Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Notes on Eve Anderson Picture Study

The class was studying The Milkmaid by Vermeer.

1. She introduced the artist and gave some historic context. She talked so long that I began to wonder when she was going to stop! I think it was 3-5 minutes.

2. She did not show them the picture yet. She talked about what to look for, what might be different in the painting from what we are used to seeing.

3. "Nowadays we are all in too much of a hurry." (I can't remember why she said this, but I think it was in the context of taking your time to look at the painting.)

4. Everyone had their own postcard-sized copy of the painting. She instructed them to get a first impression, then look in a circular direction for details (whole to parts). Focus on colors, textures, and remember you will be "drawing the picture in words" when you tell back.

5. While they still had the pictures in front of them (!) she asked things like, "What do you think the pitcher is made of?" "What else is in the picture?" "Where is the light coming from?" and they discussed each of these points.

6. "I won't say anything because I want you to observe it yourselves for two to three minutes." Pause. "When you find yourself getting restless, shut your eyes. Can you see all that picture? Open them again. Was your picture in your head right?" She encouraged them to keep doing this for the remainder of the time until they had all the details straight in their minds.

7. "Turn your pictures over. Listen very carefully" as their classmates began to describe the painting. She started in the front and went around the classroom from student to student, allowing each to narrate a portion of the painting. She stopped them if they tried to go on to the next detail without giving enough description of the previous one. After going through all the students, she allowed them to raise their hands to fill in final details. At one point, a student turned her picture over and Ms. Anderson covered it up again. One little guy near the end had trouble narrating, but finally got in some amazing detail about small tiles at the bottom of the painting.

8. They flipped the pictures over and she reiterated what they said (in their own words), adding her own touches as she went. She then described the size of the real painting and showed them a poster of it. To the little boy she said, "There are your tiles." *Your* tiles. He had narrated them, and they were now his. She didn't dwell on this point, but I like that she said it that way. One girl had described the small-paned windows, and Ms. Anderson talked about the expense of glass in those days. She really placed the painting in historic context-- before, during and after their narrations.

9. "Close your eyes again." She talked about her own experience doing picture study from the time she was a girl and told them that if they could see the picture in their minds, they would always have it to enjoy, even if they could not go to the Rijksmuseum to see it.

I am thankful I got to see these videos! I can't really go to conferences as I would like, so it was a special blessing to witness a teacher from the PNEU schools actually teaching.

Notes on Eve Anderson Nature Study Lesson

I was excited and a little nervous about observing this lesson, because Ms. Anderson was going to teach dry brush technique. I have always been mystified by this term. I am not a very good artist myself, and prefer colored pencils to paints. I wish CM had appreciated pencils for nature journals as much as she liked watercolors. Watercolors are so... slippery. Needless to say, we have not done a lot of painting in our nature journals. My kids love paint, but haven't had much instruction in it.


1. Before the lesson, the principal of the school came on and discussed what he liked about a nature study Ms. Anderson had done with him and other teachers when they visited England some years before. She taught him to always look at the underside of things, because often, the underside is more beautiful than the top. This says something about the character of God-- He cares about the beauty of hidden things. He mentioned teacher preparation again-- Ms. Anderson does her own personal nature studies, paintings and nature journal. I remember he also said she was not as eager to show them her paintings as she was to teach them to make their own. I love that.

2. She introduced the lesson and explained what they were going to do that day. She explained a bit about dry brush technique, which she said is "using your brush without much water".

2. "Find yourselves a leaf today. Here is one someone else has painted." She had samples of painting and some nature finds in the classroom. She named the leaf (oak)she held and commented a bit on similarities and differences between trees in her part of the world and in the U.S. She held up a ball from a special kind of maple tree that is called sweet gum in the U.S., but liquidambar maple in England. These trees are common in the southern U.S., but not in England, and there is one in front of Ms. Anderson's school at home. They turn gorgeous colors in the autumn. Interestingly enough, they were not going to pursue this tree for the lesson. They were to look for oak leaves. If I remember correctly, in all this time, the children said nothing.

3. What to look for in a leaf-- she wanted them to be aware that they would be painting the individual characteristics of their particular leaves: "Not the first one you see." "You will paint it damaged if it is." "Do the little marks and the veins." She wanted them to pain what they saw.

4. They went outside. She explained that they were going out of normal school bounds because the leaves within bounds would be broken from being stepped on, and they wanted undamaged ones. (It was winter, so the fallen leaves had been on the ground for some time and were very dry.) "Follow me. Look around. Pick up an oak leaf today, of the size you would like to paint." "You don't need to go too far."

5. She redirected some students: "Away from those logs, you boys." "Not an oak leaf. I want an oak leaf." She was very specific in what they were to search for and where they were to look. The kids began surrounding her with their leaves, asking if this one or that one was okay. Once everyone had their leaves, they went inside.

6. Dry brush technique-- she didn't seem too fond of their brushes-- they were a bit too fat. She showed them how to make a fine point at the end of the brush. She held the brush like a pencil, which she said gave more control.

7. "Mix your green." Although the leaves were brown, she spent a couple minutes explaining how they never ought to use the green in their paintboxes for nature study. She said it wasn't a natural sort of green, and that there were so many shades of green in nature, they ought to mix their color. Then she showed them how to mix their browns for that day's lesson. The watercolors looked like ordinary colors in a paint box.

8. She instructed them to open their "nature diaries" flat so they could lay the leaf on the left side while they painted on the right. That way they could get a sense of how the painting should fill the page. After painting, they could then use the left page to journal whatever they wanted about the study.

9. Not much paint on the brush, and do the light underneath part first. "Fill in as you go, otherwise it leaves a nasty sharp line." "You don't want to see a puddle in your paints." Do a light undercoat and then add dark accents.

10. The kids then began their painting. She walked around the class, correcting and redirecting. "Don't scrub backwards and forwards. You don't pet a cat the wrong way. Only stroke down." She was critiquing and giving suggestions at this point. Once she corrected a student who was beginning to paint the leaf stem in the wrong place. She reminded them to paint the leaf the way it actually was. Not a lot of praise going on! But she was quiet and respectful.

11. At the end, the principal remarked that they spent around twenty minutes painting. He said that even if their paintings weren't 'perfect', after twenty minutes of focused work, "they will remember that leaf."

Notes on Eve Anderson Narration Lesson

I had the opportunity to watch the Eve Anderson CM lesson DVDs last night. It was enlightening! Eve Anderson is an English lady who was brought up in a PNEU school, trained at a CM college, and then became teacher and eventually headmistress at a PNEU school. (For those of you that don't know, the PNEU schools were started by CM and use her method.)

I was significantly relieved to see how much she talked to the children. Often the admonition, "don't get between the child and the book" is taken to mean, "never say anything". But Ms. Anderson did. Not that I think we should go on and on and lecture. But she did talk quite a bit. And she asked questions a lot.

I already did this with my students (couldn't resist) but I felt a vague sense of uneasiness about it, as if I was doing something wrong. Now that feeling can just go away. :)

What follows are the notes I took during the lesson on narration. She had a class of around eight to ten children. They read a portion of a chapter from Child's History of the World.


1. She invited the kids to tell about the previous reading. She had to get them started, but then they began to tell. "Well done." "Good." "I jogged your memory and you remembered that." "What was the name?" (Excalibur) "Was it true? No, but it is a good story."

