Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Land of Storybooks

At evening when the lamp is lit,
Around the fire my parents sit;
They sit at home and talk and sing,
And do not play at anything.

Now, with my little gun, I crawl
All in the dark along the wall,
And follow round the forest track
Away behind the sofa back.

There, in the night, where none can spy,
All in my hunter's camp I lie,
And play at books that I have read
Till it is time to go to bed.

These are the hills, these are the woods,
These are my starry solitudes;
And there the river by whose brink
The roaring lions come to drink.

I see the others far away
As if in firelit camp they lay,
And I, like to an Indian scout,
Around their party prowled about.

So, when my nurse comes in for me,
Home I return across the sea,
And go to bed with backward looks
At my dear land of Story-books.

~Robert Louis Stevenson~

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

God Gave Us a Book

I think my 11 year old son believes everyone surely must have 17,000 books in their home.  He has no memories of life without books in every nook and cranny of his surroundings.  As much as he enjoys them, I think he takes them for granted.  Our conversation yesterday insinuated that anyway. 

As I was reshelving hundreds of books from library day and a huge book shopping trip, my son asked, "Momma, why do we need so many books?  Don't you think you have enough?  Why is this so important?" 

I stood up, looked him in the eye and replied, "Because God gave us a Book." 

Our culture, as I have lamented here many times, has come to disregard the written word, trading it for images on a screen, not only for their shallow knowledge, but their relationships as well.  Reading of any kind is fast becoming obsolete, inefficient, boring, irrelevant...the list goes on.

But God, in His infinite wisdom, chose to communicate to us through a Book.  The Bible is all we need for life and godliness.  The Word of God is living.  We are not to worship Him through images.  Yet when we refuse to engage in the most important activity that brings us closer to Him, reading His Word, prefering instead images on a screen,  we are really saying we do not want to know Him. 

There is not a single volume in my library that begins to compare with God's own Words.  None of them offer words of eternal life.  However, God is working in and through man and He derives glory from what we do.  Great words penned by great minds can speak to us, encourage us, challenge us and equip us.  We can learn about God's work throughout history by reading biographies, historical fiction, original source documents.  We marvel at His hand in the universe by studying living science books.  Fiction is a profound way to experience life situations played out in the made-up lives of others.  And most importantly, we practice the skill of meditating and ruminating as we linger over the pages of beloved treasures.  We are deceiving ourselves when we believe we can rewire our brains by immersing ourselves for hours a day in front of a screen, then magically be able to think deeply on the Word of God.  Science is discovering the implications of this habit.  We must consider the consequences of our actions.

Reading is hard work.  Getting to know others is hard work.  Yet we are commanded to come to Him through His Word and KNOW Him.  Will we obey?

Friday, July 4, 2014

I am a person...

In the inner nature, in the soul and self of it, each child is different from any other child, and the education that treats children as a class and not individual human beings is the education whose failure is bringing our civilization about our ears even as we speak.

Each child is an explorer in a new country - an explorer with it's own special needs and curiosities.  We put up iron railings to keep the explorers to our own sordidly asphalted paths.  The little free wild creatures would seek their meat from God:  we round them into needs, pen them in folds, and feed them with artificial foods - drab flat oil cakes all alike, not considering that for some brown nuts and red berries, and for some the new clean green grass, may be the bread of life.

Wings and the Child
E. Nesbit
1913

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Do the Hard Thing

What do you think of when you consider a Charlotte Mason education?  Snuggling on the sofa with a cup of tea (or chocolate milk) and a lovely book?  Romping through meadows of buttercups and daisies?  Beautiful music playing in the background while contented children quietly do their handicrafts in the afternoon?  A gentle learning time for young children before their growth demands the rigors of a "real" education?

While there is some truth to this, I believe Charlotte Mason's wise philosophy has been tarnished by a false view of what her methods entail. 

As you know I have all boys.  In the 24 years I have been a mom, my mantra has been, "Do the Hard Thing."  (Or "thang" since I'm a southern gal.)  I am raising boys to be men who will be required to work hard with integrity, support a family, confront a dying culture, live an abundant life.  There is no room for laziness of mind or body.  Because of this, I believe a Charlotte Mason education will uniquely equip them for the life they have before them.

I think one of the barriers of communication when this discussion comes up is a difference in definition of terms.  While we've all heard that a CM education is "gentle", and I agree, I am here to assert that it is also exceedingly rigorous.  But how can the two co-exist? 

Gentle does not equal easy.

Rigorous does not equal drudgery.

The first principle of a Charlotte Mason education is, "Children are born persons."   From Ambleside Online's paraphrase we have this explanation.  "Children are born persons - they are not blank slates or embryonic oysters who have the potential of becoming persons.  They already are persons."   Charlotte recognized that children are made in the image of God and each child has a uniqe purpose in the world.  When we educate our children with this in mind, rather than viewing them as a bucket to be filled, we are meeting them where they are and working alongside the Holy Spirit to teach them what He wants them to know.  This naturally is a gentle education for the child because we are working with what God is making him to be.

However the methods are rigorous!  Charlotte insisted that children do the work of their education. The teacher is not the fountainhead of all knowledge.  The primary way children were asked to secure their knowledge was through narration.   If you don't know already, narration is hard!  Narration is the main tool Charlotte used to ensure the child knows.  In fact, she called it the act of knowing.  Children were required to narrate (tell back) after one  attentive reading.  One.  No repeats.  And they were able to do it with surprising ease.  Narrations could take many forms ranging from simple telling back, drawing, acting out, or even written in poetry form. 

