Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What is Mama Squirrel reading?

(besides school books)

Come Walk with Me: A Woman's Personal Guide to Knowing God and Mentoring Others, by Carole Mayhall--I bought this from a Choice Books rack in a store at the airport. It covers a lot of good basics on the Christian life--things you thought you did know but maybe needed spelled out--or pounded in a bit harder. This is something that I thought might work for our adult Sunday School class, especially if we decide to do a separate women's study for awhile, especially because we have women of very different ages in the class--some mentors, some mentees, and some in the middle.

At Home in Mitford (re-read)

The Great Code: The Bible and Literature, by Northrop Frye. (partly re-read--I know I never quite finished this one before, so I'm starting it again)

What's for dinner?

Ten Napkins Sticky Chicken, with fresh parsley
Baked pepper squash (acorn squash)
Spaghetti Squares (cooked spaghetti mixed with eggs and a bit of sour cream and pepper, baked until set)
Reheated potatoes for people who don't like too many eggs
Applesauce

Peach Crisp
Grapes

Double dose of CM Blog Carnival

This week's Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival is up at The Holistic Homeschooler.

And I didn't link to the last one, two weeks ago, so here it is at SeeJamieBlog.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Don't talk over the music

During a recent conversation about Charlotte Mason and education, someone described a class they had seen where classical music was played, but where the teacher continued to talk, describe, and generally interrupt so that nobody could hear or pay attention to the music.

Ann Voskamp has often talked about silences, listening. Most of us now do not come from a culture of nurturing silence or of careful, deliberate listening. Silence is not natural or comfortable for most of us, any more than total darkness is natural or comfortable for those of us who live in cities and always, even in the middle of the night, have some light around us somewhere.

But that doesn't mean silence is bad; we just have to work harder at listening. And at letting others learn to listen. And look, too.

Do our lives and our children's lives include enough of these? Looking at pictures, without interruption. Listening to music. Listening to beautiful words, without too much explanation. Looking at and listening to large and small things outdoors, without chatter about other concerns. Looking at darkness (and at whatever stars appear while we look). Listening to others' prayers.

Listening to silence.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

That's Mrs Beesly, the writer, not Mrs. Beasley, the doll

"Our dream is that when a child leaves our school, she will possess a bookshelf of all the living books she has read and pondered through her years at Red Mountain Community School. I imagine Heroes of Asgard and Mrs. Beesly’s Stories from the History of Rome holding an equally endearing spot as Swiss Family Robinson or Little House in the Big Woods. Owning books in a variety of genres in the areas of knowledge of God, knowledge of Man and knowledge of the Universe speaks subliminally to our appetites for all kinds of knowing."
Enjoy the rest of Melanie Walker's post at the Childlight USA blog.

Saturday Frugal Stuff

In honour of the two Katie John books, one Victorian photo album, one nice binder, and one copy of Our Friend the Atom that I picked up at today's rummage sales, here are some more frugal links from around the blogworld. The first one showed up via Weekend Links on Frugal Hacks, the rest I scrounged myself.

If You Can't Live on $40,000 Per Year, It's Your Own Fault, at Len Penzo dot Com

Frugal Confessions: We've Never Budgeted Before, at Free 2 Be Frugal

Part Three of Brenda's series: Re-do, re-use, re-purpose...re-sist

And finally...last Thursday's Terrific Thrifty Thursday at My Passions for Fashions. Go, Ponytails.

Friday, September 24, 2010

What's for supper? (for those who feel like eating)

Breaded chicken wings (from a frozen package)
Baked butternut squash (sliced thin and baked in a casserole)
A bit of leftover Beany's Beans
Gayle's Peasant Bread

Peaches
Last night's cookies

Oh, look at this--some lovely cream of wheat

From the archives (2006): The Thing That Lives In Your Brain

We realise that there is an act of knowing to be performed; that no one can know without this act, that it must be self-performed, that it is as agreeable and natural to the average child or man as singing is to the song thrush, that "to know" is indeed a natural function. Yet we hear of the incuria which prevails in most schools, while there before us are the young consumed with the desire to know, can we but find out what they want to know and how they require to be taught.--Charlotte Mason
We recently watched an episode from this past season's Dr. Who. In the classic sci fi tradition (as in, didn't we just see another episode like this about sucking up peoples' brains, and hasn't just about every sci fi show ever made plus The Exorcist used this idea?), the episode features an entity living in a little girl's head, using her brain (so that she sometimes talks in a REALLY WEIRD VOICE), and sucking up other human beings for its own purposes.

