Monday, April 30, 2018

Quote for the day: "The mechanics of unhappiness"

"In the same way that your joy does not equal the price of an item you buy, neither do the functions of that item. A down jacket that costs double the price of the one you already have will not offer double the warmth. Your dissatisfaction continues, and you reach out for something else. You know you'll get used to the next thing and become tired of it as well, but you can't help predicting the future based on your present feelings...In the back of your mind you know that you'll never be satisfied, but you keep thinking that maybe this time the brief sense of happiness you feel will be the real thing. These are the mechanics of unhappiness, and they exist no matter how much you spend, no matter how much you own." ~~ Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism, by Fumio Sasaki

Sunday, April 29, 2018

From the archives: Charlotte Mason and dandelions

First posted May 2010, part of the Month with Charlotte Mason series

We started with A Leisurely Education. Freedom from the small round of busywork, opportunity to grab hold of something bigger, learning to see ourselves (including our children) more as we are in God's time and in God's universe. Living without futility.

And I'm ending with dandelions.

The Treehouse backyard this week has been covered with yellow dandelions. Much-maligned little flowers that provoke criticism from the neighbours (spraying's in disfavour, but they would like to see us at least hard at work rooting them out). They're not good for much except making more dandelions (okay, I know you can eat them too). The first big batch are either going to seed or were cut off last night with the lawnmower, but they'll be back. [As in, within 24 hours.] Nobody really gets rid of dandelions forever, even if they want to--they're stubborn. And we don't want to get rid of them. In spite of the seasonal allergies kicking in around here, we like our dandelions.

I get the feeling that cultivating a yard full of unfashionable dandelions is somewhat like our approach to education, and maybe our approach to life. This is a time of too many conflicting ideas, at least around lawn care. Lawn spraying is now illegal here (we didn't spray anyway), but people still expect you to have a weed-free, dandelion-free, well-trimmed piece of grass around your house...more or less the same as anyone else's. Educational powers talk about diversity while squeezing out the individual. They dump a lot of fertilizer, if you'll pardon the metaphor, and try to control what grows and what doesn't.

Keep the dandelions growing, if only as a reminder that our natures are stubborn and won't be satisfied with educational sludge. Leave enough room for the intangibles and the poetry--as Cindy Rollins said, we can always catch up on grammar later.

A game of romps (better, so far as mere rest goes, than games with laws and competitions), nonsense talk, a fairy tale, or to lie on his back in the sunshine, should rest the child, and of such as these he should have his fill. ~~ Charlotte Mason

Quote for the Day: Don't turn off your brain

"There is even a sense that an undeveloped mind is more virtuous than one prepared for battle...for many Christians, humble ignorance is a far more noble human quality than a cultivated mind...[but] deep within the worldview of the biblical authors and equally within the minds of the earliest church fathers was the understanding that to be fully human is to think." ~~ James Emery White, A Mind for God

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Who made my dress? (Fashion Revolution Week)

This is a long black cotton t-shirt dress, made in Hong Kong. The label is a brand name used by a company in Toronto that imports clothing from Asia. If you're hoping for organic, fair-trade, and sustainable, this dress unfortunately isn't going to be it.
So why am I featuring it as a way to wrap up Fashion Revolution Week?

Because it illustrates the tensions we face in trying to act and dress with justice. What's the best way to use our resources?

I was looking with some envy at very nice organic cotton t-shirt dresses made by an ethical company in New Zealand, and sold through an online shop in western Canada. They run about US$100, or Canadian$130, and come in black, grey, and a gorgeous plum colour. You would probably not be sorry if you put your money into one of those dresses.

But that's still a lot of money. So I bought two t-shirt dresses at the thrift store, for six dollars apiece. One is sort of alligator green, and I was planning to re-dye it in plum, except that I didn't know its cotton-polyester blend ruled out home-dyeing-in-a-pail. (It might be possible to use a special synthetic-friendly dye and cook it on the stove, but that's not really practical for us.) I'll try to pass it on to someone who does look good in alligator green.

The other dress is black, which is generally not my favourite colour, but I kind of like it in this dress; it's practical and even a bit elegant. The long length can be belted up, and the style goes with just about everything. Just like a $130 dress from New Zealand.

