Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Ruskin and Wordsworth go under Charlotte's microscope (School Education)

Did you ever read an autobiography and wish you could have lived in that person's family? Or not, as the case may be?

In the last several chapters of School Education, Charlotte Mason gives a sort of bucket list of the things that children need, the relationships (intimacies, affinities) they need to form; she's been over this ground earlier in the book.  She then spends a number of pages setting up her list against the childhood memories of William Wordsworth and John Ruskin, from Wordsworth's Prelude and Ruskin's Praeterita.  As a little postscript, she includes Wordsworth's advice on prigs.

That's it, that's what all that poetry and quoting is about.  Ruskin wanted to ride a pony, a real pony, just ride it outdoors and imagine he was really going somewhere and doing something; he thought afterwards that that might have made him a bit less of a wuss.

His parents signed him up for indoor riding lessons, but those were a failure, maybe because his heart wasn't in it.  He also spent a lot of time by himself, and he didn't have anybody to take him on nature walks and tell him the names of things, so he settled for collecting pebbles.
Wordsworth, on the other hand, spent most of his time with his friends, skating and swimming and stealing birds' nests. (What Charlotte calls Dynamic Relations.)
They both had books that fascinated them; they both had more-or-less similar opportunities to see art and experience a few of the other things on the list.

So here is what Charlotte thinks we might make of these stories, and then a correction.  It would be easy to say, look, these men had different childhood experiences, some good, some bad.  Wordsworth appears to have had a more balanced, less neurotic upbringing than Ruskin, but in the end they both achieved greatness, contributed to the world.  Her point? What if Ruskin hadn't had so many disappointments, had had more time to just play outdoors, make friends, have a few more of those affinities in place? What more could he have become? We'll never know.  And, as Charlotte points out, most of us aren't Ruskins anyway...meaning that his particular genius may have been able to overcome much of what was lacking, but most children can't.

And all that sounds like a recipe for pure parental guilt, especially if we can't send our children to kindergarten in the woods.  As Charlotte says in her first volume, a quick daily march around the square won't do either.  So what can one do if one doesn't live in a nature-friendly area or one doesn't have sympathetic neighbours or one has babies and toddlers, or illness, or blizzards?

The answer is, the best one can.  After all, knowing what children need is what opens our eyes to opportunities.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Teacher training this week

Dorothy L. Sayers, Gaudy Night (done that; lots of discussion about women's education)
Re-reading the last half of Charlotte Mason, School Education (got through that in one morning)
Making Sense of Adult Learning, by Dorothy MacKeracher (taking me longer)
Wendell Berry's poems
A surprisingly relevant newspaper column today about the science of relations (maybe I'll write a post about that)

Listening to:
Dr. Gwendolyn Starks, "Creative Writing with the Inklings and Friends"

Using all that to:
re-edit some of our Grade Eight plans.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sad day in TV Land: In memory of James Garner

I could have picked almost anything, but what's Rockford without a good car chase?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Charlotte Mason Quote for the Day: The reason we need will

 Robert E. Weaver, Daniel in the Lion's Den (1952)
"[A person of will has] the power to project himself beyond himself and shape his life upon a purpose." ~~ Charlotte Mason, Ourselves

Thursday, July 17, 2014

What's for supper? Make-your-own taco salads

Tonight's dinner menu:  Make-your-own taco salads, with sides and/or toppings. Meatless or not, whatever you want.

Main components:

1 lb. ground beef, browned and with a bit of seasoning added (salsa, not much because the jar was almost empty; chili powder, water, and cornstarch)
Homemade "refried" beans, made from pressure-cooked pinto beans that I combined with a can of black beans, onion powder, cayenne and black pepper, salt, and a bit of cumin (an idea that I got from Miss Maggie's old Frugal Abundance website--the recipe isn't there anymore, though)

Taco chips, olives, chopped lettuce, chopped peppers, grated cheese

Brown rice and two sweet potatoes
Plums, and cookies from the Eurostore.

Quote for the day: some Zen of cooking

"There is completely no secret: just plunging in, allowing time, making space, giving energy, tending each situation with warm-hearted effort.  The spoon, the knife, the food, the hunger; broken plates and broken plans.  Play, don't work.  Work it out." ~~ Edward Espe Brown, Tassajara Cooking (1973)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What are the really basic cooking skills?

This is not a new post, but I'd never seen it before, and the comments are interesting (and I don't think there are any really rude ones). What should everybody (that is, not every cook, just every normal person) know how to do in a kitchen?

I agree with the one comment that everybody, no matter what their circumstances or food style, should know how to make three different main meals more or less from scratch, something simple but decent enough that they could also feed a friend or two. It's a reasonable-enough don't-leave-home-without-it goal, and it's one that they could probably learn from just one issue of a familly or food magazine. If you have and use tools like a slow cooker, this can be even easier. Our Treehouse classic: open lid, put in sauerkraut, put in meat, put on lid, plug in, turn on.  Cook.

