“Feeling” What you Read

‘…thoughts–just mere thoughts–are as powerful as electric batteries–as good for one as sunlight is, or as bad for one as poison.   To let a sad thought or a bad one get into your mind is as dangerous as l3etting a scarlet fever germ get into your body.   If you let it stay there after it has got in you may never get over it as long as you live.’     Frances Hodgson Bunett, The Secret Garden

Boy, what a blog break, huh?  It wasn’t intentional.   I’ve been here, there, and (mostly) everywhere, but I’d not slowed down to complete this post that I’ve been crafting for weeks.   In the meantime,

I completed an online interview for Lyria’s website in celebration for Black History Month (link to come later).

I wrote an article for Heart of the Matter Online that will hopefully encourage anyone who’s struggling with staying the course.

I’m working hard on a partnership that has come my way with CurrClick.com.   Please stay tuned—we (in conjunction will offer a free product give-away during the month of February!

Where I’ve been the most is in bed—sick, along with the kids.    We are fighting with everything we’ve collectively got to stay well amidst weather that gives us a high of 60-70 on one day, with a high of 40 just a few days later.   With the kids dancing and sweating, those quick in-and-out-of-doors trips are just enough to keep one or more kids coughing, sneezing, and/or blowing a runny nose.

 When we’ve not been battling colds, we’ve been doing lots of reading.   I’m reading From the Mixed-Up  Files of Mrs. Basil Frankweiler.    Though we’ve had this title on our shelves for years, it’s a first time reading it for the family, and we all are appreciating a 12-year-old’s perspective on being treated so unfairly and deciding to run away.     Our son is reading through The Flames of Rome as a part of his history of God’s kingdom curriculum.   This is a masterfully told fictional novel of Christianity at its earliest stages, its impact on the Roman government, and the consequential persecution of both Jews and Gentiles.   Yet, it is told with all the non-subtleties of any tale of ancient Rome, and I can’t help but think my son has probably gotten a full introduction to all those scenes I make him change the channel from when I see this same stuff on television.

Every now and then we must back up from the product and pay attention to process, asking ourselves the question “why,” as in “Why do we use this curriculum?”   “Why are we reading this book?”   “Why do we need to learn this?”   Actually, some would argue that the latter question comes more from our children ( or does it? 🙂  )

The oldest and I recently found ourselves at the point of asking “why.”  From the oldest’s perspective, ancient history is all about war, and medieval history is all about knights and monsters (Grendel, Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde, etc.)   Yes, oversimplification is sometimes a problem in our home as well, but I’ll get to it later.

The whole “why do we have to read about monsters” discussion originated when we opened, or rather, downloaded, “Beowulf.”    I honestly believe that she’d passed by me while I was trying to watch the movie—unsuccessfully, I might add.   I had one of those “never judge a book by the movie” moments.   In a matter of a few minutes, the oldest passed by, decided that the movie was too gruesome for her, and blew off anything associated with the word Beowulf.   Great discernment, but also a tad judgmental, perhaps?

Anyway, rather than feel unappreciated after pouring, blood, sweat, and tears into her syllabus, I answered her question with a question: why do you think we read these books?   Her response was a regurgitated academic “feel good” statement that she’d heard from me, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.   I want her to know that she’s getting an education that, in traditional school systems, would only be afforded by the well-heeled or those that are considered gifted or talented.   I pray that she does understand that there is a body of knowledge that comes from being well read, from the norms of our culture, to our sense of good and evil, from  social class and structure, to language that gives us common understanding.    As I’ve said to the older kids before, when you encounter phrases in the media like “Et tu, Brute?” or “ ‘tis a far, far better thing that I do…” or “a man apart,” “but if not,…” or even the more chronologically recent “hoodwinked and bamboozled,” they have historical significance.   And though life doesn’t require you to be a walking reference book, it makes sense to understand language in its context.    That beginning normally leads into my own thoughts about relationships with words and ideas, but I’ll spare you (smile).   But after she shared her thoughts, we were able to look at all of our work from a different perspective.

