Saturday, February 28, 2015

"With Folded Hands": Servants, Masters, and the Will

Science-fiction writer Jack Williamson died in 2006; somewhat ironically, that's the year in which his 1947 novelette With Folded Hands was set. A half-hour Dimension X radio adaptation  was made in 1950, and is broadcast periodically on golden-age-of-radio shows.

Without giving away too many spoilers, the story is about servant-robots called Humanoids. They arrive on Earth to serve, protect, and make people happy. Their (extremely irritating) tagline is "At your service." The trouble is, they work too well. They do too much. They protect too much. If you let them in the door, they never leave. And their final method of making people happy is quite drastic.

Did I mention they're indestructible?

I'd forgotten about this story until our local golden-age show played it again this week. Over the next couple of days I kept thinking about how disturbingly close to technological reality some of that is now. But then an even better application came along: this week's chapter from Ourselves.

Guard the postern, says Charlotte Mason. Examine each and every one of those ideas that are all clamouring to get into your Personsoul. Because if you do let them come in, you may end up serving them instead of the other way around. If you sit around with folded hands (without using your Will), the ideas, fads and opinions of others will leave you even more helpless.

Pray first, she says; then go to work examining the applicants, and diverting your thoughts wherever necessary. But if that whole scenario scares you, remember what else she says, and it's something else that came up in this week's Latin lesson: Horatius and his friends had to confront only one enemy at a time.

Frugal Finds and Fixes for February

We went to a fill-a-bag sale this morning. Lydia found a dress, two wallets, a bracelet, a necktie for crafting, two cups and saucers, and a pair of pink shoes that will fit her friend who has smaller feet.
 Mama Squirrel found a book, a plate with a chip that's mostly in the back, straw paper plate holders, and an angel candleholder.
In other news: Lydia won a sweater in an online giveaway. She found two pairs of $50 jeans at the mall for $10 each, and a nice sweater for $6. Mr. Fixit scored a couple of radios for half price from an antiques market vendor who was closing shop. (If you don't read here often, that's what Mr. Fixit does, restoring vintage electronics and clocks.)

The furnace started making irritable noises, but Mr. Fixit was able to pacify it with the fix the heating guy showed him last time.

This week is 99 Cent Deals at Food Basics, so we bought a few extras and good deals there. Sweet potatoes, oranges, and apples are 99 cents a pound (it's catchier than saying $2.18 a kilogram).

I froze hot cereal in muffin tins, and ate those porridge hockey pucks for several breakfasts.

That's all I can think of...February is a short month.

Friday, February 27, 2015

When friends come

School plans for Friday (Lydia's Grade Eight)

Citizenship: Ourselves Book II; finish "A Way of the Will" and read "Freewill." This is the end of the "Will" section of the book.

Geography: continue the journey from Lake Tanganyika to Lake Victoria.

Mathematics: "solving for y."

English literature: the poetry of George Herbert. 

Composer study: Ralph Vaughan Williams, "Fantasia on Greensleeves"

Housecleaning: finish cleaning up the room so that Mama Squirrel can use it for a meeting tonight.

Book of Firsts: Chickadee is calling

A February thing to watch for, around here (if you don't live in the land of fresh basil and tomatoes): when I went out to get the morning paper, I heard one chickadee doing his hurry-up-spring carol.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Herbartianism Made Fun and Easy, Part Five: Don't teach bad things.

Part Four is here.
"There is a prevailing impression amongst teachers, and particularly amongst those who are connected with what is sometimes called a liberal education, that it really does not matter very much what one learns. The culture comes all the same. It is not the what, it is the how." ~~ John Adams, The Herbartian Psychology
There's a shocker for you. Adams is not agreeing with this or saying that it represents Herbartian education; he's refuting it.

Yes, CMers, you may well shake your heads over that one. Isn't that exactly what we have said that Herbartianism is? Does Adams perhaps have it wrong? Did the so-called "Herbartian" teachers miss out on something in their courses?
"In the present war of competing subjects, the main point of discussion is: Which gives the best result in culture,--which is best fitted to cultivate the mind? Classics, Science, Mathematics--each claims pre-eminence. It is left for the Herbartian to sweep aside all claims alike, and raise the preliminary question: Do any of them train the mind at all; can the mind be trained? The question resolves itself into the problem of the possibility of what is called formal education; that is, the possibility of training a mind irrespective of the materials upon which it is exercised."
Adams gives the example of three educated men who have specialized in different areas. He asks how they would respond to particular common questions and problems, for instance in finding a lost will (certainly something we come up against every day, no?). How would each one approach the task? Who would be the most successful? Adams, amusingly, backs the classically-educated man "because his studies have brought to him greater acquaintance with human nature," so therefore "he has a bigger and better-arranged lost-will apperception mass." For the Herbartians, those apperception masses are the key to educational success.
And then Adams' chapter on "Formal Education" takes an unexpectedly funny turn, as the question of potentially useful subject matter moves from a formal education based on, say, cricket, to Mr. Fagin's School for Young Criminals. Fagin, according to Adams, should get the teacher-of-the-year award. He's hands-on, he's concrete, he knows just how to get a lesson across, he can deal with reluctant students; and Bill Sikes knows how to present a good object-lesson too (involving a pistol). So does it really matter what the subject is, as long as the student develops his mind? Herbart, via Adams, says yes, it certainly does.
"Given the same first-class mind, we may turn out an Artful Dodger or a James Watt; given the same third-rate mind, and we may develop it into a Bill Sikes or a more than respectable artisan."
 Check this out, towards the end of the chapter:
"It is enough if it has been shown that the choice of subjects is important; that a subject must be chosen for its own sake, not for the sake of its general effect in training the mind. This is no base utilitarian conclusion...So far from opposing culture, the Herbartian theory is the strongest supporter of the fine arts and belles-lettres. The increase in intension and extension of interest is the gauge of the development of a soul. We must lose ourselves in our subjects, not seek to keep them outside of us."
So what about that idea that an education in the finer points of crime would at least serve to sharpen a child's wits, to develop perhaps an interest in chemistry or electronics, perhaps even to give him a sense of professional pride? To bring this into the current century, is it admirable to become a genius computer hacker, or to be a teacher of such?
"Crime as an educational organon is condemned, not because it fails to develop intelligence, but because it develops it in a wrong direction. We cancel Fagin's [teaching] certificate not because he is a bad teacher, but because he teaches bad things."

