Wednesday 30 April 2014

The Napoleon of Notting Hill by G.K. Chesterton

G.K. Chesterton's first novel, The Napoleon of Notting Hill, was published in 1904 when he was thirty years old.
It is a futuristic humorous fantasy set in London but it retains the appearance and atmosphere of the London of Chesterton's time. There are no mind boggling inventions or dystopian type scenarios which you'd expect to find in novels of this sort, but nevertheless, it is bizarre.
As I experienced with one of his later novels, The Man Who was Thursday, what was going on or where the story was heading was a mystery to me. Unlike The Man Who was Thursday, this book had an underlying philosophical theme which echoed Chesterton's concern that larger nations were gobbling up smaller nations and that 'Progressives' were intent on destroying independence and patriotism. 

In the introduction to the Dover Edition of this book, there is a quote on how Chesterton came to write this novel after he'd walked down a street in Notting Hill:

In all these world-shaking events this little bit of Notting Hill was of no account. And that seemed idiotic. For to this bit of Notting Hill the bit was of supreme importance.
In the same instant I saw that my Progressive friends were more bent than any on destroying Notting Hill...When they said, 'Every day in every way better and better,' they meant every day bigger and bigger - in every way.
I saw that these Progressives were obsessed with the idea of dilation. There is such a thing as a dilated heart, which I am told is a disease. There is such a thing as a dilated, or swelled, head. But the typical case of a creature who dilated equally all round is that of the imperially-minded frog who wanted to be a bull, and dilated until he burst...

Chesterton's futuristic London was ruled by a despot. The hereditary monarchy had been abandoned and replaced by a system in which the King of England was picked like a juryman from an alphabetical list.
As the story opens, the kingship is bestowed upon Auberon Quinn, a man who cares for nothing but a joke and who brings his sense of the ridiculous into the affairs of government.
One day the King decided to go and mingle with the people, and as he was passing through Notting Hill, a young boy assailed him with a wooden sword and declared, "I'm the King of the Castle."
The King, who was fond of children, praised the boy's patriotism and presented him with half a crown 'for the war-chest of Notting Hill.'
Inspired by his meeting with the boy, he hurried home to revive the mediaeval Charter of the Cities and issued a proclamation for the restoration of the ancient fortified cities (boroughs). He supplied each of them with a banner, a coat of arms and appointed a rotation system to select a Provost to preside over each area.
Ten years later, as the King continued to enjoy his joke, some of the Provosts appeared before him with a complaint regarding the Provost of Notting Hill, Adam Wayne, who refused to let a road be built through his borough. In the middle of their audience with the King, Adam Wayne dramatically entered and proved to be none other than the boy who had assailed the King years before, now a young man of nineteen. Unbeknown to the King, Wayne had taken the 'joke' seriously and was ready to defend Notting Hill to the death.

What follows are a series of battles, bizarre scenes, heroics, humour and mad antics.
One part I really enjoyed was when the King decided to become a war correspondent:

The argent exterior...(I am losing the style. I should have said 'Curving with a whisk' instead of merely 'Curving.' ...I cannot keep this up. War is too rapid for this style of writing. Please ask office-boy to insert mots justes.) 

The last chapter uncovers a different philosophical aspect of the book from the obvious 'big nation eats little nation' theme: the concept that the love of a fanatic and the laughter of a satirist are but two lobes of a healthy brain. Auberon Quin and Adam Wayne were two lobes of the same brain cloven in two, which in their separate states produced antagonism and madness.

My teenaged children have enjoyed G.K. Chesterton's novels from around the age of 15 years and up. The combination of bizarre fantasy, heroic action and humour appeals to them and although his writing can be a challenge to get through, it is unique and his absurd humour and sharp wit are compelling draw cards.
The book is listed in Ambleside Online's Year 11 History (20th Century) as an optional supplement as it looks at the clash between imperialism and nationalism and is available free online here.

Monday 28 April 2014

Nature Notebook - April 2014

There's a place I've been wanting to visit ever since a couple of my older boys told me of their discovery. It's a bike trail but it's accessed via a bush track which is difficult to navigate with a bike. So I didn't ride but helped my daughter and her little friend carry their bikes through the places they couldn't get through (or up!)  without help to get to where you can actually ride. Then the four of them (two older boys had gone there earlier on their own) took off on the trail and I jogged along and took some photos in between gasps for air.
I saw what I thought was cattails from a distance but on closer inspection proved to be Pampas grass Cortaderia selloana. It looked lovely swaying in the breeze but it's considered to be a weed here.

This was an interesting spot as it had been back-burned for fire hazard reduction in the wooded areas which the bike trail passed through and new growth jumped out here and there in splashes of green.

