Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Some of the Difficulties of Modern Motherhood: A New Parents' Review Article, Part 3 of 4

Part 1 is here
Part 2 is here

Without going so far as the complete separation suggested in this scheme, there is no doubt that the whole tendency of modern life is, for the poor as for the rich, towards an alienation of the children from their parents - Sunday schools, games clubs, free meals, even the "happy evenings for the little ones," what excellent schemes they all are!  Yet I confess that full of admiration as I am for each individually, as a whole, I dread their results.

Nature is a stern economist, and unused powers soon atrophy, and when all the mother work has been taken over by State and Philanthropy, home life will cease to exist, and the best incentive to heroism and self-devotion will disappear, with the last of the old-fashioned mothers.

But the question especially before us in this paper- the question that I am earnestly hoping some other parents will help me to answer, is what ought we mothers of the middle and upper classes to do in this matter? Are we to give up the management of our children altogether to experts in each phase of child life, or are we to "face the music" of professional criticism and insist on doing a certain amount ourselves?  Personally, I do not think there can be any complete or definite answer to this question.  Each mother must decide for herself, what she can and will do for her children, for it is not every woman who can nurse a sick child, or teach a wilful one.  Two things only I venture to plead for. Let us keep some definite share in our children's lives- if we cannot teach them, or nurse them, then at least let us play with them, or work with them, but at any rate, have a real personal share in the young lives, somehow, so that we may not become to our children the mere payers of bills, and adorners of childish garments.

The other definite duty that I should like to urge is that the mother, what ever else she gives up, should at least keep in her own hands the first religious instruction of her children, surely, the God who has knit together with such amazing closeness the lives of child and mother must have intended the first knowledge of Himself to come from her.  No two human beings think of God quite in the same fashion, but by teaching the little ones ourselves we can at least make sure that the first image help up to the childish mind is the noblest and most beautiful we ourselves can conceive. In this case it is really no excuse to say, "I am no good at teaching."  No one need be a professor of theology or a trained instructor to impress upon a child's mind the one great fundamental truth that underlies all true religion- that in all that He says and does and is- God is Love; so that our little ones "being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend, with all the saints what is the breadth, and length and depths and height- and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge."

This one lesson, so simple that the babies can understand it (sometimes they seem to understand it better than their elders) so deep and complicated in connection with the mysteries of sin and suffering and death, that even the wisest of our clever sons can never fully grasp it, this we must face boldly with our children or neglect the greatest opportunity that God has given us; for when a boy learns from his mother's lips, with all her soul's tenderness in voice and eyes, that her love is but a shadow dim and imperfect of the love of God, then he gains an impression of God's love that in beyond all words, and that no one else on earth can ever give to him.

But it may be urged this great lesson does not cover the whole ground of a child's religious education.  That is true, and although I have not the smallest doubt that it would be better for the child to have learnt this lesson, and missed all the rest, than to have learnt all the rest and never mastered this- still there is no reason why the rest should be neglected. Here comes in the difficulty....

To be continued

Background information (from the first part of the article):
Our source for this article: Previously, I shared how the Advisory obtained the Parent's Review volumes which our volunteers have typed for Leslie to put on the website.

Shortly after that blog-post, our volunteers finished typing up the last of the 9 volumes that were in the Advisory's possession.  Providentially, we believe, at that same time one of our AO users shared that another volume was available for sale in England at a charity website.  It was shockingly underpriced (I think about ten pounds), so I scurried over there and bought it.  (I really love the internet, don't you?)  It's volume 19, published in 1908.    You can see the table of contents listed here on our website.

We'll be posting more photographed pages to share for volunteers to type as soon as I can coerce, er, I mean, cajole and convince, my 17 year old to photograph it for us. Her 23 year old sister did the photographing of volume 2 for us and she does physically still live at home, however, she is currently absorbed in college work and wedding plans.  The 17 year old is lobbying for a reduced school schedule in exchange for photography work. (Updated: we had come to an amicable arrangement, and then ran into camera problems, and we are now awaiting a new charger).

In the meantime, I thought I'd share an article that I enjoyed here on the Advisory Blog. I'll be posting it in installments.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Difficulties of Modern Motherhood, cont.

cont. from this post.
"Has she used them to establish those deep life long bonds of love and sympathy and mutual help and understanding, which should year by year take the place of mere physical or animal affection- or has she, to use the stinging words of Mrs. Lyn-Linton "allowed motherhood to end, where it ought to begin, at the birth of the child, and trusted other women to do for money, what she would not do for love."  Those are bitter words, and like most satirical sayings they are only half-
true.  It may sometimes by laziness, or love of pleasure, that makes the modern mother hand over her children to the care of others, but it is also true that the more conscientious a woman is the more clearly she will see her own deficiencies, and dread the consequence of her possible ignorance or negligence. She may feel most strongly all that a mother ought to be, to her children, and she may most earnestly desire to do all that she can for them, but if she is perpetually being told that there are others more competent than herself to perform each individual duty in the end, she is apt to believe it.  If this is true in health, it is even more insisted upon in illness. Through most of our childish complaints, our mothers nurses us, but the habit of calling in a hospital nurse, the moment there is any serious illness in a household, grows every year.  It may be a wise practise, I am not here prepared to defend or to oppose it, but it certainly does take from mothers almost their last definite opportunity of tender intimacy and personal devotion.  The more dearly a woman loves her children the more earnestly she desires to give the best of everything, but is it not a possible contingency in the present day, that a child who has had the most excellent nurse, and perfect kindergarten and ideal school may yet, by them, be robbed of the best of all- that complete and tender union with his own mother, which only very close personal contact in his early years can assure.   The habit of turning direct to the mother for help and sympathy and counsel is one that very few will undervalue, but it is a habit that must have taken deep root in early years if it is to withstand the strong natural reticence of English nature in later life.

"Love grows by what it feeds on," But if a mother has neither fed, tended, taught, nor nursed her children she has lost much of the natural food of love, and there seems so little room for her in the children's lives that the tie between them may easily dwindle to a mere sentimental one which will be of little practical value in later years, and she may come to feel, with some bitterness, that the very unselfish tenderness, which should have been expended in personal devotion to her little ones, has been used as a motive power to persuade her to stand aside and let others take her place.

This demand "to stand aside" for the good of the child is being made not only on the mothers in our own rank [I believe the upper middle classes and above, WLC], but of late the same process is strongly urged for the children of the poor; it is not long since the Westminster Gazette published a series of very eloquent appeals called the "Cry of the Children."  These letters pressed for the wholesale removal of slum children to the country, where they might grow up amid healthy surroundings, with foster mothers in cottage homes.  Now, green fields, and fresh air, and birds, and flowers, and country food are all good and excellent things, but I venture to think they are not for one single moment to be weighted against a mother's love, and when we talk of "taking the children back to nature" the last lesson we should learn from her would be to part the little ones from those who gave them birth.  The heritage of a poor child in a great city is but a dark and pitiful one, but I think those who know it best would be the first to acknowledge, that often its one glory is the beautiful and unselfish devotion of the poor mother.

It is perhaps the one great compensation for the children of the poor, that they alone may fully know how much their mothers loved them.  The rich mother may do much for her children, but she is not called upon to go hungry that they may be fed, nor cold that they may be warm, nor to work sixteen hours out of the twenty-four, in order to keep the home together, and through the cold and hunger, and unceasing toil are evil things, the love and heroism that they give rise to may be more beautiful and more valuable to the children's hearts, than all the sweet sounds and sights of country life."

To be cont.

From volume 19 of The Parents' Review
Illustrations are taken from a woman's magazine of the same time period

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Life in the Real World After a CM Education

A post-AO perspective by Tim Laurio

A little more than a year ago I graduated from college, married my best friend, and moved to a new city. The year since then has been one of transition: from the life of a high school and college student to the life of a married, working adult. It's been a challenging year, to say the least, but rich and rewarding as well.

It's also been confusing. When I was first invited to write a blog post about life after a Charlotte Mason education, I didn't have the slightest idea what I could say. Life has moved faster than my ability to reflect on it or make sense of it. And things are still changing. For that reason, most of this blog post will be about the transition itself.

In a lot of ways, my transition into adult life has been pretty standard. I graduated from high school, went to college for four years, and got a degree. Now I'm married, I live in the city, and I have a 9-to-5 job at an office. I see friends on the weekends, I watch TV in the evenings, and I go to church most Sundays. I've been having a minor quarter-life crisis, but I also have a lot of exciting new opportunities.

