Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Beauty of the Word - Chapter 3

I am summarizing and sometimes commenting on Stratford Caldecott's Beauty in the Word.  Last chapter focused on "Remembering" as the cornerstone of the grammar stage.  This chapter is called "Dialectic - Thinking - Logos - Knowing the Real" is tough philosophically - he talks about history of philosophy, the church view on evolution, what "I am" means, etc.  His thoughts do become more "practical" at the end and are well grounded.

First he makes the point that
The three arts are not "left behind' as one moves up the educational ladder, but they remain foundational, and each of them can color one's whole approach to learning. 

Basically he is arguing for balance between these three areas and understanding them in relationship to each other - not as steps on a ladder.  From there he traces the development of logic in philosophy.  Although some of the history shows a "fight" between remembering and logic he considers this an unnecessary dichotomy - they are both necessary to fully understand our world.

The next point he focuses on is especially important in our current situation
To 'think' is not enough: you have to 'think about'; you have to ponder, rather than just flit from one image or phrase to another.  This is the second of the major concerns of our revised Trivium. We need to educate people to think coherently and independently - to take responsibility for their own thoughts. 

The section goes on to discuss how teachers should provide an orderly environment, guiding students towards topics worth learning and then helping students understand the connections within and between subject areas.

From here he refers largely to Chesterton as one who has truly thought things out.  He supports Chesterton's argument that

But man has no alternative, except between being influenced by though that has been thought out and being influenced by though that has not been though out. 

Obviously, Caldecott is in favor in helping our students follow lines of thought that are well considered.  He agrees again with Chesterton that "clear thinking is one requisite of freedom".  Caldecott also highlights the role that assumptions play in our thinking and that this is one of the difficulties of our current thought system - we have faulty assumptions - often not even understanding what they are or why they might not be complete.  I cannot do this section justice so you should probably read it for yourself.

Next Caldecott begins to pursue the search for truth and here he makes the astute observation that

in fact the scientific method does not even aspire to truth, only to hypothesis, always open (in principle, at least) to revision or replacement by something better.  Part of the process of thinking is to learn how to set all these different types or approaches to truth in the right order, to see how they combine to give a more complete image of reality as a whole - to make it perfectly plain that we need poetry as well as science, imagination as well as reason, empathy as well as mathematics.  

From there he argues that in our modern world we try to detach thought from memory and see it as something separate - which leads to confusion.

He also quickly the tackles to connection between reason and faith and this sums up his thoughts here
Without the assurance of faith that the truth is somewhere 'out there', reason would stop short on the journey, it would give up.  
He references Pope John Paul II's works and then reaches back in time and talks about the difference between the Cartesian "I am" and the 'I am" of the Bible.  This is a fascinating look at how grammar (literally) plays a role in thinking and identity.

Only 'I am,' he says, is 'both verb and noun at the same time.'  And of course 'I am' is the name God gives himself in the context of sending Moses to the sons of Israel.  
Decartes did not begin with memory, with 'Grammar':  he went straight through to Thinking before going through Remembering.  (remember he says 'I think, therefore I am.")

From there he explains some of the issues with Cartesian thinking.  He moves into trying to find foundations for logic and we come to a place where I can regurgitate but I don't fully understand what he is exploring.

Finally, we come to his conclusions on its impact in the classroom
And because thinking is dialogical, the best way to encourage it is by dialogue, debate, conversation.  
Some key points he draws out are that without others our thinking often 'runs in circles',  that expanding our thoughts often requires a community and that development of thinking also "involves the refinement of imagination and feeling".  He sees courtesy and empathy as the two necessary pieces for this thought in community.  From there he returns to Chesterton who says that "thanking is the highest form of thought".

Caldecott proposes that
Through Dialectic, or conversation, conduced in courtesy and thus in gratitude and respect, we ultimately arrive at the summit of human thought and discover that up there it is the same as prayer, or of that kind of prayer that is perfected in the liturgy of the Church. 

He ends with this thought
Liturgy is the consummation of education and the ultimate school of our humanity.  
Which brings us back the Desiring the Kingdom and the role of worship in our lives as formative.  Later this week I will add some of my reflections on this quick overview of his thinking.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Weekly Resource - Options for Elementary Science

In a truly classical sense young students can't "do" science.  They are encouraged to observe nature, name what is around them and enjoy the wonder and awe that comes with it.  So, in some ways the best science "curriculum" might be to keep a pet or grow a garden or do both.  But, if you feel like you need something a little more substantial than that, here are a few resources.

Nature Study 

CM followers and some other classical groups really encourage lots of nature study.  Naming what is around you, drawing it, keeping a notebook of your findings can encourage a love of science that will last a lifetime. Here are a few resources that can get you started with that approach.

Handbook for Nature Studies (or online) - this mega volume by Anna Botsford Commstock is often what people recommend to give you some background information about the animals you will encounter.  This is really background information for the parents so that they can talk about or look up what they are finding.

There is a series of supports for this book that  can help you make it more manageable.  It started with the idea of the challenge to go outdoors for an hour a week and just see what happens.

Here is another more general way to use the book - breaking it down by species group and then focusing on each one.

The Ultimate Guide to Nature Study from another homeschooling mom might provide some encouraging thoughts as well.

Book Series 

One Small Square is a series of books that explores different biomes and provides experiments, observations and ideas about how to explore nature.  Themes include the night sky (okay, not a biome), the seashore, your backyard, etc.  These books can often be found at the library.

Christian Liberty Nature Readers - This series of books provides age appropriate reading material about different aspects of nature.  There are 5 levels that correspond roughly with reading levels for those grades. They are actually based on a series that was written in the early 1900s.