The problem with oversimplication is that it allows us to dismiss ideas.   We can diminish medieval history down to stories about knights and monsters.   If we back up a bit past the story that modern-day media would present, we can read “Beowulf” for what it is—a story about what happens to a crude, warrior society that encounters the gospel of Jesus Christ.   The tale has far more meaning when presented from that angle.

When I was younger, we had a saying that indicated that someone had said something you could relate to: I heard that.    You had to swirl that “heard” around your tongue a bit and then hit the “that” hard, but it was a clear signal that you heard something that resonated with you.    Now the kids say I feel you.  Though I’m the first to sometimes question a classic, I do understand that a book—a good book—should make you feel something.      Through Odysseus, we each begin to think about our own trials on the way to discovering who we are.      Through Hrothgar we learn to represent Christ even when it means that we are indeed a peculiar people.   I could think of others if it weren’t so late.    However, I think you get the point.   And like the quote above from The Secret Garden, a good book should leave us with something uplifting to think about, something that aligns itself with Philippians 4:8.        After stepping back to have this whole “why” discussion with the oldest, I was re-energized about what we’re reading, with an even clearer understanding of why we’re reading it.   Yeah, I feel that.

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Doing Things, But What?

‘ “I think I like that man,” Janus observed.  “Never had  much to do with high-minded teachers since I was a kid, but he means business.    I thought teachers just talked, but he doesn’t fool around with the words.   He goes and does things.‘ (emphasis mine)

Meindert Dejong, The Wheel on the School, pg. 162

 

 

This was an observation made by an older man who, as my parents would say, pulled himself up ‘by the seat of his britches’ (meaning that he had no education or ties to previous wealth), about the local school teacher.    He admired the fact that the teacher didn’t sit around resting upon his laurels, but instead chose to act upon his thoughts.   At least that’s what I got out of it anyway.

 

The Wheel on the School is an agonizingly slow book to read–at least for me, that is.    I shared a link regarding a professional teacher’s response to it here .    Interestingly enough, at least one of the comments the teacher received spoke of how that reader put it down–it took too long to reach the point, and it didn’t move fast enough.     Someone else’s response to the original poster was that those are the reasons that make The Wheel on the School such a refreshing turn from the more modern “wannabe-classics” that are geared for low attention spans and and written as if they were a script for a high-energy video game.    Personally, I can relate to the original reader.    If I weren’t reading it to our daughter, and in the process, trying to teach a few intangible lessons, like not deciding that a book’s boring way too early, I would have probably forsaken it by now and moved on to something else.    But pride, as much as anything else, keeps me from putting the book back in the basket where it has remained for years.     I refuse to relegate myself to being the reader who needs a constant adrenalin rush to enjoy a good read.   

 

To be sure, there are good points to this Ambleside Online-inspired addition to our home library, even though we’re halfway through the book and the main character just found a wheel (should I point out the obvious–that the wheel hasn’t made it to the school? 🙂 ).    A spark of curiosity triggers a chain of events that unite an entire community around one goal.   In doing so, there is a lesson about the value of people–all people–in a common effort.    The downtrodden play as crucial a role as the elderly, who are, for the most part, forgotten; the only six children in the tiny fishing village hear the wisdom of these same forgotten souls, and get to know them as people with stories of their own rather than as “the old man who hates and punishes children who get in his yard.”   Though I’m not sure that the youngest is gaining from the reading all that I just shared, I will say that it’s the type of value-laden (though not blatantly stated, crushing any desire for deeper thinking) reading that I thoroughly enjoy reading and  sharing with our children.  Oh, if it didn’t take so darn long!!!!!

 

Where am I going with all of this, you ask?    Other than documenting my thoughts about The Wheel on the School, I don’t know!! 

