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

Monday, January 30, 2012

Where Have all the Men Gone?

Over the weekend this article was trending on my Facebook account.

Where Have all the Men Gone?

If you are a homeschool mom with boys, I think it is important that you read the article. Even if you don't agree with every word, and I don't, you will be challenged to think about these issues.

The premise of the article?  "The way we raised boys in the faith 20 years ago eliminated the very kinds of men some women would love to be dating today"

When I went to church Sunday I talked to a mom sitting in front of me, not a homeschool mom, and she mentioned her 5th grade son didn't want to go to SS anymore for some of the very reasons stated in the article.  I have blogged before how despicable I find the church culture that has everyone lining up nicely, putting their hands in their laps on cue and generally keeping in lock-step at all times, decently and in order, right?

Another friend mentioned this week that her Christian adult son had quit going to church. It is easy to dismiss this as a spiritual problem with the young man but what if it is not. What if the fault is with our system?  My own adult sons have each had trouble feeling comfortable in church and at times have remained at home because of that discomfort. Eventually they return to church because they are raising families. And this is exactly why it is important for our young men to grow up, get married and have children. It is far more important for a young man to get married than have a career, sociologically.  Marriage gives purpose to testosterone. It gives a young man something to 'fight' for, something to work for-his home and his family.  I believe we are in deep, deep trouble culturally because of this issue alone. Even among Christians marriage is unpopular for young men. For hipsters, 30 is the new 20 and by then our young men have been hiding their darker, male side so long they barely register as men.

I have long believed that our culture has lost the concept of masculinity. Men make us uncomfortable.
Whenever I say that in a conversation, I am forced to qualify it because for some reason people are super afraid that somehow real men are bullies.

The article gets more controversial when it starts discussing dating vs. courtship.  After our first few tries at following the courtship model, and two of our sons basically used that for their spouses, our family started moving away from it. It seemed particularly hard on young men. Our sons, not our first two because they already knew their future spouses quite well, were having to commit for a lifetime before they even got to know the girl.  The whole idea that somehow the worst possible thing in life was a broken heart started feeling ridiculous.  It also seemed like a girl should be protected from a broken heart at all costs but the boy's heart not so much. 
And to tell truth our three married  sons chose girls who were accessible, even when following the courtship model. And I have 3 super wonderful daughters-in-law who are each excellent mothers.

Slowly as our boys went away to college we began to look at relationships differently. We even allowed our 5th son to date a girl in high school. The relationship didn't last but he learned so much about the opposite sex and expectations from it. It seemed to us that dating was not preparation for divorce but, in fact, it was preparation for marriage. Sure, dating is dangerous but so is courtship. What could be more dangerous than going into a lifelong commitment without a true understanding of how relationships work?  And doesn't marriage break your heart sometimes?

One of my biggest pet peeves these days is the ridiculous engagement story. I find it incredibly selfish that young girls expect these elaborate rituals and I wonder how many real men find that compelling.  As Anna said on Downton Abbey last night, "I'd rather have the right man than the right wedding," and I would add the engagement to that.

Then perhaps the most controversial thing of all in the article is this:

"God has prepared one special person for you to marry. That's right: Jesus is our heavenly matchmaker. You don't need to actively search for a mate; simply pray and God will plop that perfect person down in front of you one day."

I am a reformed Christian who believes in God's sovereignty and yet I see that this attitude causes great mischief.  The worst thing is that it keeps young homeschooled girls from trying, from showing interest or even keeping up with themselves, even to think more highly of themselves than they ought.
The truth is young men will marry girls who are accessible. One friend who used to follow the courtship model even went so far as to tell me that her son ended up marrying the Christian girl who did dress a little flirty and not so buttoned up.  She made herself attractive, not like a "insert bad girl word," but attractive.

That is how it works whether we like it or not. It is naive to think this is a spiritual problem. We have created such confusion over these issues that often desperate young women while refusing to make themselves attractive throw themselves at young men, calling them up constantly, texting and generally making fools of themselves on Facebook. I can count on more than one hand the number of girls who have outright asked my sons if they might be interested in them.  If they were, they weren't anymore.  Why do Christian girls do that now? It is truly pathetic, as if they have no understanding of masculinity at all. Are they so used to triumphing over boys culturally that they have failed to notice that men don't find that triumph attractive?

You can see there are lots of issues hanging in the article and no easy answers. One problem leads to another and it is hard to untangle exactly what is going on. My own thoughts are random and scattered over my experiences raising 8 boys and 1 daughter.

Have you experienced a lack of desire to go to church in your sons even while noticing spiritual desires?

Have you allowed your children to date?

Are you seeing a desire to marry among your sons?

