Monday 30 May 2016

Nature Comes to Us

We found this fella at the back door one morning and the next day, there was one of its offspring. I had to repent of my derogatory comments to the cat about being lazy and not earning his keep.

Moozle's notebook entry - drawn from the photo I took

A Rat surrendered here
A brief career of Cheer
And Fraud and Fear.

Of Ignominy's due
Let all addicted to

The most obliging Trap
Its tendency to snap
Cannot resist --

Temptation is the Friend
Repugnantly resigned
At last.

 by Emily Dickinson

We've only had two obvious visits from echidnas (also known as spiny ant eaters)- they usually stay well hidden in the bush but we heard this one rustling around in the bush...

 And then he came right out into the open so we got a good look at him. So cute and ungainly.

The short-beaked echidnas (Tachyglossus aculeatus) are found in Australia and New Guinea, while the long-beaked variety are only found in the highlands of New Guinea.
They are shy animals and this one kept close to the rock wall while we were watching him and waddled as quickly as possible to the nearest bushy area not far away.

Their young are called 'puggles!'

Moozle loves to draw and isn't self-conscious about it but some of my children didn't like to draw because they weren't happy with their level of skill. One of the best books I've come across for boosting confidence in this area is this little gem:

It's only 60 pages, contains thirty-seven lessons and all you need is paper and a pencil. I bought some cheap scrap books and cut them into three sections cross-wise so everyone had a little drawing book. A couple of times a week they'd complete a lesson and in a short time I noticed the improvement in their drawing ability. Working through this little book made nature journaling so much more enjoyable for my students who didn't have a natural bent towards drawing. I can't remember where I bought this book but I've had it for 16 years and still use it. Amazon had some copies last time I looked.

We've had some spectacular sunsets this month due to a combination of weather conditions and hazard reduction burning of the bush. The smoke from the burning-off gets trapped.The presence of high clouds allows the light to scatter through the moisture in those clouds, and the small particles (aerosols) released by the fires are responsible for the array of colours.

Thursday 26 May 2016

The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930)

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a prolific writer but his Sherlock Holmes' character has almost totally eclipsed everything else he wrote which included: historical novels, science fiction stories, plays, poetry, and non-fiction. The protagonists of his historical novels are so much more endearing than Sherlock Holmes; that cold, unemotional, and cocaine addicted detective.
Most of Doyle's main characters have their eccentric ways, moments of weakness and bravado, but only Sherlock Holmes seems to lack real humanity.
Etienne Gerard, the dashing Colonel of the Hussars of Conflans, is all that Sherlock isn't. Although vain and full of his own importance, he has some very endearing qualities, not least of which is his bravery, sense of duty and absolute loyalty.

It has sometimes struck me that some of you, when you have heard me tell these little adventures of mine, may have gone away with the impression that I was conceited. There could not be a greater mistake than this, for I have always observed that really fine soldiers are free from this failing. It is true that I have had to depict myself sometimes as brave, sometimes as full of resource, always as interesting; but, then, it really was so, and I had to take the facts as I found them. It would be an unworthy affectation if I were to pretend that my career has been anything but a fine one. 

According to Napoleon, Gerard wasn't particularly intelligent, but he also acknowledged that,

'...if he has the thickest head he has also the stoutest heart in my army.’

Napoleon wanted a man for a secret mission; someone ready for action but, ‘...who would not penetrate too deeply into his plans.'

Gerard's commanding officer said, "I have one who is all spurs and moustaches, with never a thought beyond women and horses.”
‘“That is the man I want,” said Napoleon. “Bring him to my private cabinet at four o’clock.”

And so Brigadier Gerard is sent throughout the countryside on various missions for his Emperor.

You may think, then, how I carried myself in my five-and-twentieth year — I, Etienne Gerard, the picked horseman and surest blade in the ten regiments of hussars. Blue was our colour in the Tenth — a sky-blue dolman and pelisse with a scarlet front — and it was said of us in the army that we could set a whole population running, the women towards us, and the men away.

One of my favourite parts of the book is Gerard's meeting with an English soldier and gentleman ('the Bart') who saved him from execution at the hands of brigands.