Sounds normal, right? And, in a way, normal is good. It means my education "worked." At twenty-three years old I am a gainfully employed, law-abiding, functioning member of society. I pay my rent on time, I play well with others, and I even have hobbies--all without ever setting foot in the public school system. Of course, there's more to life than jobs and hobbies and a social life. But I would call this a minor success for home education.

That's not to say that the transition has been completely smooth. It's been challenging in a lot of ways. In fact, in one area I think my Charlotte Mason upbringing has actually made the transition harder. Let me explain.

I work in the office of a large internet company, answering emails from customers. The work is easy but repetitive. Charlotte recommended short lessons and varied schedules to keep students' attention from flagging, but none of that is built into a standard work shift. And let me say it now: whatever living ideas do for the mind, repetitive work does the opposite. For the first month or two at my current job, I came home in the evenings feeling like an empty shell. My energy and attention and creativity were sapped. All I wanted to do was sit in front of the TV or go to bed.

The strangest part, at first, was that none of my co-workers seemed to notice. I didn't hear them complaining about how repetitive the work was, or how hard it was to pay attention for hours at a time, or what effect the long, dull days had on their imaginations. After a while I realized: they took all of that for granted. As a CM graduate I expect my work to be fulfilling and to demand my full attention. My public-schooled co-workers, on the other hand, are accustomed to buckling down for long stretches of dull work. They have coping strategies, whether that means zoning out or listening to music or watching YouTube videos in the background. I'm not used to sitting inside at a desk for most of the day, but most of them have probably been doing that since they were six. I'm not used to work that leaves my mind and spirit starved for real food. For them, it seems to be normal.

If that's normal, my education left me woefully unprepared for normal life. Now, maybe that's a bad thing. My lack of conditioning has made for a tough transition, one that--heaven and my wife know--I haven't always handled gracefully. Then again, maybe it's a good thing. I have a different expectation of what "normal" means. I have a full life outside my job, and I've found my own ways to cope with the work itself. I'm allowed to wear headphones while I work, so I've been listening to all sorts of material: music, audiobooks, podcasts, lessons and tutorials on YouTube, the daily news. To top it off, I come home every evening and give my wife a narration about whatever I listened to that day.

Full-time work hasn't dried up my creativity, either. The last year has been incredibly rich and productive, and my Charlotte Mason upbringing has played a huge role in that. For one thing, my wife and I have been developing an original science-fiction series for the indie screen. That means creating characters, developing a world, coming up with stories, planning episodes, refining season arcs, and writing scripts. The project has occupied most of our imaginative headspace for the last two years and it's still our favorite pastime. (If all goes well, we will start filming in a few years--stay tuned!)

I've also been doing a lot with music. Like most Ambleside Online students, I grew up reading great literature and listening to great music, and I fell in love with both. I entered college as an English major with music lessons on the side. Then, about halfway through my degree in English, my love of music turned into a passion. I finished the English major, but I added a music minor, and I decided that I wanted to pursue music seriously.

After graduating, I started teaching myself orchestration and arranging using any means I could get my hands on: online articles, YouTube lessons, orchestration manuals, and lots of careful listening to orchestral music. When we moved to Boston, I joined a couple of choirs and found a part-time position as an accompanist. Soon I had the opportunity to arrange a piece for one of my choirs. And then another piece. And another.

Since then, I've been blessed with a flood of opportunities. I've arranged pieces for choir and orchestra. I've conducted rehearsals and performances of my own arrangements. I've written original compositions, including a song commissioned for a friend's choir and the theme for another friend's web series. I've led a recording session and played in an orchestra. Currently, I'm taking voice lessons, singing in an opera, directing a choir, and scoring an indie film. I'm also researching music schools and planning college applications for a return to school.

Music is a big part of my life now. But my interest in music didn't come out of nowhere. The seed of that relationship was planted as a very young Charlotte Mason student, listening to classical music on the radio and doing composer study and taking piano lessons. The habit of attention and love of learning that I developed as a CM student allowed me to continue pursuing music in college and after I graduated. And that pursuit has opened a wealth of new relationships, experiences, and opportunities.

Once you make a habit of learning, it's hard to stop. I found this to be true with music, certainly, but in my experience it applies to everything. The attitude of attention, once acquired, becomes a constant part of who you are and how you approach the world. The discipline of education really does become a life.

(This was originally posted Nov 2, 2013 on the Childlight USA weblog.)

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Some of the Difficulties of Modern Motherhood: A New Parents' Review Article

This article is from volume 19 of the Parent's Reviews, and it is not yet online at the website.  More about that below.

Some of the Difficulties of Modern Motherhood (part 1)

by L. Nott Bower

There has never been a time when the duties and privileges of motherhood have been more constantly insisted upon than at the present day: every writer, who considers the up-bringing of children, lays a full burden of responsibility on the shoulders of the mother, and while the pastors and masters are more than willing to claim credit for all the successes, among the young folk, it is noticeable, that the failures are almost invariably credited to the mother's account.  She is held responsible for her children's health- for their manners, for their morals, and even for their intellectual achievements in after life. Well and good- like most women- I should be much averse to belittling the influence of my sex; but I confess it does seem strange to me that the very generation that is doing its best- or its worst- to take from mothers all their best opportunities of influencing their children's lives should be the age which has decided to talk most loudly of a mother's influence.  There can, I think, be little doubt that all the tendencies of modern life are towards separation rather than union between mother and child.

Let us begin at the very beginning- when first a woman looks down at the face of her new-born baby, it is with a veritable pride of possession, surely this is her own, as nothing else on earth can ever be. But from the first, she will find all the forces of civilisation leagued together to rob her of her supremacy. Probably the first question will arise concerning the feeding of the baby; it is astonishing, to any one who has glanced at the statistics of infant mortality, to note how light-heartedly doctor and nurse will advise the bringing-up of a child by hand [my note; bottle feeding]. It is sufficient for any little difficulty to arise (and there are unfortunately, few mothers, in these days, who can nurse their babies, with complete physical ease) and a "bottle for the baby" is suggested as cheerfully as though by the use of artificial food all the dangers of infant life were not seriously increased, and one of motherhood's dearest privileges at once surrendered. For the bringing up of a baby by hand not only diminishes the child's first best chance of a healthy life, but also makes it fatally easy to violate that wise law of nature, which decrees that a baby in its first year of life shall never long be absent from his mother's arms.

Next comes the question of a nurse for the child: and on all sides the counsel is practically unanimous to engage a throughly [sic] trained woman. "You would never forgive yourself, if you had not done so, and anything went wrong with your baby." This is an unanswerable argument to a young mother, but the highly trained nurse is an autocrat, who brooks little interference within her nursery, and the more competent she is the more completely will she govern every detail of the baby-life. Many mothers with a "treasure of a nurse," would, if the truth were known, have to please guilty to some secret awe of nurse's wishes, and have often been conscious of being somewhat "on sufferance" in the nursery, whereas surely they ought to be the very centre and mainspring of life in that domain. Then comes the next step. In the last generation it was not unusual for the mother to undertake the early instruction of her children, it was the pride of many busy mothers in the Victorian Era that they had taught all their numerous children to read and write, but this is an age of specialisation, and according to the specialiasts, it is little short of criminal for an unqualified person to attempt the instruction of a child, and I have heard it emphatically stated at an educational meeting, that the last person to teach a child should be its own mother.

So the little one passes from the trained nurse to the trained teacher, and soon- cruelly soon, the claims of the perfect organisation for child-life in the modern boarding-school will begin to be urged. There are so many drawbacks to the bringing-up of children at home, especially in the suburbs- the difficulty of finding a good school within reach, social complications, and perhaps above all, the impossibility of completely compassing that most important item in young life, healthy out-door freedom in play-time, in conjunction with reasonable supervision. No wonder that the mothers, who have visited the charming preparatory schools of the present day, with all their perfect arrangements for work and play, feel that it is impossible to do better for their youngsters than dispatch them to one of them as early as may be. And yet with the beginning of boarding school life, for boys at any rate, a real home life has ceased to exist. They have become rather, visitors, dear and welcome guests for their holidays, and instruction and correction are both a little shirked to avoid spoiling their good time. Many of them, we know, will never be real inmates of the home again. In any case, with the beginning of the boarding-school, the first great chapter of the mother's influence ends.