I made a choice this time around, between buying something new and ethical, or something used and ethical. I don't know who made my dress. But I know who benefits from it.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Saving the planet when you're over fifty (Fashion Revolution Week)

Much of the media produced for Fashion Revolution Week seems aimed at young consumers (or anti-consumers). People who wear distressed denim and have tattoos. People who look great in wildly ethnic, eclectic, funky clothes (and can afford them). People who are not me, and maybe not you.
Thrifted silk t-shirt. I hardly ever find silk clothes, so this made me very happy.

However, those of us over a certain age have strengths too, such as longer memories. We remember when clothes really lasted, or when they didn't but we kept wearing them anyway.  We remember having to take sewing in school, or having someone at home who sewed and mended. We remember when shoes and clothes took a bigger bite out of our babysitting money, or our parents' wallets, so we had to take extra care of them.

Some of us grew up with hand-me-down clothes. Some of us had patches ironed on our jeans, and not the decorative kind. Some of us found back-to-school shopping downright torturous. Those long memories aren't all good.

But just as we are old enough to know that card catalogues weren't always on computers, and dinner wasn't always drive-thrus, we know that clothes haven't always been all fall-apart fast fashion.
Canadian-made jacket and skirt (thrifted)

We are old enough to make choices. And we are not too old to make choices.

If you knew that a particular retailer or manufacturer was causing harm to people or the planet, would you stop buying from them? Where do you think a retail store's unsold clothes go? Have you ever asked?
Do you notice where things are made, or what they're made from? How easy is it to find clothes made in your own country, or from quality fabrics? How much of a price difference do you think is reasonable for natural-fabric, fair-trade, or sustainably-produced clothing?
Do you ever shop consignment or thrift? Swap clothes with friends? Up-cycle something unwearable or boring? Knit yourself a hat? Happily wear a favourite piece of clothing over and over?

At fifty-plus, we are old enough to wear clothes we couldn't have carried off in our younger days. My husband said that grey suit has "character," and I took that as a compliment.

We are old enough to remember when blue rivers meant clean water, not dye runoff from jeans. But we are not too old to want to help make things better..

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The women who wear them (Fashion Revolution Week)

"Clothes aren't going to change the world; the women who wear them will." ~~ Anne Klein
I wanted to include a photograph, but I couldn't choose just one (and didn't have permission to post them here anyway); so please click over to this Mennonite Central Committee story and see some beautiful women for yourself.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Made and treasured (Fashion Revolution Week)

Fashion Revolution Week: April 23-29, 2018

These cushion covers (from Ten Thousand Villages) are not clothes, you say.

Yes, I know.

But they have something in common with the aims of Fashion Revolution Week.

They were loomed by hand, by artisans in India who used the ikat dyeing-weaving process. If you're not sure what that is, take a look at the crafting footage in this video from My Green Closet.

Besides the fact that making ikat cloth seems incredibly difficult and time-consuming, which unfortunately makes it expensive, there's another point to consider: it's valuable because real people used their eyes and hands and tools and skills to create it. Like the Fashion Revolution slogan "Loved Clothes Last," it means that items made with that much artistry are for keeping. We put them to use, but we also treat them with care, out of respect for their makers, for the materials, and the creativity embodied in them. Like hand-knit slippers, or hand-penned calligraphy. Or a recycled-iron owl (also from Ten Thousand Villages, but not currently on their website).
Things kept and used in this way take on a meaning outside of words like "sofa cushion."

And clothes kept, worn, worn again, maybe mended or dyed or altered, take on meaning as well. It's not just a jean jacket; it's your jean jacket. 

That's a long way from fast fashion.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Quote for the day: Any similarity to real-life teaching is purely coincidental

"Administrators and politicians don't like to hear that teaching is situational. They need to believe that standardized indicators of good teaching exist that can be proven to be reliable and valid across multiple contexts. I have spent my life in such systems and, while they may make the administrative task of assigning annual scores to a teacher's performance easier, any correlation they have with an accurate assessment of what actually goes on in a classroom is often purely coincidental." ~~ Stephen D. Brookfield, The Skillful Teacher