 

Seriously, though, this is the 2nd week of the not-Back-to-School Blog Hop (see my sidebar to the left).    This week’s focus was on school rooms.   Personally, I cheated and used this post from last year since the physical rooms and the story behind them didn’t change at all.   It’s been interesting, for lack of a better word, roaming about Blogland and seeing some of the ways that others designed their educational spaces, whether it’s a dedicated room or several multi-purpose areas of home.   The pictures run the gamut from in-home children’s museums and rooms that make me want to return to school–at their home (LOL), to sofas and patios that are equally inviting.   Sadly, I’ve also seen responses, specifically to the week 2 (school room) hop, that would indicate that there’s something wrong with putting time, energy, and $$ into a designated area for home education.    Personally, I’m thankful for freedom in this area, and the ability to sincerely marvel at others’ school environments, but yet glorify God in what we have as well.

 

I’ve had other places to gain wisdom as well.    This week also was the annual Heart of the Matter’s online homeschool conference.  As I shared via an HSB update, by Wednesday, I was overwhelmed with everything flowing through my head, and anxious for a place to pen it all as it takes shape.    Susan Wise Bauer was one of the guest speakers this conference, which I thought was too much of a coincidence to be a coincidence given that I’m reading The Well-Educated Mind.

 

A good word always commands a response, and I’ve had a wealth of good words in these last few weeks.    Everything my mind and heart have taken on in these last few weeks have  led me to one end: ideas.    I’m fleshing out what to do, rather than simply ‘fooling around with words.’    It would take me a while to post all that I’m marinating upon, and not all of it would be appropriate for this pubic forum anyway, but these are the thoughts, at a high level, that occur to me as end our third week of school:

 

1) I will throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and I will run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Praise God, we are at a place and a pace with which we’re, for the most part, comfortable.     I don’t have have time for envy, for jealousy, for comparisons, for self-doubt, and all the many tricks and snares that prey upon the vision of what the Lord has called me to do.

2) Each day, regardless of what it brings, is a day that the Lord has made, and I will rejoice and be glad in it.

 

More practically speaking, I will:

3) Make better use of my sofas.    This morning, the youngest wasn’t feeling well and laid on the sofa most of the morning.   I took books over and read to her while enjoying time to snuggle with a blanket.   Even the puppy settled down and slept at our feet.      Somewhere in the midst of an increasing amount of formality with her, I’d temporarily forgotten what those days felt like when we would watch the butterflies out of the window and marvel at insects.    I realized this morning that I don’t want to lose that.

 

 

 

 

 

4) Cover the “whys” with the oldest.    Not too long ago, our oldest came home in a moment of disgust with her peers at Sunday School.    She couldn’t believe how disconnected they were with whythey needed to study certain subjects like history.    She didn’t respond to them–a move to not be considered too strange, I’m sure–but she talked about the value of history to me.   As an aside, if you’ve read my blog for more than a year, you’d know what a tough road we’ve had getting to this point, so I was floored at her looking down her nose at others (smile).    Perspective is everything, you know?    Well, today we discussed the phrase “Et tu, Brute’ ?” from Julius Caesar.     She listed in her commonplace book the symbolism of that phrase in modern society.   This also gave us an excellent opportunity to talk about the value of cultural literacy.   To say the least, this should be a promising year.

 

There is more, but I’ve run out of time.    God bless.

 

   

 

A Rose by any other name…

Would it smell as sweet?   I was reminded of this famous Shakespearean line when I read through a fairly recent discussion that, after polling the names of group members’ homeschools, suggested that names might indeed make a difference.    More specifically, the concern was that Christian homeschool names might be suspect at non-Christian colleges.  

