Monday, April 26, 2010

N&N: That Which One Thinks is True

David Hicks uses the word, 'dogma', in his book. I keep bumping up against it in an uncomfortable way. What exactly does it mean? And in what sense does he use it? And why am I uncomfortable with that word in the context of education?

1. tenet, a religious doctrine that is proclaimed as true without proof
2. a doctrine or code of beliefs accepted as authoritative.

1 a : something held as an established opinion; especially : a definite authoritative tenet b : a code of such tenets c : a point of view or tenet put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds
2 : a doctrine or body of doctrines concerning faith or morals formally stated and authoritatively proclaimed by a church

The word is from a Greek root meaning, "to seem good, think". Hmm.

Here are some quotes from N&N. I think Mr. Hicks is using the word in the sense of 'authoritative code of beliefs':

"I have differed from many modern writers on education by insisting upon the necessity of dogma..." (p. vi)

"Both an elaborate dogma and a man, [the Ideal Type] defied comparison with any man, yet all men discovered themselves in it." (p. 4)

"Like the thinker whose brilliance we universally acclaim, Alfred North Whitehead, we have cultivated a perverse form of modesty and self-deception that, in the absence of dogma (the working yet scientifically undemonstrable hypotheses of the old civilization), has allowed us to forget who we are and what our purposes are, as well as to neglect to teach those lessons to our children." (p. 10)

"Classical education presents the right way, not with the intention of stifling future inquiry, but as a necessary starting point for dialogue. In this sense, dogma can resemble art: it confronts man with some truth about himself, a kind of truth that might have taken him a lifetime of error and misdirection to arrive at for himself, but ultimately, a truth he must test in his own experience of life if he is to appropriate it for himself and benefit from the confrontation." (p. 19)

So-- Mr. Hicks believes dogma is necessary in education. The Ideal Type is dogma. So were the "working yet scientifically undemonstrable hypotheses of the old civilization". Without it, we do not know who man is, and what his purposes are. And dogma can behave like art.

I think I am uncomfortable because I do fear indoctrination, especially if we are talking about education in a larger sense than what I am doing at my house with my own kids. Obviously, I think dogma (Christian dogma, to be specific) is a necessary component of education-- one of the reasons we homeschool is because we have strong convictions regarding "what we think is true". But who picks the dogma for institutional schools? The parents? The school board? The state or national government?

Can dogma be broad enough to be universal and not infringe on religious freedoms when the state runs government schools-- and yet still be that spirit that confronts us with who we are and what we ought to do?

C.S. Lewis, in his book, _Mere Christianity_, talks about certain laws that are accepted by almost every human culture, even the remotest. The fact that so many different cultures have such similar principles, Lewis says, is proof (in the sense of classical inquiry rather than scientific) that a universal code of ethics exists. This is why we can use Greek and Roman myths, African "Anansi" legends, and old European fairy tales as 'organizing stories' for our young folks-- these stories embody universal values.

Could this code be used to form dogma for education, even in a nation in which the definition of 'religious freedom' is being debated? I know some folks have tried (William Bennett comes to mind). Is that what Mr. Hicks is talking about? Is it enough?

Update: It occurred to me as I woke up this morning that CM's student's motto and 20 Principles are dogma, although she did call on the science of her day as proof for some of her principles. She had tremendous respect for and hope of science, it seems. And she also understood the educational necessity-- indeed, the human necessity-- of addressing the questions, "What is man? and what are his purposes?"

"I am, I can, I ought, I will." This was the motto she gave us. I am a human being, one of God's children; I can do right by my fellowmen and by myself; I ought so to do and God help me, I will so do. Is this not a great message she has given us?

--Michael A. E. Franklin, one of Charlotte Mason's students; from In Memoriam

N&N: The Shape of Education

Form is the necessary precondition for all experience and expression, perception and comprehension.

--David Hicks, Norms and Nobility, p. 18.


Two criteria for the classical curriculum:

1. Logical methods

2. Okay, I have to say I can't figure out the second criterion. It has to do with general curiosity, beauty, and ethics. It's the criterion that broadens, while the first one narrows. This second one is the 'spirit' part, while logic is the 'format' part of classical inquiry. It is what CM meant when she said, "Education is a life." It is ideas. I think.

N&N: Classical Inquiry

Classical education is not, preeminently, of a specific time or place. It stands instead for a spirit of inquiry and a form of instruction concerned with the development of style through language and conscience through myth.

--David Hicks, Norms and Nobility, p. 18.


The three essential attributes of classical inquiry:

1. general curiosity (emphasis on general rather than systematic or specific)

2. imaginative hypotheses (often broader than scientific hypotheses)

3. methods of testing the hypotheses (reason, observation, logic, experimentation)


In the process of asking a wide range of questions, of forming hypotheses, and of testing their consistency with known facts, the student learns about the nature of his subject and about the methods appropriate for mastering it. This process-- because it is the indispensable tool for unearthing all human knowledge-- is the only true basis for a classical, or universal, education.

--David Hicks, Norms and Nobility, p. 18.


*NOTE: The idea of hypothesis, etc., in this context, is not quite the same as what is known to us as the scientific method, which is based almost completely on gathering empirical evidence-- evidence that is observable by the five senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. To quote Charlotte, "the greater includes the less, but the less does not include the greater."

Sunday, April 25, 2010


(A narration by Aravis based on an episode in the biography, Marie Antoinette and Her Son.)

The royal family was imprisoned. The monarchy was officially dissolved. The former king was killed.

But Toulan was still there. And wherever Toulan’s bravery and creativity was, there was hope.

Toulan was an actor. He managed to give himself the fa├žade of a Citizen loyal to the people, and was often on guard outside the queen’s chamber. One day he proposed to the other guard, Simon, that they teach the queen to smoke. “And if she will smoke,” he added, “We will not smoke in her anteroom anymore.”

So saying, he abruptly threw open the door to the room where the children were playing and the queen and her ladies were sewing. “Madame Capet,” he inquired, “Do you smoke?”