Thorton Burgess (librivox) or Clara Dillingham Pierson (librivox) both write books that explore the habits and lives of animals in a way that is friendly  - especially to early elementary students.  Burgess wrote over 26 books that feature animal characters, the links above are just ones that are free to give you a taste of their style.  Ambleside uses Burgess' Bird book and Animal book in Year 1 and Year 2.

Jim Arnosky books cover a range of nature topics and are accurate and include lovely illustrations.  He actually is a nature illustrator and has books on the topic as well.  Many of his books can be found at the library.  Crinkleroot is a series that introduces children to common birds, fish and other animals - many of them might be out of print but your library might have them.

Resources for Experiments 

Maybe you don't want to pursue nature studies or you feel like you need some experiments to try out around your house.  

Magic School Bus Science Kits - you are probably familiar with the books and maybe the video series (which can be found on netflix) but they do have a series of contained experiments as well.   The Young Scientists Club allows you to order experiments that have everything you need to do to perform them.  They often come up as a discount on homeschoolbuyerscoop.

The Happy Scientist has lots of free videos and experiment ideas that cover the range of science.  There is also a subscription fee (about $20 - unless you get it half price off of homeschoolbuyers coop). that provides more videos and experiments.  If you want your kids to see someone excited about science but may not want to do EVERY experiment at your house - this might be a good option.

Janice VanCleave books are also a good option if you want to find a few experiments on a certain topic with your children.  She covers a whole range and they can often be found at the library or half price book store.  Many more formal curricula use her experiments as part of their program (Classical Conversations, Elemental Science, etc.)

Full Curricula

Maybe you do want something more than just nature study or random experiments on a theme, if that is the case there are more options beyond Apologia.  As with all studies you need to discern your comfort level with their approach to the creation/ big bang issue.  I am giving you resource ideas and you get to discern what might best fit your family.

Elemental Science - this group actually provides 3 different approaches to science education.  The first is more classical in the sense that you use a resource book (normally DK) and then do a lap book to record your findings.  They also have the Sassafras Twins series which uses more living books and has you following the story of these twins as they discover science themes (they are scheduled to create 8 books to cover one semester a piece).  The last group are unit studies - like human body, plants, etc.  They obviously offer lots of choices to meet the approach that best matches your approach.

Noeo Science - This curricula is produced by Logos press which follows a classical approach to education.  They have three areas of study - biology, chemistry and physics and three levels - early elementary, later elementary and middle school.  This provides a whole package which includes that resource books and they use experiments from the Young Scientist Club mentioned above. This seems like a more open and go approach - you can look at their teacher manuals for each subject to get a good idea of what is covered and the resources that they use.

R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey (read, explore, absorb and learn) - These lessons provide a read aloud story written by the authors to introduce the subject, experiments or activities to support learning and then a page to document what you have learned.  Level One has life, earth and space and chemistry.  Level 2 currently only covers biology.

Real Science For Kids -  They actually provide two different approaches to science.  The first is a series of books that looks at a particular discipline and includes a textbook, lab workbook and teacher's manual for the core subjects of chemistry, physics, biology, geology and astronomy.  The second is a series of grade level readers that cover all five of those subjects (in a more spiral method) over the course of one year.  So you can either spend a year studying one subject area or cover all five areas each year going slightly deeper as the child ages.   The FAQ page has lots of answers to questions about sequence, deciding between the two approaches, etc.

Memoria Press - They are another publisher of texts that follow a more classical tradition.  Their science program doesn't start until 3rd grade and each year is dedicated to studying one area - astronomy, insects, birds, and trees.  Each level includes a reader and a workbook (based on the books by Arabella Buckley and Julie McNair Wright in the late 1800s (here is a sample of an original book that they have not used).  So this is living books approach.  In middle school they use the James Tiner (his amazon page) series.  In high school they are beginning to use Novare Science.

The Lab of Mr. Q -  This series of textbooks with experiments covers a year of life science, earth sciencechemistry and physical science.  Each set has a separate student and teacher's manual and you can get the whole life science book for FREE so that you can see if it works for you (you can also get the first chapter of each of the other books for free).   This guide also includes steps towards doing science projects if that is something that is important for you.  He also has a lot of interesting lab experiments you can try.

Intellego Unit Studies - Science based unit studies for a variety of topics that are aimed at early elementary, late elementary and middle school students.  They have special studies as well (baseball, dolphins, etc.)

History of Science Through Literature - This is a survey of science history for late elementary aged students using living books.  Even if you don't use the curriculum as it is designed you might want to take a peek at the books they use to support your more "typical" science studies.  There are experiments associated with this program as well.

Resources for Mom 

If you have a general outline of the topics to cover (like you might with Classical Conversations) but want a little more background so that you can talk about the topics knowledgeably you might want to check out these resources.

Novare Science (I have written more about their middle/ high school program) has a reference book for elementary school teachers to help them better understand the basics of physics, biology and chemistry. They have only published the physics book so far, but it is a great resource.   He also has a book that just discusses a Christian view of science education.

Elemental Science also has an overview of science education for parents as well.  This includes some resources to help with science fair activities.

Honestly, this is just the beginning of available resources. I highly recommend that you type a curriculum name and "review" in google to see what others say about in practice or check out what Cathy Duffy says about it.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

DTK - Chap. 5 - The END

This truly is a meaty chapter so I am glad that Mystie broke it up for us into bite sized chunks.  This last piece looks at offering and sending out with blessing into the world.  He also has a few end notes about the impact of worship.

