Sunday, March 30, 2014

Weekly Resource - Another Sort of Learning, a Mom resource

A few weeks ago, when I was still allowed to enter into book stores and good wills, I came across Liberal Learning by James V. Schall and I had to get it.  Don't tell my husband but the link actually takes you to the full text of the pamphlet - oops.  It is a very small volume - so it's a good overview.  It is addressed to college students and their parents to help them realize some of the shortcomings of the current college system while encouraging you to pursue some real learning.  It is in keeping and, in some ways, an introduction to his larger work Another Sort of Learning.  Really you should just follow the link so that you can read the subtitle - which is long and amusing - which is indicative of his style.  This work is a collection of essays on education and other assorted topics along with interesting "booklists".  His booklists are not standard fare and are meant for the students seeking classical and not so classical resources that are worth your time and interest.  

A few years ago I read his book On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs and loved it.  Actually, I should find and re-read my notes (common placing before I even knew there was such a thing because it was a great book).  He is the one who got me to thinking about actually reading Chesterton.  That book helped me to remember to enjoy the little things in life and stop being a perfectionist about things.  Some things are worth doing just because they are fun and part of a community.

Anyway, if you are thinking about summer reading for yourself you might want to look over this little book and pick out some titles that aren't typically discussed but are probably worth your time.

Here is a quote from Liberal Learning:

The object of self-discipline in the best sense then is not ourselves.  That probably sounds strange.  The classical writers, I think, used to relate self-discipline to liberty.  The person who was most free was the one who had the most control over himself.  The person who was most unfree was the one who was ruled by pleasures, money or power.  Self-discipline does not, however, solve the question of what is knowledge or truth or good; self-discipline is a means, not an end in itself.
There is an intimate connection between our moral life and our intellectual life. Sometime I think the history of our times can be described as an argument about whether or not this connection is true.  Self discipline is the beginning of wisdom, not its end.  
Really, anything by Schall is probably engaging and worth your time.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas

This past week I was in my car when Hugh Hewitt was talking with the faculty of Hillsdale College about Thomas Aquinas.   Basically, Hewitt and Hillsdale are doing a great books conversation every Friday afternoon.  You can see all of the topics here.  They started with Homer and have made it to Aquinas.  The conversation is always interesting and free.  I might try to carve out more time to listen to them more attentively.

This week they started with a prayer that Thomas Aquinas said every morning.  As I listened it just screamed out to me something worth memorizing or at least using in morning time for a season.

Prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas (found here)

O merciful God,
grant that I may ever perfectly
do Your Will in all things.
Let it be my ambition to work
only for Your honor and glory.
Let me rejoice in nothing
but what leads to You,
nor grieve for anything
that leads away from You.
May all passing things
be as nothing in my eyes,
and may all that is Yours
be dear to me,
and You, my God,
dear above them all.
May all joy be
meaningless without You
and may I desire
nothing apart from You.
May all labor and toil
delight me when it is for You.
Make me, O Lord,
obedient without complaint,
poor without regret,
patient without murmur,
humble without pretense,
joyous without frivolity,
and truthful without disguise.
Give me, O God,
an ever watchful heart
which nothing can ever
lure away from You;
a noble heart,
which no unworthy affection
can draw downwards to the earth;
an upright heart,
which no evil can warp;
an unconquerable heart,
which no tribulation can crush;
a free heart,
which no perverted affection
can claim for its own.
Bestow on me, O God,
understanding to know You,
diligence to seek You,
and wisdom to find You;
a life which may please You,
and a hope which may
embrace You at the last.
It might be worth listening to a few conversations and thinking about including this prayer in your time with your children at some point.  

Tip Time - CC Cycle 2, Week 24

The last week!  Bittersweet. We have really enjoyed our tutors and the community.  We are hoping to continue meeting together for some fun and nature stuff over the next few weeks - we'll see how that turns out.


Interjections are really fun to play with.  Take time this week to be silly with your kids and add interjections as often as possible.  Oh Yeah!

Fine Arts

If you have Beethoven's Wig #2 you have songs by Brahm's and Dvorak on there.  Actually the one about Brahm's talks about Bach and Beethoven as well.  Dvorak's song tells his life story quickly and in a memorable way.  So, if you don't own it at least check it out this week.  You will be hooked.  Hilarious! If you just want the appropriate song you can also get the MP3 from Amazon.


The identification laws - once again a big word for a simple concept.  Talk with your kids about how when you add or multiply by this number you get the same number.  Sometimes using variables is a little confusing for young ones in math - but substitute in numbers and it makes perfect sense.

History Timeline

This week actually teaches the song for all the presidents.  We intend to spend all of next year on American history by focusing on the states and the Presidents.  If you are looking for some resources you might want to check out Half a Hundred Acre Woods' website.  We plan to read this little book about the Presidents next year (it ends with Teddy Roosevelt because it is an older book).  It seems like something my son can read on his own and learn some new things about them.

So, this is the end of this series.  Hard to believe Cycle 2 is over.  We'll see if I am up for doing a similar thing for Cycle 3.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Weds. with Words - Berry's Quantity vs. Form

A few weeks ago I checked out a stack of books from my alma mater, including Wendell Berry and Norms and Nobility.  So, they were all due back Saturday and I had barely touched the stack - it's all those lectures people keep on recommending!   I decided to read some of the Wendell Berry essays - never a bad choice.  I was struck by a few thoughts from Quantity vs. Form from the collection The Way of Ignorance.

