Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Boys! Homeschooling Through High School

When our eldest two were in their mid-teens, I was involved with a Charlotte Mason (CM) email group that had started up with the intent of encouraging families who were using the CM method in their home schools. The question came up about how to know when a student needed to go to school, and there were a number of responses, some of which I totally disagreed with. I didn’t join in with the discussion because none of our children had been through their teen years and come out the other side at that stage and I didn't know anyone else's who had.
Now we are mostly on the other side with six of our seven children graduated after being home educated beginning to end. Four of them are boys, so when I was asked some questions recently about homeschooling boys through high school, I decided to write about our experience.
The questions vary but this comment below conveys the essence of not just what I’ve been asked recently, but also at different times in the past:

“I have come across a lot of discussions on social media and/or blogs about how their boys ended having to be in regular school once they got into high school because CM style or homeschooling wasn't working for them at that age. Some even say it is beneficial for them to take direction from someone other than mom and that their boys thrived in that setting. My boys are 10 and 6, but I wonder if that is something I will have to worry about?”

My Thoughts

I have mixed feelings about this because I have seen situations where a teen may have been better off going to school for different reasons, but it wasn’t always the teen years that were the problem per se. Entering the teen years often amplified the problems that were already there.
I also think much depends on the personalities involved (mother and son).

Most of the homeschooling families we have known sent their children to high school at some point. There were a few reasons for this. Some parents were concerned about how their children would get into university; some were fine through the elementary grades but were not confident about teaching  high school, others didn’t think they could provide a quality education themselves and didn't have any external assistance. In many cases the decision was taken because of conflict in the mother/child relationship.

The homeschooling situation in Australia is very different to that of the USA, and although it has become more visible in the past five to ten years, it’s not yet a mainstream choice. School students go through the Higher School Certificate (HSC) in years 11 & 12 in order to obtain the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) which is the primary criteria for university entrance. However, this isn’t an option for students taught at home and they need to find another way. In the past this has been an obstacle to many parents, and it was a significant challenge & learning curve for us the first time around, but in the last couple of years alternative pathways to university have been increasingly easier to access.

My intention here isn’t to bag those parents who decide their child needs to go to school for the later years. I know families who made the decision with heavy hearts due to difficult circumstances and I have a close friend who made the commitment to teach her only child for the elementary years, knowing that it wouldn’t be an option for high school. This decision came at a cost for my friend and I applaud her and acknowledge that both decisions were wise ones.

My aim is to encourage those who have the desire to continue homeschooling through the high school years, believe it’s the best decision for their family, but are worried about the unknown. It is also to point out some pitfalls or areas of potential difficulty so that they don't come upon you by surprise.

As the questions I’ve been asked came from mothers who mostly follow the Charlotte Mason/Classical method of education, I think it’s a good idea to start with some comments Mason  herself made about boys and school in A Philosophy of Education.

Now a fact not generally recognised is that offences of the kind which most distress parents and teachers are bred in the mind and in an empty mind at that.
That is why parents, who endeavour to save their sons from the corruption of the Public School by having them taught at home, are apt to miss their mark. The abundant leisure afforded by home teaching offers that empty chamber swept and garnished which invites sins that can be committed in thought and in solitude. 

A Philosophy of Education (pg 188-189)

Charlotte Mason makes an important point about too much leisure and it’s something to keep in mind if we are teaching our boys at home so that we offer sufficient mind food and physical work.
One of the temptations we face at home is to avoid conflict by allowing boys to slacken off academically. It’s much easier to take everyone to the park, let them run around and comfort ourselves with the knowledge that they need to burn off some enegy. Of course physical activity is necessary, but there needs to be a balance of both or we are doing our sons a disservice.
I think it safe to say that Public Schools in Mason’s time, while they were by no means perfect, didn’t have the extent of problems we see today. They didn’t have access to drugs, pornography, the internet and mobile phones. The prevailing culture was contained within parameters that ours has overstepped. Christian schools often have to contend with the same issues.

We’ve had a lot of opportunity to see the results of the education system via friends’ children who attended Christian & public schools. I don’t think their parents had an easier time than we did. Their children had opportunities that ours didn’t but the opposite is true also. They were not immune to problems and conflict because they were away from home all day.
Raising children is hard work and sending a child to school is swapping one set of circumstances for another, each with their pros and cons.

Our schools err, too, in not giving anything like enough work of the kind that from its absorbing interest compels reflection and tends to secure a mind continually and wholesomely occupied.

