Fifteen years of Treehouse talk

Fifteen years of Treehouse talk

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Dollygirl's Grade Six: School for Thursday

What did we do for school on the 31st?

Started with Proverbs 31, since you hardly ever get a month with 31 days!

Chapter Two of Crystal Mountain.

Augustus Caesar's World:  "Antony and Cleopatra."  Wow, this is some storytelling!  Right down to how much Cleopatra admired Mark Antony's muscles.  Not sure which historian Ms. Foster drew that from.  Anyway, Dollygirl appeared to enjoy it, and she used toys and props to dramatize the chapter afterwards.  I noticed that she included a lot of little details from the chapter, such as Cleopatra's slaves waking her up the morning after her first "dinner date" with Mark Antony, and the fact that she was in an unusually buoyant mood.  Dollygirl had her Cleopatra wake up singing about "spring is coming," something that's understandable around here on dark, wet days...spring can't come too fast.

Archimedes and the Door of Science:  the second half of the chapter on "King Hiero's Crown."  This part of the chapter was about water displacement, and we did the suggested experiment using big and small containers, a wooden block, and a kitchen scale. Also, Mr. Fixit showed Dollygirl his automotive hydrometer (also called a hygrometer), and told her a story about a friend of his who bought a used car when they were in high school.  Mr. Fixit suggested that they should check the antifreeze, and offered his hydrometer, but his friend shrugged it off.  When the weather froze--so did the engine.  Oops.

Key to Decimals:  Just one word problem, about sports averages.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Dollygirl's Grade Six: School for Wednesday

Dollygirl did the basketball-scores page and a page about batting averages in Key to Decimals.

We read the first chapter of Crystal Mountain, by Belle Dorman Rugh.  I read this out loud a few years ago, but Dollygirl doesn't remember it, so we're starting it again.

The Story of Greece: Chapter 40, "Darius Demands Earth and Water," Chapter 41, "The Battle of Marathon," and whatever Chapter 42 is called, about the events after the battle, the strange last days of General Miltiades, and the death of king Darius.  I wrote all the people and place names on an old blackboard we have, and starred the really important ones.  I also printed out a map of the battlefield that showed where the left, right and centre parts of the Greek army were headed; since this (particularly the problem of them being short-handed in the centre) was mentioned during the story, it helped to be able to show it on a very simply drawn map.  I think Charlotte Mason might have approved of that one.

Highlight of reading about Marathon?  You might think it would be the collapse of Philippides, but I think Dollygirl found more interest in the idea of the Greeks crashing down the hill, hardly able to stop, and more or less smashing into the Persians.  We have a fair-sized hill in our back yard, and Dollygirl has done her fair share of crashing down it (on foot or sled).
So, to this day, when friend meets friend, the word of salute
Is still “Rejoice!” his word which brought rejoicing indeed.
So is Pheidippides happy forever, the noble strong man
Who could race like a god, bear the face of a god, whom a god loved so well,
He saw the land saved he had helped to save, and was suffered to tell
Such tidings, yet never decline, but, gloriously as he began,
So to end gloriously, once to shout, thereafter be mute:
“Athens is saved!” Pheidippides dies in the shout for his meed. -- Robert Browning

Illegal moves: Philosophy of Education, Chapters Four and Five

Towards a Philosophy of Education, Chapter Four
Towards a Philosophy of Education, Chapter Five

In one of The Apprentice's last homeschooling years (so maybe grade 8), she read Algebra Unplugged by Kenn Amdahl and Jim Loats.  (The Barnes & Noble site says 'This is one of only four algebra books recommended by Encyclopedia Britannica Online.")  This book pictures algebra as a  game with a series of moves, like chess.  You have to choose the right moves that will move you towards winning, and avoid illegal moves.  There are certain things you're just not allowed to do in the game, such as dividing by zero.

In Chapter Five of Philosophy of Education, Charlotte Mason outlines a set of "illegal moves" that are perpetrated against children's minds, that trespass on their rights of personality.  Some of them are effective, but not morally right.  Some of them just waste time.  All of them, like too much junk food in the diet, crowd out the right motivation to learn--which, according to Charlotte, and it's the point of these chapters--is "knowledge for its own sake."

If all action comes out of the ideas we hold--in other words, our worldview, our philosophy, the principles that we say ground our lives and our approach to education--then what ideas do we have about personality, personhood, and the value and abilities of children?  And then how do we respond to those ideas?  As John Holt said, what do we do Monday?

For Charlotte Mason, it all seems to be about relationships.  Everybody has rights; everybody has duties.  Our duty includes submission to those over us, because we do need a certain amount of authority to make things run.

If we are in a position of authority and expect obedience from those under us, while still recognizing that this position is not ours because of our personal superiority, then we'll treat those under us, even children, especially children, with the respect due to them as persons.  And, though this may be somewhat optimistic thinking on Charlotte's part, that understanding solves certain issues of discipline right there.  In general, children or students or employees who are treated with respect, who aren't put into a position where they have to get away with stuff, where it isn't them against the boss, will spend less time misbehaving and more time on task.

What are some of the illegal moves against students?  The "incidental list" includes management by fear or, the opposite, by encouraging parasitic love for the one in charge; using "suggestion," meaning that the child learns to depend on promptings from outside but is eventually unable to stand alone; using "influence," meaning that of one strong personality who dominates the child's thinking. 

"More pervasive" ways take good and natural desires, those we discussed earlier such as the desire to excel, the desire for approval, even the desire of knowledge, and corrupt and pervert them by putting them in top position.  And again, what's wrong with the desire for knowledge--isn't that exactly what we're aiming at?  Here's what Charlotte says:  "The desire of knowledge is commonly deprived of its proper function in our schools by the predominance of other springs of action, especially of emulation, the desire of place, and avarice, the desire of wealth, tangible profit.  This divine curiosity is recognised in ordinary life chiefly as a desire to know trivial things...incoherent, scrappy information which serves no purpose, assuredly not the purpose of knowledge whose function is to nourish the mind as food nourishes the body."  So her answer seems to be...knowledge, misused, is junk food.