The discussion started with a question from a group member whose daughter wanted to study a specific area of biology.    The concern was that a Christian-named homeschool, implying creationist values, might raise eyebrows from those die-hard evolutionists and cause admissions problems.   Admittedly I skimmed over the responding posts, which can quickly become voluminous on any topic.   My own college experience would say that this was a non-issue, but then this fairly specific question gave way to a more generalized discussion that peaked my curiosity.   Once I became curious, I grew pensive regarding this whole issue of names and perceptions.   Some questions that grew out of the initial discussion were as follows:

  • Where do you use the name—on transcripts? For admin purposes? For retail purposes?
  • What words do you include on the transcript?   (as an example, does the word “official,” as in xxxx Official Homeschool Transcript, make your homeschool sound more official)?    Should you include the word ‘homeschool’?    This latter question becomes more relevant in a state like Texas where homeschools are considered private, unaccredited schools.
  • Does a name for my homeschool help or hinder?  (as one example, one parent shared that he/she ‘talked to several college admission officers about the homeschool transcript. Most were in an agreement that a school name, especially one that is more main stream, gives more weight to your transcript… the more my son’s transcript looked like “public” school kids the better for him. Most big colleges want to compare apples to apples…’)

I had a chance to revisit my own naming process this weekend.    We enjoyed the company of another homeschooling family after the kids’ dance recital.    The wife/ mother was sharing that their homeschool “went full out,” in her words: she paid to have a logo crafted, and to create a school name.    I smiled as it occurred to me that I honestly never gave much more than a fleeting thought to the initial naming of our homeschool.  

Our homeschool does have a name.    I use it primarily for administrative purposes—registrations, sign-ups and sign-ins, etc.     It was the name of a retailer who was going out of business and sending wide distributions of e-mails in the hopes of drumming up some last-minute business.    At that time, I thought no further than that it was “catchy;”   I liked the play on words between ‘His way home’ and ‘homeschool.’   Hence, our school became His Way Homeschool.    Funny, I’m not even sure if my husband or children know that.

One of the reasons that I don’t spend much time with the name of our school is because I work very hard to free myself from the propensity to recreate the public school system at home.    I have to constantly remind myself at each turn of what our ultimate goals are here.    I want the kids to have a rich experience.    School is a part of it, but it’s more about relationships—relationships with the Lord, relationships within the family, relationships with books and with learning.   My very nature would make this an unschooling-free zone, but I’m coming into more and more of an understanding that I’m not interested in producing what I see come out of traditional school systems—public or private.    My cousin articulated this so much better than I could in this link on changing the culture.

As strange as it might sound, I will allow our children to decide upon the name on their high school diploma—an idea that I heard at a conference.    If they want to graduate from His Way Homeschool, great.   If they prefer Bullard Preparatory Academy or something more mainstream, so be it.    That is a part of their contribution to what has transpired in these years since we’ve begun, and they should feel good about saying that they finished from xxxx high school, just as the traditionally-schooled kids here take great pride in saying that they went to one of the three high schools in our little town.   Come to think of it, what is in a name?   Two of our local high schools are named after people, and the third is named ‘Memorial’—a memorial to what, I have no idea.   But His Way Homeschool, though selected very casually, means something to me after all these years.   It keeps me focused on our ultimate goal for our children.    It is a reminder to strive for excellence when I would otherwise let fatigue and frustration give way to mediocrity.   Finally, it centralizes for me—in three short words—that whole premise of relationship that I spoke of earlier.   And yes, His Way Homeschool (or whatever the kids choose) will grace our high school transcript, as much of an in-Jesus’-name-I-dare-the-devil-to-stop-me move as anything else.    Ultimately, that’s where our faith has to be.   A college administrator might find it too holy or self-righteous.   It may not be academic enough.   In the natural, it doesn’t say much about our philosophy or learning approach.    But, ooooooh, in the spiritual, it says everything.   God bless you, my friends.    By the way, I’m still curious: what are your homeschool names?