My purpose here is only to notice that the ideal of a whole or a complete life, as expressed in Psalm 128 or in Tiresias' foretelling of the death of Odysseus, now appears to have been replaced by the idea merely of a long life.  And I do not believe that these two ideals can be reconciled. 
But we are already in the thick of the problem when we have noticed that there does seem to be such a thing as a good life; that a good life consists, in part at least, of doing well; and that this possibility is an ancient one, having apparently little to do with the progress of science or how much a person knows.  And so we must ask how it is that one does not have to know everything in order to do well? 
We come to form, we in-form our lives, by accepting the obvious limits imposed by our talents and circumstances, by nature and mortality, and thus by getting the scale right.  Form permits us to live and work gracefully within our limits. 
The wheel of human - that is of fully human - life would consist over the generations of birth, growth, maturity, ripeness, death and decay.  
He finds the idea of ripeness in Shakespeare
By "ripeness" Edgar means a perfect readiness for death and his sentence echoes "The readiness is all" in act V, scene 2, of Hamlet.  
After the addition of "ripeness", "decay" acquires the further sense of the "plowing in" of experience and memory, building up the cultural humus.  The art of living thus is practiced not only by individuals, but by whole communities or societies.  It is the work of the long-term education of a people.  Its purpose, we may say, is to make life conform gracefully both to its natural course and to its worldly limits.  
This insatiable desire for more is the result of an overwhelming sense of incompleteness, which is the result of the insatiable desire for more.  This is the wheel of death.  It is the revolving of this wheel that now drives technological progress.  The more superficial and unsatisfying our lives become, the faster we need to progress.  When you are skating on thin ice, speed up.  
This last quote really hit home.  By not understanding or accepting the "form" of my life I have a desire for more and it truly does turn into a "wheel of death".   What I really need to do is remember what he highlights earlier

What is the goal of our life and work?  This is a fearful question and it ought to be fearfully answered. Probably it should not be answered for anybody in particular by anybody else in particular.  But the ancient norm or ideal seems to have been a life in which you perceived your calling, faithfully followed it, and did your work with satisfaction, married, made a home and raised a family; associated generously with neighbors; ate and drank with pleasure the produce of your local landscape; grew old seeing yourself replaced by your children or younger neighbors, but continuing in old age to be useful; and finally died a good or a holy death surrounded by loved ones. 
Now we seem to have lost any such thought of a completed life. 

There is more to illustrate how the cycle of life should be lived out more fully.  I do recommend this short essay to help you appreciate what life well lived looks like.   

See what others are reading at Ordo-Amoris

Beauty in the Word: Introduction

I was thrilled to see the invitation to read through Beauty in the Word by Stratford Caldecott with Cindy Rollins over at Ordo Amoris.  It is not quite a book study but more of a blog through.  In other words she won't be adding links but the conversation will occur in the comments.  Please join us!

Here are some key ideas that help set the parameters for the discussion to follow.
The liberal arts are a golden thread that comes from the Greeks, from Pythagoras and his successors both Islamic and Christian, especially St. Augustine; a thread that weaves its way through the history of our civilization.  These arts were intended for the cultivation of freedom and the raising of our humanity to its highest possible level.  
I appreciate that Stratford realizes that at one point this was an education for the elite, but with changes in societal structure this should be an education accessible to all.

This book focuses on the grammar stages,  his earlier work Beauty for Truth's Sake focuses on the quadrivium.  He uses this definition of the parts of the grammar stage:
According to Hugh of Saint Victor, summarizing this tradition in the High Middle Ages, 'Grammar is the knowledge of how to speak without error; dialectic is clear sighted argument which separates the true from the false; rhetoric is the discipline of persuading to every suitable thing. 

Honestly, the way he re-labels these concepts is one reason I love this book:
That is the reason you will find the chapter on Grammar headed 'Remembering,' the one on Dialectic headed 'Thinking,' and the one on Rhetoric headed 'Speaking.' 
He also reminds us that
The seven liberal arts were in any case never intended to constitute the whole of education. They were embedded in a broader tradition of paideia or human formation, which included 'gymnastics' for the education of the body and 'music' for the education of the soul (terms that have changed and narrowed in meaning over the centuries).  
(If you want more on these other concepts you might want to check out The Liberal Arts Tradition by Clark and Jain.)

Here is the key question I wrestle with - he states it so clearly
But what kind of education would enable a child to progress in the rational understanding of the world without losing his poetic and artistic appreciation of it? 
Later he explains that he believes
It must be possible to use this intrinsic connection between reason and imagination to overcome the alienation between the humanities and the sciences. 
In the end, the crux of the current problems with education are that
Too often we have been not been education our humanity.  We have been educating ourselves for doing rather than for being.  
In order to Be we must remember our origin and our end, the grammar of our existence.  This is the beginning of all communication - communication from God, who loves us before we love him.  We come from the Father.  
He also sums up the stages as
Be! (Grammar)     Think! (Dialectic)   Speak!  (Rhetoric)
There is more about the mission of a Catholic school in particular which essentially discusses the need for transparency so that the life of Christ can show through our lives - which I think should apply to any Christian setting.  In the future I will comment more on his thoughts but here I think it is appropriate to start by allowing him to define his topic and scope.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

DTK - Chapter 5 - Part 2

Desiring the Kingdom Book Club

See what others have to say about welcome and song as a part of worship over at Simply Convivial.

God's timing is PERFECT!   This past week our women's Bible study started Gospel Love by World Harvest Mission (we have really enjoyed this series as a group).  I failed to get the book prior to the first study but as we went through the first lesson it became obvious that this is a study on being the body of Christ.  One of the primary questions looked at different scripture passages about our activity as a body and why we are called to do these things in community (sing, give, pray) - not just individually.  I overshared this past week because I was so excited to put some of the things I had been thinking about through the study of Desiring the Kingdom with real live people.

The next two sections continue James' exploration of the traditional liturgy and how it communicates to us who God is and who we are a people.

I appreciate what James says about greeting in God's name.  If you read through the New Testament they are always sending "grace and peace to you".  He says
God's greeting indicates the dialogical nature of Christian worship, a give-and take, back-and-forth interaction: God calls us; by his grace we respond by gathering, invoking his grace and mercy; and God in turn responds to our cry.    
I am struck by the fact that sometimes people don't realize the dialog but that it is implicit in the structure of worship if you begin with a call from His word.  Later James reminds us
In short, God's welcome is a gracious way of reminding us of our utter dependence, cutting against the grain of myths of self sufficiency that we've been immersed in all week long. 
This humbles me because often I make it to church on my own grit and determination, forgetting it's His invitation and grace that makes a place for me there.  As we enter into worship we are invited to lean into Him and not our own understanding.

