Wednesday 21 November 2018

On Being an Initiator

The other month I wrote about bringing our children into ‘a large room’ where the doors are open to a wide and generous curriculum. In School Education, Pg 170, Charlotte Mason points out that we have a responsibility to our children to ‘...initiate an immense number of interests.’

The idea of being an initiator was sparked in me years ago during a time of disappointment. A wise friend who knew my situation said some words to me at the time that I’ve never forgotten: 'Not many people are initiators.' I’ve found that to be generally true, unfortunately, so it made sense to me that Charlotte Mason addressed this in the context of education.
I decided to check out what the word ‘initiate’ implies.

The dictionary says that to initiate means to:

To do the first act
Break the ice
Get the ball rolling
Set in motion

So when Charlotte Mason states that we owe it to our children to initiate an immense number of interests, she means that we are responsible for the initial action. We get the ball rolling and do some investing. We don’t leave it to the child to do the initiating. Not that we shouldn't allow them their own interests, but when it comes to educational philosophy and direction, the responsibility is ours. Unless, of course, you believe in child-led education, which Charlotte Mason didn't espouse and neither do I.

A Practical Example

We’ve been doing Picture Study in our home for twenty-odd years - that is, we pick an artist and study about six of his/her paintings a term. It’s very simple. We just look at the picture and later we might describe it or draw a sketch of what we remember of its composition, the emphasis being on observing and appreciating the artist’s work.
If I know something of the artist’s life or have a short biography (the boys really liked the Mike Venezia books when they were younger) they might read that.

Charlotte Mason made this observation:

...I know that you may bring a horse to the water but you can't make him drink. What I complain of is that we do not bring our horse to the water. 

I initiated the introduction to the world of art, led them to the water, and they gained an appreciation of great art. That was important to me and I love how the Charlotte Mason method doesn’t consider the study of great works of art an optional extra.
Along comes my seventh child and from an early age she was drawn to art and loved to draw. I did the same as I’d done with the others but she wanted to draw all the time and especially liked to draw people. I had piles of sketchbooks that she’d filled but as time went on she started getting frustrated with how her drawings looked.

There's another version of the proverb above:

You may bring a horse to water but you can't make him drink, however, you can put salt in his oats!

Creating a thirst is something else we can do as initiators.
I had a few home education art resources but they didn’t inspire my daughter much so I started looking for an art teacher to give her lessons. She had about five or six lessons from a couple of different people but they weren’t able to continue for different reasons. She enjoyed the lessons and they did teach her techniques which helped her. I bought her some good quality paints and pencils and continued to look for ways to develop her interest in this area.
An area I had to encourage her in was perseverance. A piece of work could be spread over time, just like we spread a book out, a chapter per week, or in her case with art, a bit of time each day on piece of art that required a fair bit of work. This helped her with her observation and drawing skills, as well as the practice of perseverance. This is one of her works in progress:

Earlier this year we signed up for a free six week Natural History Illustration course with the University of Newcastle. This was so timely and helpful and there’s been a noticeable difference and improvement in her art. (See some examples of the type of work she did here & here.)
Recently we found some art tutorials in YouTube which have been great, also.

We continue with Picture Study and sometimes an artist inspires her in a particular way. This week I showed her this Mannerist painting by El Greco. It’s one I was drawn to many years ago and she had a similar response to it:

View of Toledo by El Greco (1600)

We've had to work through some difficulties in different area of our children's education. From music teachers to foreign language resources, we've had bumps in the road. One of the most important resources is prayer but it's often something I forget about until everything else fails! We've had some pretty awesome answers when we've focussed on praying for a specific educational need.
I've learned that nothing is too insignificant to put before the Lord.

These are some of the YouTube videos that my daughter's been using recently to help with her art work.

