Word Nerd Wednesday: Metanoia

I was a part of an education training recently and one of the books we touched on was Plato’s Five Dialogues. I hope to have more to say about this book at a later date. Today, however, I want to explore a word we discussed as we contemplated our chief educational aim, which is to teach our students to pursue virtue. Today’s word is metanoia.

Anyone who has done a Greek word study of the Bible’s new testament is familiar with the word metanoia as the direct translation of the word repent. At its core, that’s what metanoia is; a turning away from one way of thinking and believing to another. It’s a perfect description of our religious conversion, but what does metanoia look like in a more general educational context? Or in any area of life?

The word metanoia speaks to me because there are a number of philosophical and political issues through which I went on a journey of metanoia, as described in the above definition. This journey, in the context of Socratic education philosophy, is taken together with one’s teacher through a series of questions and propositions crafted to make the student think. It can, however, be taken through personal research, contemplation, and prayer. We just have to be willing to interrogate ourselves.

Both of these, whether personal or with a teacher, indicate wrestling and grappling with ideas. To do this demands questioning our own presuppositions in search of  greater truth. That wrestling and any resulting change of heart is the journey of metanoia.

There isn’t much room for metanoia in our world today. We live in a world increasingly devoid of wrestling, meditation, enlightenment or repentance. To wrestle with what we believe is true, even in the face of mountains of evidence and thousands of years of documented human experience and understanding, is anathema to the post modern soul.

This lack of introspective meditation, this lack of metanoia, combined with tearing down fences without regard for the wisdom of those who went before us, is a primary characteristic of the postmodern era, and it’s becoming our undoing. Chesterton’s fence is an excellent touch-point reference:

As simple as Chesterton’s Fence is as a principle, it teaches us an important lesson. Many of the problems we face in life occur when we intervene with systems without an awareness of what the consequences could be. We can easily forget that this applies to subtraction as much as to addition. If a fence exists, there is likely a reason for it. It may be an illogical or inconsequential reason, but it is a reason nonetheless.

Chesterton also alluded to the all-too-common belief that previous generations were bumbling fools, stumbling around, constructing fences wherever they fancied. Should we fail to respect their judgement and not try to understand it, we run the risk of creating new, unexpected problems. By and large, people do not do things for no reason. We’re all lazy at heart. We don’t like to waste time and resources on useless fences. Not understanding something does not mean it must be pointless.

This is why it is vitally important that we educate our children on the pursuit of virtue. A surfeit of academic exposure without the corresponding ability to use those intellectual storehouses to the meaningful benefit of others renders our education little more than fool’s gold.

Of course, we are all basically lazy at heart, and metanoia requires something of a mental workout. Workouts that produce lasting transformation are hard. To quote my favorite video workout dude:

If was easy, everybody would be doing it.

 

 

If you can’t beat ’em, Join ’em?

This isn’t fit for a Word Nerd post, regardless of its insertion into the Merriam-Webster lexicon. However, it is fit as an example of nonstandard language being offered as standard purely because a critical mass of people misuse a word.

 

Merriam-Webster defended their decision, passionately, in this article:

It has come to our attention lately that there is a small and polite group of people who are not overly fond of the word irregardless. This group, who we might refer to as the disirregardlessers, makes their displeasure with this word known by calmly and rationally explaining their position … oh, who are we kidding … the disirregardlessers make themselves known by writing angry letters to us for defining it, and by taking to social media to let us know that “IRREGARDLESS IS NOT A REAL WORD” and “you sound stupid when you say that.”

We define irregardless, even though this act hurts the feelings of many. Why would a dictionary do such a thing? Do we enjoy causing pain? Have we abdicated our role as arbiter of all that is good and pure in the English language? These are all excellent questions (well, these are all questions), and you might ask them of some of these other fine dictionaries, all of whom also appear to enjoy causing pain through the defining of tawdry words.