What do you think is going on culturally?

Have you found any solutions to these issues?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Three Easy Pieces

When I started homeschooling I approached it with all the brashness of youth. I was super-confident that it was the only way to go and that it almost guaranteed that all my children would turn out to be a cut above.

I began reading aloud chapter books to my oldest when he was 5 and his Kindergarten year still brings back fond memories. We went fishing everyday at lunch time.

Things went along pretty well until I had my 5th child and then I entered about 10 years of intense child-bearing, child-rearing and pretending to farm.  One year I gave up completely on Morning Time and regret it to this day. Why didn't I give up math or science or that blasted farm? One year I bought Lifepacs for everyone. Everything was an experiment as far as our school went. Each year I tried whatever new thing I could afford. But except for that one year, I kept Morning Time.

The last 10 years things began to change. The boys started to grow up. 10 years ago they all lived at home. There were no more babies waking me up in the middle of the night, and then no more diapers and then one day I had taught all 9 of my children to read and to this day I consider that my greatest life achievement. But things were still very intense, even more intense.  Launching children into the world is stressful. Give me a toddler any day.

Over all these years some of my students have been easy to teach and some difficult. Almost across the board 12th grade homeschool has felt like a giant tug of war with some give and take on all parts and anger and tears and second guessing.

Over those 10 years I lost all of my confidence, hubris and bravado about homeschooling. I squiggled and squirmed and looked for a way of escape and then mostly just muddled through.

And you know, all of sudden it seemed like everything was all right. None of my boys so far have grown up to be nerdy professors but they really did learn to understand and appreciate the value of learning.   During the last 10 years boys have left our home to do all sorts of things most of them pretty amazing and dangerously worrisome. We have had 3 weddings and now almost 7 grandchildren. 3 are still in college playing baseball.

For years I was the mom with a homeschool of 7 or 8 students and a toddler.  To tell the truth when moms with only a couple of students were weary, I didn't quite get it. Of course, it only takes one difficult child to disrupt a homeschool. 

But this semester my school dropped from 4 students to 3. 3 easy pieces. It feels so good! Suddenly I am not madly treading water or standing at the edge of a cliff waving my arms in an insane attempt to steady myself from falling to the depths below.  In 10 short years I went from overwhelming intensity to normalcy.  Most days I am happy with what we have accomplished.

For years I went to bed deeply aware of all that had not happened during the day that should have. It was a bad feeling. And yet in spite of all the subjects I missed and holes I left in the education of my children, it still turned out all right. And now I know that even though I have everything nicely laid out and working well, that is not what really matters after all. Don't get me wrong. I LOVE IT but is not the thing.

The thing is that we are a Christian family and we live and love and learn, all of us, near and far, everyday, good times and bad. Homeschooling didn't save us after all; Jesus did that. But I am thankful God blessed us with this life.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Read, Write, Repent, Repeat

Trisha has a terrific post on the dangers of airing confessions on our blog as a way of justifying ourselves. It is a sad post because of the example she uses to illustrate her point. I am sure that I am guilty of sharing confessions in the hope that other sinners will excuse me.  It is a dangerous game.

My own TV post earlier in the month has brought a lot of conviction to my own heart. In a way the post was good for me, it convicted me of too much watching. Add to that conviction the realization that my TBR list is possibly already longer than my expected life span and I have decided to stop watching and start reading, except sometimes, like when Downton Abbey is on...and Justified.

The good news is that I finished 3 books this week and made headway in a couple more. The bad news is that none of those books are on my TBR list. I ran into the library to pick up a hold and ended up grabbing 3 non-fiction books off the shelf.

All 3 books center around writing and writers.

~The first is almost too short to be called a book, more like a gift book: 

It is a list of ten writing tips interspersed with cute illustrations by Joe Ciardiello.

My favorite: Never use an adverb to modify the word "said."  Whew, that makes life easier.

~A Couple years ago I read Nora Ephron's delightful 
I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts On Being a Woman
I did not realized she had followed it up with:


which is another delightful book of essays. My favorite essay in the book is I Just Want to Say: The Egg-White Omelet. I could have written that chapter and I am so happy Nora said it out loud. Too bad no one believes us.

~The next book is my first title by the prolific modern horror writer Stephen King. I have never read Stephen King. Never even thought of it but I saw this book a couple times at our local used mega-bookstore MacKay's, and I like to read memoirs and I like to read about writing, and blogging for Circe has me scrambling to up my game. So I picked this up at the library when it presented itself.

What a great book. I enjoyed the memoir and and I benefited from his thoughts on writing, I hope.  He agreed with Elmore, skip the adverbs as much as possible. He also insists that writers must read and write and maybe take a walk sometimes but they don't have to drink. Warning: bad language. Ok, that made me giggle.