Do we believe that children really want to know?  Then, says Charlotte, we will teach from and with that conviction, and the rest will fall into place.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Dollygirl's Grade Six: Tuesday School Plans

Math: Key to Decimals, Book 4; section on Averages. It makes perfect sense to put this section into a workbook on decimals, because so much of the arithmetic you do with averages turns into decimals! The book also includes some bar graph averaging. I will probably assign a page of word problems ("Averages in Sports") as homework. (These are the same sample pages you can download here.)

Readaloud: The Pushcart War, chapters 34-36. (End of the book!)

Roman history review:  watch this video, but just from about 18 minutes on, the parts about Brutus and Cassius (mostly in good taste--Leon Garfield wrote the screenplay--but it's not for little ones):

Augustus Caesar's World:  "Antony and Octavian Divide the World." We also read the next section, "Horace and the Country Mouse."

Archimedes and the Door of Science:  "Archimedes and King Hiero's Crown"
1.  Read to yourself:  pages 54 to the top of page 60.
2.  Narrate orally.
3.  Read together:  pages 60-61.
4.  Find a pencil stub between 2 and 3 inches long, and get a glass of water and a bottle of rubbing alcohol.  Do the experiment on page 62.
5.  Read together:  pages 63-64 (first half of the page), which explains about hydrometers.

For extra credit:  read this article about whether or not the Eureka story really happened...or at least happened as the legend says.

Love, justice, and Dick Van Dyke: Philosophy of Education, Chapter Three (Part Three)

In an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show called "Never Name a Duck," the Petries' son Ritchie becomes very attached to a pet duck named Stanley, but the duck starts to get sick and it's obvious that he needs to go and live outdoors.  (There was also one named Oliver, but he died.) After depositing the duck at the park, "Rob" (the father)  has to deal with his son's anger at losing his pet.  Ritchie insists that loving Stanley means they should have kept him; his father says no.  "If I just kissed you on the head and then did all the things that were bad for you, that wouldn't be love at all."  Rob makes the point that Ritchie wouldn't take a fish out of the tank and hug it and kiss it and make it sleep on a pillow beside him, just because he loved it.  Suddenly, Ritchie gets it.  Reason to the rescue.

The proper title of Charlotte Mason's Volume Six, Chapter 3 is "The Good and Evil Nature of a Child."  So far in the chapter, Charlotte has covered the goods and evils that we (parents, teachers) can do in a child's physical and mental development, as well as the messages that the child needs to get as well to overcome his or her own "goods and evils."

And at this point, she jumps into the child's moral development, or, as she calls it in Ourselves, the House of Heart.  What does morality have to do with hard thought, or education?  Isn't that where we can stay safe, and just pick something nicely illustrated from the church library or Christian homeschool vendor for our "moral lessons?"  Isn't a child's morality a simple matter of obedience and submission to those in authority?  For instance, would some parents prefer a story where Ritchie simply accepts his father's decision to free Stanley, rather than having him start packing his suitcase to go live in the park with the duck?  Should Ritchie have been told to shut up, because the adults knew best?  To be honest, I'm more impressed with (Carl Reiner's) writing in this series--and it's not known for being a show especially about parenting--than I have been with many other old sitcoms where the "father knew best."  Rob doesn't try to trick Ritchie into behaving, or at least into not running away (I think there's a Brady Bunch episode where that happens); he gives him something important to think about, about what love is.

The bad and good news:  life itself is a morality lesson.  Morality cannot be packaged in a few nice stories or in a Sunday School songbook.  More bad and good news:  children already have a good sense of morality, love, and justice, but if we're not careful, we can throw it out of whack.  The best news:  illustrations of love and justice are found in abundance in the stories of "norms and nobility," so while it's necessary to be wise and cautious in our choosing of them, we don't have to be heavy-handed in the serving.  "[We must] trust, not to our own teaching, but to the best that we have in art and literature and above all to that storehouse of example and precept, the Bible, to enable us to touch these delicate spirits to fine issues." 

What are the consequences if we overstep or abuse our teaching authority in these areas?  "This, of justice, is another spiritual provision which we fail to employ duly in our schools; and so wonderful is this principle that we cannot kill, paralyse, or even benumb it, but, choked in its natural course, it spreads havoc and devastation where it should have made the soil fertile for the fruits of good living."

She spends a fair amount of time in Ourselves expanding on the role of education in developing a sense of justice:

"Few of the offices of education are more important than that of preparing men to distinguish between their rights and their duties. We each have our rights and other persons have their duties towards us as we towards them; but it is not easy to learn that we have precisely the same rights as other people and no more; that other people owe to us just such duties as we owe to them. This fine art of self-adjustment is possible to everyone because of the ineradicable principle which abides in us. But our eyes must be taught to see, and hence the need for all the processes of education, futile in proportion as they do not serve this end. To think fairly requires, we know, knowledge as well as consideration."

Did you catch that last bit?  It's very important.  To do justice, you have to be able to think through a problem, and have the knowledge (possibly drawn from history, or from the example of a great leader) to deal with it, as well as the courage and love required to carry out the plan.  An action that appears kind, that is well-meant, may in fact be destructive.  Like some methods of teaching morality...

Children learn justice in the areas of truth,  integrity, justice in action; integrity in work, integrity in thought, and "that justice in motive which we call sound principles. For what, after all, are principles but those motives of first importance which govern us, move us in thought and action?"
Here we have one more reason why there is nothing in all those spiritual stores in the world's treasury too good for the education of all children. Every lovely tale, illuminating poem, instructive history, every unfolding of travel and revelation of science exists for children.--Charlotte Mason, Towards a Philosophy of Education, Chapter Three
We may as well finish Chapter Three here, with "The Well-Being of the Soul."  Again, here's the question:  "We may well ask with diffidence and humility what may education do for the Soul of a child?...But what sort of approaches do we prepare for children towards the God whom they need, the Saviour in Whom is all help, the King who affords all delight, commands all adoration and loyalty?"  And again, here's the answer:  "Any words or thoughts of ours are poor and insufficient, but we have a treasury of divine words which they read and know with satisfying pleasure and tell with singular beauty and fitness.  'The Bible is the most interesting book I know,' said a young person of ten who had read a good many books and knew her Bible. By degrees children get that knowledge of God which is the object of the final daily prayer in our beautiful liturgy––the prayer of St Chrysostom––'Grant us in this world knowledge of Thy truth,' and all other knowledge which they obtain gathers round and illuminates this."