What's for supper? Chicken cacciatore

I know, too much slow cooker this week, but I wasn't sure when I'd be home to cook today.

So we are having:

Slow cooker Chicken Cacciatore
Carrot sticks

Stovetop blueberry crisp.

Herbartianism Made Fun and Easy, Part Four: If it's to be, it's up to...?

Part Three is here.
"On Froebelian principles it is certainly very irrational to hang a master because his pupil has committed a murder; but if Herbart is to be followed, the case for the master is not so clear....since the master can choose the ideas to be presented, and can modify and arrange them, there seems to be a prima facie case, for those who wish to hang the teachers of bad men." ~~ Sir John Adams, The Herbartian Psychology
A Froebelian teacher is "but a benevolent superintendent of the process of development which he allows to follow its own course." But if you want to be a Herbartian, you have to consider the idea that doing nothing for a child may be as harmful as doing something wrong. Adams goes on in this vein, saying that a teacher could be held directly responsible for the character of the adult she turns out, for either his success or failure. That's an awful burden to put on one human being.  But in fact, he says, it's virtually impossible for any adult, whether teacher or parent, to dominate a child's mind to that extent; really, you would have to be breathing down his neck 24/7, from birth to maturity.
It reminds me of a Ruth Rendell novel, The Crocodile Bird, which spends the first few chapters telling about a mother who, for reasons of her own, raises her daughter in isolation, away from all contemporary influences and media. The books they read together are all pre-twentieth-century. You might think that, farfetched as the story is, it does give an example of what Adams says is impossible: one person as "sole influence." You could quibble even with that and say that Shakespeare and the other classic authors were actually outside influences, but it doesn't matter much because even this mother's best-laid plans get thwarted. Her daughter accidentally turns on a television set in their employer's house, and it's all downhill from there., according to Adams, Herbartian educators may not shrink from their perceived responsibility for being The Ones to develop children's minds, but at least they don't want to turn out machines or monsters. Still, says, Adams, even if teachers do not play Dr. Frankenstein but just work very hard at supplying the proper ideas at the proper times, why doesn't our advanced education turn out adults who are all "honest, true, happy and clever?"

Oh. Well, says Adams, teachers don't always know the proper ideas or the proper times. We can believe in the theory without being, as he puts it, omniscient. Besides (and this takes up a good part of the chapter), what about the problem that some students are just smarter than others? Or is that just a fallacy? And are they born with intelligence, or is it environment? You've heard it all before, but the Adams/Herbart answer may surprise you.
"Tastes, dispositions, and will being eliminated, it is clear that what is left may be called, in a popular sense at least, pure intellect. That this intellect, considered apart from all the other elements of the soul, is equal among all men can hardly be denied, is hardly worth denying. When the process of elimination has been completed, we find that the intellect we have left does not amount to very much; to no more, indeed, than the simple undifferentiated being which represents the soul of the Herbartian Psychology."
And again:
"The conclusion of the whole matter is that we do not know whether all souls are equal at birth, and that after all it does not matter; for by the time the pupil makes his appearance in school, his soul is different from the other souls in his class. On the other hand, there is a sort of common lowest level of thinking. So far as we can reduce thinking to what is described in the old-fashioned Formal Logic Books, our minds may be regarded as equal." 
The first quote may leave us thinking that Herbart, via Adams, really doesn't think much of children's innate abilities (the Froebelian educator quoted in Part One said that too). You might even read it to say that we're all rather stupid until the teacher gets her hands on us. But the second quote says that, first, we do all have something unique that we're born with or that develops in the first few years of life; but that our learning processes, fast or slow, all follow the same patterns, and it really doesn't matter if you read early or late, or whether you take a long time to learn the times tables. This supports the idea of mastery learning: you get an "A" when you've completed the work or learned the skill, no matter how many times you have to try or how long it takes. But here is the point: that the same actual experience of learning will apply to everyone, whether we're slow in one area or quick in another. Though we may disagree about how much influence and indoctrination is acceptable, we can at least see how the principles of teaching and learning are true for each child; and that education means working with the way humans are made, not against it.

And on that point, Johann Friedrich Herbart and Charlotte Mason agree.

Part Five is here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

What's for supper? Slow food movement

Tonight's dinner menu:

In the little slow cooker: beef with orange-ginger sauce and mushrooms.
In the big slow cooker: basmati rice.
In the toaster oven: frozen mini samosas.
On the stove: mixed veggies.

Chilling for dessert: canned pineapple.  And yesterday's raisin-date bars.

Herbartianism Made Fun and Easy, Part Three: Like a surgeon

After his previous zinger about the omniscience and omnipotence of the teacher, Adams continues:
"It is difficult to overestimate the importance of this view from the teacher's standpoint. If the mind must wait till the right idea comes along, what an enormous importance must be attached to the theory of apperception masses. If the idea that the soul ought to choose is not there to choose, what can the soul do but choose amiss? Here Herbartianism appears to great advantage. During the process of education when the soul happens to be on the lookout for a certain idea, the teacher, knowing what is going on in the soul, and the laws according to which its mechanism work, can readily increase the presentative activity of the idea in question and send it right up to the dome..."
Do you notice any, perhaps, slightly fuzzy logic in that paragraph? This is what strikes me: that there is one and only one idea out there today, or at this minute, that you are supposed to grab onto. Like a surgeon asking for a particular retractor or Mr. Fixit asking for a certain size of drill bit, there is one and only one choice, with implied disaster if the tool is missing or you take the wrong one. You've missed your chance at the brass ring; your life will never be the same.