The question that the modern mother must ask herself is what has she done with those early opportunities?  (to be cont.)

Isn't that bit about the baby in its mother's arms lovely?  And don't the comments about specialization seem just as apt today as they must have been in 1908?  And aren't the comments on boarding schools too sad for words? It will be interesting to see what the author recommends for mothers to do to make the most of those 'early opportunities.'

Our source for this article: Previously, I shared how the Advisory obtained the Parent's Review volumes which our volunteers have typed for Leslie to put on the website.

Shortly after that blog-post, our volunteers finished typing up the last of the 9 volumes that were in the Advisory's possession.  Providentially, we believe, at that same time one of our AO users shared that another volume was available for sale in England at a charity website.  It was shockingly underpriced (I think about ten pounds), so I scurried over there and bought it.  (I really love the internet, don't you?)  It's volume 19, published in 1908.    You can see the table of contents listed here on our website.

We'll be posting more photographed pages to share for volunteers to type as soon as I can coerce, er, I mean, cajole and convince, my 17 year old to photograph it for us. Her 23 year old sister did the photographing of volume 2 for us and she does physically still live at home, however, she is currently absorbed in college work and wedding plans.  The 17 year old is lobbying for a reduced school schedule in exchange for photography work.

In the meantime, I thought I'd share an article that I enjoyed here on the Advisory Blog. I'll be posting it in installments.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Head First?

by Anne White

The following is an unpaid, shameless advertisement for something you may be doing already.

Charlotte Mason warned that heads of schools should be discouraged from taking up her methods "lightly."  We assume that by "lightly" she meant carelessly, without real commitment, or piecemeal.  To use a term she probably would have shuddered at, she wanted educators to go at it whole hog.

Now, there are things it would be a mistake to dive into head first without being quite sure that one knows what one is doing.  Using power tools and trapping skunks come to mind.  However, in other, less high-risk pursuits, it is not only acceptable, but preferable, to jump in all at once.  Dipping your toes in too cautiously means that you may never enjoy the full experience.

Some examples? In the movie Mr. Holland's Opus, the main character describes how he was told by a record-store owner to listen to a certain piece of music.  He didn't like it, didn't get it.  When he complained, he was told to go home and listen to it again.  After several sessions of simply listening, something finally clicked, and what had been beyond his understanding started to make sense.  Mr. Holland  also has a struggling clarinet student who "practices constantly" but gets nowhere.  He helps her break through by making her put the book away and just play along with the piano.  For the first time ever, she jumps completely into the music, and then experiences new confidence in other areas of her life as well.

David V. Hicks,  in Norms and Nobility, contrasts two piano teachers he knew as a child.  His friend's teacher had young students memorize Mozart pieces.  His own teacher, more in touch with how modern children were supposed to learn, used graded exercises and fun, hands-on activities.  He says that his friend, who initially balked and struggled, was nevertheless playing Chopin and other difficult composers within a few years, while he himself never got beyond a simple arrangement of "The Lone Ranger."

In How to Read a Book, Mortimer J. Adler recommends reading even difficult books straight through the first time, not worrying about the parts you don't understand.  Because if you get bogged down with details, you may never finish.  And if you try to avoid that by reading only books you already understand completely, you'll learn nothing.  That may well apply to Charlotte Mason's volumes.  It can also apply to the Bible, to poetry, to Shakespeare, to Plutarch.  Norms and Nobility itself often makes me reach for a dictionary or an online explanation; but I learn more when I try to work out its philosophical points for myself.

But if we understand how that can help our own learning, do we allow our students the same opportunity?  Do we sometimes read poetry simply for the sound, the rhythm, the enjoyment?  Do we read books, or show paintings, to children that are a little, or a lot, beyond what they're supposed to like or appreciate?  Do we allow them sometimes not to comprehend every point, define every word?  Do we let them experience the satisfaction of what they do understand, along with a useful prickling of dissatisfaction that tells them they haven't quite arrived, that there's something still to reach for?

Norms and Nobility mentions the way certain ancient Greek teachers approached books and learning.  Like the old-style piano teachers, they didn't hesitate to plunk down something hard and say "read it, learn it, take a stand on it." How else could the young people learn how to think like adults? And besides, after mastering one super-tough book, everything afterwards would seem easy!

Deciding to take the CM plunge?

Go right in.  Head first.  And bring the children.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Way of the Reason in George Eliot's Romola

by Anne White

"What a world is opened up even by a single novel like Romola..."  Ronald McNeill, "The choice of Literature for the Young," Parent's Review, Volume 8, no. 9, 1897, pgs. 561-568; 624-630

"Literature is full of tales of temptation, yielded to, struggled against, conquered. Sometimes temptation finds us ready and there is no struggle, as in the case of Tito Melema..."  Charlotte Mason, Ourselves

"In like manner, every young man who reads of Arthur Pendennis, or Edward Waverley, or Fred Vincey, or, alas, of Tito Melema, or of Darsie Latimer, George Warrington, or Martin Chuzzlewit––the list is endless, of course––finds himself in the hero."  Charlotte Mason, Formation of Character
"Commonly we let reason do its work without attention on our part, but there come moments when we stand in startled admiration and watch the unfolding before us point by point of a score of arguments in favour of this carpet as against that, this route in preference to the other, our chosen chum as against Bob Brown; because every pro suggested by our reason is opposed to some con in the background."  Charlotte Mason, Towards a Philosophy of Education
What is the hold that fictional characters have on us?  What is their role in shaping our "norms" or our "nobility?"  The value of reading about the truly heroic is obvious; but what about the not-so-heroic, the characters with feet of clay?  Why the "alas" in the mention of "Tito Melema?"

Unless we are unusually big fans of George Eliot, the reference is likely to be lost on us.  Tito Melema is the main character in Eliot's novel Romola, which was published as a serial from 1862 to 1863, and which is set in Florence during the Renaissance.

Tito, from the beginning, is kind of a mystery man.  He shows up in the first chapter, having survived a shipwreck; but even after he sells off some jewels to get him on his feet in Florence, and gets a job assisting an elderly, blind scholar with his work (Tito is obviously well educated), he doesn't tell much about himself, and hints about his true identity come slowly.  One day, though, his past confronts him: he has an adoptive father, Baldassare Calvo, who has most likely been sold into slavery, and who should be--should already have been--ransomed with the money from those jewels.  Tito, in other words, had no business starting a new life until he had done everything he could to help this man to whom he owed a great personal debt.

So does Tito drop his new job, new sweetheart (Romola) and everything else and go rushing off to rescue his father?  No, he does not.  The only other person in the world, seemingly, who knows about this situation, is a monk who gave him the message; and immediately afterwards, he hears that the monk is gravely ill, likely to die.  When nobody else knows what you've done wrong, it's easy to reason yourself into anything you want.

Here is a passage, slightly shortened, from the end of chapter 11 and the beginning of chapter 12 of Romola.  It might be worthwhile for older students to work through it, see how well Tito reasons--but also to discuss why his decision is still just plain wrong.

(You might also want to read "Literature as Moral Instruction," posted here by Wendi.)