This particular entity inside the little girl's brain happens to be sustained on love and companionship--LOTS of companionship (in fact, in its natural state it has millions or billions of siblings). The problem is that it's inhaling companionship in the form of people, at an ever-increasing rate (by the end of the show, it has sucked up an entire Olympic stadium full of spectators and has plans for the rest of the world). Of course in the end (SPOILER), it finds its proper companions and joins them inside a little egg-sized spaceship, leaving the little girl free of the REALLY WEIRD VOICE.

There is a point to telling you about this (and it's not meant as an advertisement for the show). We each have such an entity inside our physical brains (or somewhere in there): it's our mind, and it's sustained on knowledge. In its healthy state, it desires, craves knowledge; other things cannot properly be substituted. Knowledge, not information, and there's a difference: information is short term, spit back out again or forgotten, made up of facts without "informing ideas." Knowledge is long-term, swallowed, digested, processed, used. It's like when you say in French "Je connais," which is different from "Je sais." They both mean "I know," but they are different kinds of knowing. "Je sais" is used for a fact, like "I know it's raining out," but "Je connais" is used in "I know you."

If the food is available, the entity will suck it up in whatever quantities are available (even Olympic-sized). It will do whatever it can to find its proper food AND YOU CAN'T STOP IT. BWA HA HA HA.

Well, you can. Unfortunately.

There is a cure for knowledge-hunger. Just like vinegar smashed up the Slitheens (careful, that review has some language), if you can get hold of some Incuria it's quite easy to stop the knowledge-hungry mind.
I can touch here on no more than two potent means of creating incuria in a class. One is the talky-talky of the teacher. We all know how we are bored by the person in private life who explains and expounds. What reason have we to suppose that children are not equally bored? They try to tell us that they are by wandering eyes, inanimate features, fidgetting hands and feet, by every means at their disposal; and the kindly souls among us think that they want to play or to be out of doors. But they have no use for play except at proper intervals. What they want is knowledge conveyed in literary form and the talk of the facile teacher leaves them cold. Another soothing potion is little suspected of producing mental lethargy. We pride ourselves upon going over and over the same ground 'until the children know it'; the monotony is deadly.--Charlotte Mason
Incuria is related to the idea "not curious" and it's properly translated "carelessness," but in this sense, it means a lack of appetite for knowledge. Not caring about it. Someone who's incurious is apathetic, unobservant, careless. ("What would you like to eat? I don’t care. Some lovely cream of wheat? I don’t care. Don’t sit backwards on your chair. I don’t care. Or pour syrup on your hair. I don’t care.")

Where do you get enough Incuria to stop the appetite for knowledge? You can start by offering lots of TV and computer time; provide lots of dull school lectures; and most of all, spread the idea that knowledge is Dull and Irrelevant and that anything contained in a book of over 100 pages isn't worth the trouble. You can make the entity go away or at least not bother you much.

But please don't.
But what if all were for all, if the great hope of Comenius––"All knowledge for all men"––were in process of taking shape? This is what we have established in many thousands of cases, even in those of dull and backward children....we are so made that only those ideas and arguments which we go over are we able to retain. Desultory reading or hearing is entertaining and refreshing, but is only educative here and there as our attention is strongly arrested. Further, we not only retain but realise, understand, what we thus go over. Each incident stands out, every phrase acquires new force, each link in the argument is riveted, in fact we have performed THE ACT OF KNOWING, and that which we have read, or heard, becomes a part of ourselves, it is assimilated after the due rejection of waste matter. Like those famous men of old we have found out "knowledge meet for the people" and to our surprise it is the best knowledge conveyed in the best form that they demand. Is it possible that hitherto we have all been like those other teachers of the past who were chidden because they had taken away the key of knowledge, not entering in themselves and hindering those who would enter in?--Charlotte Mason
Photo from the Dr. Who episode "Fear Her"

Fleeing the flu

Some of the Squirrels are still fighting a virus--the achy shaky kind. So far Mama Squirrel has not succumbed. If you come knocking and we haven't posted for a couple of days, that will be why.