It is one advantage of a wandering life like mine, that you learn to pick up those bits of knowledge which distinguish the man of the world. I have, for example, hardly ever met a Frenchman who could repeat an English title correctly. If I had not travelled I should not be able to say with confidence that this young man’s real name was Milor the Hon. Sir Russell, Bart., this last being an honourable distinction, so that it was as the Bart that I usually addressed him, just as in Spanish one might say ‘the Don.’
(Bart. or Bt = Baronet)

When it dawns on Gerard that this intervention now made him a prisoner of war, he asks the Englishman to allow him to go free, but when that idea is  rejected, rather than fight with a man he has no wish to harm, Gerard suggests a game of cards, having learnt that 'the Bart,' being a gambling man, could not refuse. And so they play, but neither of them were prepared for what followed.

Alas for my poor Bart! I had met him but twice, and yet he was a man very much after my heart. I have always had a regard for the English for the sake of that one friend. A braver man and a worse swordsman I have never met.

Gerard compares his own superior physique with that of Napoleon's...

I have seen Napoleon ten times on horseback to once on foot, and I think that he does wisely to show himself to the troops in this fashion, for he cuts a very good figure in the saddle. As we saw him now he was the shortest man out of six by a good hand’s breadth, and yet I am no very big man myself, though I ride quite heavy enough for a hussar. It is evident, too, that his body is too long for his legs. With his big, round head, his curved shoulders, and his clean-shaven face, he is more like a Professor at the Sorbonne than the first soldier in France. Every man to his taste, but it seems to me that, if I could clap a pair of fine light cavalry whiskers, like my own, on to him, it would do him no harm. He has a firm mouth, however, and his eyes are remarkable. I have seen them once turned on me in anger, and I had rather ride at a square on a spent horse than face them again. I am not a man who is easily daunted, either.

‘You have not yet received the cross of honour, Brigadier Gerard?’ he (Napoleon) asked.
I replied that I had not, and was about to add that it was not for want of having deserved it, when he cut me short in his decided fashion.

Gerard is captured by the enemy after Napoleon had sent him on what he afterwards found to be a false mission. It looked like the end of the road for our hero:

There would be an end to a dashing soldier, and of the mission and of the medal. I thought of my mother and I thought of the Emperor. It made me weep to think that the one would lose so excellent a son and the other the best light cavalry officer he ever had since Lasalle’s time. But presently I dashed the tears from my eyes. ‘Courage!’ I cried, striking myself upon the chest. ‘Courage, my brave boy. Is it possible that one who has come safely from Moscow without so much as a frost-bite will die in a French wine-cellar?’

He returned safely to a surprised and angry Emperor:

As to you,’ cried the Emperor, taking a step forward as if he would have struck me, ‘you brain of a hare, what do you think that you were sent upon this mission for? Do you conceive that I would send a really important message by such a hand as yours, and through every village which the enemy holds?
Can you not see, coglione, that this message contained false news, and that it was intended to deceive the enemy whilst I put a very different scheme into execution?’

Poor Gerard. He may be conceited and full of his own importance, but he is honourable and would give up his life for his Emperor and country if it were necessary:

When I heard those cruel words and saw the angry, white face which glared at me, I had to hold the back of a chair, for my mind was failing me and my knees would hardly bear me up. But then I took courage as I reflected that I was an honourable gentleman, and that my whole life had been spent in toiling for this man and for my beloved country.

The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard (1896) is a humorous adventure that gives some insights into the times of the Napoleonic Wars and Napoleon himself from the vantage point of a French soldier. It's more lighthearted and less brutal than some of his other stories. Hussars didn't have the greatest morals or reputations but the author doesn't mention that side of things, although Gerard frequently expresses how attractive he is to women in general.  He treats the women he meets in a very dashing and gentlemanly manner and once when he was about to shoot at his enemy's heart, he lowered his gun so as not to kill him because he thought of the man's mother. Awww...

One lesson which I have learned in my roaming life, my friends, is never to call anything a misfortune until you have seen the end of it. Is not every hour a fresh point of view? 

The book would appeal to anyone from around age 12 years, especially boys, but it's also a fun read for adults. A free kindle version is here and there is a good audio version here which has a sample to listen to.

