“The most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children." G K Chesterton

Monday, October 26, 2009

On Teaching Indifference by John Taylor Gatto

For the last few months I have been gradually weaning myself from the computer. Adding to that is the fact that our 2nd computer just died. Thankfully it is all backed up with Mozy but with 7 people to a computer my time online will be seriously diminished. I am not going to be posting a Leisure post this week but rather will wait until next week to continue.

Today I offer you a passage from Dumbing us Down by John Taylor Gatto. It is very important for homeschoolers to listen very carefully when someone criticizes public education. Why? Because if we don't we may end up reinventing these mistakes in our homes. True education should be an antidote to indifference. Children need to learn to meet deadlines but don't mistake that sort of skill with learning. Learning takes leisure. Isn't it almost impossible to wrap your mind around that? We are truly fighting an uphill battle.

Here is John Taylor Gatto:

"The third lesson I teach kids is indifference. I teach children
not to care about anything too much, even though they want to make it
appear that they do. How I do this is very subtle. I do it by
demanding that they become totally involved in my lessons, jumping up
and down in their seats with anticipation, competing vigorously with
each other for my favor. It's heartwarming when they do that, it
impresses everyone, even me. When I'm at my best I plan lessons very
carefully in order to produce this show of enthusiasm. But when the
bell rings I insist that they stop whatever it is that we've been
working on and proceed quickly to the next work station. They must turn
on and off like a light switch. Nothing important is ever finished in
my class, nor in any other class I know of. Students never have a
complete experience except on the installment plan.

Indeed, the lesson of the bells is that no work is worth
finishing, so why care too deeply about anything? Years of bells will
condition all but the strongest to a world that can no longer offer
important work to do. Bells are the secret logic of schooltime; their
argument is inexorable. Bells destroy the past and future, converting
every interval into a sameness, as an abstract map makes every living
mountain and river the same even though they are not. Bells inoculate
each undertaking with indifference."

Friday, October 23, 2009

Further Up & Further In with CiRCE

I am pleased to announce a great way to get CiRCE Resources while contributing to the ongoing work of the Institute.

Further Up and Further In
is CiRCE's brand new fundraising effort. I gotta tell you that I will be tickled pink if I can send a lot of business CiRCE's way.
This is a win-win situation for everyone. You donate any amount and you have access to some tremendous materials.

James Daniels (If this man talks: listen.)
James Taylor (the king of poetic knowledge)
Ken Myers (Wow!!)
Laura Berquist (Always helpful and real)
Andrew Pudewa (On boys!! Not to be missed)
Debbie Harris (on Beauty!)

Even the ever wonderful Vigen Guroian,
oh and that other CiRCE guy Andrew Kern.

I am pretty sure you don't need me to wax eloquent over the titles but even I can hardly wait until tomorrow (payday) to donate and receive these titles. If you weren't able to order this year's conference sets now is your chance to get Andrew's magnum opus A Contemplation of Nature. It is one of the best conference sessions ever and I am so happy to have access to it for the rest of my family to hear.

So click on the link right now....I am not getting a kickback but I would love this blog to make a difference for CiRCE, and make sure you pass the word along on your own blog or site or email list.

The CiRCE Institute deserves a chance to continue and prosper and I hope we can all be a part of that chance.

Three Things

A movie that I want to see:

Bright Star

A book that I want to read:

The Children's Book

A poet that I want to hear:


The leaves are falling, falling as if from far up,
as if orchards were dying high in space.
Each leaf falls as if it were motioning "no."

And tonight the heavy earth is falling
away from all other stars in the loneliness.

We're all falling. This hand here is falling.
And look at the other one. It's in them all.

And yet there is Someone, whose hands
infinitely calm, holding up all this falling.

Rainer Maria Rilke

A Walk

My eyes already touch the sunny hill.
going far ahead of the road I have begun.
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has inner light, even from a distance-

and charges us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it,
we already are; a gesture waves us on
answering our own wave...
but what we feel is the wind in our faces.