This is something that concerns me about the school system. A friend’s 15 year old son had to write a composition on ‘my life as a carrot.’ Absorbing? Compelling? Interesting? Not unless he wanted to go into agriculture, perhaps.
Another concern is the increasing propensity to add the latest politically correct agenda to the curriculum. I’ve lost count of the number of times I hear, ‘people need to be educated about this...’ during a current affairs programme or a news report. From substance abuse to applying sunscreen - ‘schools need to teach this.'  But what about the time taken from other areas of study?

Supply a boy with abundant mental pabulum, not in the way of desultory reading, (that is a sort of idleness which leads to mischief), but in the way of matter to be definitely known, give him much and sound food for his imagination, speculation, aspiration, and you have a wholesome-minded youth to whom work is a joy and games (sport) not a strain but a healthy relaxation and pleasure.

'Much sound food...' This is a challenge for us as home educators, but I’m not convinced that schools necessarily supply boys with what they need in this department either.

As the homeschooling movement has grown, so have the options for external support. Online courses, tutoring, correspondence studies, DVD material, and other assistance are options that can help lift the load from our shoulders. Even here in Australia, the options have mushroomed in recent years, although we still look with envy at what’s available to home educators in places like the USA where the homeschooling movement has gained wide acceptance.
Personally, when I think back on the times I had difficulties with my boys, sending them off to school would have been giving the problem over to another person to try to sort out. It would have been out of sight, out of mind, but not dealt with. Plus, some of the best conversations I’ve had with my boys wouldn't have happened if they'd been at school all day, and the more important topics often arose after we'd wrestled with differences of opinions.

Some questions we need to answer are:

Why did we decide to homeschool in the first place?
What has changed since then?
What alternatives do we have that could help our situation?

For many of us, there are not a great number of options in the choice of schools or if there are, they are unaffordable.
For those specifically identifying as CM educators who don’t think their son is challenged sufficiently, I would ask whether you are really following her methods or if you have been practising an adaptation. Have you read A Philosophy of Education? This was a game changer for me. I used to regularly hear that a CM Education wasn’t rigorous enough for highschool but it came from those who really weren’t familiar with what a real CM education involved. It is challenging and full - and it certainly isn’t a tea party.
Too many boys are allowed to have ‘empty minds.’ Whether or not a boy is academically inclined or wants to be a plumber or a concretor, he needs to have his mind filled with ideas.

Sometimes when we are homeschooling a few children, we can focus more on the younger ones and leave the teens to work independently without much input from us. It’s easy then to forget you haven’t gone over their maths or read their composition. They become slack in their work because they know we’re not checking up on them. By the time you get around to doing it, the mole hill has become a mountain and bad habits have become ingrained.

How we managed:

Prayer! - no one else is really qualified to decide whether you should or shouldn't homeschool your son through high school. Listening to advice is wise and may save you from making some bad decisions but it's not a substitute for talking to God about what you should do. As mothers, most of us tend to be vulnerable concerning the opinion of others. As much as I enjoy community and being a part of discussion groups/forums, there is a drawback to them at times if we're not careful. We can be more impressed by the opinions and advice of others and neglect to find out what God has to say.

• At the risk of sounding totalitarian!! I am amazed by the number of parents who decide that because their child expressed the desire to go to school, they let them make the decision to go. That was never an option in our home. In the same way, we never said that we’d take homeschooling year by year. We made a decision to homeschool just as we have decided where we will live and what church we will attend and that was that. Of course we know that there are circumstances in life that can alter our decisions about anything, but we didn’t plan our lives with that thought in the background. We just decided that it would be unsettling to think that way.

Accountability - there were a few years when I needed to be able to call my husband during the day so he could talk to one boy in particular. He would listen to my emotional dump and then talk to the boy concerned very calmly and matter-of-factly, reminding him of what was required. My son would get off the phone, knowing that he would be answerable to Dad if he made life difficult for me and that was usually enough. My husband did spend quite a bit of time travelling interstate and overseas at that time and it’s interesting that I rarely had issues when he was away. He used to have a talk to the boys and tell them to look after Mum and the girls while he was gone and they stepped up to that.

• Our 4 eldest were able to work one whole day a week from about the age of fifteen in a pharmacy warehouse their Aunty managed. It was a good experience; they worked with a wide variety of ages and people from diverse cultures; enjoyed earning some money of their own and it helped me to have some more focussed time with the younger ones. Two of our boys have taught music both in schools and at home & were able to experience the difficulties of trying to teach children who were unmotivated or just belligerent & I think it helped them mature in their own attitudes towards being taught.

Physical activity in the form of exercise or hard work are non-negotiable. We didn’t do a lot of organised sport but the boys were active & had to help out around the house, chopping wood, chainsawing, & gardening.