It's always ugly and bleak for a while after a back-burn

I think this is a type of Xanthorrhoea, a genus of flowering plant native to Australia commonly known as blackboy

A lovely flush of green amongst the charred landscape

The larger gums remain intact during a back-burn, which is done to reduce the amount of ground fuel in case of a fire 

?Wild Carrot (Daucus carota) was introduced into the colony of Sydney as seed for food production between 1786 and 1798 by Sir Joseph Banks.  
I might be mistaken but I think this may be what is know in North America as Queen Anne's Lace - maybe someone more knowledgeable can let me know if I am correct.

Some sort of very dry, papery fungi that I've never seen before. It looks like it belongs in the ocean.

The created world is to be prized for its usefulness, loved for its beauty and esteemed as the gift of God to His children. (A.W. Tozer)

Thursday 24 April 2014

Encouraging Children to Write - Late Readers

I've been asked at various times what I've done to get my children writing and whether there's a need to use resources to help in the writing process if you are following Charlotte Mason's educational ideas. What I've written here is my own personal experience: what has worked with my own children; what I've learned in the course of teaching various ages, stages and abilities; what I understand of CM's principles and how I've applied them as I've taught my children.

Charlotte Mason recommended that in the high school years, 'some definite teaching in the art of composition is advisable, but not too much, lest the young scholars be saddled with a stilted style which may encumber them for life.'

I know the writing process is a concern for many home educators and those who have had no formal training themselves often feel unequipped for the task. My eldest three children (girl, boy, girl) were comfortable with writing and my main object was to encourage them, provide them with ideas from living books, give them an outlet or audience and work on giving their writing some polish. I'll share some of the ways I did this in another post.
I wanted to concentrate on what I did with my fourth child, Hoggy, in this post. A late reader, he was high school age before he could read well and even then he had difficulty with anything not in story form. I started to panic especially because I was comparing him to his older siblings at the same stage. He was totally different. I tried using different writing programmes, without much success, and then I thought I better do something about his vocabulary and tried using workbooks and other materials to try to make some progress. It was rather miserable for a while.
What I should have done was let him gain confidence and fluency with oral narration and then progress to written narration. He had some visual problems, least of which was short-sightedness and probably tracking issues, plus he is dominantly left handed, but information on these issues wasn't as accessible as it is now so it was trial and error.
I had read Charlotte Mason's ideas but only through the writings of others who had interpreted her but when Hoggy was about 15 years old, I began to read her own words (I started with A Philosophy Of Education) and began to put it into practice. Oral narration was the catalyst for his writing. It was the best thing I could have done.
A few months before he turned 17 years of age I started him on Ambleside Online Year 8 with his 15 year old brother. He completed that year and then six months of work I'd put together using a combination of AO years 10 and 11 after which he started work full time.

I love this quote by A.W. Tozer:
'That writer does the most for us who brings to our attention thoughts that lay close to our minds waiting to be acknowledged as our own. Such a man acts as a midwife to assist at the birth of ideas that had been gestating long within our souls, but which without his help might not have been born at all.'

Putting the right books into our children's hands helps them develop their thoughts and ideas and bring them to birth. Oral narration allows a late reader or struggling writer to perceive and articulate ideas without the encumbrance of putting them down on paper until they are at a stage of readiness.

Thoughts disentangle themselves as they flow through lips and fingertips.

Oral narration isn't second rate. It allows thoughts to disentangle themselves and it's difficult work. If you don't believe me, try it.

CM talks about giving our children 'enough work of the kind that from its absorbing interest compels reflection and tends to secure a mind continually and wholesomely occupied.'

There's a tendency to minimise the difficulty of the work we give to a student who's struggling with reading and writing but sometimes we have to act counter intuitively and allow them a mental challenge.  

Once there is fluency in oral narration - and that will come fairly quickly with an older child if they are given compelling and living books to read - they can begin writing their narrations.
Boys often find it easier to use the computer for this and I noticed a marked improvement in the quality of their work if they didn't have to wrestle with handwriting at the same time.

Tozer had another interesting thought:

Perception of ideas rather than the storing of them should be the aim of education. The mind should be an eye to see with rather than a bin to store facts in. 

I realised in my panic that I was focussing on facts rather than ideas. I was cleaning out out under our stairs yesterday and found a notebook Hoggy used for writing stories in when he was 12 years old. He'd been reading everything by G.A. Henty he could find, after he'd weaned himself off the Redwall series (temporarily) and he was inspired to write his own story. Seven years on I have a different perspective and I can see that the books he was reading were beginning to help form his writing. I think I was looking at all the mechanics; his spelling!! etc and I was anxious because I was concentrating on what he couldn't do rather than seeing that he had been absorbing ideas all along.

It took me awhile to wake up to the fact that it was story that inspired him and that he could write decently well if he had a model to work from. As I gave him more of a challenge with books over a period of time his writing improved and he became more articulate generally. Part of the problem was lack of confidence and that came as even he could see a vast improvement.

This is part of his story I found under the stairs. He had a list of characters and a prologue: 



The story went on for another nine pages.