First, I want to say that God is good all the time.  I was seriously languishing after our last discussion because I am surrounded by many non-denominational church goers who are fervent but not necessarily aware of the richness of the history and liturgical tradition that James is unpacking.  I met up with a friend who told me that this strain of worship and mindfulness is being restored to large non denominational communities.  I hadn't really thought about it but the author of SevenJen Hatmaker, did talk about adopting the hours for a season which is this kind of formative practice.   Apparently there is someone who is creating a morning and evening office that you can listen to in your car on the way to and from church.  Again, not necessarily a focus on community - but at least a move towards creating formative practices.

Back to the chapter.  The discussion about tithing as representing a different approach to economy was interesting to me.  I do agree with James that we often don't understand the radicalness of what God calls us to do with our money but it is something that we have an opportunity to respond to every week.  I do think there are lots of interesting discussions surrounding a Christian community, economy and our approach to money (and not just Dave Ramsey).   This is a part of worship that should and could be further explored.

At the close of the service there is a blessing.  I recently listened to talk 6 from Andrew Kern and he talks about blessing in it - what it truly looks like (hint: read Psalm 1).  I like how James describes it in the context of worship
We are not sent out as orphans, nor are we sent out to prove ourselves.  The blessing speaks of affirmation and conferral  - that we go empowered for this mission, graced recipients of good gifts, filled with the Spirit, our imaginations fueled by the Word to imagine the world otherwise.  
Kern really challenges us as parents, home educators, to consider how we are blessing our children.

James uses the rest of the chapter to challenge us to be cultural laborers in a way that follows Christ.  He doesn't call us to engage in the "culture wars" but to lead through service and as witnesses.  He further discusses other ways that we can engage in developing our liturgical practices - Bible study, community, etc. I do like how he calls us to be a community - in relationship with each other - as a key part of our witness. Our culture is hungry for true community - we were made for it after all.  However, he makes a clear case that
The formative force of such extra- Sunday practices is diminished if they are unhooked from the liturgical practices of the ecclessial community.
There is a continuing movement toward smaller home groups, cell groups, etc. that diminish and overshadow the Sunday worship session.  I like the case that he makes that the Sunday worship should provide the life blood for these further expressions.   Although unintentionally, some of these efforts downplay worship, forgetting that this is the key thing that sets us apart.  Worship the way that he outlines it is just so rich and powerful and I do hope that it is making a come back.

We've reached the end of chapter 5.  Next we turn towards what this means for education.

DTK - Chap. 6 - Liturgical Education

Desiring the Kingdom Book Club

We have made it!  Thank you Mystie for your faithfulness in hosting us.  I am sad that the middle turned so many away because the end is thought provoking.

As I read through this chapter I saw so many strains of educational practice that are found in diverse places.  I also thought of the Catholic University (I worked for one for a while).  Although not calling us to that - per se - he does believe that Christian education should grow out of a body of worshipers - not as a separate entity.  He talks about how Christian education is mostly aiming at the same things as a "normal" education with the right worldview tacked on to it.   To me, talk of worldview, arises from people who don't always have a great grasp on church history and the liturgical practices that he has been discussing.  It is an attempt to intellectualize the faith to make in more acceptable in an academic setting and to boil it down to basics.  As he talked about the impact of worldview on students I was reminded of a lecture I listened to recently where one teenager shared that all of her worldview training made her very judgmental and did not develop her loves - it taught her to analyze everything.  Which ties into what Kern talks about in analogy versus analytical thought.  James questions if worldview is a form of "domesticating the radicality of the gospel".

Although he is discussing Christian universities not tethered to congregations, it made me think about how most successful college student ministries are likewise not connected to a full worshiping body.  They do an incredible job and I know that they advocate for getting involved in the local church. They don't want to be a substitute - but they often do become one.  So kids move from specialized children, youth to young adult ministries and might never have participated in the full body of the church and its worship until after college and then we wonder why they aren't participating?

James really gets at the heart of the question and I appreciate his honesty.

As Hauerwas wryly observes, "to educate our children in such an alternative culture will mean that our children cannot presuppose that the education they receive will make it possible for them to be successful in a world shaped by a quite different culture."  Indeed, that is precisely the risk of an authentic Christian education.  Is that a risk we are willing to take?  . . . It is clear that those who support Christian universities would be quite upset if the qualifier came to mean that the education students received might put them at a disadvantage for being a success in America.

I heard echoes of Andrew Kern's recent series all through this quote.  This is what I struggle with constantly. In fact, Kern discusses how Christian schools, in order to be accredited, pretty much have to give up some of the mission of education.  Thus his strong advocacy for homeschool (I think it's talk 4).


Most of his proposals make me think of what UNIVERSITIES used to be about - with theology as the mother discipline.  Especially his discussion of interactions between students and professors because of proximity - if you read about the college system at ivy league schools - that's basically how it worked.

His curricular ideas are very popular on secular campuses - especially service learning (I did a stint with a state agency supporting service learning and knew all the university coordinators in our city).  I think it's a great idea. Actually, my university does have a hall on campus that deals with homelessness and you join that community and pledge to give some of your time to serving and learning about the homeless community in our city.  Most of the ideas James proposes are things that forward thinking, non Christian, departments are doing.  If you want to learn more about lectio divina you should check out Jenny Rallens lecture - fascinating!
Honestly, this is why I think his comment in chapter 5 that "In short, the kingdom is concerned with the stuff of sociology" is such a key statement.  My husband decided not to pursue that degree when one of his sociology of religion professors helped develop a "ground breaking" thought that showed that religion could be an agent of social change.  DUH!  James is right - prior to the invention of "sociology" as a study - we called it community and most of the rhythms were around the local church.