Hobbies & interests - how often do you hear of men who are totally lost when they retire? All their lives have been taken up with work and no time has been invested in hobbies and interests pursued just for pleasure. Playing an instrument, stamp & coin collections, sound production, chess, cooking, woodwork, soccer & home maintenance are some areas that worked for us.

Service - I’ve mentioned this in some other posts but it is such an important aspect for children to learn. Doing something without an immediate reward, behind the scenes; a bit of hard physical work - this helps to make a man.

Growing their gifts - years ago I read a verse in 1 Chronicles, chapter 25 and took it to heart: ‘...all of them, trained and skilled in music for the Lord.’ I felt this was a specific word for our children but we had to be intentional about making a way for it to happen. We’ve spent many, many hours taking them to music lessons, supervising practice, orchestra rehearsals, church music practices, as well as lots of money on instruments and lessons. This was something we made time for each day. It helped to discipline them, fill their minds and souls with beauty and give them an avenue to bless others. We know some other large homeschooling families who have done this and I know that the nature of homeschooling has allowed music to flourish in our homes. If this was the only benefit we had for homeschooling during the high school years it would have been worth doing for this alone.

• When our eldest boy was about fifteen, my husband and three other dads organised a father and sons’ group which went for a few years. They met monthly and each of the dads shared their expertise and taught the boys engine repairs, first aid, bird watching, debating, and a whole lot of other things. They also went on camping trips and bush walks. It was a significant commitment for all those busy dads but it took some of the pressure off our roles as homeschooling mothers and filled in some gaps that were difficult for us as mothers to address.

Teaching respect - my boys all went through a season where they gloried in their sense of humour. This was a bit of fun but sometimes they’d joke and it bordered on being disrespectful. This was a good teaching moment as I’d point out to them that what they’d just said was discourteous. They were always surprised when I said this. They hadn’t developed any filters with their humour and were more focussed on how clever their comments were without thinking whether they were appropriate or not. I have a very acute memory of doing the same thing when I was about sixteen and being so shocked when my mother took me to task about it after our visitors had left.

Taking directions from others - part-time work, being part of a team, external courses are some ways this can happen. When boy number one was about fifteen, he was quite difficult, liked to argue the point about everything, and could run circles around me mentally. It was a very busy time of life for me and I had a younger son who needed lots of one on one teaching. My husband suggested our fifteen year old do correspondence school for a year. I reluctantly agreed. We used the ACE curriculum which was so very different to the type of education he’d been accustomed to and I thought he’d hate it. He did, but it gave me a breather for about nine months as he had to work independently, correct his own work and send it in to be checked and recorded by the supervisor. He couldn’t argue that his maths and chemistry answers were correct and the teachers manual must be wrong etc. which was a large part of the conflict in teaching him. He whizzed through the year’s work quickly and was more than happy to go back to what we were doing at the end of it. I have some good memories of his high school years but the 14 to 17 years age span was hard going. However, definitely no regrets. When he was going to university he told me that homeschooling had been good preparation for doing a degree because I made him work & when you are at uni, you need to be self-motivated.

Boys can be late bloomers and they may not blossom academically until they are in their mid to late teens. I panicked a little with one of our boys who was in this category. He was also a late bloomer physically and didn't really hit his stride until he was nearly seventeen. We had no idea what he would eventually do and I was so thankful that we could give him a wide curriculum and hadn't narrowed down his work as it kept his options open. Home education with a Charlotte Mason approach is ideal in this situation.

I've covered some areas related to homeschooling teenagers & motherhood generally in this post:
Ten Things to Make Time For.

This is the other boy in our household. He has a bad attitude at times and tends to be moody. Now that he's older he has matured somewhat and isn't so aggressive. This could be because he is lazy and can't be bothered making the effort, but I'll be gracious and give him the benefit of the doubt. He is, however, quite unteachable and this makes for tension between the two of us.

Saturday, 16 December 2017

Back to the Classics Challenge 2017 Wrap-up Post

Back to the Classics 2017

1.  A 19th Century Classic - any book published between 1800 and 1899.

Home Education by Charlotte Mason (1866)

2.  A 20th Century Classic - any book published between 1900 and 1967.

The Keys of the Kingdom by A.J. Cronin (1941)

3.  A classic by a woman author

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (1926)

4.  A classic in translation.  Any book originally written published in a language other than your native language. 

Cancer Ward by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn (1966)

5.  A classic published before 1800. Plays and epic poems are acceptable in this category also.

The Tragedy of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare ( 1599)

A romance classic. I'm pretty flexible here about the definition of romance. It can have a happy ending or a sad ending, as long as there is a strong romantic element to the plot.