These are examples of his work after he'd spent time on oral narration:

I got him to read aloud his narrations to me and he'd pick up errors or substitute words if he'd used a certain  word too often. He enjoyed doing various forms of narrations and when we added The Grammar of Poetry during AO 8, he attempted some poetic narrations. I put some of his work on Pinterest. Studied dictation helped with punctuation and spelling, while still using The Spalding Method, which I highly recommend for anyone who finds reading or spelling difficult.



So in summary the keys were:

Challenging living books
Regular oral narration 
Studied dictation
A wide variety of written narrations
A good spelling programme

Update: I found this website a couple of days after posting the above: Is My Child Just a Late Bloomer? Lists some 'red flags' regarding reading difficulties.

Tuesday 22 April 2014

G.K. Chesterton

G.K. Chesterton has been called one of the greatest thinkers and writers of the 20th century which explains why he's quoted and referred to by people from very different backgrounds and persuasions. His name keeps cropping up when I least expect it. The other day I picked up a book by  Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among Other Gods: The Absolute Claims of the Christian Message, and in the second chapter I read this:

The first time I walked through the noisy streets of Bethlehem and endured its smells, I gained a whole new sense of the difference between our Christmas carols, glamorizing the sweetness of the "little town of Bethlehem," and the harsh reality of God becoming flesh and dwelling among us. Ah! But it is not a part of the wonder of God's disclosure of reality that He points to what we live with to show us what true living is meant to be?

Pointing the way to the Celestial City

Jesus brought truth to light and a different world to His message. In Him my heart finds its true home.
G.K. Chesterton has captured the wonder in how Jesus' earthly address changes ours, as only he can do.

A Child in a foul stable, 
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know, 
But our hearts we lost - how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky's dome.
To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star, 
To the things that cannot be and that are, 
To the place where God was homeless 
And all men are at home.

Where does Jesus live? Come to Christ and see what it means to live.


Monday 14 April 2014

Preparing Homeschoolers for University/College Writing

It's been interesting to see how my children have coped with learning at a tertiary level when they've had no experience of institutional schooling. One of the first questions we were asked when people knew we were going to teach our children ourselves was, 'What about university?' Someone quizzed me about this when my eldest was only 2 years of age. We had no idea at the time what we'd do when we got to that stage and I was more concerned about how we would get them entry into university than how they would cope once they were there. I wrote about how we went about that here.
I thought that to gain entry into university you would obviously have to possess the skills needed to do the work required in a particular course. I found out that isn't necessarily the case.

Our daughter Zana is in her fourth year of a double degree - Bachelor of Education/Bachelor of Arts, majoring in English - and is employed by her university to tutor first and second year university students. Much of her time is taken up with helping them with basic things that should have been covered before they left school.
I asked her to share some thoughts on writing essays. Some of what she's written here might not apply to students in other degrees such as science related areas, but there are some general areas such as grammar, structuring an argument, punctuation, spelling, apostrophes and run on sentences that were issues for many of the students she worked with, regardless of the degree they were studying.

"Essentially you need to understand the structure of an essay (thesis statement, introduction, body, conclusion) & how to create an argument that clearly answers the question & stays on topic while incorporating research & secondary sources.

Be aware that academic writing very rarely uses first person, so don't get used to writing essays with "I think" etc in them. That's generally saved for reflection type assessment tasks.

Having an understanding of paraphrasing, referencing & some experience of a referencing style (eg Harvard or APA) would be very useful as this is an area most first year uni students really struggle with. In my first semester of face-to-face university, I had to use 4 different referencing styles. The fact that I'd done two  online units with Open University Australia & therefore knew how to reference using two of the main styles already was really helpful. Referencing guides are readily available by searching on google.
I tutor 1st & 2nd year uni students & I've found that even the students who are good writers will often fall down in these areas.

In relation to exam essays, timed writing is also useful, as often you could have anywhere from 2-12 essays within an exam, depending on the subject. Being able to write at a rate of 10 minutes a page will set you up very well for uni exams. The faster you can interpret a question, brainstorm & write, the better you will perform under exam conditions.

Some Ideas on Preparing for University Writing

--Analyse the question: what exactly are they asking for?
--Outline: short sentences or bullet points. Means that you have a logical sequenced argument that you can then follow while writing to ensure that you stay focused & on topic.

Teach each of these areas specifically & gradually combine them together; keep a lookout for grammar & punctuation mistakes.

Get them to write using a variety of different topics. An essay on a factual topic will require different language & a different type of argument etc to that of an essay on literature"

SAT practice essays are great (even if you don't plan to do the SAT) because they make you think but require more general knowledge & logic than they do specific content knowledge. They're also timed (25min) which is good practice for writing concisely (we also used them un-timed, especially at first).
These are some examples from my daughter and son who were 14 & 17 years old at the time they did them.




I taught them to outline and they practiced taking notes eg. while listening to a sermon at church and then outlining it properly later.
A book like Writers Inc. or some other writing reference book and a grammar rules book is also helpful.