2. Introduced new chapter, then "Listen carefully as I read." She used the word, "carefully," a lot.

3. After reading a portion-- she stopped relatively quickly because there was an anecdote telling of a particular monk-- she said, "Shall we tell a bit about San Simeon?" She always *asked* them to tell. Very respectful. She had a quiet voice and was a bit hoarse. The children were very well-behaved. At first they were laying their heads down on their desks and yawning a bit, but as the lesson progressed they perked up. She eventually had their full attention. These were American kids. She was a guest at their ChildLight school.

4. As they narrated, she conversed with them. She never interrupted a child, but as each student narrated, she spoke back to them with "Good" or adding a bit to what they said. The monk in question thought sitting on a pillar was a good way to serve the Lord, so he did that for many years. She brought out implications, "If it rained like yesterday?" and the children followed that thread to the logical end, which is, he would have no shelter and would get wet. It is important to note that she did not tell them what to think about this behavior. Also, I noticed she never used the force of her personality to get them to respond in some way. She was a participant with more knowledge, and the leader of the discussion, that is all.

5. Intro to next portion ("Listen carefully")

6. After reading, she said, "Who hasn't told me yet?" The kids raised their hands to get permission to speak. "Rachel, can you start telling me?" After Rachel told, she gave a hint as to the next portion and selected another student.

She reiterated a bit, then said, "More?" The children sometimes supplied answers for each other, but they always raised their hands and waited until called upon. In fact, they never spoke to each other. They spoke to her. (I might change this in my own classroom, at least at times and for older kids. These kids were probably around 8-9 years old.)

She made applications for today-- are there monks now, what do they do? She told some of what she knew of monks in our day and answered the kids' questions, ie., "If they can't have money, how are they allowed to sell the wine they make?"

They discussed so much that she eventually recommended they go on to the next portion. "We're getting ahead of ourselves."

7. The read the next portion, then she deliberated on who to select for narration. She wanted someone that hadn't spoken much yet. The student she chose told only the end of what had been read. "He's told me the end part. We'll talk more about that in a minute, but let's go back and get the rest." (Note that she corrected the procedure without denigrating the student.)

8. Other students told, then she reiterated what they said. She used their words and then illuminated them with her own words, sometimes inserting a proper term where the student had been vague. The students still wanted to get ahead of themselves. "You're jumping a bit. Can we go back to the land first? I'll come back to you." After the middle was filled in, she went back to the student she had stopped from narrating. "Stephen, some more?" She asked noun-specific questions and what/how questions to get them to be more descriptive.

9. She reiterated more and expanded on what they had told. "If we go to a museum we might see it." Talked about the British Museum and where people in America might go to see such a thing.

10. She did not finish the chapter. They had worked for approximately 28 minutes, which she said was a little long. She introduced the next section and gave them something to remember "for next time" from what they read that day.

11. The principal of the school she was visiting spoke after the lesson. He emphasized the importance of teacher preparation before the lesson.


Have you seen the Eve Anderson videos? What did you think? Even if you haven't, do you have any observations on the notes?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Inspiring Learners

Three more ideas from The Student Whisperer-- and now I must clean my house! More later.

1. We learn more effectively when we are inspired by love than when we are forced or manipulated: This is a difficult concept to delineate, because sometimes we are easily manipulated when we love someone or something. But real love of learning is a love of truth. It is turning away from ignorance because we want to know the truth, as much of it as we can possibly grasp. It is a sort of repentance. We realize we don’t know, we wonder, and we want to learn. In this book, there is so much focus on formal mentoring and the mentee’s purpose in life that I see two dangers-- 1) of thinking the mentor’s inspiration is all-in-all, and 2) of focusing solely on the student’s desire to become his “real self”. The focus should not be the mentor OR the mentee—it should be our love for God, manifested in our desire to know the truth of whatever we are learning. I agree that our own gifts, talents and passions should be considered. I agree that we can be and are inspired by others in our search for truth. But the focal point should be God, not ourselves and not someone else. I have witnessed people completely swallowed up by the big personalities of others. The only Person that ought to consume us is the Lord. And those of us in positions of authority (either official or conveyed by the trust of another person) must be wary of exerting undue influence.

2. The government cannot legislate education: “The educational system seeks a quantifiable, measurable system, while year after year parents, students, teachers and observers leave frustrated that schools so often fail to deliver that spark, that flow, that light that defies virtually all types of measurement…Great education is not about institutions or bureaucratic policy. It is about individuals, one by one, becoming who they really are.” Ms. Earle says in another place that the best thing legislation can do is secure a proper atmosphere for learning, ensure the freedom to learn. CM quoted the Gospels to illustrate this code of education: “It is summed up in three commandments, and all three have a negative character, as if the chief thing required of grown-up people is that they should do no sort of injury to the children: Take heed that ye OFFEND not––DESPISE not––HINDER not––one of these little ones.” Where public (and private) school systems fail is in trying to legislate the learning part. That would best be left to wise teachers “on the ground”, so to speak. They can see what is needed and will provide it naturally if they are allowed, something a system or bureaucracy simply cannot do. This begs the question of teacher education. I think the homeschooling movement shows, anecdotally at least, that even ‘untrained’ teachers can learn to ‘stand or fall on their own efforts’. And more often than not, when unhindered by regulations, they find their feet and passionately stand. (And here is a caution for homeschoolers as the movement matures: Do not desire to return to Egypt, and do not lay grievous, legalistic burdens on young families. As long as we can, let us educate with all the glorious, inefficient, individual liberty God gave us.)

3. Great mentors inspire by example: Passion and devotion are catching. What are you passionate about? What are you devoted to? ;o) CM called this Mother Culture (we have buzzwords too) and encouraged moms and teachers to keep up their own studies. I have seen my kids take something up simply because I am keenly interested. For example, my 10yo has an excellent ear and has been known to 'sound out' entire sections of piano pieces I am learning. Sometimes I stop her because she hasn't gotten far enough in her technique to execute those pieces properly. She mustn't develop bad habits. But I also have an obligation to help her on her way, as far as I can, and as quickly as she would like to go. Okay, maybe not quite as quickly as she would like. I want her to have a well-rounded education, and not work on music to the exclusion of other things she ought to know. This means we have to moderate her music learning so that, even if it is a large part of her learning, it is not the only thing she learns.


Keeping in mind the caution to let systems be servants rather than masters, here are some truths I pulled from The Student Whisperer. I have more principles to pull out of the book-- lots of good stuff in there-- but I want to keep my posts somewhat short, so I'll continue in installments. (For previous posts, type "student whisperer" in the search field in the top left corner of this page.)

1. We have mentors from a variety of sources throughout our lives: In the comments of a previous post, my friend Kay brought up a point that fits well here: “We should have many teachers and read from many books (also our teachers) and set out that full banquet before us and our children.” It appears that Ms. Earle feels the same way. In one place, she says, “Stories tell it all,” meaning that we are taught truth and virtue by the stories we read, whether of history or philosophy or science or imaginative tales. I want to be careful to point this out, because in the “application” portion of the book, she gets very particular about formal mentoring, and it would be easy to assume that one person-- a formal mentor-- ought to be a person’s Guru. That would be a bad thing, unless that Person is Christ.