Timing is everything, right? Not like there's a good time to get flu...but last week, for example, would have been Very Very bad.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Books and writing, around the blogworld

Lizzie weighs in on a literature-based education at A Dusty Frame.

If you haven't already heard, Melissa has an exciting announcement about the foreward she was asked to write for a new edition of Carney’s House Party/Winona’s Pony Cart .

And if you haven't also heard, Ann Voskamp's book One Thousand Gifts will be available soon.

Katie posts about Liberty and Constraint in Writing.

The Deputy Headmistress writes about How Reading Alters Your Mind.

And she should know.

Favourite Fall Supper

Sausage Pasta
Baked Sweet Potatoes
Carrot sticks, crackers

Snickerdoodle Blondies
Pears

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Yes, I'm here...and some CM thoughts

We have simply been busy with the daily round at the Treehouse, besides taking care of a couple of Squirrels who haven't been feeling well this week. Mama Squirrel's online time has also been taken up with working through last week's emails and working on some curriculum-related stuff. So the blog has been a bit quiet.

Our fall homeschool is starting to work itself out into the things that fit well, the things we're still figuring out, and the one or two things that obviously weren't going to fit in once we got going on our days. Over the past month or so, Mama Squirrel has had her mind back on Charlotte Mason's books and some of her "big ideas," because even when you think you have things the way they should be, there's always room to rearrange, shift focus, use things differently. For CM homeschoolers, the rut we often get into--even after only a few weeks of school--is turning everything into a book lesson. The challenge is to keep the big wonderful world close at hand, and to get out into it whenever possible, especially these days when the sun is still beautiful in the afternoons. And to remember that there are doll clothes to be made, games to be played, music to be listened to, nature walks to take, and that even subjects like French and history can benefit by an occasional change of scenery.

Especially when you're tired from a morning of teaching (she says to herself), it's easy to figure that you're done for the day, and it is true that (in CM terms) children should have enough freedom to amuse themselves for periods of time without the parents directing their play or hobbies...but a bit of extra effort to fill in the spaces around the books seems to set the whole thing into a more beautiful frame. Schedule in the hands-on, ears-on, feet-on, tasting-on if you have to, but make it happen. Use what's around you, go outside, do whatever you can to make learning real...then, strangely enough, the book lessons seem to come more alive as well.

Monday, September 20, 2010

I'm back--oh my.


Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath....Isaiah 51:6 (English Standard Version)

Clouds from an airplane window are like...the backyard filled with snow in January...suds going down the drain...being up in an attic filled with insulation.

Taking off reminds me of this:

Airports are like shopping malls and hospitals mixed up. You just have to get to the right part of the right place and you're good. They're big and they're organized...mostly. And they have bookstores, if you're there long enough to notice. (One place I was. Otherwise I was running too fast.)

But the best part was coming home.

Delta airplane toy photo found here

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Goin' fishin' for a couple of days

Yes, we know it's a funny time to take a vacation, but Mama Squirrel is going to be more or less away from the computer for a couple of days, and since she wasn't organized enough to pack some extra posts along with the extra socks, she can't even pretend to be here.

Back next week--have a great weekend, everyone.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Monday, September 13, 2010

What are the Squirrels up to?

Enjoying the blue skies of mid-September, and the green beans, and the end of the tomatoes (I think).

Getting into Latin, and French, and decimals, and drawing parallel lines, and Benjamin Franklin, and Kidnapped, and Watership Down, and Kon Tiki, and Fauré, and Amy Grant's You-tube videos from the '80's.