The wrap-up of the wrap-ups, 2009-2010

This post, almost a week after our summer has begun, is the epitome of how our end of the year has gone.      Sally said it all in her comment about being DONE (with the capital “d”) as defined by her.   The only problem is, other schedules dictated how my year ended.   With plan A, I would have had another week to think about how to celebrate.  Plan B was that I tested when I wanted to have school, and I had school when I thought to test.    And I think that’s the problem: given my lack of spontaneity, it’s taken me a while to realize that school is over.     Even in terms of my posting, there were other things I wanted to say and do, but time got away from me, and now I can’t help feeling like I missed a great opportunity.   I should have done one more homeschool wrap-up.   Then again, I’m one of those people who will forget to put something on a list, so I’ll do it and then write it down so that I can cross it off.    Talk about an obsession with closure.

I was reflecting upon the year, especially the first semester when everything seemed to just click, and it occurred to me that this was too good of a year to not do anything to celebrate in some way.   So, Friday night after the older two’s team practices, I used the Starbucks gift card that the tester’s parents gave me, and I bought everyone Frappucinos.

We had a good, if not great, year, even though I experienced my usual end-of-semester burnout, and I didn’t get to list the last bit of icing on the cake—a hodge-podge of happenings—so I’ll list them here.    By the way, how do you capture your school year each year?    When I was more of an avid scrapbooker, I always reserved a page (or 2 or 3) in my scrapbooks to serve as a recap of our year.   

 

 

 

 I know other parents who get their pictures neatly posted into Squidoo; personally, I’m working on getting more logged onto my blog, and more pictures taken in-the-moment (you’ve probably noticed), such that I can remember it all and use it well.

The youngest, after requesting to learn more about the human body, began Apologia’s Anatomy and Physiology.   Personally, I think it is far more difficult than some of the other elementary level texts, but I also realize that between General Science and Biology she’ll see the human body at least two other times.    We’re not on the hook for “nailing” it just yet.   Here’s a picture of her edible cell—Jello with Twizzlers, Starbursts, Skittles, jelly beans, Jawbreakers, Fruit Roll-ups.    Jeannie Fulbright needs her behind whipped for that one (smile).

  

 

 

 After thoroughly enjoying A Cricket in Times Square (although the youngest hated that the cricket chose to leave just as things were going so well), we began The Wheel on the School.     It’s a slower book, but poses a profound question to a teacher (in this case, a parent) about what can happen when a child is curious.    This post, from a public school teacher, addresses the nature of the book better than I could.   We found this while surfing to find out what is a wineball.

This wasn’t my year to focus in on my son, so I don’t have as much to write about his finish, except that it was stellar.   His turn in coming in 2010-2011, when I think the oldest will have gotten into her routine with high school.    He was happy to finish his year of poetry with this bit of eloquence, which looks simple enough, but he had to meet a number of assignment requirements in terms of rhythm, rhyme, etc.

Inside of the cold season,

The rain, the snow and the hail

Falls to the ground.

Now in the blooming season,

Plants start, not to fall to

The ground,

But to come to the surface,

And come around.

 

The oldest did complete both her projects-on time, in spite of an internet outage for 24 hours.   I see in her one who gets tons of energy at the last minute.   It is disturbing, and it’s not me, but I know a number of people who function in this way and are wildly successful.    I was most skeptical about one of the projects, designing the ideal high school according to Socrates, as reflected in the ideas of Plato’s Republic.     Not only was this a more difficult work to read and comprehend, but I didn’t know how she’d put the work in with such time constraints to show, through words, that she “got it.”   At the end of the day, it wasn’t her best work, but she understood the ideas expressed, and moreover, the idea behind every teen/ high school movie she’s ever seen—why the popular kids are constantly recognized and become increasingly popular, why the others fade into high school oblivion, and why there are segments and cliques—recognized cliques with boundaries– in the first place.   I thought to post her work here, mistakes and all.   Hmmm…..we’ll see.

When I look at the kids relaxing, when I notice myself sleeping a bit later with no guilt, it’s hard to embrace that the year is over.    Seems like we ran full steam for so long until this abrupt stop is taking a minute to get a hold of.    Now comes my favorite part: planning (and purchasing) for the year to come.   Hope you’re enjoying this season as well.