Next James turns to song.  One of the main "aha" moments that came from our Bible study discussion last week was when one of the ladies mentioned that our pastor had mentioned that we sing songs not just to God but to each other as a reminder of his truths and goodness.  As we talked about song and music I mentioned the point that Dr. Carol (the musicologist, see "You are What you Listen to") discusses how strange our current world is because music is available everywhere.  Until this century, if you wanted music you had to make it!  In fact, we now see song making and singing as a professional act and even our worship (with a band and leader, instead of choir or just congregation) points to a performance more than a body singing together in unison.  We are losing the communal sense of singing and worship.

James asserts that it is appropriate for "song to be such a primary means for reordering our desires in context of Christian worship."  He continues
singing is a mode of expression that seems to reside in our imagination more than other forms of discourse.  Partly because of cadence and rhyme, partly because of the rhythms of music, song seems to get implanted in us as a mode of bodily memory.   
His comments on the Psalms point to just how important they are.
The songs that constitute the Psalms have a crucial role to play in our learning the language of the kingdom. The biblical Psalms are the foundational mentor and guide in this vocabulary and grammar for worship.  If being a participating member of a society is reflected by one's ability to speak the language, then one could say that song is one of the primary ways that we learn to speak the language of the kingdom. 
Last year we did a Bible study on the Psalms and began by talking about the crucial role they played in worship and the lives of Christians in the past.  I think we have lost that in our current church culture. The final thought I'll leave you with is this one from James
Figuring out how to be faithful in exile is here tied up with learning how to sing in a strange land.
May we be ones who lift our voices and sing and teach our children to do likewise!


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Weekly Resource - Learning Literature Through Reading

Barefoot Ragamuffin Curriculum now has a reading program to go with her literature program.  It is based on Spalding methods and she clearly outlines how to teach spelling and reading step by step.  She uses the public domain Elson readers which are included in program so there are no additional readers to purchase. The spelling words match with the readers.

Each level has the following sections:

Section 1 - includes a list of all the phonograms and flashcards to help you practice them.
Section 2 - the "spelling word" lists, these are marked in a way similar to Spell to Write and Read, the Logic of English, etc.  (although she does not include sentences for examples).
Section 3 - the Elson readers.  Level 1 uses the Elson Primer, the syllables are separated and the multi-letter phonograms are underlined to help students see how they work together.  Level 2 uses the Elson Book 1, words are still separated into syllables.  Level 3 uses Elson Book 2 and it reads like a normal text.  

Here is an overview of the levels:

Level 1 - starts before you begin reading and you practice 1-A through 1-T (with ten words in each section). After these introductory lessons, the lists work together with the reading passages and are numbered 2 through 29 (again ten words in each section).
Level 2 - lessons 30 through 75 (ten words in each section)
Level 3 - lesson 76 though 127 (fifteen words in each section)

After trying SWR with my son and not getting anywhere - he could do it with help but wasn't retaining anything - I gave it a rest.  This week we picked it back up at the beginning using the lists here and he is doing great.  I don't plan to do the readers with him because he is beyond them (at this point) but spelling is a struggle for him.  I will teach my younger sons using the program as she outlines it.  She does provide a workbook and at least in level one it has some exercises that look like many intro reading programs - circle the picture that starts with the letter sound you are learning, etc.  My middle son finds this easy and fun - the graphics are simple and direct (she even includes a key to what each picture is so that there is no confusion - is that a cup or a jar?)  The Spelling Journal for students to record their words by phonogram is available for free on her website.

She now has free samples for both the reading and literature programs. It is a great way to see her approach and the scope of what is covered in each level.

She also has created a great free list of reading recommendations and plans for covering these stories for preschoolers and kindergarten children.  There are a few suggestions in there that I have not seen before and some that I read with my older son that I should bring out again for my middle one.

Finally, if you are trying to incorporate art study but haven't figured out how to pull the pictures together and keep it moving you might benefit from her free art collections (level 1/2 and 3).  For each artist there are 6 works and she includes both color and black and white options.  These artists are integrated into the Learning Language Through Literature program.

She has also made Charlotte Mason's Geographical Readers, level 1 and 2, available for free. In addition she has put together free reading lists by geographical location - so there is a list of books that talk about Japan, etc.

I truly appreciate the time and care she has put into this curriculum and am glad that I now have a full language arts program - reading and literature!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Tip Time CC Cycle 2 Week 23

This week my oldest realized that we are almost to week 24 - he was surprised that the year is almost over. I am too.  I am glad that we have a talent show and pot luck to finish up our year.  The boys are excited about playing the violin - I am glad that there are a lot of violinists in our group.  It gives my kids some peers to talk about music with - which is great.

History Timeline

I think it is a little crazy how our study lines up with current world events.  My oldest keeps asking about why everyone is always talking about Ukraine.  I hearken back to the fall of Communism (which was last weeks sentence).  Although not the same situation, it helps him understand how Ukraine is tied to Russia. We also read about the Crimean War last week in Child's History of the World.


As we discuss the Malaysian airline crisis, one theory circulating was that the plane ended up in one of the "stans".  That just happens to be our geography for this week.


Today we are talking about how heat flows.  Here is a really basic overview and it gets more complicated the further you get into the site.

That's all for today.  I have been listening to such fabulous lectures recently that I am having trouble focusing on the here and now.  I hope to comment on them more soon.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Weds. With Words - Robin Hood

Wednesday With Words

I am so glad that we are reading The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood.  I was concerned that my 7 yo wouldn't be able to follow the Howard Pyle version but he gets frustrated when I stop to check and make sure he is following it.  He gets it and even laughs at the jokes and will anticipate the conflict of the story.  He truly is an engaged listener - now if he would only try to read more on his own.  I do have the Roger Lancelyn Green on hand in case we needed to scale back.  After reading a little from this version, I am really glad that he can follow the Pyle version because it is just much richer.  Although, you always have to consider your audience.  One of my son's best friends is using Sonlight so he was telling me the tales as he read them, for himself, from Tales of Robin Hood.   We also own this version from Barefoot Books.  I am not exactly sure how we have so many versions - Half Price Books.  I have never read this book before (as with most Ambleside selections) so I am really enjoying reading it with my son.