My Love Must Wait  by Ernestine Hill (1941)

7.  A Gothic or horror classic. For a good definition of what makes a book Gothic, and an excellent list of possible reads, please see this list on Goodreads

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818, 1831)

8.  A classic with a number in the title. Examples include A Tale of Two Cities, Three Men in a Boat, The Nine Tailors, Henry V, Fahrenheit 451, etc.

The House of the Four Winds by John Buchan (1935)

9.  A classic about an animal or which includes the name of an animal in the title.  It an actual animal or a metaphor, or just the name. Examples include To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, The Metamorphosis, White Fang, etc. 

 My Family & Other Animals by Gerald Durrell (1956)


10. A classic set in a place you'd like to visit. It can be real or imaginary: The Wizard of Oz, Down and Out in Paris and London, Death on the Nile, etc.

The Small Woman by Alan Burgess (1957) - set in China

11. An award-winning classic. It could be the Newbery award, the Prix Goncourt, the Pulitzer Prize, the James Tait Award, etc. Any award, just mention in your blog post what award your choice received.

The Forgotten Daughter by Caroline Dale Snedeker (1933) Newbery medal

12. A Russian Classic. 2017 will be the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, so read a classic by any Russian author. 

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (1924)

Linking to Final Wrap-up at Books & Chocolate


Friday, 15 December 2017

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1797-1851)

My Initial Impression:

The Preface and the first few chapters of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley seemed quite promising but the story just went pear-shaped after that. What a miserable novel, full of rambling prose, implausible situations and occurrences, but after reading some biographical information on the author, it isn’t surprising. She made some lousy life decisions, went through some serious traumas, and the book is a mirror of her ravaged personality, her own personal nightmare.
A book that deserves pride of place on my list of least-liked books!

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley was first published in 1818 when the author was twenty-one years of age, and was subtitled, The Modern Prometheus. It was revised in 1831 and her husband, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, made some changes so he may be to blame for the rambling, florid writing. It is found on many high school reading lists, is included in a wide range of school curriculum, and is regarded as the classic horror novel. It is an epistolary novel related three different narrators and has sometimes been called the first science fiction novel.

A short synopsis:

The first narrator, R. Walton, is on a voyage of discovery in the Arctic Circle and he writes to his sister telling her about a man he takes onboard his ship after finding him on a sledge with one dog, adrift on a large fragment of ice.
The second narrator is the rescued man, a scientist by the name of Victor Frankenstein, who recounts his story to Walton in an effort to warn him of the dangers of acquiring knowledge at any cost.
Frankenstein relates the process by which he discovers how to animate lifeless matter and his assembling of a patchwork of cadaver parts, of larger than life proportions, that he brings to life - his unnamed Monster.
Then, duh! He is horrified - as if he hadn’t seen how this creature would turn out - and rejects his ‘child.’
The Monster disappears and later we hear his side of the story:
Basically, ‘I was born good, and because I was cruelly rejected, and everyone hated me, I turned out bad.’
Monster begins to take revenge on Frankenstein by knocking off his loved ones over a period of time.
He gives Frankenstein an ultimatum:

'I am alone and miserable; man will not associate with me; but one as deformed and horrible as myself would not deny herself to me. My companion must be of the same species, and have the same defects. This being you must create.'

Frankenstein feels he has no choice but to comply but then changes his mind, provoking the Monster to more works of revenge. His creator then decides to return the vengeance and goes off in search of the Monster in order to kill him. This brings us back to the beginning of the narrative where Walton finds him.
I don’t know whether Shelley wanted us to sympathise with Victor Frankenstein, but he was a coward in many respects and ultimately a villain. The monster was portrayed in an aspect that stemmed from the teachings of Rousseau and I think we’re meant to feel that he was hard done by.

Harold Bloom said that:

'...all Romantic horrors are diseases of excessive consciousness, of the self unable to bear the self.'

Anyhow, I’ve read it, but unlike some other classics, I don’t know that I’d bother re-reading it.

I did like this reference to Plutarch by the Monster:

'The volume of Plutarch's Lives, which I possessed, contained the histories of the first founders of the ancient republics...I learned from Werter's imaginations despondency and gloom: but Plutarch taught me high thoughts; he elevated meabove the wretched sphere of my own reflections to admire and love the heroes of past ages...I read of men concerned in public affairs, governing or massacring their species. I felt the greatest ardor for virtue rise with me, and abhorrence for vice...'