Irregardless: Regardless
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition, 2018

Irregardless: In nonstandard or humorous use: regardless.
The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition, 1976

Irregardless: without attention to, or despite the conditions or situation; regardless
Cambridge Dictionary (dictionary.cambridge.org), 2018

The reason we, and these dictionaries above, define irregardless is very simple: it meets our criteria for inclusion. This word has been used by a large number of people (millions) for a long time (over two hundred years) with a specific and identifiable meaning (“regardless”). The fact that it is unnecessary, as there is already a word in English with the same meaning (regardless) is not terribly important; it is not a dictionary’s job to assess whether a word is necessary before defining it. The fact that the word is generally viewed as nonstandard, or as illustrative of poor education, is likewise not important; dictionaries define the breadth of the language, and not simply the elegant parts at the top.

Thoughts?

Friday Fave: A Quote Worth Considering

Joshua Gibbs of Circe Institute offers this kernel of wisdom which dovetails perfectly with my concluding thoughts on Neil Postman’s The Disappearance of Childhood. It’s always exciting when someone says what I tried to say, even if I wish I could have said it as well as they said it. From his recent post, Apart from Dogma, Inspiring Wonder is Reckless:

Children need room to play, but inspiring wonder without also teaching that some things aren’t up for debate is like loosing little children to explore, create, and discover on a busy interstate.

A rather astounding number of Christian high school graduates go on to abandon the faith in college. Is this for lack of wonder or lack of orthodoxy? Both, I suspect.

This quote is worth the price of admission, really, but click over and read the entire post. Those of us who have chosen the path of classical, religious education for our children need to give attention to what it is we’re ultimately trying to produce in our kids. Bonus quote from farther into the post:

Unhinged imaginations always work their way around to perversity.

I’m interested in your thoughts about the aims and methods of education. Share them!

 

 

 

Word Nerd Wednesday: Meaningful Education

homeschool

Which child is REALLY more likely to be playing outside?

Education is a hot topic this week in large part because, despite the fact that we all esteem its importance, there’s little consensus on what it means to be truly educated. This is true even among those who dedicate their lives to dispersing and pursuing education. A compelling example of this emerged this week when Harvard Magazine ran what can only be described as a hit piece on homeschooling.

In what was at best stunning ignorance or at worse knowing deception, they outlined what they titled “the risks of homeschooling”. Several assertions were made:

Elizabeth Bartholet, Wasserstein public interest professor of law and faculty director of the Law School’s Child Advocacy Program, sees risks for children—and society—in homeschooling, and recommends a presumptive ban on the practice. Homeschooling, she says, not only violates children’s right to a “meaningful education” and their right to be protected from potential child abuse, but may keep them from contributing positively to a democratic society.

The phrase “meaningful education” is what initially caught my attention and inspired this post. Before we explore that angle, however, I thought it worth highlighting the government’s own numbers concerning child abuse statistics; specifically the level of child abuse in the state-run school systems, where at least 90% of all American children receive educational instruction:

As of September 2017, the United States Department of Justice was still relying on research from before 2004 that showed “… school employee sexual misconduct, the sexual abuse and misconduct of K–12 students by school employees, is estimated to affect 10% of our nation’s students” (p. 1).[10] The actual percent might have been higher in 2004 and it might have been even higher in 2017 but data have not been available to determine this. Furthermore, these data do not include the physical or psychological abuse of students by school personnel. The authors gave the following finding to the Department of Justice:

Thus, despite clear policies and laws requiring reporting and potential legal consequences for failing to do so, only an estimated 5% of school employee sexual misconduct incidents known to school employees are reported to law enforcement or child welfare personnel, … A 1994 study in New York State found that only 1% of the 225 cases superintendents disclosed to researchers were reported to law enforcement or child welfare and resulted in license revocation … (p. 5)

That is to say, an extremely small portion of sexual misconduct acts by school personnel that are known by school personnel are ever reported to the proper government authorities. Who are these school personnel offenders? “Offenders include all types of school employees, such as teachers, school psychologists, coaches, [bus drivers,] principals, and superintendents” (Grant et al., 2017, p. 2).

In other words, mandating that children report each day to a government-run school is hardly a panacea against abuse. Children are hardly safer at school, especially if you factor in the abuseof all kinds inflicted on students by each other. Additionally, many children who go to school also experience undetected abuse at home. The facts do not support Ms. Bartholet’s assertion. She would be hard-pressed to defend her argument of abuse prevention as a valid reason to “presumptively ban” homeschooling.

Leaving aside the canard of abuse, I wondered about this meaningful education to which children have a right that is presumably denied when parents opt to home educate.

