Wednesday 29 March 2017

Education - an Act of Faith

'Education, like faith, is the evidence of things not seen...' so Charlotte Mason said.
Educating my own children has been an act of faith in many ways. Sometimes you just have to be patient and wait for the fruit of what you're doing to show itself. Education requires discipline, time, energy and perseverance. It's not an overnight venture. Sometimes I need to remind myself to:

 '...stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.'

1 Corinthians 15:58

With the above in mind, here are some of the areas I've been seeing fruit in and where education is something my daughter is pursuing of her own accord: 

The Discipline of Regular Drawing Practice

Nature notebook - this is now a regular & self-initiated habit after many years of having it as part of our weekly schedule:

Our current read-aloud (some editing required) - Natural History from the point of view of a ten year old boy living on the island of Corfu just prior to the second world war and a peek into a living education - we're enjoying this so much!

'With the summer came Peter to tutor me, a tall, handsome young man fresh from Oxford, with decided ideas on education which I found rather trying to begin with. But gradually the atmosphere of the island worked its way insidiously under his skin, and he relaxed and became quite human. At first the lessons were painful to an extreme: interminable wrestling with fractions and percentages, geological strata and warm currents, nouns, verbs, and adverbs. But, as the sunshine worked its magic on Peter, the fractions and percentages no longer seemed to him an overwhelmingly important part of life and they were gradually pushed more and more into the background; he discovered that the intricacies of geological strata and the effects of warm currents could be explained much more easily while swimming along the coast, while the simplest way of teaching me English was to allow me to write something each day that he would correct...'

Gerald Durrell

Last week we had exams for Year 6, Term 2. I asked Moozle to write a poetic narration about 
Antony & Cleopatra:

On a roll with her drawing of roses

 Weather report, with some artistic license

Handiwork - scrapbooking has been all the rage. This is something all my girls have enjoyed but I prefer working with fabric and haven't shared their activities in this area. Fortunately, they have an Aunty who enjoys scrapbooking and when Moozle started showing a interest in scrapbooking as her older sisters had done, Her Aunty started paying her in scrapbooking paper to wash her car.
This week Moozle had her first 'consignment.' A lady at church asked her to make up an assortment of gift cards, which she paid for and then said that she would act as her 'agent' and drum up some business. Moozle is excited because now she can go out and buy more supplies!

A couple of tags she whipped up this afternoon

"I'd like to add some beauty to life," said Anne dreamily. "I don't exactly want to make people know more...though I know that is the noblest ambition...but I'd love to make them have a pleasanter time because of have some little joy or happy thought that would never had existed if I hadn't been born."

Lucy Maud Montgomery

Listening to this when we're driving

Moozle's free reading

 The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie - this is the first book in the Tommy and Tuppence series, which I let my children read when they are about 12 years of age. (Free online here) I leave Christie's other books for a later stage but this series is fun and a good introduction to the crime novel. Partners in Crime is another in the series she's been reading.

*  Children learn from real things in the real world

*  We train a child to have good habits and self-control

*  The mind needs ideas of all kinds, so the child's curriculum should be varied and generous with    
    many subjects included.

Wednesday 22 March 2017

Classic Children's Literature Event

This event is in its fifth year and this is the third year I've participated in it. It's only a month long and there is also an optional read along - Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. See Simpler Pastimes for more information.
This year I'm planning to read these books:

My Friend Flicka by Mary O'Hara (1941)

Devil's Hill by Nan Chauncy (1958)

And if time permits, maybe one or two others.

Wednesday 15 March 2017

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin - 'a study of the Machine, the genie that man has thoughtlessly let out of its bottle and cannot put back again.'