Monday, January 28, 2013

What's on the school menu? Voles and pukak snow

It's a snow day in this part of the world.  Elementary school buses aren't running, end-of-semester high school exams are postponed by a day (giving Ponytails an extra day to study), and Dollygirl's best friend in the neighbourhood has the day off from her private school.  It isn't a beautiful, sunny snow day either; it's kind of a messy, wicked-looking, might have freezing rain kind of snow day.  But it's okay for playing inside...or not having exams.

So what's up for school today?  This morning we read a chapter of Walking with Bilbo; a couple of chapters of The Pushcart War; and Dollygirl is doing two pages about rounding off in Key to Decimals.  Then she's going over to her friend's house to play until lunch.

After lunch, we'll have chapters 38 and 39 from The Story of Greece, about the destruction of Sardis and the death of Histiaeus.
When Aristagoras reached Sparta he tried to tempt the king to help the Ionians by telling him of the wealth he might gain for himself. After Artaphernes was conquered at Sardis it would, he said, be an easy matter to go to Susa and seize the treasures of the great king. He then showed Cleomenes a thing he had never seen before—a map engraved in bronze. Aristagoras pointed out to him all the countries he might make his own if he would aid the Ionians in their revolt.

The king listened and looked, then he dismissed the Greek, promising to think over the matter. In three days he sent for Aristagoras and asked him how long it took to journey from Ionia to Susa.

"Three months," answered the messenger.

"O stranger," then said Cleomenes, "depart from Sparta before the sun goes down; thou art no friend to the Lacedaemonians when thou seekest to lead them three months' journey from the sea."
For Natural History:  a section from Jamie Bastedo's Falling for Snow.  I will probably assign some of the section as copywork or dictation.
Whether living on the shoulder of Alaska's Mount McKinley or in an engineered forest in Bavaria, small mammals dwelling under the snow depend on pukak, that warm, moist, loose layer of crystals that hugs the earth.  If the snowcover is deep enough, they may be virtually immune to predation by foxes, owls, or weasels.  Thus ensconced all winter, a vole, lemming, mouse, or shrew can effortlessly maneuver through its maze of corridors, stopping at a food cache for a nibble of berries, checking its many sentry posts at the edge of its territory, or visiting a nest chamber to groom its fur and steal a quick nap.  Never mind the bitter winds and cold snaps and predators that trouble surface-dwellers.  For these furry little critters, life is good down under.
And, I think, maybe a craft or art project for the rest of the day.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

There they are, those desires: Philosophy of Education, Chapter Three (Part Two)

I mentioned in the last of these posts that this part of Charlotte Mason's final volume (Towards a Philosophy of Education) corresponds closely to the "House of Mind" section in her earlier book Ourselves (Volume Four). Ourselves is the amplified, expanded story; the chapter of Volume Six that we're looking at right now is the shorthand version. The overall plan of the chapter is to compare the needs of body, then mind, then heart, then soul; we are now in the second half of the "mind" section, where Charlotte stops picking on the shortcomings of schools and teachers, and discusses the learner's end of things.  Although, in the end, teachers and parents have a lot to do with that as well.

In Ourselves, the "House of Mind" section begins by introducing "My Lord Intellect."  If education is a passport to the lands beyond our own kingdom, then Intellect is the travel agent and guide. On some journeys (such as to the realm of History) he is accompanied by "my Lord Imagination, Chief Explorer"; on others (such as Mathematics), by "My Lord Attorney-General Reason."

What are the initial threats to our relationship with Intellect? First, inertia that will not let us begin something (because it looks like too much work); second, too much habit and too much specialisation, turning us into what the Victorians called "cranks" about an idea or a favourite topic. (See Book One, Chapter Three in Ourselves.) "It is a mistake, perhaps, to think that, to do one thing well, we must just do and think about that and nothing else all the time. It is our business to know all we can and to spend a part of our lives in increasing our knowledge of Nature and Art, of Literature and Man, of the Past and the Present. That is one way in which we become greater persons, and the more a person is, the better he will do whatever piece of special work falls to his share. Let us have, like Leonardo, a spirit 'invariably royal and magnanimous.'" (Ourselves, Chapter Three)

Then we have some "good servants, bad masters." Imagination is one of those: it has the potential for good, but can be used in bad ways as well. "Just ask yourself, who is the chief person in all the pretty pictures you make, in all the plans you form? If you have to confess that you, yourself, are, why, Imagination has just been making pleasure-houses for Self instead of collecting pictures of the great rich world." (Ourselves, Chapter Four)

Next is Reason: also both positive and negative. "It is quite true that good laws, benevolent enterprises, great inventions, are the outcome of Reason; but you will often be surprised when you hear good people talk and try to convince others of those things of which their own Reason has convinced them." (Ourselves, Chapter Six)
And there is our aesthetic sense, or desire for beauty. Again, good or bad. "The function of the sense of beauty is to open a paradise of pleasure for us; but what if we grow up admiring the wrong things, or, what is morally worse, arrogant in the belief that it is only we and our kind who are able to appreciate and distinguish beauty? It is no small part of education to have seen much beauty, to recognize it when we see it, and to keep ourselves humble in its presence." (Philosophy of Education, Chapter Three) "Instead of accepting the relations, friends, and neighbours that God sends us in the course of our lives, the devotee of Beauty chooses for himself, and cares to know only those people whose views of life are the same as his own. So with regard to places, he cannot tolerate for a moment things which are unsightly and unlovely, so he does not go where working people and poor people have to live. In the end, he misses the happiness to which the Beauty Sense was meant to minister." (Ourselves, Chapter Five).

Charlotte has more to say about each of these--some of it quite important--in the above-mentioned chapters of Ourselves. But since we're looking at Volume Six, we just have to take her summary and move on.