Friday, April 20, 2018

Four thrifted books

 The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, by Lesslie Newbigin
"What comes home to the heart of the hearer must really be the gospel and not a product shaped by the mind of the hearer...But of course the truth is that every communication of the gospel is already culturally conditioned...[the need is] to speak God's word to the total context in which people are now living and in which they now have to make their decisions."
The Art of Facilitation: How to Create Group Synergy
"The way to bridge the gap between groups is to establish commonality of values, purpose, vision and shared experiences. Full humanity covers the whole range of human emotions including love, joy, sadness and loss. Consciousness leads us towards one another, unconsciousness leads us away."
UnPoverty: Rich Lessons from the Working Poor, by Mark Lutz
"When we lived in South Africa, my family constantly heard our white friends rationalize the injustice of apartheid, unable to see wrong in what they were doing and unwilling to recognize rampant exploitation. Knowing this propensity, I must force myself to stand back and look objectively at my position in the world, lest I continue in blissful ignorance."
Tales from Ovid, translated by Ted Hughes
"Some are transformed just once / And live their whole lives after in that shape. / Others have a facility / For changing themselves as they please." ~~ "Erysichthon," in Tales from Ovid

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

R-E-S, C-U-E (Fashion Revolution Week)

Fashion Revolution Week starts next Monday

Recently we were watching the 1990's series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, an episode called "The Quickening." Starfleet travellers landed on a planet where everyone was born with a plague, and would eventually die in agony. Starfleet's Doctor Bashir thought he could easily find a cure for the problem, but his attempts at treatment failed. The people of the planet were angry with him, and he felt humiliated by his powerlessness. Near the end, the doctor's favourite patient died in spite of the new drug he had been giving her; but her baby had absorbed the drug and was born free of the disease. The adults were not cured, but their children could be saved.

This story can be read in many ways. It may be about admitting our own arrogance, and the limits of our knowledge. It is also about compassion, dedication, and hope for a better future. One of the biggest points was that nobody could help those already born with the plague; but someone who cared, and who kept trying, could make a difference for the next generation.

Who cares that much about the people of our planet, especially those who get the least attention? In spite of the annual media blitz around Fashion Revolution Week, disheartening stories continue to surface.
"In the wake of Rana Plaza, which occurred months after a deadly factory fire at Tazreen Fashions killed 112 mostly female garment workers, global outrage spurred several international efforts to prevent deaths and injuries due to fire or structural failures. Safety measures were instituted at more than 1,600 factories. Hundreds of brands and companies signed the five-year, binding Bangladesh Accord on Building and Fire Safety ...
 "In a recent series of Solidarity Center interviews, garment worker-organizers from several national unions applaud the significant safety improvements but warn that employers are backsliding. And workers seeking to improve safety in their factories often face employer intimidation, threats, physical violence, loss of jobs and government-imposed barriers to union registration.*
"They have forgotten the lessons of Rana Plaza," Fashion Revolution blog.

*I know the link is incorrect; that's how it was posted on their blog.

Whose responsibility is it to remember the lessons, and to make sure the rest of us do as well? Factory owners? Big corporations and retailers? Consumers? Media organizations like Fashion Revolution? National and local governments?  Religious groups?  Political activists? The United Nations? The workers themselves? At first we may feel far away from both the scene and the cause of such tragedies. But when we do become informed and want to do...something...we may feel like mice with very little power. Especially if we're just the guy holding the broom.

But there are things even mice can do. Ask questions and talk to people, in person or on social media. Find out "who made your clothes." Do some "haulternative" shopping (that includes non-shopping). Read news sources that seem to care about giving true facts (not propaganda). Give Black Friday shopping sprees a pass. Write letters. Make videos. Donate, or give some volunteer hours, to groups concerned with justice in the garment industry, and with the education and health of women and the families they support.

Can't it be this generation that creates hope?

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Bamboo can be beautiful in burgundy (thrifted finds)

I don't usually post the brand names of clothes I find at the thrift store, but I make an exception for sustainable or fair-trade companies and fabrics. This is a Bryn Walker jersey tunic (or dress), made in the U.S.A. from bamboo, organic cotton, and a bit of Spandex.

What colour is it? I'd call it burgundy leaning towards cinnamon. The first photo is probably the closest to the actual colour.
Another view, but this one looks more purple than it really is.
It's the right length for leggings.
But it can also be a dress.
It is nice to have a change from grey!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Quote for the day: Philosophy and plumbing, both legitimate

"The time and problem orientations do not imply that everything adults want to learn is so immediate as fixing the plumbing...For one person, finding out whether beauty lies in a museum painting or in a mountain-top view may constitute a legitimate learning problem. For another person determining how the ancient philosophers combined work with study may be an equally immediate problem." ~~ William A. Draves, How to Teach Adults (1984/1997)

Friday, April 13, 2018

Saving the planet, one t-shirt at a time (thrifted finds)

This month I decided to focus my thrifting on summer tops. I bought a couple of (new) cotton t-shirts a year ago, but they got worn and washed a lot, and it was time for replacements. Last week, I found this grey flower-power t-shirt. Today's "haul": three more shirts. That's enough to make it through summer.
Off-white, mostly cotton, with tiny dots that look like silver puffy paint. I needed something white that would go with everything, and this was it.
This one is a plain style, but the fabric is merino wool and lyocell, which gives it a nice texture.
3/4 sleeves, trim around the neck, and more purple than my blue-obsessed camera thinks.

