Thursday 24 March 2016

Parents and Children by Charlotte Mason - Ch 1

A Philosophy of Education (Volume 6) was the first book I read in Charlotte Mason's Original  Homeschooling Series. After reading what others wrote about Charlotte Mason's ideas for many years, I finally found her books secondhand and started reading what she actually said. That was about five and a half years ago and because I was teaching a broad age group at the time, Volume 6 seemed the best book to start with. I've been working backwards ever since and now I'm reading Parents and Children (Volume 2).
If you're reading through this volume feel free to add any opinions on the chapters or topics in the comments section and a link to any posts you've written relevant to the chapters. These are just my thoughts and rabbit trails on the book.


There are twenty-six chapters or 'essays' in this volume that appeared in the Parent's Review (around 1892, I think) and they were addressed at various times to the Parents' National Educational Union or PNEU. The PNEU was comprised of parents who were making a practical study of the principles of education, and Charlotte Mason's intent was to offer practical and inspiring hints and suggestions founded on profound educational principles.

Chapter 1: The Family

CM begins with a look at the philosopher and educational thinker, Jean Jaques Rousseau (1712-1778) and the profound effect he had upon parents and education. Rousseau succeeded in awakening parents to the seriousness of parental obligations and was one of the few educationalist who made his appeal to parental instincts.

The idea of the "noble savage," "Man was born free, but everywhere he is in chains!" "Let us return to nature;" these were Rousseau's themes. He wrote, "If man is good by nature, as I believe to have shown him to be, it follows that he stays like that as long as nothing foreign to him corrupts him."
Francis Schaeffer said of Rousseau in his fascinating book, How Should We Then Live?

Rousseau's concept of freedom showed itself in many forms...he argued that the best education is virtually the absence of education. This had an impact on the later education theories of self-expression which are influential in our own day. We all have our inconsistencies, but it must be mentioned that while he wrote much on education, Rousseau sent the five children born to his mistress off to orphanages. His concepts were as utopian personally as they proved to be politically.

It was Rousseau's ideas that initiated the beginning of French nursery schools in 1771 and later the development of L'Ecole Maternelle, a free State organised and funded school for two to six year olds. Attendance is now considered foundational to the educational system in France and almost 100% of children aged three to six years are enrolled. (See Page 15 of this large PDF for details)

Rousseau not only influenced education. Napoleon stated that the French Revolution would never have taken place without Rousseau. Winston Churchill said that Rousseau was the first person to formulate in 'broad and piercing terms' the doctrine that every man, however humble, was born with a right to play his part in the government of State; that he was one of those responsible for casting doubt on all accepted values, religious and social; that these ideas worked as a powerful leaven, the effects of which  no one could ultimately predict.

Unlike others, Charlotte Mason wasn't 'carried away by the charm' of Rousseau's style:

Everybody knows - and his contemporaries knew it better than we - that Jean Jaques Rousseau had not enough sterling character to warrant him to pose as an authority on any subject, least of all on that of education...

Rousseau tapped into a truth and 'secured the foundation' but all he had to offer the builders was wood, hay and stubble.
Modern education has emerged with cracks in the walls and unstable buildings.

What is the Family?

In this section CM attempts to define some unwritten laws that pertain to the family. I'm just going to highlight a few instances which particularly struck me.

*  The family unit actually works and is a microcosm of what a nation could be. I often think that the financial affairs of state would be better placed in the hands of someone who manages their household well on a limited budget.

*  A civilised nation has close and friendly relations with many other nations. It is barbarous in isolation and the same idea can be extended to families. Not quite sure what CM was referring to here but I think it's important from a Christian perspective not to be insular and cut off from those around us.

*  The family must serve...neighbours, the nation. I wrote about Integrity relating to wholeness not long ago after reading a section of Ourselves aloud to Benj & Moozle and the theme is repeated here:

...integrity with the nation must be preserved or the family ceases to be part of a living whole, and becomes positively injurious, as decayed tissue in the animal organism.

In the busyness of life it's so easy to insulate myself and be totally caught up in our own little (or not so little) family unit. There is always something to distract me from serving others outside of my immediate family but I'm beginning to appreciate the powerful effect we can have on our children by looking outside to those who are not part of our family unit.