* * * * *
Tito had never had occasion to fabricate an ingenious lie before: the occasion was come now—the occasion which circumstance never fails to beget on tacit falsity; and his ingenuity was ready. For he had convinced himself that he was not bound to go in search of Baldassarre. He had once said that on a fair assurance of his father’s existence and whereabout, he would unhesitatingly go after him. But, after all, why was he bound to go? What, looked at closely, was the end of all life, but to extract the utmost sum of pleasure? And was not his own blooming life a promise of incomparably more pleasure, not for himself only, but for others, than the withered wintry life of a man who was past the time of keen enjoyment, and whose ideas had stiffened into barren rigidity? Those ideas had all been sown in the fresh soil of Tito’s mind, and were lively germs there: that was the proper order of things—the order of nature, which treats all maturity as a mere nidus for youth. Baldassarre had done his work, had had his draught of life: Tito said it was his turn now.
And the prospect was so vague...After a long voyage, to spend months, perhaps years, in a search for which even now there was no guarantee that it would not prove vain: and to leave behind at starting a life of distinction and love: and to find, if he found anything, the old exacting companionship which was known by rote beforehand. Certainly the gems and therefore the florins were, in a sense, Baldassarre’s: in the narrow sense by which the right of possession is determined in ordinary affairs; but in that large and more radically natural view by which the world belongs to youth and strength, they were rather his who could extract the most pleasure out of them. That, he was conscious, was not the sentiment which the complicated play of human feelings had engendered in society. The men around him would expect that he should immediately apply those florins to his benefactor’s rescue. But what was the sentiment of society?—a mere tangle of anomalous traditions and opinions, which no wise man would take as a guide, except so far as his own comfort was concerned. Not that he cared for the florins save perhaps for Romola’s sake: he would give up the florins readily enough. It was the joy that was due to him and was close to his lips, which he felt he was not bound to thrust away from him and so travel on, thirsting. Any maxims that required a man to fling away the good that was needed to make existence sweet, were only the lining of human selfishness turned outward: they were made by men who wanted others to sacrifice themselves for their sake. He would rather that Baldassarre should not suffer: he liked no one to suffer; but could any philosophy prove to him that he was bound to care for another’s suffering more than for his own? To do so he must have loved Baldassarre devotedly, and he did not love him: was that his own fault? Gratitude! seen closely, it made no valid claim: his father’s life would have been dreary without him: are we convicted of a debt to men for the pleasures they give themselves?
 Having once begun to explain away Baldassarre’s claim, Tito’s thought showed itself as active as a virulent acid, eating its rapid way through all the tissues of sentiment. His mind was destitute of that dread which has been erroneously decried as if it were nothing higher than a man’s animal care for his own skin: that awe of the Divine Nemesis which was felt by religious pagans, and, though it took a more positive form under Christianity, is still felt by the mass of mankind simply as a vague fear at anything which is called wrong-doing....
Chapter Twelve. The Prize is nearly grasped.
 Tito walked along with a light step, for the immediate fear had vanished; the usual joyousness of his disposition reassumed its predominance, and he was going to see Romola. Yet Romola’s life seemed an image of that loving, pitying devotedness, that patient endurance of irksome tasks, from which he had shrunk and excused himself. But he was not out of love with goodness, or prepared to plunge into vice: he was in his fresh youth, with soft pulses for all charm and loveliness; he had still a healthy appetite for ordinary human joys, and the poison could only work by degrees. He had sold himself to evil, but at present life seemed so nearly the same to him that he was not conscious of the bond. He meant all things to go on as they had done before, both within and without him: he meant to win golden opinions by meritorious exertion, by ingenious learning, by amiable compliance: he was not going to do anything that would throw him out of harmony with the beings he cared for. And he cared supremely for Romola; he wished to have her for his beautiful and loving wife. There might be a wealthier alliance within the ultimate reach of successful accomplishments like his, but there was no woman in all Florence like Romola. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Parents' Review And How It Came To You

Left: 2 Parents' Review volumes
In 1890 in conjunction with establishing the Parents' Union, Miss Mason also began publishing and editing a monthly periodical for supporting the families and schools using her methods. It was called The Parents Review.  The journal was sent to parents and teachers of Charlotte Mason's schools and to families who used her correspondence programs for homes. Miss Mason edited it until her death in 1923.  That was roughly 1000 pages a year for 30 years, in addition to her other work.

 At the end of each year, in common with most periodicals of the time, bound copies of that year's magazines were compiled into a single volume. You can read more about it and see a picture of one of those bound volumes here on the AO website.  You can also read a variety of articles representing many years' worth of back issues on our website.  Where did they all come from?

Some were given to us by diligent scholars who had gone to libraries and made photocopies of articles.  But the majority of them come from volumes the Advisory owns.  How did we acquire them?  I think it's a fascinating story, and one that illustrates the near miraculous teamwork that goes on behind the scenes at AO.

 Several years ago Advisory member Anne was browsing used books online, and discovered a set of 9 bound PR volumes being sold in Ireland.  She shared the link with the rest of us, mainly as a curiosity.  "Isn't that interesting," we thought.  "Wouldn't that be lovely," we thought, a little wistfully.  And then, "Why couldn't we?" suggested somebody.  I don't remember for certain which of us made that leap, but I think it might have been Karen.  We talked about that a bit and then, 'why couldn't we?' changed to 'why shouldn't we,' and shortly it became, "Well, of course, we must!"  Soon we were excitedly discussing ways and means to accomplish what had just the day before seemed unimaginable.

 The Advisory agreed that we would pool our funds, each of us contributing what we could.  Keep in mind that this was about ten years or more before we started adding affiliate links and AO began to pay for itself instead of being an additional child supported by each household, so, really, we were pooling our husbands' funds.  Meanwhile, because we didn't want to risk another second of time, I purchased them using our debit card and the house payment money, trusting my fellow Advisory members to get their shares to me in time to pay the bill. I had no worries that they would not repay me in time, because we had been through quite a bit together already and we knew we could depend on each other, but I must confess my own husband was tremendously relieved when the payments came in.

 Repaying us for the bound copies was a joint effort, as spontaneously some quietly chipped in more for those who couldn't spare a dime. Without needing to discuss it, we each knew we wanted to make sure that each of us had at least one copy. After several confusing attempts to get my bank to clear a debit charge from Ireland, the volumes were then shipped to my house.

 For about a week, I was the proud possessor of more PR volumes than any other known person in America owned or possibly had seen all at one time. It was a heady feeling. After emailing the other Advisory members multiple times to taunt them a little, gloat a bit, and share excerpts from the volumes I was greedily skimming through, I finally managed to repackage the volumes separately, drive to town and mail each of the other Advisory their own copies.  (Lynn Bruce and I each bought two of the volumes, and that left one each for the remaining members).

During the days I had those volumes in my own hot little hands, I may or may not have been seen to stroke them madly and hiss 'my precioussssss' over them. I will neither confirm nor deny. Big Grin

 One of the two I chose was volume II. I chose this one in particular because I'd previously visited the Library of Congress looking specifically for volume II, and learned that somebody before me had stolen the LOC copy. I had wanted the article on teaching chronology and creating a book of the centuries. I chose my second volume merely because it was not one of the oldest, and it was not in the best condition of the remaining volumes. I didn't want to be too greedy, since I had my volume II. I don't remember how the other Advisory members chose the volume(s) they received.

We spent a few lovely weeks skimming our respective volumes and sharing gems we found with each other on our email list.  Then we began the process of getting the articles online. I typed a few by hand. So did one or two of my daughters. Leslie collected volunteers to do the others. Some of the Advisory mailed their volumes to Leslie for photographing.  Leslie would share photographed pages with volunteers who would type from the images so Leslie could mail back the volumes to their anxious owners.

 I think my other volume (I don't even remember for sure which one it is), was largely already on our website, thanks to the Library of Congress and other volunteers. But volume II was special to me. For years, Leslie asked me to mail it to her so she could photograph it, but I couldn't bear to let it leave my house, and, after several bad experiences, I didn't trust our postal service. Then a near miracle occurred- all the Advisory were on the same continent at the same time, and we were able to free up a few days at the same time. They came to my house.  This was the very first time all of us were together in person- at least ten years after we'd begun working together! It was exciting and a rich blessing.

 During their all too short stay, Leslie was able to explain what she needed to my daughter Rebecca (who was also our chief cook for the visit so that I could devote all my time to playing with my friends). After the Advisory returned home, my Rebecca spent a few painstaking hours photographing every single page of that precious volume II so we could finally get it to Leslie for copying. We emailed it to her as a file (or several files) of images so that my volume stayed here with its doting mummy.=)

 And that is the story of how and why our wonderful volunteers on the AO Forum are able to type up an article from volume II (with much thanks to all our volunteers as well as to that forum's moderator, Cathy).  Brandy Vencel proofreads each article as she has time, and I proof her proofing by comparing with the original precious volume, and when necessary other Auxiliary members glance over it with their suggested corrections, and then Leslie puts it on the AO website. There, volume 2 of the PR is at last available for free reading by anybody with access to the internet, along with articles from multiple other volumes.

