Just for Fun: Lizards of South Florida

Hopefully, I will resume our excursion into the superiority of classical education later this week. It’s summertime, and the living is easy they say, but it’s taking me longer than I’d hope to gather my thoughts and sources for this topic. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, it is summer, so let’s have some fun.

Yesterday, we had what I described as a Jurassic Park experience. While exploring a park, on the cement walkway, an alarming number of these came scurrying out of the woods on one side, heading to the woods on the other:

This sent us on an exploratory venture all over the island to take photos of lizards. These are the best ones. Enjoy!

Nope. The pics aren’t edited except for cropping.

Hope you’re enjoying your weekend!

A Land Remembered

A Land Remembered, Student Edition by Patrick D. Smith, Published in 2001. Two volumes, 448 total pages. The original, adult version of A Land Remembered was published in 1984.

I like all kinds of stories. I love the romantic realism of Jane Austen and the deep philosophical musings of Dostoyevsky. The unparalleled humor of P.G. Wodeouse never fails to make me smile, and the earthy realism of Zora Neale Hurston never fails to connect me to my childhood roots.

Recently, I read another book that sparked within me a love of my lifelong home even though the land remembered in this book is nothing like the place I call home. I have seen glimpses of the wild land described so affectionately described by Patrick Smith. Whether visiting the Everglades and watching the gators slide under water, or scouting for wild bison at Payne’s Prairie Preserve, it’s always a thrill to be reminded that this place wasn’t always what we see today. Very recently, as we “hiked’ a preserve, I watched in mild horror as my husband and oldest daughter chased after a bobcat in an effort to get a good photograph of it. They got the shot, but it wasn’t great. I, on the other hand, got a really nice picture of an alligator yawning on the river bank:

photo by me.

It is with all of these thoughts in mind that I began this best-selling, beloved and wildly acclaimed historical novel exploring the lives of three generations of Florida crackers who settled in the scrub of Florida’s southern central peninsula, right before the Civil War. The original novel offers a lot more “personal details” about the lives of the three generations of MacIvey men, and it’s a beautiful book. However, the historical accuracy combined with the vivid description of of wild, pre-civilized Florida prompted the publishers to produce a student edition to be used in classrooms. I will be using the book this fall, hence my reading and this review of the student edition. There is something about this story, one of hard scrabble living and overcoming obstacles that is different from every other kind of story.

Tobias MacIvey was 30 years old when he left Georgia with his young wife Emma, and very young son Zechariah to settle in southern central Florida, off the banks of the Kissimmee River. He knew a war was brewing, and it was his hope that he would find respite from the coming conflict in this wild and desolate place. Between the wilderness, the predators, and the lack of easy access to trading posts, life was much harder than he ever imagined it could be. And he knew it would be hard. Even hidden deep in the woods of uninhabited Florida, Tobias couldn’t fully escape the fallout of the war.

The book covers the lives of Tobias MacIvey, Zech, and Zech’s son Solomon. It begins in 1863 and ends in 1968. The family encounters much heartache, hardship, and grief along their way, but Tobias’ hard work combined with his love of the land and skill as a cattleman pays off.

Zech grows the family business even more, and Solomon transforms it into a real estate empire. As Solomon rapes the land, unaware of the long term implications of his business dealings, he creates a riff with his half brother Toby, born of Zech’s relationship with a young Seminole woman. By the end of his life, Solomon realizes the error of his ways, takes steps to preserve some of Florida’s yet untouched land, and makes peace with his half-brother Toby.

Throughout this century-long saga, the men fight off bears and wolves, get into bloody wars with cattle rustlers, and build life-long friendships with Seminole Indians as well as the newly freed slave who worked helping Tobias grow his cattle herding and orange growing business into a successful enterprise. A Land Remembered is a poignant, fast-paced, historically rich piece of literature. I highly recommend it.

Actually, I recommend the original if you’re all grown up:

A Land Remembered - Wikipedia

There are a lot of quotable quotes in A Land Remembered; so many I couldn’t rightly decide which portions of the story I could inject as a glimpse of the richness Patrick Smith captured. There was one quote, however, that made me literally laugh out loud, so I’ll close with it:

Being from Georgia originally, and not yet fully acquainted with the Florida landscape, Tobias has questions to ask about taking his lucrative herd of cattle across the river to market on his way to the west coast of Florida. He asks the man giving him direction about the presence of alligators in the river. This was the man’s reply:

“Is there ’gators in the river?” “Mister, there ain’t no water in Florida without ’gators, ’less you got a tub of it in your house. And one’s liable to get in there too if you leave the door open.”

