Thursday 28 November 2019

Chocky by John Wyndham (1968)

John Wyndham is known for his ‘logical fantasies’ which have been described as modified science fiction. I’ve previously read his The Day of the Triffids and enjoyed that. Chocky is quite a different story. It has a slower pace and doesn’t have much action to speak of but it has plenty of thoughtful and interesting ideas.

Matthew is an ordinary eleven year old boy whose parents begin to get concerned when he starts talking to an imaginary friend. His younger sister, Polly, when she was around the age of five, disrupted the family for some time with her invisible friend, Piff. A family outing for a meal required a mystified waitress to add an extra chair for Piff or Polly would disturb her Dad at a critical moment in a movie by calling out from her room that Piff was in desperate need of a drink of water.
The problem was that Matthew wasn’t a five year old. He was eleven and his imaginary friend, Chocky, was asking him some very complicated questions and causing him to say some startling things.
The situation came to a head when Matthew inexplicably performed a feat that was beyond him and the media got word of it. Reporters started turning up at the family home or waylaid Matthew on his way home from school. Matthew also began to draw attention to himself by the unusual art work he was producing, something he’d never shown talent for previously. His maths teacher quizzed his parents about who was the mathematician in the family who had been teaching Matthew advanced concepts. Matthew had been getting muddled with some teaching on the binary code but when his parents showed their lack of mathematical ability the teacher was perplexed and expressed his concern that this 'new-found knowledge' was confusing Matthew.

Matthew's parents decided to take Matthew to a psychiatrist. This worthy doctor's opinion (or so he made them believe) was that there was nothing to worry about and he tried to relieve their anxiety by telling them that the fantasy would break up of itself and disperse.
However, the psychiatrist had found the problem fascinating and became excited at what he discovered when he put Matthew under hypnosis (without his parent’s knowledge or consent!). The implications to him were like finding gold.

The little blurb on the front cover of my book stars that the story is ‘disturbing in an entirely unexpected way.’ 
Chocky was first published in 1968 and it has a slightly dated feel in some ways so the part I found most disturbing was the behaviour of the psychiatrist!
Matthew’s father is the narrator and he’s quite matter-of-fact so the story stays on an even keel. I really liked the author's handling of the dynamics between father and son and the interplay between the very ordinary and the bizarre in the story.
There is some suspense, more so towards the end, but there’s also some light relief in the form of family dynamics. I think if the book had been written a few decades later, or if it was made into a movie now, it could really be quite sinister.
The ending was very science fiction-ish and unbelievable but I don’t know that it could have ended any other way. Overall it was a good read with some interesting ideas to ponder.

Chocky was a book I became aware of when I visited the Armitt Museum in Ambleside a couple of months ago and looked at some of the PNEU (Parent's National Education Union) material that had been used for students in Years 9/10.

Back to the Classics 2019: Classic Novella (153 pgs)

Sunday 24 November 2019

On the Incarnation by Athanasius (c.296-373) - A Classic in Translation

On the Incarnation was written over sixteen hundred years ago by Athanasius, a Patriarch and Saint of Alexander, Egypt. After Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 332 BC, Greek became the most common written language due to its widespread use in government, education and literature and On the Incarnation was originally written in that language.

Bishop of Alexandria for forty-five years, Athanasius opposed Arius and his followers, who denied the divinity of Christ, in the most intense debate of the 4th century. He was banished for the position he took by both Constantine the Great and his successor.

‘Athanasius stood contra mundum ("against the world") in defense of the biblical doctrine of Christ. He opposed Arius when it seemed all the world would follow Arius's heresy. Athanasius's work remains even today the definitive statement of orthodox Trinitarianism.’

Athanasius was only about twenty-one years of age when he wrote this way back in the early 300’s AD. Maybe it was his youthful exuberance that lends a freshness to the book so that it feels as if it was written recently but it's also witty, logical, and in the words of C.S. Lewis, (who wrote the introduction to the 1946 English translation of the book that is a must read!) it is ‘a masterpiece.’