*  Other nations - brotherly kindness...To aim at universal gain knowledge of other nations and understand their culture. A way of doing this:

'...every family would do well to cultivate two languages besides the mother tongue...'

Now there's a novel reason for foreign language study.

CM's final thought in this chapter is on the Restoration of the Family. I think homeschooling families usually understand this quite well, but if that is the case, maybe we need to think about this:

...where family life is most beauteous with us, is not the family a little apt to be one self-centred and self-sufficient, rather than to cultivate that expansiveness towards other families which is part of the family code of our neighbours?


Charlotte Mason had a high view of the family and I find her writing so refreshing in this aspect. She was a teacher of many years but her depth of knowledge and wide experience was combined with humility. Looking back on the life of someone like Rousseau, who hit on a parental nerve at the right time and in the right place, it seems unjust that it was he and not Charlotte Mason who captured the attention of society and made such a deep and lasting imprint upon our educational practices. And yet, CM was wise enough to separate the germ of a truth from the whole, rejecting the chaff. I hope that if you read this post you will look past my clumsy attempts to articulate these ideas and be inspired to read some of her books. They are available to read online at Ambleside Online.

Friday 18 March 2016

Weekly Review: a first and some changes...

A prayer for the start of the day:

Lord I commit this day to You;
All I am and all I have belong to You.
Help me today to seek Your face,
Believe Your Word 
And trust Your grace.

*  After a previously unsullied record of no broken bones - a pretty good achievement I thought, with four boys who play soccer, ride skateboards, unicycles, and generally horse around - Hoggy is now in plaster. A 'friendly' game of soccer and an awkward fall resulted in a broken hand bone. Fortunately, he hasn't needed surgery. I said to him, "At least it isn't your right hand." He replied, "Mum...??" I forgot he was left-handed. It's like going back in time...this morning I tied his shoelaces for him & turned up the cuffs in his shirt. Moozle was buttering his toast & slicing cheese for him the other day.

*   I've written a few posts on the transition from home education to tertiary education. Australian Universities usually require some formal evidence of a student's education and we've gone about that in a couple of different ways (see the 'Graduating from Homeschool' page at the top of this blog).
We were planning a similar approach with Benj, but an opportunity came up for him to study a Certificate IV in The Liberal Arts two days a week through the Augustine Academy. It's the first time something like this has been offered in Australia, that I'm aware of, and it's exciting to see other pathways opening up for homeschooling students & especially one focussed on the Liberal Arts. Yippee!!

The chief aim of the Academy is to cultivate a love of learning and of its end, the Truth. Its secondary purpose is to provide students with an entrance into university.

Benj has had an orientation week and completed the first week of lectures. They are starting with Ancient History so I'm changing our AmblesideOnline plans to fit in with this which means using selections from Year 12 instead of Year 11 at this point. We will adjust as we go depending on his workload.
I'll write more about this later on!

*  Progress! Almost done. I just have to sew the binding on now using the dark blue material. This is Zana's 21st birthday present (she just turned 23). It's taken me three years to get to this point. A lovely lady I know did the quilting. I've only done hand quilting and if my poor girl had to wait for me to do it myself she would probably be 33 before she got it.
Dresden plates - lovely, but a real pain to sew!

Detail of the off-white border

*  We're in the throes of planning Hoggy's 21st Birthday party. Actually, he's doing most of the planning and organising with help from Dad. I'll just have to bake a few hundred muffins and mini quiches.

*  Our reading:

Moozle is reading through the Ann of Avonlea books (yet again) and re-reading The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge for the third time. We're doing quite a bit of Australian History which I've adapted to fit AO Year 5 and I've been pleased with our book selections. Engaging with just the right level of challenge. The most challenging book in this year would be 'Passion for the Impossible: The Life of Lilias Trotter,' by Miriam Huffman Rockness but being the story of a woman with a great artistic gift, Moozle's quite happy to listen to me reading it aloud.

