Dad: Did you call your sister a ‘puke sandwhich’ and hit her in the face with the Happy Pumper?
Elijah (5): Sure. So, no.
Mr. Ogleby: Alright, my little biologists. First review question from yesterday’s lesson: Is the nucleus “the powerhouse of the cell”?
Harper (9): So, I love that you asked this question. I feel like I want to say, ‘No.’
He has a couple more examples over at his original post, but you get the point. We are a culture saying more than we have ever said, while simulataneously saying nothing. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that we say very little with clarity of meaning or courage of conviction. Either way, what you end up with is a lot of noise.
At the same time, we are supposedly the most educated people to have ever walked the face of the earth.
In case you haven’t noticed, something has gone terribly wrong.
Our entire culture has been upended using ambiguous language and sleight of hand. Sadly, most of us have fallen for the ruse in one way or another. Rather than list all of the lies that have been re-framed as truth to great effect, I want to focus on one particular phrase and how our misunderstanding of it has been used to exploit us in a bid for power.
There is a tendency in our country among media, academic, and politically elite institutions to rail against conservatives engaging in an endless “culture war” while ignoring the greater threats of climate change, economic inequality, and lack of affordable health care.
These are straw man arguments, designed to keep Americans from thinking about the reality of what it means to wage war, what it means to wage a culture war, and who is really waging the war. I’ll start with an example.
Let’s assume I have a next door neighbor named Larry, whom I dislike. Larry has never actually done anything to me personally. He lives a different lifestyle from me. He believes different things than me, and his likes and dislikes differ from mine. In fact, he disagrees with much of what I hold dear. He’s never mean, though. He always waves hello, and he even picks up the newspaper off my driveway every morning when my family is on vacation so that it’s not obvious that our home is unoccupied for the week. We’re never going to be besties; that much is clear, but overall, we coexist well enough.
One day, I decide that I can’t stand Larry’s smug politeness nor his disagreement with my beliefs. So…I take a brick and throw it through his windshield. I want him to pay attention to me, engage with my beliefs and ideas. I know that if I throw a brick though his windshield, we can no longer play this game of polite coexistence. He has to confront me, because I broke his windshield!
When Larry comes out of his house to confront me about the brick in his driver’s seat and broken windshield, imagine if I said to him, “Why are you so upset about a broken windshield when I just heard that the guy in the house on the corner is selling marijuana out of his garage? Isn’t shielding your kids from a potential drug dealer more important than a stupid broken piece of glass that your insurance company can take care of before the day is out?”
My response to Larry sounds ridiculous on its face, and most people would readily say as much. However, many of these same people will screech and howl that conservatives are waging a culture war, simply by noticing something absurdly inappropriate, and noting that said thing is absurdly inappropriate. The issue of course, is that we have a large swath of people who are offended by the very idea of appropriateness. We have reached a place in our culture where standards, which all societies have, are considered evil. Hegemony, they say (ooh! there’s another good word), must be resisted at all costs. I just decided to take a detour to discuss hegemony in its purest form, rather than get stuck with Antonio Gramsci’s interpretation of it:
noun: hegemony; plural noun: hegemonies
leadership or dominance, especially by one country or social group over others.”Germany was united under Prussian hegemony after 1871
mid 16th century: from Greekhēgemonia, from hēgemōn ‘leader’, from hēgeisthai ‘to lead’.
I have a minor quibble with this definition, because it indicates that a dominant cultural standard, even one that flows from the top down, necessarily undermines self-government. Any Christian can tell you that isn’t true. Any wife in a traditional marriage can tell you that. Any child can tell you that having family rules doesn’t negate the role of self-government.
For what it’s worth, I’m not particularly enthralled with top down control any more than the next American. Free markets are good, the ability to move up in socioeconomic status is good. This of course, makes our current wholesale embrace of Gramsci and his understanding of hegemony even more ironic. But that’s a topic for another day. We’re trying to decide what a culture war is and how we have come to misunderstand who is waging one in our current cultural moment.