I believe that his later books will delve further into the topic of taking liturgy into practice - so this is just a foretaste of that.  I think there are many creative ways to bring lessons to life - but in the end it needs to be connected with what the Gospel calls us to do.  I have many friends who started with missionary zeal and in the end just have zeal and have lost the mission.  So, for me, community and daily, intentional practices are more important than interesting curricular changes and challenges.


I am glad that I stayed with the conversation to the end.  It helped me get a better understanding of why the liturgy is so crucial to me and to bringing up my children in the faith.  It has reminded me that the repeated (daily, weekly, annual) actions and words really make a difference in building character and faith - not the mountain top experiences.  Basically, it has called me to be faithful - which is something that I always need to be reminded of.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Beauty in the Word - Chap. 2, Part 2

I am so glad that I am re-reading Beauty in the Word by Stratford Caldecott.  We are in chapter 2 talking about remembering and I constantly need to be reminded what I am doing and why.  I get easily distracted! This chapter is essential to understanding what it means to be in on track with a young child's education.

At the beginning of the chapter he discusses our origin and naming.  This section is dense, as one should expect, so I will just pick up the few threads that I need to remember.


The collective memory of the society to which we belong has the name 'tradition'.  We cannot be truly 'at home' without one.  The word derives from Latin - trans - 'over' and dare 'to give'.  In every society or civilization, a process takes place that can be called a handing over of the stories, the knowledge, the accumulated wisdom of one generation to the next. 

He further discusses why this giving over is a gift and how it impacts the giver and the recipient. One thing that I have enjoyed about Desiring the Kingdom is that it has helped me better understand the richness of what I do have to give over to my children.  Often I have felt that I have a fairly small story to tell to them because I don't know much of our personal history and it isn't too exciting anyway.  But to help my sons grasp the big story - the Christian tradition - that's a story worth being a part of.  Caldecott does address our current dislike of tradition and feels it is a sign of what ails us - not something that shows we have risen above.  What traditions are you handing over?

Caldecott recommends
If the spirit of tradition is to be preserved and revived, liturgy is going to be the key, for this is the school of memory, the place where we recollect ourselves, where we learn how to relate to each other in God. 
I think this is why we all enjoyed chapter 5 of Desiring the Kingdom - it points to how liturgy reveals who we are as God's people.  We all sort of knew it - but this gave us a clearer picture of it.

Against Writing

The next section is a defense of memory and it first addresses the fact that
Also, it is true that a reliance on the technology of writing eventually empties the human soul of much of its content.  
He discusses Plato's dialog about the topic.  He also addresses how the Internet compounds this problem. When we just write it down or can look it up - we don't remember it and it doesn't become a part of us. (Here is a great resource for memory work).  But Caldecott is not interested in just 'rote' memorization (although that plays a role) instead he calls for "an organic assimilation and appropriation".  He is talking about knowing things by heart.  Memory is so key that he claims
Thus by speaking of Memory or Remembering, we are really speaking of the foundations of attention, of integration of the personality and of the road to contemplation.  We are also speaking of 'conscience'.
Without a received tradition, remembering who we are, we get lost.  Often when we think of the verse "Train up a child in the way he should go . . . " we think of discipline or maybe nurturing talents, which both make sense.  But what if part of it is just making sure our children know the story - the story that reminds them they are a child of the most high God who is dearly beloved.   If he knows that this is his true story then he always has a way to return home - whether he's the prodigal son or the older brother.  Tell them the story, find others to tell them the story; bring them up in it so that they will not depart from it.  If they know the story they will know the way to go.

Song and Memory

Caldecott begins to talk about the story and poetry of Tolkein and the richness of poetic knowledge.  He asserts
Here prose is subordinate to poetry, and poetry to song.  
In my education I didn't get much song (did I tell you I wrote essays instead of competing in the 6th grade choir competition) or poetry.  I am an essayist - I still remember my first in class essay in fourth grade.  Although our culture touts the essay, all of my recent readings are showing the limitations of this education. It's not the pinnacle, it is the base of thought.  I was duped.  Here, Caldecott makes me think of Kern as he explains
We unveil the meaning of the world to ourselves by comparing one thing with another,  by getting the 'measure' (logos) of it, by seeing one thing as 'like' or 'unlike' another and so by learning to dwell in the mysterious space that is formed between them.   
I think that is a pretty good definition of what Kern is discussing when he talks about "analogic" versus "analytic' thinking.  The analogic thinker is telling the story, seeing things as wholes and comparing.  The analytic thinker is tearing things apart and seeing the pieces.  Which is more inviting?  Which do your kids do naturally?

I like Caldecott's reflection on music
Music is the wordless language on which poetry - the purest and most concentrated form of speech - is built. 
I have A LOT to learn and I am so glad that I get to do it with the most important people in the world to me. I am glad that I am finding my tradition and the stories, poetry and music that go with it.  I pray that by repeating things, creating a liturgy of life, that my kids will know that these stories and God's ways are their true home and grow up in it.  I need to know that too.

Last week we took a break and my oldest built with legos and listened to Edith Nesbit stories from librivox. After listening to Caldecott - that may not be a break - that may be the best way to nurture his soul.
The first lesson of the 'Trivium' is therefore the vital importance of crafts, drama and dance, poetry and storytelling, as a foundation for independent critical thought.  Through doing and making, through poesis, the house of the soul is built.  

Sunday, April 20, 2014

He is Risen!

The Lord is Risen indeed!