Sunday 22 May 2016

Living Books for Studying Ancient Egypt

A friend asked me if I could suggest some books for the study of Ancient Egypt in high school (grades 7 and up in Australia). There are lots of factual type books available and some good historical fiction titles for younger children but not nearly as many books for older children that could be called literary narratives. Here are the books we've used, found worthwhile and enjoyed. If this is the first time around studying Ancient Egypt, some of the books for younger children could be used, and I've indicated the ages I think they're best suited to.

 For a general background to Ancient Egypt:

The Greenleaf Guide to Ancient Egypt by Cynthia A. Shearer

Greenleaf Press has been around for as long as I can remember and we've cycled through their Greenleaf Guide to Old Testament History every couple of years. Their guide to Ancient Egypt is helpful tool for putting the study of this time period into a biblical context and is suitable for multiple ages. The author suggests using this guide after reading the story of Joseph at the end of the Old Testament book of Genesis. I've only ever used it as a general guide but it may be used as an in-depth family study of Ancient Egypt (Grades 2-7). One of the most helpful aspects of the guide was the description of how each of the plagues were associated with specific Egyptian deities. There are a few books suggested to go along with the guide. Those that we've used I've highlighted with an * - the others are listed on the Greenleaf Press website.

Ancient Egypt (Cultural Atlas for Young People) by Geraldine Harris *

This is one of a series of books written by various authors that cover a range of different time periods besides Ancient Egypt e.g. Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. The books include detailed maps, coloured photos and general information related to the historical eras. They are often available at libraries and are an excellent addition for students around age 12 and up.

The Story of Mankind by Van Loon - there are three chapters related to Ancient Egypt.

The Works of Josephus (A.D. 37-c.100)

One of the few histories written in ancient times, this is an original source document of the history of the Jewish nation from earliest times. Josephus was considered to be a very reliable historian. Not everyone's cup of tea, but for a high school age student who enjoys history it's an interesting read. Free Online.

Gods, Graves and Scholars: The Story of Archaeology by C.W. Ceram

This book was originally published in 1949, revised by the author in 1967, reprinted multiple times, and is considered to be a classic. The author describes his book as a nonfiction or documentary novel and attributes the 'detective thriller style' to Paul de Kruif's (the author of The Microbe Hunters) influence. It's 441 pages in length and divided into five sections, 32 chapters in total. Nine of the chapters are devoted to Ancient Egypt. The book covers archaeological discoveries from Pompei, Troy, Mycenae & Crete through to the Aztecs and Mayas, and includes black and white photos and sketches.
Absorbing reading about archaeological adventures and discoveries from the 1800 to 1900's. Best for around age 15 years otherwise I suggest a quick preview (Ch IX - a couple of references to the artist Vivant Denon) We have the HB edition on the left and the newer edition is on the right (PB).

Mummies Made in Egypt by Aliki *

This is a detailed but simple picture book that shows the step by step process of mummification and although it's recommended for ages 8 to 12, it's a great book for anyone who is interested in the how and why of this Ancient Egyptian practice.

The Boy Pharaoh: Tutankhamen by Noel Streatfeild

Written in 1972, the author starts with a vivid picture of life in Ancient Egypt and describes the young Pharaoh's training and what would have been his daily occupations; the robberies of the tombs and the story of Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon. Hardback with a great double-paged map and abundantly illustrated. Noel Steatfeild wrote the book because she wanted to bring Tutankhamen alive for children up to twelve years of age. She does this admirably, but I wouldn't hesitate to use it with an older child as it is a unique and fascinating literary book. It's out of print, of course, but available at Abebooks. ISBN: 9780718109868

Secrets of Tutankhamen by Leonard Cottrell

A shorter book and also well done but a bit harder to find. ISBN: 978-0237446727

Apologia General Science has a brief mention of Imhotep, the Ancient Egyptian physician who lived approximately 2667 BC - 2648 BC, reproduced here on a pdf.

The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt by Elizabeth Payne *

A Landmark book first published in 1964, it is suitable as a family read aloud or for students up to grades 6 to 8 and contains the biographies of six Pharaohs.