The chapter now shifts to a section called "Intellectual Appetite." Again, Charlotte seems to be summarizing directly from her earlier writings, because the next chapter of Ourselves starts like this: "We consider the Lords of the Exchequer, the Desires, after the Intellect, because their office is to do for Mind pretty much what the Appetites do for Body. It is as necessary that Mind should be fed, should grow and should produce, as that these things should happen to Body; and, just as Body would never take the trouble to feed itself if it never became hungry, so Mind would not take in what it needs, if it, also, had not certain Desires to satisfy." She describes the desire for approbation (the approval of others, which is not a bad thing in itself, but which can get twisted into Vanity); the desire to excel; and the desires for wealth, power, society, and knowledge.
What's wrong with the desire for knowledge? Nothing, in itself, but it can be corrupted into mere curiosity. "It is only in so far as Knowledge is dear to us and delights us for herself that she yields us lifelong joy and contentment. He who delights in her, not for the sake of showing off, and not for the sake of excelling others, but just because she is so worthy to be loved, cannot be unhappy. He says, 'My mind to me a kingdom is'––and, however unsatisfactory things are in his outer life, he retires into that kingdom and is entertained and delighted by the curious, beautiful, and wonderful things he has stored within." (Ourselves, Chapter Eight)

"There they are, those desires, ready to act on occasion and our business is to make due use of this natural provision for the work of education." (Philosophy, Chapter Three)

What is the due use of our children's natural intellectual desires?  (One response to that question.)

How do our children's schools, home schools, Sunday Schools, or other learning situations provide for a healthy balance of these mental servants and desires? Do 21st-century schools promote competition or short-term rewards over the desire for real, in-depth knowledge for its own sake? Do we--teachers, Christian educators, homeschooling parents--encourage our children to "know all we can and to spend a part of our lives in increasing our knowledge of Nature and Art, of Literature and Man, of the Past and the Present?"  Do we do that ourselves? How?

How do we keep the children--and the adults--from "admiring the wrong things, or, what is morally worse, [becoming] arrogant in the belief that it is only we and our kind who are able to appreciate and distinguish beauty?"

Here is Charlotte's response:
"Children are not to be fed morally like young pigeons with predigested food. They must pick and eat for themselves and they do so from the conduct of others which they hear of or perceive. But they want a great quantity of the sort of food whose issue is conduct, and that is why poetry, history, romance, geography, travel, biography, science and sums must all be pressed into service. No one can tell what particular morsel a child will select for his sustenance. One small boy of eight may come down late because "I was meditating upon Plato and couldn't fasten my buttons," and another may find his meat in 'Peter Pan'! But all children must read widely, and know what they have read, for the nourishment of their complex nature."--Philosophy of Education, Chapter Three
Chapter Three isn't quite done yet; one more post to come on this one.

Previous posts:
Charlotte Mason, Oliver, and Ali-Baba: Chapter One
No more paper pizza: Chapter Two
Body and Mind, Heart and Soul: Chapter Three, Part One

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Body and Mind, Heart and Soul: A Philosophy of Education, Chapter 3 (Part One)

“...By the time we have dealt with those functions of the mind which we know, we may find ourselves in a position to formulate that which we certainly do not possess, a Science, should it not be a Philosophy, of Education?”—Charlotte Mason, Towards a Philosophy of Education, Chapter 3

The title and subheading of this chapter ("Children are not born bad but with possibilities for good and evil") are enough to raise quite a lot of anti-Charlotte Mason hackles. “What do you mean, children are not born bad? That’s anti-Christian.” “We are born with evil natures. End of story, next?” “I’m going back to classical.”

Here is Charlotte’s word on this issue: “The fact seems to be that children are like ourselves, not because they have become so, but because they are born so; that is, with tendencies, dispositions, towards good and towards evil, and also with a curious intuitive knowledge as to which is good and which is evil. Here we have the work of education indicated. There are good and evil tendencies in body and mind, heart and soul; and the hope set before us is that we can foster the good so as to attenuate the evil; that is, on condition that we put Education in her true place as the handmaid of Religion.” “In every child there are tendencies to greediness, restlessness, sloth, impurity, any one of which by allowance may ruin the child and the man that he will be.”

You can argue about the theological side of it after class. But that is NOT what Charlotte wanted to focus on, in this chapter; not totally. What she seemed to be doing, simply by way of introduction, was to compare the way religious attitudes and Christian education had changed towards children, with the way that she felt educational attitudes could similarly change.

She believed that Christian thought had previously over-emphasized the issue of personal salvation, to the neglect of concern for “the community, the nation, the race.”[See Note Below] She got excited when she thought about the educational possibilities that could go beyond just one child or one group, ideas that could affect “every class and country.” “The recognition of the potentialities in any child should bring about such an educational renaissance as may send our weary old world rejoicing on its way.”

Well, Charlotte was never accused of thinking small.

Yes, she is thinking somewhat of a child’s inborn moral status here. But, again, she is comparing his or her spiritual tendencies to sin; AND the parent or teacher’s responsibility, within certain limits, to teach and train those tendencies out of a young child; with his or her intellectual makeup and needs. (The last section of this chapter deals specifically with “the soul,” or the spiritual realm.)

And this is where she starts to do something interesting with this chapter. Have you read her earlier book Ourselves, which she wrote to be read to children? The next parts of chapter 3 are a very close summary of the first few chapters of Ourselves. Ourselves begins in an allegorical style, something like John Bunyan’s The Holy War. Every person is a kingdom, and in the kingdom there are governors, and good servants (who can also be bad masters), and troublemakers, and beautiful lands…all kinds of things, which she tries to put in order. “It is important that we should have before us a bird's eye view, let us call it, of human nature.”

First off, we have the physical body, including the needs of the nervous system. Then she moves on to children’s intellectual tendencies, appetites, and needs: “We do not perceive that the mind, too, has its tendencies both good and evil and that every inclination towards good is hindered and may be thwarted by a corresponding inclination towards evil; I am not speaking of moral evil but of those intellectual evils which we are slow to define and are careless in dealing with.”

Do you catch her point about “evils” here and in the upcoming paragraphs? The “intellectual evils” are mainly on the part of the educational system, the school, the teacher. The “evils” include dumbing-down, dullness, diagrams; competition for marks; token rewards (like stickers). “Good teachers know that they may not drown their teaching in verbiage.” “A child's intercourse must always be with good books, the best that we can find.” “No child would forget the characterization of Charles IX as 'feeble and violent,' nor fail to take to himself a lesson in self-control. We may not point the moral; that is the work proper for children themselves and they do it without fail.”