I have a question: Who started the war between me and my hypothetical neighbor, Larry? Was it him, or was it me? The answer should be obvious. Now who started the culture war? Is it the people who push boundaries and rebel against everything that mankind has known (and largely agreed) to be good, true and beautiful since God created the heavens and earth? Or is the people throwing the bricks through the window of created order and natural law for the sake of destroying cultural cohesiveness?
Someone suggests, “Disregarding the necessity sexual self-control in favor of unchecked desire is the road to freedom“, handing men and (mostly) women all manner of options to sever the tether between sexual behavior and reproduction, including killing babies in the womb. “Larry” objects that this diminishes the value of both mothers and children, and the retort is always some version of, “You just want to infringe on women’s freedom!” Which person threw the brick?
Someone suggests, “Marriage should be available to anyone who wants to marry no matter their sex“, and not based on the natural law that under girded it since the beginning of mankind. “Larry” objects, “Once we do that, we shatter the foundation which has proven to provide the best outcomes for children”. The retort is, “Love is love, you bigot. Nothing about this is going to lead to worse outcomes for children.” Did Larry throw the brick?
Someone asserts, “Men and women are interchangeable; so much so we can simply do away with the concepts, and let people choose their sex.” “Larry” objects, “But wait. We’re supposed to be living in the age of science. Biology is clear. Male and female are concrete, biological reality. Doing this will create utter chaos. Especially for children.” The retort is more ranting about bigotry and marginalization, along with the idea that the slippery slope thing is just a fallacy. Larry, with his wheelbarrow of bricks!
Time for the next frontier. “In order to acclimate children to this new, more tolerant and loving reality, they need to be taught from an early age that two mommies are natural, two daddies are natural, men as women are natural, and women turning into men is natural. The best way to do that is through exposing children to these sexual realities from a very young age; in school, at the library, even via television programming for preschoolers“. Larry, growing increasingly concerned, objects more strenuously. He is treated to invective and ridicule from all corners of the media, academia, and on social media. He is called a bigot. He is threatened with the loss of his job. He is told to shut up or else.
Instead of choosing to start a culture war based in bigotry, discrimination and cultural hegemony, Larry would have been better off trying to save the planet, which is about to be destroyed by climate change.
He hasn’t even figured out yet that the teacher at school has been teaching his son Justin that he is an evil oppressor, and that his son’s best friend from church, Michael, is being taught that he is the victim of Justin’s evil oppression. When he objects, he’ll be accused of selfishness for complaining that I set his house on fire when people in Guatemala are suffering under a corrupt and oppressive regime.
Larry needs to get his priorities straight instead of being distracted by stupid culture wars.
“A compendium of “potentially oppressive language” posted on the school’s website by its Prevention, Advocacy and Resource Center also lists loads of examples of “gender exclusive,” “ableist,” and “culturally appropriative” terminology that “can get in the way of meaningful dialogue.”
Anyone who has been paying attention for the past few years is well aware of the ongoing assault on language as a way of reshaping reality. We’ve discussed it here at least once before. This isn’t a new development. To call George Orwell’s 1984 prophetic is no exaggeration.
The most striking point of interest to me in this piece was the supposed racist origins of the word “picnic”. Long ago, since first learning the word’s etymology, I thought I knew that “picnic” was derived from the French term “piqué-nique” which refers to eating a small, informal meal , mostly consisting of hors d’oeuvres, outdoors. It turns out, according to the sensitivity and diversity police at Brandeis, that the word picnic was all about picking [negroes] to lynch for entertainment while having a nice meal outside in the park. Imagine my surprise!
“According to the Oppressive Language List, the word picnic “has been associated with lynching of Black people in the United States, during which white spectators were said to have watched while eating.” A suggested alternative is “outdoor eating”.
It was the stunning level of historical ignorance and deception combined with educational malpractice, which reminded me of what I wanted to say here. This is why our family has decided that a classical education, one built on the great literature and ideas of the Western canon is far superior to this ever evolving language of nothingness, increasingly decoupled from any sense of reality.