Truth. We have suburban friends who have come home from work to find a gator on their driveway or in their pools.

4 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Content advisory: There’s plenty of violence, peril and death in this book, including the student edition. It was a difficult time and the people lived harsh lives. While the student edition is abridged and made more suitable for young readers, Smith does leave in the plot wherein Zech has as “a wife and a half”; his public legal wife as well as his Seminole wife whom he only sees when he has a reason to travel to the Seminole village. If you have any reservations about this part of the story line, considered yourselves informed.

Derelict Educators, School Choice, and a Case for Classical Education, pt. 1

In our culture, which claims to be committed adherents to the principles of diversity, inclusion and equity for all people, those who issue that clarion call are decidedly against all forms of diversity and equality when it comes to educational choices. This is particularly true for those children and families who most benefit from the ability to exercise liberty in their education choices.

Families of poor and minority children are fervent supporters of school choice:

“There’s a strong undercurrent of support for alternatives from African-Americans and Latinos who have gravitated toward school choice—from charter schools, which are considered a less radical step, to publicly financed vouchers that pay for tuition at private schools. Many minority parents are impatient at what they see as the plodding pace of school reform; they’re concerned that their own children won’t benefit from long-term improvements to the current public school system.

Some national education-watchers believe that minority parents’ growing interest in school choice demands greater attention.

“This new movement from communities of color and low-income parents is certainly a threat to leaders in public education,” said Warren S. Simmons, the executive director of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform in Providence, R.I. “If these parents opt out, who is the constituency in these urban areas?”

The idea that these perpetually promised improvements to government schools will ever come to fruition is pretty preposterous. Government schools are increasingly decreasing their already nonexistent rigor in the very areas of study in which American students need the most improvement. Several school districts, including California, are gutting accelerated math instruction, even for advanced students, in the name of equity:

California’s Department of Education is working on a new framework for K-12 mathematics that discourages gifted students from enrolling in accelerated classes that study advanced concepts like calculus.

The draft of the framework is hundreds of pages long and covers a wide range of topics. But its overriding concern is inequity. The department is worried that too many students are sorted into different math tracks based on their natural abilities, which leads some to take calculus by their senior year of high school while others don’t make it past basic algebra. The department’s solution is to prohibit any sorting until high school, keeping gifted kids in the same classrooms as their less mathematically inclined peers until at least grade nine.

Unfortunately, the constituencies who most benefit from and value school choice seem inexplicably addicted to supporting, at the ballot box at least, the very people who would leave their children trapped in under performing schools. I hope to explore that in the very near future. However for now, I want to look at the first front in the left’s ongoing war against all school choice. There has been a sudden onslaught of articles in the mainstream liberal press attacking Christian homeschooling and Christian education in general. I also believe there is a way to circumvent the charges being levied. From the Epoch Times article, Attacks on Christian Homeschooling are No Longer Subtle:

Early in 2020, Elizabeth Bartholet, a professor at the Harvard Law School, became notorious for advocating a “presumptive ban” on homeschooling.

The 3 to 4 percent of U.S. parents who chose to educate their children at home would have to prove to educational authorities that “their case is justified,” and if they couldn’t do so, would have their children sent to public schools.

Then COVID 19 was released on the world, and this chatter, which was pretty loud at the time, stopped:

Then came the coronavirus lockdown. With public schools shuttering their brick-and-mortar classrooms and teachers’ unions promising to keep them shuttered throughout the 2020–21 school year and beyond, the percentage of homeschooling households suddenly surged—to 5.4 percent in late April 2020 and to 11.1 percent by the end of September 2020. Many of the new homeschoolers were otherwise politically liberal urbanites, and the anti-homeschooling movement quickly faded as a progressive cause.

Recently, in a not so stunning twist, the heat was turned up again in opposition to homeschooling. However, rather than skirting around the real issue, the opponents of school choice revealed their true motivation for opposing homeschooling:

On Jan. 15, the Huffington Post ran a scathing critique of Abeka Publishing and the Bob Jones University Press, which publish textbooks and other materials used by many homeschooling evangelical parents: “Language used in the books overlaps with the rhetoric of Christian nationalism, often with overtones of nativism, militarism, and racism.”