2. Real-life mentors can help you see past your blind spots: Ms. Earle challenges her readers to think about the mentors in their own lives, and while I have not actually done any of the activities in the book, I did consider my own mentors. When I think about it, I am filled with wonder at my life. I homeschool my children and run my own business, two risky endeavors. But it is because of my real-life mentors—wise, undaunted people who speak into my life. They encourage me to take risks because I am a cautious person by nature. I also tend to be cautious about influencing my children. I don’t want them to feel that they have to ‘be’ something for me. I am not God, and cannot see all facets of their personalities and abilities, all the possibilities for their lives. But at the same time, I want to be that wise, undaunted person that encourages them to grow into the full-fledged people God intended them to be. I want to help them see past their blind spots.

3. Children (and adults, for that matter) “must stand or fall by their own efforts”: In the era of participation awards, the Nanny State, and corporations that are “too big to fail”, I am afraid we have sadly forgotten this principle. The above quote is from Charlotte Mason, but Ms. Earle echoes it in her struggle to teach her son to pick up his belongings. He finally succeeds when she allows him the freedom to fail. This does not mean that we throw our kids to the wolves. But we mustn’t stand in the way of logical (and sometimes natural) consequences.

4. Peers are mentors: This is a fact, for good or ill. Our older kids have a natural desire to be around friends, and their peers WILL influence them. The pressure our kids feel from age mates can be used “for goodness, for nobility, for excitement to learn” or “to fit into the crowd or to do drugs, or to waste time…” We adults must help to establish a peer environment “where there is pressure to become someone good, knowledgeable, courageous and wise. Where the pressure is love.” This is one of the main reasons I wanted to read this book. I want to learn how to establish proper atmosphere for my older kids and their friends.

Memorial Day

This morning I read about the week of 9/11 in President G.W. Bush's book, Decision Points. Reading how the events unfolded for the President and his staff brings back the horror and uncertainty of that time.

Many, many people (both in and out of uniform) gave their lives or had their lives taken from them that day. I have never experienced personal tragic loss of that magnitude, so I cannot quite comprehend the pride and grief that must fight in their loved one's hearts. But I can remember them and others who died serving their fellow man.

(I do not mean to imply that Memorial Day is for honoring any and all dead. A FB friend respectfully reminded me this day is for people who died in the service of our country.)

We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.

--Moina Michael

Sunday, May 29, 2011

For the Lurkers

Okay. I know you're out there. Just sayin'.

I have been watching my total pageviews the past week or two. I don't normally pay that much attention, but the amount has been increasing fast. So I finally took definite note of the number yesterday, and then looked at it today-- this blog has had over one hundred page views in twenty-four hours.

I am really glad people are visiting. The recent increase in traffic is most likely because of big search terms such as 'student whisperer' or 'when harry met sally', or other things I haven't thought of. I have a very simple site meter. It only shows me how many hits the page has gotten. So I don't know why ya'll are here, and you may not have stayed very long. But, welcome. Stay awhile and visit.

Please stay awhile and visit. I'd love to have a few two-way conversations on this blog. Even if all you have to say is, "I agree" or "You're totally off base" or "I have nothing to say on this topic". I'd love to know who is visiting.

You can comment anonymously too.

I'd especially like to hear from you if you think I am off base. How am I going to get to the truth if I am not challenged when I take a wrong turn?

Anyway, thanks for visiting. Please leave comments. :)

And now for a confession: I don't leave comments on blogs very often either. I found a couple of blog posts that might help with both of these problems.

6 Vital Reasons to Comment on Other Blogs

I do read and enjoy other blogs, but mostly do not leave comments. I need to start commenting more myself. I do have things to say about the blog articles of others, but it's sort of like walking up to group of people in a new social situation... you hope they will be your friends, but it really hurts if they ignore you, and do you want to take that risk? Such a high school worry, but there it is. I really hate it when I have put myself out there and I get ignored, especially if others are being engaged in conversation on the same post. At the same time, sometimes what my comment isn't relevant to the conversation thread that everyone else is taking (although it is relevant to the post), so I can understand why they might just leave my comment alone. But it still hurts my feelings. I need to develop a tougher skin.

10 Reasons Readers Don't Leave Comments

As a non-commenter myself, I confess my reasons for not commenting include #1, 2, 7, 9. And here are my other reasons, some of which were mentioned in the comments of the above posts:

1) As one of the commenters said, a lot of times I can't express exactly what I want to say and run the risk of being misunderstood or writing a huge blog post in the comments section trying to explain myself. Better to come back here and do that on my blog.

2) Sometimes I forget to go back and check to see if my comment received a reply, and I don't want that to happen, so I don't comment in the first place.

3) Some of the blogs I read are very popular, and, as another commenter said, I just don't think my comment will matter that much to the blogger.

4) I tend to say self-centered things, and then I think, "Am I trying to be the center of attention?" and delete the comment. But I'm WITH myself all the time. I know my own experience best. That is what I share. And then, I don't know when it's time to let the conversation thread end. I feel rude if I don't keep responding when I get a response, but, as the same commenter said, I feel clingy if I keep responding after a one or two responses to my comment. (I have the same problem on the phone, which is one reason I dislike talking on the things.)

As a blogger, I now wonder if my content is not rich or compelling enough to generate comments. Hmm. Another commenter to this article said that he doesn't get comments on his blog, but he gets stopped in public by friends who want to discuss what he wrote but won't comment. That happens to me too.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sally Albright and The Student Whisperer

The labels are still bothering me. I keep thinking about the Nora Ephron movie "When Harry Met Sally". (This is one of my favorite movies, although I have not let the kids watch it. Some adult themes.)

You know that scene when Sally calls Harry and she is just crying her eyes out? Her ex-boyfriend is marrying his new girlfriend, and the news devastates her.

" He just met her... She's supposed to be his Transitional Person, she's not supposed to be the One!" she sobs.

This is a moment of truth. She thought she had the 'Love-and-Marriage System' figured out. But her boyfriend, despite breaking the rules, finds love and marriage. Shock. She comes to the devastating (but ultimately liberating) realization that love and marriage cannot be confined to a system.

This truth is also communicated in the "old married couples" vignettes throughout the movie. I love that movie.

Education, like love and marriage, cannot be confined to a system.

And that is what bothers me about those labels. I don't know how 'systematic' The Student Whisperer is, and I like a lot of what I am reading, but I also get the sense that if I followed these teachings wholeheartedly, I would become the Sally Albright of education and eventually sob to the Warrior Poet, "She just crossed The Chasm... her Mentor's supposed to appear... she's not supposed to be facing the Ultimate Test yet!"

Which, of course, reveals that I do not understand these terms very well. But that is what I would do. Take a list of rules and run with it. Don't we want a magic pill, a formula we can plug in and out pops this amazing adult? But human beings are not machines. Contrariwise, as Tweedle Dee said. They stubbornly insist on being quirky. When I really think about it, I wouldn't change that. I love quirky people. But they refuse to fit neatly into systems, and that makes the job of educators more difficult. (Also more exhilarating.)

I have already played the role of Sally Albright more than once in my career as a mother, and I can finally recognize the looming temptation when I see it. Not going there.

In my next post, I will list all the things I like so far about this book. I do want to incorporate some of these ideas into my life as a mom and teacher. But here is a danger of method degenerating into system, and I want to be sure and think it through first.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Narration II: The Student Whisperer

This book has got me thinking. I am now almost through Chapter 4. Honestly, I think the book is valuable for the journals alone. But some of the educational philosophy stuff has set off warning bells in my mind.

Her idea that every student ought to study for eight to twelve hours per day by the age of twelve or thirteen bothers me. It seems to focus on books to the exclusion of all else. I can’t be happy with it. There needs to be time to take walks, to serve with your hands, to develop relationships with the people around you. I do think teenagers should do hard things, and have rigorous studies, but I’m kind of on the side of the parent who pulled her student out of the school because he was studying too much. It sounded like his life was out of balance.