“You know I do not,” she said, ‘not raising her eyes from her work.

“Then I shall teach you,” Toulan declared. “If you will smoke, nobody else will smoke in your chambers.”

The queen, smiling a little at his bravado, accepted the long bit of rolled paper he handed her, and allowed him to light it with another bit of paper. “That is enough,” said Simon after a moment. “Now we will only smoke in the hall.”

The queen put out the cigarette and stowed it in her workbasket. “I will show you my cigarette if you ever smoke here again, gentlemen,” she laughed.

Toulan laughed too, picking up a ball of thread one lady had dropped. “And I shall keep this thread as a gift from you,” he said, bowing. “Come on, Simon, I challenge you to a game of cards.”

After a while, the queen said, “Citizen Toulan, would you mind returning the thread? I need it to mend this dress.” Toulan, acting bored, rolled the ball to the table.

“It looks bigger than it was,” began Simon.

“Of course—anything held by a citizen is bigger and better than when it is held by one of the old royalty,” laughed Toulon. “Let’s go outside—I want to smoke.”

As the men left, Toulan caught the queen’s eye, glanced towards a padded bench, and whispered, “Tomorrow.”

Under the cushions were disguises for everyone.

Inside the paper-lighter was a letter from a loyal friend.

Inside the replaced ball of thread were keepsakes from the king.

And inside the cigarette was a plan of escape.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Charlotte and the Progressives vs. the Classicists

I had some thoughts about the first paragraph of part 1, Chapter 1, Section 1 of David Hicks' book, Norms and Nobility. In that paragraph, he talks about education in 19th Century England. By the 1800s, ‘classical education’ had come to be thought of as a way of perpetuating upper class privilege. The state began to be involved in education, and eventually the progressive movement sprang up, dedicated to utilitarian education for the masses, pragmatic and practical.

The progressives did not worry about an Ideal Type; they did not believe in the existence of a priori knowledge; and they did not accept truth unless it could be quantified.

How does Charlotte fit into this history? Was she a progressive? A pseudo-classicist-turned-classism-promoter? Or was she something different? (A voice crying in the wilderness, perhaps?)

Charlotte Mason was born in 1842 and died in 1923. If by 1867 English education was in flux, Charlotte came into teaching during a time of transition.

What did she have to say about pragmatic, utilitarian aims?

I should be inclined to say of education, as Mr. Lecky says of morals, that "the Utilitarian theory is profoundly immoral." To educate children for any immediate end––towards commercial or manufacturing aptitude, for example––is to put a premium upon general ignorance with a view to such special aptitude. The greater includes the less, but the less does not include the greater. Excellent work of whatever kind is produced by a person of character and intelligence, and we who teach cannot do better for the nation than to prepare such persons for its uses. He who has intelligent relations with life will produce good work...

...In giving 'education' without abundant knowledge, we are as persons who should aim at physical development by giving the maximum of exercise with the minimum of food. The getting of knowledge and the getting of delight in knowledge are the ends of a child's education; and well has said one of our prophets, "that there should one man die ignorant who had capacity for knowledge, this I call a tragedy."

Vol. 3 p. 241-242

What did she say about an Ideal Type?

'But it is not only the idea of a hero which we have in Beowulf, it is also the idea of a king, the just governor, the wise politician, the builder of peace, the defender of his own folk at the price of his life, "the good king, the folk king, the beloved king, the war ward of his land, the winner of treasure for the need of his people, the hero who thinks in death of those who sail the sea, the gentle and terrible warrior, who is buried amid the tears of his people."'

We owe Mr. Stopford Brooke much gratitude for bringing this heroic ideal of the youth of our nation within reach of the unlearned. But what have we been about to let a thousand years and more go by without ever drawing on the inspiration of this noble ideal in giving impulse to our children's lives? We have many English heroes, it may be objected: we have no need of this resuscitated great one from a long-buried past. We have indeed heroes galore to be proud of, but somehow they have not often been put into song in such wise as to reach the hearts of the children and the unlearned.

Vol. 2 p. 145

Did she speak about reason?

We should teach children, also, not to lean (too confidently) unto their own understanding because the function of reason is to give logical demonstration of (a) mathematical truth and (b) of initial ideas accepted by the will. In the former case reason is, perhaps, an infallible guide but in the latter is not always a safe one, for whether the initial idea be right or wrong reason will confirm it by irrefragible proofs.

Therefore children should be taught as they become mature enough to understand such teaching that the chief responsibility which rests upon them as persons is the acceptance or rejection of ideas presented to them. To help them in this choice we should afford them principles of conduct and a wide range of fitting knowledge.

CM Principle 18

About a priori knowledge?

"Education is the Science of Relations"; that is, that a child has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts: so we train him upon physical exercises, nature lore, handicrafts, science and art, and upon many living books, for we know that our business is not to teach him all about anything, but to help him to make valid as many as may be of––

"Those first-born affinities
"That fit our new existence to existing things."

Principle 12

And what about quantifying educational results?

Probably the world has never seen a finer body of educationalists than those who at the present moment man our schools, both Boys' and Girls'. But the originality, the fine initiative, of these most able men and women is practically lost. The schools are examination-ridden, and the heads can strike out no important new lines. Let us begin our efforts by believing in one another, parents in teachers and teachers in parents. Both parents and teachers have the one desire, the advance of the child along the lines of character. Both groan equally under the limitations of the present system. Let us have courage, and united and concerted action will overthrow this Juggernaut that we have made.

Vol. 2 p. 224

Miss Mason discusses educational theorists frequently in her writings, including Froebel, Pestalozzi, Rousseau, Herbart, Comenius, Locke, Spencer, and even Maria Montessori (though not by name). She has a courteous way of discussing another person's ideas that sometimes appears as if she is agreeing with him or her, but if we read the dense writing through to the end of the section, she will often present a counter-argument. This can be confusing, so we have to be careful to consult context as we read.