Discovery, Discipline, and Discussion

I will take a summer’s break from the Weekly Homeschool Wrap-up meme as we abruptly ended our homeschool year on last week.    I use the word ‘abruptly’ because my non-spontaneous nature had planned last week to test, with this week as our last school week.   When the other parent in charge of testing materials didn’t receive her materials on time, we had to quickly adjust ourselves to have a “normal” school week on last week and to test on this week.   I feel bad for the kids as we usually try to do something, even if it’s just lunch out, for them when the school year ends.    Because we have to wake up two hours earlier than they’re accustomed to, this week has been in some ways grueling for them—and for me.    Friday is our areas minority homeschooler year-end picnic, and we’re having the in-laws over on Saturday for an early Memorial Day celebration, so it will be Sunday before we spend time with just the five of us.   I’ll have to think of something special just to say, “nice work, guys.”

 

My thoughts haven’t changed regarding standardized testing from this post of over two years ago.    I still see semi-anxious students and seriously anxious parents.   Yet, my thoughts as I prayed over the community of students and parents gathered this morning were that we spend all year long for excellence—in their spirit, in their character, in their academics, and otherwise.    The tests will say something about them.   Yet, here’s what God says about them:

They are the head and not the tail.   They are above and never beneath.   They are lenders and not borrowers.   They are blessed in their going in and blessed in their coming out.    (Deuteronomy 28: 6, 12-13)

They will do greater works than Jesus Christ.   (John 14:12)

God’s work in them is marvelous.  (Psalm 139: 14)

Furthermore, eyes have not seen, ears have not heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man all the things that God has prepared for them because they love Him.   (1 Corinthians 2:9)

Our task is to trust.    God has already walked their steps, and He knows them down to the hairs on their heads.   We simply have to help them to position themselves for usefulness.

At any rate, I did have an interesting conversation with a couple of parents about the nature of the tests.   It occurs to me that these tests are a source of angst and frustration in many communities.   Some think that they are culturally biased.   You know what?   I agree with them.   But it’s not a racial/ ethnic bias.   There are a number of biases, expressed in the following examples:

1)    A grammar test in which the student must read the following and then determine the incorrect portion:

I wanted to read a book

tonight, but these here stars

are simply beautiful.

 

Most of us could immediately pick up that ‘these here stars’ is the line with the incorrect grammar, but where I come from, I’ve heard many say this and more as if it was standard English.

2)    A science question asking a student which temperature (with a choice of three numbers) indicated that a child has a fever.  

 For a child like my small one, who has never been sick enough to run a serious temperature, praise God, she struggled with the right answer.

3)    Questions that ask a student to distinguish a certain leaf, or the root of a plant (like a carrot) versus the plant itself, or how to identify an insect versus a spider.

You must spend time with nature to learn some things in a way that promotes retention.

 

What is this bias, then?    It’s a bias against children who aren’t exposed to rich language and eloquent speech.    It’s a bias against children who don’t get out much, and so may not understand a map or gather a sense of direction from just hanging around the neighborhood.    It’s a bias against children who’ve never felt dirt in their hands, or who’ve not allowed a ladybug or “roly poly” to crawl over their fingers.      It’s a bias against a child who’s never looked up at night and wondered about heavenly bodies and the miracle of the sun and the alignment of the planets.

 

Amidst all the odds stacked against you (or maybe a lack thereof if you’re fortunate), there are constants that ensure success; how you accomplish them is a matter of personal choice and learning preferences.    However, nothing replaces discovery, which is the essence of science.   Nothing replaces discipline, though a child may hate the logic and analytical skills taught via math drills.  Finally, nothing replaces discussion, which allows us to utilize language.    And the beauty of language is that we can use it to tell our children about a great God who lovingly crafted a world that’s worth their curiosity.    The test then becomes just another opportunity to capture a particular level of curiosity.   God bless you.