In response, I will quote Colonel Potter:
"Pony Pucks."
Learning is not a midway game of Lucky Duck, where you either win a prize or go home with nothing. And doesn't it make it sound like your chances are even slimmer if it all depends on whether a teacher is standing by, ready to fire the right idea at you at just the right second?
Charlotte Mason suggested that education should put the focus on the student rather than the teacher, the learning rather than the teaching. That is, not in the above sense where the hypothetical teacher seems to hover like an anxious ICU nurse, attention fixated on the student's mental vital signs; but in the sense of letting the child take what he needs from the feast that is spread. Yes, you can say with Herbart that what he ingests may join his apperception masses and head up to the top of the dome. But the point is that there are many good ideas, many opportunities to learn, and most of them won't come around just once. If you choose an apple instead of a banana for lunch today, you probably haven't missed your only chance ever to taste bananas.

Photo of antique surgical tools found here.

Part Four is here.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Quote for the day: C.S. Lewis on Rhetoric and Poetry

"I do not think that Rhetoric and Poetry are distinguished by manipulation of an audience in the one and, in the other, a pure self-expression, regarded as its own end, and indifferent to any audience. Both these acts, in my opinion, definitely aim at doing something to an audience and both do it by using language to control what already exists in our minds." ~~ C.S. Lewis, Preface to Paradise Lost; quoted in C.S. Lewis Then and Now, by Wesley A. Kort (2001)

Herbartianism Made Fun and Easy, Part Two: Let's talk about a sheep

Part One is here.

In the Part One post, I mentioned that Sir John Adams (the author of The Herbartian Psychology) saw Froebelian education as the opposite of Herbartian. He says that Froebel brought education as far as recognizing the importance of the individual learner; but that his theory lacked any real means of explaining or working with that individuality, that it didn't go far enough. "Almost every teacher thinks that when he has shown a thing to his class, he has done the highest, the best, the ultimate, in teaching....[but] the average child does not see what the master is showing him...[it] does not ensure that teacher and pupil shall speak of the same idea, when they talk of a sheep."
Adams says, "[Froebelian theory] suggests the immense importance of knowing [the student]; which is much, [but] It leaves to others the task of supplying this knowledge." (emphasis mine)  Yes, we see that each child is unique, that each one learns a little differently; but we aren't given much help in knowing what to do about that.

So here we have a problem set up, with Adams' assumption that Herbart found an answer or at least came closer to it. Adams says that so far "we have failed to explain ideas by the mind; how about explaining the mind by ideas?" What if the ideas are like critters we should be hunting down, and the mind (or soul, in Herbart's terms) is more like a ranch or a zoo where they can be corralled?

Herbart said that ideas "have a vitality all their own"; that they are the only thing that can affect the soul (mind); and that when "a soul has reacted upon an idea, it can no longer be the same soul that it was before." "The ideas really make up the mind," in the same way as it is the writing that holds the meaning, not the paper or the computer screen. But if Herbart (via Adams) was looking for practical results rather than theory, what might these ideas suggest to the teacher? Is the teacher then a sort of cowpoke, rounding up and organizing all the stray little dogies? A question that doesn't seem to bother Adams, at this point, is asking who really owns the "critters," or has final say over which ones come in or where they belong.

Adams' interpretation of Herbart in response to this is a little different from what CMers might assume. "The popular notion is that knowledge has to be carefully prepared beforehand by the teacher, and then judiciously stuffed into a suitable place in the pupil's mind, a sort of mental left-luggage office, there to be left till called for." If that is our only understanding of Hebartianism, and it might well be, then according to Adams we have missed something. One of my reasons for writing these posts is to try and be fair to Herbart; he wasn't always wrong.

But though Adams is a most genial guide to Herbart, he occasionally throws in a jaw-dropping pronouncement and then moves on. One such is this (page 73):
"On this view, the function of the teacher becomes clear; for, unlike most Psychologies, Herbart's has an obvious and immediate bearing upon education. The soul is in the teacher's hands, inasmuch as the apperception masses can be made and modified by the teacher....Every idea in that little head is a force with which the teacher must reckon. His first duty is obviously to discover as much as possible about the contents of John's soul. Only so far as he succeeds in this is he able to understand the reaction of John's soul upon any given idea. The very inevitableness of the soul's reaction is the teacher's chief aid. Here he finds the fulcrum for his lever. The rest of his work is actual building up, edification."
It's at that point where we start to see the true gap between Herbart and Charlotte Mason. Do we want to let even a well-intentioned teacher pry into our heads? CM is about not only recognizing that we have our own thoughts, but that they are between us and God; that we have the right and the responsibility to corral our own critters.

Part Three is here.

Monday, February 23, 2015

What's for supper? Invented casserole

Tonight's dinner menu:

Chicken-vegetable casserole
Baked potatoes

Pears baked with dates and a little honey
Chicken Vegetable Casserole I Just Invented


2 cups leftover cooked ground chicken with taco seasonings
1 cup frozen corn
1 cup frozen broccoli, more if you love broccoli
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup sour cream
1 egg
1 cup shredded cheese (I used a Tex-Mex blend with jalapenos)
Whole wheat bread crumbs mixed with a little olive oil, enough to cover the top

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a greased 8-inch square pan or casserole dish, combine leftover chicken and vegetables. Combine broth, sour cream and egg, and pour over vegetables. Cover top of casserole with cheese, then crumbs moistened with olive oil. Bake at 350 degrees until set. I took it out after 45 minutes and let it sit 10 minutes before cutting.

You could add extra seasonings, but our chicken and cheese were already well-seasoned, so I let it be.