Wednesday 14 November 2018

My Place by Sally Morgan (1987)

My Place by Sally Morgan is an autobiographical account of three generations of Aboriginal women: Sally, her mother Gladys, and Sally’s grandmother, Daisy. Sally writes of her experiences growing up in suburban Perth during the 1950’s and 1960’s and her search for truth and identity after she discovers her Aboriginal heritage.
Although her mother and grandmother were Aboriginal, Sally and her siblings had a white father and they grew up ignorant of their Aboriginal background. Their mother told them they were Indian and didn't speak about the past.
Bill, their father had been a prisoner of war in Germany during WWII before he married Gladys and was a troubled man who sought relief in alcohol and frequently required hospitalisation. He didn't want anything to do with his wife's relatives and died when Sally was nine years of age.
My Place is written in a simple, vernacular style and although Sally is the main author, Gladys, her mother, Nan, and Nan’s brother, Arthur Corunna all tell their individual stories in the book. As I was reading Arthur’s Story, it reminded me of Albert Fahey’s account in A Fortunate Life of growing up in the Australian bush in the early 1900’s. There are some close similarities in the way they were both treated as young impoverished boys working in the outback during the Depression years.
Sally was fifteen before she realised she was Aboriginal and tells of her shock at discovering that her Grandmother, Nan, was black and therefore she must be also. Things began to make sense now she had this knowledge but it also raised more questions than answers:

What did it really mean to be Aboriginal? I’d never lived off the land and been a hunter and a gatherer. I’d never participated in corroborees or heard stories of the Dreamtime. I hardly knew any Aboriginal people. What did it mean for someone like me?

I was often puzzled by the way Mum and Nan approached anyone in authority, it was as if they were frightened...why on earth would anyone be frightened of the government?

In 1982, Sally travelled to her grandmother’s birthplace in the Pilbara and began to piece together the past. As she unearthed her roots, her questions and probing helped to draw out her mother and grandmother’s memories that up until this time had been kept to themselves. Her Uncle Arthur was the first person to talk to Sally about the past. When he was about eleven or twelve years old he was taken from Corunna Downs in the Pilbara to the Swan Native and Half-Caste Mission near Perth:

One day I'd like to go back to Corunna Downs...
Aah, I wish I'd never left there. It was my home. Sometimes I wish I'd been born black as the ace of spades, then they'd never have took me. They only took half-castes.

...They told my mother and the others we'd be back soon. We wouldn't be gone for long, they said...They didn't realise they wouldn't be seein' us no more. I thought they wanted us educated so we could help run the station some day, I was wrong.

Gladys’ words:

Bill had only been dead a short time when a Welfare lady came out to visit us. I was really frightened because I thought if she realised we were Aboriginal, she might have the children taken away. We only had two bedrooms and a sleepout and there were five children, as well as Mum and me.
This woman turned out to be a real bitch. She asked me all sorts of questions and walked through our house with her nose in the air like a real snob. She asked where we all slept, and when I told her Helen slept with me, she was absolutely furious. She said, 'You are to get that child out of your bed, we will not stand for that. You work out something else, the children aren't to be in the same room as you. I'll come back and check to make sure you've got another bed.'

...I just agreed with everything she said. I didn't want her to have any excuse to take the children off me.
It was after the visit from the Welfare lady that Mum and I decided we would definitely never tell the children they were Aboriginal.
I suppose, looking back now, it seems awful that we deprived them of that heritage, but we thought we were doing the right thing at the time.

Daisy's words:

In those days it was considered a privilege for a white man to want you, but if you had children, your weren’t allowed to keep them. You was only allowed to keep the black ones. They took the white ones off you ‘cause you weren’t considered fit to raise a child with white blood.
I tell you it made a edge between the people. Some of the black men felt real low, and some of the native girls with a bit of white in them wouldn’t look at a black man. There I was stuck in the middle. Too black for the whites and too white for the blacks.