Just because the Founding Fathers went to university at the age of twelve or thirteen doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do. There were some flaws in the thinking of the Enlightenment, such as the idea that rationality was supreme, Reason was everything. Imho, their emphasis on rationality and reason is one of the reasons philosophy went off the deep end in the 1800s with Transcendentalism.

Ask John Quincy Adams about his family life. He was an amazing person, and I am so glad the U.S. had him, but his life was not healthy. Can a person be a statesman and have a healthy life at the same time? For some reason, I think of Theodore Roosevelt when I ask this. I have only read a couple of his biographies, but he seems to have had balance as well as passion. He DID study and read and write a lot, but he disciplined his body so he could get up early and have plenty of time for other things as well, including exercise, family life, nature, music, art, service to others, developing practical skills, etc.

I think this kind of life has to be built up gradually. Teddy Roosevelt did that, beginning with physical exercise and study as a young man. I don’t have a problem with my students studying eight to twelve hours per day when it is necessary (and my high schooler does study that much at times), but there has to be time for the development of the rest of the person.

Back to the danger of deifying reason-- I do think that reason is important, but it is a servant to the ideas we embrace, whether those ideas are good or bad. The student’s job is to accept right ideas and reject wrong ones, prior to letting reason loose on them. (I am a little sketchy on how this can happen prior to reasoning them through, but it has to do with emotional attachment and making sure your assumptions line up with your belief system.) I can tell that Tiffany Earle understands this from her discussion of philosophy in her academic journal excerpts. However, I think there is a danger of ‘book learning’ being emphasized too much

Again, The Student Whisperer assumes knowledge of TJEd, and I haven’t read the book. I am speaking from a position of ignorance. I am going to ask a friend if I can borrow it.

Also, after sleeping on the first three or four chapters, I wonder how far a mentor can go before his or her inspiration becomes the ‘suggestion’ that CM denigrated. We don’t want to be manipulative. We are to feed the student on books and things (ie., nature objects, etc.) and then draw out what is already in the student that is capable of relating to those ideas and objects. I am wary of a mentor disrespecting the personhood of the child. It is too easy to become a guru. Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of mentoring. I want to inspire students to something better. And I want someone to inspire ME. But I want us to think of the Lord first when we hit a roadblock. Tiffany Earle does talk about getting on your knees when you are unsure what the next step is, so I think she agrees, but this book places such importance on mentoring that it would be easy for a person to read the book and get the wrong idea. Again, I speak in ignorance of TJEd. I’ve got to get that book.

Can a person be a great mentor and avoid becoming a guru? Where is the line between inspiring and controlling? (I am using the term’s negative connotation, such as the leader of a cult.)

It does seem as if the students own their process of education in this method, although Tiffany Earle’s high school success (pre-TJEd) was motivated by emulation. Her biggest “award” on graduation day, although she received more scholarships and recognition than any other student at her school, came from the realization that one of her teachers had treated her with cordial respect not because she was smart, but because of herself. She told this story for a reason—it is important to her that students be respected not for their academic achievements, but because they are persons. I agree with that.

I may simply be responding to the possibility that this much power is capable of corrupting the mentor. Anyone in a position of profoundly influencing another person’s life has to be wary of their own weakness, of the possibility of corruption.

On the other hand, lack of wise guidance leaves young people at the mercy of their own desires, whether for good or ill. They need mentors to stand for right and model goodness. This book further illuminates how challenging it is to love and counsel teens. I was hoping it would help, not raise more questions! (It probably will. I'm only on Chapter 4.)

First narration here.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Narration I: The Student Whisperer

I got three of my four books today, and began reading The Student Whisperer. I'm already on Chapter 3. It's a page-turner.

(I'm reading while the rest of the family watches Fiddler on the Roof for the umpteenth time. They just love that musical. I love listening to them watch it. The Warrior Poet sings Tevye for me sometimes, "Do you love me...?" I love it. And him.)

I had a great time reading the preface. All kinds of CM ideas were popping out, stuff like

*education being an atmosphere: "A great mentor knows how to set the stage for transformational experiences."


*education being a discipline: "There is a huge difference between flat, uninspired discipline that bores the creative mind, shuts down the heart-connection and consistently puts glaze on student eyes, and deep, passionately inspired rigor."

I am looking forward to finding some new applications for these ideas.

In Chapter 1, I got a little weirded out by all the capitalized substantives-- the Path, the Call, the Vital Choice, etc. It sounded very New Age-y.

I finally did some research and found out that these are terms within an educational philosophy called TJEd-- A Thomas Jefferson Education. Duh. The book is co-written by the founder of the movement and published by their publisher. Why didn't I notice?

I don't know a whole lot about TJEd, but the capitalized terms turn me off. Why do I feel creepy reading about how someone is off the Path or on the Path? It seems pseudo-religious. But I don't understand the terms very well. She gets into the meanings in the second half of the book, and I wanted to read the book from beginning to end. I did dip into the second half just to catch a couple of definitions.

She is a good storyteller. Now I am in the middle of her academic journal excerpts. I feel like the book is flowing more.

I am interested in learning more about the simulations she experienced at George Wythe University. I guess debate and mock government are simulations too. But these simulations seem much more involved.

She is writing a lot about philosophers and how she agrees and disagrees with them. She is a follower of Christ. She comes to the conclusion that, "happiness comes from aligning our will with God".

Here is something her mentor, Oliver deMille, said about answering (and not answering) questions: “Teachers should… let the student figure it out on his own. But teachers must also take a stand—not always, not with every question—but teachers must clearly stand for something and on occasion they must take a stand on an issue and clearly defend their reasons. Teaching is all about inspiring and few things are more inspiring than someone who has clearly thought something through and will openly articulate why.”

The first part reminds me of Quaker eldering, and the second of the word fitly spoken that is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.

Another thing I keep thinking is that I want the kids to understand logic before they graduate. They need to be able to think clearly and realize when they, or someone else, has unspoken assumptions.

Another thing I keep thinking is that I want to narrate like her. At one point her mentor encourages her with the realization that she is connecting different thoughts to reach creative, original thought-- syntopical understanding! Yes! I want that. It happened in her third academic journal, which I think must have been her third year at the university.

The journals themselves are very interesting, but I am most interested in watching the transformation of her thought processes. I'll have to read the section twice or more, I think.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Integrity in the Use of Time*

"It is a bad thing to think that time is our own to do what we like with."
--Charlotte Mason

Why is it that when we have important things to do, we often have the urge to fix a minor aggravation instead? Last night's local storms upset my plan to pay the bills (I watched Twitter and FB and the news and weather instead), so I absolutely need to deal with bills this morning. But I want to fix my recipe binder, which is simply in chaos. (It's been that way for years. It won't hurt for it to sit one more morning.)

Yesterday it was the Tupperware cabinet. I was supposed to be making phone calls regarding home repairs and hair cuts and the piano recital location. My sister-in-law jokingly said, "Ah, the modern variation of the sock-drawer motif! I know it well..." By the grace of God I put my head down and just plowed through those calls, ignoring the cabinet.

Tomorrow it will probably be the school supplies closet. As the school-year structure falls away, my faults rise up to meet me, pointing out household piles of disorganized stuff with their niggling fingers. But I'm fighting to maintain focus. I will do the big things, Lord help me, and fit the little things into five minutes here, fifteen minutes there. Now to get off the blog and on to the bills.