Herbartianism Made Fun and Easy, Part One

Here's an opening to a post which is sure to scare most people off:
Most of what I have read about Herbartian educational psychology has been through the lens of Charlotte Mason. I've posted what I know about him, and some still-useful links. I've even written an impertinent story about Herbartian teachers.  But it's only recently that I've had the chance to dig a little deeper and find out not only where CM and Herbart clashed, but where they agreed.
And you're probably wondering why you should even care about that.
Life is short. We're busy homeschooling or doing whatever else we do. Sir John Adams (1857-1934) says the same thing, at the beginning of The Herbartian Psychology Applied to Education (1899)Teachers, as he knows, don't have a lot of time. They also like practical things they can use. They may be forced to read a book on Herbartian theory as part of an education course, or maybe they are just keeners who want to be able to talk educationese, but in any case they are probably not interested in Herbart per se, they are interested in teaching and in finding out if Herbart has any useful information that applies to them. So Adams' book is the late-Victorian equivalent of a Dummies' Guide to Johann Friedrich Herbart.
In Adams' view, at the turn of the last century educators could be either Froebelian or Herbartian. He confessed to being Herbartian, not so much because Herbart converted him but because that's what his educational sense told him was true. What is the difference between them? An American (Froebelian) educator of the same period wrote this:  "The great difference between Froebel and Herbart may be found in the difference of appreciation of children and child life. Herbart's greatest mistake was his lack of recognition of the instincts and spontaneous activities of the child. To fail to understand the child is a fundamental failure.To fail to appreciate the action of the child's mind up to the school age, is a great mistake." Froebel just sounds nicer, doesn't he? Besides, he started kindergartens, and they're nice and friendly and child-centered.

So why bother with Herbart? Why did Adams find himself in that camp? What do Herbart and Adams have to offer present-day CMers?
Herbart is all about ideas: where they come from, how we access them, sort them, prioritize them; and what the best way is of acquiring more of them, or, if we're teaching, getting more of the important ones into the minds of students. He has a couple of images that he likes to use. One, familiar to those who have read Charlotte Mason's criticism, is that ideas like to form themselves into clumps, or "apperception masses." In a way, it's like "science of relations": you can make more of information that connects with something you already know, and if there is no prior connection, the idea is meaningless and sinks into oblivion. Adams suggests, as an example, "hiro." It's a nonsense word, or at least one that, to most people, seems meaningless (it's actually a Mohawk word). No connection, no reason to remember it, at least until he tells you how the word became part of the French and then the English language. After that, the word has an "'apperception mass" to hang on to. For instance, I didn't even have to go back and look that word up in Adams' book; I actually remembered it because of his explanation.

The other Herbartian image is that of your conscious mind being a sort of dome shape, with ideas, that, once they're admitted, go floating up through the air (with their proper apperception masses), jostling for position towards the top of the dome. The floor of the dome is like the threshold of your consciousness; there are many ideas below that threshold at any one time, and they go back and forth between the levels. The biggest apperception masses, and the ideas spending the most time near the top, represent your main interests. Adams, for example, had a great big apperception mass labelled "educational theory" that took up a large part of his mind space, a large part of his time.
Charlotte Mason appears to have had no big argument with the idea of ideas, even of their needing to find other compatible ideas to hang out with. She says that she thinks Herbart's mind theory is more lacking in the application of habit: you have the ideas, but what do you do with them? She also has a different and important thought about how ideas get in there in the first place, and particularly the teacher's role in that. But so far, so good?

Part Two is here.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Paraphrase of Bacon's "Of Beauty" (Lydia's Grade Eight)

This is Lydia's (uncorrected) paraphrase of "Of Beauty" (also called "Of Virtue"), by Francis Bacon.
Virtue is like a gem...better showcased in a plain ring than a distracting one. Virtue does better in a pretty person, but not a young, undignified person. And one that is dignified rather than cute and delicate. Usually perfect people have pretty much no virtue. Like nature was trying just to get the job done fast, instead of being a perfectionist. They seem pretty amazing, but they're kinda boring. And they tend to be more interested in learning how to be perfect than virtue. But not always. Augustus Caesar, Titus Vespasianus, Philip le Bel of France, Edward the Fourth of England, Alcibiades of Athens, Ismael the Sophy of Persia were all great guys, while still being very handsome. Generally peoples features matter more than the color of their skin in beauty, and gracefulness trumps features. That's the best part of beauty...because no photo can capture it. You can't see it when you first meet the person. However, no one is perfect. Everyone has flaws. Nobody can tell whether Apelles or Albert Durer was more of a perfectionist. One of them used geometrical proportions, the other one would take the best part out of everyone's faces and put the all together, to make perfect, flawless people. But these pictures only pleased the painters. They're great, but they're made wrong. If you look carefully they're weird, but altogether they're perfect. 
If it's true that beauty is mainly grace, then no wonder younger people are more beautiful than old people, because no young person can be beautiful without special reason. Beauty is like can be corrupted...AKA it can rot. When you are young, you are not as pretty as when you grow older and more beautiful and virtuous. 

What's for supper? Tortilla night

Tonight's dinner menu, with Grandpa Squirrel here:
On the stove: Taco Lentils.
In the slow cooker: Taco Ground Chicken.
In the fridge: Leftover shredded pork.

To go with any of these: tortillas, shredded cheese, peppers, shredded broccoli, olives, and corn chips.

Dessert: Poppyseed pound cake and ginger boys, both from Giant Tiger.

Quote for Sunday: Infinity and beyond

"A former Professor of Theology at St. Andrews was asked how he treated his subject. The true spirit of the complete pedagogue is crystallized in the answer: 'I just begin wi' infeenity, and go right on.'" ~~ Sir John Adams, The Herbartian Psychology

Saturday, February 21, 2015

I have to throw this one in: process vs. product in teaching

"It is true that some of the kindergarten paper work and drawings are in themselves pretty enough, in their childish way, to deserve attention on their own merits. But with regard to such objects two things must be observed. First, that the beauty of the result has no relation whatever to the value of the work which produces it. Secondly and chiefly, that a consideration of the results in themselves gives rise to a strong temptation to neglect the most profitable ways of attaining results, and to adopt easy methods of producing striking but uneducative results." ~~ Sir John Adams, The Herbartian Psychology

Take that, Ontario EQAO testing, and all the rest of your kind.