Benj - he recently finished, I Will Repay by Baroness Orczy and The Odyssey, and has started The Spartan, an AO Year 12 book which fits in well with the history he's studying in his course.
While on the subject of Ambleside Online Year 12, I listened to this TED talk by Mike Rowe today which is scheduled under Supplementary Speeches: Learning From Dirty Jobs.  It starts off with a description of sheep castration (!!) but progresses into some very interesting observations regarding physical work and our attitude towards it. What really grabbed me was his comment on the pervasive idea in our society that you 'follow your passions.' This is something we've given a lot of thought to as it has related to our own children finishing their home education and looking at a future vocation.

 Follow your passion -- what could possibly be wrong with that? Probably the worst advice I ever got...that's all I heard growing up. I didn't know what to do with my life, but I was told if you follow your passion, it's going to work out.

As Rowe observed (paraphrased), 'Step back and watch where everyone else is going and go the other way.'

Me - I managed to finish some books on our holidays: I Will Repay; Cover Her Face by P.D. James; Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh and Dombey & Son by Charles Dickens, which I started last year.
And I've started some new books: Consider This by Karen Glass and The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro.

*  Dinner Prep - I really have to start this early in the day and using the crockpot is the easiest way for me to do this. I tried this chicken dish that my friend Donna has on her website, Aussie Mamas, and it turned out well. Next time I'll try using thigh fillets as my crockpot is all or nothing heat wise & chook tends to dry out. I also adapted it to bake some barramundi in the oven & that was delicious. Donna has recently changed her blogging platform and has to update her recipes so keep checking back - she has some good ones. Check out her easy peasy ice-cream, one of my favourites.

*   Hamlette at The Edge of the Precipice is hosting a Poetry month in April which I'll be participating in. See here for details and come and join us!

O Lord, support us all the day long, until the shadows
lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is
hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done.
Then in thy mercy, grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest,
and peace at the last. 


Linking up with Weekly Wrap-up

Friday 11 March 2016

The Knowledge of God - Imparting Faith to our Children - updated

Some Thoughts and Ideas

'By faith Moses' parents hid him for three months...for they were not afraid of the King's edict.'
Hebrews 11

Whenever I read the story of Moses and his parents' faith I'm inspired by their actions and by the influence they had on their son over a brief time span that enabled him to later live surrounded by idolatry without compromising his faith, but I also wonder why no other mother or father (that we know of) trusted the Lord and took action to deliver their sons from death.
The Israelites were slaves in Egypt and had a slave mentality. Sometimes we can pick up a slave mentality as a consequence of living in a faithless environment but it is impossible to please God without faith and we have to fight against unbelief and the prevailing culture of child raising when it comes to bringing up our own children.

'We have made the Word of Truth conform to our experience and accepted this low plane as the very pasture of the blessed.'

'Faith is not in itself a meritorious act; the merit is in the one toward whom it is directed. Faith is a redirecting of our sight, a getting out of the focus of our own vision and getting God into focus.' (A.W. Tozer)

'It is as the mother gets wisdom liberally from above, that she will be enabled for this divine task.' (Charlotte Mason)

I always asked God for wisdom and then doubted that I had any. If you ask for wisdom, you need to believe He will give it and that He will help you to discern what is best and make wise choices regarding your children's influences, activities and direction. (James 1:5, Philippians 1:10)

'...the keys even of this innermost chamber are placed in the hands of parents, and it is a great deal in their power to enthrone the King...' 
 (Charlotte Mason)

There are many keys that can help unlock a child's heart and mind. The Divine Spirit can communicate with them through the avenues of their minds, their wills and their emotion, and for each family it will look different.
Some of the keys for us have been:

  • Scripture - Implanting a love of God's Word - our children see that the Word of God is the foundation and the common 'rule of life' in the home that applies to everyone in it.

  • Principles - we teach our children principles of behaviour as they mature rather than give them rules. My upbringing started with rules at an early age (and little children need rules) but as I got older the rules didn't get replaced with principles; my parents just let go completely and I was left to form my own principles with the result that I was never really sure how I should act in certain situations.