Linking to Back to the Classics 2017: Gothic or Horror Classic

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

December Doings, Domestics, Catch Up, Wrap-Up & Random

* Christmas in a box? He thinks he's a Christmas decoration.

* It's heating up here where we are. It's a very different scene in the Northern Hemisphere and I enjoyed seeing Heather's lovely photography & thoughts on her Canadian scenery at this time of year.

* For the past couple of months we've been listening to 'Walking on Air,' the music written by Howard Blake in 1982 to accompany the animated movie of The Snowman by Raymond Briggs, a wordless storybook. It's an exquisite piece of music that the orchestra Moozle is involved with had  been working on for their end of year concert. The animated movie is on YouTube & Karen Andreola writes about the book here.

* Breaking news this week: Zana (our third child and second daughter) & her young man announced their engagement. The wedding will be in September next year. I hate shopping for clothes & I already have two dresses I bought for her older sister & brother's weddings so I asked if I could wear a dress I already had. Can you tell I'm a Scot?

* Benj has finished his first year of a Liberal Arts degree and had his exam results this week. He did well in everything but his highest score was for Philosophy, where he earned a High Distinction. He says it's logical and similar to mathematics, and that's his bent.
He's taking next year off to work full-time because he's tired of being poor & would like to buy a car. A position opened up for him working with a fantastic not-for-profit organisation that provides programs to adults living with disabilities: Visual Arts, Performing Arts, and Creative Life Skills. His other job is as a swimming instructor and he commented the other day that the two areas are beginning to overlap. When the manager of the pool where he works heard that he was working with adults with disabilites/special needs, she put one of the swimming students, a young boy with Down's Syndrome, into Benj's class.

* Hoggy has finished his Diploma of  Electrical Engineering Technology and is working fulltime in the Fire & Security industry. It's interesting & diverse work, the only negative being the work commute. However, he has jobs all over Sydney and sometimes interstate, so he doesn't alway have to drive the hour and a half to the main office each day. He bought himself a motor bike, a 500cc and is working towards getting his licence. Sydney isn't the greatest place to ride a bike, but he's been sensible & avoids heavy traffic & I pray lots.

* Nougat is in his final year of his plumbing apprenticeship and he and Hoggy have been working on Herbie, the beast below. We're having a family camping trip early next year and they've been setting up solar panels, water tanks, fridge & other bits and pieces. Just hope the old boy can hold himself together - we're relying on all the stuff they're bringing along:

* The Mum Heart Conference audios from June 2017 have been released. The theme for the conference was John 15 - 'Abiding in the Vine.' I spoke on 'fruit that will last,' - being faithful, putting down roots & trusting God in the journey. I so enjoyed the Conference & the other speakers & the unplanned dove-tailing that occurred between us in the content of our individual talks. It was a great weekend!

* A couple of months ago I started leading a small Bible study for young women who are fairly new Christians. Most of them are Chinese whose first language is Mandarin and they have only been in Australia a couple of years so although they speak and understand English to get by, I have a friend most weeks to interpret & explain idioms, figures of speech etc. I've been so touched by these women. Mostly atheists by background, they are so keen to learn how to live in a way that honours the Lord and to teach their children this also. We started with the book of Philippians and are now going through James.
They have some unique difficulties. Their children are picking up the language so much faster and are reluctant to speak Mandarin at home and the parents are frustrated because they don't have the same grasp of English that their children have. The parents also struggle to know what their children are being taught at school and the recent conlict in Australia over so-called Safe Schools has added to their concerns. I gave them some easy children's Bibles in English (The Beginner's Bible was one) for them to read to their children but there doesn't seem to be much else available. There's a business/ministry opportunity here for someone who would print some easy books with Mandarin on one page and English on the opposite page.

* My husband's Grandma is 97 years of age and up until recently she was an avid knitter. I've been going through all the clothes she knitted for our children when they were babies and washing them for my new Granddaughter. They were knitted with pure wool and I was so disappointed to find some had rust-like marks on them so I got out my 1948 Home Science manuals I found at an op shop ages ago to see what I could do:

I first used Napisan (not mentioned in the above book but I've used it for delicates in the past) in fairly hot water, soaking them with the timer on & making sure the water didn't get cold. After rinsing, I used a solution of Hydrogen peroxide & did basically the same thing. I don't have any before & after photos but the marks are all but gone.