A March 2 article in Ms. Magazine focused on “extremist, white supremacist” homeschooling curricula as “the product of a decades-long crusade to deregulate home- and private-school education, the fruits of which are visible in such phenomena as QAnon, COVID denialism, the Capitol riots …”

On April 22, numerous media outlets, including The Washington Post, ran a (now-deleted) article from the Religion News Service by progressive pastor Doug Pagitt, declaring that “homeschooling in conservative evangelical communities is a key channel for ideas to feed into Christian nationalism.

“The conservative evangelical education system has become a pipeline of extremism,” Pagitt wrote.

Notice that last sentence (emphasis added). Pagitt pivots from “homeschooling” to “the conservative evangelical education system”. It is clear that this is not just about homeschooling, but about Christian education in aggregate. One of the things that they use as a weapon in this ongoing battle to stifle school choice is to rip, out of context, excerpts from Christian education curriculum. The Huffington Post used an excerpt from Abeka Publishing, an extremely popular Christian curriculum, as an example of what they’d consider dangerous ideological dogma in Christian schools:

A passage in a history textbook published by

This provides an excellent opening argument to my belief in the superiority of classical Christian education. Our children currently attend a classical Christian school which is strongly committed to teaching Christian virtues by focusing on the good, the true, and the beautiful. However, the Christian virtues are not taught via compartmentalized, heavily opinionated, heavy-handed preaching of political ideologies that align with the author’s interpretation of Scripture.

In the near future, I hope to make the case that Christian education can be effective without being political, with a focus on classical, transcendent values, and taking the wind out of the sail of those who use excerpts from evangelical curriculum as a lob in their real war, which is actually against school choice.

Dashed to Pieces

Dashed to Pieces: A Tale of the Roman Prince Virgilius, 1871, by A.L.O.E. Published by Lamplighter Books; 96 pages.

Before beginning my review, it seems necessary to put in a good word for Lamplighter Books. They are a publishing company that prints and republishes old stories which were no longer in print. Most of the stories are from the 19th and early 20th centuries, but there are also stories from the late 18th century as well. The founder, at the time a newly converted Christian, developed a love for Christian literature, and in 1994, Lamplighter was born.

I recently purchased three books from Lamplighter, and this book, Dashed to Pieces, is the first one I’ve read. It’s author, who wrote under the acronym A.L.O.E. for “A Lady of England” was actually Charlotte Maria Tucker, a prolific author of several books during her writing career. Dashed to Pieces, is one of her shorter works.

Virgilius is a Roman soldier, patrician by birth, and a man of high rank during the time when Christianity’s spread was causing trouble throughout the Roman empire. He is the father of two daughters. The older Virgilia is a grieving young widow whose husband was killed by robbers. The younger Hebe is a beautiful but spoiled girl who loves the idyllic life her father’s rank affords her. Neither of them realize that their lives are about to change forever.

Also in Virgilius’ home are Mahala, a Jewess who works for him as a servant and attendant to his younger daughter, and Seyd, a slave whom Virgilius saved from execution for running away from his former master. Early on we learn that Mahala is a devoted follower of Christ. Seyd’s commitment is strongest to Virgilius, built on the foundation of gratitude and brotherhood more than shared faith. Seyd has no intention of becoming a Christian. Besides being foolish, it was illegal.

When Virgilius converts to Christianity, his perception of what is important changes, and it is not long before he is called to account for his rejection of Roman gods in favor of the Nazarene crucified at Calvary. As a Roman citizen, there are limits to the punishment he can receive, but he and his family still pay a high price for their Christian commitment.

This book is overtly Christian with many Scripture references, but vivid imagery and vibrant story telling. A.L.O.E. offers intense imagery in her description of the perilous lives of the earliest Christians. Hated by the Jews and often hunted by the Romans, the title character walks a fine line until he is challenged to stand up and boldly declare his faith.

Lamplighter’s collection includes many titles from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries for readers of all ages. I bought several recently, and am looking forward to reading more. All of the books are bound in a very attractive and durable hard cover; the kind of books you want to see on your bookshelf.

Dashed to Pieces was a great read.