Two weeks left in the term (Lydia's Grade Eight)

We could take a quote for this coming week from "Uncle Eric": Humans are not made to be gods, they can't handle it.  It reminds me of something I read recently in a Mitford book: that it is not up to us to make everything and everyone around us perfect; that's God's job. Isn't that kind of what Charlotte Mason said too, not to interfere with the Holy Spirit's work in human souls?
School plans for the week:

Bible: already scheduled.

Christianity and art: finish chapter 4 of Seeing the Mystery.

Citizenship: A chapter from Ourselves Book II. Whatever Happened to Justice?, chapter 27, "The Fun is in the Playing."

History: concentrate on The Trial of Charles I.

Geography: the journey from Lake Tanganyika to Lake Victoria, with maps.

Composition: work in The Roar on the Other Side.

English literature: the poetry of George Herbert. Choose some memory work. Fierce Wars and Faithful Loves.

Readalouds: keep reading Perelandra. I have a feeling we're not going to get through this by the end of the term, but that's okay.

Composer study: Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Ecology: Chapter 11 of Exploring the World Around You: "Succession." How does the observable process of succession parallel the hypothetical process of evolution? This chapter refers to a Canadian film, "The Spruce Bog: An Essay in Ecology," directed by Dalton Muir in 1957. The film does not appear to be available online, but the link is to the original two-page teacher's guide.

Science biography: The Seashell on the Mountaintop.

Latin: keep working on Lesson VII of Our Roman Roots (we're about halfway through the book).
P.SThe school year is going by so quickly, way too quickly. We have two weeks left in the term, then exams, then a week's holiday, then Term Three. And if you don't think it's going to be hard not to try to stuff every very last thing into that very last term...

Quote for the day: A Double Accusative

"'Verbs of teaching govern two accusatives, one of the person, another of the thing; as, Magister Johannem Latinam docit--the master taught John Latin.'  Thus far the Latin rudiments. When the master seeks to apply the principle in real life, he finds that he can manage his double accusative only by the possession of a double knowledge; he must know Latin; and he must know John. Not so long know Latin was regarded as all-sufficient. John was either taken for granted or held to be not worth knowing." ~~ Sir John Adams, The Herbartian Psychology

Friday, February 20, 2015

Quote for the day: Nothing new, nutrition too

"There is something grewsome [sic] in reading, for instance, of 'the psychic action of coffee.' Cannot we even have breakfast in peace, without elegantly expressed but terribly depressing remarks on coffee as 'an intellectual poison?' To be sure, we have the comfort of learning that while itself a poison, this part of our breakfast is an antidote to another poison--opium....We would at once forswear coffee forever were it not that, a couple of pages further on, we are told that nearly the same things apply to tea and cocoa. We close the book hurriedly, and rejoice that psychophysics is as yet in its infancy." ~~ Sir John Adams, The Herbartian Psychology

Thursday, February 19, 2015

What's for supper? A new soup recipe

Tonight's dinner menu:

Leanne Ely's Double Potato Soup, made in two pots so that one doesn't have chicken broth.
Gayle's Peasant Bread, one loaf with poppy seeds, one with sesame

Apples, oranges (see, two kinds of fruit too)

Political Power...or Service? (Lydia's Grade Eight)

Book studied: Whatever Happened to Justice?, chapter 26.
"Uncle Eric" has an out-of-the-mainstream view on political power. He says,
"Political power is not the capacity to build a better world. It is [the privilege of using] force on...persons who have not harmed anyone. It is something done to someone....Political power is violence."
He quotes people such as Thomas Bailey Aldrich:

"There is a possible Nero in the gentlest human creature that walks."
And William Hazlitt:

"Power is pleasure."
So here are some things to think about:
Which of the three images from Arthur show actual political power in use?
Is there a legitimate use of political power? Should Christians be involved in their country's government? In the police force? How should they act if they are put into or achieve positions of power? What does the Bible say? (This article is useful.)
"Christianity enhanced the notion of political and social accountability by providing a new model: that of servant leadership. In ancient Greece and Rome no one would have dreamed of considering political leaders anyone's servants. The job of the leader was to lead. But Christ invented the notion that the way to lead is by serving the needs of others, especially those who are the most needy..." ~~ Dinesh D'Souza, What's So Great About Christianity?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

On our Tenth Blogaversary: We are not just aggregate data

It's ironic that the tenth anniversary (blogaversary) of Dewey's Treehouse falls on the same day as the first U.S. Common Core-based standardized testing.

It's ironic partly because this blog has never been all about education, but, in another sense, yes, it is. It's about the past ten years of watching our children experience different sides of home and government education. It's about the growth and changes of the AmblesideOnline curriculum in those ten years, and the ongoing discussions of Charlotte Mason and "subversive teaching." Even when I'm posting about what's for supper, it reminds me that "education is a life."

Last night I finished reading Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, by Martha C. Nussbaum. (Martha C. Nussbaum is the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics in the Philosophy Department, Law School, and Divinity School at the University of Chicago.) In vocabulary and in some of her suggested solutions to education issues, Nussbaum does not run along all the same tracks as Charlotte Mason or the Circe Institute. She spends a lot of time discussing the Socratic method, and she has a surprising amount of respect for the current U.S. president, although (even in 2010) she said she did not entirely trust his educational outlook. I think that she's not totally into "dead white (Protestant) guys"; she would prefer a more global and inclusive curriculum. She believes in democracy, in spite of what "Uncle Eric" says about it.

However, when it comes to the need for a more humanizing education, and the consequences if it's lost, I'm right in there with her. Charlotte Mason warned against utilitarian education. Nussbaum warns against allowing education to be controlled by economics. This week, the Truth in American Education website posted this:
"Then the vice-chair of the NGA Education and Workforce Committee said something peculiar.