I hope that you all have enjoyed holy week with your family and faith community.  I wish I could say that we were faithfully observing around here but mostly we were feeling yucky.  I also got caught up in home decoration - so we have new pillow covers, window coverings and I even tried furniture painting!  It feels like spring with "new" things in our home.  I also participated in my first garage sale and in the process found a bunch a stuff I had forgotten I had.  I am becoming more of the type to use the good china.  Actually I have 3 sets of "china" coming to me - not one was given to me for my wedding though - they were all inherited. They aren't even in  my house - I have no idea where I would put them!  So not literally, but figuratively.

Basically, I am totally blessed by inheriting things from so many people that I have not really found my own place, voice and way.  So, that's what I have been dealing with these past few weeks.  In the light of Christ what do I do with these blessings?  What is mine to steward in my family and what do I need to pass along to others?  What does simplicity look like and am I seeking that with the right heart?  

So, I am back after a brief blogging hiatus.  I missed DTK last week, but I did finish the chapter and will post about it soon.

I hope that today you remember what it means to be caught between the greatest story ever told and the one that is to come.  That as you live in that tension you lean into his love and vision for you, your family and your community.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

DTK - Ch. 5 - The heart

Desiring the Kingdom Book Club

I think we are now at the heart of a more traditional, liturgical worship service.  This is the part that I really longed for in worship.  I will take a step back to make a few comments on baptism - since somehow I missed it last week.  See what others are thinking over at Simply Convivial.  


I really don't want to get into the different thoughts about baptism.  I've been a part of churches from all sides.  Honestly, this is something that we currently don't totally agree with in our worshiping community. Instead, I want to discuss his thoughts about how baptism develops a new "first family".  I have been blessed to be a member of a few churches where this was true.  I was brought up in a church that had this feel - even though not everyone participated in the family aspect of our community.

His point about "if the church is our first family, then our homes should be defined by it, and our doors ought to be open to the stranger, the sick and the poor" struck me.  I think I've mentioned before that our church is preparing to move downtown and our pastoral team has been trying to prep us for what this might mean as a congregation.  I am part of the prep team and excited by the move, but I know that it will be a test to see if we truly are willing to open our doors to the "disruptive friendships" that community brings.  This is one reason I choose to homeschool because it allows me to draw my boys into community in ways that cannot happen in school.  I think you can build community around attending a school - I have one friend who has done that incredibly well.  It's not what I am called to though.  I want my children to see community as something that isn't foisted upon you (25 kids and one teacher - one whole year), but as something that you have to choose to engage in, work on nurturing and deal with the good and the bad.  It's across ages, interests, races, languages, and so forth.  I want them to experience true community in church - like no where else.


Just one quick thought about prayer.  I miss the "prayers of the people" that we used in the Book of Common Prayer.  It wasn't very personal and yes, it could get rote, but every week we prayed for the sick, dying, lonely, other congregations, local and world leaders, etc.  It taught us the whole range of supplication. Maybe I should dig that one out and do it with my kids to help them know.  I do like the more "sincere" weekly prayer for our church and community - and over the course of a few week we probably cover all of these topics,  But, I think there is a role for both.


In our congregation we mix up what type of affirmation of faith we do - so it's not always the Apostle's Creed - but this week it was.  My younger two weren't 100% so they stayed home - but when my 7 yo was able to recite pretty much the whole thing it made me smile.  Honestly, at this stage he doesn't know very much about what other people believe, but he has something that he believes in.  This is why I don't understand parents who say that their kids should choose what they believe.  Really, instead of passing on the wisdom of generations and what you believe to be truth - you are going to leave it up to an 8 yo.  I guess they are passing it on - they believe in nothing or free choice.  I am glad that I have the opportunity to share with my children what we believe, why we believe and  how that should make us different.

I hope the day will come when all my boys will question and test out their faith - and learn that God is big enough to find, forgive, reveal and heal.  However, I do think they need a firm foundation so that they have something to guide their questions.

Scripture Reading 
Because we are story telling animals, imbibing the story of Scripture is the primary way that our desire gets aimed at the kingdom. 
One of my long time favorite books is The Call of Stories: Teaching and the Moral Imagination by Robert Coles.  Basically, Coles is a medical doctor who spent most of his life reading good literature and collecting stories from all types of people (he won a Pulitzer Prize for it).  His connections were pretty incredible (just look at the biographies that he wrote - many of them he knew).  My favorite story is about a class he teaches to Harvard Med students on literature - especially using poetry - to help them develop a deeper sense of story and maybe a better bed side manner.  I guess, I have always loved this subject. I first read this book in college - I found it (or maybe it found me) - it wasn't assigned to me. Coles' actual faith is a little bit of a mystery - but he shows what a true love of story looks like.

Back on track here after a jaunt down memory lane.

To me, this quote speaks directly to what Charlotte Mason says about Bible reading - read the Bible - aloud. Allow the children to hear it and trust that God will speak to them (and you) - pray for illumination as James discusses. Honestly, this is struggle because there are so many "good" things out there that look like they can promise to help our kids get "there".  However, teaching them to read the Bible in community is one of the best things that we can do.  Starting with our family community.  Jame also highlight that this is a LONG process - it's not about getting through the book and answering questions.  It is about letting these stories sink into and form our hearts.  That takes time - years - not weeks.  We all know this for ourselves - I need to remember this for my children though!


I thought his ending point that the practice of reconciliation is tethered to communion was very interesting.  It calls us to be right with God but also right with one another as we stand before Him and all receive His gifts.  I like his thought of it being "to go" as well - in the sense that this is not the final celebration - this is simply a peek at the kingdom celebration in an age to come.