I am a little more able to place Charlotte in the context of her time, too, because of Mr. Hicks' summary of 19th Century English educational thought (or the popular idea of it). I don't know that she was progressive, but she was certainly doing something different.

She was very hopeful, perhaps moreso than she ought to have been, and she asked questions, too:

The truth is, we are in the throes of an educational revolution; we are emerging from chaos rather than about to plunge into it; we are beginning to recognise that education is the applied science of life, and that we really have existing material in the philosophy of the ages and the science of the day to formulate an educational code whereby we may order the lives of our children and regulate our own. We need not aspire to a complete and exhaustive code of educational laws. This will come us duly when humanity has, so to speak, fulfilled itself. Meantime, we have enough to go on with if we would believe it. What we have to do is to gather together and order our resources; to put the first thing foremost and all things in sequence, and see that education is neither more nor less than the practical application of our philosophy. Hence, if our educational thought is to be sound and effectual we must look to the philosophy which underlies it, and must be in a condition to trace every counsel of perfection for the bringing-up of children to one or other of the two schools of philosophy of which it must needs be the outcome.

Is our system of education to be the issue of naturalism or of idealism, or is there indeed a media via?

Vol. 2 p. 120

I wonder.

My Take on Practicing

(Update: I just want to add that I am not pointing this post at anyone whose kids take piano from me. I have a great group of families and students. This really is a question I have to answer a lot when people call about piano lessons, and I thought it would be good to have my policy online so folks could access it easily.)

Often when folks ask me about teaching their kids piano, they want to know what expectations I have about practicing.

I try to work with my students' and their families' vision for music education. I understand that folks have things going on other than piano lessons, that perhaps music is not a central focus in their home, and that practicing can fall off the schedule pretty easily. I do not give guilt trips for not practicing 'enough', nor do I hand out prizes for students who practice.

But what is enough?

When a new family comes into my studio, I explain to them that the student gets out of piano lessons what he or she puts into it. If the student is only practicing a few minutes a couple of days per week, that student will not progress as quickly as a student who dedicates a half hour to practicing every day. I am fine with that to a certain extent (as long as the family understands that it is the lack of practicing that is slowing us down). However, I do not want the student getting discouraged. Discouraged students often quit piano, telling themselves that they failed at it.

That is not good.

I want my students to love music and be able to participate in it, so this means I need to help my students and their families figure out how to balance time constraints with the demands of practicing.

This is a sticky wicket.

I am a parent as well as a music teacher. We pay for two of our children to take private violin lessons. They have a great, detail-oriented teacher who is also one of the least expensive in our area, but still, tuition for their lessons takes the lion's share of our school budget every month. I realize that economics is not everything, but if I am paying that much for the kids to have private lessons, my frugal intuition says they had better be practicing at least thirty to sixty minutes every day so they can get as much mileage out of those lessons as possible.

It is easy to let other activities take over time that could be spent practicing an instrument. We have that issue at our house-- especially with three kids focusing on one to three instruments apiece (if you count the voice as an instrument, and I do) in a little house. We have to limit other things (and have to be willing to hear piano/violin/singing almost constantly) in order to meet practice requirements, and I am not always good at that myself, so I certainly understand how hard it is.

This doesn't change the fact that students get out of musical instrument lessons what they put into them. More practice equals more progress.

If the student's schedule is relaxed enough to have adequate time for practicing, but the student doesn't want to practice, that is another issue entirely. Perhaps a change in approach is necessary, or a little more composer study, or perhaps it is time to dwell at the same level for awhile, gaining additional fluency before moving on. But we cannot know for sure unless the student has time for practicing.

That is my take on practicing: it is good. Make time for it. I am not going to guilt-trip or manipulate my students into practicing, but music students need to understand that you get out of music lessons what you put into them.

Let's say it together: You get out of music lessons what you put into them.

Music, and 1000 Posts

I have written over a thousand posts on Blogger! The milestone passed last week, but I didn't note it.

I was looking over my category labels and thinking about how I would like to change some of them, and I realized that I have only three posts on piano, and not even a category for 'music'. That is kind of odd for a former music major and music teacher. I wondered why I didn't have more, and all I can figure out is that music is so very important to me that I want to get it exactly right. I don't think I am as good as I ought to be at something I have studied so long, so it is hard for me to write about. (That says something about the topics I *do* write about, but I am not sure what, lol.)

Anyway, I'm going to try to let go of my insecurity regarding my musical knowledge and skill, and write more about it.

Right now I am working on some accompaniments for the girls' violin teacher's music studio recital. I have a concerto by George Perlman, another by Telemann (which I love), the Ashokan Farewell (theme of Ken Burns' "Civil War" documentary) and various and sundry little Suzuki pieces that I have played several times over the last few years as accompanist for this studio.

I love accompanying singers and musicians; the synergy that occurs when both performers grasp the same interpretation and take the music where it ought to go is the most thrilling aspect of music to me. (This is also why I love singing in small groups, or even large groups.) Accompanying students in a music studio has an added dimension-- the teacher's expectations regarding tempo and dynamics. When I accompany someone, I feel that my job is to make them sound good; but in an educational studio, my job is to keep the tempo going and aid the student in meeting the teacher's expectations, as well as covering any mistakes.

This is so much fun! I don't know why, but I just like it.

So when I practice the studio accompaniments, I use the metronome a *lot*. It doesn't matter that I played this or that piece at 92 for last year's student; this year's student needs the piece at 88 or 104. Switching gears like that can be a challenge, but it keeps the music fresh.

I am also assisting my own piano students in preparation for recital in a month. I love watching them grow and catch new concepts. I have always started with rank beginners, and three of my students are beyond that now. I never took pedagogy classes at the university, but I am applying CM method to what I know about playing piano, and I think we are going to some good places with the intermediate music. I have done some in-depth music theory study with one of my students this year, and he is on track to be able to play both classically and in a more 'jam session' improvisational style.

