in a way that assigning nursery workers and numbering the babies is not. Nursery workers are there to watch the babies because that’s the job they signed up for {and, in some states, the job the government has approved them for}. The older woman who smilingly offers to amuse your baby for you is doing it because she saw *you* and perceived a potential need of yours, and offered to fill it. It’s deeply personal.
  • Savage or Manly? by Art Middlekauff. Ever hear that myth about Charlotte Mason being only for girls?
    Mr. Moore was a teacher who taught in several preparatory schools. But he was discouraged by the apathy he saw in his students – boys – and the apathy he found in himself and the other teachers. And he was concerned about a general lack of results. But he was blessed to have a wife who was trained by Charlotte Mason herself at Ambleside. She inspired him to start a Charlotte Mason school for boys.
  • The Second Stage of Nature Journaling from Higher Up and Further In. This nature study series is really helping me chart our course for the coming year.
    My son is now in the fifth grade. He has finally mastered basic cursive and can write short narrations. He loves the natural world and this is evident from the endless stream of animals he finds and feeds to the nature table overflowing with his treasures. He has filled several nature journals with paintings of his discoveries and simple labels. I realized a few weeks ago that he is ready to move on to a more complex stage of nature journaling.
  • Paper: All Presidents Bar One Are Descended From One English King from FOXNation. The disappointing thing is which king.
    What do Barack Obama, Thomas Jefferson, George W. Bush and the other past U.S. presidents have in common? Besides holding the coveted title of commander-in-chief, it appears that all of them but one are cousins.

    The remarkable discovery was made by 12-year-old BridgeAnne d’Avignon, of Salinas, California, who created a ground-breaking family tree that connected 42 of 43 U.S. presidents to one common, and rather unexpected, ancestor...

03 August 2012

Quotables: Ideas Have Consequences

Ideas Have Consequences
by Richard Weaver
Since under conditions of modern freedom the individual thinks only of his rights, he does not refer his action to the external frame of obligation. {p. 70}
The sin of egotism always takes the form of withdrawal. When personal advantage becomes paramount, the individual passes out of the community. We do not mean the state, with its apparatus of coercion, but the spiritual community, where men are related on the plane of sentiment and sympathy and where, conscious of their oneness, they maintain a unity not always commensurable with their external unification. {p. 70-71}
The modern worker does not, save in rare instances, respond to the ideal in the task.

Before the age of adulteration it was held that behind each work there stood some conception of its perfect execution. It was this that gave zest to labor and served to measure the degree of success. To the extent that the concept obtained, there was a teleology in work, since the laborer toiled not merely to win sustenance but to see this ideal embodied in his creation. Pride in craftsmanship is well explained by saying that to labor is to pray, for conscientious effort to realize an ideal is a kind of fidelity. {p. 71}
Labor which is bought and sold by anonymous traders [i.e., unions] cannot feel a consecration to task. Its interest becomes that of commercialism generally: how much can be had for how little. Today workers seek to diminish their commodity in order to receive a larger return within the price framework. {p. 74}
[W]hen egotism becomes dominant and men are applauded for looking to their own interest first, statesmanship and philosophy must leave the picture. {p. 74-75}
[T]he leader may be chosen by the people, but he is guided by the right; and, in the same way, we may say that the worker may be employed by anyone, but that he is directed by the autonomous ideal in the task. {p. 76}
That curious modern hypostatization "service" is often called in to substitute for the now incomprehensible doctrine of vocation. {p. 77}
[S]entimental humanitarianism, ignorant of fundamental realities but ever attentive to desires, wrecks society. {p. 78}
[S]atire, it is important to note, always bespeaks an age which recognizes good and evil and makes distinctions among human beings accordingly. {p. 80}
The sensitive individual turned inward and there discovered an appalling well of melancholy and unhappiness, which was attributed to the perverse circumstances of the world...The young romantic Goethe in Werther, and Shelley crying, "I fall upon the thorns of life, I bleed," continue the indulgence in egocentric sensibility. {p. 81}
[W]hat man expresses in music dear to him he will most certainly express in his social practices. {p. 87}
Clive Bell is inclined to see [Impressionism] simply as a rediscovery of paganism. This meant the acceptance of life as good and satisfying in itself, with a consequent resolution to revel in the here and now. The world of pure sensation thus became the world of art. {p. 88}
When masses of men reach a point at which egotism reigns so blandly, can their political damnation be far distant? {p. 91}
[A] spoiled people invite despotic control. Their failure to maintain internal discipline is followed by some rationalized organization in the service of a single powerful will. In this particular, at least, history, with all her volumes vast, has but one page. {p. 91}

01 August 2012

Book Club: Ideas Have Consequences
{Chapter 4}

Ideas Have Consequences
by Richard Weaver
This week's chapter, Egotism in Work and Art, reminded me of Francis Schaeffer's work. I've read a number of his works, so I might have them mixed up, but I'm pretty sure it is in The God Who is There that I first noticed someone trying to trace the decline of culture using art. Weaver includes music, and it's been too long since I read Schaeffer to remember if he does the same thing. I found myself wondering if Schaeffer had read Weaver; my guess is that he probably did.