Now to the quotes.  We just read The Tanner of Blythe and this is a great example of how literature can make a point that will stick with kids that direct teaching just can't do as well.  I followed the advice of many and tried not to spiritualize or over emphasize the point but I am glad that I have this story to refer back to if it seems appropriate in the future.  Here is the crux of the issue:

After "turning neither to the right hand, nor the left" on the mission that Robin Hood had sent him on

Here Little John suddenly ceased whistling, and stopped in the middle of the path.  First he looked up and then he looked down, and then, tilting his cap over one eye, he slowly scratched the back part of his head.  For thus it was: at the sight of these two roads, two voices began to alarum within him, that one crying, "There lies the road to the Blue Boar Inn, a can of brown October, and a merry night with sweet companions such as thou mayst find there," the other, "There lies the way to Ancaster and the duty thou art sent upon."  Now the first of these two voices was far the louder, for Little John had grown passing fond of good living through abiding at the Sherriff's house . . ." 
Later, when Robin Hood hears about Little John's choice this is his response.
Now news had been brought to Robin Hood how that Little John, instead of doing his bidding, had passed by duty for pleasure, and so had stopped overnight with merry company at the Blue Boar Inn, instead of going straight to Ancaster.  So, being vexed to his heart about this, he set forth at dawn of day to seek Little John at the Blue Boar, or at least meet the yeoman on the way, and ease his heart of what he thought of the matter.  As thus he strode along in anger, putting together the words he would use to chide Little John, he heard, of a sudden, loud and angry voices. . . 

Robin Hood is concerned that maybe Little John is fighting with the King's Rangers.

Thus spoke Robin Hood to himself, all his anger passing away like a breath from the windowpane, at the though that perhaps his trusty right hand mind was in some danger of his life.   
We learn that Little John is not in danger and has just gotten himself into another battle of pride. Robin Hood enjoys watching the fight and in the end feels that is enough of a punishment for Little John's poor choice.  I enjoy the way that Pyle shows the relationship and wit of the men.  I am not going to belabor the point of this story for you either - I think you get it!

I was hoping that this story was included in the Roger Green version of the book; but it isn't, so I can't compare the language for you.  Every version has its benefits and its issues.  I am so glad that Ambleside encourages you to stretch your children's horizons.  Maybe when we come around to the Middle Ages I'll encourage my son to read another version for himself.

See what others are reading this week over at Ordo Amoris.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

DTK - Chap. 5 part 1 - Time, Mission and Culture

Desiring the Kingdom Book Club

We have waded through the philosophy and are now getting into the more practical aspects of Desiring the Kingdom.  See what others are thinking about over at Simply Convivial.  I do believe that this chapter is probably worth wading through the earlier ones because it highlights things that make our worship peculiar.  Some of these things we are losing in our Christian culture which is truly unfortunate and we need to be reminded how these things set us apart.  There are two key points that I want to pick up on today - time and mission as culture makers.


Last week our family was overwhelmed by the fun of spring break.  We had people coming and going, babies being born, just general craziness abounding.  In the midst though - we sort of forgot that it is also Lent.  You see, I am not sure that our practice of the faith shows that our time is played out on a different timeline.  James says
If we read the practices of Christian worship, we would conclude that Christians are a people whose year doesn't simply map onto the calendar of the dominant culture. 
We homeschool and had our Sabbath week a few weeks ago - but still the school schedule of Spring Break impacted our lives in more tangible ways than the Christian calendar has.  I am not totally sure how to let the "counter reformation" of liturgical time impact the practice of time in our house.  Advent is a time that I am learning to set apart but Lent is one I am still trying to figure out.  I guess this is also why the Catholic church still uses feast days - it is a way to remember the history of the church in the present time.

The other point that James makes about time is
the church is a people with a deeply ingrained orientation to the future, a habit we learn from Israel. 
[This future] hangs over our present and gives us a vision of what to work for in the here and now as we continue to pray, "Your kingdom come."  
[Our worship] trains our imagination to be eschatological, looking forward not to the end of the world but to "the end of the world as we know it." (italics in original) 
There is really only one class that I ever failed - Child Evangelism Training.  Yes, I was a failure.  In part because I really couldn't see talking about heaven as they did as a proper way to invite people into the kingdom.  This was a LONG time ago and now I have a better idea of how it could be done in a way that is faithful to the truth,  I do think that we need to be a future focused people - unfortunately sometimes that creates people who are "so heavenly minded they are no earthly good".  That's not what James is talking about though.  At the time of the training, I didn't have a good understanding of the new heaven and the new earth and in some ways it seemed like inviting kids into escapism and misunderstood promises than into a new life that can begin now.  It was more my immaturity because I didn't understand what the future should look like for a believing Christian.  Again, reading N.T. Wright's After you Believe was groundbreaking for me in that respect. In it he talks about how we are called to be priests and kings forever with God.  So, we should start working on those vocations now. This actually ties in with James' next section.

God's Image as a Call to Mission 

James begins this section by talking about how we are called to worship.  I love that from our house you can hear the bells at the local Catholic church calling people to worship (we live just about the right distance away).  We forget, in our clock saturated world, that this used to be the main way you knew what time it was - the church bells.  The traditional Catholic church calls you to worship throughout the day - not just on Sunday. It is a constant pattern of life.  James doesn't touch on that much in this section - but it got me thinking about it.

I was most struck by his point that
the image of God is a task, a mission
To take up the task of being God's image bearer is both cultural work and cultic work; it is to be both prince/ss and priest. 
Often I think people are looking for the "big mission" of God in their lives.  Here James is pointing out that we are called to be His image wherever we are - not just once we find "our mission".  We are already people sent on mission because we bear the image and name of Christ.  He says
we fulfill the mission of being God's image bearers by undertaking the work of culture making.  
To me this is a breath of fresh air.  I know that we read similar thoughts in G.K. Chesterton quotes and other places but it I need to be reminded that culture making in my home is my mission and I am bearing His image to my children in ways I cannot comprehend.  I appreciate Mystie's post on this topic last week.   I do fall into the trap of looking for the "big mission" and fail at the "small mission".  I think I have the idea inverted though.  What I consider small is truly the work of God and the "big" can only come out of faithfully doing what appears to be small.   Creating a vibrant Christian culture built on relationships and focused on His truth is not an easy task.