I am rather astounded at the ability my students have to improvise because I am not good at it-- I am a classical girl through and through! Give me the sheet music and I can sightread it, but hand me a fake book and inspiration goes out the window! But I teach from the Suzuki books as well as another set of method books (and whatever else I find that I think will help), and Suzuki is so intuitive, they end up simply absorbing natural laws of music. Amazing. Cornflower, my 9yodd, can actually sit down to the piano and play musically relevant two-handed arrangements of music she has only heard on CD-- including Broadway, folk and classical.

I wonder. I did not teach them this. I am not good at it myself. But the choosing of materials for study is apparently very important! I know enough about piano to teach them the skills they need to read and interpret those Suzuki pieces, and I knew enough after listening to the pieces to realize that they were infinitely preferable to the usual monotonous "this is up, this is down, let's go up and down" arrangements of method books. And the order of pieces in Suzuki builds their intuitive knowledge of music.

Very exciting stuff. I have a friend who works at the local music store and teaches piano, and she has been helpful in my decision-making processes regarding which books my students should use. I am going to see if she will let me take lessons from her either this summer or next fall, to work on some technical difficulties I have. I am watching my intermediate students approach my early advanced skill level, and I want to be ready.

I generally play a piece myself at the piano recitals, as a way to demonstrate where we are going, and encourage the students in their scales, arpeggios and fingering studies. This time, I am torn between two pieces-- an early sonata by Beethoven, and a polonaise by Chopin. The polonaise is lots more fun, but I just picked it up again a week or so ago after not having played it for years. I found a recording of Horowitz playing it, and I am sufficiently humbled and embarrassed to even be thinking about playing it "in public". So maybe I'll save that for the Christmas recital next school year. I have the technical aspects of the Beethoven sonata down and am working on artistry.

I am also working with Aravis on voice. This *was* my area of focus in college, and I am discovering some classical prejudices I learned in the music department! I am having to overcome some things in order to teach her Broadway style singing. She is currently working on music from the musical, "Wicked". Mariel, too, is branching into solo voice, and is working on a Dan Fogelberg song. I ought to be working more with the girls in the area of harmony and trio singing, but with all the other music practice they do, their drama schedules, and regular schoolwork, we just can't fit it in. I have a madrigal arrangement of "Three Blind Mice" that I have wanted them to learn for a couple years. Maybe this summer.

There are a couple of other musical activities in the idea stages, and if they pan out, we will have even more musical focus next year. I feel like we already have a lot, and I don't want to shortchange other things like history and English and science, but oh! I want my kids to have all the musical experiences they can.

So that is the exciting musical part of my life. I love it! I wish I had gotten my music degree in college, but maybe after the girls have graduated. I can see this turning into a main life focus for me after the kids are up and out.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Rambling About Ideas and Facts. And Reality.

According to David Hicks in the prologue _Norms and Nobility_ (p. 4), the classical model of education emphasized the Ideal Type, while the modern model of education emphasizes facts and analysis.

Facts are not good or bad. They just are. As some are fond of saying, you can't argue with facts.

I think you probably can on special occasions. But I digress.

What is an idea?

A live thing of the mind, seems to be the conclusion of our greatest thinkers from Plato to Bacon, from Bacon to Coleridge. We all know how an idea 'strikes,' 'seizes,' 'catches hold of,' 'impresses' us and at last, if it be big enough, 'possesses' us; in a word, behaves like an entity... There is but one sphere... in which the conception of an idea is curiously absent, and that sphere is education! Look at any publisher's list of school books and you shall find that the books recommended are carefully dessicated, drained of the least suspicion of an idea, reduced to the driest statements of fact. (CM Vol. 6 Bk. I Ch. 6)

I realize that modern education, indeed, modern life, has strayed far, far into the realm of Facts Alone Are Wanted In Life. This is a grave error. Although facts themselves aren't bad or good, seeing only the material to the exclusion of the spiritual or unexplainable is a lopsided and evil view of life.

But we mustn't make the opposite error and wander into the land of starry-eyed idealism. (Modern thinkers, in rebellion against the materialists, have strayed far into this camp, too.) We are still living in a material world.

I can't believe I just quoted Madonna, but there it is. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

I love noble ideas. I am a romantic at heart. I get tired of people who never look up. But I also think facts are very important. They are the things that keep us grounded and show us which of our magnanimous aims are possible in this low ground of sin and sorrow. Crusty old Brother So-and-So whose straightforward logic dampens the enthusiasm of the young whippersnapper is actually reminding said young person that facts must be consulted.

One of the reasons we admire "Sully" Sullenberger is because he combined the noble ideals of courage and duty with practical knowledge and skill, and the result was that every person walked off that plane alive.

Ideas are so important. We mustn't leave them out when we are educating children. And the younger children are, the more they need organizing stories that illuminate an Ideal Type. I think this is different than idealism or romanticism.

We have to have both facts and ideas. George Washington Carver needed an amazing amount of facts in order to teach farmers better ways to farm. But without being taught magnanimity, what would he have cared? He knew better than to give a man a fish: he taught men to fish, or to farm, rather, in ways that were healthy for the soil and more productive. He wished to help the poor; he wished to heal the land; he used skill and knowledge he possessed to act on his noble ideas. But the noble ideas came first.

I am totally rambling at this point, but what I'm trying to say is that we need both. Ideas and facts. Poetry and technology. Synthesis and Analysis. It appears that Hicks is going to focus on ideas because people get hung up on facts in education nowadays-- but I know we need both, and I think he knows it, too.

Education is a life. That life is sustained on ideas. Ideas are of spiritual origin, and God has made us so that we get them chiefly as we convey them to one another, whether by word of mouth, written page, Scripture word, musical symphony; but we must sustain a child's inner life with ideas as we sustain his body with food. Probably he will reject nine-tenths of the ideas we offer, as he makes use of only a small proportion of his bodily food, rejecting the rest. He is an eclectic; he may choose this or that; our business is to supply him with due abundance and variety and his to take what he needs. (ibid.)