All it took was Leslie's grand idea  and all the hard work, blood, sweat, tears, laughter, and love that have gone into that grand idea,  a serendipitous online discovery, another wild idea, cooperation amongst the seven Advisory, cheerful and generous husbands, pooled funds, a debit card, communication betwixt Ireland and a bank in Colorado, the internet, the post office, various Advisory Progeny, several cameras, further cooperation and unspoken but unanimous agreement among the Advisory that our purpose was to share rather than make a profit from the Parents' Reviews, countless volunteers (I wish I could name them all) who have been tirelessly typing, a forum and a forum moderator who helps keep the project on track, proof-readers,  and an always generous outpouring of God's grace over the AO endeavor.
If you would like to contribute to this ongoing effort, please consider joining us in the forums.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Pastor Chuck Smith, 1927-2013

Many of you may not know who Chuck Smith is. But if you use Ambleside Online, even if you use only the artist or composer rotation, you have directly benefited from his ministry.

Although I am the only "Calvary Chapelite" of the AO Advisory, I have been influenced by the Calvary Chapel movement for my entire Christian life. AO has the same top-down leadership model, with the Advisory making decisions: we seek to be true to our vision, rather than appealing to the changing whims of a user base. I don't often like to pull out the "AO was my idea" card because, although the initial curriculum concept was mine, the creation of the booklist was mostly the work of the more well-read members of the Advisory. My fantastic brilliance is not in putting together a curriculum, but in putting together the right people and convincing them that the project wasn't such a crazy idea, and convincing them that it was something doable. Then I mostly stepped back and relegated myself to webmaster. But I'm pulling out that card now. AO was my idea. And perhaps my biggest contribution, aside from recognizing who needed to be involved, was the insistence from its inception that it needed to be something anybody could use for free. Nobody had to pay us, or me, to utilize AO. AO was (and is) run by volunteers who view the project as a ministry. That is also Pastor Chuck's influence, modeled after his emphasis on blessing others as a ministry, not a profit venture, even though we recognize the obvious marketing potential of AO.

This is a more personal post, about my own history and my own life, which has been largely influenced and inspired by Chuck Smith and Calvary Chapel. I became a Christian in 1983 while in the military in Okinawa. The group of young Christians I fell in with talked in glowing terms about this church called Calvary Chapel back in California that welcomed young people and taught straight out of the Bible. So when I ended up stationed in Oceanside, I naturally looked them up. The first time I walked into a Calvary Chapel (I think it was a mid-week Bible study), there was a guy with an acoustic guitar and a girl sitting on a stool up in front singing and leading worship. It seemed natural, no hype, and very real. It felt like coming home. The teaching was plain, no yelling, no theatrics, just a guy talking,  explaining the Bible in a way I could understand, and that was refreshing.

During the three years between military and marriage, I was a part of the congregation of Calvary Chapel Oceanside (at the time, they were meeting at the local YMCA and the pastor was Bob Dietz and we would hear YMCA announcements from the concession stand over the PA during church service: "Number 4, your pizza is ready!"). Every chance I got, I would go with friends to "Big Calvary" in Costa Mesa, about an hour away. Often that was their Friday night Christian concerts. We were also going to Thursday night Bible studies at Calvary Chapel Dana Point, where Chuck Smith Jr. was teaching, and I went to a women's study at Calvary Chapel Vista taught by Cheryl Broderson, Chuck Smith's daughter. Being young and single and a brand new Christian, I spent a lot of my spare time listening to sermons on cassette - mostly Chuck Smith. And when Calvary Chapel started a radio station - KWVE - I listened to a lot of Calvary Chapel teaching - Greg Laurie, Raul Ries, Jon Courson, Don Johnson. Thus, much of my understanding of what it means to live as a Christian was learned from Calvary Chapel -- either directly from Pastor Chuck, or indirectly from one of his students who had gone on to plant a church somewhere else.

During that time, I met a recently divorced guy at work who was interested in Christianity, so I directed him to the one Christian I knew at work, who was involved in a spin-off Calvary Chapel church called Horizon Christian Fellowship, pastored by Mike Macintosh. The guy ended up becoming a Christian and a year or so later, I married him and we went to his church, Horizon, and Maranatha Chapel, another Calvary Chapel spin-off where Ray Bentley was the pastor. Horizon was meeting in an old school the county was no longer using. When they needed a larger facility for Sunday morning services, they built a gymnasium at the church's expense on the school grounds that they could leave as a gift to the county when the county needed the school back. While the church was using the school grounds, they would allow kids from the neighborhood to use the gym when church services weren't going on. That act of generosity impressed me and modeled the ideal for me of how Christians should act towards their neighbors.

When we started our family a year later, we decided we'd like our children to grow up in a more rural area where they could have a more normal childhood, away from gang violence which was increasing in San Diego. We drove from San Diego to Tennessee with a 4yo and a 2yo. During the very long drive we listened to Praise Band music from Maranatha Music. We were confident we'd have no problem finding a church -- after all, we were going to be living in the Bible Belt. But it wasn't as easy as we had expected. There were plenty of churches, but nothing with the kind of Bible teaching we had grown accustomed to. We even found a church that was sort of a copy of California mega-churches. I think it would be considered a "seeker church" and they had rules they made new members read before joining about what wasn't allowed (no hand-lifting, for example) because "it might make new people uncomfortable." And, although anyone could walk in from the street and feel at home, the Bible teaching was not what we hoped for. We thought our hopes of finally finding a church would be realized, but we were only there for two weeks.

One morning during our search for a church family, I woke up and it hit me -- the natural, reverent, Spirit-seeking, Bible teaching kind of church that I had taken for granted for the past ten years was something I had left back in California and I would never experience that again. It was gone forever. At that point we began praying that a Calvary Chapel would be planted in our area, although the chances of that happening seemed remote. Eventually, though, it did happen after we met another family who had also moved from California and were praying for the same thing. We started our own little home Bible study, and that was the seed of the church we have been involved in for the last 17 years.

Calvary Chapel isn't the perfect church. In fact, I've had my own issues with a few things, mostly when homeschooling has changed me. As I learned about attachment parenting (Dr. Sears used to do a call-in radio show on KVWE, so even that resulted from Calvary Chapel's influence), I wished they were more family-inclusive, instead of segregating church, Bible studies and church activities into age groups. As I homeschooled (after hearing James Dobson talk about it, also on KWVE) and I read more because I was homeschooling, I noticed a slight anti-intellectual bias. It's not an official church-sanctioned attitude, but a church whose focus is on saving souls via street evangelism, and recovery of drug addicts, and group leaders and even pastors come from that background, is likely to have that side effect. So, the church is not perfect, but no church is, and I've found that the positives far outweigh the negatives.

So we've been involved in our local little Calvary Chapel, and made that our church home. But any time I had to miss church because of a sick child, I'd tune in to Calvary Chapel's live service and listen to Pastor Chuck. In fact, the last time I was home with a sick child and tuned in, that was the morning Pastor Chuck made the announcement that he had cancer. Maybe it wasn't just coincidence that I happened to stay home that morning, of all mornings -- maybe I needed to prepare for the inevitable. That was awhile ago, a year or two.

This past Wednesday evening we had a real treat -- Terry Clark, a musician we had known of from Horizon Christian fellowship in San Diego, gave a concert. At OUR little church in Tennessee! It was wonderful, like a taste of home. During the music, I had the inkling that there was a reason for the magical feeling of the worship -- almost like a last victory celebration, or a farewell. And I found out the very next morning that Pastor Chuck had died during the night, just a few hours after that concert.

Are you wondering what the point was in posting my life story? This actually does have an AO aspect. As I've mulled over Pastor Chuck's death and my own years as a Christian that have been entirely under his shadow, I've realized how much of Pastor Chuck's teaching has influenced my own actions, and I've also been struck by a couple of parallels. In the last few months, for the only time in the history of AO, I've seriously considered walking away a couple of times. AO has had its (small) share of critics over the years, as any organization does. Recently we've been alarmed to see our project re-posted, re-named, even sold, so we've had to be more responsible about protecting the work. As a result, I've heard AO come under some pretty severe attack -- mostly variations of AO being accused of being stingy because, even though we allow people to use it for free, we can't allow it to be copied, re-named, re-posted, or sold. During those times that I was tempted to defend AO, I would hear Pastor Chuck's voice in the back of my mind answering a question once asked in an interview about how he responded to those who criticized him or his ministry (and you know that a person in the limelight as much as he was probably had all kinds of things said about him). He said he refused to defend himself, that it was his job to continue doing what God had told him to do, and it was God's job to defend him if that was necessary. (And, as far as me walking away from AO, I've had the verses about "not being weary in doing good" pop up at uncanny times frequently enough over the past few months to convince me that I'm supposed to continue what I'm doing, so me walking away from AO is now off the table. That's no longer an option I'm entertaining.)