This is one of the articles, part of a set knitted about 25 years ago which includes a dress and a matching coat. I had the knitted garment in a pillow case with some mothballs in an outer bag and then I put them in another bag but I think some moisture got in and that, I think, was the cause of the rust stains. I gave the other articles to my daughter before I thought of taking a photo:

* Reading: I'm on to my last book in the Back to the Classics Challenge 2017 & I'll be posting about that and other challenges and books read later, but this week I picked up a book I forgot I had, The True Woman by Susan Hunt and it's been a refreshing read. I've read another book by the author, Spiritual Mothering, and can highly recommend both. Life Under Compulsion by Antony Esolen and Norms & Nobility are my slow reads - there's so much to chew on and digest and I'll be continuing with them well into 2018.

* Current Events - I usually post these on my FB page but here's one I thought would be good to share again:

Is it Really the Christian Way? Yes, Actually, it is.
That’s no longer the case.

 * Look what I found on one of our local streets when I was out for a walk - a Street Library.
Have you seen one in your neighbourhood?

Sunday, 10 December 2017

The Tragedy of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare (1599)

Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar, is basically a tragedy, although, like many of his other plays, the distinctions are often blurred, and so this play is partly a history and involves civil war and the politics of Ancient Rome.
Shakespeare used Plutarch’s Lives as his source for Julius Caesar but he altered some of the historical account as he was wont to do.
I read Plutarch’s Life of Julius Caesar before I read this play which helped fill in some background not present in Shakespeare’s account. Plutarch began his Life of Caesar in 75 BC with Caesar’s capture by pirates and he shows some facets of Julius Caesar’s personality that Shakespeare omits.  Shakespeare focussed on the conspiracy and the subsequent assassination of Caesar in 44 BC and then the repercussions of his death. Brutus is actually more prominent than Caesar in the play.
The Tragedy of Julius Caesar opens with Caesar’s triumph over Pompey in Act 1, Scene 1 and by Scene 2 Cassius’s feelings towards Caesar are out in the open as he confides in Brutus.

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars 
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
Brutus and Caesar: what should be in that ‘Caesar’?
Why should that name be sounded more than yours?

I am glad that my weak words
Have struck but thus much show of fire from Brutus.

The main characters:

Julius Caesar - powerful, skilful, arrogant. Physically, he suffered from epilepsy; Shakespeare exposes some of his more undesirable characteristics in the lead-up to his death.

Brutus - idealistic and honourable, he appears to act for the common good but is also manipulated by Cassius. Antony was later to declare that Brutus was the only conspirator who acted honourably:

This was the noblest Roman of them all:
All the conspirators, save only he,
Did that they did in envy of great Caesar.

Cassius - intense, choleric; lean and hungry. I’ll let Caesar describe him:

Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look, He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.
Fear him not, Caesar, he’s not dangerous, He is a noble Roman and well given.

Would that he were fatter!

Antony - loyal to Caesar, ruthless. He manipulates the mob during his funeral speech for Caesar and unleashes his anger and revenge over the assassination.
When he captured Lucillius who had posed as Brutus, he treats him with respect, saying:

This is not Brutus, Friend, but, I assure you, A prize no less in worth. Keep this man safe, Give him all kindness. I had rather have Such men my friends than enemies...

Octavius - a cool character who first appears in Act 4. He didn’t come across as very likeable except where he defends Lepidus against Antony’s scorn:

This is a slight, unmeritable man,
Meet to be sent on errands...

You may do your will,
But he is a tried and valiant soldier.

Antony:So is my horse, Octavius, and for that
I do appoint him store of provender.

Calpurnia - Caesar’s wife who has a dream about his death and tries to persuade him not to go to the Senate. She and Caesar were unable to have children.

Portia - the wife of Brutus. They are portrayed as having a loving relationship. She discerned changes in her husband and was concerned about him.

This play ends tragically, with suicide one of the main causes of death:
Portia, Brutus, Cassius, Titinius, all end their own lives at various points in the play.

Favourite scenes:

Act 4, Scene 3 - this almost reads like a comedy. Cassius and Brutus have a heated argument in Brutus’s tent when he was camped near Sardis in Asia. Brutus basically tells Cassius he’s acting like a madman and asks why he should give way to ‘rash choler.’
Cassius becomes melodramatic and offers his dagger to Brutus telling him to strike but the situation is defused by Brutus admitting blame:

When I spoke that, I was ill-tempered too.

Do you confess so much? Give me your hand.

And my heart too.

O Brutus!

What’s the matter?

Have you not love enough to bear with me 

When that rash humour which my mother gave me 
Makes me forgetful?

Yes, Cassius, and from henceforth
When you are over-Ernest with your Brutus, 

He’ll think your mother chides, and leave you so.

And of course, the funeral speech by Antony.