Children in Charlotte Mason schools learned many languages including Latin.  They studies music, art, poetry, Plutarch, Shakespeare, nature study and many  many other subjects in addition to the 3 R's.  Charlotte believed in spreading the feast of ideas to children and they could take freely from the banquet.  But she did not spoonfeed them pre-digested bits of information.  They took what they were ready for, what the Holy Spirit stirred in their hearts at the time. 

Much of learning in Charlotte's schools was through books...living books...filled with living ideas to feed the heart and mind of the child.  Children formed relations with the people, places and events they read about.  Learning was a joyful time of living ideas from great minds...not the drudgery found in reams of worksheets.  As children did the difficult work of wrestling with and pondering these ideas, they found their imaginations sparked and great satisfaction in coming to grips with the issues of the universe.  Their education was living.

Gentle?  Yes.  Rigorous?  Yes.  But with the result of a strong mind and body equipped to do the task they were created to do.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Teacher's Legacy

Last week I was reshelving books when a certain title caught my eye.  My memories were immediately flooded with my 7th grade teacher, Mrs. Grabeel, reading to us after lunch each day.  Honestly I remember nothing about this particular book, but what I do remember is sitting enthralled each and every school day as this teacher took time after lunch to read to us.  Just read.  We were never quizzed.  There was not a list of facts we were required to regurgitate on a comprehension test.  She just read.

My 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Elkins, loved to reward her students with books.  If a student accomplished a certain goal or won an award or simply made great progress, she gifted that student with a book.  My Trixie Belden collection started with this one.   I still have the very copy from 1972 that she gave me.

I was pondering the legacy they left me...and wondering how many children are being blessed with this legacy now.  Times have certainly changed since I was a public-schooled girl in the 60's and 70's.  Common Core, standardized tests and the race to the top, not to mention revisionism, Darwinism and worse have stripped most classrooms of any living ideas.  What would happen if teachers were free to spend just 10  minutes after lunch reading to their students.  Just reading.  Wonderful fiction, inspiring biographies, thrilling adventures.  How would this change the face of our culture? 

I wish my teachers could see what became of their investment of reading.  Mrs. Grabeel moved away a few years after I left her classroom.  Mrs. Elkins passed away a few years ago after a brave battle with cancer.  Their love of books and of the ideas contained within, however, are still alive and well in me and in those who enter my library doors.  And the legacy is being passed on to future generations. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Getting to Know You

We recently said goodbye to an old friend.  We have spent the last year or so getting to know him well.  Our family has had many instructive conversations, laughs and cries because of our relationship with him.  Our lives will be forever changed and made fuller because of the influence he had on us.  It won't be goodbye forever, however.  We can visit him anytime just by opening a book.

His name is Ralph Moody and we learned about his life..good, bad, happy sad...through the pages of the Little Britches series.  Ralph's work ethic and willingness to learn whatever was necessary to make his way was inspiring to my boys.  Some lessons are harder learned and we sympathized with him as he took his life's knocks.  That's the wonderful thing about building relationships.  We share the ins and outs of their lives and ours become fuller in the process.

The beauty of living books is that we can build relationships with those who have gone before, lingering over the pages to learn from their wisdom (or lack thereof.)  They don't even have to be real people.  I've learned some of the truest life lessons through the lives of fictional characters. 

The secret...is time.  Time to ponder.  Time to savor.  Time to ruminate.  If we feel rushed to get through a book list or a curriculum guide, we won't develop those relationships beyond a cursory glance.  It's like real life.  Some people we do not know at all.  Others we know only in passing.  Lasting relationships are developed by spending time with those folks who are dearest to us.  We get inside their hearts and minds and they into ours.

Our fast-paced world makes it more difficult to know anyone well.  Slow down.  Open a book.  And build a relationship. 

Saturday, May 31, 2014

I Have Found a Door

Charlotte Mason said...

"I think that it is a joyful thing to be said about anybody, that he loves knowledge; there are so many interesting and delightful things to be known that the person who loves knowledge cannot very well be dull; in doors and out of doors there are a thousand interesting things to know and to know better.  There is a saying of King Alfred's that I like to apply to our school - 'I have found a door,' he says.  That is just what I hope your school is to you - a door opening into a great palace of art and knowledge...  But you will remember that the school is only a 'door' to let you in to the good House of Knowledge, but I hope you will go in and out and live there all your lives - in one pleasant chamber or another, for the rich people are they who have the entry to this goodly house, and who never let King Alfred's 'door' rust on its hinges, no, not all through their lives, even when they are very old people."

What a lovely picture of our schools.  Our homes should be filled with great ideas that feed the imagination, the soul, the mind of a child.  Our days should revolve around pursuing that knowledge and wisdom that the book of Proverbs says is more priceless than gold.  Bringing our children up in the habit of loving and longing after those things which are good and honorable should be a priority.  These should be present in the books we read, the music we hear, the art we see and the conversations we engage in.  Our minds should be challenged as we grapple with the issues of the times and our children should be taught the Truths of God's Word.

We are their example.  Are the hinges of our house of knowledge rusty?  Develop your own habit of going in and out of the great palace of art and knowledge all through your lives, even when you are very old people.