Now that I have started reading books on writing by writers, I would love to hear suggestions.

And if you are looking for suggestions on where to begin reading Wendell Berry, you can check out my latest blog post over at Circe.

And Don't forget the Saturday Review of Books!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Four Moms (Plus 1): Clothing

 Contrarian Mom

I often see those 4 Moms posts at The Common Room. I am almost always tempted to give my opinion as the 5th mom, the contrary mom, then I don't have the time.  But I think I might have something to contribute to the discussion on buying and maintaining clothing.

I used to have a system for dealing with the boys' clothes. I say boys because Emily was much easier. I kept her off-season clothes in her closet in a bin, having no hand-me-downs to sort through.

New Jersey

But with the boys it was different. We lived in NJ for 13 years and 2 times a year we switched seasons. Not only that, but anyone on Earth who had boy's clothing to give away naturally thought of me. We had to buy two houses, smashed together in 1750, in order to keep up with all the clothes. We turned one bedroom into a closet and I numbered and kept lists of all the bins in the attic. I could say to my oldest, "bring me bins 8, 5, and 24."  And he would bring them all at the same time since he was going to grow up to be a mighty warrior which he actually did grow up to be. He would also stand still and let wasps crawl all over him while he was in the attic. This is one reason I numbered the bins and sent couriers; if I went up in the attic I inevitably ended up flapping my arms wildly, running and screaming while the boys all shouted,"Stand still!"  Apparently, the mighty warrior gene did not come from me.

For some moms this clothing switch takes days and days.
I could never live in that state of chaos so I made sure that we neither ate nor slept until the switch was finished. I do not jest. We did not eat while clothes were strewn from one end of the living room to the other. This motivates everyone to get the job done.

College Boys

The only clothes bins in the attic now belong to the boys who have moved out. They invariably leave a ton of clothes behind which they demand that no one touch. Then every once in a while they demand to know where their flannel shirt is and after they have accused the entire younger cache of brothers we go look in their bin in the attic.  See I have used the verb 'demand' twice.


But for the boys at home it is different...and we live in Tennessee where we only need a few winter clothes.  Andrew is a big boy, physically, he is past being a 'big boy' emotionally because he actually is a big boy. Alex is a little boy, physically and emotionally. They are 3 years apart in age and 6 in size. Therefore I do not save clothes. Every season, if an item is needed I just buy it at Walmart. I mostly stick to plain sweatshirts and plain t-shirts. Sometimes I buy them new church shirts at Marshall's.  I never, ever do the switch thing anymore. No one gives us clothes anymore either. Maybe because the boys wear newer clothing now and not grab bag stuff. Or maybe we just don't know anybody anymore.

If, no, when the boys wear a shirt over and over again, I say,"take that off and throw it in the garbage."  At which point they explain that it is their favorite shirt which interpreted means, it is the shirt that is always on the floor of the room when they wake up in the morning. I highly recommend doing this at least once a season. It keeps everyone off their guard and a mother of boys has no greater tool than to keep the boys thinking you are just a tiny bit not right in the head and unpredictable.


I am tempted to reiterate my sock advice. Can't find matches to the socks? Throw them all away and go buy new ones. This is the key to raising sons.  I promise you there is no system on Earth for sorting socks that will work without becoming a full time job. Do you really want to spend your life worrying about socks?

In Conclusion

So my advice is don't have very many clothes. Clothes will suck the life out of you. Move South.  Don't organize things, get rid of things and you will find true riches and time to read.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Here is a chance to stop the loss of another freedom. This would devastate the free homeschool exchange of ideas which the Internet provides. Contact your representatives ASAP.  I am pretty frustrated that my own congressman, Chuck Fleischmann, refused to tell me where he stood on this issue. What is a representative?  If he votes for this bill I will not vote for him again.

Mystie at the Healer's Geste linked to this great video by the famous Khan.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Birthday Present Idea

KEVA 200 Piece Block Set

These Keva Planks were recommended by a friend so we bought a set for Christmas. I thought they would be a great toy for all ages, even grandbabies.  They are a perfect  toy for Morning Time too, except it's 1:30 and Andrew couldn't stop building his tower after MT.  If we had more planks he would still be at it. Even Emily spent a day building something. You can even find You Tube videos with ideas for projects. Apparently you can build anything with a stable plank. Curiously we read about the tower of Babel in our devotions this morning.

The expression here is because one of the planks just dropped to the floor from his hand and it looked like might topple the whole thing.