The Riddle of the Rosetta Stone by James Cross Giblin

The story of the discovery of the Rosetta Stone and how the mystery of hieroglyphics became unravelled. 96 pages, well-illustrated and researched. The author's bibliography includes Ceram's book above and The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt. A good introduction for up to about age 12.

Mara, Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw * - an exciting story with a strong element of romance thrown in. I prefer to leave it until around age 14 and up and consider it more of a young adult book because of the romantic element, but it's a great read.

 The Cat of Bubastes by G.A. Henty

The Rebu nation is conquered by the Egyptians and their king is killed in the battle. The young prince Amuba is taken captive along with his trusted servant, Jethro, and they become servants in the household of the high priest of Osiris. When a sacred cat is accidentally killed, Amuba and Jethro are forced to flee along with the high priest's son.
This book is an exciting tale of Ancient Egypt and has enough detail to satisfy a reader up to about age 14.

The following two books are reprints of older books published by Bethlehem Books. This publisher is very dependable with their age recommendations regarding mature themes. Both books are suggested for age 10 and up - an indication of content suitability, not readability, as they are well written and not dumbed down. And they each include a map! I get really annoyed if I'm reading a historical book which rattles off names but doesn't include at least a basic map of the area.

Shadow Hawk by Andre Norton (1912-2005) Andre Norton (born Alice Mary Norton) was an American writer mostly known for her science fiction and fantasy novels. Shadow Hawk is set around 1590 B.C. and tells the story of the beginning of Egypt's fight against their hated oppressors, the Hyksos, who had come from Asia Minor with their horse-drawn chariots and defeated the Egyptians some generations beforehand.

God King by Joanne Williamson (1926-2002)

God King is based on the author's thorough research of a King called Taharka ('King of Ethiopia and Egypt') in the biblical account of King Hezekiah and the Assyrians. She discovered that Taharka was a Kushite (Sudanese) King of Egypt around 701 B.C. whose actions halted the advance of the Assyrians through the civilised world at that time. The young prince was a very minor royal son who unexpectedly succeeded to the throne.

A poem that we memorised related to this time period:

The Destruction of Sennacherib by George Gordon Byron.

Bethlehem Books have other titles that fit in with the Old Testament biblical accounts - eg in the times of Sisera in the book of Judges, and Nehemiah which I've used as free reads or read alouds at different times.

Tragedy of Korosko by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - I wrote about this book here. Although it isn't set in ancient times,the action occurs in Egypt in the days of British rule and shows that in some ways life hadn't changed much over the centuries. It's a great story - a few times I felt it was on the verge of going off in a direction unsuitable for a younger reader but it didn't. A mature 14 year old would probably enjoy it. Benj (16 years old) read it after I did and thought it was a good book.

Friday 20 May 2016

A week of Ambleside Online Years 5 and 11/12 and other happenings

Our 'new look' week is gradually falling into place. Moozle is in the last term of AO Year 5 and Benj is doing selections from AO Years 11 and 12. This year Benj is doing a Certificate IV in the Liberal Arts on Monday & Tuesday of each week so I adjust his AO readings according to his workload for each week. This has put much of my normal timetable on its head and I've had to re-order things so that the lessons we do together can happen when he's home. He's loving this course, which gladdens my heart, because when I asked him how everything went this week his laconic reply was, 'Dense and intense.' The work is a challenge but he's taking it in his stride and is enjoying the stretching process.

He has just started covering the Early Mediaeval History, a favourite time period for him, plus the study of Rhetoric using Aristotle's book (the picture on the cover isn't what I'd call inspirational) :

We finished reading and listening to Hamlet. Benj gave an oral narration while Moozle decided she wanted to do a picture narration. This was taken from Act 1, Scene V:

Moozle's narration after reading a chapter from Plutarch's Life of Demetrius:

Benj's free reading:

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll - he hadn't read these previously but he decided for the sake of 'cultural literacy' that he should as there are so many allusions to the books. We have a friend who named her cat, Dinah, so now he knows where she got the inspiration for its name...My favourite source for free classic books has a nicely illustrated kindle version.