 “'The Elementary and Secondary Education Act will allow states to align our needs through early education to higher education with the needs of our innovative businesses, developing a stronger workforce development pipeline, expanding opportunity for all of our people and ensuring that students are prepared for success in all phases of life,' said Governor Maggie Hassan (D-NH).

"There you have it.  They believe education is about the needs of our business and not the needs of our children and their families.  It’s not about teaching kids to be well-educated, well-rounded citizens.  Instead education is to be a pipeline for the workforce.  That’s the shift from classical education to workforce development."
A word that Nussbaum uses throughout Not for Profit is "sympathy." In a list of abilities that citizens should have (page 25), she includes "the ability to have concern for the lives of others, to grasp what policies of many types mean for the opportunities and experiences of ones fellow citizens, of many types, and for people outside one's own nation." Next on the list is "the ability to imagine well a variety of complex issues affecting the story of a human life as it a way informed by an understanding of a wide range of human stories, not just by aggregate data." (emphasis mine)

On this day when the success or failure of Common Core will be computer, no less...let's celebrate sympathy. Let's hold up the failing hands of imagination. Let's have some fun that is funny.

Happy Blogaversary. Climb on up, share some stories, have some cake.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

What's for supper? Shrove Tuesday, but not pancakes.

Tonight's dinner menu:

Salmon, cooked on the stovetop
Brown rice
Last night's salad and/or leftover sweet potatoes
Cheesy Salsa Corn Muffins (I left the cornmeal out, if you're wondering why they aren't very yellow)

Monday, February 16, 2015

From the antiques market

We went to the antiques market, for some fun on Family Day. A lot of the booths had special sales on, so the place was pretty crowded. Ponytails bought records. Lydia found a teacup. Mr. Fixit bought a Polaroid camera. I was searching for one book but didn't find a copy there; but I did bring home a 1940's Pilgrim's Progress, and Herbartian Psychology by John Adams. You can read Herbartian Psychology on; it's a book that Charlotte Mason quotes in Chapter VII of her Philosophy of Education.

And two of us won free coffees when we "rolled up the rim to win" at Tim Horton's afterward. So all in all it was a worthwhile trip!

What's for supper? Again with a friend

Tonight's dinner menu:

Farmer's sausage with sauerkraut
Pasta mixed with white beans and a bit of cheese
Sweet potatoes
Spinach salad
Carrot sticks

Butterscotch bars
Thawed frozen blueberries

Quote for the Day: Ignore the arts, or fear them?

"But educators for economic growth will do more than ignore the arts. They will fear them. For a cultivated and developed sympathy is a particularly dangerous enemy of obtuseness, and moral obtuseness is necessary to carry out programs of economic development that ignore inequality....aggressive nationalism needs to blunt the moral conscience, so it needs people who do not recognize the individual, who speak group-speak, who behave, and see the world, like docile bureaucrats." ~~ Martha C. Nussbaum, Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (2010)

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Plans for the week (Lydia's Grade Eight)

Monday is a holiday here (Family Day). Here are some planned activities for the other days.


Hymns: Continue learning "O God, My Faithful God."
Celebrating the Christian Year, by Martha Zimmerman. Chapter 8, Shrove Tuesday.

Francis Bacon: "Of Beauty" (also called "Of Virtue") (Harvard Classics, page 106). Listen to it read aloud, slowly, and narrate back as well as you can.  Names and Latin phrases to be put "on the blackboard" as an aid to narration.

Readaloud novel: Perelandra, by C.S. Lewis

Latin lesson

Independent work: Bible, math, grammar, history, science readings.

Celebrating the Christian Year, Chapter 9, Ash Wednesday.

Ourselves Book II, chapter IX.

Geography: continue Journey to the Source of the Nile.

Latin lesson

Independent work

Celebrating the Christian Year, Chapter 10, Lent. Read pages 107-109

Whatever Happened to Justice?, Chapter 26.

Francis Bacon, "Of Virtue": work on paraphrasing the first half of the essay.

Readaloud novel: Perelandra, by C.S. Lewis

Latin lesson

Independent work

Celebrating the Christian Year Read pages 109-112.

Justice: finish the chapter as needed, and read some of the quotes on the following pages.

Francis Bacon: complete the paraphrase.

Picture talk:  Albrecht Dürer, the Apocalypse series of engravings. More here.  Also described at Khan Academy.

Latin lesson

Independent work

Saturday, February 14, 2015

St. Valentine's Day Dinner

Tonight's dinner menu:

Salt and pepper chicken wings (frozen kind)
Reheated squash
Leanne Ely's Pasta with Garlicky Greens and Beans...leaving out the beans, because...

Ponytails made Black Bean Brownies.
We also have a few fresh raspberries to go with those.

A Homeschooling Valentine

Illustration by Joan Walsh Anglund, from Love is the Best Teacher.

Friday, February 13, 2015

What's for supper?

Tonight's dinner menu (we had a friend stay at the last minute):

Leftover orange juice chicken
Thawed chicken-rice-bean casserole
Vegetarian chili made very quickly with sliced mushrooms, a can of mixed beans, frozen corn, and spices
Butternut squash
A few perogies
Rolls, bread


A muffin, date and yogurt-pretzel plate arranged by Ponytails.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Consider This makes it clear (book review)

I remember when homeschoolers were first reading Susan Schaeffer Macaulay's For the Children's Sake. It sounded nice, but we had to scratch hard for the how-to's. That led many of us to the newly-reprinted CM Series books, and we started to find out where the most useful bits were, in all those pages. We all seemed to be hollering for practical, concrete, and writers like Catherine Levison obliged with concise CM-made-easier books. How to do copywork and narration, what Charlotte Mason said about math. The operative verb seemed to be "use": we "used" Charlotte Mason.