If we are forward looking Christians we should invite our children into the promises of God and his future reign and glory while also helping to equip them to be "prince/ss and priest" in the age to come.  I have forgotten this.  If you want some interesting commentary on "the priest" aspect of education you might want to listen to Andrew Kern's newest series - towards the end of the first talk (Teaching From a State of Rest, Part 1) he speaks to what it means to be priests (he also quickly reiterates the point at the beginning of the second lecture).

Finally, I need to remember this from James
In a strange and terrifying sense, the vocation of being human requires utter dependence on God; the task of being a creature requires being ordered to the Creator. 
Is my time ordered to him?  Is my anthropology ordered to him?  Is my worship ordered by him?  Am I dependent on him?

Monday, March 17, 2014

Weekly Resource - An Outline of Classical Education

We are excited that our city will be home to a new public, charter Classical school this fall.  There is a good chance a few of our friends will be attending.  I was seriously tempted by it, but in the end it is not the right time for my kids.  I was very encouraged recently when I read an address (full text at link) that Martin Cothran (of Memoria Press) gave to the teachers of Great Hearts Academy.  The fact that the two are connected in any way made me excited about the impact that this school could have in our community.

If you want a great explanation of how Classical educators view the liberal arts, reading stories and why we study Latin I suggest you read this article.  The beginning uses a lot of vocabulary that might be new to you - but not too difficult.  Below are some highlights of the article.

An introduction to the main concepts
By the term “classical education,” I mean the system of education that emphasizes this culture [of Rome and Greece and subsequent cultures] and attempts to pass it on to the next generation. This system of education has two chief and theoretically distinct components: the liberal arts and the humanities—the traditional set of learning skills and classical content. In other words, when we say “classical education,” we mean the liberal arts and the humanities—language, mathematics and science on the one hand, and, as Matthew Arnold put it, the best that has been thought and said on the other.
What does "liberal arts" mean? 
The liberal arts consisted of the three language arts of the trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) and the four mathematical arts of the Quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music). 
“We should not be learning the liberal arts,” explained Isocrates, making the same point, “we should have learned them.” They don’t make students better speakers or counselors, just “better learners.” “By studying them,” continues Mulroy, “one could discover thought’s basic patterns, which are what bind the seven liberal arts together. In contemporary terms, their subjects are the procedures that are hard-wired in our brains and do not differ from topic to topic.”
What does humanities mean? 

The humanities consists primarily of literature and history. They are not a means to anything else other than wisdom and virtue. They are not quite an end in themselves, but they are a very fundamental means. It is through history and the humanities that we find out what we are as human beings. They tell us the story of who we are and how we should act.

Why do we read aloud? 

In literature we simply read—and read aloud—classical children’s books. Children’s literature is largely a modern invention and it may be the one area (other than technological science) that we have a cultural advantage on our forebears.
One of the distinctives of our literature program is that we don’t try to smother it with analysis. I think we sometimes overdo the integration thing. When they are young children, we need to focus on a story without being called upon to impose a bunch of abstract considerations on it.
A classical teacher is called upon to teach, to delight, and to move. But when it comes to literature for young students, the greater emphasis should be upon the delight they receive from it.

Critical Thinking Skills

My thesis is that classical educators are the only ones who have a critical thinking skills program. They are the only ones who have it, but most of them don’t know they have it—at least they don’t know to call it that.
I will give you the classical critical thinking skills program in seven words. Commit it to memory. Here it is: Grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. And you can, if it makes you feel better, as Mulroy points out, replace astronomy and music with algebra and calculus.
In any case, when people ask you, as a classical educator, what you do about critical thinking skills, you can reduce it to three words: The liberal arts.
Forming and Filling Minds
The filling of the mind is the business of the humanities, but the forming of it, the liberal arts, Pycroft maintained, was the chief business of education. “The cultivation of the mind,” he said, “like that of a field, requires that we should first prepare the soil, and then sow the seed.” “You must sharpen the tools,” he says, varying the metaphor, “before you can make any progress in your work.”
If the instructor does not form the mind of his pupils before he starts filling it, said Pycroft, then “the labour of the instructor is like that of the Danaids, in mythological story: doomed to fill leaky vessels.”
 What is the Trivium?
When we talk about language arts in a classical setting, we are concerned with the first three of the liberal arts: the trivium—the traditional set of linguistic mental skills. The trivium, we might say,is the classical language arts program. Grammar, the structure of language; logic, the structure of rational thought; and rhetoric, the art of persuasive expression—these are the traditional linguistic skills.
Now since we are talking here in the context of lower schools, there is not a whole lot we can say about logic. It is a subject that, because of its necessary dependence on abstraction, cannot be profitably attempted before 7th or 8th grade.
Why Latin? 
So what about this problem of grammar being too abstract for students in lower elementary grades? We can help ourselves in thinking about this by properly stating what the problem is. The problem is this: It is not grammar that is too abstract for younger elementary students, but English grammar that is too abstract—or, I should say, grammar taught in English. Grammar itself is universal, and manifests itself in different languages.
English grammar is unduly abstract for anyone, much less younger students, for two reasons: First because of the nature of the English language itself, and secondly because it is our own language.
and later . . . 
foreign language solves some of our grammar problems. An inflected language solves some more. But a regular inflected foreign language—what a tool that would be! And it just so happens that we have one. And as luck would have it, this language not only provides us with a regular, structured grammar, but it happens to have provided our own language with over 60 percent of its academic vocabulary since it is the mother tongue of the culture to which we are all heirs.
It is, of course, Latin.
When to begin Latin? 
Using Latin to teach grammar allows you to begin to teach grammar through Latin to students as young as 3rd or 4th grade. This is what we do at Highlands Latin School. And those schools who work with us are doing it too. Latin is to our language arts program what math is to our math/science program: It is the core subject.
From there he talks about the historical debate that led to the downplaying of Latin in the curriculum because some argued that the exactness and percision of the language would not transfer over into other areas of study.  I love reading about this debate in the early 1900's it is fascinating. 
Results of Studying Latin
Today you can look at the studies that indicate how well students do on the SAT verbal section according the language they studied. These studies consistently show that students who study inflected languages do better than those who study non-inflected languages. In fact, one year the top three languages were Hebrew, Greek, and Latin—all, incidentally, dead languages.
and finally 
The fact is that, as much as we might like to teach our students to read Latin, most of them will never do this. But every child who studies Latin—if it is first taught as a liberal art—will achieve the mental discipline that is the most valuable result of the study of an inflected grammar.
Brander Matthews, one of the great English teachers of the 20th century, once said, “A gentleman should not be expected to know Latin: But he should at least have forgotten it.” A student who has studied Latin will probably forget his Latin. But he won’t forget his grammar.