Conclusions? I'm feeling much like I did about thrifting a homeschool curriculum: that there is so much used stuff out there, so many books, so many clothes, so many wire baskets and hooks with birds, that we could pretty much stop manufacturing new stuff and draw on what's already made. Could it ever happen?

Thursday, April 12, 2018

From the archives: Charlotte Mason education is a lot like adult education

First posted April 2010; part of the Month with Charlotte Mason series

Now all that we have said about habits and so on is really important and key to understanding Charlotte Mason, but in all this we’re still missing something basic, and this is one of the most important things to teach: the love of learning. “How much does he care?” Charlotte Mason asked. 
Here are some easy ways to kill someone’s love of learning: 
1. Never give kids anything more interesting than technical exercises and drills. 
2. Don’t let them think their work is really important... 
3. ...or that whether they do it well really matters.
4. Compare them with each other frequently
5. Make them go over all their mistakes, and confuse them by letting them see wrong sums and spellings as much as the correct ones.
So how do we encourage that love of learning? How do we bring the children into our schola, and make them want to come back for more?

Charlotte Mason said that we want to motivate children to continue learning by allowing them to see the learning landscape or “vista” before them, an opportunity spread out but not discouragingly vast. They need to get the sense that they are getting somewhere, that they are able to solve problems and think through answers, and that they want to know more and do more. 

“In other words, he learns as his elders elect to learn for themselves, though they rarely allow the children to tread in paths so pleasant.”

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Wednesday Hodgepodge: Jazz it up

1. April is National Jazz Appreciation Month. Are you a fan? If so what's a favorite you'd recommend to someone new to jazz listening?

Favourite type of jazz, group, performer, or radio station? One we haven't caught for awhile but which we used to listen to regularly was the Ronnie Scott's Radio Show with Ian Shaw.

It's hard to say whether I like old jazz performers or new ones better. Around here we never get tired of people like Oscar Peterson and Miles Davis, but it's interesting hearing music from current performers as well, like Robi Botos.

2. Mandolin, ukulele, harp, accordion or banjo...which would you be most interested in learning to play? Or do you already play one of the instruments listed?

I have never tried any of those and don't have any plans to. I like to listen to music more than I like to play it.

3. Do you judge a book by it's cover? Elaborate. You may answer in either/both the literal or figurative sense of the word.

I judge lots of books by their covers every week, when I sort and price at the thrift store. Covers, as well as size and shape, are quick clues to genre and quality. Paperback novels usually are a different size from non-fiction. Adventure fiction (like Clive Cussler) looks different from romance novels. The store shelving is alphabetical, so the Grishams cozy up with the Gabaldons, Graftons, and Goudges. If we ever get any Goudges, which is rare.

4. According to a recent study the ten most nutritious foods are-almonds, cherimoya (supposed to taste like a cross between a pineapple/banana), ocean perch, flatfish (such as flounder and halibut), chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, swiss chard, pork fat (shocking! but I don't think they mean bacon), beet greens, and red snapper. Are any of these foods a regular part of your diet? Any you've never ever tasted? Which would you be most inclined to add to your diet?

That list would make a very interesting party menu, at least. I have never eaten cherimoya or red snapper, and I wouldn't say most of the others are regulars here.  We don't eat fish as much as we used to--it's gotten expensive. Almonds, ditto, but I did buy some for Easter.

We used to have chard more often when we grew it ourselves--it's never as good from the store.

5. Besides a major holiday what is the most recent thing you've celebrated with your people? Tell us how.

A double birthday party--cake and a mixture of food. No beet greens or pork fat, but there was some hong shu tofu.