She views the absence of regulations ensuring that homeschooled children receive a meaningful education equivalent to that required in public schools as a threat to U.S. democracy. “From the beginning of compulsory education in this country, we have thought of the government as having some right to educate children so that they become active, productive participants in the larger society,” she says. This involves in part giving children the knowledge to eventually get jobs and support themselves. “But it’s also important that children grow up exposed to community values, social values, democratic values, ideas about nondiscrimination and tolerance of other people’s viewpoints,” she says, noting that European countries such as Germany ban homeschooling entirely and that countries such as France require home visits and annual tests. [emphasis added]

Aha! Finally, we get to the crux of the words meaningful education, where a meaningful education is defined as one where a student is properly indoctrinated with introduced to ideas, philosophies, and perspectives that may diverge from those of their families and faith tradition. Without daily rebuttal’s to the traditional values of their parents, the students’ education is not meaningful.

This position makes a lot of assumptions, chief among them as presented in the article is that all homeschoolers are white conservative Christians. Ms. Bartholet is so determined to stick it to “those people” that she completely ignores the growing contingent of secular and minority homeschool families, including religious minorities.

At the risk of offending, I have to wonder how anyone can observe the increasing ignorance and banality surrounding us and conclude that mass government education definitively provides a meaningful education, including any real understanding of democracy or what it means to tolerate others’ viewpoints.

The irony is palpable in this denunciation of homeschooling, and the timing of this article and the upcoming anti-homeschool conference (itinerary here) couldn’t be worse. In fact, a public educator wrote a thoughtful rebuttal. He writes:

 

Most parents of public school children who are now confined to home-based learning are also balancing careers and do not have the time, energy, or ability to engage like their homeschooling counterparts. Still, the effort to find best practices and effective strategies would benefit at a time like this from a cooperative partnership between the two entities (public school and homeschool).

Unfortunately, no such relationship exists, thanks to years of an entrenched opposition to homeschooling among the educational establishment that has consistently sought to undermine parental rights while exaggerating the authority of the state.

How bad has it gotten? Even now, as the future of public education has been thrown into uncertainty amid a global pandemic, not a humble recognition of its limitations, but a seething condescension towards the backward rubes continues to define our academic elite.

For proof of that fact, look no further than this ridiculous cover for Harvard Magazine’s recent issue.

The whole thing reads like a parody:

  • Home is a prison (with bars on the windows, no less!), but mandated, compulsory public schools are liberating.
  • Religious bias on full display as the Bible forms one of the prison walls.
  • Condescension not in short supply with “arithmetic” intentionally misspelled to mock the average Joes out there “teachin’ ‘em up.”
  • The missed irony of government-education types picturing a captive child at home…in the midst of a lockdown ordered by, you guess it, the government.
  • A subtitle so lacking in self-awareness: “Elizabeth Bartholet highlights risks when parents have 24/7 authoritarian control over their children.”
  • A bizarre, yet not-so-subtle suggestion that homeschool children aren’t allowed out to play.

The most amazing thing about this is that all of these educated professionals can’t seem to figure out that if anyone is demonstrating a narrow-minded, bigoted, intolerant view of the world that exists outside their own rigid dogma and antiquated methodology, it isn’t the homeschoolers.

He’s right. It isn’t, but as usual, rigid ideologues -of any stripe- are nearly incapable of true introspection and objectivity for the good of others or society as a whole. Even the best interests of children must bow in subjection to control and political power.

And that’s too bad, because education, meaningful education, isn’t about any of that.

 

 

 

 

Wokeness Threatens Students Opportunity to Study the Classics

We’ve discussed this topic here before, but a recent piece from Rod Dreher at The American Conservative has reawakened my interest in the subject.  The subject, of course, is the previously slow but accelerating tendency of woke scolds to attempt and purge from the public square anything that doesn’t conform to their perfect, utopian standard of cultural and racial diversity.

Mr. Dreher posted a picture of a now deleted tweet in which a literature teacher from a northeastern school district gleefully announced the district’s trashing of books which do not conform to the aforementioned standards:

book banning bins

There have always been the arguments raised about whether kids should be forced to read classic literature because it is “too hard” for them, they might find it boring, or simply because the kids don’t like to read old books for any number of reasons. Sometimes the teachers themselves might not enjoy sifting through the language and themes with students. Nonetheless, it was generally accepted that the benefits of reading and discussing classic literature added a level of intellectual and literary value that cancelled out most of those complaints.