Translated by Robert Bly

Rainer Maria Rilke

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

CS Lewis Checks In

"Sometimes if Arsheesh was there Shasta would say, 'O my Father, what is there beyond that hill?' And then if the fisherman was in a bad temper he would box Shasta's ears and tell him to attend to his work. Or if he was in a peaceable mood he would say, "O my son, do not allow your mind to be distracted by idle questions. For one of the poets has said, 'Application to business is the root of prosperity, but those who ask questions that do not concern them are steering the ship of folly towards the rock of indigence'" The Horse and His Boy

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Leisure and Worship

Chapter 5 ends out section 1 of Leisure, the Basis of Culture. Part II is called The Philosophical Act. Not too encouraging :) But Part 1 ends on a high note: worship.

If ever a concept can help us zero in on what Pieper means by leisure, it is the concept of worship. For my own part I have been trying to make connections between the concepts of worship, leisure and utility. Is worship the ultimate anti-utilitarian concept or is it utilitarian in its essence?
It is certainly in our best interest to worship and yet there is a sense in which we come naked and empty to worship. On the other hand Christ does redeem and give us back our humanity.

I like Pieper's assertion that "worship is to time what temple is to space."

Agrarianism is a way of looking at the land, farming and occupation apart from utility.
Classical education is a way of looking at education removed from utility.

It is very, very hard for us to do this because utilitarianism is bred in our bones. We just can't figure out what is so wrong with something being useful. When someone tells us we should get a good education to get a good job, we all go, "duh!" Utility has become the lowest common denominator of all our philosophy and sadly our theology. When someone points out the folly of this sort of utility we just can't see it. This is one reason we have massive church movements based on the word relevance. We have some Christian groups trying to utilize worship.

But the Sabbath was made for man. The Sabbath is a day of worship. It is the day when we acknowledge that apart from God we are nothing; not apart from our education and occupation, our grade point average, our appearance, our bank account, rather apart from God. Without the Sabbath we are just dust in the wind. With it we are redeemed to work and play, eat and drink, dress up and dress down, live and learn.

Leisure, The Basis of Culture Chapter 5

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Conversations on the Term Classical or I Talk to Myself

Recently I read on a blog this definition of classical education:

"Classical education basically means good education: teaching students how to learn anything by defining and storing terms, clearly thinking about the reconciliation of new ideas with old information, and wisely using knowledge and understanding to benefit their community."

The definition disturbed me so I thought about it for a while and then posted a comment on the blog stating that I felt the post missed the classical boat somewhat. Within minutes my comment was removed. As a matter of fact, I noticed that the author had no comments whatsoever on her blog which left me wondering if others had ever disagreed with her. So since I have my own blog (forum), I decided to put my thoughts up here.

While the definition above could be a definition of 'good education' it most certainly misses the classical mark. But in many homeschooling circles anything that seems better than what is going on in the public schools is termed 'classical.'
Not too long ago I had this to say about the current use of the term 'classical':

To begin with CiRCE is a conference for classical educators, but I have decided not to use the word CLASSICAL anymore. The word has been hijacked to the point of meaninglessness. It has become a marketing scheme and a tool. We now have programs that can only be called blab schools being marketed as classical: Classical Blab.

Andrew Kern's definition of classical education:

"Classical education is the cultivation of wisdom and virtue by nourishing the soul on truth, goodness, and beauty by means of the seven liberal arts and the four sciences. "

Let us just say that we will now, on this blog, dismiss the term classical and begin to talk about true education without the formerly helpful word classical. Let me also say that I think the the ideas promoted by Charlotte Mason in her original books clearly fall within the boundaries of that definition. But I am done with categories.

I am sick to death of McClassical, distilled and denuded of life marketed via fear and anxiety."