In more recent years, it seems that the most common questions of CM methods, though still sometimes misapplied, are well-understood enough to allow CM discussions to return to the big picture, the philosophy. This is very welcome, especially for those who may not be actively homeschooling but who find more and more wisdom in Mason's writings. As I wrote here in a review of Laurie Bestvater's The Living Page (2013), talking about Charlotte Mason has become less homeschool-ish, more of a larger effort to value people and their families, homes and communities; a new understanding of why relationships matter, possibly because those things that were once taken for granted are now rare commodities. Susan Schaeffer Macaulay wrote regretfully about people seeing children just having fun playing outdoors together as unusual, families reading together as unheard of; that was thirty years ago, and things are worse than ever.

So when new CM books are published these days, they tend not to repeat the "user's manual" information; we seem to agree now that it's time to stop "using" Charlotte Mason and simply learn from her, as she learned from those who came before her. The Living Page discusses notebook keeping and the "blank page" philosophy in new ways. Karen Glass's book Consider This (2014) focuses on wisdom-in-action, examining a long classical tradition of character-centered education. The interesting thing is that all of this ends, like the best CM lessons, with the opportunity to do something about it: to find a blank book or, if need be, staple some pages together to write down favourite quotes; to sprout some seeds, to read a book, to look for loveliness. In a way, we're back to the ideals of happy family life described in For the Children's Sake. It's time now, and we need it more than ever.

If I were to make a word cloud of Karen's book, particularly the last, most hands-on chapters, I'd choose words like this: We need to begin with a life-giving, relational, synthetic (putting-together, making connections) kind of thinking and learning that begins with relationships, and involves delight, loveliness, wonder, enthusiasm, heroes. Much of that learning is going to be centered on names, words, language, books; books that make us want to know more, that show us that there is order in the universe, that truth exists and that we can know some of that truth, though we need the humility to see that we will never know all of it. We will incorporate analysis, picking-apart, facts and terminology, when they are useful and necessary, but the main focus, for most of the school years, will be synthesis.

In a way, you could skip the buildup to Karen's later chapters (but don't do that, the earlier part is interesting on its own); even stop worrying your way through Charlotte Mason's books, at least temporarily; and focus on what is indeed practical and concrete. Eat apples. Sprout seeds. Sail twigs. Read stories together. Narrate them back. Act kindly. Sing hymns and silly songs. Have courage. Learn to be a mensch.  It's not only that everything fits into something else, but everything you've tasted and touched and read fits into you.  Our learning is a gathering together. It is putting together and seeing wholeness before we try to take apart and analyze fragments. As parents and teachers, we need to provide a healthy learning environment, to offer ideals to strive for, to teach habits of right thinking (and right acting), and to allow children opportunities to think, to explore, and to act.

If that is classical, I'm in.

What's for supper? Orange crockpot chicken, and a muffin recipe

Tonight's menu:

Crockpot Orange Thyme Chicken, from Leanne Ely's Saving Dinner. Review: it was okay, but the orange flavour was a little intense, and it definitely needed salt. Oh well.
Egg noodles
Mixed vegetables

Ginger-oatmeal muffins


1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup rolled oats
2 tbsp. ground flax seed (optional, we had some so I used it)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt

1 egg
1/2 cup canola oil or equivalent preferred fat
about 1 cup plain yogurt
a bit of applesauce, maybe 1/2 cup
water as needed to correct the dry-wet ratio

Preheat oven. Mix the dry and wet ingredients separately, then mix together, adjusting liquid if needed. The batter will start to look a bit bubbly right away, so get it in the oven quickly. Spoon into greased or lined muffin cups. Bake 15 to 20 minutes at 375 degrees F. Makes 12 large or 24 small muffins.

Justice, Latin, and Tanzania (Lydia's Grade Eight)

Today's lessons include Whatever Happened to Justice?, Journey to the Source of the Nile, and finishing the week's Latin lesson.

1.  Uncle Eric, Chapter 25, "The Great Mystery." This chapter may seem too "American" at first glance, but it's kind of cool anyway. There's a description of small-L liberals, who "believe in social freedom and economic control." Then a description of small-C conservatives, who "believe your production and trade should be free, and taxes very low, but the government should control licentious things like pornography, drugs, and gambling." So which group would you rather hang out with? But which side would you rather have in power? Because this model "explains only how liberals and conservatives think, not how they behave." What is the problem? "Political power."

2.  Geography, pages 143-148. The group arrives at Lake Tanganyika.

3.  Our Roman Roots, Lesson VI.  Map quiz game on page 41 of the student book. Review the verbs of command (stand up, sit down, etc.).  Review activities for the week, and then do the Lesson VI Quiz (it includes a map, so be prepared!).

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Things I'm doing today

Re-reading Karen Glass's book Consider This. I have had this in e-book for awhile, but recently acquired a hard copy.

Shoveling snow.

Folding laundry.

Marking math.

Serving leftovers.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

What's for supper? Taco potatoes

Tonight's dinner menu:

Taco potatoes (cut up, spiced and baked in the toaster oven). For carnivores: ground beef, salsa and cheese on top. For vegetarians, potatoes scooped out before adding meat. For everyone: other choices like sour cream, olives, more salsa.  Tortilla chips would have been nice but you can't have everything.

Acorn Squash, cut in eighths and cooked on the stove

James Barber's mother's "Steamed Pudding," with blueberries.

Even rude comedians sometimes get it right

Grandpa Squirrel shared his copy of last weekend's Globe and Mail with us, and one interesting piece was this column about comedian Louis C.K. (Warning: adult language and content.) Louis C.K. is probably not someone I would enjoy watching or listening to, not my cuppa at all, and I totally don't agree with the last quote in the column, but I liked this part:
"Louis C.K. is a moralist, with a knack for simplifying concepts mistaken for complex. I started watching him around my final year as a philosophy undergrad, and it was like discovering a hole at the base of a tall fence. Here is Kant:
'Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.'
And here is Louis:
'You should act in a way that, if everyone acted that way, things would work out.'” ~~ Alexandra Molotkow, "Louis C.K. Knows How to Pack an Ethical Punchline"

Three lessons for Tuesday (Lydia's Grade Eight)

1. Subject: Art and the Christian Faith (which might have been Sunday Reading in the Parents' Union School, but we do it on weekdays).  Book used: Seeing the Mystery, by William S. Taylor. Beginning Chapter Four, "Over against us."