Monday, January 16, 2012

MLK on the Blog

"With regard to domestics in this country, now and then, I think Dr. King said it best: 'All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance." Octavia Spencer's Golden Globe acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress

Emily and I watched the Globes last night and this speech touched my heart. When I was a young girl I worked in a daycare center. It always seemed odd to me that mothers could even afford to work. It seemed to me the people caring for the children were doing the most valuable service to a society. Therefore, they should get paid the most. Why should a person working in a paperclip factory get more honor and esteem (financially) than the person caring for his or her children?  This is not about feminism but rather the suicide of a culture through the disordering of the affections.

( Her main point starts around 1:49.)

Friday, January 13, 2012

In Which I Make People Mad or Ron Paul

 (Here is a link to Mark Steyn's article.)

I thought I would attempt a little friendly discourse on the subject of Ron Paul.  Although Paul supporters feel themselves to be in the minority, my Facebook stream is a constant barrage of Paul support.

For the last few years I have frequently listened to Paul because I felt like his economic message was excellent.  I fully expected to be a Ron Paul supporter in the primaries and I may still end up voting for him.

But a few things have bothered me about his campaign and about the way his supporters have promoted him.  These are only perceptions on my part but I thought maybe it would help Paul supporters to understand.

I was deeply distressed by Paul's attitude in the debates. Frankly, I was shocked by how unlikeable he came across. Yes, I know that is not a Constitutional reason not to vote for him but it has affected me deeply. He seemed whiny, condescending and naive.

When he opened his mouth on foreign policy it seemed like he wasn't even trying to understand the times. In one debate he dismissed nuclear capability and Iran as if it would take someone 6 months to sail around the horn. And just because his followers followed up with tons of links refuting his ignorance I still couldn't shake off his nonchalance. This is a Constitutional problem in my book. Whatever else the president does and I believe nothing else might be good, he should at least protect and defend us physically.

In my mind there is no worse road to barbarism than Facebook. It has dumbed down everything from language to discourse with the real fruits yet to be spat out. So I have started viewing Facebook statuses about Ron Paul as if I were a non-Christian listening to Christian discourse. And to tell the truth the statuses have been offensive, as if the only reason I would not vote for Ron Paul is that I am a nominal Christian, idiot, Neo-con, who shops at Walmart and listens to Rush Limbaugh.  This hurts because only some of that is true :)
I am just not elite enough to get it is the eye-rolling, heavy-sighing message I am picking up from my friends who support Ron Paul.

I say this not to explain myself but to explain how your statuses might be perceived. You are not drawing people to Paul you are pushing them away by trying to push them into narrow categories.

So that is my background. And let me say I do think we should examine what we are doing in the Middle East. In speaking of this to one of my sons he made a good point. It may not actually matter what any of the candidates say on foreign policy because none of them really 'know' anything yet. Even Obama has not been as magnanimous in the Middle East as he promised, probably because he knows more now than he did while campaigning.

And not all of my FB friends have been 'in your face'. A couple of men that I know do a pretty good job of presenting the issues without pointing the finger. A special hat-tip to Perry Coghlan who just might convince me yet.

Now the reason I posted- I do not want to debate the merits of Ron Paul in the comments what I want to do  is ask Paul supporters or people who have listened in on this campaign, a couple of questions.

Do you disagree with Ron Paul on any point?  This is my go-to question whenever I am trying to decide if someone is a leader or a guru.

Can you still respect people who don't vote for Ron Paul?

Have you noticed the condescension of the discourse?  Has it drawn you to Paul or pushed you away?

How can this campaign help us to understand our times and learn how to present the Gospel without sounding pompous?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Language Arts: My Opinion

First let me say something that is likely to be misunderstood.  The more important a 'subject' the greater danger we are in of over-teaching it. Therefore, when I say you can spend less time on something I am not saying it isn't important. I am saying it is so important you don't want to complicate it unnecessarily.
We are not trying to make 'subjects' easier, we are trying to simplify how we learn them.

As regards the word 'subjects', it is a real problem philosophically and maybe if we get rid of it we won't be so vulnerable to marketing.   Maybe we could use the word 'tools' for those areas that are skill based such as spelling and 'disciplines' for those areas that are wisdom based such as history, literature, and Bible. Just a thought.

Skills are important but they are not that important. That is not saying they don't matter and should not be taught.  They just need to know their place. On the other hand, you could almost throw out the disciplines from the homeschool as far as formal learning goes and just set aside a block of time for reading through them which is essentially what David Hicks suggests in Norms and Nobility.

I am pretty sure the above paragraph is incoherent but I am going to leave it in so we can hash it out in the comments if necessary.