'I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.' 
3 John 1:4

  • Humility - being willing to admit that we were wrong about something or asking forgiveness when we've lost it or over-reacted. If our children see the process of sanctification in our lives it encourages them and gives them a sense of security that we are being led by the Spirit of God and not our own whims.

  • Teaching our children to serve - this is so important because serving is close to the heart of God - Jesus took the very nature of a servant (Philippians 2:7). In a large family everyone needs to pull their weight or chaos results and we notice very quickly if someone has neglected their responsibilities.

  • Grace - we encourage excellence and doing everything to the best of their ability but allow grace to cover their mistakes.

  • Faithfulness - little things matter and we've made an effort to teach them that faithfulness in the small things, things hidden from the general view, is important because it really is a heart issue.

Teach me, my God and King,
In all things thee to see,
And what I do in anything
To do it as for thee.

(George Herbert)

  • Honouring God - It's pretty basic: If we honour Him, He will honour us. We've told the children our stories of His faithfulness in our lives, His provision and blessings. Praying about decisions we need to make or for God's guidance shows them that we honour Him and want Him to direct our paths. Good books can inspire our children to honour the Lord as they read about others who honoured Him in their lives: missionaries, godly leaders and heroes of the faith.

  • Teaching them to be worshippers - If children know from an early age that He has formed us for himself and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Him, and we model this ourselves, they will understand that nothing else will satisfy them or fill the space that only the living God can fill.

'The very essence of Christianity is personal loyalty, passionate loyalty to our adorable Chief.' 
(Charlotte Mason)

  • Prayer - we pray for our children and with our children. We pray for others with them and then believe that God will answer our prayers.We pray over them when they are sick. We pray when they need to make choices.We've prayed regularly for each of them, from an early age, that God would set apart a godly spouse for each of them and bring them together at the right time. We've prayed for each of them that they would come to know Jesus at an early age and walk with Him all the days of their lives.We try to prayerfully choose what they should be involved in so we're not reacting to outside pressure that says if you don't do this, that, or the next thing your children will be deprived. 

'Child raising is not a competitive sport and it's not project management.
 It's about bringing some balance back into the home because it seems that this virus of hurry has infected our approach to childhood.' 
 (Carl Honore)

  • A ministry - our children are our ministry and mission field, our primary responsibility. Our children.....

 '...are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody...a result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God...'   
2 Corinthians 3:2-3   

I first published this post three years ago and we've had a lot of changes in our family since then. Two children married, and the eldest five have graduated after being taught at home for their school years.
I still agree with what I've written above but I need to add that there is no such thing as a list where you tick a box and that guarantees you'll see all your children home and hosed.
The idea that if we can control what comes into our children's lives (which I sort of believed for awhile) we can avoid any trouble and that they will all turn out virtuous is a subtle deception. Yes, children need to be shielded from certain things but how do you shield them from what is within?
I now approach parenting as I did when I said those very scary marriage vows 28 years ago: 

'I do all this calling on the Grace of God!'

Thursday 10 March 2016

'A Twitch Upon the Thread'...Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966)

I caught him, with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world, and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread.

The Queer Feet (The Innocence of Father Brown) by G.K. Chesterton

Brideshead Revisited was written during 1943 and 1944 while the author was recovering from a parachuting injury and was published in 1945. Most of the story takes place in the 1920's and 30's and its theme was 'the operation of divine grace on a group of diverse but closely connected characters.' It is also a nostalgic look at a vanishing world.
In the 1959 preface to the book Waugh writes:

I wrote with a zest that was quite strange to me and also with impatience to get back to the war. It was a bleak period of present deprivation and threatening disaster - the period of soya beans and Basic English - and in consequence the book is infused with a kind of gluttony, for food and wine, for the splendours of the recent past, and for rhetorical and ornamental language, which now with a full stomach I find distasteful.

The story is told in the voice of the main character, Charles Ryder, a lonely Oxford student. He meets the flamboyant and decadent Sebastian Flyte under unpropitious circumstances - Flyte appears at the ground floor window of Ryder's living quarters after a drinking session and vomits into the room!
The two young men develop a close friendship and Charles is invited to Sebastian's opulent family home at Bridehead where he begins to develop an infatuation with its residents, their lifestyles, and ultimately, Julia, Sebastian's aloof sister.