*Title taken from CM Volume 4 page 173.

Monday, May 23, 2011


First off, let me say how concerned we are for the people in Missouri, Minnesota and Wisconsin after the storms that hit last night. We are praying for you, and we hope the storm season ends soon. Like today.

Secondly, I was thinking about Bible study and personal devotions yesterday. The girls and I read the Bible systematically first thing every school day, and then narrate and discuss. This year was too busy, but we made sure to do Bible consistently. (Okay, and math. Bible-and-math. It's like the homeschooling mantra.) When I assess gains and losses over the past school year, Bible comes out as the biggest blessing. Every morning at 7:30 we gathered in the living room and read from either the Old Testament (Tuesdays and Thursdays) or the New Testament (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays). We gave the NT more time because we read through some of Paul's letters this year and I wanted to be able to divide each chapter into thirds. Sometimes those letters are hard to follow. (For those of you that don't know, we are KJV only at our house.)

Anyway, this time every day is an oasis. We learn a lot about Bible history as well as duty and doctrine. It gives us an opportunity to talk about what is currently going on, how we should live today and what we should pray for. We pray. I just love it. I think this past school year was the best Bible reading time we have ever had.

I have gone back and forth about my own personal devotions this year, because we do the group Bible reading, don't we? I have struggled with personal devotions for years. It was easy to leave it out, because we were so busy, and Bible reading was going so well. I just didn't feel right leaving out my own personal devotions, though.

(Just fyi: We don't make the kids have personal devotion time. This may or may not be right. We encourage it, but we don't force it. They do, however, have to be part of group Bible reading.)

Anyway, my own devotions. I feel lonely when I pray by myself, except during arrow prayers-- those short, quick prayers you pray when you find out a friend needs a prayer and you pray it right then and throughout the day whenever you think about it, in the middle of doing your other stuff. But focused prayer-only time is lonely. My mind wanders, too. I read about a person who kept a pad of paper and pencil by his bed and wrote down those distracting things as he prayed. I tried to do that for awhile, but it just didn't seem to help. I didn't feel effective in my devotions.

There is one of my problems-- devotions are not about feelings.

So I was thinking about my own devotions yesterday and how I don't have them anymore. I keep trying to convince myself that this is okay, but I don't think it is. Night before last I started reading President George W. Bush's book, Decision Points. In it, he talks about his conversion. He used to think of religion and the Bible as a great self-improvement plan, but eventually he realized Self is not at the center of Christianity. Christ is.

That thought was bumping around in my head yesterday as I thought of devotions, and I realized that my frustration in reading stems from wanting to get as much out of my devotional as I possibly can. For me. When I am tired, I don't want to do devotions because I don't think I will get much out of it.

There is the next problem-- devotions are not about self, but about Another.

Then this morning, after finding out all I could about the tornado in Joplin, Missouri, I followed a tweet to this article by Tim Challies. I love the title: "Pursuing Relationship". That's what I ought to be doing in my devotions. Spending time with the Lord. It isn't about how I feel or how much I learn or what I get out of it. It is about setting time aside to focus on the most precious relationship of my life.

I'm not very good at maintaining relationships. My long-distance family will tell you that I am horrible about calling or remembering special occasions. I don't even put the Valentine's/Wedding Anniversary guilt on my husband because it just isn't that big a deal to me. I mean, the Warrior Poet is a big deal, but marking special days isn't. Not guilt-tripping my husband is probably a good thing, but I shouldn't neglect relationships. And I have a hard time even celebrating normal days. It took a friend coming through cancer to teach me to celebrate those, and sometimes I still forget.

What I read or what I write in my journal isn't as important as focusing on God. (Well, I should be reading the Bible, but I shouldn't get hung up on what to read next.) Devotions should be a time of quiet celebration, quiet rejoicing in a normal relationship with God. The penultimate normal. The precursor to the normal we were supposed to have, which was ruined in the Garden, but will be restored in the Resurrection. It isn't a self-improvement course, although self-improvement may be a side benefit. It isn't about me. It's about Him. Devotion. Get it? (I know you all get it, but it takes me awhile.)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

One Post-Modern Christian Quandary

I have some money I haven't yet spent from my birthday in April. I had thought I would buy luggage with it, but now I have decided to buy books. Big surprise, right? I usually buy books when I have discretionary funds, so I was trying to be different. Since it's birthday money, I get to spend it on what delights me. I went to the store and thought about buying luggage. Books won.

My dad has a Kindle. It has been a godsend for him. He is legally blind and his Kindle enables him to use a more helpful font and background. He struggled to read for years before our church gave him this tool. He is once again devouring books. I love when he starts telling us now about 'this book you really need to read'. He has a discerning mind and has introduced us to some good ones in the year or so since he got his Kindle.

I'm thankful for Dad's Kindle, but I don't really want one myself or for the kids. I don't know why. I tell the kids we collect real books so that when the grid fails, we can be like the monks in the Dark Ages with their rooms of forgotten scrolls and codexes. Ha.

I am only half joking. I really do want us to have a large physical library of great books. (I also want us to read them.) Whenever I begin planning the next school year, I am sad that I don't have enough money to buy a physical book for every title on the Ambleside list. For purely practical reasons, if the book is available online for free, we use the online version. We simply cannot buy every book, and we would skip more books if they weren't available for free online. I am very thankful for the online books. But the digitization bothers me. I can't put my finger on why.

(I also want to confess that I do not take care of books reverently. I am hard on books. The ones I refer to often will most likely be frayed, missing a cover, pages falling out. I ended up losing an entire middle section of my first copy of my all-time favorite book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I reread that paperback copy for years, narrating to myself the missing section when I came to it. I do now own a complete copy, as well as an audio version that a good friend sent me this year.)

Aravis and I got smartphones this year. What a boon to have so much information in our pockets! We were gone from home most afternoons, and in bits of free time I could access an email or look up a curriculum or book or article, and then, without pause, continue my process of taking care of a situation or thinking about a decision to be made. I never had to sit down and stop in the middle of an issue. I could take care of things and Move On.

This reminds me of teaching the kids math. One thing I LOVE about homeschooling is that when a concept is fuzzy to the student, we can just sit on the concept for awhile-- either by going over it for a couple of weeks instead of a couple of days, or by letting it simmer for awhile, unresolved, while we move on to an unrelated concept. Then we can hit it again, unconcerned that we are going over material already learned by the rest of the class.

But I didn't have to sit on anything this year. I had my phone. I didn't even have to be bored unless I forgot to charge the thing. I could read books on my phone. Funny, though, I didn't read books. I mostly surfed around when I used my phone for Internet. Book-reading online is very hard for me. There is so much other stuff to click on.

Anyway, we had these smartphones, and increasingly spent our time away from home with our phones in front of our faces. We tried hard to refrain when we were with others, but even in conversation we found ways to use them.

We got rid of our smartphones last week. We bought old-fashioned (!) clamshell phones with no Internet access. Yesterday I left the house at 5:30 am with my clamshell and spent the entire day until 11pm outside of the house with no Internet access. I missed it. All day I thought of things to look up and then remembered I had no cyber-brain to access. Weird. I hadn't realized I was so dependent on the thing.