The author of the previously quoted blog added this to her definition:

"For example, a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) who uses accounting practices to ensure the company’s employees receive the salaries they deserve, shares the good news that God loves honest scales whether the CFO knows it or not. A CFO who uses accounting practices to cheat the CEO reveals the depravity of man and our need for the good news.

Both know the lingo and principles (grammar) of accounting. Both know how to reconcile their understanding (dialectic) of accounting practices. Both know how to use their understanding and knowledge by manipulating their results for good or evil."

The above quotation doesn't seem to have anything to do with classical education. Neither man appears to have been educated classically. Classical cannot be a stand-in definition for theology or "I agree with this practice." As a matter of fact, doing good is not a stand in for theology either. CFO #1 may be an honest and fair CFO but that makes him neither theologically sound nor classically educated.

The liberal arts, as we have frequently stated, were the arts of the free man. The liberal arts cannot be married to utility because they are outside the realm of utility.
Divorcing the grammar of a subject from ideas is unnatural and soulless and cannot under any circumstances be called 'classical.' The reason I bring this up is because much of what is termed classical these days separates ideas from all three stages of the trivium. This is unnatural and inappropriate. The ideas are the thing to win the heart of the king.

And by the way "Conversation" goes two ways. That means you can disagree with me if you want to.

Questions on Leisure

I didn't have time yesterday to read through all your posts but I hope to get to them today. I came to chapter 4 with a few questions and thoughts rambling through my head.

I wondered how all of this applied to Europe. The Europeans have decreased their work week and increased their vacation time over the years. At the same time they have decreased their child-bearing. So as a culture they have more leisure and less responsibility. As a matter of fact, there seems to be a connection between having more money and having less children. Not the obvious connection that not having children gives one more income but rather the connection that more money and free time causes one to not want children. Children hinder one from participating in the lifestyle of choice in Europe. In the meantime, there are less and less Europeans, almost to the point of no return. Mark Steyn's book America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It covers some of this.

In addition, I have read before that American homosexual men have the most disposable income of any one group.
They work and play and they are not hindered by the responsibilities of the traditional dad.

Recently, I heard a statistic that the biggest indicator of eventual bankruptcy is number of children.

And I have also wondered about the role of Mexicans in America and, perhaps, Muslims in Europe. Are they essentially a slave class willing to work at jobs that others find distasteful? Are they genuinely needed to perform these tasks and do we pay them by meeting their medical needs and educating their children? What kind of bargain have we made as both our medical institutions and our schools are in ruin? And if our government run schools are in ruin, how can we even begin to entertain the idea of government run health care? Unless the modern school system is operating apart from traditional definitions of education and is actually succeeding in meeting its unstated goals.

These are the kind of things I am wondering as I think about the meaning of work and leisure. I think this chapter did give me an idea. Leisure and work must be tied to humanity and even worship. Without those moorings neither work nor leisure fulfills its God-given function.

More to come on Chapter 4 in a future post.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Perfect Day

My blog has been so heady the last couple of months my own husband has stopped reading it :) Maybe you won't mind if I depart from the cerebral to talk about my week. My dad was taking my sister and her children to the apple orchard in Lexington on Saturday and he invited me to go. Three of my teens were in North Carolina so it seemed like a great escape for Alex, Andrew and I.

On Saturday we found ourselves at Boyd's Orchard for a day of fun after which my mom made a yummy apple pie.

Sunday we went to Tates Creek Presbyterian and enjoyed the beautiful worship service.

Monday was The Perfect Day. It would have been a great day if all we had done was drive from KY to Cincinnati, rounding the corner to see the beautiful Cincinnati skyline. My heart goes pitter-patter every time I see that sight; but that was just the beginning. After visiting my grandmother in the nursing home, we ate lunch at Skyline Chili, where I did not break with tradition, having my all-time #1 favorite food, Cincinnati 4-way chili with onions.

