Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Math and Folk Songs, or Old Joe Clark's House

Yesterday morning Cornflower and I were studying integers: graphing coordinates to form a shape, then stretching, enlarging or reducing the shape by multiplying the original coordinates in different ways.

She had to make a new graph each time, which she found tedious.

She had just began to grumble when she discovered the shape she was forming was Joe Clark's house.

Old Joe Clark, he had a house
Eighteen stories high
And every story in that house
Was filled with apple pie.

(Lyrics adapted to fit Cornflower's graph and preferences.)

All she needed was to remember a favorite folk song and graphing became fun.  I call that true liberal arts education.  =)

(I guess I should point out that I did not make the connection for her.  I wasn't sitting at her elbow saying, "But look!  It's Joe Clark's house!"  I also did not contrive lessons containing folk songs having to do with integers and geometry.  She learned that song through her violin lessons and our folk singing at home.  It just happened to connect to her math today.)

Update 6/29:  Today, after a frustrating lesson on factoring, she exclaimed, "O, how full of briars is this working-day world!"  This is a quote from Shakespeare's As You Like It, and highly appropriate, I thought.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Norms and Nobility: Summary of Prologue I and II

“What is the solution to the paradox between educating for the world's fight and the soul's salvation?”

This question seems irrelevant in a society preoccupied, not with timeless themes, but current issues of policy. The jargon of experimentation and research suppresses questions of truth and judgment. The expert, secure in his newfangled science, rejects the timeless (and unprovable) wisdom of the ages.

The journalist, speaking in terms we understand, challenges the expert, who responds with more innovation or else advocates a utilitarian 'back to basics' approach. The question of the world's fight and the soul's salvation may be called classical education. Hicks wishes to respond to those who, while they sense the importance of classical education, cannot figure out how to fit it into an industrial society.

(prescriptive: concerned with norms/ideals)
(descriptive: facts without value judgment)

Our ideas about education flow from our ideas regarding man's nature and purpose. The ancients took a prescriptive view embodied in myth: the Ideal Type. This type, both unchanging and constantly refined, was used to instruct students in what they should do. To the ancients, the 'everyman' was an ideal to be attained rather than a random specimen to examine psychologically. They insisted on descriptions that conformed to the ideal, even when those descriptions did not line up with what actually happened.

For instance, it was customary at a Roman funeral for the son to tell idealistic tales of his father's and ancestors' virtues and successes (not necessarily accurate), thereby inspiring young men in the virtue of public service. The modern educator, disliking inaccuracies and denigrating the Ideal Type as arbitrary, rejects the old form of learning and puts in its place a scientific education concerned only with facts.

The ancients saw science as a useful tool in transforming the heart of man rather than as technology for improving quality of life. They believed man himself was responsible for his own folly and needed much more work than the material world, agreeing with Jeremiah that man's “heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked”.  However, modern scientists believe evil resides in things outside of man or outside his control, giving rise to the progressive notion that man will be good if technology alters his environment for the better.

The modern world has disregarded the idea of a moral imperative, perhaps thinking it too confining, or else fearing it excludes something important and necessary. However, rejecting the immaterial has narrowed the search for truth and free exchange of ideas in our schools, teaching students to consider only what can be done, rather than what should be done. Modern education, believing man to be a reaction to his environment, has excused him from responsibility for what he knows and focused him on functioning efficiently. The question becomes “How can man get along in this complicated modern world?” and students are taught to desire power rather than truth.

The prescriptive pattern of truth spanned thousands of years and crossed cultural boundaries (Christian, Jew, Roman, Greek), whereas the descriptive pattern is a recent development that excludes non-empirical wisdom and reduces man's thoughts and actions to a reaction against his environment.

Norms and Nobility (again): Preface Summary

When I was a kid, I tried to read Jane Eyre.  It was hard for me, so I would read as far as I could and then set it aside for a couple months.  Then I would pick it up again and read from the beginning and get maybe a chapter or two further than last time.  This continued for years.  Finally, I got all the way through the book, which remains one of my all-time favorite novels.

All that to say I'm beginning Norms and Nobility again.  I got maybe two chapters into it last time.  I have now thought more and learned more.  I am ready to go again.  I don't know if I will make it to the end this go round, but I will try.  I want to understand what he is saying.

I will post my short chapter summaries (short in comparison to the actual chapters).  This is more for my own benefit than anyone else's.  I looked back at my last attempt to narrate Norms and Nobility and can see many failures of understanding.  I expect I will fail to understand again.  But I'll be further down the road than before.  :)

Preface Summary:

David Hicks, a young teacher interested in educational (esp. curricular) reform, wrote the book in 1980. For the next ten years, he read much commentary on the subject and refined as well as validated his ideas. If he had written Norms and Nobility ten years later, he would have been more balanced in his claims regarding the wisdom of the ancients. However, we should remember the author's topic is not “ancient education”, but an ancient ideal known as “classical education”, against which the modern educational establishment is weighed and found wanting. The author wishes to acknowledge the work of other writers such as Mortimer Adler, whose discovery of classical principles is not limited to personal experience.