Do you know where the “feeble and violent” reference comes from? The History of Modern Times, from the Fall of Constantinople to the French Revolution, by Victor Duruy. Here’s a longer excerpt:
Charles IX. was then twenty-one, of good intellect, but of a character at once feeble and violent; spoiled by absolute power, surrounded by Italian favorites who perverted his heart, he played very well and sometimes unwittingly the role which his mother [Catherine de' Medici] left him. He had more than once found that the Huguenot chiefs carried their heads too high, and had not forgotten the homicidal counsels given him by the Duke of Alva at Bayonne. But then he was impatient of his mother's yoke and envious of the victories ascribed to his brother. Inconstant and passionate, he entered with ardor into new projects, wrote to Coligny, to Jeanne d' Albret, and urged the prompt conclusion of the marriage of Henry of Beam with his sister. The Queen of Navarre decided to come to Paris; so too did the admiral. "At last we have you, my father," said to him the young king, embracing him, "and you will not escape from us when you wish."
Later in Volume 6, Charlotte writes, “Now Plutarch is like the Bible in this, that he does not label the actions of his people as good or bad but leaves the conscience and judgment of his readers to make that classification. What to avoid and how to avoid it, is knowledge as important to the citizen whether of the City of God or of his own immediate city, as to know what is good and how to perform the same.” It seems that the writing of Victor Duruy would fall under the same classification. Intelligent children reading this…assuming that they have the bits of background and vocabulary they need to make sense of the story…wouldn’t need to fill out a worksheet or be drilled by a teacher afterwards to show their understanding of Charles’s character flaws. They would get the issues with the mother and the brother, and ponder that mixed message in his greeting to the admiral. This is obviously not someone we want to emulate.

What bores children in school? Is it that they need more chance to play? Oh, said elementary teachers of years gone by—yes, what a wonderful idea! So let’s try sand tables! Classroom games! Puppets!  In my time:  let's videotape the puppet shows!  And the teachers of today—stop-motion Lego projects! Abraham Lincoln Rap!  Classroom reality shows!  Because yes, we teachers get…so (yawn)…bored…hm? Oh, yes, we were saying…”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.”

Play is for recess time. Play is for after school. If the children are bored in school…says Charlotte…it’s not because they need more play. It’s because they need more more.  More stories like the one above.  More to really think about and remember.

“That is the capital charge against most schools. The teachers underrate the tastes and abilities of their pupils. In things intellectual, children, even backward children, have extraordinary 'possibilities for good'––possibilities so great that if we had the wit to give them their head they would carry us along like a stream in spate.” “Just so of our parsimony do we fling aside the minds of the children of our country, also capable of being wrought into pleasaunces of delight, structures of utility and beauty, at a pitifully trifling cost. It is well we should recognise that the business of education is with us all our lives, that we must always go on increasing our knowledge.”

Chapter 3 is long, and that’s enough for one post. More in the next. NOTE ON "Savin' Yer Dirty Sowl": This is not Charlotte Mason's original thought or phrase, nor did it originate with the Irish woman she mentions. The line actually comes from Charles Kingsley's novel Westward Ho!, in Chapter 7. The character Sir Richard says, "But this is the way with your Anabaptists, who, by their very hatred of forms and ceremonies, show of how much account they think them, and then bind themselves out of their own fantastical self-will with far heavier burdens than ever the lawful authorities have laid on them for the sake of the commonweal. But what do they care for the commonweal, as long as they can save, as they fancy, each man his own dirty soul for himself?" (I'm not agreeing with him, I'm just giving you the quote.) Kingsley's line here was quoted and misquoted in various publications; for example, "'Save your souls,' says Charles Kingsley, 'each man his own dirty soul for himself.'" I don't think that's exactly the point Sir Richard was making, but in any case--the issue that the woman seem to have is the idea of someone else saving their own soul by making her their evangelical project.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

What books changed your life in 2012?

Mama Squirrel's responses to the Book Quiz posted on The Common Room this week
What was the best new (to you) author you discovered last year?
Probably Ellis Peters.  I started reading a couple of the Brother Cadfael books from The Apprentice's bookshelf when I was book-bored one night, and then I picked up more of them at the thrift store...

What was your favorite new (to you) series?

I read through almost the entire Brother Cadfael series. And several Dorothy L. Sayers mysteries I had never read. And several Rumpole of the Bailey books.

Book that made you cry?

I don't cry much over books, but I liked Sarah's Cottage, by D.E. Stevenson. I suspect we might be distantly related (D.E. Stevenson, I mean, not Sarah), but I'd have to ask my genealogist aunt about that.

Book that made you laugh out loud?

John Mortimer's Rumpole stories.

Book that totally changed your perspective on something?

I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What it Was, by Barbara Sher.

Best homeschool(ing) book?

The Big What Now Book of Learning Styles, by Carol Barnier.

Worst book that you managed to finish?

Castle Dor, started by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch and finished by Daphne Du Maurier. But two mysteries based on Sherlock Holmes and Josephine Tey came close for don't-bother-ness.

Book with the best surprise plot twist?

A Morbid Taste for Bones (the first Brother Cadfael book).

Best book-that-was-better-than-the-movie?

Our Man in Havana.  Although I like the movie too.

Most over-hyped book of the year?

I don't know!  I don't pay a lot of attention to hype.

Best Bibliovore recommendation of the year?

I don't use Bibliovore...I'm not even sure what it is.  I do read the NYT Book Review section, but most of the books in it scare me.

Book you have recommended to the most people this year?

Don't know.  Most people I know don't ask.

Best feel-good book of the year?

Don't know.

Best childrens/young adult book of the year?

In new books, I would vote for The Prairie Thief, but I am still waiting for our library to buy a copy.

Book you’ve been meaning to read for years and finally got to?

On The Art of Writing, and On The Art of Reading, both by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch.

Read aloud that the family enjoyed the most?

The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure, by Hans Magnus Enzensberger.  Or possibly The HobbitThe Pushcart War doesn't count, because we're reading it right now.

Best cookbook/knitting/gardening/or other household how-to?

The 2012 Family Guide to Groceries under $250 a Month, by Liss Burnell.

Best non-fiction?

How to Read a Poem, and fall in love with poetry, by Edward Hirsch, but I'm not done it yet.

Best religion/theology/doctrine/philosophy?