6. Insert your own random thought here.

Yesterday I found this wire basket (or flower wall art, if you like) at the thrift store. It can sit on a table by itself, but I thought I would jazz it up with something placed in the middle.
A glass jar of beach pebbles, plus a tea light
Or a bowl of seashells.
Maybe an angel? (I'm thinking with a bit of green stuff at Christmas.)
Or a basket, and something in the basket like a pot of flowers.

What would you do with it?

This post is linked from the Wednesday Hodgepodge at From This Side of the Pond.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Thrifted finds

A wire basket to dress up a table (things to do with it?)
Tending the Heart of Virtue, and Reading for the Common Good
A knee-length, stretchy cotton-blend skirt, good for wearing with sweaters (and tights, because we're still waiting for warm weather here).

Monday, April 09, 2018

More for the reading list

These just arrived at the door: textbooks for the next course.

There is, it seems to us,

At best, only a limited value
In the knowledge derived from experience.
The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies,
For the pattern is new in every moment
And every moment is a new and shocking
Valuation of all we have been.
 ...Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.

T.S. Eliot, from "East Coker" in Four Quartets

Mama Squirrel's "Reading Week"

I am on a two-week break between "Foundations of Adult Education" (course #1) and "Facilitating Adult Learning" (course #2). Last week for me was mostly writing/editing/formatting/publishing. This week is "vacation," so I'm catching up on reading and other things.

Mama Squirrel's Reading List

The Meaning of Adult Education, by Eduard Lindeman (1885-1953)

The Cocktail Party, by T.S. Eliot. I just finished this, and I won't pretend that I understood it all, but it was interesting.

Praying Twice: The Music and Words of Congregational Song, by Brian Wren

Sabbath, by Wayne Muller

The Longing for Home: Recollections and Reflections, by Frederick Buechner

Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee (a birthday gift last month)

Saturday, April 07, 2018

From the archives: Northrop Frye, on young poets and weasel words

First posted April 2005 

Two nice quotes from Northrop Frye:
"As long as [a young poet] is writing primarily for himself, his thought will be rooted in private associations, images which are linked to ideas through his own hidden and unique memory. This is not his fault: he can write only what takes shape in his mind. It is his job to keep on writing and not get stuck at that point....Then he is likely to pass through a social, allegorical, or metaphysical phase, an awkward and painful phase for all concerned. Finally, a mysterious but unmistakable ring of authority begins to come into his writing, and simultaneously the texture simplifies, meaning and imagery become transparent, and the poetry becomes a pleasure instead of a duty to read.....Every once in awhile, we run across a poet who reminds us that when the lyrical impulse reaches maturity of expression, it is likely to be, as most lyrical poetry has always been, lilting in rhythm, pastoral in imagery, and uncomplicated in thought." ~~ Northrop Frye, "Letters in Canada," 1953 (reviews collected in The Bush Garden)
"He realizes that the enemy of poetry is not social evil but slipshod language, the weasel words that betray the free mind: he realizes that to create requires an objective serenity beyond all intruding moral worries about atomic bombs and race prejudice." ~~ Northrop Frye, speaking of Canadian poet Louis Dudek

Friday, April 06, 2018

Frugal finds and fixes...and to be fixed fixes

Finds, clothes: I may have mentioned before (ahem) that I have bought my share of thrifted things that didn't work out so well. Either I misjudged the size (the too-small leggings, the baggy tank top), or I tried them on (again) at home and wondered what I was thinking (the old-lady pants).

So I dropped those things off this morning (volunteer day). And afterwards, I found a few things that do fit and that I do like.

Dark grey leggings with pleather trim:
A grey (maybe taupe) cotton t-shirt from "Gran Canaria," and a necklace with the same flower shapes:

Finds, not clothes: I was cleaning out cookbooks in the back room at the thrift store, and came across this box of recipe cards.
I didn't care about the cards; I just wanted the pretty box for a kitchen decoration.
But I might use some of the recipes too.
I brought home just one book: T.S. Eliot's play The Cocktail Party.

Fixes: Remember the thrifted necklace on the right?
I was putting it on last Sunday, and the thread broke. Luckily, only a few of the beads came off, and Mr. Fixit says he can mend it with some knots and fabric glue (on hand).
Proofreading a new book also counts as fixing. (Coming soon.)

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Free fashion-revolution fanzine

Fanzine #002: Loved Clothes Last is free to read online at The Fashion Revolution. How generous is that?