It is a different way of thinking about education and its purposes and procedures.  I am fascinated and drawn to it's simplicity and yet strength.  It endured in various versions until the last century and I think it is worth considering its arguments and strengths as we think about renewing education in America.  I am glad that we will have this as an option in our city.  

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Tip Time CC Cycle 2, Week 22

The end is near!  It is hard to believe we are almost done with this year.  Our family has enjoyed it.  I do hope that we fill in our "empty Mondays" with nature walks since the weather will be right and we are already used to getting out of the house.  That may be wishful thinking, but we'll see.

History Sentence
It is a little strange when you remember the history sentence happening.  The google pictures are pretty cool and you can get the news reports (Tom Brokaw) on youtube (the first minute is pretty good) this second one is better at explaining what it all means.

I don't have much to add here - I just think that the mnemonic FAN BOYS for the coordinating conjunctions is great.

The commutative law is s big word for something your kids have probably figured out by just playing with numbers.  I would show it clearly with objects (3 beans plus 7 beans now switch 7 beans plus 3 beans).  Then contrast it with subtraction (or division if your kids are familiar with that yet).  I think my son sometimes forgets that order matters in subtraction because he spent so much time in addition where it didn't matter.

I know there are a ton of experiments showing the 3 characteristics of light out there.  Maybe we will actually do one of them.  We are reading Through the Looking Glass right now - which is timely.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Weds. with Words - The Liberal Arts Tradition - Astronomy

Today I am going to sum up the astronomy section of Clark and Jain's book The Liberal Arts Tradition.  I don't claim to totally understand the philosophical argument - but I can at least present it.  Honestly, talking about astronomy makes me sad to live in the city where on a good night you can see about 8 starts.  How can you wonder about the heavens if you can't see them?  Alas.
In 2009 The Economist, a respected British magazine, published an article recounting how our modern culture may owe as much to astronomy as to any other natural science. 
How's that for an introduction!
While optics, mechanics, and music were other middle sciences utilizing mathematics, astronomy was paradigmatic along with music, and these two were therefore canonized as liberal arts.  (maybe I'll do music next week)
In this section of science they develop two thoughts. First, about the impact and study of astronomy itself and secondly, the philosophical debate that rages within science about how to approach and use what is observed and learned in science - nominalism/ instrumentalism versus realism.
Nominalism treats ideas as mere names or place keepers for data.  Nominalist approaches to astronomy or natural science, sometimes called instrumentalism, don't ask what is true, but what system best contains all the data.  
Essentially this
captures the observations in a system but does not consider whether the models are actually the case or not in reality.   
Basically I think this boils down to the fact that they are playing with ideas and numbers and not expecting to find truth.  I am not an expert in this, I am just trying to figure it out.  But, eventually
The best astronomers seemed to have given up their nominalism and had started to believe that their calculations represented real bodies - mathematical realism. 
He explains that Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo believed that they were investigating real things.
The Jesuits charged him [Galileo] with teaching Copernicanism not as hypothesis but as true. . . [and also] for inwardly believing it was true. 
Today the more nominalist strain in science will "claim that science is not interested in producing truth but only in predicting events."  This runs counter to "the Aristotelian definition of science as a demonstrable and true knowledge of causes."
Kepler, Galileo and Newton believed that their calculations represented how the world truly was.  They didn't think that their work was just intellectual accounting.   
The authors then recount how Newton's keystone work, Principia Mathematica, was truly a reflection on Astronomy.
From here on, it seems that astronomy indeed transcended itself.  It had stewarded both the method of mathematical empiricism and the subject matter of the heavens for millennia.  Finally, when astronomy was fused with the realist, creative liberal art of music and reconciled with natural philosophy, it resulted in the birth of modern science.  
The authors derive two key ideas from the study of astronomy.  First, that it is still a subject worth studying in its own right and secondly that the debate between the nominalist and realists continues today and high school students should be aware of its history and ongoing impact.

As I read this section all I could think about was Carry on, Mr. Bowditch.  One of the most striking things he did was tie his complicated mathematical and astronomical ponderings to the needs of the real world at the time - navigation.  I think that his story (especially with his deep love of Newton) could be an accessible entryway into the larger conversation.

Please see what others are reading at Ordo Amoris.  I am very excited to she plans to host a book study of Beauty in the Word!  You should consider joining the conversation.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

DTK - Chap. 4 Right Worship

Desiring the Kingdom Book Club

See what others are saying about this chapter over at Simply Convivial. Mystie is doing a great job helping us to continue on in a book that isn't always what we bargained for!

He starts the next section of chapter 4 talking about degrees.  He argues that people might take the idea of sacramentalism too far in one of two ways.  The first is that they might say that the church is unnecessary because if God is everywhere then we can worship wherever we want.  Well you can, but Jesus is also pretty clear about being in community to remember him specifically.  If you read the Old Testament, you realize that God does have a particular way he wants to be worshiped.  We aren't under those same laws but we still worship the same God who desired that order of worship so that we could better understand who He is and the sacrifice He made.  I think the same could be said going forward, that certain communal acts do help us worship in ways that are most fitting.  

The second approach is to break worship down into something that we do, as only an embodied approach to life, like developing as an athlete.  Here it becomes an act devoid of Spirit and it becomes more like a good luck ritual.  If I do these things then I will grow - with no view to the bigger picture.  This makes me think of the person who shows up on Sunday to get "brownie points" with God.  They figure that as long as they are there they are covered.