Looking forward to drama classes and voice lessons that start up this week. (Ponytails' side note: her class is an improv troupe. "I'm starting Tuesday, and the lady who helped us sign up says that we have to work on working well in a group together first, and then we're going to perform in places like nursing homes and stuff like that if we get to be a strong enough group. (fingers crossed)") And hanging out with Coffeemamma at the library while the offspring do their thing. (Coffeemamma, don't tell Schmoo yet that Crayons has signed up for the same class--she wants to surprise her.)

Ponytails: "My Birthday is coming up this week! Guess how old I am. This is soooooo hard. Hint: it's old enough to not have to order off the kid's menu. Heh, heh."

Pain, poverty, prayers...praise

The Guatemala travellers have returned to their homes...the homes where our biggest frustrations suddenly seem very small compared to images of mudslides and garbage dumps and children caught up in crime.

Ann Voskamp asks that you visit this post on Shaun Groves's blog, and listen to the song that he just finished writing about this experience. I'm passing on her request.

Two girls! Two girls!

Mary Grace and Ann both met the children they'd been waiting to hold. What a week.

You can see pictures of Seven here, and of Ann's "daughter of the heart" here.

For more information on Ann's trip, click on the Guatemala picture on our sidebar.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The flickers reappear

Have you ever seen a Northern Flicker?

They have been visiting our backyard in large groups over the past couple of afternoons, mostly when the sun's out, and have been feasting on something in the grass (probably the ants which seem to be out in full force as well). From our above-ground basement window, we have a perfect view of anything that flies, creeps or hops along the grass, including amazing close-ups of parent and baby flickers.

The last (and only other) time I mentioned flickers on the blog, it was also the middle of September--so I'm wondering if this is one of those annual events that Charlotte Mason said we should note down and look forward to each year. I don't remember seeing them last year, but maybe we just weren't looking for them.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Hey, I guess we did okay on this one (Fauré cassette)

When we went thrift shopping just before school started, The Apprentice rooted out a cassette copy of of Fauré's Requiem, performed by the King's College Choir, conducted by David Willcocks. For twenty-five cents. It didn't have any liner notes or other hints as to whether this was something to be really happy about or just an okay fill-in because we didn't have any other Fauré music (other than the Fauré Album borrowed from the library). Okay, I'm not really up on my performers, although "King's College Choir" sounded reasonably good.

Today I finally had the chance to play the tape and look it up on Amazon. The reviews are a few years old but they're enthusiastic. I especially liked this comment:
"Spike Milligan, of all people, said that he couldn't imagine music being more beautiful than Fauré's Requiem. John Peel, of all people, included the Pie Jesu from this recording amongst his favourite records. So who am I to argue? The best recording of the most beautiful music. Sounds about right to me."
I won't argue either. For twenty-five cents, I think we got a deal.

Something to spend a Michael's coupon on

In this area, we get a weekly flyer for Michael's craft store, and it almost always has a 40% off coupon in it. We don't live far from a Michael's, but still don't often go in there--too many ways to spend too much money.

But one thing they have there I do like, and if you're wondering what to do with one of those coupons, it's also not a bad deal. They sell packages of heavy-duty construction paper that is quite a bit heavier and nicer to work with than the usual dollar-store variety. Last fall I bought a large package of white only, 9 x 12 inches, and we are still using it up. Its most frequent use around here is as printer paper (cut down to 8 1/2 x 11 inch size), for printing out cut-and-paste paper toys from The Toymaker, Jim's Printables, and PaperToys.com. It's not quite as stiff as card stock, so it's easier for young kids to fold, and it's just that much sturdier than regular printer paper. There are other colours as well, but the light colours are probably the most versatile for printing things out.

You can probably buy this heavy paper from other sources as well, but if you have a Michael's handy, check it out.

Wheat-free banana bread/muffins (thanks DHM)

The Deputy Headmistress posted this recipe yesterday for wheat-free banana bread that uses oat flour (what you get when you run rolled oats through the blender or food processor). I tried it out this morning with a couple of changes: I used half a cup of brown sugar, oil instead of margarine, beaten egg whites instead of whole eggs (only because I had them in the fridge), and baked it in mini-muffin pans instead of having to bake one big loaf for an hour. You could bake regular-sized muffins too. I got about 20 half-sized ones out of that amount of batter, so you would probably get ten good-sized regular ones, or twelve if you're careful.