From the archives: Mozart, long division, and the tough stuff

First posted April 2010

Last night I found myself deep in Charlotte Mason's School Education (the third volume in the Home Education series), because I was thinking hard about how what we do for school here does or doesn't match up with CM goals. (Sometimes it doesn't!) I did take some time out to watch Mr. Holland's Opus, including the part where Mr. Holland's school cuts out all the music and drama courses because of lack of funds and because the administration does not value those things.

Vice Principal Wolters: I care about these kids just as much as you do. And if I'm forced to choose between Mozart and reading and writing and long division, I choose long division.
Glenn Holland: Well, I guess you can cut the arts as much as you want, Gene. Sooner or later, these kids aren't going to have anything to read or write about.
It's hard to get away from the discussion and thinking over educational questions in Ontario over the past couple of weeks, questions about political correctness, about the school vs. the family's role in teaching anything beyond the "basic" subjects. The Toronto weekend papers were full of comments from people who would seemingly like nothing better to get their hands squeezed tightly around the minds of my children. We've also been talking about spiritual warfare as part of a study at church. It all leads me to a sense not so much of despair but of urgency, a sense that if our children are to have a chance to stand against not only systematic reprogramming of personal values but against the Vice Principal Wolters of the world, we need to give them some very strong tools to do it with and we need to do that now.

Ray Bradbury and Aldous Huxley, though not necessarily kindred spirits to CM, agreed on one point: that books, real books, are the strongest of those tools. Take books away from people, either physically or by taking away their ability to read them (or their belief that books are valuable, or their understanding that some books are just paper with covers while others are more than that), and you can reprogram your subjects to think any way you want. Find them again, and the winter of frozen minds starts to thaw and bud into spring. It even happened in the Bible.

That's why slaves were forbidden to read. That's why printing presses and newspapers are often damaged or closed down during times of political turmoil. Knowledge (not just information, as Charlotte Mason repeatedly said) is power. Thinking is power. Reading is power. We have the natural world, we have Mozart, we have paintings, we have so much more there to discover...but beyond that, we have books. They are still there. We can still read them. They disappear from the library shelves and from publishers' lists, but they often show up (as if in retaliation) as e-books and on used booksellers' sites. Nobody's taken away the Harvard Classics online. Nobody's yet taken away your right to buy books by David Hicks and Richard Mitchell. Or Bibles, at least for the time being and at least in this country. Or Shakespeare. Or the books that inspired Frankenstein's monster. If they humanized him, can they do less for us?

The definition proposed here for "a leisurely education" was having the freedom (time, space, opportunity) to discover what makes you fully human. Without a doubt, that freedom is being pulled away. Pull back as hard as you can, as long as you can.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

From the archives: Why not just the 3-R's?

First posted November 2006

There has been much written, and much of it wise or at least well intended, about the value of simplifying young childrens' schoolwork, and about not trying to teach them physics before they've mastered phonics. A recent post to that effect on another blog got many positive comments from veteran homeschoolers. They agreed: take it easy on yourself and your kids; don't try to do too many subjects too early; stick to the "3 R's" until the junior grades. And if you do teach science or history in the primary grades, don't expect the children to remember much of it. 

This isn't so much a rebuttal as just another way to look at things.

In Ruth Beechick's booklet A Home Start in Reading (part of her 3-R's series, but we won't hold that against her), she describes the following experiment carried out by a school district:

"Some kindergartners in the district received extensive instruction in reading. Others spent the same amount learning science. They melted ice. They observed thermometers in hot and cold places. They played with magnets, grew plants, learned about animal life, and so on. Books and pictures were available for these children if they wanted them, but no formal lessons in reading were held.

"And what did the school district learn? By third grade the ‘science’ children were far ahead of the ‘reading’ children in their reading scores. The reason? Their vocabularies and thinking skills were more advanced. They could read on more topics and understand higher level materials. The ‘reading’ children, by starting earlier, used up a lot of learning time on the skills of reading, while the ‘science’ children spent the time learning real stuff. And when they did begin reading, they were older and knew more and learned in a fraction of the time that the others took.”
(Ruth Beechick unfortunately doesn't provide any footnotes or verification for this study, so we'll just have to take her word for it.)

Now this may sound like an argument for the don't-teach-them-to-read-early camp, and in fact that is the context in which Dr. Beechick was writing: not to pressure children to read until they're ready. However, all the Squirrelings have happened to be early readers. By kindergarten age, they have all been reading fairly fluently, which, ironically, gives us the same curriculum problem we would have if we didn't want to teach them reading early: what else to do during school time if much reading instruction isn't needed or wanted?