Lately however, as our culture has become increasingly ideologically divided and more cultural battle lines are being drawn, educational consensus has given way to the kinds of rhetoric displayed above. The Western canon, at least the portion which is authored by European descended men, features traditional Western norms or considers religious mores in any way virtuous, are under severe attack. They are “unengaging, irrelevant, and lacking in cultural diversity” based on the above commentary.

Somehow, as this piece from The Federalist points out, there seems to be little hand wringing or hesitation about subjecting students to questionable content from books which are assumed to be more “engaging, relevant and culturally diverse” so long as they are written by approved, qualified authors.

After becoming familiar with the high school reading list that not only included “Beloved” and “Obasan” (a book about Japanese internment that contains descriptions of a little girl being repeatedly molested by a much older neighbor), but “The Bluest Eye,” another Morrison book, Murphy decided to make her concerns known to the school’s administration.

During a meeting with the principal and assistant principal, teachers, librarians, and the English Department chair, an English teacher told Murphy it was important to assign literary material written by best-selling, award-winning authors and if teachers publicly identified books containing sexually explicit material, parents won’t want their kids to read them.

“The principal said he didn’t feel he needed to make a change, and that I needed to go to the county level where my only recourse was to challenge a single book,” Murphy said. Murphy chose to challenge “Beloved,” losing each of three appeals.

Dissatisfied with the outcome, Murphy took her case to the Virginia Board of Education. When she attempted to email direct quotes from “Beloved” to members, the agency firewall prevented her communications from being delivered.

When parents are informed of these kinds of offensive material being assigned reading, they are often made to feel out of touch because the books in questions have won awards or were written by acclaimed authors:

Kim Heinecke, also a mother of four with two teenaged sons, is an Edmond, Oklahoma, mother who can relate to Murphy’s battle. After her son, a public school sophomore, was assigned the books “The Kite Runner” and “The Glass Castle” as required reading for English II and Pre-AP English II, Heinecke went to the principal and asked for a conference.

“He talked to the teachers [prior to the meeting] and the English teacher’s response to him was that it was an award-winning book and kids hear this kind of thing all the time. I felt as though I didn’t have a right to tell them I didn’t want my kid to read it. They made me feel stupid,” Heinecke said.

Some might argue that these books, which many parents are offended by, offer opportunities to discuss the themes and subject matter in ways that allow parents to reinforce their particular family’s moral or religious values. I believe this line of argument stretches the boundaries of credibility, but let’s acquiesce to it for a moment.

Using the above argument as a foundation, objections to classic literature and the lenses through which they’re written are baffling. Banning or otherwise removing those books from rotation robs students of valuable lessons about the lives and contributions of those who have gone before us. It robs teachers of the opportunity to discuss the history and cultural norms of the writers who authored them, and so juxtapose those norms and values (good and bad) against the norms and values of today.

Our children have all studied classic literature, and our younger children have only ever studied classic literature in school. Their teachers have done a masterful job of walking them through the times and places in which these authors lived and wrote. In the cases where we there was an opportunity to distinguish between what was culturally acceptable in a certain time and place between what is culturally acceptable today, they covered those subject with both the necessary seriousness and a respect for the literary work.

For example, in Rudyard Kipling’s classic Captains Courageous, there is a lot of racially offensive language, or at least language that most of us find offensive today. It wasn’t necessarily considered offensive at the time. Our child’s teacher was able to discuss those issues in class without disparaging the overwhelmingly positive message conveyed by Kipling’s work.

This is important to do because it is very easy for us, in 2019, to sit on a perch of moral superiority and judge the people of the nineteenth century for their ways of living and viewing life. Trashing classic literature in the name of diversity, cultural relevance, and political correctness is to throw out both the baby and the bath water.

I often think -at least I certainly hope- that 50 years from today someone will look back on some of the craziness of today and wonder aloud, “What WERE they thinking that they embraced such things?”

I don’t think that should mean burning every book written in the past 50 years, no matter how personally offensive I find many of them.

 

Does schooling equal educating?