They rose very well and have a nice nutmeggy flavour. Thank you DHM!

Monday, September 06, 2010

Jihad and jingoism...from The Globe and Mail to Wordsworth and Charlotte Mason

"But who shall parcel out
His intellect by geometric rules,
Split like a province into round and square?
Who knows the individual hour in which
His habits were first sown, even as a seed?
Who that shall point as with a wand and say
'This portion of the river of my mind
Came from yon fountain'? "
––William Wordsworth, "The Prelude,"
quoted in Charlotte Mason, School Education
"Because we remain human beings, despite the best efforts of our enemies to get past that fact, we can also visualize the pain and the suffering and the horror that are the essential parts of the bomber's objectifying obliteration. This intellectual leap, sadly, is the great strength of what Northrop Frye called the educated imagination. If we've learned to share the strong feelings of characters in War and Peace and Madame Bovary, how can we not also identify with the sufferings in our own time and place?"--John Allemang, "Can the liberal arts cure jihadists?", Globe and Mail, September 3, 2010
"The more educated among our 'Dominion' cousins complain that their young people have no background of history and as a consequence 'we are the people' is their master thought; they would face even the loss of Westminster Abbey without a qualm. What is it to them where great events have happened, great persons lived and moved? And, alas, this indifference to history is not confined to the Dominions; young people at home are equally indifferent, nor have their elders such stores of interest and information as should quicken children with the knowledge that always and everywhere there have been great parts to play and almost always great men to play those parts: that any day it may come to anyone to do some service of historical moment to the country. It is not too much to say that a rational well-considered patriotism depends on a pretty copious reading of history, and with this rational patriotism we desire our young people shall be informed rather than with the jingoism of the emotional patriot."--Charlotte Mason, Towards a Philosophy of Education (page 170)
"The great truth of democracy, at least when it's working well, isn't about the levels of turnout at the polling stations or the noise from the opposition benches when someone who calls himself the leader gets carried away with his own sense of power. What's much more fundamental to the 2,500-year-old experiment of people trying to rule themselves can be found in its basic sense of humanity – the ability, as University of Chicago philosopher Martha Nussbaum wrote in Not for Profit, “to see other people as human beings, not simply as objects.”"--John Allemang
""Our Lord," says this author, "reverenced whatever the learner had in him of his own, and was tender in fostering this native growth––. . . . Men, in His eyes, were not mere clay in the hands of the potter, matter to be moulded to shape. They were organic beings, each growing from within, with a life of his own––a personal life which was exceedingly precious in His and His Father's eyes––and He would foster this growth so that it might take after the highest type." (Pastor Pastorum, by H. Latham, M.A., page 6.)"--quoted in Charlotte Mason, School Education

Friday, September 03, 2010

Our babies grow up

At Places Where Grace Is, mom Juanita contemplates her son's milestone birthday and his move out to college...where did our little kindergarteners go so fast?

Mary Grace invests in her daughter and appreciates her boys...while still waiting for Seven. The DHM also had a post about "a boy, his catapult, and a drill bit." 'Nough said.

And in the next room, checking out a newly-repaired cassette deck with Mr. Fixit, I have an Apprentice the age of Juanita's son, who is (I'm happy to say) still going to be in the Treehouse for awhile yet, and who, although she can now sign her own absence notes, will still be darkening the halls of the public high school for one more semester. She is having trouble answering people's "what grade are you going into?" because she is now officially a high school graduate...but, like a lot of other students, she wants a few more credits before applying to university. And she's completing her apprenticeship at the same time. She's a "post grade 12."

She drives herself to see a friend in the next town, and still laughs over picture books with Crayons. She deals tactfully with senior customers at the salon, and still sometimes sticks her tongue out at her sisters. She is so grown up in a lot of ways, but she doesn't seem to mind hanging out with the rest of us Squirrels (never mind which of us claim to be grown up)...in fact, we miss her a lot on our Saturday morning trips when she's working.

I'm glad I'm not a real squirrel who has to push her babies out of the nest too soon.