Let me try to break this down by subjects in no particular order:


I personally prefer using some form of The Writing Road to Reading : The Spalding Method of Phonics for Teaching Speech, Writing and Reading as the foundation.  This is basically teaching phonics as logic. That point alone blows out of the water the idea that the grammar stage is not for logic. True phonics is a preparation for logic.  WRTR lays a thorough foundation and it takes about  3 years to complete if you go slowly. Your child will be reading long before that but when you are finished you can forget a few other subjects forever.  If you get bogged down doing WRTR spend a little time using Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. That is a good book for first time reading teachers, especially the first few lessons where you can learn how to teach blending letters together.

Here is a step by step approach to WRTR.

Now if you begin to teach your child to read and you reach a brick wall-Stop. This is very important. Do not just keep pushing along, it will only lead to frustration and then anger. It is futile to proceed. Wait a month or two and then begin again. Do this however many times you need to.

If you must teach a younger child to read out of social pressure begin with the phonograms from the WRTR. I didn't even teach my children the alphabet until they knew the sounds the letters could make. This did make it awkward at the eye doctor.  My son looked at a letter and said, "Eh, EE,"  and even though this was a very smart thing to say the doctor thought he was addled.

Keep doing WRTR until the program is finished possibly 3rd or 4th grade. If you can, find a scripted program to teach it. It can be difficult to understand just from the original book. The best way is one step at a time.

Do not confuse the logic of phonics with the beauty of art or the teaching of history. Phonics has nothing to do with those subjects, it is a skill and should not be confused by extraneous information.


Read a different blog.  I have failed to teach this subject well even though philosophically I think it is important.  With Alex I am using the Memoria Press stuff. They sell the simplest materials, sparse and focused.


WRTR is essentially a spelling program. When you have finished it you will know whether you have a child who can spell or a child who cannot. If your child can spell DO NOT use a spelling program; just make sure you correct any spelling errors you come upon in his writing. If your child cannot spell, DO NOT use a spelling program. It will most likely bog the child down in frustration and not help his spelling at all.  Have spelling bees to motivate the child to teach himself to spell if he is competitive. Use some sort of computer spelling drill program like Dr Aardsma that takes only 5 minutes a day or less and carefully go over his written narrations for spelling errors. When you come to one teach the word using the tools you learned in WRTR.  Teach him to use spell check on the computer. I also think Charlotte Mason was on to something when she said, "Never let your child see his spelling error on paper." Do not dwell on the error, dwell on the correct spelling.


By age 9 or 10 a child should be writing daily written narrations, every single day for the rest of his schooling.  I start my children out writing 5 sentences a day on some topic from their reading. This sometimes deteriorates into something like this:

"I am reading a book. It is a good book. I like it a lot. I have 20 pages left. I think you will like it too."

That is not a narration. Do not let them do that. Have them write about the story. I let my children pick which book they want to narrate. Sometimes in 7th grade I assign the book to be narrated.  By 7th grade they should be narrating almost a full page a day in cursive preferably. My children try to trick me by writing everything in print. In high school I let them type at least some of their narrations.

Correct their narrations for what they already understand: spelling, apostrophes etc.  Most of this they learned in WRTR.  You can teach them paragraph forms etc just using their narrations. You can use their narrations to discuss grammar concepts.

After several years of daily written narrations you can introduce a formal writing program, if you want.  I would say not before 7th grade. My older boys basically wrote every day of their lives and then went through Jensen's Format Writing .

My younger 5 did The Lost Tools of Writing which I can now highly recommend. It is not an easy program to use but like the WRTR it is the only program you will have to use.  Or many families use IEW materials.  But a formal writing program should not replace daily written narrations.

This scenario is great preparation for college where ease of writing is a key skill needed. I know some rigorous programs suggest all kinds of difficult feats in low grades such as 4th but I would not waste my 4th grader's time teaching him to outline, etc.  It will be a lot of time spent for very little reward.


My older boys grew up with very little grammar. I had not learned grammar and I failed to teach it properly to my sons. When I was 39 I was still spelling a lot as alot, probably because I learned everything I knew from reading and most great authors don't use those words :)  I have spent the last 10 years trying to learn something about grammar but my brain has a hard time holding on to the concepts. Still, I don't stare blankly anymore  when someone uses the word 'preposition'.

My 3rd and 4th sons went to college together and their first semester they had a  strict English professor.  He cleaned up their writing and they went on to do very well in all of their college writing assignments mostly because of the vast reservoirs of poetic knowledge they applied to their writing. By the way, they both had very high SAT Verbal scores. With  virtually no formal grammar at all, my oldest almost maxed out on SAT Verbal. I don't tell you this to brag but to ease your worries.