We have already mentioned the Dutch church where there is a carving of Jesus in Puritan dress. On page 53, Jesus is shown as a North American Native. On page 54, the artist Gauguin paints Jesus with carrot-orange hair.  Read the paragraph on page 54: Do these images of Jesus distract too much from his divinity?

Skip to page 57, and read from "Most of the time, we are simply not aware of the way that cultural influences permeate our perceptions," to the middle of page 61.  Look at the Javanese painting and then at Stanley Peters' Totem Cross. The author admits that Totem Cross makes him uncomfortable; what is your own response? (Is "comfortable" what we're really searching for?)

2. Subject: Canadian History. Book used: Grand River, by Mabel Dunham (1945); Chapter One, "A League of Indian Nations."

Introductory: Look at a map of Ontario and find the Six Nations Reserve, south of here. What do you know already about that area? The Six Nations did not always live there, though; they used to live in New York State. The land here was granted to them as a reward for loyalty to Britain, after the American War of Independence. And before they were the Six Nations, they were called the Five Nations.

Read pages 3 to "He had made the Men of Men in his own likeness; he had engraved his own image on their hearts" on page 5. This section lists the original Five Nations, and describes the interior of a longhouse. After listening to the passage, draw a longhouse as it was described.

Read pages 5 through 10, the legend of the formation of the Confederacy of the Five Nations. Narrate.

Read the last part of the chapter. Note Dunham's comment that "The confederacy functioned so satisfactorily that to this day it is regarded as a most remarkable political structure." What surprising thing was it able to achieve? Why do you think it worked so well? How did the Five Nations finally become the Six Nations?

At the end of the chapter, she mentions the Six Nations artifacts that (at that time) the New York State Museum had on display, such as wampum belts. In recent years, many of these items have been returned to their rightful owners. Read this article and give a short oral summary.

3. Subject: Natural History. Book used: Keeping a Nature Journal, by Clare Walker Leslie & Charles E. Roth.

Assignment on page 103: take a walk outside, and bring back plant materials such as twig samples. Remember which plants or trees they came from, if you know their names. Observe your finds using a magnifying glass. Make drawings in your nature notebook. Also make any notes of today's weather, birds seen, etc.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Quote for the day: the danger of an educated imagination

Quoted in a post of September 2010.
"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

What's for supper? Bean Soup

Tonight's dinner menu:

Slow-cooker navy bean soup, the same kind we had here

Homemade rolls, the recipe we made at Christmas. Made into bacon sandwiches if you want.

A lesson on Justice: Might or Right? (Lydia's Grade Eight)

Subject: Citizenship. Book studied: Whatever Happened to Justice?

Review: On page 126, "Uncle Eric" says, "The Founders did not like democracy and they did not trust it. They wanted liberty." Explain what he means by this.

On page 128, there is a short list of "obstacles to voting" in the early years of the United States: gender, skin colour, etc.  It turns out that less than three percent of the adult population were permitted to vote. Read the rest of the chapter and explain why 3%, at that time, was actually a novelty.

Chapter 23 is a short discussion of one question: if the Constitution was supposed to be the highest law of the land, where did Common Law now stand?

Read just the first page of Chapter 24. What is the meaning of the expression "robbing Peter to pay Paul?"  Why don't we want to do this? Why does "competing for privilege" mean that "everyone is scrambling for control of the blackjack?" Can you think of any fictional parallels?

At the bottom of page 134, "Uncle Eric" says that courts now seek to find ultimate law in the Constitution.  OK, then, he says; let's look at the language of the constitution. Your assignment: Read the rest of the chapter (one page and a bit) out loud, as if you were Uncle Eric (Aunt Erica) giving a speech.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Reposted quote: Alan Paton on St. Francis

First posted February 2008.
"....I wish to place on record that I am in unrepayable debt to Francis of Assisi, for when I pray his prayer [Make me an instrument of Thy peace], or even remember it, my melancholy is dispelled, my self-pity comes to an end, my faith is restored, because of this majestic conception of what the work of a disciple should be.

"So majestic is this conception that one dare no longer be sorry for oneself. This world ceases to be one's enemy and becomes the place where one lives and works and serves. Life is no longer nasty, mean, brutish, and short, but becomes the time that one needs to make it less nasty and mean, not only for others, but indeed also for oneself."--Alan PatonInstrument of Thy Peace

Image found here.

Friday, February 06, 2015

What's for supper? Stir fry, salmon patties

Tonight's dinner menu:

Salmon patties
Cauliflower-mixed veg stirfry
Basmati rice

For Mr. Fixit: R.I.P. Radio Shack

Sea Symphony School (Lydia's Grade Eight)

Today's school plans:

Poetry readaloud: the Walt Whitman texts that are used in Ralph Vaughan Williams' A Sea Symphony.

Finish reading The Merchant of Venice.

Exploring the World Around You, Chapter 10: "Population Growth and Control.' "After about four years of such population growth, the lemmings begin their famous mass migration toward the sea...when they reach the coastline, they plunge into the water rather deliberately and swim out into the Atlantic Ocean."
Canadian Lemmings cartoon found here. They're saying "After you" "After you."
How to Read a Book: finish the chapter "Agreeing or Disagreeing with an Author."
"A person who has read widely but not well deserves to be pitied rather than praised. As Thomas Hobbes said, 'If I read as many books as most men do, I would be as dull-witted as they are.'" ~~ Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
Our Roman Roots: continue Lesson VI

(That's as far as we got--finishing Adler took longer than I figured.)

Read  Larry Rothe's article "The Vaughan Williams Brand" and then listen to some of A Sea Symphony (CD from the library).

Thursday, February 05, 2015