I do like his concluding thoughts in this chapter.  He reminds us of this essential issue
The point of worship is not formation; rather, formation is an overflow effect of our encounter with the Redeemer in praise and prayer, adoration and communion. 
Worship is about God and for God. 
I am glad that he circles around this point again because I think in so many ways we make worship about us, our needs, convenience, comfort level, etc.  I keep thinking back to his earlier comment that after all of our head knowledge and thinking about issues people might be surprised that our primary call as Christians is to worship.  From there James outlines many different ways that we can skew worship - as mainly about a "message", a "refueling event", or for "evangelism and outreach".  He contests that
While we might be inclined to think of this as a way to update worship and make it contemporary, my concern is that in the process we lose key aspects of formation and discipleship. 
I expect that the next chapter will talk about this extensively.  On a smaller scale it is similar to when I pray ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication) with my children.  If we don't follow that form we are likely to give thanks and ask for things and maybe confess.  However, with the form we put things in right order and begin by remember who God is "Our Father in Heaven".  The form helps us to remember that it is about Him - not about us.

I am so glad that he also made this point
We also lose a sense that worship is a "work of the people" - that the "work of praise" is something we can only do as a people who are an eschatological foretaste of the coming kingdom of God.  
I think we are so used to my prayer life, my walk, my faith, my favorite praise songs that we forget that He sees us as a people and that he desires and calls us to gather together as His people.  I was struck by this theme as I read N.T. Wright's After you Believe: Why Christian Character Matters.   In it, Wright shows that one of the key differences between Christian virtues and the Roman virtues was that these virtues were to be built and shown in community.  Roman virtues were all about the man (vir).  But Christian character is fundamentally about the "one anothers" in community.  We need to be connected to the body of Christ through our forms of worship and as we physically draw together to worship.

I look forward to his discussion of these forms - I think we might finally get there!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Weekly Resource: 18 Minutes and The Daily Five

Recently a few bloggers I read have talked about working on process and forming good habits daily instead of focusing on setting long term goals. Through a series of links I finally happened upon the book 18 minutes by Peter Bregman.  This easy to read book proposes outlining five major areas of focus for each year and then ensuring that your daily tasks support these five areas.  He suggests broad categories like enjoy family and friends.  From there, you would fit in attending your uncle's birthday party as an activity that fulfills that focus. His book talks about how to choose these focus areas wisely.  The idea is to help you think broadly about the direction you are going but do it without setting SMART goals.

Really, the key to this system is the 18 minutes.  He encourages you to take five minutes in the morning to review your focus areas and put the activities of the day in the right categories.  Then every hour he encourages you to set an alarm and take one minute to reflect.  He suggests these questions:

Have you used this hour in keeping with your goals?  
Have you been the kind of person you want to be?  

Honestly, I would add in the habit of aspiration prayers, something I am just beginning to learn about. Then at the end of the day you take another five minutes to review your day and maybe start a list for the next day. Simple idea but could be a great habit to form.  

How does this relate to the Daily Five?  The Daily Five is meant to help school teachers cover the basics of language arts - regardless of the particular curricula they are using.  Instead of focusing on definite goals - a certain number of pages read or words written - it is more about the process of doing activities daily that support literacy and communication.  The five areas are:

Read to Self
Read to Others
Listen to reading
Word Work 
Work on Writing 

Simple, right.  You probably already do these things. However, sometimes it helps to have categories and a structure to work with.  Now, as with most things, a whole industry has grown up around these ideas.  You can take what you will from that.

If you are focusing on developing reading and communication skills the Daily Five might be a useful way to think about it with your children.  It provides a common vocabulary that can be used across curricula and programs so that you and they are thinking about essential skills. You can ask your kids "What type of word work did you do today?" (typically something spelling related but maybe not).  It can also help you include games, random things that happen and life if your state requires a more structured approach to what you are doing at home.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Weds. with Words: Those who love to learn

I did not get to summarizing the science section of the Liberal Arts Tradition - but I will.  Instead, I read a lecture about the tug of war between the "sciences" or practical education and the "liberal arts" or education aimed at truth, beauty and goodness.  It was delivered by A.E. Housman a Latin Professor in 1892 at University College in London.

After discussing the pitfalls of science (not as practical as one would think) and the liberal arts (not as able to develop beauty and truth as one would hope) he argues that we should acquire learning and knowledge for its own sake - not to fulfill a pre-set agenda.

He argues that we all naturally want to learn.  If that's the case, the natural question is, why does it appear that there are so many who seem to lack an inborn curiosity?  Here is his response:
So it is generally recognized that hunger and thirst cannot be neglected with impunity, that a man ought to eat and drink.  But if the craving for knowledge is denied satisfaction, the result which follows is not so striking to the eye.  The man, worse luck, does not starve to death.  He still perseveres the aspect and motions of living human being; so people think that the hunger and thirst for knowledge can be neglected without impunity.  And yet, though the man does not die altogether, part of him dies, part of him starves to death: as Plato says, he never attains completeness and health, but walks lame to the end of his life and returns imperfect and good for nothing to the world below. 

Later he continues
And let us too disdain to take lower ground in commending knowledge: let us insist that the pursuit of knowledge, like the pursuit of righteousness, is part of man's duty to himself; and remember the Scripture where it is written: "He that refuseth instruction despiseth his own soul." 
After undercutting some lofty thoughts about the value of knowledge - especially its sweetness - he proceeds.

If a certain department of knowledge specially attracts a man, let him study that, and study it because it attracts him; and let him not fabricate excuses for that which requires no excuse, but rest assured that the reason why it most attracts him is that it is best for him.  
He also provides an interesting comparison of Shakespeare and Milton and the role of classical education in their writing.  So in the end, knowledge should be pursued for its own sake - not for practical or even lofty purposes.  I need to remember not to label certain types of knowledge as "lesser than" (like lego building) while exalting other things.  I appreciate Charlotte Mason because she offers the "banquet" and allows students to take what they will.  Housman is addressing college professors, so students will begin to narrow their focus.  From the beginning we should honor our children's interests and encourage them to learn for the sake of learning - even if it does seem a little out of reach.