Dystopian or anti-Utopian literature is a genre that has always interested me. I can't really describe this type of reading as enjoyable but I'm attracted by the ideas and thoughts suggested by these types of books and the implications there might be for today's society.
We by Yevgeny Zamyatin was completed in 1920-21 before Stalin's rise to power so it was quite prophetic for the time but it also feels prophetic nearly a hundred years later with its themes of a technological and utilitarian world.
We is written in a first person narrative and is fragmented and oblique in places because of this. It wasn't until I was about three quarters of the way into the book that I really began to connect with the story and I think that was largely due to this intentional device the author used. It suited the overall theme of the story but it wasn't an easy read.

I'm not going to attempt to 'review' this book as I don't think I'd do it justice, but I'd like to focus on some of Zamyatin's ideas that stood out to me as relevant to our present culture.

A quick, very basic outline of the story:

It is the twenty-sixth century A.D. Many years ago, there was a two-hundred year war between the City and the Country and only a fraction of the world's population was left alive. Since the war, OneState, ruled by the Benefactor, and overseen by the Guardians, has vanquished Hunger and Love, the previous rulers of the world, and established a regimentation of mankind where everything is mathematically precise, each citizen functioning like a machine.

D-503 is the narrator of We. He is a mathematician and the builder of the INTEGRAL, a technologically advanced space ship that OneState is going to use to spawn the perfect society through the rest of the solar system.
Through D-503 we are introduced to the citizens of OneState (identified only by Numbers) and their collective society as he documents his thoughts in a diary. D-503 becomes infatuated by I-330, a leader of the Mephi, an underground group of revolutionaries. This messes with his rational, precise mind and he becomes sick. In fact, according to the doctor, he seems to be developing a soul:

"You're in bad shape. It looks like you're developing a soul."

A soul? That strange, ancient, long-forgotten word. 

We sometimes used expressions like "soul-mate," "body and soul," "soul-destroying," and so on, but soul...

"That's...very dangerous," I murmured.

The Mephi have plans to get control of the INTEGRAL. A revolution is brewing and D-503 is instrumental in allowing them to achieve their aim.

Some ideas expressed in the book:

A rigidly controlled society
Conformity - the victory of all over one, of the whole over the part
The individual personality is subjugated to the collective
The mathematical precision of life in a controlled environment
The regimentation of mankind

 ...the Table of Hours - it turns each one if us right there in broad daylight into a steel six-wheeled epic hero. Every morning, with six-wheeled precision, at the very same hour and the very same minute, we get up, millions of us, as though we were one. At the very same hour, millions of us as one, we start work. Later, millions as one, we stop. And then, like one body with a million hands, at one and the same second according to the Table, we lift the spoon to our lips...

Scientific utopia
The Benefactor is all powerful, a god-like being who desires sacrifice
The State was above everything - loved ones, friends, the individual
The total surrender to Technology and Utilitarianism

The mechanism has no imagination.
When you were at work did you ever happen to see a distant, idiotic, dreamy smile spread across the physiognomy of a cylindrical pump? At night, during the hours designated for rest, did you ever happen to hear the cranes toss restlessly and heave sighs?
...But you are not to blame. You are sick. The name of your illness is:

Controlled & selective reproduction
The idea that the natural world is ugly and the technological society is pure

Man ceased to be a wild animal only when he built the first Wall. Man ceased to be a wild man only when we built the Green Wall, only when by means of that Wall, we isolated our perfect machine world from the irrational, ugly world of trees, birds, and animals...

A belief that everything in the past was primitive and absurd
Happiness and freedom are incompatible
Freedom is regarded as 'disorganised wildness'

At the same time as I was reading this book, I'd started reading through Norms & Nobility: A Treatise on Education by David V. Hicks. He observes that:

'The ancients, unlike us, expected science to enhance the their understanding of the material world without particularly helping them to transform it. Their real interest was man, and wherever possible, they tried to turn Science away from matter to man...
Because the ancients regarded man as free...and not as determined by a material universe, there was little reason to turn science and mathematics into tools with which to mold nonliving matter and man's future...
But modern science...would change the world and, if we accept the dominant ideological creeds of the nineteenth century, it would change man...
A fundamentally political ideology dedicated to the reform or the anticipated progress of material conditions uprooted the ancient insistence upon a personal ideal.'