The Decline of Children's Bible Storybooks

The Bible in Pictures
for Little Eyes
by Kenneth Taylor
When I was a child, I remember poring over Kenneth Taylor's Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes. The fine art was enchanting, and it really did inspire a sense of awe and reverence. To be honest, I do not remember reading the words. I remember looking through the pictures as lovingly as any connoisseur in an art gallery.

The Gospel Story Bible
by Marty Machowski
Today, my children are exposed to Bibles that are filled with modern and post-modern art. Some of the pictures actually look to me like things my oldest child could easily make himself, if he wanted to. Marty Machowski's Gospel Story Bible is definitely the worst offender on my bookshelves. More than once, my children have even looked at the pictures and asked, "What is that supposed to be?"

Now, I'm not using this as an argument against using said Bible. I don't remember the content from Kenneth Taylor's Bible book, but I know that my husband is quite pleased with the content in The Gospel Story Bible. But I think we're all familiar with the fact that Christian publishers tend to follow the world into decline in almost every sense of the phrase, and this is one way that happens.

Weaver makes a few comments about Impressionism and its descendants that are worth noting.
The movement of Impressionism, which is the revolutionary event of modern painting, has been attributed to a variety of causes. Clive Bell is inclined to see it simply as a rediscovery of paganism. This meant the acceptance of life as good and satisfying in itself, with a consequent resolution to revel in the here and now. The world of pure sensation thus became the world of art.
And later:
The broad character of the movements we have been following represents a psychic urge to collapse all order, a technical effort to get something without tolerating a medium, which is but another exhibition of the passion for immediacy.
Honestly, I think my example above of modern art in a child's story Bible is showing the end result of this process. I don't think the artist for the latter Bible was making any sort of statement about art. Like a lot of things, when art stopped seeing and expressing timeless truths, it devolved into silliness and commercialism. I do think it is valid to hold up the latter Bible as a sign of the decline of our culture, and naturally it shows the decline of art. But more than that it shows a decline of the respect we once had for children. The most obvious difference is that Kenneth Taylor reveals a belief that children are human and have souls, that even at the youngest ages they can contemplate and appreciate truth and beauty. Marty Machowski's Bible {and I highly doubt he had control over the art, by the way} reveals a belief that children are silly and sensual and that, in order to reach them, we must cater to their base affections.

A "passion for immediacy" indeed.

Let's guess which children's Bible Charlotte Mason would have chosen, shall we?

Knowledge and Power

As you know, I've been trying to focus on the implications of Weaver's thoughts when it comes to teaching and learning. Weaver doesn't use the word hubris in this chapter, but with the word egotism all over the place, I'm surprised.

We need to remember what Weaver already told us. To the ancients {pre-Bacon, really}, learning--the acquisition of knowledge--improved the soul and prepared it for the afterlife. It made good citizens, who would lead or serve sacrificially. It gave the student the knowledge of ideals, to which he attempt to live up. And so on.
An opposing conception comes in with Bacon's "knowledge is power." If the aim of knowledge is domination, it is hardly to be supposed that the possessors of knowledge will be indifferent to their important. On the contrary, they begin to swell; they seek triumphs in the material world.
Perhaps this explains the utter arrogance of many of those who have received much higher learning?
In Greek fable, as in Christian, it is asserted that there is a forbidden knowledge which brings nothing into the world but woe. Our generation has had ample demonstration of what that knowledge is. It is knowledge of the useful rather than of the true and the good, of techniques rather than of ends.
This is the reason why understanding what a good king is, or what makes a man heroic, is far more important than knowing the names of decent kings and the dates of when they lived. There is nothing wrong with facts per se, but when we reduce learning to facts, we miss the truth, and it is truth which transforms and sets free.

Weaver says:
Nothing can be done until we have decided whether we are primarily interested in truth.
What does it look like to be "primarily interesting truth?"
[E]levate the study of essences above that of particulars and so put in their proper modest place those skills needed to manipulate the world.
Might I suggest we get really brave and spend the whole of next year on essences? Manipulation skills will come about naturally enough, I think.

Read More:
-More book club entries linked at Mystie's blog
-Buy the book and join in the conversation!