I won't tell you about the foul hacking job that caused us to accelerate our decision to revert to clamshells. I'll just say teach your kids to bounce their eyes (and hearts, but this was really more about eyes). We just can't escape from some of the horrible stuff in this world. Aravis and I are still reeling. When we tried to figure out how to fix it, we found out it would cost MORE money to make sure something so terrible wouldn't happen again. We had no business paying for two data plans anyway, with our financial goals of getting out of debt, home schooling the children, etc. We had to pay $50 for new phones in order to not have data plans anymore. Those smartphones had been free. The telecom version of a gateway drug. We could have gotten the clamshells for free if we had been willing to enslave ourselves renew our contracts for another two years. Grr.

But how do we integrate these technologies into our lives as children of God? I'm sure you have noticed that it was money and offensive content that caused Aravis and I to switch back, not the high moral idea of being more gracious and hospitable to the people around us, nor the alarming thought that our minds were becoming fragmented. I'm not even sure what to think about the 'minds being fragmented' thing, because I have seen so much benefit from the Internet where school is concerned. It can be a very, very good thing. (In fact, one of my children has been able to move forward in math this year using an online, animated, interactive math program. I don't know what we would have done if we hadn't found it this year. We were at wit's end. Now I read that she is probably not processing the concepts through the hippocampus. Well, she wasn't integrating the knowledge using a textbook and live teacher either.) I am not sure of the cost in neurodevelopment where smartphones are concerned. I'm not saying smartphones are Evil. I'm just saying that, personally, we didn't honorably integrate them into our lives.

Among the books I am purchasing with my birthday money is one by Nicholas Carr-- The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. Cindy read this awhile back and I'd like to get my hands on it. I already have Amusing Ourselves to Death, which is mainly about television, and Endangered Minds (oops, I didn't mean Endangered Minds, I meant Failure to Connect-- both books are by Jane Healy), which contains more questions than answers about our minds and the cyberworld.

That's what I have: more questions than answers. And I just can't bring myself to purchase something nebulous like an e-book unless I absoluately have to. Computers crash and electricity goes out and batteries die. Evildoers infiltrate. Then "they" want more money so you can access your stuff or use it safely.

So here I sit, writing a blog post on how my heart rebels at the thought of purchasing e-books and my current despising of smartphones. I'll tell you the cloud of online experiences that brought me to this blog post this morning:

I started out this morning on Amazon, purchasing my books. In the process, I wondered if I might have enough money in the school fund to purchase Lost Tools of Writing, which is our number one curriculum purchase for next year. (As in, no matter what else falls off the budget, science, math, whatever, we are buying this. First.) I went to the Circe Institute website and found an article called, "Why Bother With Books?" which fit right in with the thoughts I had when I decided which books to buy on Amazon this morning. Reading the article reminded me of Cindy's blog post, "Homeschooling in the Shallows," and our new clamshells and my dad's Kindle that has been such a blessing and how I don't want to purchase e-books. So now I am writing this post instead of purchasing my books or checking the price of LTW. You see how it is?

How do we fit these technologies into our lives without losing our purpose? Or did the application of my purpose actually expand this morning through the use of the Internet? Erg.

In case you are wondering, here are the other books I decided to purchase. I am not pre-reading these for school. They are just for me:

*Is God a Moral Monster? and When God Goes to Starbucks, both by Paul Copan, a Christian philosopher that Dad recently introduced to me, and

*The Student Whisperer by Oliver deMille, which was recommended by a fellow AO mom. I'll grant that this one is related to school. I could be wrong, but it sounds more like One University Student's Experience, rather than a how-to book.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Christianity in Community

"...Christianity has not, and does not profess to have, a detailed political programme for applying "Do as you would be done by" to a particular society at a particular moment. It could not have. It is meant for all men at all times and the particular programme which suited one place or time would not suit another. And, anyhow, that is not how Christianity works. When it tells you to feed the hungry, it does not give you lessons in cookery. When it tells you to read the Scriptures, it does not give you lessons in Hebrew and Greek, or even English grammar. It was never intended to replece or supersede the ordinary human arts and sciences: it is rather a director that will set them all to the right jobs, and a source of energy which will give them all new life, if only they will put themselves at its disposal."

--C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book III, Chapter 3, "Social Morality"

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Narration: Education for the Average Student

(from CM Volume 6 Book II p. 300-321)

At the end of Volume 6, Charlotte Mason made an appeal to the English people regarding the education of the common man. She wrote Volume 6 after World War I and during the rise of Progressivism. Charlotte recognized that the Progressives had their hearts in the right place, but that they were in danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

One of my favorite Chesterton quotes expresses it succinctly: “In his long fight to get a slave a half-holiday [the typical modern man] may angrily deny those ancient and natural things, the zest of being, the divinity of man, the sacredness of simple things, the health and humour of the earth, which alone make a half-holiday even half a holiday or a slave even half a man.” (Chesterton, "What is Right With the World")

In this section, Miss Mason discussed education and the common man, education and the average student, and "knowledge as the basis of national strength". She looked at the early results of progressive education and recommended a refining process. In our time, we wonder why educational results are so mixed. Decades before we asked the question, Miss Mason responded.

(What follows is my detailed narration of pages 300-321.)


Why don’t more kids leave school educated? Let’s look at the principles behind this question. We cannot test whether a student is educated if we do not understand what we seek.

"...want of knowledge, lack of education: he appears to have little insight, imagination, or power of reflection." (p. 300)

The working man of today often has a working virtue, but a lack of insight, imagination and power of reflection—lack of education. In terms of national strength, the education of the working man is now more important, because in our time common individuals are being organized into groups with political influence. Even men we already consider educated tend not to have insight and imagination enough to really be called that. Nowadays physical health and mental/spiritual indifference has replaced nobility or even intelligence.

No doubt education is to blame, although teachers work harder than ever. They are selfless and giving, and receive a blessing for that, but the children suffer from always receiving. We devalue knowledge and look down on our students. We substitute grades and awards for knowledge, starving the student and diminishing his desire for knowledge.

Even worse, we decide the student needs practical training more than knowledge, and eliminate anything that doesn’t strictly apply to his future profession. Is a child to be raised for society’s use only? Education is for the enrichment of the individual life. Every person can develop a certain amount of generous and proper judgment through the study of history and literature.

Knowledge is passed from mind to mind. Original minds communicate vital thoughts through books. The way to reform education is to make sure students read many living books. The books must be original, or else the student’s intellect will not grow. They must be varied, otherwise the student will not be well-rounded. They must not be too easily digested, or else he will not think.

We give the children watered-down books and then we explain and question. This we must not do. Provide real books from original minds and have the child narrate after one reading. The act of knowing is accomplished in narration—all the analysis and comparison takes place at this time. The teacher’s job is not to explain and question, but to make sure the student narrates.

In CM's program, starting at age seven, the children read six books at a time. At age 8-9, they worked on twelve at a time. Later, the number of books went up to twenty. Most students today do not read enough books. Students should love their books and look forward to exams. Ha. Student brought up on books rather than lectures are enthusiastic, sympathetic, broad in outlook and sound in judgment, because they have been given the opportunity to listen in on the great conversations of humanity. They have more time for leisure activities too. And complex work in the higher levels of school will be more effectively done by students who have been given many good books to read and narrate in previous years.