I still  think grammar is important BUT how to teach it effectively?  That is the question.  My suggestions:
1. Mom begins to teach herself grammar.
2. Mom applies what she is learning to discussions with her children.
3. Mom uses her knowledge to go over narrations with her children.
4. Mom reads aloud and discusses an excellent grammar book such as the Mother Tongue books, the vintage ones not the one by Nancy Wilson, or Descriptive English Grammar.
5. Perhaps have the child spend a year or two in a grammar workbook program to solidify what he is learning. NEVER think of this workbook as the THING. It is only a small tool.

As I said I am not an expert on grammar, I am only promoting what has worked in our family. My older children were rescued by voracious reading. With all the distractions these days and all the atrocious writing in texts and on Facebook, it may be more important than ever to give your child a strong foundation in grammar.

The problem is that often we think a strong foundation means using a lot of resources and time. This is tricky with grammar because teaching isn't learning. It is a subject that can quickly become meaningless to the student and so care needs to be taken that it is taught in context as much as possible. And it is also a subject that the child can continue to learn throughout life IF he is enlivened to a love of grammar and not instilled with a hatred for it.


I tend to look at literature as a humanities package. A school day to me is basically: work on a few skills and read. Reading will cover Bible, history, literature and, in the elementary years, science.

Language arts  is probably the most important place to remember that it is a unified discipline and not a series of subjects. Once you understand that you can avoid buying 5 or 6 different programs to cover it.


Poetry is a cross between a wisdom subject and a logic subject. It is a nice bridge between the humanities and mathematics.  I believe it should be taught at all times in every possible way. First as sheer fun and joy. Read lots of poems but then also read some poems over and over again. Even an obscure poem will come alive if read over a period of months. Eventually you can delve into the bones and logic of poetry through dissecting poems for patterns and devices as long as you don't turn it into some sort of debunking or tearing down. I believe poetry absorbed into the bloodstream will do its work without too much outside help. I do not mean just the meaning of the poems will do their work but the way they 'mean' will be absorbed.  And when that has happened your child will be ready for any subject, any time. Yes, I really think that.

Southern Literature Suggestions 1-20

I am participating this year in the Southern Literature Challenge IF I can figure out how that works. Southern Literature is one of my loves. I guess I should participate in a more difficult challenge like Asian Literature, Self-help, or those pesky Puritans, but I am not. I am going to stick to what I love. My affections have been ordered this way.

To start the challenge out I thought I would catalog which books I have already read from this extensive list of Southern Literature.  Perhaps my list will inspire you to check out Southern authors and stories. Many of these books qualify as classics.

Books 1-10

I have read 7 of the first 10. That is an encouraging start.

To Kill a Mockingbird

A book of true depth and insight.

Gone with the Wind 

Our 8th grade Civil War class in Deland, Fl was taken to the theater to see the movie of this book. I wonder if northern schools did that?
By the time I was 16 I had read this at least twice.

Huckleberry Finn

Great family read-aloud.

The Help

A great story which suffers from naive writing but the movie is fantastic. I would not put this high on my list of favorite Southern literature.

The Sound and the Fury

I love this book and I love Faulkner. His writing is the definition of Southern literature: poetic, pathetic and gothic. 

Tom Sawyer

Their Eyes were Watching God

I especially enjoyed this book as I spent my childhood in many of the places she writes about.  Strong, Southern voice.

 I would give 5 of them 5 stars, one of them 4 stars and The Help 3 stars. I really do like Southern Literature.

Things begin to drop off. I have only read 3 of the next 10 but have seen two of the plays and had to quit reading one because it seemed to foul.

(Now for an aside. I have tried to find out the exact rules for capitalizing the words South and Southern to no avail. Therefore, I have decided to make up my own rules. I will capitalize those words and in an act of rebellion against northern aggression I will keep the words north and northern  lower case. We all must do our part.)

Books 11-20

A Good Man is Hard to Find

I am not sure why I struggle with O'Connor. She writes well and pathetic and gothic, maybe just a bit too gothic.  The title story will stay with whomever reads it like a bad Neil Diamond song. A friend almost hit a good Samaritan on the head with a tire iron  once because of this book.  In her defense we were stranded on a south Georgia road in the middle of nowhere not too far from Milledgville. Perhaps those Georgia  roads are haunted by the ghost of Flannery as well as being speed traps.

As I Lay Dying

In another life I would be William Faulkner or maybe just the housemaid who pours his whiskey.

Cold Sassy Tree

This is a thumping good read. If you need a place to start reading Southern literature this would be it. 

(I hope to continue going through the Good Reads list over the course of the next couple of months. Next up 21-40.)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Teaching from a Place of Stress

(You can read my defense of Charlotte Mason on the Circe Blog.)