…and are we truly educating anyone anymore?

I have to pick my kids up from class in 30 minutes, so we’ll see if I can eke this out quickly while also inducing curiosity and conversation.

One of my children, recently 13, shared with me a video that a fellow homeschooled friend shared with her. It’s about 8 minutes long, but he’s engaging enough that you won’t get bored. Well, I didn’t get bored.

I don’t agree with every point this young man makes, but he does make a few excellent points that are rarely questioned in the current educational climate. The powers that be spend so much time clamoring for more money to education, no one stops to ask if money is the cure for what ails our education system. Meanwhile, the parents who have the time, money, and life margin to do so opt out of the system, leaving it mostly filled with students from families without the time, money and life margin to exercise alternative options.

It is easy to dismiss the “roll call of the uneducated” that this guy rattles off in defense of his condemnation of school. After all, most of the contemporary drop-outs he mentions were college drop-outs, not secondary school drop-outs. The older names he mentions carry much more weight. As a homeschooling parent, it resonates. It resonates because I recognize that “schooling” and “education” are not synonymous. That is why men such as Abraham Lincoln was sharp of mind and intellect despite a lack of formal schooling.

Right before I watched this video, I read this very insightful piece by Joshua Gibbs. We are heavily invested in the classical education model, including its ideals, so Gibbs’ ideas speak to me even as I recognize that present practical realities mean you have to tick off some boxes for the sake of expediency and legality.

In the ideal world of the passionate classical educator, however, grades, grade levels and all that jazz fade away into obsolescence as education returns to a focus on the good, the true and the beautiful:

Gibbs: As a conservative who generally sides with tradition, I don’t care a fig about progress, but I do care quite a bit about stability and sustainability. What most modern people call “progress,” I call “instability.” The changes this school has made over the last several years have not been accomplished in the name of “progress.” It would be fairer to say the changes are regressive, because they’re aimed at the past, not the future.

Parent: “Regressive” doesn’t sound good, though.

Gibbs: It doesn’t sound good to ears accustomed to hearing the word “progress” used as an unqualified good. Most progressive things are relatively new and based on theories, but conservatives are interested in what has worked and progressives are interested in what might work better.

Parent: So, will using catechisms work better than not using catechisms?

Gibbs: I believe catechisms have worked in the past. Catechisms aren’t something I dreamed up. They don’t work in theory, but in fact. The catechism is one of the most traditional forms of transmitting knowledge there is. Catechisms were abandoned some time ago to make room for progressive models of education, so in returning to catechisms, this school is actually removing what was unsustainable and unstable. A return to stability always involves change—not change for the sake of change but change for the sake of changelessness. I would say the same of the other changes the school has made lately, as well.

Parent: If catechisms and Greek are so traditional, why weren’t they put in place years ago when this school started?

Gibbs: I’ve been reading Ecclesiastes for many years and one of the most important lessons Solomon offers in that book is that no one gets everything they want. Not even the king gets everything he wants. To be frank, I would love to do away with grades entirely. You would be surprised how many teachers at classical schools would love to snap their fingers and make grades disappear. But I know how that would look to many parents. It would look like capitulation to the zeitgeist. It would look like this school was bowing to relativism or forsaking the objectivity of truth. I tend to think that in 20 years, grades are going to be so obviously broken and meaningless that everyone will see it, but I’m content to wait until then.

Go read the whole thing and if inclined, share your thoughts.

None of this is to say that practical things can’t be a part of formal education. By practical I mean the things mentioned in the above linked video: financial education and money management, cooking, practical hands-on skills in order to handle fundamental household needs, and  basic technological skills. To those, I would add statistics and bare bones, no frills studies of the U.S. Constitution. Young people need to know these things and for everything else they need to be equipped with the tools to teach themselves.

Our classical education revolves around studies of writing, literature, logic, history, Latin, and contemplation. Math and science are handled in a more standard educational format for now. We’re not particularly interested in state standards and metrics for where my kid should be, but that doesn’t mean we disregard assessments and measuring progress. We simply know that those are not the principle things, and that at the end of the day, they aren’t the determining factor of success in life.

I’ve learned exponentially more about nearly every subject over the past ten years (except math) than I learned throughout my entire K-12 education plus college years. I have had to actively unlearn many things, in fact.