The Mind of the Maker, by Dorothy L. Sayers. Also J.B., by Archibald MacLeish, and Walking with Bilbo, by Sarah Arthur.  And Spiritual Anorexia: How Contemporary Worship is Starving the Church, by Doug Erlandson.

Best political book?

Uncle Eric Talks About Personal, Career, and Financial Security, by Richard J. Maybury.  It's sort of political.

All-around best story of the year?

Not sure.


Monday, January 21, 2013

No more paper pizza: Philosophy of Education, Chapter Two

Do you like imaginary food?
In Towards a Philosophy of Education, Chapter 2, Charlotte Mason describes a teacher who is suddenly enlightened about the agile, hungry, wondrous minds of children.  He sees that he has been giving his students only "stale commonplaces."  He understands that they "hunger for knowledge, not for information."  And certainly he "would not invite a parcel of children to a Timon feast of smoke and lukewarm water."

Or paper pizza, playdough cookies, and lime punch made from a half-melted candle.  Such food is fun for dolls.  It made a great New Year's party for Dollygirl's dolls.  But human beings certainly couldn't make a meal of it.
Charlotte Mason says, “That which is born of the flesh, is flesh, we are told; but we have forgotten this great principle in our efforts at schooling children. We give them a 'play way' and play is altogether necessary and desirable but is not the avenue which leads to mind. We give them a fitting environment, which is again altogether desirable and, again, is not the way to mind. We teach them beautiful motion and we do well, for the body too must have its education; but we are not safe if we take these by-paths as approaches to mind.” In other words, we have found the road to caring for the needs of the physical body, and even the physical brain; but the “spiritual mind” (the whole non-physical person, not limited to a theological sense of spirituality) is quite a different creature.
"Our business is to give children the great ideas of life, of religion, history, science; but it is the ideas we must give, clothed upon with facts as they occur, and must leave the child to deal with these as he chooses.”

And if it doesn’t work? Then, says Charlotte Mason,  our error "is rather want of confidence in children.”


The teacher “bores his scholars with much talk.” We show them too many pictures. We try to read between the lines for them. We try to learn for them.

"This is how any child's mind works, and our concern is not to starve these fertile intelligences. They must have food in great abundance and variety."   We need to provide intellectual meat:  "History must afford its pageants, science its wonders, literature its intimacies, philosophy its speculations, religion its assurances to every man, and his education must have prepared him for wanderings in these realms of gold."  And real art: "pictures by great artists old and new....Perhaps we might secure at least a hundred lovely landscapes too,––sunsets, cloudscapes, starlight nights."  "To hear children of the slums 'telling' King Lear or Woodstock, by the hour if you will let them, or describing with minutest details Van Eyck's Adoration of the Lamb or Botticelli's Spring, is a surprise, a revelation. We take off our shoes from off our feet; we 'did not know it was in them,' whether we be their parents, their teachers or mere lookers-on. And with some feeling of awe upon us we shall be the better prepared to consider how and upon what children should be educated."

That's her teaser for the next chapter.  How and upon what?  If textbooks, lectures, and our own good intentions are so much paper pizza, then what is the real food we should be serving?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Want to read some Harper's Young People?

"Oliver sat down on one of the books, took another on his lap, reveling in the dust, and began to look at it.  It turned out to be the bound volume of a magazine called Harper's Young People, published in the year 1887.  The book was mildewed, some of its pages were glued together by years of damp, and its green cover had been gnawed by mice, but it exuded the indescribably delicious odor of all ancient books; better still, it was full of the pictures and adventures of the children of that other world...A world where girls wore sashes and long hair, and boys wore long stockings and button boots, and the horses which pulled the trolley cars wore straw hats."--Elizabeth Enright, The Four-Story Mistake

Want to read some Harper's Young People, sans mildew and mice?  Check it out on Google Books.

Charlotte Mason, Oliver, and Ali-Baba: this is what it's all about.

The focus of the next Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival will be Charlotte Mason's last book, Towards a Philosophy of Educationchapter 1, "Self-Education."

Every week I sort books at the thrift store. After almost two years of this, I know very well what kinds of new books get bought, and discarded, around here. It's not hard to figure out anyway: walk into any chain bookstore at the mall and you'll see the same categories, the same series, the same bestsellers. And the greatest of these is Self-Help. Do you know how many copies of The Good Life I've sorted over the past two years? How many books by Dr. Phil? How many diet books, how many personal-motivation books, how many get-smarter, live-richer promises? They get bought. Maybe they get read. And in a sadly short time, they are packed off to the thrift store.

Charlotte Mason knew this. She knew a chapter title like "Self-Education" was going to get some people excited. Yes!, they would think, that's what it's about these days! Self! Education! This is the twentieth century, and we are creative and independent and smart and agile, and of course our nation's children must become even more so, because our teachers and our schools are better than they ever have been. Look at all those things the children learn to do now! Look at their physical education programs! Look at all the fine manual training they are getting! Look at all the books that are being written and bought for their classrooms! And doesn't that mean that the children will be getting not only smarter, but turn into better people all round? How can we miss?

Yes, yes, yes, she replied, as she mentally toured the schools of her day. Large-motor and fine-motor skills, all good. Science experiments, nature study, dramatics, Sloyd, and Swedish Drill! (In my own childhood, there were listening centers with headphones! Dataman! Betamax! Environmental studies! Attribute blocks!) Things to make, things to do, things to talk about. School should be interesting and balanced, no question. Just one question for the tour guide: how sure are you that all these nice things, all this money you're pouring into educational programs, is going to have any real effect on who these children become? Not what they can do, or how many facts they know, but what they are? Otherwise, all this "new" programming and curriculum and scientifically approved teaching is just so much bulletin-board trim.

Kris Kringle: (to Susan) Second grade?!

Susan: It's a progressive school. ~~Miracle on 34th Street, 1947

Let's talk about life in general, says Charlotte Mason. Being "all livin'." Well, magic hats only bring snowmen...or life in the world of Rankin-Bass Christmas specials. There are things you can do from the outside of someone to take away life: but there's nothing you can do to generate it. Right? And a living body survives on what it takes in, not on what someone applies externally. No magic plant lotion will make us grow bigger. "The body lives by air, grows on food, demands rest, flourishes on a diet wisely various."