"Napoleon is the final answer to the contention that a knowledge of books has no practical value." (p. 306)

(The Warrior Poet would call this a hot sports opinion!) Napoleon showed the difference between scholarship and knowledge—he was no scholar, but was well-read, and used the knowledge he gained from books to conquer a good portion of the world. (I wonder how CM reconciled Napoleon’s ‘education’ on many good books with his immoral acts? After all, we do not want to encourage children to grow into despots.) Let’s take that assertion and broaden it to apply to nations as well as individuals. The Prussian Queen (Louisa, 1797-1810) in the 19th Century understood the necessity of knowledge and roused her people to study. (Sadly, the German Empire later became the cradle of utilitarianism, which eventually led to the inhumanity of WWI.) Denmark and Japan have also established themselves well in practical matters by the study of history and literature.

We must add to our faith, virtue, and to virtue, knowledge, through “wide and wisely directed reading”. At this point she quotes a letter as anecdotal evidence that her methods work, especially as they increase the effectiveness of learning classical languages later in a scholar’s career. Then she recommends that England not throw out the classics in the public schools, because they are tried and true.

"...knowledge is, not a store, but rather a state that a person remains within or drops out of." (p. 309)

Knowledge of history and literature has won more military battles than we can know. But sadly, our students assume that knowledge is something you accumulate and get done with, when really it is a state of being. In order to fix this, we consider dropping the study of ancient languages. That is wrong. The study of ancient languages and reading of ancient books helps our students realize that man has known things since ancient times, and this keeps him from getting a swelled head regarding his own time.

"...culture begins with the knowledge that everything has been known and everything has been perfectly said these two thousand years ago and more." (p.309)

People do not read the Bible as they once did. Both rich and poor folks used to be immersed in the Bible. It is one of the three great classical literature (Shakespeare and Plutarch being the others, I wonder?) We are gearing up to do without God, yet we are surprised that leaders do not know how to lead and that workers are reckless and stubborn.

"...scholarship is not the best thing, and does not necessarily imply that vital touch of mind upon mind out of which is got knowledge." (p. 310)

Scholarship is worthwhile, but it doesn’t necessarily indicate knowledge. Also, it is an honor rarely given. Everyone cannot have it. Besides, we do not need to worry about geniuses. They take care of themselves. We need to consider the average student.

Many of the most knowledgeable minds, both of today and yesterday, did not have to deal with the pressure of school as we currently know it. Nowadays, prep schools teach their students all the Greek they need to know by the age of twelve, and spend the next several years reviewing it. There is a problem somewhere. It is because of the emphasis on awards that the public schools fail to bring up well-rounded, educated young men. The heads of the different types of school ought to get together and devise tests that will measure a student’s knowledge rather than his scholarship. Working together, they would eventually be able to help the average student to a knowledge of the classics that would serve him all his life, without insisting that he move beyond basics in his knowledge of original languages. This could be left to the few that show an aptitude for it.

Schoolboys work hard at grammar, but they should be given more than that. A good schoolmaster will require his students to be intimately acquainted with a hundred worthy books as well as the great novels, his knowledge tested by oral or written narration.

As for science, it is certainly forward-looking, but we still need knowledge of humanities. In order to help in the present time, we must understand the way men thought and acted in the past. We should be able to communicate life principles as well as possible outcomes. We can only gain these insights through the slow ingestion of poetry, literature and history. Wise men are made out of educated boys.

We have certainly been busy dealing with education for the past several decades, but results are mixed. It is hard to separate the good from the bad. It would take too long to look at each result individually, but let’s consider one of our generation’s prevalent problems—that people do not feel responsible for their actions.

If we shirk responsibility, our education is to blame. We think as we have been taught to think. People who destroy property, damage public interests, and inflame public opinion have been educated enough to speak clearly and exhibit practical ability, although not with virtue. We must bolster our educational institutions or else things will get worse.

People with a bit of learning tend to follow faulty arguments to flawed but logical conclusions. (A little knowledge being a dangerous thing.) Rebellion tends to follow faulty reason. Reason cannot replace knowledge. It is fallible. Reasonable conclusions are not necessarily right. Reason should be our servant, not our master, and will behave properly if we keep it in its place. But if we are to choose what is just, we must have knowledge. Shakespeare taught this in his plays. Look at Othello; look at Brutus. They show us that man can use reason to convince himself of any notion he decides to take up. We can’t use Reason as a shortcut. We must first have knowledge.

In the past, the working man only represented his family, and did well enough with bits of knowledge picked up here and there. But now he is organizing into large groups and needs a proper body of knowledge in order to act with moral imagination. Without this, rebellion joins reason and supports whatever notion the man entertains. After all, it is glorious to witness the reasoning power of your own mind. It is difficult to convince a person that his conclusions are wrong once he has reasoned them out. We gain or lose by the willful choosing of the notion before reasoning takes over.

If knowledge has such an influence over our behavior and even our lives, what is it? Matthew Arnold divided into three categories: knowledge of God, knowledge of Man and knowledge of Nature. “Divinities, Humanities, and Science.” But knowledge of Letters contains the whole.

The Greeks emphasized a thorough training in words and felt it was the most important part of education. If we depreciate knowledge, we scorn the proper use and power of words.

"...if the thought fathers the word, so does the word in turn father the thought...great thoughts anticipate great works; and these come only to a people conversant with the great thoughts that have been written and said. " (p. 316)

The errors of Divinity: The church does provide a bit of literature, poetry and history, but we do not receive as much of the “words that burn”, “words fitly spoken [that] beget thoughts of peace and holy purpose”.

The errors of Science: Science is the preoccupation of our age, but will have nothing to do with literature. History, poetry and religion all fade as we strip a thing to the bone to study its dead parts. Without wonder, it is impossible to appreciate science. Science becomes only useful, not edifying. Occasionally a scientist arises with wonder intact, but generally science does not call out what is best in us, although it does appeal to our utilitarian desires. This is not the fault of science itself, but the fault of science teaching that employs ‘facts and figures and demonstrations’ while neglecting the ‘wonder and magnificent reach of the law unfolded’.

“Science is waiting for its literature.” (p. 318)

Our better parts are inspired when a scientist describes how a law was revealed, that it was there all along and only now discovered. We cannot neglect science. We must learn it, but the teaching of science is too often bereft of life.

But it is no good laying blame here or there. We need to realize that as a nation we are losing our higher values, tending to emphasize “sordid hopes and low ambitions”. We may get the lower things we desire, but lose nobler ideals, such as honesty and loyalty. And eventually, without nobler ideals, the lower things will also be lost. Remember the trade guilds centuries ago, and the Russian village communes? Without virtue, men and their groups tend toward tyranny. Men cannot sustain their causes if their souls are lost in gaining them. We can all influence public opinion, whether in small or large ways, and ought to raise the discussion to "duty, responsibility, brotherly love.”

Saturday, May 14, 2011


When my oldest was twelve ten, I let her and the then-nine seven-year-old make chocolate chip cookies. At the AO conference* that year, moms were challenged to allow the kids to follow the directions without interference. We could answer questions, but that was all. We must sit at the table and Not Help. Experience was to be the teacher. If they did not follow the directions, they would not have cookies.

Prior to this, I had hovered anxiously over my children any time they worked in the kitchen. (I also had a 'tea set of idolatry'-- a set that is too special to be used-- but that is another blog post.) I sat at the table-- on my hands at times-- and quietly watched. Finally, I started recording** everything that happened as a way to keep myself busy.

Fast-forward six years, and my youngest is ten. This morning she and I were the only ones awake. She asked, "Can I make pancakes?"

I said, "Sure." I have come a long way in six years.

Then the questions began. She has two older sisters. She has done a lot in the kitchen without me, but not on her own. With a sense of deja vu, I sat at the table and prepared to listen and answer.