Hicks promotes learning in context, especially the answering of the question, “What should one do?” as the key to delightful and fit learning (as opposed to memorization of lists of facts). Education being more than the mastery of thinking skills and traditional intellectual ideas, right thinking should lead to right acting. Education must encompass the spiritual and emotional sides of the student as well as the rational, tending toward nobility. Other writers, including Adler, object to this idea of dogma, saying it turns education into indoctrination and puts too great a burden on the teacher.

But skepticism and analysis taught too soon kills the moral imagination and leads to the belief that all ideas are relative. The great books of the Western tradition are worthy, not just because they teach basic intellectual ideas, but because their emotional and spiritual content inspire people to transcend self-interest and act nobly. Hicks believes today's moral relativism and hedonism is the result of educators placing modern scientific principles at the heart of the curriculum, which, while feeding the technological needs of our age, spiritually starves the student. The modern empirical model fails to address the ideal, neglecting urgent moral and ethical questions.

Norms and Nobility focuses more on curriculum, but the author now believes the teacher ought to be the focus of reform. If teachers continually learn and grow themselves, they will motivate students to learn. The general principles outlined in the book (called “normative contextual learning”) are universal, and can be used to develop effective practices specific to the school, the teacher and the student.

In seeking specificity, however, American teachers must be careful not to exclude studies that unify us. We need that common culture in order to properly frame debate between specific groups within the United States. Respect for truth, not regrets or hopes or a desire to build up our students' self-esteem, ought to guide us. As a nation, we have become uncertain of our ideals (“norms”) and abandoned education's ennobling purpose. Without these two things, we cannot bring up free and responsible people.

Friday, June 08, 2012


I am sitting in Aravis' room while she sorts through much stuff.  All three girls have been taken with the organizing and decorating bug.  We painted Mariel's room last weekend (below) and will paint Cornflower's room tomorrow.  We found their colors on the Oops paint shelf.  (Repainting a room for $5, I like that!)

A friend said the color reminded her of the blue medieval folks painted on walls and ceilings to simulate the sky.
I like the way Mariel's art pops out of the blue walls.

Cornflower has a pretty pink for two walls, and wants a fresh pale green for the other two.  Aravis has not found any paint on the Oops shelf.  She wants her room to be shabby chic and it holding out for a color called Jasmine Flower.

I'm enjoying their artistry as they work with what they have to create new beauty.  :)

Saturday, June 02, 2012


"Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof."  --King Solomon

We have not yet finished all our AO/HEO readings for the year.  Here is a list of what we are reading or have read in the last three months.  Most of these books will be finished by mid-July or earlier.

The journey is vital and perhaps more important, but finishing is valuable too.

Cornflower (AO Year 5)

Story of the World Vol. 4 by Susan Wise Bauer
Book of Marvels by Richard Halliburton (finished yesterday)
Age of Fable (this will go for another year)
Poetry of Paul Dunbar and John Greenleaf Whittier
Usborne Complete Book of the Human Body (not my first choice, but I couldn't find our copy of Christian Liberty Nature Reader 5, and this is what we had at hand)
This Country of Ours (almost finished after three years!)
Inventing the Future (biography of Thomas Edison-- finished)
Passion for the Impossible (biography of Lilias Trotter)
The Sciences by Edward Holden (almost finished)
Kim by Rudyard Kipling
Battlefield of the Mind for Kids by Joyce Meyers

Mariel (HEO Year 8)

English Literature for Boys and Girls
The Case for Christ (finished)
The New World (2nd volume of Churchill's History of the English Speaking Peoples)
Essays of Sir Francis Bacon
Christopher Columbus, Mariner (finished)
A Coffin for King Charles
Secrets of the Universe (Fleisher)
The History of Art by Jansen (almost finished-- we are going to read Van Loon's art history book next year as a group)
Kon Tiki (finished)
Poetry of Milton
How to Read a Book (Adler/Van Doren)
Ourselves by Charlotte Mason

Aravis (HEO Year 11)

The Hiding Place (finished)
Is God a Moral Monster? (finished)
A Short History of Western Civilization 
Testament of Youth (finished)
The Men Behind Hitler (finished)
Economics in One Lesson (finished)
On Writing Well
Six Easy Pieces
The Microbe Hunters (finished)
Amusing Ourselves to Death (finished)
The Chosen (finished)
Fahrenheit 451 (finished)
The Hungarian Revolt (finished)
Nuremberg:  the Justice Trial (finished)
Brideshead Revisited (finished)
Darwin's Black Box
History of Art (Jansen)
When God goes to Starbucks
A History of the American People by Paul Johnson
Ourselves by Charlotte Mason

All of Us Together

Leviticus (finished)
1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossions, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James 1 & 2 Peter, 1/2/3 John, Jude (finished-- we read these fast because we wanted to read the letters as *whole epistles*-- the way they had been read originally)
Romans (with our church)
The Holy War by John Bunyan
Emma by Jane Austen
Madam How and Lady Why (Mariel and Cornflower and I-- almost finished after two years!)