The Children of Hurin by J.R.R. Tolkein - he said this was a bit sad, but he loves the writing:

AO Year 5 has Kim by Rudyard Kipling scheduled for Literature in Term 3. I was tossing up whether to read this aloud or give the book to Moozle to read for herself. She is a very confident reader but I still read aloud some of her books - mostly those I haven't previewed before, or if, for some other reason, I think I should. We're about half way through Passion for the Impossible, and I'll be going for a few months yet as I only read her a chapter a week; Madame How & Lady Why is another read aloud plus some Australian History titles and Stories From the Faerie Queen, so I decided I'd let her read Kim on her own. I did some research and put together some resources to help her understand the context and background of the story and so far she hasn't had any problems and is enjoying the story. I'll post those later on when I have the time.

Moozle's free reading:

This week the Marguerite Henry books have been all the rage. There are many to choose from and they are all good. The hardback books we've picked up secondhand are nicely illustrated by Wesley Dennis and have larger print. They're expensive to buy online so it's probably best to look out for them in secondhand bookshops.


The Misty of Chincoteague Foundation is an interesting website to browse.

The Orchestra Moozle is involved with were given a piece from Peter and the Wolf and they were  asked if they'd heard it before. Two out of about 22 children put their hands up - Moozle being one of them. The piano accompanist with the group was so surprised as it's such a famous piece of music and the kids in the group have been playing for years. Music appreciation isn't just about playing an instrument and even someone who hasn't learned to play an instrument can be at least culturally literate in this area. The video below is about 30 minutes in length and is a wonderful narration and performance of Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf. Highly recommended!


This year I decided it was time to get back to some home-ed gatherings. I was involved in the home- ed community for a season and made some wonderful friends over the years but for different reasons that hasn't been possible for quite some time. Over the past few months some important commitments shifted to different times and this has freed up Friday afternoons for us. So now we have a fortnightly park day and the past two get togethers have been great catch up times with people I haven't seen for years. I said to my husband after our first park day that I didn't realise how much I needed this connection with others who are on the same journey until after it happened. Besides that, there are so many mothers just starting out and they sometimes just need to see that, yes, it can be done and no, your child will not be ruined for life.

Linking to Weekly-wrap-up

Monday 16 May 2016

Living Books for Maths

This post is an updated version/redo of one that I did when I first started this blog. I've added more books and some links that have been inspiring and helpful to us in teaching our children.
Living - producing action, animation and vigor; quickening; flowing, opposed to stagnant.

Anno’s Counting Book is a wordless picture book that is full of beautifully drawn images. The book appears very simple, but in fact it contains a sophisticated introduction to ideas about counting, incorporating varied ways of representing number. The idea behind this book is to introduce counting to young children in an appealing and natural way. Each double-spread page uses an array of blocks on the left side, a picture in the middle and the numeral on the right side. As the reader progresses through the numbers, they also move through the months of the year. In February for example, the reader can count 2 buildings, 2 trucks, 2 fir trees, 2 rabbits, etc. within the picture itself. The numeral 2 is also given, as well as a pictorial representation of two blocks. These two aspects help introduce children to common methods of representing number in the beginning years of school.

(Thanks to my daughter Zana who came across Mitsumasa Anno's book while doing research for a mathematics' scholarship and wrote this for me.)

String, Straight Edge, & Shadow: The Story of Geometry by Julia E. Diggins; Illustrated by Corydon Bell

Originally published in 1965 and reprinted in 2003, this book tells the story of Geometry from ancient times up to the time of the writing of Euclid's Elements, using archaeological and historical records and legendary accounts of famous mathematicians of the past.

In ancient times the lines and forms of nature were observed and copied and eventually incorporated into a practical art later known as geometry (from geo, 'earth,' and metria, 'measurement').

Three tools, which are still in use today - the string, straight edge and shadow - were the foundation of this practical art upon which the concepts of theoretical geometry were gradually built.

Well written and full of graphic illustrations, this book gives a thorough, accessible and understandable introduction to geometry, its use and development throughout history and is a wonderful living book for students learning geometry for the first time as well as an interesting book generally. A good read aloud.
I bought my copy from Waldorf Books a few years ago and the postage at the time to Australia was very reasonable, but that may not be the case anymore.