My final thought is sadness though.  So many churches no longer incorporate any of these practices on a regular basis.  Scripture read aloud - only the topical passage chosen.  Prayer - silent, maybe the preacher - but nothing that teaches the whole breadth of supplication.  Baptism - I think we've touched on that and if we aren't a community marked by Him - then what are we?  Eucharist.  That's the saddest part.  Hearing and participating in the story of our Lord's life, community, sacrifice, death and resurrection - it will shape you.

The tide is overwhelming - tell the story OVER and OVER and OVER again in words and deeds!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Beauty in the Word: Chap. 2, Part 1 - Power of Names

Although the unofficial study of Beauty in the Word has been put on hold at Ordo- Amoris, I still want to spend time reflecting and connecting this work with others.  Although I am not as seasoned nor witty, I have found that blogging through books helps me to think more clearly about them and provides an easy record to return to about thoughts and links that came up through them.  

To the book.

Caldecott calls the first stage - remembering - as opposed to the more traditional grammar.  The first part of this chapter is a look at the role of remembering and naming as found in Genesis.  As he says
Memory then, is the mother both of language and of civilization.  This is what gives us our link between Remembering and language.  

After watching the tour of Wes Calihan's library, I decided to check out his new series of studies for high school students.  In that series he references a C.S. Lewis speech.  In that speech, Lewis discusses naming historical eras and how he believes that he was living through a truly watershed moment in history - in part because an old way of thinking was passing away with the coming of machines.  It is a short and interesting read and it indirectly speaks to how language impacts our thinking.  Caldecott made me think about this quote from Lewis

In the individual life, as the psychologists have taught us, it is not the remembered but the
forgotten past that enslaves us. I think the same is true of society. To study the past does indeed liberate us from the present, from the idols of our own market-place. But I think it liberates us from the past too. I think no class of men are less enslaved to the past than historians. The unhistorical are usually, without knowing it, enslaved to a fairly recent past.
Over Christmas I got into a debate with a friend who teaches middle school social studies.  She mentioned that most of the world really focuses more on geography than history as the basis of their studies (if you follow Montessori that is true - which is one of my personal difficulties with her program).  In a public school you can't really teach history well (any longer) because it requires you to put value on the memory of something.  If someone is a hero than obviously another person is not - and we can no longer make those distinctions as a society.  Thus goes civilization.

Enough of the tangent. From general reflections about language, Caldecott begins to talk about naming in particular.  Some of what he says reminds me of Andrew Kern's lecture A Contemplation of Creation which talks about what naming truly is and how it connects to the fundamental elements of an education.

Caldecott brings out an aspect I had not heard before
In Greek, the word nomos contains the meanings of both 'name' and 'law.'  It may be that what Adam is doing by naming the other creatures is simply ruling, as he was intended to do: ruling not for his own selfish aggrandizement, but in accordance with the reality of things and with the wisdom of God. 
Basically, naming well seems to be right ordering and ruling.  So teaching our kids to name rightly is giving them the ability to steward well.  Caldecott also ties naming into being a good observer of the world around us. Drawing attention to the details and helping them know their world.  (CM quotes are in my head here as well).

Are words that powerful?  Is naming is ruling?  

Caldecott also shows the difference between naming as ruling and how naming helps us come to know ourselves in community.
According to the Genesis account, the move from language as naming to language as interpersonal communication is marked by a cry of joy addressed to God: "This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh, she shall be called Woman [ishshah], becuase she was taken out of man [ish]" (Gen. 2:23)  . . . In naming her, and therefore himself (ish), he also becomes aware of the necessity to govern himself.  
Caldecott points out that only God knows our true name - the one that describes our nature as he made us that He will give us in the end.  So, in some ways, without our true name we can't fully know ourselves - but through relationships with others and with God we come to know ourselves better.  In older traditions, he points out that naming was tied to mission.  I would also say for many it is tied to history and remembering as we name children after grandparents, etc.  It is a powerful thing to name.

Finally, Caldecott talks about the one who cannot be named - God.  He is being as the name "I am" demonstrates.  So powerful!  His many names help to show aspects of who he is, but no name is sufficient nor should it be, because naming properly is ruling and we are not to rule God.

Unfortunately, I am concerned that some might see this idea of naming = ruling to mean that we should try to cram as many facts into small children as possible so that they know more.  That is not Caldecott's position - AT ALL.
All of this suggests that the earliest stage of education is not simply the learning of words, of names, of vocabulary, but the learning of how to name.  This is the art that the poet re-learns, and so it can best be taught by teaching the power of poetry, and of poesis, in general - both by learning and by doing (though we will come back to poetry under the heading of Rhetoric later).
Everywhere I go people are talking about poetry.  I learned to dissect poetry well in high school but I never learned to love it.  I am trying to go back and re-learn how to enjoy the images and ways of expression poets have.  This is also why Wright's book on the Psalms - speaking about how they are truly God's book of song and poems, is so crucial.

I do believe that there are times for jingles and songs - but not if they displace poetry and literature.

So naming truly is a fundamental piece of your child's education. This is often overlooked as people rush into arts and crafts and other projects - but just giving them vocabulary and time to play with words is essential.

Weekly Resource - Old Western Culture

A few months ago when I heard Andrew Kern speak he mentioned Wes Callihan.  He was surprised that not many of us knew him well.  I think that is about to change.  He has put together an in depth study of The Greeks, The Romans, Christendom and Early Moderns called Old Western Culture meant to take a high school student through each of these eras as they read original texts.  The Greeks is the only year currently available as a full set of DVDs, workbook and texts.  They have formatted many older texts into kindle editions to make it easier for students discussing the course.  Each year is further broken into four sections (the first is The Epics) and the website clearly indicates which texts are studied in each section.