Well, we read books. Out loud, silently, together and alone. Narration of one kind or another often follows.

We do copywork and work on handwriting skills; Crayons practices making her numbers right way round.

And, like the kindergarten experimenters, we "do." Especially this year, with a fourth grader (with a late-in-the-year birthday) and a kindergarten-age child at home during most of the day, I'm trying hard to keep a balance between reading and "doing." Some days feel like we're eating a curriculum pizza with the works (and the kids are helping make it). 

We have a big map of the world on the kitchen wall (which Crayons loves to look at and find places she knows, like Poland), and an edible-ingredients model of the atmosphere on the kitchen counter. (We may have to borrow back some of the Thermosphere if we run short.) Already this fall we have had leaf lessons on the back porch (with samples all around us); have acted out (more than once) a favourite story about King David; have made file-folder pictures of the characters from "As You Like It"; and listened to Leonard Bernstein's orchestra demonstrating how Haydn added humour to music.

We've played domino concentration and Pico Fermi Bagels, looked forward to the next chapter of Peter Pan, and memorized Emily Dickinson's poems. (Crayons liked Michael Bedard's picture book Emily, and also the poem that starts "I started early, took my dog and visited the sea; The mermaids in the basement came out to look at me.") We make up new verses to songs, and try to answer Ponytails' Big Questions about everything. The girls mess around with a keyboard and a lap harp. They make up ongoing doll stories, radio shows, and hospital dramas. When the Apprentice comes home from school, she teaches them games she's learned in drama class. Mr. Fixit also lets Ponytails help (as the Apprentice did) when there's a tape recorder or some other piece of electronic stuff to be refurbished. 

Now this may not be very different from the daily experience of homeschoolers who say "stick to reading, writing and math for the first few years." Maybe when people say that, they're not including all the things they do with their children and which their children do spontaneously. (I'm typing this while listening to a Squirreling who chooses not to be identified vocalizing at the top of her lungs while playing under a card table tent. They've been opera divas singing "The Voices of Spring" all day after watching The Three Stooges' "Microphonies.") When they put together a very short list for first-grade curriculum, maybe they're not including the books already on the shelf and the games and puzzles they pull out of the closet, and all the other resources they have in their kitchens and workshops.

At the same time, it worries me that "cutting out all those extras" could also mean subjecting primary-age children to an (unnecessary) hour daily of math and the same amount of time spent on phonics AND spelling AND language. No wonder some people can't even imagine adding more to a young child's schedule.

Was it a waste of time for the kindergarten classes to melt ice and play with magnets? According to Dr. Beechick, no; the "real stuff" stirred their imaginations and gave their minds something to work on. (Charlotte Mason would say that they were learning from Things and Ideas.)

Is it a waste of time to do botany and geography and poetry with kids who still play with Polly Pockets? Will they remember everything? No. Will they learn something about their world, that it's a much bigger and more interesting place than the tiny corner of space and time that we inhabit, and yet that even our tiny corner has enough to keep us going for a long time? I hope so.

Monday, April 02, 2018

The blazer that wouldn't go away

This dark grey blazer did not get off to a good start.
I bought it last July, during a Cruise Night stop into the Salvation Army Thrift Store. (Translation: Mr. Fixit was looking at old cars, and I went along because there's an SA in the same plaza.) This was the occasion on which the cashier asked me if I wanted the 60-and-over discount. Thanks, that just made my day.

I liked the blazer, especially the detail of the big button at the top; but the weather was hot and I put it away for fall. When things cooled off and I started trying to wear it, I realized the sleeves were too long. So I kept not wearing it. Then I crossed it off the capsule wardrobe list. In January, I sent it to the MCC thrift store.

A month later, I saw it on the last-chance rack and bought it back for two dollars. But the sleeves were still too long.

So I did what I should have done in the first place: took it to the cleaner/tailor's to have the sleeves shortened. It's probably the most money I've ever paid for an alteration, but I understand why: lined blazer sleeves are hard to do. That's why I wasn't going to touch them myself.

So now I've not only redeemed this blazer twice from the afterlife of unsold clothes, I've also funded its life-saving surgery. Like owning a cat who's run up a huge vet bill by swallowing a ball of yarn (happened to friends of ours), or a car that's required a new transmission, I get the message that I had derned well better appreciate it and wear it.
So I plan to.