Something to be aware of and that stood out to me was the different spiritual beliefs of the three women. Gladys and Sally had some Christian influence in their lives but it became blended with what they had imbibed of their Aboriginal beliefs from their grandmother so that their spiritual lives were a mix of ideas and they explained some of their experiences using this admixture. Daisy, on the other hand had a greater respect for the dangers of meddling in the spiritual dimension:

Gladdie was silly in those days. always wantin' to know her future. She didn't know what she was meddlin' with. You leave the spirits alone. You mess with them, you get burnt. She had her palm read, her tea-leaves read, I don't know what she didn't get read. I never went with her to any of these fortune-tellers. They give you a funny feeling inside. Blackfella know all 'bout spirits. We brought up with them. That's where the white man's stupid. He only believes what he can see. He needs to get educated. He's only livin' half a life.

My Place has been used in High Schools in Australia in Years 9 /10. It's definitely a book for older students and I'd recommend it as a read aloud and discuss otherwise preview for language and mature themes.

How deprived we would have been
if we had been willing
to let things stay as they were.
We would have survived,
but not as a whole people.
We would never have known 
our place.

Be aware that there is another book with the same name by Nadia Wheatley but it's a children's picture book that looks at the history of one particular piece of land in Sydney from 1788 to 1988 through the stories of the various children who have lived there.

Sunday 4 November 2018

Green Dolphin Country by Elizabeth Goudge (1944)

Earlier this year I was introduced to Elizabeth Goudge through her book The Rosemary Tree and after reading that I knew that I’d read more by her. I ordered Green Dolphin Country because a good friend recommended it but I was surprised when it arrived that it contained 743 pages. I don’t usually commit to a book of that length unless it’s a Russian classic or a Norwegian saga because I don’t think there are many authors who have the skill to weave a story over that many pages without losing the plot and the reader.

However, once I’d bought the book I decided to read it and ended up enjoying it very much. Goudge certainly doesn’t write like a Russian novelist or a Norwegian saga writer but she is an expert delineator of character.

Green Dolphin Country is a work of fiction but it was based on an actual event. The story begins on the island of Guernsey in the English Channel where we meet the three main characters. It continues in New Zealand with details of the lives of two of those characters, alternating with scenes from the life of the one left behind. It ends with the meeting of all three again back in Guernsey in their latter years.
The personalities who populate this story are rendered in such a way that they become real. We see how the three main characters develop and change over the course of their lives. Goudge's insights into humanity with its weaknesses and strengths, fears and hopes, is skilful and infused with humour.
To me, this story was in essence a tale of love and disappointment; of choosing to love and acting on that choice when there was no corresponding feeling of love; of kindness and humility, of finding a way to make things work when there seems to be no way.

Some highlights

On the one who always wanted to be in control:

It was no good waiting on fortune. Her favour was inscrutable and uncertain. What one wanted one must get for oneself. A man could use his will like a sword but a woman had mostly to use hers like a shuttle.

...for the first time in her life she had taken her hand off the tiller and was waiting patiently for something beyond herself to take her in charge.

The worst thing about sin was that its punishment could not be borne by the sinner alone. Why did one not realise that before it was too late?

Goudge has a knack of illuminating ordinary things and highlighting hope. One of my favourite passages is this one about the unseen aspects of prayer:

There were days when the impossibility of seeing the result of one’s prayer was disheartening almost to the point of faithlessness. One prayed for those in peril, but though one might seem to hear the beating of wings in the wind the eyes of the body could not see the angel who took the prayer from one’s outstretched hands, held it as a shield between some human creature and the death that it was not yet the will of God should come upon them. One prayed for courage for those who had turned back upon the path, that they might turn again, but one’s own body did not experience the shock of realisation, the reversal, the gathering of strength. One prayed for the faithless but it was not granted to one’s ears to hear the crumbling of the walls and the shouting of the trumpet and the ‘I believe...’

There might be utter humiliation but that’s not the end of the story.

The sort of love he had given her, deliberately created, not drawn irresistibly forth by the loveliness of the beloved, implies no merit in the object of it and was not worth having. No, she had nothing - nothing.

She was too humiliated just at present to dare think that the virtue of humility might one day be her own.

How desperately hard it must have been for him. What a price he must have paid for her salvation! That was what love was - a paying of the price.

This is a very redemptive type of story and I love it for that fact alone.

Linking to Back to the Classics 2018: Classic with a Color in the Title