The other parallel is about the realities of all organizations. At the time we were praying for a Calvary Chapel to start in our rural area, we were told that the process of starting a Calvary Chapel wasn't as easy as the days I remembered, when anyone could rent a storefront and hang a Calvary Chapel sign on the door. There had been a lot of problems with spin-off churches bearing the Calvary Chapel name but being doctrinally off, so "Big Calvary" had started to require that Calvary Chapels be under the official organization and meet certain doctrinal standards. When I see AO going through some of the same growing pains, it's encouraging to know that even an organization as spirit-filled and well-intentioned as Calvary Chapel has had similar growing pains, though on a much larger scale, and they felt justified in protecting their vision and upholding standards of those who wanted to join them.

Calvary Chapel has lost the one who drove, inspired and directed it, and I'm curious to know what that will mean for them. Similarly, in 1923, Charlotte Mason died, leaving her project without the one who drove, inspired and directed it. Mrs. Steinthal, Mrs. Franklin, and all those others whose names I know from Parents' Review articles carried on the work for her successfully. Yet it wasn't the same. Without her wise but warm presence, listening and guiding with a smile but never any word that "left a sting," it couldn't be the same. Times were changing, the needs of the school system were putting pressure on the PNEU to make changes. Without Charlotte Mason there to hold firmly to the original vision, I'm sure there were things that were done that she would never have wanted, compromises made to meet the demands of modern educational board requirements. AO tries to model what a CM education would look like if CM was alive today, but we can't know for sure what concessions she might have made to accommodate today's society. Would she ban the use of computers for her students? Would she encourage BBC productions of Pride and Prejudice and Wives and Daughters? Even if one of the Steinthals or Franklins or others of her students were here to ask, they aren't her and they'd only be making an educated guess.

I tuned in to the live broadcast of this morning's service at Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, and I've been listening as I've been typing. His son told a few anecdotes about him, and said that Pastor Chuck loved nature and knew the names of the birds and trees in his local area. Maybe he and Charlotte Mason will be taking nature walks in heaven. There's a thought!

I'll end with Numbers 6:24-26. Pastor Chuck ended all of his services with this; there's an audio of him singing it on YouTube.

The Lord bless thee, and keep thee;
The Lord make His face to shine upon thee,
And be gracious unto thee
And be gracious unto thee
The Lord lift up His countenance upon thee,
And give thee peace.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

How to be a better teacher than Miss Perkins (it's not hard)

by Anne White

I discovered a short story, "Against the Odds" by Martin Gardner, in his book Are Universes Thicker Than Blackberries?  It was first published in the College Mathematics Journal in 2001, but (according to this summary and the Amazon linkBlackberries is the only other place you're going to find it.  I found my copy at the thrift store, but you might check the library.

The plot is almost too predictable, too simple.  Luther Washington is a young African-American boy (so he is described), around 1960, who has a gift for abstract mathematics.  He runs up against a female (white) teacher who doesn't know much more math than her students do and thinks he's just showing off.  Luckily, he eventually gets (more or less) sent to the principal, who does know something about math, and who puts the boy on the road to a college scholarship.  Ten years later, after earning his Ph.D., Luther wins a major mathematics prize.  The teacher, now retired and married to the basketball coach, doesn't recognize the newspaper photo of her former student but mumbles something about "affirmative action."

The story raised some questions for me, besides obvious ones like "could that ever happen?" Actually, that could be taken either way, as that summary points out: the first part of the story certainly could happen.  It is depressingly realistic about ignorance in teaching that kills the desire to learn.  The second part is, of course, a fantasy, a wonderful Cinderella solution, but one that probably doesn't happen often.  It's nice to see Luther's career success, but it's just a bit of luck, really, that he suddenly gets noticed by the right people, and doesn't have to bury his dreams.

It's with the earlier part of the story that we, as parents and educators, need to concern ourselves.  We can even ignore the question of racial prejudice to some extent, though it is largely what keeps Miss Perkins from seeing Luther's brilliance.  But based on the description of the teacher's limitations (an American-history major who got stuck teaching math), is it likely that she would have been more accommodating of a white student whose talent for math surpassed her own?  Would she have been more accepting of a student who showed great aptitude for American history, or would she have been as narrow-minded about the correct response to questions in history and government?  Is it not also something of a stereotype to assume that an American-history major would not recognize vectors, or that she would be so uninterested in her own teaching subject, however accidentally acquired, that she wouldn't go the library that night, or phone up a colleague, and find out what that confounded boy was talking about?  Or ask him to stay after school and show her how his proof worked?  That's what you'd do, isn't it?

Well, you and I aren't Miss Perkins.  She may be a Dickensian stereotype (especially in the "devout Baptist" part), but she's got enough truth in her to make it worrisome.  Stories pop up in the media about teachers who can't spell, can't punctuate, and yes, can't do math.  More stories come up about families who turn to homeschooling after encountering their own version of Miss Perkins. We know there are problems in the public school system.  We know there are bad teachers.  We know that exceptional learners of all kinds, including gifted students, often get shortchanged by "the system." What does all that have to do with Charlotte Mason?

Just one, maybe two things.  Miss Perkins might seem to be mostly racially motivated, but as teacher-detectives we need to look at what else is going on. Stick with me, class...who can tell what educational principles Miss Perkins violated?  What was her biggest mistake?  Pride?  Sloth?  Misuse of authority?  Not recognizing Luther as a born person?  Not giving him the respect due to his personality?  Messing with Luther's desire for knowledge?  Stomping on his living ideas?  Putting all the stress on the idea of the teacher having to put information into the student's head, instead of recognizing that he could figure things out aside from her?  Thinking that if she didn't know something, there was no way that a teenager (let alone a minority-group teenager) could know it?  (It's always a temptation to think "I can't learn anything from this person, because I'm X and he's Y.")  Ignoring the Gospel command (quoted by Charlotte Mason) to "Take heed that ye offend not--despise not--hinder not--one of these little ones?" All of the above?

I think that list covers most of her educational sins, but there's one other point, and perhaps it is a greater problem for some of us...who are, like Miss Perkins, teaching outside of our own fields, or without any "official" teacher training.  Yes, we have wonderful educational resources to draw on; even "scripted" ones that practically guarantee teaching success without having to have deep knowledge of a subject.

And there's the problem.  We are not teaching machines, any more than our students are learning machines.  What kills learning for the student goes double for us, even if we have such thought-out-in-every-way materials that we can now teach on auto-pilot.  Especially if we have such materials.  Charlotte Mason did not approve of too-elaborate manipulatives and models for students; and, by the same token, she would probably not care for lessons that don't let any unscripted learning sneak in.  Especially lessons that go so far as telling us what we, as well as the students, are to think.

If Miss Perkins seemed determined to shut down Luther's learning, it appears that she had already shut down her own. (Ignorance breeds intolerance?)  Her teaching had been reduced to one-lesson-at-a-time, and please don't ask me any questions that might make me look foolish or take us five minutes over the time limit.  This is what this lesson's about, this is how you do it, and this is the right answer.  Some people say they like math because there's always one right answer...but no, it's not true even in math.

Yes, teaching is "easier" if there are lesson plans, assignments, printable tests with answer keys.  "Open the book and teach" brings high praise from reviewers. Homeschoolers are, proverbially, always looking for "curriculum" that does everything but diaper the baby and cook dinner.

Charlotte Mason would say, run from anything of the sort.

A little help, yes.  As someone who has attempted to "help" by writing several AO study guides, I'm sympathetic to all the reasons of our lack of time, lack of background, having several children to teach, and all the rest of it.  The reason I wrote my first Plutarch study was simply because nobody had written one for me to use.  If there had been a set of notes, I would have used them, but I couldn't find any, so I just kept reading and looking stuff up until it started to make sense.  To keep others from having to reinvent that particular wheel, I put the notes online.  And I've been extremely grateful for other people's work in other areas.  But especially with Plutarch, I can't tell you why he says everything he says, what everything means, or what, exactly, to say next.  Or what not to say.