So if our minds work like our bodies (and mind meaning our whole non-physical being), they need to breathe; they need times of activity and rest; and the right kinds of food. Lots of food! Carefully considered food! And that, says Charlotte Mason, is where our children are being cheated.

Fine, we say, pencils poised; just tell us how to fix it, what to do, and we'll do it.

Not so simple, she replies. "I have asked myself this question and have laboured for fifty years to find the answer, and am anxious to impart what I think I know, but the answer cannot be given in the form of 'Do' this and that, but rather as an invitation to 'Consider' this and that; action follows when we have thought duly."

First thing to consider: The life of the mind [or the spiritual nature] is sustained upon ideas; and a particular type of ideas. There are important ideas about the world that you can get from science experiments and all those other school activities, but here we are talking only about “the ideas that influence life, that is, character and conduct; these, would seem, pass directly from mind to mind, and are neither helped nor hindered by educational outworks.” In other words, the stuff we fill our classes with, especially of the sensory type, isn’t necessarily a bad thing here; but it isn’t what’s needed for the nourishment of the inner person. “Our schools turn out a good many clever young persons, wanting in nothing but initiative, the power of reflection and the sort of moral imagination that enables you to 'put yourself in his place.' These qualities flourish upon a proper diet; and this is not afforded by the ordinary school book, or, in sufficient quantity by the ordinary lesson. I should like to emphasize quantity, which is as important for the mind as the body; both require their 'square meals.'”

Second thing to consider: “Knowledge is not sensation, nor is it to be derived through sensation; we feed upon the thoughts of other minds; and thought applied to thought generates thought and we become more thoughtful. No one need invite us to reason, compare, imagine; the mind, like the body, digests its proper food, and it must have the labour of digestion or it ceases to function.” If there are no magic hats or lotions, there are also no magic pills or potions. So what is the educational equivalent of proper food that the body digests and uses for growth? “But let information hang upon a principle, be inspired by an idea, and it is taken with avidity and used in making whatsoever in the spiritual nature stands for tissue in the physical.”

So what is the point of calling this chapter “Self-Education?” Charlotte Mason is waiting for us to emit a huge A-ha here.

No, we’re not getting it?

She patiently spells it out: “No one knoweth the things of a man but the spirit of a man which is in him; therefore, there is no education but self-education…” 

Does that mean no more pencils, no more books, no more teachers, no more schools, and even no more homeschooling parents? Everybody’s on their own?

No, it means that, first, “as soon as a young child begins his education he does so as a student,” meaning that each learner, taking in ideas [of this type, meaning the normative, character-related, Big Question ideas] is also his own ‘teacher’”; and that, second, “our business is to give him mind-stuff, and both quality and quantity are essential. Naturally, each of us possesses this mind-stuff only in limited measure, but we know where to procure it; for the best thought the world possesses is stored in books; we must open books to children, the best books; our own concern is abundant provision and orderly serving.”  You don't eat for your children; you don't chew their food or digest for them.  But you do make sure it's there, and serve it in a way that's appropriate.  The same with their reading.

With an urgency that reflects her own sense of limited days, Charlotte Mason expresses what is, in her mind, the only real task of an educator: to zero in on the mind-to-mind ideas.
All through lunch Oliver ate without knowing that he ate at all. A baked potato, two slices of liver, and a large helping of beets (which he detested) simply disappeared from his plate into himself without conscious material assistance on his part. Inwardly he had entered once more the little room that was his discovery, his kingdom. He dwelt longingly upon the thought of the two old sleds, the bicycle, the coffee grinder (which he planned to take apart), and above all the books. Tomorrow I’ll go down again, he told himself, and whenever it rains, and Cuffy takes a nap. But I mustn’t go too often. Oliver was wise for his seven years: already he knew that to overdo a thing is to destroy it. I’ll keep it secret for a long, long time, he thought. He did, too; for he had great determination, and knew the secret of keeping secrets. Also he had a kind heart. Six weeks later when Randy had to stay home from school with a toothache he took her down to the cellar and showed her his discovery. It worked better than oil of cloves: Randy forgot her toothache for more than an hour and a half, absorbed in the dusty volumes of Harper’s Young People.—“Ali-Baba Oliver,” The Four Story Mistake, Elizabeth Enright
“For many years,” writes Charlotte Mason, “we have had access to a sort of Aladdin's cave which I long to throw open 'for public use.'” And here we go: look, look, look, she says: “It fits all ages! It satisfies brilliant children and discovers intelligence in the dull. It secures attention, interest, concentration, without effort on the part of teacher or taught….Parents become interested in the schoolroom work, and find their children 'delightful companions.' Children shew delight in books (other than story books) and manifest a genuine love of knowledge. Teachers are relieved from much of the labour of corrections. Children taught according to this method do exceptionally well at any school.“ “But these principles are obvious and simple enough, and, when we consider that at present education is chaotic for want of a unifying theory, and that there happens to be no other comprehensive theory in the field which is in line with modern thought and fits every occasion, might it not be well to try one which is immediately practicable and always pleasant and has proved itself by producing many capable, serviceable, dutiful men and women of sound judgment and willing mind?”

But it’s not a potion, something to rub on or pour down, she jokingly reminds us again. “After all, it is not a quack medicine I am writing about, though the reader might think so, and there is no IS. I 1/2d. a bottle in question!” And the key to the room, she has pointed out, is not dependence on a teacher, but the understanding that children’s “education should be largely self-education.” “Here on the very surface is the key to that attention, interest, literary style, wide vocabulary, love of books and readiness in speaking, which we all feel should belong to an education that is only begun at school and continued throughout life; these are the things that we all desire, and how to obtain them is some part of the open secret I am labouring to disclose 'for public use.'”

And THAT is the meaning of "I am, I can, I ought, I will."

P.S., says Charlotte Mason: “it is worth while to remember that thinking is inseparable from reading which is concerned with the content of a passage and not merely with the printed matter.”

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

First-week-back school thoughts

So how are the winter school plans working out so far (after two days)?

Best resource we have right now:  a backyard full of snow.  Snow forts!  Snow digging!  Snow sliding!  After a dark, bleak, and mostly snowless December, a cold but bright week with lots of snow definitely feels like a new start for January.