My edition of the book is only just over a hundred pages long but it is a challenging read so I’ve been reading short sections at a time over the course of this year. It’s an unusual and compelling book as the author wrote simply and lucidly while still maintaining a logical and thorough approach to his subject.

Athanasius starts off with a discussion of the origin of men, the Creation and the Fall because, ‘ as our sorry case that caused the Word to come down, our transgression that called out His love for us, so that He made haste to help us and to appear among us.’
He then goes on to speak about the Divine Dilemma where man, who was created in God’s image, was in the process of destruction, and the rescue of mankind from corruption ‘was the proper part only of Him Who made them in the beginning.’

The Incarnation, the Resurrection, and Christ’s victory over death are discussed and then Athanasius deals with the unbelief and ridicule of the Jews and the Gentiles (non-Jews) respectively. He raises instances of signs and miracles documented in the Old Testament but points out that up until Christ there were certain things that had never occurred:

‘And the Jews who saw (the miracles) themselves testified to the fact that such things had never occurred before. “Since the world began,” they said, “it has never been heard of that anyone should open the eyes of a mam born blind. If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing.”’

He poses questions as if he were a lawyer speaking to a jury and then proceeds to provide answers showing the reasoning behind them. He asks why it is that the worship of the Greek gods such as Zeus and Chronos and Apollo has died out; why the wisdom of the Greeks no longer make any progress and that which used to be is disappearing, and why demons, ‘so far from continuing to impose on people by their deceits and oracle-givings and sorceries, are routed by the sign of the cross if they so much as try.’

He uses the example of a king who stays in his house and doesn’t let himself be seen. Some insubordinate fellows take advantage of this and proclaim themselves as kings, fooling the simple who, because they cannot enter the palace and see the real king, are led astray. However, when the real king emerges, the impostors are shown up for who they really are and those who had followed them now forsake them.
‘When the sun has come, darkness prevails no longer.’

The translator, who is not mentioned by name in the book, was Penelope Lawson. There are more details here.
A PDF of the book is here but it doesn't include Lewis's Introduction - you can read that here.

This book was my choice for the 2019 Christian Greats Challenge: 1)  A Book on Early Church History (up to about 500 A.D) or a book written by a key figure who lived during that time, or a biography about that person.
Back to the Classics: A Classic in Translation

Sunday 17 November 2019

Ambleside Online Year 10: an Australian Biography - Flynn of the Inland by Ion L. Idriess (1932)

Flynn of the Inland by Ion (Jack) Idriess is a book I've used in the past for high school. I'll be using it again next year as an Australian Biography substitute in Ambleside Online Year 10.  This book reflects views on race that were acceptable for the time in which it was written but would be offensive now so I've saved it for Year 10 but it would be suitable as a read aloud for around age 13  years and up with some editing.
The book has 306 pages and contains black and white photographs and also maps in the front and back - I love a book with maps!

Ion L. Idriess (1890-1979) was Australia’s best selling author during the 1930’s to the 1950’s. A prolific and popular writer, he drew upon his diverse life experiences which included his familiarity with the Australian bush and active service during WWI  to craft his narratives. His books were so popular that they sold in the millions even during the Great Depression. Unfortunately his work is overlooked by modern critics and his contributions to Australian literature largely ignored.
Idriess was a man who obviously knew the bush and this knowledge adds authenticity to this book.
Flynn of the Inland is drama, romance, and history; a real adventure filled with wonderful characters and an unconventional protagonist who not only refused to let go of his dream but inspired others to help him make his ‘impossible’ dream a reality.

John Flynn (1880-1951) was an Australian Presbyterian minister who founded the Australian Inland Mission (somewhat of a misnomer as it included large areas around the coast) and pioneered the world's first aerial medical service (aerial ambulance) now known as the Royal Flying Doctor Service. A visionary, but also a very practical man, he pursued his dream against all odds - and the odds were indeed significant!

Idriess wrote Flynn of the Inland in order that the people of Australia could learn about the work of the Australian Inland Mission. His purpose was not to write a history of the work but to tell ‘a true story.’
There is a certain quality to his writing that allows the reader to feel an emotional attachment to the book’s characters. We travel with John Flynn on his solitary camel rides into the harsh and unforgiving outback, where he often went a fortnight without seeing a single soul.