Julius Caesar by F. A. Purcell & L.M. Somers (1916)

Linking to Back to the Classics 2107: Classic Published Before 1800

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Finding Plutarch in Unexpected Places: The Forgotten Daughter by Caroline Dale Snedeker - Newbery Honor Book, 1934

The Forgotten Daughter is an outstanding book by an author who was well-known for her dedication to historical accuracy. Caroline Dale Snedeker (1871-1956) wrote numerous books for children and this book is a fine example of the research she undertook to produce an historically authentic work of fiction.

The Forgotten Daughter is a captivating story, an adventure, and a powerful tale of love, loss and forgiveness. It plunges the reader into the Ancient World; into the second century before Christ when Tiberius Gracchus was Tribune in Rome.
As I was reading this book, I felt a certain familiarity with the background historical narrative but I couldn’t remember where I’d heard it before. And then the author mentioned Plutarch. Yes! We’d read about the Gracchi and Cornelia, their mother, who devoted herself to her sons’ education:

Those she so carefully brought up, that they [became] more civil, and better conditioned, than any other Romans in their time; every man judged, that education prevailed more in them than nature.

We’ve been reading two to three selections from Plutarch’s Lives each year for the past six years, although at first I wasn’t convinced he was worth it. I wrote a post for Afterthoughts: 31 Days of Charlotte Mason relating to this and we have continued with studying the Lives because Plutarch really is worth it. Reading Snedeker's book, which was published in 1933, just made me all the more aware of how highly regarded Plutarch has been in the past.
Plutarch’s Life of Tiberius and Gaius (Caius) Gracchi is the basic material out of which The Forgotten Daughter is fashioned, and Snedeker intertwines Plutarch’s observations into her narrative to flesh out her story. This makes for a high interest story with a sense of authenticity.

The Forgotten Daughter tells a beautiful story that concerns a young girl named Chloe, the daughter of a noble Roman. Chloe’s mother and her companion, Melissa, both Greeks, had been captured by Laevinus, a Roman centurion, when their town was raided. Laevinus was so taken by Chloe’s mother that he was willing to marry her, and afterwards took her to live on a farm in the country as his wife.
Everything went well for a time, but one day Laevinus left for Rome to take some produce to market, and he didn’t return. Chloe’s mother was certain he would return and worried that he had become ill or had been involved in an accident. She was later informed that her husband had married another woman in Rome, and before long she was reduced to servitude and banished to a hovel with Melissa as her only company.

Inside the hut all the hill beauty was quenched like a candle - windowless, dim...

There, unknown to Laevinus, she gave birth to his daughter, Chloe, and not long afterwards she died, leaving Melissa to take care of the child.
Melissa and Chloe were mistreated by the supervisor of the farm and suffered a great deal.
As Chloe grew, Melissa passed on in song their Greek origins, the meeting of her mother and father, his desertion and her mother’s anguish. Chloe imbibed the atmosphere of her mother's homeland and a rich cultural heritage through these songs. This was to serve her well in time to come.

For these two there were no books or the knowledge to read them. So the sweet source of song was open to them. That source from which all books are taken, but from which no book is able to gather all the living sweetness. Melissa’s song was rude and simple, but it had that power.

Chloe grew up with a seething hatred of the father she never knew. She was beaten by the farm supervisor and lived a life of misery, and all the while Melissa strove to comfort and protect her for the sake of the friend she had loved.

In such a life there was no hope; no use to save or build up. Why they lived at all is strange. They simply awoke, worked, ate, slept, and awoke again. They were indeed the machines which the Romans thought them.
Forever besetting mankind is this temptation - to make other men into machines. Always in a new form it comes to every generation, and always as disastrous to master as to slave...

The life of a slave in the Roman Republic was keenly portrayed and Snedeker had some very insightful observations to make on Rome and Roman philosophy.

...in Roman days, after every victory, thousands of slaves were sold on the battlefield to speculators for the equivalent of eighteen cents each. They were cheap because so many of them died on the long march to Rome. So many committed suicide. So it was with slaves. But in the end Rome died itself because of them - rotted to the heart.

And this gem:

Despair in the old is a grievous thing, but not so bad as despair in the young. The young have no weapons, no remembrance of evils overcome, nor of evils endured. They have no muscle-hardness from old battles. They see only what is present, and they believe it to be forever. And they are very sure.

The Forgotten Daughter is recommended for ages 12 years to adult. I’d add, a mature 12 year old, not so much for content but Snedeker’s style is so lyrical and her comments on human frailties and philosophy are likely better suited to a young person who is thoughtful about this type of thing. But then again, the story also has action, danger, suspense and romance, which would appeal to a wide audience.