Hicks goes on to say that the modern world has rules of analysis that 'increasingly govern our understanding and appreciation of art, poetry, history, and even religion.'

It is not concerned with what ought to be done, but what can be done.

Taken to its extreme, the end result of this way of thinking is the starting point for D-503's world.

'There are books of the same chemical composition as dynamite. The difference lies only in the fact that one stick of dynamite explodes once, but one book explodes thousands of times.'
Yevgeny Zamyatin

Further reading

George Orwell's review of We

Short biography of Zamyatin - interesting that he was a naval engineer and had a technical  background.

Linking to Russian Literature Challenge, Back to the Classics: Russian Classic and The Classics Club.

Thursday 2 March 2017

Between Midnight and Dawn: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide

Between Midnight and Dawn: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide
is a rich and beautiful resource compiled by Sarah Arthur and published by Paraclete Press in 2016.
This exceptional anthology includes selections from classic and contemporary literature by writers as diverse as Fyodor Dostoevsky, Charles Dickens, G.K. Chesterton, George Eliot, Wendell Berry, Luci Shaw and Frederick Buechner.

The book is divided into twenty-one sections that takes the reader from the beginning of Lent through to the end of the seventh week after Easter.
Each section has a theme and begins with an opening prayer, often taken from classic poetry. A Psalm, suggested Scriptures, five to seven literary readings, and opportunities for reflection are also included. The literary selections and the guide on their own would be a treasure, however, Sarah Arthur also has an introductory section that explains how to engage prayerfully with fiction and poetry using the practice of lectio divina (divine reading). While recognising that literary readings are not the words of Scripture, the basic principles, lectio, meditatio, oration and contemplation can be applied to novels and poetry.
There is also  a 'For Further Reading' section at the end of the book with a list of fiction and poetry for the reader to further explore the themes contained in this compilation.

Lenten sorrow makes way for Easter joy, and nothing - nothing - will quench the dawn.
And its the same shift that happens when the soul, alone in grief or guilt or illness or isolation, finds company in the life-giving words of another. During the midnight hours we shelter our guttering faith, and by its light we read poetry and prose that transcend centuries, hemispheres. Words from poets whose battles with God do not lead to victory but to a kind of grumpy determination. Stories from novelists who have tumbled into the abyss of their own undoing - of everyone's undoing - and found Someone there already, holding the bottom rung of the rescue ladder. Raise your eyes, these voices say. Look to the east. Do you not see it? There. The dawn.

These poets and novelists remind us that the sunrise is undeserved, but here we are. Our battles are ongoing but just skirmishes, really, the last desperate attempts of the losing side to go down fighting. The war itself is over.

A long-time friend of mine was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and is scheduled to have surgery in the coming week. On Ash Wednesday I read this poem in Between Midnight and Dawn and it pierced my heart:

Ash Wednesday by Anna Silver (Anglo-American, contemporary)

How comforting, the smudge on each forehead:
I'm not to be singled out after all
From dust you came. To dust you will return.
My mastectomy, a memento mori, *
prosthesis smooth as a polished skull.
I like the solidarity of this prayer,
the ointment thumbed into my forehead,
my knees pressing hard on the velvet rail.
If God won't give me His body to clutch,
I'll grind this soot into my skin instead.
If I can't hold the flame that burned my breast,
I'll char my brow; I'll blacken my pores; I'll flaunt
with ash this flaw in His creation.

* Latin for a reminder that we will die

I was given a free copy of this book for review purposes and I have given my honest opinion - i.e. I wholeheartedly recommend it!
Sarah Arthur is the author, compiler, or co-author of eleven books and is a graduate of Wheaton College and Duke Divinity School and blogs here.

Paraclete Press have also just launched their e-subscriptions and have other resources for Lent and Easter.