Lastly, I was conversing with a friend lately and she asked the question: If a high school diploma and 13 years of school cannot even secure a young person a decent job, why are we constantly being asked to pay more and more money in taxes to prop up K-12 education? The short, pat answer of course, is to get our students college ready so that they can pay tens of thousands more dollars to earn a degree and still not necessarily obtain lucrative employment.  But now I just sound cynical when I don’t mean to. The real issue here is:

Can mass schooling produce a genuinely useful, valuable education? And if it can, how do we fix the systemic problems within it which currently prohibit that outcome?

By the way, I wasn’t able to crank this post out in the allotted time. I decided it was more important to peel and dice the sweet potatoes for dinner before picking up the kids. Such is the nature of homeschool life.

 

How to Be Unlucky, part 2

how to be unlucky

How to Be Unlucky: Reflections on the Pursuit of Virtue, by Joshua Gibbs. Originally published in 2018. 246 pages.

Part 1 of this review touched a lot on the spiritual characteristics highlighted in the book’s reflections on the pursuit of virtue. Another aspect of it is that it is also highly concerned with the role the teacher has -in this case the Christian classical educator- in helping his student to pursue virtue.

To that end, interspersed between all the deep burning questions and conundrums Boethius poses to Lady Philosophy in The Consolation, the author treats us to a sampling of the discussions he has with his students. Discussions in which he reminds them of many things, one of which is that adults are no more virtuous than they are, and with it the importance of understanding that now is the time to cultivate goodness.

In the chapter titled On Pedagogy, Gibbs keeps me pretty well riveted (and convicted) from beginning to end. In the chapter he makes the distinction between the three parts of our being which must be rightly ordered for us to be truly virtuous, drawing from C. S. Lewis’ Abolition of Man. Regular readers here are not unfamiliar with the brain as the icon for what we know, the heart for what we love, and the stomach for what we want, our appetite for pleasant things. He argues that stomach holds more power than the brain, and that the heart and the brain must work together to subdue the stomach. This is the reason I so relate and appreciate Mr. Gibbs’ commentary. He isn’t afraid to get real:

Early in my marriage I came to realize that Scripture is no talisman for warding off sin…

On the other hand, when I was tempted to the degradations of lust, I typically found that imagining my wife’s face distorted by tears was such a talisman. Any man battling the temptation to lust will do far better changing his computer desktop to an image of his wife than some artist’s representation of the Ten Commandments. This is not because a man loves his wife more than God (though most men do, in my experience), but because a wife is the living embodiment of the seventh commandment; a spouse is the incarnation of an abstract moral precept. p. 148

Perhaps it’s because I’ve always stood a little in awe of my husband and have also always battled to keep my love of God and my love for my husband in the proper order, but this speaks to me. Deeply, and I cannot remember a time in the last two decades when I’ve read an author or heard a preacher get real this way about well… almost anything. The connection between the physical, living embodiment of a spiritual principle itself is almost unheard of in modern Christian thought. It’s as if admitting that we struggle to do what is right and that it isn’t oh-so-easy simply because we’re head over heels in love with God whom we cannot see makes us bad Christians.

So we pretend. Gibbs doesn’t, and I liked that.

In the chapter titled On Pleasure, Gibbs gets into the confusion and cognitive dissonance that has gripped American Christians as we have designated just about every solitary act as either sinful or not sinful. In doing so, we’ve equalized things that are not equal even though they are not sinful. We’ve also freed ourselves to be perpetually amused and superficially sated, yet without guilt.

Earthly pleasure can lead to sanctification and epiphany, and we should “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8), as the Psalmist says; however seeing that “the Lord is good” is not a result of every taste, and an over-abundance of tasting distracts from our ability to see that the Lord is good. p. 193

In the chapter On Metaphysics and Freedom, Gibbs hits some topics that I am still turning over in my mind. The first is that Adam and Eve didn’t have a sin nature when they sinned, yet the first things we utter when confronted with our sin or someone else’s is that it is our sin nature. Now that alone is enough to stir debate all the livelong day, isn’t it?

His point isn’t to dismiss that Adam and Eve brought sin into the world, but that Christians are so quick to *go there* that we often miss opportunities to address real issues and concerns rather than spout off pat religious answers that we think are super spiritual. Sometimes the answer is simply, we don’t know everything, nor can we.