"Of the Virgin Birth" by Mariel

(A narration of _Be Ready to Answer_, Chapter 7, by Michael L. Gowens)

I believe in the Virgin Birth. The Virgin Birth was one of most important miracles ever. God’s providence is closely related to miracles. I, for one, did not know that! The Virgin Birth occurred some 2,000 years ago. It was a miracle because Mary was not married(yet) and was engaged(to Joseph). She had not known a man yet, so how did she conceive? The Spirit of God filled her.

Joseph and Mary were engaged. The Hebrews had this one custom among dozens of others that the couple were engaged for a year, while everyone would call them ‘husband’ and ‘wife’. But, they did not live together in the same house. That is why the Angel of the Lord made trips to two different houses instead of two trips to different rooms. Mary was in her house, and Joseph was in his.

Some people object to the Virgin Birth. They will say, “I know that that is what it says, but I can’t—and don’t— accept it.” Others say that it is just a myth. But, others are delicate about the situation and say that it is just plain embarrassing to have a virgin give birth.

But that brings us to another point. Why was it important that Jesus be born to a virgin? Well, you know how that genetic thingy works; the father’s genes get passed down to the son or daughter and they are like him in at least one way. Well, if Joseph had been Jesus' biological father, Joseph would have passed sin down to Jesus and if he had had sin, he would have been a sinner, and if he had been a sinner, he could not have redeemed us, because sinners cannot redeem sinners.

So now you know how the Virgin Birth and Jesus' death on the cross are associated with each other. I did not know the reason that Christ had to be born of a Virgin. I thought that it was just God’s way of showing his power, like in this song:

God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform,
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Horowitz-- Polonaise in A Major "Military" by Chopin

"During the September 1939 German invasion of Poland at the outset of World War II, Polskie Radio broadcast this piece daily as nationalistic protest, and to rally the Polish people. The Nazis later banned public performances of Chopin..." --Wikipedia

The O'Neill Brothers - Ashokan Farewell

Friday, April 16, 2010

Madam How's Two Grandsons

Once upon a time, certainly as long ago as the first man, or perhaps the first rational being of any kind, was created, Madam How had two grandsons. The elder is called Analysis, and the younger Synthesis. As for who their father and mother were, there have been so many disputes on that question that I think children may leave it alone for the present. For my part, I believe that they are both, like St. Patrick, "gentlemen, and come of decent people;" and I have a great respect and affection for them both, as long as each keeps in his own place and minds his own business.


Now you must remember, whenever you have to do with him, that Analysis, like fire, is a very good servant, but a very bad master. For, having got his freedom only of late years or so, he is, like young men when they come suddenly to be their own masters, apt to be conceited, and to fancy that he knows everything, when really he knows nothing, and can never know anything, but only knows about things, which is a very different matter. Indeed, nowadays he pretends that he can teach his old grandmother, Madam How, not only how to suck eggs, but to make eggs into the bargain; while the good old lady just laughs at him kindly, and lets him run on, because she knows he will grow wiser in time, and learn humility by his mistakes and failures, as I hope you will from yours.


Because Analysis can only explain to you a little about dead things, like stones—inorganic things, as they are called. Living things—organisms, as they are called—he cannot explain to you at all. When he meddles with them, he always ends like the man who killed his goose to get the golden eggs. He has to kill his goose, or his flower, or his insect, before he can analyse it: and then it is not a goose, but only the corpse of a goose; not a flower, but only the dead stuff of the flower.

And therefore he will never do anything but fail, when he tries to find out the life in things. How can he, when he has to take the life out of them first?

from Madam How and Lady Why by Charles Kingsley

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Narration: Preface, Norms and Nobility

David Hicks wrote Norms and Nobility near the beginning of his career as a teacher and administrator. Ten years later, although he still believes the ideas found in the book are valuable, he would change a few things: to distinguish more between the opinions of the ancients, rather than generalizing their thoughts on education; to recognize the work of other modern educational theorists such as Mortimer Adler; to try harder to find a proper place for science topics in the classical school; and bring to the forefront the idea that the teacher, rather than the curriculum, needs to be the focus of reform.

(Note to self: the idea that he would change some things makes this a very important preface to read-- a new lens through which to see his original writing.)

Many American educators have looked for a classical paideia (the process of educating humans into their 'true form', ie., virtue), and these ideas are found rather than invented. A rich context in which to put knowledge is to ask, "What should one do?"

This question elicits not only knowledge, but wisdom, and it draws the interest of the student into any subject, no matter how obscure or far removed from his day-to-day concerns.

Mr. Hicks' book differs from other modern education theorists' writings in that it honestly confronts the idea of dogma in education. Other theorists propose that the end of education is to master thinking skills and understand basic ideas in the intellectual tradition (Western or otherwise), but:

The aims of education... must express, not just ideas, but norms, tending to make young people not only rational, but noble. For this reason I have differed from many modern writers on education by insisting upon the necessity of dogma, by attempting to circumscribe the use of skepticism and analysis, and by emphasizing the role of teachers as what Edwin deLattre calls "practitioners of the art of learning."

Nowadays, skepticism and analysis are highly regarded tools in the classroom, often the centerpiece of modern education. However, skepticism tends to kill both imagination and acceptance, making it more difficult for students to embrace non-scientific truths (ie., beauty, loyalty, courage) and producing emotional detachment*:

How can science and mathematics remain at the core of the modern curriculum and contribute to man's search for objective truth and self-understanding without imposing a narrow empiricist agenda on the rest of the school? How can we teach science in a way that serves the technological needs of our society and the spiritual needs of our students? These are difficult and urgent questions.

*(Haha, like this emotionally detached blog post. I am just trying so hard to understand what he is saying. Maybe things will loosen up later. And I really like the point he made about skepticism and analysis. Reminds me of that section in Madam How and Lady Why when Charles Kingsley talks about how once Analysis has pulled everything apart, he cannot tell how to put it together again, because he cannot return life to something he has killed. And I like science and trying to prove things wrong and picking things apart, but I agree that we focus on it too much.)