What's your personal survival list?  What do kids need to learn so that they don't end up like this poor guy on the Possum 911 line?  (Fast-forward to 13:27.)

What I learned from a French teacher

I was watching an online video produced for Canadian public-school French teachers in one of the western provinces.  Because that province has several different options for French teaching, they have produced a series of 15-minute videos explaining and comparing them.  This one was about core French (so just "regular" French classes) at the middle school level, and it showed both students working and comments from teachers.  One of the teachers said something like this:  "I used to plan my lessons around what I wanted the students to hear me saying.  Now I plan around what I want them to be able to say."

To clarify that, she did not mean parroting back phrases or canned dialogues.  Her students now spend a lot of their class time talking with partners and in groups, asking questions and answering them, in planned "situations" or just in friendly French chitchat.  The middle schoolers in the video were having conversations on the level of "What time does the movie start?" "6:30."  "I can't come then, I have to do my homework."  "Should we go later?" and so on.  This may not seem particularly profound, but it certainly beats only being able to talk about the plume of your tante.  She (and other teachers) mentioned the challenge of getting students to take risks in the target language--being encouraged to try.  It's a bit like being given a verbal blank page, instead of a worksheet.

I thought that what she was saying made perfect sense, in situations outside of language teaching.  Sometimes the way school subjects are taught seems like a swimming class where the teacher talks about swimming and demonstrates swimming, but the students never go into the pool themselves.  Of course we wouldn't put up with such a silly class at the Y--so why does it seem like such a fresh idea for school classes to take a hands-on, or in this case mouths-on, approach?

When I used more open-ended math materials with my Squirrelings, I found that evaluating what they were actually learning each day was not always obvious or immediate; but they really were learning.  It would be nice to think, even with math, that every answer has one method and one solution, that there are arithmetic and algebra and geometry and they're quite distinct; and that, really, all you have to do is keep assigning lesson after lesson and that sooner or later they'll know everything they're supposed to know.  In other words, that everything has an answer key, that you can check everything off and move on to history.

You can either settle for routine and memorization, or you can take some risks, let the students go right into the water and see if they've learned enough to at least dog-paddle. Teaching in a more natural, open-ended way is more challenging, riskier, than just filling in the blanks.  But the rewards are also greater...what we struggled to achieve using traditional methods, we may find now coming naturally.

Free for the Kindle app: homeschool and more

These books are free for the downloading right now--they may not be for long, though.  (I am not an Amazon affiliate, I just post them if I see something interesting.)

Senior Year Step-by-Step: Simple Instructions for Busy Homeschool Parents (Coffee Break Books Book 29) by Lee Binz

Discovering Mathematical Thought: Growing the Math Side of the Brain by Hal Torrance -- Dollygirl used this book last fall (Grade Seven).

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Carnivals This Week, and other good things to read online (Updated!)

The Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival is at Harmony Fine Arts.

At Home and School hosts the Carnival of Homeschooling: Finding Solutions Edition. I found this entry interesting:
"Then there are times when local authorities seem to forget that homeschoolers live, work, and pay taxes too. Christine of The Thinking Mother and other homeschoolers in her area resolved the problem in Texas Homeschool Daytime Curfew Law Defeated."
Wildflowers and Marbles used to have a thoroughly enviable learning room.  Now they have a mobile learning cart--also very beautiful.

Fresh figs and monster cucumbers: the Prudent Homemaker is another blogger who is very good with a camera.

And Ordo Amoris has a keeper post called The Little Way to Success.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Mama Squirrel's Library Pile

From the public library, reading and leafing through:

The Map That Changed the World, by Simon Winchester
Why Geology Matters, by Doug Macdougall
The Seashell on the Mountaintop, by Alan Cutler
Eric Sloane's Weather Almanac

Thursday, July 10, 2014

When you realize you're getting old

Or just too out of it, one way or another: when you see a list of the Emmy nominees, and realize that you have never watched even one of those shows.  Or, moreover, that you don't really care.

Our TV time lately has been a combination of Foyle's War, Mission Impossible (the 1970 season), and Hogan's Heroes.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Laughter is a good thing: reposted link

I posted a link to The Laugh of the Future in July 2006.  It's still there, and it's still worth reading.

A sample:
"It took divine revelation to teach us that there is a foolishness wiser than the wisdom of men; or that in the lowliest and stupidest of men there is a grandeur and a mystery that should make us laugh not for scorn but for wonder.  One old Shakespearean critic has called it the Comedy of Forgiveness -- the strange belief, quite foreign to the pagans, that laughter too might be redemptive, as participating in the greatest comedy of all, that of a world wherein man is saved by the means he least expects, and therefore by the most fitting and comical means of all.  For the fact is that we like Bottom not just as a source of laughter, but as Bottom and no other; as we like Don Quixote, and Charlie Brown, and the fat bus driver Ralph Kramden."