I thought it was a strange book in some ways. I read most of it on the plane flights we took on our holidays but it wasn't until I started going back over the passages I had underlined and let them percolate, that I could actually say that it was a worthwhile read. I didn't think so at first and wondered why on earth it would be considered a classic.

Waugh converted to Catholicism in 1930 and Brideshead Revisited shows obvious signs of his new-found faith. He wove in the theme of the G.K. Chesterton quote above but overall I don't think he made a very convincing apologetic. 
Sebastian is the second son of the Marquis of Marchmain, who is estranged from his wife. Lady Marchmain is a devout Catholic, as is her eldest son, but the rest of the family are ambivalent about their beliefs. Over the course of time the 'twitch of the thread' is felt by the various characters and we are privy to how this plays out in their lives.

 The Awakening Conscience by Holman Hunt, 1853

There are some beautifully written and perceptive passages...

Here my last love died. I lay in that dark hour, I was aghast to realize that something within me, long sickening, had quietly died, and felt as a husband might feel, who, in the fourth year of his marriage, suddenly knew that he had no longer any desire, or tenderness, or esteem, for a once-beloved wife; no pleasure in her company, no wish to please, no curiosity about anything she might ever do or say or think; no hope of setting things right, no self-reproach for the disaster. I knew it all, the whole drab compass of marital delusion; we had been through it together, the Army and I, from the first importunate courtship until now, when nothing remained to us except the chill bonds of law and duty and custom.

On Modern Education:

The trouble with modern education is you never know how ignorant people are. With anyone over fifty you can be fairly confident what's been taught and what's been left out. But these young people have such an intelligent, knowledgeable surface, and then the crust suddenly breaks and you look down into the depths of confusion you didn't know existed.

The Effects of Modern Education:

Hooper had no illusions about the Army - or rather no special illusions distinguishable from the general, enveloping fog from which he observed the universe. He had come to it reluctantly, under compulsion, after he had made every feeble effort in his power to obtain deferment. He accepted it, he said, 'like the measles.' Hooper was no romantic. He had not as a child ridden with Rupert's horse or sat among the camp firs at Xanthus-side; at the age when my eyes were dry to all save poetry...Hooper had wept often, but never for Henry's speech on St. Crispin's day, nor for the epitaph at Thermopylae. The history they taught him had few battles in it but, instead, a profusion of detail about humane legislation and recent industrial change...
Though himself a man to whom one could not confidently entrust the simplest duty, he had an over-mastering regard for efficiency...

The passage below reminded me of C.S. Lewis's perceptive observation, 'men without chests,' in The Abolition of Man:

'You know Father Mowbray hit on the truth about Rex at once, that it took me a year of marriage to see. He simply wasn't a complete human being at all. He was a tiny bit of one, unnaturally developed; something in a bottle, an organ kept alive in a laboratory. I thought he was a sort of primitive savage, but he was something absolutely modern and up-to-date that only this ghastly age could produce. A tiny bit of a man pretending he was whole...'

On the will to live:

I said to the doctor, who was with us daily: 'He's got a wonderful will to live, hasn't he?'
'Would you put it like that? I should say a great fear of death.'
'Is there a difference?'
'Oh dear, yes. He doesn't derive any strength  from his fear, you know. It's wearing him out.'
Next to death, perhaps because they are like death, he feared darkness and loneliness...

I mentioned that I thought the book was strange in some ways. This was partly due to Waugh's represention of the Faith he'd embraced and partly the protagonist's personality. He went from being quite compassionate and sensitive and became a complete jerk.
Prior to his conversion, Waugh's writing was admired for its irony but in later years his writing took on a more serious tone. An article written in 1954, when the author was still living - Evelyn Waugh: The Best and the Worst, has some interesting and perhaps harsh observations on the man, which helped me understand my reactions:

Complete rejection of the modern world is the source from which springs the best and the worst in Evelyn Waugh's writings. The artist who repudiates the realities of his time must of necessity either work in the ironic key, as Waugh did in his earlier novels which transmute repudiation into blandly destructive laughter; or if dissatisfied with a negative criticism, he must offer alternatives to the status quo which can be taken seriously. But when he seriously articulates his opinions and attitudes, the results are often distressing, and sometimes disastrous. the Catholic content of his novels to date, there has been little accent on religious experience as such and a really shocking absence of that human compassion which is so much a part of the Catholic spirit.