He meets the isolated residents and hears the stories of hardship and tragedy - injuries that could have been treated easily enough with medical assistance but proved fatal from lack of earlier intervention; a young child who dies in his mother’s arms before she reaches help; women having to travel great distances to give birth.

One harrowing situation Flynn hears about is that of young Darcy who was thrown from his horse while mustering in the heart of the Kimberleys. Seriously injured, his friends harnessed up a buggy and the young man endured a dreadful ride to Hall’s Creek three hundred miles away to Mr Tuckett, the nearest person possessing some medical knowledge. But Darcy’s injuries were beyond his skill.
The nearest doctor was two hundred miles away and the patient wouldn’t have stood the drive. The only option was for Tuckett to operate under instructions via telegraph. He had no instruments or anaesthetic but it was Darcy’s only chance. Incredibly, the operation proved successful but complications set in and it became obvious that he would die unless he received specialist medical attention. Darcy’s two brothers performed an incredible feat by racing to Derby to pick up the specialist who was arriving by steamer. After over twelve days of travel the doctor arrived at Hall’s Creek only to find his patient had died the day before.

Flynn was the type of man who could befriend hardened bushmen. They were attracted to Flynn's 'muscular Christianity' and were surprised when he turned up out of nowhere to relay a message, deliver quinine to a feverish man, or conduct a christening. 

"It was a giant project, Flynn’s dream. Nothing less than to establish help, communication, and transport throughout two-thirds of a continent, two million square miles peopled by an isolated few having no political voice...His dream hinged on the cradle. First ensure that every inland woman could have her baby and her own life with it. Then educate those children, annihilate loneliness, and bring a feeling of security to the fathers, and see that all had that spiritual companionship which smooths the path of life.”

It took twelve years of travelling and planning for Flynn’s dream to take shape. His friends often exclaimed in exasperation that he was ten, twenty, fifty years before the times but he never gave up. He fired the first shot and his dream awakened the sympathetic interest of a few people in two Australian cities and then his ideas were embraced by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Australia. His dreams began to take on flesh.

“From his very first dream right through the years Flynn fought a long flight, a dogged fight; but no one, in bush or city, ever saw him without a smile. There were times when he knew weariness of body and bitterness of heart. No one else knew."

It wasn’t only medical services that were required. A means of reliable communication also needed to be provided and the sheer technical challenges involved were enormous. There’s a story within a story here - the invention of a ‘baby transmitter.’

“The machine could be easily carried, easily installed: it could be easily mastered by the bush mother. It was worked by pedal. The generator was simplicity itself and a marvel of efficiency. It could be phoned up from any mother station, but transmitted its own messages by Morse.”

Radio Rescue is a beautiful picture book that tells this story and explores the relationship between the John Flynn and Alf Traeger as they worked together on the idea of providing a form of communication for people in isolated areas. Enjoyable for both children and adults.

John Flynn is commemorated on the Australian $20 banknote:

Places of interest:

Information about Ion Idriess.

Timeline of the life of John Flynn

The Royal Flying Doctor Service

My choice for #6 in the Christian Greats Challenge: A Missionary Biography or A Biography of a Prominent Christian who lived any time between 1500 A.D to 1950 A.D

Saturday 2 November 2019

Slow-Cooker Homeschool

From the time she was first able to hold a pencil my youngest child has being drawing. I used to always carry around small notebooks, mostly for my own use, whenever we went anywhere but inevitably I let her 'draw' in them when she was little to keep her occupied when we were waiting for her older siblings to finish swimming or music lessons or whatever. She filled up countless numbers of these or whatever else she found that had a blank space.
She went through phases of drawing figures that looked like something out of Ancient Egypt to focussing on legs, noses, eyes, lips, was quite weird looking through some of them. Apart from being surprised at the prolific quantity she produced, I didn't really consider she had an artistic 'gift.'