Monday, July 07, 2014

Quote for the day: Two sorts of men

"I have tried to hint to you two opposite sorts of men. The one trying to be good with all his might and main, according to certain approved methods and rules, which he has got by heart; and like a weak oarsman, feeling and fingering his spiritual muscles over all day, to see if they are growing. The other, not even knowing whether he is good or not, but just doing the right thing without thinking about it, as simply as a little child, because the Spirit of God is with him." ~~ Charles Kingsley, Westward Ho!

Saturday, July 05, 2014

If it weren't for them

Who or what were your early (or middle, or late) influences on homeschooling?  I was thinking today that if certain people hadn't been around, hadn't written books or magazines or blogs, hadn't tried new things, new ways--or rediscovered old ones--the way I taught my children could have taken a different course.  So here's a list of, especially, my early mentors and influences.  Some of them might surprise even regular Treehouse readers because they've never come up here before.

The late Nancy Wallace, who wrote not only about the adventure of unschooling her children before homeschooling was cool, but about life in general with gifted and eager little ones.  She gave me permission to read big books to little bodies.

Mary Hood, who wrote a little book called The Relaxed Homeschooler.  Not that we ever put a lot of her specific ideas into practice, but during a time when it felt like you were either a secular unschooler or a Christian textbook user (or unit study groupie), there was an acceptable place between the two.

A Canadian offshoot of Lifetime Books and Gifts, which became known as Maple Ridge Books.  For the relatively few years that they were in business, they carved out a unique little niche here with their excellent catalogue and great book reviews. One Christmas I loaned my mom their catalogue, with a bunch of books circled as gift possibilities.  She bought EVERYTHING I'd circled, for the Apprentice.  We still have most of those books, too.

The "guest stars" who helped train our team for a summer library job, years ago.  We were so lucky.  We had children's music makers, puppeteers, and I think even a mime artist come in to do workshops--and we were getting paid to be there.  Minimum wage, but still.

For The Children's Sake, of course.  But again it wasn't so much for the homeschool aspects that I first read it--it was the idea of a different way to look at learning, even for very little children, and how that connects with what we believe we are, and our relationship with God and the world.

My husband's grandmother, who told us that parents were idiots to send three-year-old children to school, and who was surprised when we agreed with her.

Ruth Beechick.  John Holt.  Valerie Bendt.  Diane Moos (The Frugal Homeschooler).  Mary Pride.  Cathy Duffy, who published one fat curriculum guide that had a short chapter about homeschooling on the mission field, which stuck in my head as a reminder that less can be more, especially when real life is happening all around us.

The homeschooling families at church when we were first married...did they know how big an influence they were just by being there and doing what they were doing?

The homeschoolers in the local group...those with big families and happy crunchy lifestyles, and those with one child (like us, for awhile) and who didn't like kneading bread so much.

And, in the end, my "peeps" on the CM email lists and message boards, which became websites and newsletters, and eventually online curriculum and blogs and FB pages and other things I don't keep up with.  Brenda, if you're reading, you were one of them.

There are others that will occur to me after I've hit Publish.  Maybe a Part Two sometime.

Linked from the Carnival of Homeschooling: Thank You Edition, at Notes from a Homeschooled Mom.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Using School Books, Part Four: Hammering the point home

Part One
Part Two
Part Three

Let's take a history book, says Charlotte Mason.  Or it could be a science book, or a story of travel, or an essay of Bacon's, but let's use a history book as our example.

Let's really use it.  Let's narrate it, yes, but as we go on we may find there are other equally valid ways to use school books. Maybe we don't have to have older students constantly narrating in the usual sense, if they're also learning to question and analyze what they see and read.

Let's "analyse a chapter." Not just observe and tell back, but, since we have bigger students now, they're allowed to look at the underpinnings, how things are put together, how writers work and how thinkers think. Mortimer J. Adler spends quite a bit of time on analysis in How to Read a Book.  Can the students pick out and line up the points of an argument?  Can they take a chapter and make up subheadings for the different sections?  Can they discuss how a character's character drove the plot (or the historical events)?  Can they see how one event caused another?  On getting to the point in Ivanhoe where the castle lies in ruins and several people are dead, does it occur to the students that the whole mess was caused by De Bracy's mischievous kidnapping plot, and more than that, by his lack of Will?  And who is the real villain of the story?--Brian de Bois Guilbert, because of his own defects of character; or the master of the Templars, who uses even Brian to further his own agenda?  But these questions are not necessarily to be asked by the teacher and responded to (in a double-spaced paragraph with a topic sentence and conclusion) by the student.  The student should be learning to ask the questions for him/herself.
"Let the pupil write for himself half a dozen questions which cover the passage studied; he need not write the answers if he be taught that the mind can know nothing but what it can produce in the form of an answer to a question put by the mind to itself."
And oh yes, a P.S. from Charlotte:  what do the teachers do?