So if we take Miss Perkins as a cautionary tale, let's be careful about thinking that any written lesson or teacher's manual (short of the Bible!) contains complete and final knowledge of anything; and let's also be open to truth wherever we find it.  Even in a murder mystery that turned out to be so graphic I'd never read it again:
"'My mind would make these magic little leaps. You know what I mean?' I nodded. I knew about minds making magic little leaps."  ~~ Sue Grafton, C is for Corpse
Here's to our students' success.  May we not offend these little ones.  May we not take ourselves and our educational materials so seriously that we close our eyes to curiosity and new ideas.  And may we take our desire to learn...and the humility to learn from each other's magic little leaps...out into the world. Because there are still a lot of Luthers out there.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Literature as Moral Instruction

Some Advisory Progeny sort through
a few family books. 
You may have noticed, and perhaps wondered why, AO does not use any of those popular reprinted Victorian morality tales which are specifically geared toward the teaching of 'character.'  It is not because we are not concerned with the development of good character in our children.  Rather, it is because we believe that the little books and studies which purport to 'teach' character are misguided, at best, and usually poorly written. In her third volume, Miss Mason refers to such books as twaddle:
What manner of Book sustains the Life of Thought?––The story discloses no more than that they were intelligent girls, probably the children of intelligent parents. But that is enough for our purpose. The question resolves itself into––What manner of book will find its way with upheaving effect into the mind of an intelligent boy or girl? We need not ask what the girl or boy likes. She very often likes the twaddle of goody-goody story books, (emphasis mine, WC) he likes condiments, highly-spiced tales of adventure. We are all capable of liking mental food of a poor quality and a titillating nature; and possibly such food is good for us when our minds are in need of an elbow-chair; but our spiritual life is sustained on other stuff, whether we be boys or girls, men or women. By spiritual I mean that which is not corporeal; and which, for convenience sake, we call by various names––the life of thought, the life of feeling, the life of the soul.

I would put character development under this 'life of the soul.' How could we define that further?  Could we say it is the growth of both an instructed, informed conscience, combined with habits of right action?  The habits we can discuss later. For this post, we will focus on how we instruct the conscience.  The Bible, of course, is the best instructor of all.   Real, living books also serve very well for lessons in what we would call 'character development.'

Miss Mason explains why:

The instructed conscience knows that Temperance, Chastity, Fortitude, Prudence must rule in the House of Body. But how is the conscience to become instructed? Life brings us many lessons––when we see others do well, conscience approves and learns; when others do ill, conscience condemns. But we want a wider range of knowledge than the life about us affords, and books are our best teachers. There is no nice shade of conduct which is not described or exemplified in the vast treasure-house of literature. (emphasis mine, WC) History and biography are full of instruction in righteousness; but what is properly called literature, that is, poetry, essays, the drama, and novels, is perhaps the most useful for our moral instruction, because the authors bring their insight to bear in a way they would hesitate to employ when writing about actual persons. Autobiographies, again, often lift the veil, for the writer may make free with himself.
The above quote is taken from Leslie Noelani's Modern English version of Ourselves, Miss Mason's fourth volume.

On pages 50 and 51 of volume 6, Miss Mason explains how well the children are able to extract the morals from the biographies they read:
The way children make their own the examples offered to them is amazing. No child would forget the characterization of Charles IX as 'feeble and violent,' nor fail to take to himself a lesson in self-control. We may not point the moral; that is the work proper for children themselves and they do it without fail. The comparative difficulty of the subject does not affect them. A teacher writes (of children of eleven),––"They cannot have enough of Publicola and there are always groans when the lesson comes to an end."

A while ago I read the above passages to my children (grown and nearly grown), and asked them if any of the books we'd read came to mind immediately.  One of my daughters said we'd think she was weird, but Winnie The Pooh and Shakespeare's Sonnets came to mind almost immediately. I also remembered another time when we had a lesson on gossip at church.  One of our daughters had been reading A Tale of Two Cities, by Dickens (she was about 11 at the time). She told me the lesson, which used the verse about how the tongue is as a roaring fire reminded her of the darkest days of the French Revolution, when a careless remark could get your neighbor arrested, and a malicious remark could have him beheaded. Another of my children spent a good deal of profitable time pondering over the lessons about false friends which she gleaned from reading Dickens' Oliver Twist.

Children are able to handle much stronger stuff than we give them credit for, too.  This is another reason those 'goody goody storybooks' Miss Mason spoke of often miss the mark. As a small child away from home for the first time, another of our daughters requested of her grandmother that a 'comforting story' to be read to her from the Bible. The grandmother asked for a suggestion, and my young daughter (about 8) asked for the story of.... Jezebel!  That is not the story most of us would choose, is it?  I pondered over that for a while and then realized that what comforted that small child of 8 was the meaty and firm knowledge that the wicked did not prosper forever.  Left to my own devices, I would have made another choice for a 'comforting' story.

The goody goody storybooks Miss Mason would not use in her own classrooms seek to create a sort of a recipe, or formula, for character development rather than deal holistically with the child as a whole person who is nourished not by morality tales, but by living ideas in literary form.

 As Charlotte mason wrote in her sixth volume:
Education is a life. That life is sustained on ideas. Ideas are of spiritual origin, and God has made us so that we get them chiefly as we convey them to one another, whether by word of mouth, written page, Scripture word, musical symphony; but we must sustain a child's inner life with ideas as we sustain his body with food. Probably he will reject nine-tenths of the ideas we offer, as he makes use of only a small proportion of his bodily food, rejecting the rest. He is an eclectic; he may choose this or that; our business is to supply him with due abundance and variety and his to take what he needs. Urgency on our part annoys him. He resists forcible feeding and loathes predigested food (emphasis mine. WC). What suits him best is pabulum presented in the indirect literary form which Our Lord adopts in those wonderful parables whose quality is that they cannot be forgotten though, while every detail of the story is remembered, its application may pass and leave no trace. We, too, must take this risk. We may offer children as their sustenance the Lysander of Plutarch, an object lesson, we think, shewing what a statesman or a citizen should avoid: but, who knows, the child may take to Lysander and think his 'cute' ways estimable! Again, we take the risk, as did our Lord in that puzzling parable of the Unjust Steward. One other caution; it seems to be necessary to present ideas with a great deal of padding, as they reach us in a novel or poem or history book written with literary power. A child cannot in mind or body live upon tabloids however scientifically prepared; out of a whole big book he may not get more than half a dozen of those ideas upon which his spirit thrives; and they come in unexpected places and unrecognised forms, so that no grown person is capable of making such extracts from Scott or Dickens or Milton, as will certainly give him nourishment. It is a case of, “In the morning sow thy seed and in the evening withhold not thine hand for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that."

I suspect that most, if not all, of the Victorian style morality tales count as 'predigested food.'
 Feed the children's minds, and their 'characters'  upon living books, of which the Bible is chief.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Right Way to Share Ambleside Online

For those who don't know, AO has always been copyrighted, even before we were AO. We've had a licensing agreement on our site since Oct 2002.

We've been lax about enforcement because we don't like to be bad guys, and we hoped the licensing agreement on the site would speak for itself so we didn't have to. However, an increasing number of people seem to have interpreted "free for using" as free for taking, reposting, and sometimes reselling (either directly, or by copying and pasting from our site, but stripping out our affiliate links and replacing them with their own), or copying and pasting our work to their websites, and then, ironically, copyrighting those pages to themselves, even though they just violated our copyright.

We don't really like confrontations of this nature, so even when we have encountered blatant copyright violations, we've hardly ever asked people to take them down. The few times we have asked, we've been told, "But look here, here, and here, they are in violation of your copyrights and you seem to have let them go . . ." So our generosity has been misunderstood and taken for license.

Related to this, links are not the largest issue, but please do consider that when you copy and paste from our website to yours, replacing our affiliate links on our booklists with your own, that you are hindering AO's ability to pay for itself - and the Advisory ourselves did not even add affiliate links until about 2 years ago, paying for everything for the first dozen years or so out of our own pockets. What we have always envisioned is that our work is like a CM potluck - we prepared the main dishes, set up the location and hosted a giant picnic, inviting the community to join us, free of charge, and to pitch in as they are able, adding to the collective effort. We hate to sound whiny, but it is frustrating, and even hurtful, to see others copyrighting our work, or attempting to profit from it, when we have sacrificed so much to create it.

It's becoming a problem, and we really need to Mom up and face our reluctance to confront people about violations of our licensing agreement. We need to be forthright about protecting our work, but we'd still prefer to do this as gently as possible. So we're asking you to please take a look at your own blogs and websites and see - did you copy and paste from material on our site that is *not* in the pubic domain? PR magazine articles are in the public domain, as are the original CM volumes. However, the CM volumes you see on our website have been edited, footnoted, and annotated by us, and our words and work are not in the public domain.