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Good Day

Today was one of those days when we didn't do much of the work scheduled, but really experienced a lot.

*Mariel and Cornflower had violin lessons, while

*Aravis practiced driving with me, then

*we discussed set design, costuming, and production budgets as we drove to pick up my dad and brother, in order to

*take them downtown to a unique Indian restaurant for a delicious lunch, including

*hummus, nan, ginger-tomato soup, a wrap sandwich with eggplant (me), chai tea, smoothies, and

*admired the Indian quilts and paintings, after which we

*went all the way out of the galaxy and back at the planetarium.

(And Goggy taught Cornflower how to tease and pick at her sisters. ;o)

It was a super fun day. My brother is going home tomorrow. I'm going to miss him.

How Scientists Measure the Distance Between Stars

(This is just a bulletin-board post for links I don't want to lose.)

The unit of measurement is light years rather than miles.

A light year is a measure of time rather than distance, and equals 5,880,000,000,000 miles (or five trillion eight-hundred eighty billion miles).

How would someone measure the distance that appears to be between the stars from the perspective of a person standing on the Earth? Can we do this?

Parallax is a way of using perspective to measure the distance of things far away, such as stars.

A simple everyday example of parallax can be seen in the dashboard of motor vehicles that use a "needle" type speedometer gauge (when the needle is mounted in front of its dial scale in a way that leaves a noticeable spacing between them). When viewed from directly in front, the speed may show 60 (i.e. the needle appears against the '60' mark on the dial behind); but when viewed from the passenger seat (i.e. from an oblique angle) the needle can appear against a slightly lower or higher mark (depending on whether it is viewed from the left or from the right), because of the combined effect of the spacing and the angle of view.

(This doesn't exactly answer my question, but it is interesting.)

Scientists use parallax to measure the distance between a star and the Earth.

In order to calculate how far away a star is, astronomers use a method called parallax. Because of the Earth's revolution about the sun, near stars seem to shift their position against the farther stars. This is called parallax shift. By observing the distance of the shift and knowing the diameter of the Earth's orbit, astronomers are able to calculate the parallax angle across the sky.
The smaller the parallax shift, the farther away from earth the star is. This method is only accurate for stars within a few hundred light-years of Earth. When the stars are very far away, the parallax shift is too small to measure.

For stars over 100 light-years away, they use Cepheid variable stars, although there are difficulties and complications in using this method. The most famous Cepheid, and also the one nearest to Earth, is Polaris, the North Star.

All this is interesting, but how do you measure the distance *between* stars? How do you measure the distance between two distant objects from a third distant location?


A parsec is a unit of measurement used for very, very great distances, and "relates to the geometric method astronomers commonly use to establish distance. Parsec stands for parallax of one arcsecond." A parsec is equal to 1 astronomicalunit divided by the tangent of an arcsecond.

An astronomical unit is the distance from the Earth to the Sun, approximately 93 million miles.

An arcsecond is a subdivision of a degree in geometry/trigonometry. It is equivalent to the width of a dime as seen from 1 1/4 mile away.

Apparently, a person has to understand trigonometry in order to measure the distance between two distant objects from a third distant location. I am not that person. :D But isn't it fascinating to know that there are logical, rational ways of figuring things out?

This also shows that a person who understands the terms can join in the conversation. I do not understand the terms at this time, and so cannot really participate, but I can study the terms if I want to be involved later. (I tell my kids this all the time-- how important it is to know definitions of terms if they want to participate effectively in a topic of conversation.)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Hap' Birthday to Me!

Today is my 40th birthday, and I just want to share the incredible hand lettered card I got from Cornflower, my 9yo daughter. She said she went through and picked out all the best sentiments from a piece of cardmaking software we have, although I suspect a couple of these she made up herself:

/ You deserve the best birthday on Earth. Not to mention the moon, stars, and the universe. / What a dramatic day! you made your entrance into the world! / Remember, age is just a number. The higher it gets, the more valuable you become. / Mom, I may have not been the best kid in the world... but you made me feel like I was. HAPPY BIRTHDAY! / On this day in history, you were born. I'm surprised Abraham Lincoln didn't write a speech about it! / I met a baboon under the harvest moon. He had something for you: a birthday balloon! / For your birthday I was going to get you a Van de Graaf generator and a cloud chamber. And then I thought-- Wait! It's not like either of us are exactly rocket scientists. / "Would'st thou both eat thy cake and have it?" --George Herbert (1633) On your birthday, yes! / YOU! YOU! YOU! YOU! YOU! Someone's in line for some serious attention! / There are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get unbirthday presents... and only one for birthday presents, you know." --Lewis Carroll (1855) / HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!

Isn't that the sweetest, funniest card?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Norms and Nobility

My dad gave me Norms and Nobility for my birthday! I feel like a kid who has just been given a proper shooting marble so I can join in the big games, lol. Not that I'll have any profound observations, but at least now I can read over the section in the book before reading others' comments, and put my own ideas out here.

Like the blind men describing the elephant, I often convince myself that I comprehend a thing when I have only explored one or two aspects of it. I am consistently surprised to realize there is something additional that I haven't considered. I don't know why this surprises me, but it does. Well, I do know why-- pride and laziness. So, note to self: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt in your philosophy." Don't forget!

This post is a round-up of blog posts different ones have written about the book-- a reference for myself and anyone else who could use it.

*A post written by the DHM in 2005 on Norms and Nobility. I think this was the first I ever heard of the book.

Favorite quote:

Learning occurs in the area between what we already know how to do and what we do not know how to do and cannot do. If nobody ever asks of us more than we think we can do, then we do not learn.

This reminds me of the business principle of having a Big Hairy Audacious Goal. Dave Ramsey likes this type of goal, too-- he says it is important for your goals to be just far enough out there that you can *almost* graze them with your fingertips if you jump your highest. Or, as a friend once told me when I was complaining about Churchill's Birth of Britain being so *hard*, "A great deal of education is about the struggle."