The title of the final chapter is Why Do Anything? In it, Gibbs closes by making the point that what we do in our mundane daily lives in less important than how ( I’d also add why) we do it.

If a man is willing to become common and to live a common life with times and seasons which God makes common to all, he will submit himself to a mysterious, transcendent reality. p.230

I completely agree, and that is one of the beautiful takeaways of this book in a world and church which is yelling at each of us that we are not common, are not subject to the law of averages, and in so doing makes us perpetually discontent with normal, anonymous daily living.

If I’d offer any negative criticism of the book, it’s that on occasion the flow left a little to be desired. It felt disjointed at a few points, but the overwhelming amount of wisdom and opportunity to for this reader to examine herself and her motivations far outweighed that minutiae.

5 out of 5 stars

You can read a sample of the first chapter of How to Be Unlucky at this link.

How to Be Unlucky, part 1

how to be unlucky

How to Be Unlucky: Reflections on the Pursuit of Virtue, by Joshua Gibbs. Originally published in 2018. 246 pages.

You can read a sample of chapter 1 of How to Be Unlucky here.

The year is young, from a reader’s perscpective, and I still have two Christian books in my queue for the fall (Sacred Pathways and Meet Generation Z), so this may be a premature pronouncement. Nevertheless, I’m going to make it: How to Be Unlucky is by far my favorite nonfiction read of 2018. More than that, and this is saying a lot, it has syrocketed to my top 10 list of Christian books worth reading.

Before I get too far into this, I should issue fair warning. As I have been breathlessly sharing my thoughts on this book with different people, and especially as I share posts penned by Gibbs at the Circe Institute’s Cedar Room Blog, I’ve come to appreciate that Mr. Gibbs is an acquired taste. His tone, idealism, and pull no punches rhetoric isn’t for everyone.

If like me, you like your Truth straight up, you’re tired of pussyfooting around hard things and weary of making excuses for your own shortcomings, then you’ll like this book. If you need caveats and heaping loads of grace poured onto your principled exceptions and extraordinary situations, then skip it. If you don’t like hearing that we do rotten things because of the rot that is in us, and because we take great comfort in indulging our pet sins, again,  I advise you to skip it.

The really cool thing about this book, if I may use such an irreverent term, is that it isn’t at all the Calvinist-sounding manifesto you might be anticipating based on my introductory description. Gibbs is big “o” Orthodox and a classical educator who teaches Great Books to high schoolers, and that, rather than Calvinist theology is what frames the philosophical arguments he makes in this book.

Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy is the source and backdrop which Gibbs uses to take his readers on a journey to prayerfully peel back the layers and examine what really makes us tick. There are several Biblical references, but like a true classisist and adherent of a very old traditional church of the Christian faith, Gibbs draws on the beauty and truth that has been passed down through ages; not as a replacement for Scripture, but as evidence that all expressions of truth are God’s Truth, and I had no trouble drawing clear lines of connection between what Gibbs offered from Boethius and the Truth as revealed in the Bible.

I’m almost done with my second reading of the book, and I’m already getting knee deep into reading The Scarlet Pimpernel along with my kids for literature class, so I figured I should stop mulling over how to review this book and just get to it.

On the first page of the book, Gibbs sets the stage for what to come when he confesses:

I was embarrassingly old by the time I first heard a robust answer to the question, “Why be good?”

Given that, if I am not mistaken, this author is not yet 40 years old, he’s certainly not embarrassingly old, but I do understand this sentiment. American Christianity (and yes, I know how that characterization sounds) is embarrassingly inconsistent is so many ways that it’s easy to see why one might be confused by things that shouldn’t be particularly confusing. At least if we believe, and I do, that our faith is not void of reason or logic.