Best books so far:  Augustus Caesar's World, which we had just started before the holidays; and The Pushcart War, which we're reading together as well.  A couple of the others, I'm not sure yet, or we haven't actually started.  Ponytails and I read Augustus Caesar's World two years ago, so I remember it pretty well, but I'm still impressed at Genevieve Foster's ability to bring some potentially dry and hard-to-tell-apart characters to life.  It's not every writer who could handle introducing Cicero and even manage to include some of his backstory in a convincing way...although he's basically her Voltaire (from George Washington's World) in a toga.  I photocopied the two character pages from the first pages of Part One, and gave them to Dollygirl to colour while I read a few sections today.  (I notice she spent most of her time colouring Cleopatra and Octavia, the only women on the pages.)

Best idea for a short project:  make a coupon clipper booklet on the topic of Ancient Greece, while reading through a small stack of daily-life-type books.  The Apprentice did this years ago for a study of the Romans...I still remember the ads for "toga dry cleaning" and a "private academy for boys--we promise not to beat them too hard."

Best math question:  there's a photograph of a man in a hard hat standing beside the business end of what looks like a giant mechanical shovel, or something to chew things up anyway.  Estimating the size of the man, determine the scale of the photograph, and use the scale to figure out how wide the shovel actually is.  (It turned out to be about twelve feet wide, if the man was about six feet tall.  Although we had to figure that in centimeters.)  Bonus question:  what do you think the piece of machinery is?

It turned out to be one of these--only a contemporary version. A gravel pit shovel!

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Gaining Financial Momentum in the New Year: A Canadian View by Mr. Fixit

If I were to have a list of New Year’s resolutions pertaining to financial health for 2013, it would be for amusement only, because it is the steps taken in the past and the planning over months, years and decades that really determine your overall financial health in the new year. Just for fun, here is my list:

--Debt is a four letter word, so don’t use it unless a bus runs over your toes.

--Run your household like a business that makes a profit, which is invested in the future.

--Know your habits, both bad and good, by keeping track of expenditures; this helps you plan for the future.

--It’s not what you earn, it’s what you burn! Don’t light cigars with hundred dollar bills, because smoking is bad for you.  Besides, hundred dollar bills are made of plastic which emits toxins during combustion.

My wife and I have a daughter in her second year of university, another in high school and a third in grade six. We had lots of pressures and many changes in 2012, the biggest being my retiring from full time work to pursue self employment. Does this sound brave, foolish or insane? Not really; it was planned for years ago by utilizing the “run your house as a business” principle and the “invest in the future" principle.  During years of high income, RSP’s were maxxed, the house paid down, and child tax credit invested in RESP’s. We couldn’t see the future any clearer than Mr. Magoo without his glasses, but knew there would be challenges. Out of this grew a cycle where in January of each year the profit from our household was invested in an RSP, which was used as a tax credit to get back the tax we paid in the previous tax year during tax season in March. It worked something like this: we invested $5000 in our RSP, which generated a $3800 tax refund, which meant a $5000 investment only cost us $1200.

Those who qualify for Canada child tax benefit and other government incentives which were designed to help families save for the future can use this money to invest. Maxxing out the RSP as previously mentioned also lowers your net income tax and qualifies you for a larger share of these programs. This money, which in its peak years would average over $800 a month, was invested in an RESP, which has allowed our daughter to pay tuition and other costs without borrowing money.

In recent years we have also taken advantage of Tax Free Savings Accounts to save money for emergencies and in lieu of life or disability insurance. Purchasing benefits can be a drain for those who are self employed, are contractors, or are working for a company which has no benefits. Again, it sounds insane, but having a year’s worth of income stockpiled to be used in an emergency without meeting some institution’s rules of eligibility while you are in dire straits is a good feeling. Most years this was accomplished on less than $40,000 a year in family income.

Now running your house as a profitable business takes some patience, and understanding that you will not drive the newest, most luxurious car. Some of your household effects will be from garage sales and thrift stores, and your decorating may be back in style as "post modernist machine age era mid century retro" several times over.  Spend your money on things that retain their value or increase in value such as a home, education, antiques, and items that earn money because they are used as tools. In other words, durable goods. Non-durable goods that drop in value the minute you leave the store, such as big screen TVs, game systems, luxury items, and fancy cars, are a sinkhole and are often regretted after purchase. Most of these items can be picked up slightly used and not too far out of date at a fraction of what they cost originally.

Take a look at where you want to be this year, next year, even in twenty years; and start gaining financial momentum using some of these principles, which I can explain in more detail in future articles.

Linked from Festival of Frugality #370.  Linked from the Nerdy Finance Carnival #21: Trillion Dollar Coin Edition.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Marva Collins and a war of words

An early scene in the 1981 film "The Marva Collins Story" shows various classes in a large inner-city school.  Teachers and students are struggling over behaviour issues and little is getting done.  In Marva's class, a girl is reciting the funeral oration from Julius Caesar, and Marva (played by Cicely Tyson) reminds the class that they must not allow themselves to be swayed by rhetoric or pushed around by others' words, but that they should think for themselves.  Suddenly a fire alarm rings (something that is later said to be a regular interruption).  Marva tells her class to stay seated, and goes out into the hall; kids are pouring down the stairs and there's a teacher screaming at the boy who pulled the fire alarm.  She goes back to her class and says that if the children want to go outside they can, but that since it was obviously a false alarm, she is just going to get back to work because she has a "lot of teaching to do."

Thus illustrating the lesson louder than any fire bell.

Has anyone asked the real Marva what she thinks about the Common Curriculum guidelines, as described recently on the Common Room?  They shouldn't have to wonder.

And at least one academic would agree with her:
"The University of Arkansas’ Sandra Stotsky argues that an emphasis on informational texts actually prevents children from acquiring “a rich understanding and use of the English language” and “may lead to a decreased capacity for analytical thinking.” Dry government documents such as those recommended in the Common Core’s are “hardly the kind of material to exhibit ambiguity, subtlety, and irony,” she observes."--Why all the cool kids are reading Executive Order 13423, by Lindsey M. Burke, December 27, 2012,
As for the homeschoolers--are you going to let yourselves be pushed around by a little old fire alarm?  (Said with a Marva Collins inflection.) Back to work, there's a lot of teaching to do.

Linked from the Carnival of Homeschooling at NerdFamily Blog.