A Piece of the Mountain: The Story of Blaise Pascal by Joyce MacPherson

Joyce McPherson has written several biographies of famous men in history who not only earned a reputation in their varied fields of science, art and Mathematics, but were prominent apologists for the Christian faith.

Her writing style is appealing and crisp and her books are written for around a 5th to 6th grade reading level and work very nicely as family read alouds as she includes details of the childhoods and early influences of each of the men.

This story of Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) is a wonderful introduction to an important mathematician who lived through the turbulent times of the 1600's when King Charles I lost his head, Descartes was writing on philosophy and Tasman was exploring downunder. Pascal was educated at home and his father encouraged his early interest in mathematics.

'Every morning Blaise's father spent time with his children's lessons. But what lessons! They were different from the meaningless repetitions of facts founding the schoolbooks. Blaise's father wanted to teach his children to think. His own experience had taught him that schools often attempted to fill a pupil's heads full of facts instead of allowing the pupil to find the truth for himself. Thus, Blaise's father had decided to leave his successful job....and devote himself to science and the instruction of his children.'

Pascal laid the groundwork for Analytic Geometry; he made the first digital calculator, developed a theory of mathematical probability and wrote an enduring defence of the Christian faith which has been read for over three hundred years.

Today his name is used for a programming language, Pascal, and his work on probability was a precursor for development in areas such as genetics, statistics and analysis.

The Ocean of Truth: The Story of Sir Isaac Newton by Joyce McPherson

Although Sir Isaac Newton is largely remembered in relation to his theories of motion and gravitation, he was also a mathematician, a natural philosopher and a theologian. Along with another scientist, Gottfried Leibniz, he is credited with the development of Calculus. As with McPherson's other books, she brings these famous people to life without neglecting their faith and the role it played in their lives and work.

How We Found Out About Numbers by Isaac Asimov

In this book Asimov traces the discovery of numbers in an engaging narrative. I've used his non-fiction books with different ages and my children have enjoyed them. This one is suited to around age 9 years and up. It's a short read of 54 pages but covers quite a lot of ground.

Mathematics: Is God Silent? by James Nickel

Now I haven't read this, but it comes highly recommended by my husband. Years ago we heard the author speak at a Home Ed conference and my husband, who loves maths and thinks Calculus is fun, (??) really enjoyed what he had to say, so bought his book. Our older children read it when they had done some highschool level maths and I would like to read it at some stage...

Annie Kate has a review of this book here and there is another at The Imaginative Conservative.

Friday 13 May 2016

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque (1898-1970)

Where do I start?  Where do I begin with my thoughts on this grim, harrowing, exquisitely written novel of World War I?

This is my third encounter with this story. The first was in my late teens; the second about fifteen years ago. The book made a deep impression on me when I read it previously, but even so, I wasn't prepared for the strong emotional impact it had the third time around. 
An outline of the story doesn't do the book justice. Quotes are difficult to extricate without losing the flow of the passages. You really need to read this compelling work of literature to understand its power.

Although All Quiet on the Western Front is not a memoir, the author drew on his own first-hand experience of the First World War. Erich Maria Remarque (formally Erich Paul Remark) was born in Northern Germany in 1898. He was sixteen when World War I started in 1914. He was called up for military service in late 1916, and sent to the front in mid 1917. Wounded by shell fragments during the offensive in Flanders, he was evacuated to a military hospital and worked there as a clerk for some time afterwards. The war ended before he saw further action.

This book is intended neither as an accusation nor as a confession , but simply as an attempt to give an account of a generation that was destroyed by the war - even those of it who survived the shelling.

All Quiet on the Western Front was first published in Germany in 1929 under the title 'Im Westen nichts Neues.' Its literal translation is 'Nothing New on the Western Front,' and it is the first person account of a nineteen year old soldier, Paul Bäumer.
At the age of eighteen, Paul and six of his school companions were marched down to the local recruiting office by their schoolmaster, Kantorek, to enlist.

...there were thousands of Kantoreks, all of them convinced that they were acting for the best, in the way that was the most comfortable for themselves.

But as far as we are concerned, that is the very root of their moral bankruptcy.

...We were forced to recognise that our generation was more honourable than theirs; they only had the advantage of us in phrase-making and cleverness.