A lot for a little (thrifted curriculum and some yarn)

Our homeschool budget this year is very small. Not that we don't already have materials to use, but I haven't bought a lot new, and there isn't much room for extras.

But God often does a better job of stretching a little money than I can. If he could do it with a bit of bread for thousands...still I'm often surprised at the things that come up.

Mr. Fixit took today off, and our rainy "vacation day" included stops at a couple of thrift stores, one for-profit (you have to watch their prices) and one charitable (more reasonable). This is what came home for $11.25:

Ginnie and the Cooking Contest (not pictured, Crayons is reading it), $1 at the for-profit store. (We have two other Ginnie books that she liked.)

NIV Adventure Bible, $1--perfect for Crayons' Bible reading

Gabriel Fauré Requiem cassette, 25 cents --our term's composer

Write Away, a younger version (aimed at second graders) of Writers Inc., a book we use in middle school (we have two thrifted copies of that one). Write Away is a bit on the young side for Crayons' English, but for $2 it was worth bringing home.

Alpha to Omega: The A-Z of Teaching Reading, Writing and Spelling, by Bevé Hornsby and Frula Shear, Fourth Edition. First published 1974, this revision 1993. A British book aimed at students with dyslexia and older learners with reading difficulties; but I just liked it for its short lessons in phonics and its British-flavoured dictation sentences (some of which are not kid-friendly--be warned). "Lay the table for tea." "I cannot do my Maths tables." "Mind that the candle does not set fire to your nightdress." "We live in the lodge at the park gates of the mansion." "It was a harmless frolic, but he shouldn't have done it in public." "A cynic is a person who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing." $2 from the for-profit store.

Milliken's Sumer and Babylonia, a book of coloured transparencies, by Kent L. Forrest, copyright 1969, $1 at the for-profit store. This will be great for Crayons' Bible Archaeology and Geography study.

Two new balls of Patons Canadiana yarn, $2 each, enough to make a pair of slippers and maybe some hair scrunchies.

And the sun came out after lunch.

Thank you, Ponytails, for the photo.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

From the archives: "It Pays Makes-Some-People-Very-Nervous-That-You-Want To Increase Your Word Power"

2010 update: The Deputy Headmistress has been posting about community hymn sings and the issue of whether or not we should still sing older hymns with unfamiliar vocabulary; and in her links back she mentioned her 2007 post "The Language Wars in Our Hymnals", which linked to some things that we posted here around the same time. After following this around a bit, I decided to repost this one.

Okay, have you had time yet to read the Big Words article? (First mentioned here.)

Is it undemocratic and elitist to celebrate words? Should those who do have large vocabularies back off and shut up because it might make the less erudite feel bad? (erudite: characterized by great knowledge; learned or scholarly: an erudite professor; an erudite commentary.) Did you catch that first line of the article: "With the Lord of Loquacity on trial in Chicago and schools playing down language to level the playing field...." [italics mine]

How long ago was it we were talking about that example from The Incredibles?
Helen: Right now, honey, the world just wants us to fit in, and to fit in, we gotta be like everyone else.
Dash: But Dad always said our powers were nothing to be ashamed of, our powers made us special.
Helen: Everyone's special, Dash.
Dash: [muttering] Which is another way of saying no one is.
But that whole angle of level playing field, undemocratic, elitist is just missing the point. It's not about a few people having talent for words and time enough to enjoy them (I still love Burgess Meredith). Our collective gift of language is one of the most democratic things we have (please take "democratic" as a positive idea there). It is being able to read and understand the greatest ideas that have been written, and express our own as well, that keeps us from slavery--including slavery to propaganda. What kind of a Brave New World would we be living in if we were limited--by political correctness or any other such foolishness--to using "story" for "narrative," "very big" for "prodigious," and "teach" for "instruct?" (See the "Forbidden Words" sidebar in the article, about OISE professor Clive Beck, who believes that "teachers should avoid unnecessarily big words so that they can 'talk on the same level' as their students.") With such spavined vocabularies, we would be locked out of some of the most influential books ever written--like Common Sense (thank you, DHM). (spavined: adjective 1. suffering from or affected with spavin. 2. being of or marked by a decrepit or broken-down condition: a spavined old school bus abandoned in a field.) What's democratic about that?