It is strange how people will try to mend their lives when the garment is torn to shreds. It is strange, too, how life’s garment, unlike human weaving, grows whole with the mending. It is as if some invisible kindness out of the air had set to work with you - here a little and there a little.

If your child has been studying Plutarch’s Lives, this is a wonderful book to further expand their pleasure in looking at the lives of the Gracchi, Crassus, Scipio, Marcus Octavius and also Ancient Rome.

The Forgotten Daughter by Caroline Dale Snedeker is my choice in Back to the Classics Challenge 2017 for an Award-winning Classic

Friday, 1 December 2017

Mother Culture: Advent & Christmas Reading

Short on time for including some Mother Culture in your life at this time of year? How about some short stories with Advent & Christmas themes:

The Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry van Dyke

The Story of the Other Wise Man is by far the best of the two stories in this book but The First Christmas Tree is a worthwhile read also so I’ll quickly mention a bit about that first. Set in Germany in the eighth century, The First Christmas Tree tells of the encounter between Winfried (known mostly by his Roman name, Boniface) and a group of pagans celebrating a festival in the woods. Boniface intervenes and saves the Chief’s young son from being sacrificed to appease Thor.

"...out yonder in the wide forest, who knows what storms are raving to-night in the hearts of men, though all the woods are still? who knows what haunts of wrath and cruelty are closed tonight against the advent of the Prince of Peace? And shall I tell you what religion means to those who are called and chosen to dare, and to fight, and to conquer the world for Christ? It means to go against the strongholds of the adversary. It means to struggle to win an entrance for the Master everywhere. What helmet is strong enough for this strife save the helmet of salvation? What breastplate can guard a man against these fiery darts but the breastplate of righteousness? What shoes can stand the wear of these journeys but the preparation of the gospel of peace?"

The First Christmas Tree is free to read here.

Henry van Dyke tells the tale of  'the fourth wise man,' one of the Magi from the East who was to go with the other three to seek the Saviour of the world:

'You know the story of the Three Wise Men of the East, and how they traveled from far away to offer their gifts at the manger-cradle in Bethlehem. But have you ever heard the story of the Other Wise Man, who also saw the star in its rising, and set out to follow it, yet did not arrive with his brethren in the presence of the young child Jesus? Of the great desire of this fourth pilgrim, and how it was denied, yet accomplished in the denial; of his many wanderings and the probations of his soul; of the long way of his seeking, and the strange way of his finding, the One whom he sought—I would tell the tale as I have heard fragments of it in the Hall of Dreams, in the palace of the Heart of Man.'

Highly, highly recommended!! I read it aloud last Christmas, and that was probably a mistake. I could barely read it towards the end as I was so emotionally affected by it. It is available to read online here and here. The book I linked to above is an unabridged Dover Publication HB and contains traditional simple, woodcut-type illustrations. Be aware that some copies of The Story of the Other Wise Man are revised or abridged. 
Henry van Dyck also wrote the lyrics to the hymn, 'Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee' in 1907. Some background to the hymn is here.

The Gift of the Magi  by O. Henry is a beautifully illustrated & unabridged hardback book. The story is also free online (click on text below) and is quite short so it lends itself well to a picture book format although it's of more interest to adults, I think.
Classical Academic Press have a free audio of this story you may download.

The Birth by Gene Edwards

An unusual look at the Christmas story. I wrote about it here.

Christmas at Thompson Hall by Anthony Trollope (1815 - 1882)

This is a collection of five short stories in a lovely HB presentation & set during the Christmas season. Christmas at Thompson Hall is the longest of the stories and is an enjoyable, light-hearted read that relates a sort of comedy of errors on the part of a Mrs Brown. Mrs Brown is a very proper British woman who commits a blunder in a night-time encounter in a French hotel. By a series of ‘fibs’ to cover up her embarassment, her innocent mistake develops into a serious situation.
Trollope's description of Mrs Brown:

‘She was a large woman, with a commanding bust, thought by some to be handsome, after the manner of Juno. But with strangers there was a certain severity of manner about her, - a fortification, as it were, of her virtue against all possible attacks, - a declared determination to maintain at all points, the beautiful character of a British matron, which, much as it had been appreciated at Thompson Hall, had met with some ill-natured criticism among French men and women.'

The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding by Agatha Christie (1960)

Agatha Christie described this collection of short stories as a book of Christmas fare with two main courses: The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding and The Mystery of the Spanish Chest. It also includes a selection of three entrees, and a sorbet!
I’ve had this book for awhile and plan to read it over December. Fun!