Some websites have copied and pasted so much of our material that people are confusing those websites for AO.

It's creating quite a few headaches for us, and almost nobody out there who has copied and pasted from our material has asked us for permission, and many seem not to even be aware there has always been a licensing agreement - the first versions were sent to our email list in 1999, 2000 and 2001, and appeared on the website at least as early as 2002.

We love for you to talk about the curriculum, to link to it, and to explain to your readers how you've made it your own - but that does not require copying and pasting huge chunks of our work. Fair use generally allows about 300 words to be reproduced for the purpose of review. Could you please review your public writings outside the AO forum and if you've violated our Terms of Service, please, please take those down without waiting for us to ask? The right way to share AO is to link to our website, not to re-post AO's booklists, schedules and materials elsewhere. Thank you so much!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Arts and Crafts, P.U.S. style

by Anne White

St. John the Evangelist on Patmos, (Dirk Bouts, 1465)

Homeschoolers love to integrate lessons.  It seems to go with the territory.  Whole "curriculums" have been designed around activities that extend and amplify children's literature, history, science books, and sometimes mix them up all together like an Everything Pudding.

However, assigning integrated work in subjects such as art and handicrafts is not integral (pun intended) to CM.  It's not forbidden, maybe, but it's not required either, except for a few exceptions which I'll note below.  I drew this conclusion mostly from the old P.U.S. term programmes, but I can't find any other "evidence to the contrary" in Charlotte Mason's books or elsewhere.  Holiday gift giving and card making was integrated into the year's craft work, but the themes or periods being studied in school were not.  I realize I'm going against the usual homeschool grain here, as well as current school practices of having students make clay castles during medieval studies and foam-ball solar systems during astronomy.  But Charlotte Mason education was never all about fitting in with everybody else.

So what did they do?  Here are some outlines based on Form III programmes (so that would be for twelve- and thirteen-year-olds).  CM homeschoolers will already be familiar with a lot of this, but bear with me.

First off, the simplest, most unchanging part of Charlotte Mason's art curriculum was Picture Study, sometimes called Picture Talks.  Out of a number of programmes from the 1920's, I have this list of artists:  Matthew Maris, Millet, Watts, Steen and Dou, Corot, Durer, Raphael, Goya and José de Ribera, Holbein, da Vinci, Pintorrichio, Millais, Holman Hunt, Dirk Bouts, Turner, Carpaccio, Botticelli, Vermeer, Filippino Lippi, Mantegna.  A lot of "big names" and a few lesser-known ones; heavy on the Renaissance with a side of landscapes.

Middle schoolers were expected to learn and practice drawing skills (watercolouring seemed to count as "drawing"), using books such as the "Art of Drawing" series published by Philip and Tacey; Drawing, Design and Craftwork, by F.J. Glass; and Drawing For Children and Others, by Vernon Blake.  (The Glass book was also used for craftwork.)   There were specific subject suggestions given in most terms, such as "objects in the home," "tree studies," "objects out of doors," "kitchen utensils," "figures in action."  Glass's book got a bit more creative with assignments, suggesting that the students paint fruits on tiles or draw what they would see through doorways.

"Illustrations of scenes from Literature" was an every-term assignment along with the other drawing work. "Simple memory drawings" or "Memory drawings of out-door scenes and places" were often included as well.  Sometimes there were seasonal projects such as "Design Christmas cards or calendars, using beautiful lettering."  There was also the request that students join the "P.U.S. Portfolio," a sort of art club like Harmony Art Mom's online Sketch Tuesdays, where they submitted work by mail and added to it in a sort of round-robin.  (According to this article, they had to set a rule that "the Portfolio only remains one day with each family. There are so many members that the unfortunate artists whose names begin with letters at the end of the alphabet cannot see it during the month unless this rule is kept"). Here's an article with notes for one season's "portfolio," and I love the suggested illustration from George MacDonald!

And that's it for "art class."  Clay and cardboard modelling, and anything else of that sort, came under "Work," a.k.a Handicrafts, Shop, and Home Economics.  The study of architecture was listed under General Science.  "Beautiful lettering" went under Sunday Occupations.
Ox-Cart Man illustration by Barbara Cooney

Handicrafts  included lots of needlework, sewing and knitting, darning and mending, cooking, helping in house and garden.  Occasionally there was something special included such as "Frame your pictures with glass and passé-partout," "Make a design for an Empire medal" (in clay).  What I notice about the "Work" section of the programmes is that it got longer and a bit more diverse in the years after Charlotte Mason's death.   (Although I found one more unusual suggestion back in Programme 44, "Dress a doll in Tudor style.")  Both boys and girls were to make papier-mache bowls as gifts, make plaster casts from linoleum blocks, reseat chairs with rushes, carve toys (from a Dryad Leaflet), "make rugs" (using a design book by Ann Macbeth) and help with laundry. Girls were to knit or crochet baby clothes, and sew and embroider an "overall" (what North Americans would call a smock).  Boys were given books such as Light Woodwork for the Classroom, by W.J. Warren, and 101 Things for a Boy to Make, by A.C. Horth (a book that went through many updates and reprints).  They were also assigned stenciling (why the girls couldn't do that too, I'm not sure).

Not everything was stuffed into every term, of course.  Cardboard modelling, which I can't imagine anyone getting that excited over (sorry!), was one of the usual repeats from term to term, and of course all the household skills and charitable work were repeated as well.  Most term programmes had one or two things that were special or different, such as carving toys.
Ox-Cart Man illustration by Barbara Cooney

What does all this say to a homeschool parent or other educator planning a term's work now?

First, if the P.U.S. could stretch its view of crafts from "reseat chairs" to "make a design for an Empire medal" to printmaking and carving, it seems to me that almost any good craft (or art class technique, like lino block casting) might be fair game for a term's work.  All this work didn't seem to be timetabled into the school schedules, though.  There are footnotes in the term programmes that the work given includes "hobbies," and I think that's one way of saying that some of this should be self-directed on the students' part. Obviously some of the more involved crafts would take instruction and supervision, but there would be some things that they could do on their own.

Second, the P.U.S. made use of books by some of the best art teachers and designers out there.  Ann Macbeth, for one, is a fascinating person to look up online; I just wish [more of ] her actual books were scanned in (see comments for a link to one of them). So that says to me that we can find ideas in mainstream (not just educational) craft resources; also in ideas given for groups such as Scouts (the P.U.S. programmes recommended doing work for Guide or Scout badges).

Third, it's instructive to see what does not appear on the list:  for instance, crafts made from specifically kid-marketed materials, such as fluorescent-coloured modelling material; and those just copied from someone else's exact pattern.  There is a goal of developing an independent sense of design and taste, of learning each craft well enough to be able to make some of your own design decisions, and not just connect the dots.

Something that does not seem to be discussed or encouraged much, at least at this age, is the kind of undirected art or crafts, smushing stuff around, that is mostly process but with no real product in mind.  This may have been because craft materials were expensive; but taking that further, I think the students were to develop a "relationship" with the paints, wool and clay.  That is, learning and respecting the properties of whatever material you were working with, in the same sense that a cabinetmaker seems to enter into the spirit of the wood he uses.  If you have good coloured pencils, you try to get the most out of them, learn what you can do with them, as well as treat them carefully.

And, as I said at the beginning, there are few crafts listed that seem made to fit (usually) with a particular lesson or historical period.  The exceptions would be illustrating scenes from literature, or occasionally something like dressing dolls in historical costume.  Even the art-class projects were not directly inspired by the term's artist or the historical period, in contrast to much of today's educational thinking. Papier-mâché bowls for gifts, yes; papier-mâché gargoyles, no.

Does that mean you should never make sunbonnets when you read Little House on the Prairie, or that you can't make earth-strata art during a geology unit?  (If I had all the stuff, I'd love to do that one.)  No, I don't think so...nobody wants to take all the fun out of homeschooling.  But perhaps this takes some of the stress out of it.

If you're a CMer and you're going to do crafts...mostly...do crafts, and don't worry about how well they fit.  If you're going to draw, then draw.  If the relationships (to the materials, or to the landscape or natural inspiration or just to general ideas of beauty and design) are being formed, then the real learning is happening--with or without gargoyles.