How do you teach or learn new vocabulary--by endless drills, by writing out definitions? I can think of several more effective ways:

1. By listening to those who use language powerfully--and that would, we hope, include the teachers Clive Beck wants to limit. (Can you imagine getting "bleeped" for using a phrase like "nefarious villain?")

2. By reading what those same people have written--and though that road may end with books written for adults, it begins much earlier. If we wanted to limit our children's literary menu to books using the easiest and most commonly used words, we wouldn't have read them A.A. Milne, Beatrix Potter ("I am affronted," said Mrs. Tabitha Twitchit), William Steig, the Bible, Jacobs' English Folk and Fairy Tales, Lewis Carroll, Graham Oakley...or Melissa Wiley.

Our Crayons [just turned six when this was first posted] is reading Anne of Green Gables to herself--she doesn't want it read to her. The motivation was that she found a small porcelain Anne doll at one yard sale, and then a copy of Anne at the next one. We already owned two copies, but she wanted this one for her own self, to go with her doll--and it was her quarter. She sits in my grandfather's little rocking chair with her doll beside her, and reads it while Mr. Fixit reads the newspaper. It's way beyond her vocabulary and experience, and I didn't expect her to get past the first couple of pages--but she has read eight chapters already (and did allow me to read her the ninth). I'm sure she skips what she doesn't understand, but she can still tell you a lot about the story, particularly about Anne's imaginary friends. Would she be better off with an adapted version? Define "better off."

3. By reading books that lead us gently through unfamiliar territory--like Melissa's Martha books, set in Scotland in the 1700's. And then there's the whole sad business of their current state of abridgement, which is itself a perfect example of where all this is taking us.) (2012 update: sorry, both of those links are now defunct.) Again it was Crayons who first asked to be read these books. She's now acquainted with box bed, waulking wool, governess, kirk, peat, spindle, flax, loch, dustgown, Hogmanay, and pianoforte. When I asked her if those were hard words, she said (I quote): "Kids know DUST and kids know GOWN so you just put them together and make DUSTGOWN." What's a governess? "A lady who takes care of you." No problem.

4. By actively seeking out the specialized vocabulary that we need to learn to do the things we want to do! Sometimes for pleasure, sometimes out of necessity. Pod in The Borrowers Aloft has a very short time to learn the vocabulary (and thus the technology) of building a hot-air balloon [actually it was gas-filled]; his understanding of words like "ballast" and "envelope" is what allows his family to escape from their kidnappers.

From Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH to Roald Dahl's Matilda, the key to freedom has always been reading, reading, reading--and those are just the fictional examples.
Books fall open, you fall in,
delighted where you've never been;
hear voices not once heard before,
reach world on world through door on door;
find unexpected keys to things locked up beyond imaginings.
What might you be, perhaps become,
because one book is somewhere?....
--David McCord
Consider what happens if we lose the ability to look beyond our own place in time and space. We become small-minded, small-souled, wrapped up only in our immediate interests...and vulnerable because we are unable to think clearly.

"But they couldn't do it,
for their poor brains were such
That they couldn't think often,
and hadn't thought much."
--Virginia Kahl, The Duchess Bakes a Cake

Freedom lies in our ability to discern truth and choose right actions. Leadership, courage, hope, conscience, character, faith, critical thinking, magnanimity--all those things are available to those who take and read--but only if we develop the vocabulary to understand.

P.S. Clive Beck responds here, but I can't get a link to the full text--sorry. This link takes you to a few other letters in response--also just the beginnings, though--I hate these subscriber-only newspaper sites! I liked Eileen Reardon's comment: "My first reaction on reading the list of 'unnecessarily big words' Clive Beck would like to remove from teachers' mouths was: Nuts! (Simple enough?) Then I started the cryptic crossword and had a horrible thought: If Prof. Beck has his way, he won't merely be gutting the language of nuance, he'll be taking the fun out of crosswords. Egad!"

P.P.S. One more comment here, linking to the Common Room post "Interesting comments".
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