I needed all those carbs for the next 5 hours as we proceeded to my number one favorite place to take children: The Cincinnati Zoo. This zoo deserves every accolade it has ever gotten. It is the most wonderful place in the world and going on a crisp, colorful fall day with no crowd was perfect. We didn't ride any rides or watch any movies. The little boys hopped around for 4 1/2 hours without loss of enthusiasm. It was a great place to go after finishing The Jungle Book last week.

So what do you do when you are in Cincinnati and you haven't eaten in 5 hours? I hate to brag but my dad took us all to The Montgomery Inn at the Boathouse for their world famous ribs. My dad says you can't be from Cincinnati and not eat at The Montgomery Inn. My dad is the personification of Cincinnati so he should know. Wow, the ribs were unbelievable.

The perfect day is no time for a diet. On the way back to Lexington we stopped at Graeter's. Last time I had a black raspberry chip this time I had a bowl of coconut chip and I believe it was the best bowl of ice cream I have ever eaten and I wasn't even hungry.

Sometimes life is hard and sometimes it is not. Sometimes we save money and sometimes we throw it away with abandon. Sometimes (mostly) we diet and sometimes we feast. Sometimes we buy things that will last and sometimes we buy memories. Sometimes we read about leisure and sometimes we don't.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

In Praise of Twitter

Yeah, you heard me: Twitter!

It is easy to mistake Twitter for another narcissistic web pursuit and certainly for some people that is all it is. But Twitter has done more to cut down my time on the Internet than any other App I use. I admit that I hesitated to get on Twitter because I didn't 'get' it. It did sound silly but enough people I liked were on it for me to give it a try. And while some people use Twitter as a Facebook-type place where they can tell you they are heading out to the gym or texting their girlfriend, the value of Twitter, whether by accident or on purpose, goes far beyond personal tweets. Because it is limited in scope to only a 140 characters, it is the easiest place online to read up on the news or follow interesting topics or trends. With its unique tagging system you can follow almost any news story. You can follow conferences and speakers. In some respects it makes Bloglines an obsolete dinosaur. If you follow the right trends and people on Twitter you can eliminate unnecessary Internet hopping. Twitter is a tool with an almost unlimited future. I have enjoyed tweaking Twitter and the potential never ends.

Some of the things or people I follow:

The Writers of Lost
John Piper, my favorite preacher Tweeter. His tweets always make me think.
National Review Online. My favorite political site. I can easily click onto many of the articles. When I checked them on Bloglines I was always overwhelmed but now on Twitter I can get their updates in tiny doses.
For a couple of days I followed Kirstie Alley after she slammed Hollywood's take on Roman Polanski. That was fun and enlightening. I don't usually follow celebrities but every once in a while you can learn a lot.
I do follow Omar Epps, the only House cast member on Twitter.
Paperback Swap and Audible tweet. I am totally freaked out by the audacity of someone trying to write a sequel to Winnie-the-Pooh. Absolutely horrified! I learned about this from Audible tweets.
I can also follow local Chattanooga news and trends and speed cameras.
And some of you will be relieved to know I follow Grammar Girl, who once commented on my old blog :)
I also enjoy La Shawn Barber.

I don't update that much on Twitter; I don't think anyone wants to hear what I had for lunch but I do enjoy hearing short tidbits of what is happening in my friends' lives. Its a great place to discuss homeschool sports, curriculum choices, and neat websites.

It is even a great place for a church to post prayer requests, much easier and much more effective than a phone chain. If you want to post a prayer request when your Great Aunt Millie breaks her toe, go ahead. I will be glad to pray and I won't be irritated that I ended up on the phone half of the day because of a toe.

All I can say is: don't knock it if you haven't tried it.

Do you tweet? Who do you follow?

Poetry for the Leisured Class

Read this one in reference to my last post on tools vs. reality. And don't forget to have your boys memorize it.

Edward R Still

THIS I beheld, or dreamed it in a dream:--
There spread a cloud of dust along a plain;
And underneath the cloud, or in it, raged
A furious battle, and men yelled, and swords
Shocked upon swords and shields. A prince's banner
Wavered, then staggered backward, hemmed by foes.