Honestly, I plan to use this for self study.  I think my dreams about covering the Great Books series that I bought might be a little too difficult (plus I misplaced book one).  Callihan also points out a huge gap in the Great Books series and that's a gap that needs to be filled for me.  The website is packed with information. You must go to the resource page for each of the sections and check out the guide to the art and other resources there.  It truly is an amazing body of work.

I hope to find a way to use some of the ideas discussed in Jenny Rallens look at studying literature in my own approach to going through this series.  Her discussion of the type of "worksheets" or questions discussed in class was telling.  I want to move more towards helping myself and my children find the themes that are common across authors and discuss how different people, eras and philosophies address these issues. Obviously, we aren't there yet, but maybe if I start for myself it will help shape me so that I am more prepared when we get there.

I highly recommend taking some time to look over this site even if your kids are no where near high school.  It will help you learn a little bit more and maybe provide you with some direction.  I would love someone to compare it to the King's Meadow Study Center curricula.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Weds. with Words: The Case for the Psalms

The Case for the Psalms is one of N.T. Wright's newer books.  It screamed out to me from the bookshelf at the library.  After thinking more about liturgy through Desiring the Kingdom I am struck, again, at how little knowledge I have about the Psalms and how crucial they seemed to generations before ours.  So far, Wright is making a great case.

I knew it was the right book when this quote tied into James' comments about singing in exile 
It seems wisest to think of the Psalms, in their present form, being collected and shaped in the time of the exile in Babylon (beginning in the sixth century BC), when paradoxically the people who found it unthinkable to sing the Lord's song in a strange land may have found that actually singing those songs (and writing some new ones) was one of the few things that kept them sane and gave them hope. 
After covering a brief history of the use of the Psalms in Jewish tradition and the church he makes this striking point
What Jesus believed and understood about his own identity and vocation, and what Paul came to believe and understand about Jesus's unique achievement, they believed and understood within a psalm-shaped world.  That same shaping, remarkably, is open to us today.  That is the burden of my song. 
He then talks more about philosophical backgrounds and translates them into worldviews.  He discusses how Epicureanism is something old made new in our current age; meanwhile, Christianity offers a "creational and covenantal monotheism" that stands in opposition but is a story that gets muddled in modern Christianity.
The Psalms, I want to suggest here, are songs and poems that help us not just to understand this most ancient and relevant worldview but actually to inhabit and celebrate it - this worldview in which, contrary to most modern assumptions, God's time and ours overlap and intersect, God's space and ours overlap and interlock, and even (this is the really startling one, of course) the sheer material world of God's creation is infused, suffused and flooded with God's own life and love and glory.  
The rest of the book is developed along the lines of time, space and the material world.  His overview of time was interesting. 
First, "time."  All music and all poetry regularly have the capacity to transcend ordinary time. They call to the depths of memory and imagination, bringing the past forward into the present (memory) and envisaging the future as well (imagination).  
I am suggesting that the entire worldview that the Psalms are inculcating was to do with that intersection of our time, space and matter with God's, which Christians believe happened uniquely and dramatically in Jesus. 
The Psalter forms the great epic poem of the creator and covenant God who will at the last visit and redeem his people and, with them, his whole creation.  
He then talks about how we are also His "workmanship" his poema.  And ends the introductory chapters with this. 
At both levels, this gift functions by transforming the imagination.  It isn't so much that the world doesn't believe in God.  Most people simply can't imagine what it might be like to live in God's world, in his time, in his space, and in his matter.  This book is aimed at helping God's people to imagine God's larger, richer world as they pray the Psalms.  
Honestly, it is hard to capture the depth of what he is calling us to in these short quotes -but hopefully it gives you a taste.  The rest of the book goes through different Psalms and points out what they teach us about time, space and matter.  It is not a heady read nor is it long.  I will find a way to spend more time in the Psalms. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

DTK - Chap. 5 - Law, Confession and Absolution

See what others are saying about chapter 5 over at Simply Convivial.

This section of Desiring the Kingdom gets at the heart of why I wanted to return to a liturgical church.  We actually used the Book of Common Prayer's confession prayer as our "memory" work last semester - I needed to remember it!  I think that James does a good job of showing why these parts of the liturgy aren't always included in more "loose" liturgies (for lack of a better term).  They go against the cultural grain and call us to submit and repent.  But, then you also are reminded that you are forgiven, loved and redeemed. There is an answer to your questions and it is Jesus.

The Law

Smith talks about the Law as the part of the service that reminds us of "God's Will for Our Lives" and it received in one of two ways

In traditions that emphasize the announcemnet of the law as that which convicts us of our own sinfulness and need for confession, the reading of the law precedes and induces confession and assurance.  In other traditions, the law is seen as God's invitation to live a life of obedience out of gratitude; that is, God's law is not a stern restriction of our will but an invitation to find peace, and rest in what Augustine would call the "right ordering" of our will.  
As we have been talking about at church, the Ten Commandments are given to help a long time enslaved people know how to act now that they are free.  It is to teach them how to be a people set apart for him. James puts it this way
It is an invitation to find the good life by welcoming the boundaries of law that guide us into the grooves that constitute the grain of the universe and are conducive to flourishing. 
This ties in with Beauty in the Word where Caldecott reminds us that
Such rules (manners, courtesy, discipline) are not there primarily for the sake of social order, tradition or convention; they exist for the sake of the order of the soul, its spiritual development and happiness. 
 Yes these laws are for our own good.  James highlights that the law also "signals that our good is not something that we determine or choose for ourselves."  He rightly claims that
Such a conception of autonomous freedom of choice - freedom to construct our own ends and to invent our own visions of the good life - chafes against the very notion of a law outside ourselves.  The announcement of "the law" is a scandal to those who are primarily formed by modern secular liturgies. 
Unfortunately, I think it is also a scandal in some churches as well.