While our current education system builds curriculum and constructs ideas on the shifting sands of postmodern ideology, the great books, literature of those who have gone before, tell a human story. While the great books are written off as relics of white supremacy penned by old white men, the reality is that some of the greatest black thinkers and activists in American history drew on these classics as a foundation for their ideas. Dr. Anika Prather, whose work I am only beginning to explore, makes an excellent case for why the great books of the western canon are for everyone:
“Great Books, Prather said, “tell the human story.” She spoke with passion about how many famous people of color throughout history used the Great Books to further their goals and ideas. Activist Huey P. Newton, she pointed out, taught himself to read using Plato’s Republic—a text paid special attention to during freshman year at St. John’s—and as a result, Newton’s way of thinking was highly influenced by the thoughts and ideas of Plato. Studying the Great Books, Prather says, shouldn’t—and can’t—be only for a select few.
One author who particularly inspires Prather is Frederick Douglass. Douglass taught himself to read while still a slave, an action expressly forbidden. Once he learned to read, however, literacy became his “polaris.” His first book was The Columbian Orator, an anthology of excerpts from many of the Great Books. “By using the literature of the master,” said Prather, “he allowed these books to somehow unchain his mind well before he unchained his body from the bonds of slavery.”
In other words, even the lowliest and most genuinely oppressed people in past societies recognized the truths of liberation and human excellence. If we want to see our children educated in a way which extols the good, the true, and the beautiful, it will not happen in the context of the current governmental education model. The current model is increasingly about division, discontent, and discordant thinking masquerading as enlightenment.
Great literature doesn’t have to tell my story to be great or worthy of reading. Although it sometimes does tell my story, I need not see myself personified to gain a better understanding of the universal human experience. In fact, one might argue that seeing the similarity of the struggle and questions of life in those different from us expands our innate compassion and sense of humanity. One of my cardinal saying is (as far as I know, I can self-attribute the verbiage if not the sentiment): Humanity is a shared experience. If I have experienced it, it for sure and certain that someone else has too.
I am finally going to finish The Brothers Karamazov this summer. A 19th century Russian novelist had the ability to reach across time and space to connect with me in the 21st century. What does Dostoevsky have to say to an American woman of African descent? What principles, insights of human nature and matters of the heart could he possibly have to share with me? Plenty, it turns out:
The world says: “You have needs — satisfy them. You have as much right as the rich and the mighty. Don’t hesitate to satisfy your needs; indeed, expand your needs and demand more.” This is the worldly doctrine of today. And they believe that this is freedom. The result for the rich is isolation and suicide, for the poor, envy and murder.”
How timely a quote from a book published in 1879! Ideas grounded in truth do not change with the times, which is why the work of Dostoevsky, Jane Austen, Aristotle, and Thomas Aquinas still resonate with us centuries after their authors put ink to paper.
We dismiss these great and enduring works of human connection at our peril.
I hope, next week, to continue this exploration of classical education, its importance, and how we can revive it for the sake of the next generation.
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!
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:
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:
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.
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.
“There’s a strong undercurrent of support for alternatives from African-Americans and Latinos who havegravitated 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 conservativeevangelical 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:
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.
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.
I’ve been buried under a pile of varieties of work recently, so my creative spark is lately pretty dim. I am, however, slowly reading through a couple of books since I finished Fault Lines. I look forward to adding more reviews in the next two weeks. Meanwhile, I thought I’d share a bit of beauty that I encountered this morning with my husband.
Things like this are a reminder of what’s important in life. It’s not as if a woodpecker is an uncommon sight, but like so many things, we often fail to stop and enjoy life’s simplest pleasures. Of course, it wasn’t my bedroom window this woodpecker was near at 6:20 in the morning (wasn’t even outside of my house), so my characterization of this as a simple pleasure is certainly subjective.
Here’s “Woody” in action:
I hope this little bit of nature makes your day a wee bit brighter.
For the record, it is 93 degrees in our neck of the woods. In May…
I have some educational and literary thoughts on tap for next week that I hope you’ll find of interest.