I found an audio version of the book narrated by an Englishman with a distinct English colloquial accent. It annoyed me at first and I almost decided to stop listening as it didn't seem authentic. But as I got further into the story, I realised that if you just changed the names, the soldier could have been German, English, Russian, Croatian...French. It was irrelevant for the most part, although there were some aspects that related mainly to German soldiers (e.g. the rations they received were much inferior than those supplied to the English).

Listening to someone else tell the story this time around allowed me a different view that I didn't get previously. It is a universal story that could have been told by any number of young men caught up in the insanity of war.
When I read the book years ago, I didn't have four boys who were similar in age to many of the unfortunate youths who were conscripted into the army, therefore some of the most emotionally moving scenes for me were those between Paul and his Mother:

Paul  goes home on leave. His sister hears him and leans over the stairwell:

'Paul - ' she shouts, 'Paul - '
I nod, my pack bangs against the banisters, my rifle is so heavy.
She throws the door open and shouts, 'Mother, Mother, it's Paul -'
I lean against the wall and grip my helmet and my rifle. I grip them as hard as I can, but I can't move another step, the staircase blurs before my eyes, I thump my rifle-butt against my foot and grit my teeth in anger, but I am powerless against that one word that my sister had just spoken, nothing has any power against it. I try with all my might to force myself to laugh and to speak, but I can't manage a single word, and so I stand there on the stairs, wretched and helpless, horribly paralysed and I can't help it, and tears and more tears are running down my face.

Paul's mother has been ill for months. The doctors say she probably has cancer. On his last night at home she comes into his room and sits there, often bent double with pain, until it is nearly morning. Paul makes out he is asleep but in the end he can't take it any longer and pretends to wake up.

...she asks softly, 'Are you very frightened?'
'No, Mother.'
'I wanted to say something else to you. Be careful of those French women. They're no good, those women out there.'

Oh Mother, Mother, to you I'm still a child - why can't I just put my head in your lap and cry? Why do I always have to be the stronger and calmer one, I'd like to be able to weep for once and be comforted, and anyway, I'm really not much more than a child - the short trousers I wore as a boy are still hanging in the wardrobe. It was such a little while ago, why did it pass?

'I shall pray for you every day, Paul.'

Oh Mother, Mother! Why can't we get up and go away from here, back through the years, until all his misery has vanished from us, back to when it was just you and me, Mother?

'You really mustn't send me your rations, Mother. We get enough to eat out there. You need it more here.'
How wretched she looks...this woman who loves me more than anything in the world...
Oh Mother, Mother, it is quite incomprehensible that I have to leave you! Who has more right to have me here than you?
...there are so many things we should say to each other, but we shall never be able to.

Remarque's writing is realistic in describing the war and the common soldier's lot, but it is interspersed with complex thoughts and ideas. The loss of dignity, terror, hopelessness, the tenuous hold on life - there is so much in this book. It has relevance for every generation and has the power to speak into our modern conflicts.
All Quiet on the Western Front is said to be the greatest novel written about the First World War, which doesn't surprise me. The fact that it was written by a man who was on the 'other side' also makes it quite unique.
The Nazis burned Remarque's novel when they came to power in 1933. It was seen as 'degenerate,' and a betrayal of the German military.

The factory owners in Germany have grown rich, while dysentery racks our guts.

The months drag on. This summer if 1918 is the bloodiest and the hardest...Everyone knows that we are losing the war. Nobody talks about it much. We are retreating. We won't be able to attack again after this massive offensive. We have no more men and no more ammunition.

Remarque moved to Switzerland a day before Adolf Hitler became chancellor and in 1938 was stripped of his German citizenship by the Nazis.
Later, his sister was tried for making anti-Nazi and 'defeatist' comments. She was convicted, sentenced to death and beheaded in 1943.

In 1942, George Orwell wrote:

The picture of war set forth in books like All Quiet on the Western Front is substantially true. Bullets hurt, corpses stink, men under fire are often so frightened that they wet their trousers. It is true that the social background from which an army springs will colour its training, tactics and general efficiency, and also that the consciousness of being in the right can bolster up morale, though this affects the civilian population more than the troops. (People forget that a soldier anywhere near the front line is usually too hungry, or frightened, or cold, or, above all, too tired to bother about the political origins of the war.)