Confession and Pardon 

James shows us three areas that confession should cover, our inability to rightly bear God's image, to develop and steward our culture and corruption of nature is a result of our sin.  I think this is a pretty full view of what we are confessing.  It is also done in community which points to the fact that as the whole body of Christ we fall short - not just as individuals.

The point that he makes that is so key is that ONLY IN CHRIST - in church - is a right answer to these failures found.  We all know we fail.  James correctly identifies two ways our culture typically responds, either by encouraging positive thinking or by pointing out failures and providing solutions (mostly self help or "buy this").  Truly, it is only in Christ that pardon is found.

As Christians we look forward to the pardon, but if you do not have faith in Christ you can only see condemnation when these issues are addressed.  In one of our Bible studies we talked about an older man who talked about repentance as his "old friend" and that is the type of idea that James is encouraging.  We should see repentance as a way to enter back into relationship because of what Jesus has done - to get into right relationship with all of these disordered things.

I am getting a much bigger view of what conviction and confession have to do with right ordering.  I am glad to be part of a community that does it weekly and am trying to find ways to meaningfully incorporate it daily.

Beauty in the Word: Chapter 1

This is part of the continuing informal look at Beauty in the Word by Stratford Caldecott with Cindy at Ordo-Amoris.

I have read this book before and, as with all good books, a second reading provides totally different thoughts and insights.  I won't attempt to cover all the territory he does.  I'll just say that I have spent a lot of time looking into educational philosophy and I think he does a good job of putting these different approaches into a nutshell.  I am going to pull just a few quotes that really struck me as I try to homeschool my kids - and convict me about my own attempts at education.

To be pure is to be simple, in the sense of undivided.  For every sin sets part of me against the rest.  Impurity involves a loss of integrity, of integration; it is a dissonance, a crack in the mirror of the soul.  
Equating purity with simplicity and focus opens up a whole new realm of sin in my life. It is one that I have been wrestling with recently - but it was unnamed - which made it even harder to "pin down".   I am often divided in my attention - in my thoughts, conversations, readings, organization systems, etc.  I recently had a friend join me in an effort to de-stuff my house of all the things that I really don't need.  She was shocked at how many "organization" type things I have - that I don't need - because it holds stuff that I just need to get rid of!  My physical surroundings are reflecting my inner state and it has really been brought to a head these past few weeks.

I live up to my name - Melissa, honey bee - so I do collect ideas and thoughts, stuff and even friends. However, if it isn't submitted to him then I begin to get very chaotic, lost and frustrated.  Everyone around me feels it as well.   I do think that there are areas where I need to do less or get rid of things that aren't mine to carry.  But much of it is reminding myself who my audience is - am I focusing on what God is calling me to do or am I listening to all of the other voices around me?  It is when I start dividing myself in an effort to appease others that my purity of heart is lost - that life gets "unsimple" and sin creeps in.

As I enter into planning for next year this purity of heart and purpose needs to guide my thinking.

She (Simone Weil) almost goes so far as to say that the subject studied and its contents are irrelevant; the important thing, the real goal of study, is the 'development of attention.'  Why? Because prayer consists of attention, and all worldly study is really a stretching of the soul towards prayer.  
I read the essay and she does come close to saying that - but not quite.  In her own words
So it comes about that, paradoxical as it may seem, a Latin prose or a geometry problem,
even though they are done wrong, may be of great service one day, provided we devote the right kind of effort to them. Should the occasion arise, they can one day make us better able to give someone in affliction exactly the help required to save him, at the supreme moment of his need. 
Basically, she is reminding us that the mastering the content is not the only lesson learned in our studies. Failure teaches as much as success - and extended attention - regardless of outcome, has merit.   In fact these things are "subordinate to the orienting of the soul to God, implicit in the act of attention." 

Are my children able to pay attention to things that I don't consider "academic" but do show that they can focus (LEGOS anyone)?   Can I trust that this is developing their ability to pay attention?  Do I give them time in their schedule to really pay attention to things or do I keep them moving at a steady clip?  

This actually gets to a key difference between Montessori and CM.  Montessori maintains that kids will get absorbed in their learning and pay attention for extended periods of time once they are "normalized".  CM, encourages short lessons so that you don't lose a child's interest, gradually lengthening their focus time.  I think what Montessori observes is more along  the lines of what what Csiksezentmihalyi calls "flow". 

The teacher must therefore be the one who submits first.  He must submit to God and to the objective truth he hopes to teach.  It is only in the name of that prior obedience, and the limitations it implies, that the teacher has a right to demand obedience of the student.  It follows from this also that genuine authority must grow in proportion to humility. 
So, it is about my submission prior to my child's obedience and submission.  This goes back to purity of heart and attention.  Am I submitting to the task that He has given me or making up my own projects, interests and diversions?  Am I under his authority or letting someone else hold more sway?   This is the only way, especially in the long run, to help my sons understand proper authority and obedience.  The Godly use of authority should lead to humility - but does it?  Am I trying to Lord my authority over my children or am I demonstrating what humble submission looks like?   

To make the content of the curriculum relevant to the everyday life of the pupil, it is essential not to shrink the content to match the pupil's present experience, but to expand the life of the pupil to match the proposed curriculum. 
This reminds me of the feast metaphor that CM uses often.   So, in the first chapter we see three key ideas - purity, attention and authority - that could easily guide our schooling.  That's not even the point of this chapter!