There are great advantages to having homeschooled a long time and there is nothing like an evening with young moms to remind me that they have so much more stress than I do.  I have the confidence of seeing that  things work out in the long run and also the ability to see how unnecessary most of my daily agonizing was. I can almost teach from a place of rest these days. Not quite. I still enjoy my old habit of wringing my hands but I  try to think up new reasons to do it.

 Often the questions young moms bring to me baffle me.  Usually it goes something like this. First they ask a question about writing or phonics or math or science. Then I begin to answer it. Then I stop and ask them how old their child is and then they say something like 3 or 6. And I just smile and say, " Really, you want to waste time teaching spelling to a 6 year old?" 

The other night at the local Charlotte Mason meeting I began to feel like an unschooler. Every time a mom asked me a question about a subject I most often answered, " I wouldn't even begin that subject until the child is older."  Grammar, older. Latin, older. Science, older. Formal writing, older.

Moms of young children load their days down with so many premature subjects that they don't have time to do the things that really matter, all in the name of rigor.   And in order to fit all those subject into the day they have to teach them divorced from true meaning.  This is where Charlotte Mason's idea of short lessons can save the day.  For instance, take grammar, over the years I have become more and more convinced of its high place in the temple of learning but at the same time I have also become convinced that it must be taught in context.  A few minutes a day discussing and using grammar in context is far superior to hours and years bent over a workbook.

The problem is the way we go about planning our school.  It usually works like this: we see a problem."Oh, my goodness, my child can't spell!!!"  Then we spend a couple of hours thinking of their future life in the gutter bewailing having been homeschooled or more likely, "What will my mother say?"  Then we hit the Internet or the homeschool catalog. At this point we read glowing reviews of spelling programs written by people who just took the program out of the box and liked the pretty pictures. We decide that no matter how tight our budget, we are going to buy the most expensive program because obviously that is the safest bet. Our purchase arrives. We spend all summer reading the teacher's instructions. We make up our plan and maybe even write a review of how the product saved our life. Then we proceed to use the program for two weeks before we realize that our child WILL learn to spell with the program but that is all he will learn because the program takes the whole day. Now your child can win The National Spelling Bee but he can't add. Two weeks in you wake up one day and say, "Oh, my goodness, my child can't add...."

This can go on forever because we are looking at school as a series of subjects rather than tools of learning.

Buried in this treadmill is the idea that rigor equals learning. Because Charlotte Mason found a way to re-infuse meaning into subjects through living ideas, great books and short lessons, educators who promote 'rigor' often misunderstand and dismiss Charlotte Mason unnecessarily. There is a way to have both rigor and meaning but we must not take shortcuts through the avenue of too many subjects.

( In part 2, I hope to discuss my personal opinion about what is important when based solely on my own experience.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Which World?

I have been pondering something lately so I decided to throw it out there on the blog.  When we first were introduced to the homeschool movement we didn't even have children. By the time our kids came along we were locked into the idea of homeschooling, something that has brought me intense joy over the years. Unfortunately along with being locked into the idea we were also locked into the ideology, the ISM, if you will. We became more and more afraid of the world and the effect it would have on our family.  Because so many Christian families were floundering it seemed natural to do things differently.

We began accumulating conservative Christian teachers. Plenty of men were willing to lead us to the New Jerusalem. After 2000 years we were going to get Christianity right for once and our children were too. There were only two Christian paths to follow: submission to these teachers or rebellion. We were just rebellious enough not to drink all of the Kool-aid. In those years our identity in Christ was tied up in our lifestyle and we searched for what a friend calls a lifestyle church. It wasn't all our fault, most traditional churches only wanted one kind of person or family in their congregation and we were not that kind. There wasn't any room for diversity in either camp.

So we became more and more 'conservative' until one day we just couldn't bear the weight of it anymore and then we eased to the middle.  This left us still out of sync with the traditional congregations, we were still  pretty happy to be a large, homeschooling family, but also pushed us out of our deeply conservative circles.

We had listened to 'teachers' for so long it was hard for us to interpret where we should stand firm  and where we should take another look at things. So we drifted. And over the years many, many other families  ended up in the same place and we enjoyed discussing these issues with them and this has helped too. Did we first fall off the horse one way to get back up and fall off the other way? Sometimes that is what it seemed like. But now I think that is only because I was still interpreting my walk with Christ as a lifestyle rather than a relationship.

Then yesterday I had a sort of epiphany. I won't even tell you the subject that brought it to light. I started thinking how radically differently I am from my former conservative, visionary friends. Had I become more wordly?  Were they less worldly because they lived in, essentially, a counter-culture while I was more engaged now in the regular culture?  And then it hit me. In the old days I was just as worldly if not more so than I am today. I hadn't protected myself or my children from anything I had only created a different "world" to worship apart from Christ.