"Can we recycle this? Wait, it's not paper, so that's no."

"Oops. I misread the baking powder. I put in two tablespoons instead of two teaspoons. Should I add more sugar?"

"How many is four servings? Does that mean only four pancakes? With all this batter?"

"Can I double it?"

"I won't add more baking powder since I already have two tablespoons."

"What if I make a big, giant pancake, and then cut it into pie slices? Oh, wait. That would be very hard to flip.

"Can I use this?"

"Do I need to turn it on?"

"Can I start cooking it now?"

"What do I scoop it with? Oh, yeah."

"Do I turn it down now?"

"I'm so bad at flipping pancakes. They're all sticking together now. I mean, two are sticking together."

"Oh, no. I'm not supposed to cook them AGAIN. Oh, dear. I flipped them once, I flipped them twice-- after the twice time, I flipped them THRICE."

"These ones aren't burned, but they're scratched up. I'm so bad at this."

"Here's the first ones."

"This is for Daddy, whenever he wakes up."

Her sisters came in:

"Thank you for the pancakes!"

"This pancake is so cute. I'm going to keep it for myself, and I'm going to call it Bob."

Her daddy woke up:

"Oh! Somebody has been very busy!"

"Daddy, I made a special pancake for you."

The process of letting go is a sudden thrill at the end of aching hardship. It's a smaller, repetitive version of childbirth-- agony, and the soaring beauty of new life. It takes my breath away.


*The AO conference has only happened once, although they had a retreat last year, I believe.
**Sadly, the resulting blog post (on a different blog provider) was deleted several years back after I switched to Blogger, along with my first couple of years of blogging. Watch your old blogs, folks. Sometimes they get deleted when you aren't looking.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Lunch Revisited

"[The pastries] ought to have been labeled Dyspepsia and Headache, so unwholesome were they."

In a short story by Louisa May Alcott, two spinster ladies grieve over schoolboys' lunches. Being energetic women, they decide it is their duty to open a lunchtime shop and feed those boys wholesome, homemade fare.

The Warrior Poet would appreciate similar help, I'm sure. He is heartily sick of sandwiches. He has been subsisting on them all year during his daily battles with dragons. I haven't had food inspiration in awhile. Last week, I finally decided to ask some friends for help figuring out lunch plans.

First off, my brother sent me a book called The Lunchbox Book: Nutritional and Creative Ideas to Liven Up Your Packed Lunch. After pre-reading it, I am delighted to realize that I may soon be decanting juice and threading chunks of meat and veggies onto skewers. Yummy lunches and fun words.

I had to look up the word, 'rusk', which is bits of bread re-baked until dry and crisp. Sort of like a dry biscuit or cracker or the bread used for bruschetta. It is recommended as a morning snack for folks who have to get out the door at an early hour, which is the Warrior Poet's situation at least once a week. Matter of fact, he had to leave at 5:30 this morning, and not only did I not give him breakfast, I didn't even fix his lunch. Instead he took some cash and got a cheap bite somewhere. The girls and I went to some friends' choir concert last night and did not get home until after 10pm.

See how neglected he is? :( But I'm trying to fix it.

One of my friends said, "Cold leftovers." That idea works well with baked chicken, which we made the other night. Yesterday he had chicken salad wraps made with leftover chicken, V-8, carrot and celery sticks, sunflower seeds, and brownies.

Tonight I am making pork stir fry and salad. I ought to be able to do something with the leftover pork, but I can't think what. The salad can go in a container for lunch. Thankfully, WP is ambivalent about salad dressing-- he can take it or leave it.

Someone else said, "Hummus and pita." Yum. We love hummus. I don't love cleaning the blender, though. I wonder if we can make a whole bunch and freeze it?

Another friend recommended wrapping meat or cheese around apple slices. This sounds delicious. WP has elevated cholesterol, though. Also, he told me he would gladly take a six-month hiatus from any kind of lunch meat, cholesterol or no cholesterol. Others suggested lettuce or sushi seaweed (?) for the wrappings. He does like lettuce wraps. The sushi thing would probably please him too, but I'm not sure about cost.

Two friends recently discovered how to carry baked potatoes in a lunchbox. One of them told me that we could line the cooler with foil, and the potato would stay hot all day. WP has a six-pack sized cooler, but I have a smaller one that would be perfect for a 'hot box'.

This same friend, whose eating habits I greatly admire, suggested I think about the ingredients in a Chipotle burrito bowl-- good eating, cold or hot: peppers and onions, rice, beans, pico de gallo...

It was a veritable explosion of great lunch ideas. I sure Jerusha and Mehitable would have approved.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Guest Blogger: In Freedom's Cause by G. A. Henty

Our guest blogger this evening is Mariel, age 13. She has written her own version of a publisher's blurb for the novel, _In Freedom's Cause_, by G.A. Henty.

In Freedom’s Cause is a book about honor, freedom, love, and loyalty. In the book, young Sir Archibald Forbes casts his lot in with that of the bold Scottish fugitive, William Wallace, and his brave band of wily outlaws. When Wallace is captured and killed, Sir Archie continues on, persuading Robert the Bruce to join Scotland’s side. Together, Bruce and Sir Archie roam about the south of Scotland, defending castles, whipping the English, and rescuing a damsel from a nunnery. Sir Archie falls in love with Marjory MacDougall, who turns out to be Mistress Mary Kerr, the sister of Archie’s dead enemy. Archie marries her nevertheless, proving that his love is faithful.

Later on, Sir Archie is captured by the English and sentenced to death, but helped by a friend, Marjory plots a daring rescue. Does she succeed? Or has Sir Archibald’s string, after escapes and battles, finally run out?

Tuesday, May 03, 2011


My piano teacher was serious.

When she said I was to memorize my piece for the recital, I thought it was a suggestion-- that it would be nice if I could, but wasn't really required. I had to take a break from lessons for about a month, and when I went back a couple of weeks ago, I explained that I don't memorize pieces. I had tried to memorize the Brahms, but it wasn't working. Nope, I am not a memorizer. Some can and some can't, you know. I'm more the 'great sight-reader' kind of piano student, not the 'great memorizer' kind.

She said, "Oh, well, I never let my students perform their solo pieces with sheet music."

Okay. Well, I don't have to do the recital, right?

"We could do some of these duets instead. You don't have to memorize ensemble pieces." And she pulled out these little duets. After I had worked so hard on the Brahms and it sounded so grand. She really wasn't going to let me play my piece, and she wasn't letting me out of the recital, either.

I went straight home and memorized the first three pages over the weekend. I used every stray bit of time I could find after doing my regular wife-and-mom-stuff.

Until the Brahms, I had only memorized two piano pieces in my life. As the material got longer and tougher, my childhood teacher gave up on making me memorize. I am very good at sightreading, but terrible at memorizing.

Something happened as I worked to memorize the Brahms, though. I began to look at the music in a different way, to apply my knowledge of composition to comprehend the work more fully. It became more my own mind-property, if you know what I mean. I understood it better because I had to think it into my fingers without the symbols in front of me.

At the next lesson, I sheepishly told my teacher it turns out I can memorize, and I hope to get the entire piece by memory before the recital. She said it would be okay to do excerpts. I want to do the entire thing. She gave me until Friday to memorize all of it. I am working sooo hard to memorize it. Only fifty-six measures to go.

Being a student myself makes me sympathize with my kids as students, but it also reminds me to be firm. So much growth takes place when we are required to reach above what we think we can do.