See what others are reading at Ordo Amoris.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

DTK - Into Section II

Desiring the Kingdom Book Club

We are entering into Part II of James’ Desiring the Kingdom.  I am glad that we might move beyond theory and into practice. I think philosophy is crucial but I am ready to get to some practice.  I think my tone got a little snarky last week - so please forgive me.   Hear what others are saying at Simply Convivial

I don't intend to follow James' outline but instead present some thoughts that came to me in the midst of his argument in this chapter.  

The Word Aloud
Although this is not the point of this section I was struck by the thought that Scriptures and hymns originally “functioned primarily in a liturgical context of worship, not the private context of individual study.”  He further muses, “one could say that in the context of worship, Scripture constitutes a different kind of speech act, and thus is heard/ received in a different mode.”   We are accustomed to having the Word at our disposal – on our phones, a Bible on the table, etc.  It’s hard to imagine that for much of Christian history the Word was not easily available. For many hundreds of years it wasn’t in the language of the common people - it was in Latin.  Even if it were in the language of the common people, as I read about Christian martyrs (like Joan of Arc), they were illiterate.  They couldn’t have read it if they wanted to do so.  The only way they knew the Word was through someone reading and preaching it.   Through hearing it. Now, granted, this did lead to a little bit of heresy and power plays. However, it does put the power of the Word aloud in worship in perspective if that is the ONLY place you can hear it.  God's word is meant to be heard. 

The Sacraments in Community
Later, he explains that “the rhythms and rituals of Christian worship invoke and feed off of our embodiment and traffic in the stuff of the material world: water, bread and wine. . . “  He then goes a little poetic but returns with this thought
And behind and under and in all this is a core conviction, an implicit understanding that God inhabits all this earthly stuff, that we meet God in the material realities of the water and the wine, that God embraces our embodiment, embraces us in our embodiment.
Essentially he’s saying that in this God is affirming the goodness of creation. That these sacraments speak not only of Christ and his sacrifice, but their form ties us to creation as well. 

Outlines for Worship
So we find that the reading of the Word aloud, in a congregation, has a different impact than just private devotionals.   In many traditional services you actually are scheduled to read through the Bible, aloud, over the course of three years.  You don’t just hear the parts that pertain to the sermon topic – you hear all of the Word.  Likewise, partaking of the sacraments in Eucharist also develops a different relationship with God and his world – in a way that words alone cannot.   Do you see how both of these acts are communal in nature?  Much of the liturgy of more traditional churches focuses on the communal nature of God’s church (repenting, singing, praying, etc.).  The whole of worship points to the fact that we are body and Christ is the head.  I think that this speaks to our hearts and meets a deep need in a way that James doesn’t even discuss (yet).   

If you aren’t reading through the whole Bible, just the passages that connects to the sermon theme; how can you expect to have a Biblically literate congregation?   

If you aren’t regularly taking communion; how else are you engaging the body in worship and affirming God's creation?   

If everything in the service - prayer, repentance, song (you don't sing parts EVER anymore and choirs are passe as well) - are silent, random or individual; how do you form a body? 

After reading this chapter and thinking about these "old fashioned" traditions it seems that they might have more formative power than we normally accord to them.  I might be skipping ahead here (I haven't read ahead - yet).  But if people don't hear the Word read aloud, if corporate prayer, repentance and worship are reduced to private concerns and sacraments are removed (or only offered occasionally) you end up with anemic worship.  The forms developed were intended to point kingdom ward as the body of Christ– does the current modern service do that?   It seems that the forms that modern worship has retained are a shadow of what once was.  Are we intentionally stripping the church of its formative power by removing the whole Word of God read aloud, downplaying God ordained sacraments and removing the sense of "corporateness" of the body?  What remains?    

I am still thinking through these implications and would invite your opinion.  

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Weekly Resource - Easy Spanish lessons - SALSA

At a homeschool meeting a few years ago a mom mentioned the PBS series SALSA to me.  They are short videos (15 minutes) all in Spanish to help facilitate learning the language.  We have watched a few of the videos and might start again this summer.  I hadn't thought about it in a while but then another friend asked me about a way to introduce Spanish to her young one's.

The series is fun and useful.  The state of Wyoming adopted it as their program for teaching Spanish in grades K-2.  We are all beneficiaries because they created a great series of lessons for teachers (click on the tab that says Salsa Episodes).  It is aimed at those who have no knowledge of Spanish.  They use pictures, common stories, repetition of phrases, total physical response techniques, games and other activites to encourage children to learn and use vocabulary.  If you are adventerous you could even get a group together and practice Spanish together - watch the video, have the kids discuss the concepts in the film (retell the stories), etc.  So, maybe that would be a fun summer project. Sorry, it gets warm and my mind jumps to summer.

This is a great introduction to Spanish.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Tip Time CC Cycle 2, Week 21

We have enjoyed warmer weather this week.  It does wonder's for EVERYONE's attitude to have the sun out.

Well, I will aim at low hanging fruit here - everyone remembers Schoolhouse Rock's Conjunction Junction song.  It's a fun one.  Once you start looking at Youtube you can find lots of their other videos which might be a fun way to review some of the other things we have done (like multiplication).

So how cold is absolute zero?  Try - 459.67 F degrees.   They are getting very close to it.  It's absolute zero when particles stop moving and there is no heat energy remaining in them.

Creating acronyms is a way to help learn these countries.  This past week I was talking about parentheses in math with my oldest and remembered "Pretty Please My Dear Aunt Sally" as a way to remember order of operations.  It's been a long time but it's still in there. We are also learning the names of spaces and lines on the staff - so FACE and Every Good Boy Does Fine (or Deserves Fudge).  So you can make your own or search for a premade one.  There are 7 countries in Central America (we cover the other two next week).

Guatemala  - Great
Belize         - Big
El Salvador - Elephants
Honduras    - Huddle
Nicaragua   - Near
Costa Rica  - Cool
Panama       - Pools

or whatever your kids can think.

The history sentence this week cracks me up as it mimics some of the 80's style.  Have a great one.