Linking this to Back to the Classics 2016 - Re-Read a Classic From School or College,  Reading Europe and Keeping Company

Tuesday 3 May 2016

Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition by Karen Glass

Consider This has helped to fill in the gaps in my understanding of Classical Education and to affirm my own 'discoveries' in implementing a Charlotte Mason education. There are ideas on both sides that seem to be in total agreement on the one hand, or diametrically opposed on the other, and this has confused me at times. In recent years the Circe Institute has been instrumental in helping me to better understand classical education and now Consider This, in exploring the roots of Charlotte Mason's ideas, has provided a link between the two approaches.

Glass starts out with the question, 'What is the Classical Tradition?' before looking at whether or not Charlotte Mason has a place in it. She explains that we cannot fully understand classical education by looking only at what they did in the past. We must discover why they did it. We must understand the principles behind their teaching in order to make it serve us today.
Virtue was the goal of a classical education and all areas of education were brought into service to this end. The guiding motivation for classical educators was that right thinking would lead to right acting.
Glass discusses the "classical ideal" - the pursuit of virtue, humility, and synthetic thinking (poetic knowledge) that motivates to right action. Ancient thinkers believed that the universe was orderly and understandable, and that all knowledge was interconnected. Charlotte Mason's insistence that 'education is the science of relationships' is consistent with this classical understanding of the world.

In a brief overview of Charlotte Mason's background and life, Glass shows that Charlotte Mason read widely, but with discernment, and gleaned ideas from the classical world because they represented universal truths about education:

Her ability to see the "big picture" and draw out common principles from various philosophies was her particular genius.


* Humility is Necessary to Education - pride of knowledge closes the door to further instruction. Humility keeps us teachable. It is an intellectual virtue as well as a spiritual virtue. At the time I was reading these thoughts on humility, I came across John Ruskin's observation on Lilias Trotter related in the book, A Passion for the Impossible:

...she had a teachable spirit, that mark of humility often missing in the very talented. "Not seeing or feeling the power that is in you is one of the most sure and precious signs of it," he writes, "and that tractability is another. All second-rate people, however strong, are self-conscious and obstinate."

* In Chapter 5, Finding the Forest amid the Trees, the synthetic and analytic methods of learning are explored. Synthesis is the word Charlotte Mason used to describe what many of us would know as poetic knowledge. (I've also heard this described as 'analogical.')

Poetic experience indicates an encounter with reality that is nonanalytical, something that is perceived as beautiful, awful (awe-full), spontaneous, mysterious… Poetic knowledge is a spontaneous act of the external and internal senses with the intellect, integrated and whole, rather than an act associated with the powers of analytic reasoning… It is, we might say, knowledge from the inside out..

The Civilized Reader

Analysis should not be our primary approach to knowledge, especially in the early years. Augustine called education the "ordering of the affections," - every object is accorded that kind of degree of love appropriate to it (C.S.Lewis). Synthetic knowledge speaks to the heart, the seat of the affections, and not just the intellect.

*  The synthetic process of narration lays a firm foundation for analytical thinking later. Modern education jumps into the analytical, examining the parts, before it has experienced the whole.

Once the unity of all knowledge is comprehended and many relationships formed, we are able to employ analytical thinking without harming those relationships.

* Grammar, logic, and rhetoric are not subjects to be studied but arts to be practiced and refined in the process of reading, narrating, and writing (synthetic learning). It is possible to learn both grammar and rhetoric through exposure to correct speech and eloquent writers and speakers i.e. the classical practice of mimesis or "imitation."

*  The concept of the trivium as stages of child development can be found only in materials written within the last few decades, but the trivium, properly understood, is applied in every teaching moment at every stage of our learning and growth.

Consider This, besides being an encouraging read for those using a Charlotte Mason approach, is a valuable addition to anyone interested in a classical model of education. For those who think that Charlotte Mason works well in the younger years but isn't suitable for older students, or that your child doesn't have the intellect for a classical education, this book will be a breath of fresh air. If  home education has lost its joy and you feel you're in a 'classical grind,' Consider This just might be the tonic you need.