A craven hung along the battle's edge,
And thought, "Had I a sword of keener steel--
That blue blade that the king's son bears, -- but this
Blunt thing--!" he snapped and flung it from his hand,
And lowering crept away and left the field.

Then came the king's son, wounded, sore bestead,
And weaponless, and saw the broken sword,
Hilt-buried in the dry and trodden sand,
And ran and snatched it, and with battle shout
Lifted afresh he hewed his enemy down,
And saved a great cause that heroic day.

This next one I have posted before. It is part of the larger Vision of Sir Launfal a poem as lyrical as The Idylls of the King or The Taming of the Shrew.

James Russell Lowell

Earth gets its price for what Earth gives us;
The beggar is taxed for a corner to die in,
The priest hath his fee who comes and shrives us,
We bargain for the graves we lie in;
At the devil's booth are all things sold,
Each ounce of dross costs its ounce of gold;
For a cap and bells our lives we pay,
Bubbbles we buy with a whole soul's tasking;
'Tis heaven alone that is given away,
'Tis only God may be had for the asking;
No price is set on the lavish summer;
June may be had by the poorest comer.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Leisure, The Basis of Culture Chapter 3

The Life of Leisure

I wish we could all sit down at a table and discuss these things. It would be fun!
Chapter 3 was enlightening. It took up all the scattered stands of chapter 2 and bound them together into a beehive hairdo complete with hairspray and blue hair dye (Mildred would be happy, Lynn). I hope you will forgive me if I do not give a play by play analysis of the chapter; I am always and forever the color man.

II Corinthians 3:6 "the letter kills but the Spirit gives life."

In fact, as much as we need systems, ultimately they will kill us. The life is in the blood. This can almost be applied across the board.

Grammar is a good thing. We cannot write without it. We cannot communicate without it but it isn't the only thing. If we approach writing as a purely grammatical exercise we will kill ideas.

Systematic theology is a good thing. We cannot understand the Bible without it. But if our theology is merely systematic it is dead.

The law (Pentateuch) was a good thing but it was powerless to save.

Systems are tools. They help us find the real things. Unfortunately, many people are happy when they have found a system. They never look up from their scavenging in the rubble to see the reality of the thing they are searching for.

Very often it is the conservative, Christian wing of the world that enjoys substituting the tool for the thing. The problem is that you can have a measure of success with a system but in the end you are left bankrupt and confused (Col 2).

On Page 31 Pieper quotes Konrad Weiss's journal where Weiss calls Ernst Junger's "...precise style of thinking and writing", a "fanaticism for the True and Official."
Obviously, precision in thinking and writing is a wonderful tool, but isn't it true that fanaticism rises from the misuse of such tools?

Please do not respond to this with an apologia for studying grammar or systematic theology. I agree heartily that grammar (the grammar of any subject) should be studied. I just don't believe it should be studied for grammar's sake. The fact that this sort of study of grammar is our current definition of classical education is sad. I won't say it is a travesty because it is an improvement but it doesn't even come close to the real thing yet. Sometimes the grammar of a subject can even be a stumbling block. It can lead us to believe that we 'know' something which we do not 'know.'

The real thing is something that can spark and consume and flow. It can't be mastered without outside intervention. Anything that can be mastered is a tool and I bet at this point some of you are thinking I am a tool also :)

Monday, October 05, 2009

Metaphor Mondays

A Sort of Song
William Carlos Williams

Let the snake wait under
his weed
and the writing
be of words, slow and quick, sharp
to strike, quiet to wait,

-through metaphor to reconcile
the people and the stones.
Compose.(No ideas
but in things) Invent!
Saxifrage is my flower that splits
the rocks.

I love this poem. Not for the rhythm but the power of the idea. The last line is my new favorite. And being that I have the inane propensity for connecting idea to idea willy-nilly, I think this poem goes nicely with Leisure chapter 3. Don't ask me why.