"The teacher's part is, in the first place, to see what is to be done, to look over the work of the day in advance and see what mental discipline, as well as what vital knowledge, this and that lesson afford; and then to set such questions and such tasks as shall give full scope to his pupils' mental activity."  We are responsible for making sure that the students have lots of opportunity to engage (that favourite new word of educationalists) with the material--that they have to think.

And then when the bell rings, or our homeschool equivalent?  Do the students then run off into the sunshine and throw off what belongs to school time and the teacher?  If that's what happens, something has gone wrong.  The lessons are to inspire life and conduct, or, as Charlotte Mason says elsewhere, they are to instruct our consciences, to teach us how to live. She also points out (in Ourselves) that consciences are kittle cattle--capricious, unpredictable, and able to sniff out a lecture and stuff up their ears (so to speak) in rebellion. It is not a case even of "a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down"--that's twaddle. We are not looking for medicine at all, or even energy drinks, but solid food.  And we need to beware of sacrificing the "soul of books" to the demands of Analysis.
"Let us not in such wise impoverish our lives and the lives of our children; for, to quote the golden words of Milton: 'Books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was, whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve, as in a vial, the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. As good almost kill a man, as kill a good book; who kills a man kills a good reasonable creature, God's image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself––kills the image of God, as it were, in the eye.'" ~~ Charlotte Mason, School Education

Using School Books, Part Three

Part One is here. Part Two is here.

Charlotte Mason never wanted to give too-pat answers about anything.  By her ambivalence here about listing particular books, she unintentionally fostered a long-standing gulf between those who say that "Charlotte Mason refused to list particular books for children so there is no such thing as a Charlotte Mason curriculum," and those who point to the fact that she did indeed spearhead a complete curriculum, with a long list of books, some of which is included in this same volume under the heading of work suitable for a twelve-year-old.

But in general, in the sense that she is meaning here, she leaves the choice of school books open to the (assumed) educated and intelligent adult who should be able to make those choices. Even in those days, though, one imagines the quick reaction--"Make it easier for us! Give us some examples!"  She insists that "we cannot make any hard and fast rule––a big book or a little book, a book at first-hand or at second-hand; either may be right provided we have it in us to discern a living book, quick [meaning full of life, not speedy], and informed with the ideas proper to the subject of which it treats."

She wants us to look for books that, like the Bible stories read to De Quincey, have the power of "giving impulse and stirring emotion." What seems to matter is whether a book has the power to awaken ideas, stir up children's curiosity, help them to look outside themselves and see the world in new ways. "The ideas it holds must each make that sudden, delightful impact upon their minds, must cause that intellectual stir, which mark the inception of an idea."  
So our pile of good books is something like a mine full of many kinds of treasures, although we can't always be sure which ones are going to be wanted or picked up at any time.  And the work of mining them is what each student has to do for him or herself.  Here is where Charlotte does get specific, because it is clear that this "labour of thought" is a complex task. She wants the books to be used in such a way that the students can "dig their knowledge, of whatever subject, for themselves out of the fit book." "He must generalise, classify, infer, judge, visualise, discriminate, labour in one way or another, with that capable mind of his, until the substance of his book is assimilated or rejected, according as he shall determine; for the determination rests with him and not with his teacher."  The "single, careful reading," here described as "which the pupil should do in silence," although we know that some books were also read aloud, is key, as is requiring the child "to narrate its contents after a single attentive reading."

If you can read attentively, you should be able to give the main points of a description.  You should be able to tell a series of events in the right sequence.  You should be able to explain how someone argued a point.  You are a reporter!  You are a lawyer!  You are a historian!  You are a Scout studying first aid, and what you are reading and remembering about snake bites or burns will save someone's life.  You are a business person and if you miss something in a report--or fail to report it yourself--you could lose a lot of money or get fired.  You are, potentially, the mayor or the governor or the president, and if you can't make sense of the reports on a situation, and communicate those points to your people, you are going to put everyone in danger or, again, cost them lots of money and trouble. Or you just might not get re-elected.

To engage with the book (or, as Adler puts it, to play ball with the author, learning to catch what he throws); to pay close enough attention to verbally map out a, b, and c for someone else, and to do it "intelligently," is a power which even adult scholars "labour to acquire."  This is true literacy; this, Charlotte Mason says, separates readers from non-readers.

Part Four will finish the chapter.

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