The religious writer requires at least four qualities of which Waugh has so far displayed only one. Faith he has; but little compassion and no humility -- and in his entire work there is not a single truly convincing trace of love.

I was going to read one of the author's other books, Decline & Fall, (his first published novel) for the 20th Century category in the Back to the Classics Challenge but instead I'm entering Brideshead. Maybe I'll get to read it later on; it would be interesting to compare the two.

The book is set in Oxford, England, for the most part, so I'm entering it in the European Reading  Challenge at Rose City Reader.

Brideshead Revisited is a Literature selection for the second term of Ambleside Online Year 11.


Thursday 3 March 2016

Cover Her Face by P.D. James (1920-2014)

Sally Jupp was 'pretty, intelligent, ambitious, sly and insecure.' Docile and grateful on the surface, she was employed as a parlourmaid in the Maxie household after being highly recommended by Miss Liddell. Nothing was known of Sally's past, except that she was orphaned as a child and brought up under the care of a guardian. An unmarried mother, she had been living at the St Mary's Refuge for Girls run by Miss Liddell, and was said to be Miss Liddell's 'favourite and most favoured delinquent.'
Sally had not been long in service at the Maxie household when she began to undermine her superiors and display arrogance towards other members of the household.

One evening she dropped a bombshell by announcing her engagement to the Maxie's only son, Stephen, a doctor. Not long after this event, Sally was found strangled in her bed and suspicion fell upon the whole household. When Detective-Chief Inspector Adam Dalgliesh arrived on the scene to investigate, Sally's enigmatic past came to light and with that, the murderer also.

I've always enjoyed P. D. James's literary writing style but often her stories are disturbing and push the edges of what I feel comfortable with. Once or twice I didn't finish a book because of this - A Certain Justice (1997) was one of those. I don't think I even got as far as the second chapter.  

Cover Her Face, a domestic whodunnit and her first novel, was published in 1962, and unlike some of her later books, had a similar feel to some of the golden age detective fiction I've read.
Set in an English village, the story revolves around the family manor. The local vicar makes an appearance, the household servants are loyal. All up, a cosy sort of mystery that kept me guessing until the very end.

I thought James's device of divulging the characters' thoughts as they were  interviewed by Dalgliesh added to the mystery. There was some nice little psychological rumination by each of the major suspects that cleverly lifted the suspicion from them just when I thought I'd guessed the culprit.
There was a poignant little twist at the end which revealed a softer side to the chilly, cerebral character of P.D. James's sleuth.

The title is taken from an English Renaissance play, The Duchess of Malfi, Act IV, scene II:

 'Cover her face; mine eyes dazzle: she died young.'

I enjoyed these quotes by the author which are taken from this interview:

'... I was educated in the state system at an old-fashioned grammar school in Cambridge. In those days state education was very good, but I had to leave at sixteen because university was not free and my family could not afford to pay for me. I would have loved to have gone to university, but I don’t think I would necessarily have been a better writer, indeed perhaps the reverse. Looking back I feel I was fortunate: we had dedicated teachers who were attracted to Cambridge, which is a very beautiful and stimulating city, and stayed. They were women who would have been married but for the slaughter of men in the First World War. Only one had been married and she was a widow. They gave us all their dedicated attention. When I left school I had read more Shakespeare and other major poets than many a university graduate today. It astounds me how narrow and limited their reading is compared to ours.'

'I believe that political correctness can be a form of linguistic fascism, and it sends shivers down the spine of my generation who went to war against fascism. The only way to react is to get up in the morning and start the day by saying four or five vastly politically incorrect things before breakfast!'

So good! 

Cover Her Face by P. D. James is my choice for A classic detective novel in the Back to the Classics Challenge 2016.