*Other Common Room posts with 'Norms and Nobility' in the body of the post.

*This isn't strictly about the book Norms and Nobility, but it is the same kind of ideas-- Mama Squirrel has been writing a series of great articles called, "A Month With Charlotte Mason". Mama Squirrel is so wise, and also so practical. I love reading her blog.

*Krakovianka has chimed in with some compare and contrast of CM and the ideas of David Hicks. Those posts can be found here.

In a post that actually talks about a different book, but references Norms and Nobility, Krakovianka writes:


This basic virtue is essential to true classical education, and I suppose it should not be surprising to find that a Biblical approach to education requires it as well. Humility is essential to inquiry and knowledge, because the learner must admit that he does not know something, that he needs to be taught, that someone else may know more than he does, and that such a person should be attended to. Without such humility, our minds are closed.

*Cindy has talked a bit about hubris in the world of home education:

...if we take a cursory look around we will see that Christians also seek after human approbation and glory as means to self-esteem. We could split hairs quite a bit at this point. I don't think this means that we shouldn't encourage our children when they do well and excel as in getting good test scores but the demon here seems to be that if we strive for good test scores that often becomes the means and the end. This may be something we want to discuss in depth.

How do we strive for excellence while protecting ourselves and our children from hubris?

Her blog is called "Ordo Amoris", which is Latin for "the ordering of the affections". I think that is a great focus for education, don't you?

As Charlotte said in Volume 3:

The question is not,––how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education––but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?

This tells me a narrow scope or scant curriculum is not a proper option for the child of God-- a 'generous curriculum', as Charlotte says, puts the child in place to form relationships with the many orders of things, people, ideas, that God has set for us in this world (and the next). But the studying must not become an end unto itself. It is a vehicle into full relationships, and relationships imply action on behalf of the loved object. And, often, those 'objects' are people, which means if we are so focused on our books and our learning that we don't notice the people around us, we are doing it wrong. Actually, I'm not adequately expressing what I think. Let me think about it some more, and get back to the topic at hand.

*Cindy's Norms and Nobility posts are here. She is leading the discussion, so make sure to read the comment sections.

She quotes Hicks at length, and I am just going to grab it and post it here for reference:

"General curiosity, imagination in forming hypotheses, and method in testing them, then, mark the classical spirit of inquiry. This bent of mind allows the educated man to go on educating himself or extending the realms of knowledge for his fellows. In the process of asking a wide range of questions, of forming hypotheses and of testing their consisitency with known facts, the student learns about the nature of his subject and about the methods appropriate for mastering it. This process- because it is the indispensable tool for unearthing all human knowledge- is the only true basis for a classical, or universal education.

Only the person whose mental habits conform to this generous pricess can be said to be "educated" in a universal sense. This is the person who, as Aristotle writes in his essay On the Parts of Animals, 'should be able to form a fair off-hand judgement as to the goodness or badness of the method used by a professor in his exposition,' This is the person competent to judge what the experts say without being an expert."

*Andrew Kern is not currently writing about the book Norms and Nobility, but he has been focused on the 'nature' of things-- in other words, knowing the essence of a thing. I can't figure out a good keyword for pulling up his 'essence of things' posts, but if you cull through the posts that come up when you search for 'nature' or 'essence', you will get an adequate collection.

His most amazing post, which I think he must have written just as his thoughts on 'nature' or 'essence' were congealing, is called, "Thoughts on Knowing and the End of Education". In this post, he deals with pragmatic education, traditionalist education, and Christian education.

He comes from a CCE background, and discusses rote memorization of symbols quite a bit, but he seems to balance it with contextual learning. (I do think memorization is important, but if I have to choose between rote memorization and reading lots of great books, I am going to err on the side of the books and not the memory work. Also, I try to make sure what my students are memorizing is relevant to what they are reading.) I am going to quote Mr. Kern at length because he gets the idea of transcending a tradition without undercutting its principle-- operating from the why of grandma cutting the end off the roast, so to speak, rather than simply imitating grandma:

Only a master of the symbols can transcend them. The clearest example of this fact seems to be our Lord and his response to the Pharisees. He recognized that they were, in varying degrees, living off the traditions instead of living by them.

As a result, they began to contort the traditions handed to them to their own advantage and became wolves among sheep.

In our Phariseeism, we can forget how very easily we become pharisees.

But long before the Pharisees began to contort the traditions, they had come to see the traditions either as ends in themselves, or, worse, as means to other ends than what they pointed to.

The Sabbath, for example, was a tradition handed to the Jewish people through their covenant with God. It was meant to be a Holy Day of rest. As such, it pointed the covenant people to something beyond a one day/week religious experience.

Symbols, in other words, don’t refer to themselves. This is easiest to see when we look at words. The word “lamp” is a sound symbol. It does not refer to itself, but to an invention with which we are all familiar that can enlighten a room.


The goal is always to see what the symbols point to.

Knowledge, therefore, to the Christian classical educator is perception of reality.

The pragmatic educator is not content to “know” in this sense, because he does not believe such knowledge exists. He focuses on skills of adaptation.

The traditional educator at his best strives for this kind of knowledge, but he encounters so many temptations (especially honor from men who don’t see the reality beyond the tradition) that he rarely transcends the tradition.

And if he does, he’ll say something a little off kilter and offend the traditionalists around him, who will scapegoat or crucify him one way or another.

The Christian classical educator loves practical applications of his knowledge. But not as much as he loves the knowledge itself. Truth is the delight of his soul, the queen of his mind.

He does not demand of her that she step down and serve him.

The Christian classical educator loves the traditions on which he was raised. But not as much as he loves the truth and beauty embodied by that tradition.

The Christian classical educator takes the knowledge of the traditional educator and the skills of the Pragmatic educator and, guided by the good, weaves them into a beautiful tapestry of truth that nourishes the soul until the disciple has attained wisdom and virtue himself.

But only because he has come to see that knowledge is not mere power, nor is it mere recall of symbols and facts, but it is the perception and apprehension of reality itself.