I noticed she had definite ideas about which artists she liked - Degas is one of her favourites and she has always liked to draw anything ballet related - but I made sure she also had exposure to a wide range of artists.
One day, just over a year ago, she was sitting at the kitchen bench with some music playing in the background,  drawing in her nature notebook. I noticed she was taking time, concentrating, and when she had finished and showed me what she had done I was stunned. She'd been getting more skilful with her art in recent times, but this was a step up.

I've discovered that this seems to generally be the way of things. Home education is essentially a slow movement; especially so if you follow the Charlotte Mason approach, where the focus is not on filling in the blanks or completing worksheets that have the appearance of learning.

About a month ago I sowed nineteen little punnets with a variety of seeds. The cress seeds were the first to sprout and then gradually some of the others appeared. The other day some sprouts appeared in another punnet. I'm still waiting for some signs of action in the others but I can only water them and wait.

Charlotte Mason wrote in A Philosophy of Education (Pg. 39) that "Education, like faith, is the evidence of things not seen."

We don't see what is happening beneath the soil when we sow seeds just as we don't see the internal process of a child's educational growth. We sow the seeds, provide the appropriate atmosphere, and let patience have her perfect work.

"Our business is to give children the great ideas of life, of religion, history, science; but it is the ideas we must give..."

This is slow-cooker home education but slow is so anachronistic to our culture!
There is a very real temptation to meddle. We want quick results, instant feedback, affirmation.
The premise of a slow-cooker is that food is cooked over an extended period of time at a low temperature. As the cooking is in process, steam condenses on the inside of the lid forming a seal which helps to retain heat. Generally, you keep the lid on during the cooking process, but in my house there's usually someone who is tempted to meddle & lift the lid to have a peek at what's inside.
You're not going to ruin a meal by lifting the lid but you may need to cook things for a bit longer if heat is lost.
If you meddled with seeds in a punnet to check out their progress you'd probably do some damage.
I think there's enough evidence of children being 'meddled with' by being unduly pushed, labelled, scrutinized, or having excessive expectations placed upon them too early to assume that it can be harmful.

Karen Andreola shares some wise advice in her book, 'A Charlotte Mason Companion' that is helpful for focussing on the things that matter when we're struggling with the slow cooking aspect of education:

"Be sure that your children each day have:

*  Something or someone to love
*  Something (worthwhile) to do
*  Something to think about"

My husband and I met and married while we were going to a church in a different part of the city. Our children were born while we were part of that community and we had long-term friendships, some of them going back twenty years and more. We re-located and moved to another church when our eldest was ready to start university and our youngest was only two years of age. Within a short time I was  frustrated that I hadn't made any real friends and felt isolated. We met up with some friends who had gone through a similar experience a few years before we did and one of them said a wise thing that I took to heart:

"A twenty year relationship takes twenty years to develop. You won't find it in six months" Simple and true and something I needed to remind myself of again and again.

Education, that "…series of instruction and discipline which is intended to enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, and form the manners and habits" doesn't happen overnight.

Years of listening to a shrieking violin and then all of a sudden it begins to sound like music. Good music!

Watching a child flounder from one end of the pool to another and then overnight, or so it seems, they are a pleasure to behold as they skim through the water in style. 

Talking to your child about controlling his temper, yet again...and one day, many years later you see the fruit of self-control playing out in his life. Something you thought you would never see.

Listening to 'a' 'a...m' 'am' interminably or a child tripping over every second word while internally you fret that they will continue through life illiterate. None of mine are illiterate despite my earlier fears. 

This is where your educational philosophy really matters. It should help to focus our direction and assure us we're on the right track or direct us back to where we should be. (For an example of applied philosophy see A Philosophy of Education by Charlotte Mason. A brief summary of how the philosophy works is here.)

God moves in a mysterious way
  His wonders to perform:
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
  And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
  Of never-failing skill,
He treasures up His bright designs,
  And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
  The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
  In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
  But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
  He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
  Unfolding every hour:
The bud may have a bitter taste,
  But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
  And scan His work in vain;
God is His own Interpreter,
  And He will make it plain.