Your heart can be captured by your own world or you can be beguiled by the world of pop culture but they are both the same sin, only the first is more difficult to recognize which I guess, makes it more insidious.  In those days we liked to talk about the regular Christian subculture as being a ghetto, but then we just moved across the street to our own ghetto. Our reasons were not all bad but the outcome in our own hearts was.

The Bible says that God is looking for a people to worship Him in spirit and in truth. I am learning not to presume what that means or dress it up to look just like me.

The good news is still The Good News and that covers both sides of the horse.

Monday, January 09, 2012

The Problem of Pleasure.

My latest Circe blogpost is titled The Problem of Pleasure.   It is an important post from my point of view, especially so in light of my ridiculously long TV post which has convicted me of way too much watching.

Discussions on Education

While James was home for the holidays we had an interesting conversation about education. He is a first semester senior history major at Covenant College and hoping to graduate next December. His plan is to coach baseball after college, a plan we have encouraged from the time he graduated high school. While all the boys are pretty good at baseball, James seems to have inherited the gift of coaching from my dad.  I have great respect for Covenant and their insistence that students think in all areas as Christians. It is a tough school with high academic standards.

James was telling me his class schedule for the semester and I was drooling. I mentioned that I would LOVE taking those classes but as I was saying it I realized that I really wouldn't love all the pressure. What I would really like to do is audit the courses, listening and learning, but not being assessed. It was just a passing thought that I did not share.

James started discussing why he switched from physical education to history and I thought about the article I had read on Finnish education via Melissa at MMV.

I had been brooding over the article for several days because I had not liked everything I had read but had found it challenging to my own views. I started to explain to James a little about how the Finnish stumbled into success and before I had even gotten to the punch line he said, "You know what I think, I think it has to do with testing and assessment. American schools are so tied to outcome they are unable to succeed."

What he said next was the kind of thing a homeschool mom lives for, " Frankly, I think I learned more at home than I have at college because of the way we did school, without ever really having grades but just reading and learning naturally. I have learned less in college because I have had to concentrate on beating the system and studying for the test." 

The planets aligned: Charlotte Mason (O, Wonderful Friend), Andrew Kern (who has spoken extensively on assessment and yet I have never quite been able to figure out how it all fit together or exactly what he has been saying), The Finnish schools and my own dear hame.

I am not always encouraged by homeschooling. Sometimes I wonder if it was a big mistake. Yes, I do. But it was the path before me and I have followed it to the best of my ability and I have enjoyed the ride but it is so refreshing when my children encourage me with understanding.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

To Be Read 2012: Part I

My TBR pile is ridiculous and unrealistic and yet after all of Sherry's 2011 reading lists I have continued to add to it. Here are a few books that I have added to either my Paperback Swap List, Chattanooga-Hamilton Public Library requests list, Amazon wish lists, Kindle free books, or Audible Wish List recently. Take it with a grain of salt, I still haven't read Island of the World.

But after my ridiculous look at what I watched last year, I am determined to mingle my lazy pleasures with more edifying ones. More on that on my New Year's Circe post to come.

You can find more suggestions at The Saturday Review of Books .

Sherry suggested I read The Little World of Don Camillo and I am intrigued.

Somewhere recently I heard of a series  by J. Mark Bertrand which begins with  Back on Murder (A Roland March Mystery) . I think maybe Cindy Marsch. I have already started reading book one and I will probably proceed to Pattern of Wounds (A Roland March Mystery) . The writing is uneven. I think the writer has to dumb down his protagonist in a way that is not consistent with his own style. When his style shines through I enjoy reading the book but when suddenly the character speaks in the vernacular it seems put on.

Rossettis in Wonderland

Before I Go to Sleep: A Novel
Quite a few end of the year reviews of this book.

The Confession: An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery (Ian Rutledge Mysteries)

22 Britannia Road: A Novel

The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God by Tim Keller

I have downloaded free to my Kindle several of these Frank Boreham books of essays. They came highly recommended by Ravi Zacharias.
Frank Boreham


By Frederick Buechner, an author whose name I have run across several times this year, only I didn't know he wrote Fiction as well as Non-Fiction.

I am not one of those people who adore Trollope. I like his books but would probably not reread them. Here is a new one for me He Knew He Was Right

The Belfry by May Sinclair.  I have completely forgotten why I downloaded this free to my Kindle but I am thinking it may be a WWI story.

I hope to read  this a maybe even a couple other Ferguson books this year.

I may do another post on my intent to re-read through some Oxford Christian books, my southern literature plans and few other non-fiction hopefuls.