This 'links' post is a lot longer than I thought it would be, but at least I have all these links in one place. I hope this helps someone thinking along the same lines.

Friday, April 09, 2010

The Power of Grace

Yesterday the kids and I were talking about choices and consequences, and our conversation brought to mind a choice I made at the age of sixteen, the consequences of that choice, and the merciful blessing of grace that my parents bestowed on me.

My dad fixed up a 1977 Ford Mustang for me when I was sixteen. It was red with gold and black detailing-- really fancy on the outside. Inside, it lacked power steering and air conditioning, but still, it was my own CAR, and the heady freedom I felt was amazing.

Things move so quickly when you are fifteen, sixteen, seventeen... one minute you are being shepherded about by your parents, the next they have given you your own car and are letting you go far away to college. At least, that is how it was for me. A little overwhelming, but exhilarating nonetheless.

But going to college happened later. At sixteen I was allowed to drive to and from school, to friends' homes, to the store, to my summer job at the drug store, and out to movies and mini golf, etc.

By Christmas of that year, I had had my car well over six months. I also had a good friend named Tina who had moved to town at the beginning of the last school year. We hit it off immediately. She was fun, lighthearted, and well grounded in her Christian beliefs and her purpose. I was quirky and hard to know at that time (sort of like now), but she was willing to put up with my weirdness and even glad to hang out with me, though we were opposites: she was laid back, joyful, while I tended to be intense and moody.

We had great discussions.

Anyway, Tina was a child of divorce, and we found out right before Christmas that right after Christmas she and her mother would be moving so her mom could get a better job. I wasn't the only one who loved Tina, and some of us planned a going-away party for the first night of Christmas break. Tina and I decided we were going to spend as much time together as we could for the entire two weeks.

I arrived at the party that Saturday night and, to my surprise, really enjoyed it.
I was so absorbed in visiting with everyone, and so wrapped up in the poignancy of my friend leaving, that I lost track of time. I didn't get home until after 2 AM.

My curfew was midnight.

Needless to say, I arrived home to my parents searching my room for friends' phone numbers. (This was 1986-- well before cell phones became common. We thought the KITT Car was amazing because, among other things, it had a *phone* in it.)

I'll never forget the worry, relief, and then controlled anger on their faces as they walked out of my bedroom. I had been in my own little angst-ridden world, but I popped back to reality pretty quick and realized I had hurt my parents with my thoughtlessness.

Conversation was short. They asked where I had been and what I had been doing that kept me out so late? All I could do was describe the unusual camaraderie of the party, the sadness I felt about Tina leaving, and how incredibly sorry I was that I hadn't paid attention to the time. We went to bed and left consequences until the morning.

The next day, my parents, who were being remarkably calm about the situation, informed me that I was grounded for the duration of Christmas break.

I turned in my car keys and made my one phone call to Tina to let her know how I had blown it and that we wouldn't probably see each other at all over Christmas. Dad took the license plates off my car so that if somehow I did get the keys and go out, I would be stopped pretty quickly.

I felt like a complete idiot. Why hadn't I called my parents? Why hadn't I left the party on time? I regretted that I could not have the time with Tina before she moved, but, to my surprise, I regretted more the pain and worry I had caused my parents. All the beautiful things they had ever done for me marched before my eyes that long two weeks (remember, I was sixteen and prone to morose musings), and I quietly stayed home and did housework and played the piano and read. I was so submissive. I felt like they hadn't punished me enough.

(Actually, as I look back on my parents' decisions in raising me, I realize that they were a lot more forbearing than I used to give them credit for. It is humbling to realize I may be more exacting with my kids than my parents were with me. I had a lot of hot sports opinions as a teenager and young adult that are mellowing as I get older.)

A couple of days before the end of Christmas break, my dad and mom sat me down and told me how pleased they were with my response to the grounding. Dad handed me keys, license plates and a screwdriver and told me to go put the plates back on my car.

I walked out to the driveway, and there it was: a 1986 Mustang LX coupe with air conditioning, power steering, radio and cassette player, more room in the back seat and everything shiny new inside and out. I was totally floored.

The first thing I did was drive over to Tina's house.

Each time I drove my sweet little car throughout my teen and college years, I remembered that my parents had presented it to me based on their great love, and not as a reward for merit. Grace definitely trumps justice.

Updated to add: When my dad read this story, he said all he remembers is how scared he was when I didn't come home that night, and how relieved and then angry he was when he found out that I had, uncharacteristically, forgotten the time. He said I gave him and Mom too much credit in this telling of the story. (In my defense, I thought the hand of God was implied throughout my telling.) My folks were parenting on a wing and a prayer, just like we do-- it was the Lord that worked out these details and made such an impression on me. He can likewise redeem our efforts as parents!

Monday, April 05, 2010

Hope, Healing, Celebration

The children got new narration notebooks in their Easter baskets yesterday. I spent a little extra and got them Green Room spiral notebooks.

They liked it. They were pleased as Punch with their new pocket journals and three Ticonderogas apiece as well.

(They got other, non-school-related items too, don't worry.)

This is my latest effort to encourage beauty of presentation as well as beautiful, truthful ideas in their written narrations.

Aravis and Mariel decided to inscribe scriptures in Elvish on the first pages of their journals:

Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. --Psalm 19:14

I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. --Philippians 4:13

My penny-pinching instinct caused me to hesitate as I thought of purchasing these extra-special notebooks just for schoolwork-- this is why I gave them as gifts-- but sometimes we just need that little boost to help propel us into good habits. We'll see how it helps. I did notice that more attention was given to penmanship today.

What does the title have to do with the post? Lately I have been thinking about my role as mother being one of hope, healing and celebration: moms offer hope, provide healing, and celebrate the good. When we experience failure, I tend to focus on the negative. But now is not forever, it can usually be fixed or relearned properly, and regardless of what may have just happened, we have a lot of blessings.

Pretty new narration journals help us remember to celebrate.