The struggle to encapsulate what I gleaned from this book is the reason for my delay in reviewing it, so I’ll put a bow on this by offering my favorite quotes from each chapter, beginning with the chapter entitled, Death as a Practical Problem:

Every pursuit of maturity-made during any stage of life, whether made by a high school sophomore or a man in his retirement- is ultimately a preparation for death, there is no sense in preparing for anything else. p.71

This is from the same chapter but I liked it, so:

The oldest woman in the club is an embarrassment, but she is also the woman who was the second-oldest in the club last month, the third-oldest last winter, the fourth-oldest last year…and the three-hundred-twenty-ninth oldest on the eve of her 21st birthday, when she went out dancing for the first time. She had the cultural right to go out on her twenty-first birthday, but with every passing day, the ultimate unreliability of this right should be increasingly clear to her. The best way to not become the oldest woman in the club is to quit going to the club the moment you realize such a future is distasteful. p.70.

From the chapter Fortune, Luck, and Salvation:

The   modern man wants every proverb qualified, asterisked, and stated so tentatively that it has nothing to do with himself. Only a common man cares about what commonly happens, but ours is a generation of proud weirdos. For a proverb to be of value to a man, he must see himself as normal, ordinary, common. He must not see himself as special, atypical, excused from the law of averages. A proverb is not a law, but a description of the world right down the middle. Thus, the more unique a man thinks himself, the less open he is to the wisdom of the ages, for Solomon is not interested in describing the unusual cases, but the conventional ones. p.91

From the chapter Temptation and Besetting Sins:

That the wicked are “happier if they suffer punishment than if they are unrestrained” (p.97) [of The Consolation] is obvious to anyone who has tired of the anxiety which attends continually getting away with sin. Few men want to confess their sin, but they dream of how good life might be today of they had confessed their sin a year ago. A man wants to be done with his sin, but he doesn’t want to suffer the embarrassment of cutting himself off from it, for truly breaking entrenched sinful habits requires the help of others who then become aware of his struggle. Hence, a man tries to deal with his sin on his own. p.135

It wasn’t my original intent to analyze this post in parts, and it still isn’t, but I thinkit will take two posts to say everything I wish to about the book, so I’ll finish doing that in part 2.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back to homeschool (or whatever this is) has arrived.

After attending an orientation last night and rush ordering a few textbooks with expedited shipping, it is official. Summer may not end formally until September 21st (some consider Labor Day summer’s official end), but symbolically, our summer is over. School’s beginning signals a massive shift from the way we’ve been doing things the past four months.

As homeschoolers -technically speaking- our summer starts in mid-May and ends in mid-August, hence the four months of down time. Most of the ancillary schools which support homeschooling families call it quits fairly early compared to traditional school structure. At home, we continue to work diligently into June, but by then we’re only operating at maintenance levels, tying up the academic loose ends of the recently completed school year.

As school starts, my reading queue shifts accordingly. In addition to reading whatever I happen to be interested in at a given moment, I also read whatever my kids have been assigned by their literature teachers. This semester’s list offers me lots of opportunity to revisit old friends that I haven’t read in decades. Titles such as Animal Farm and The Scarlet Pimpernel are on this year’s list, among others. I’m looking forward to seeing these books through my kids’ eyes.

After the orientation and meet and greet so reminiscent of the days when our older kids went through the government school system, I was struck by how the reality of homeschooling (at least how we do it) is so different from the perception most people have when I answer their queries with, “They’re homeschooled”.

We do have friends who have been homeschooling for a quarter century or more and are still at it. That’s one of the great things about homeschooling when you have a large family; so many other people have large families that not only are you not unusual, your family may even be small by comparison to many. Our five kids is no big deal. But I digress.

The point, which I was so easily distracted from, is that homeschooling in 2019 is very different from what homeschooling was in 1994, which was when several of my homeschooling friends started out. The vast number of co-ops, support networks, ancillary schools and opportunities to homeschool in community were far fewer and much farther between than they are today. Those ladies were doing almost all of the heavy lifting on their own, and from what I can tell, most have done an incredible job of it.

Even with all the publicity, resources, and information available related to homeschooling, I still get the same kinds of questions; even from people to whom I’ve answered them several times!

  • Who are you accountable to for your curriculum?
  • How do you know they’ve passed to the next grade?
  • The state allows you to do that?
  • And lastly…

Can you guess, dear reader, what the final and most often posed question is when we mention homeschooling?

I bet you’ll have no trouble coming up with the answer.

All of this left me wondering if homeschooling is even an appropriate description of what many of us are doing now. While our kids’ education is parent directed, we’re not the only teachers, and our kids aren’t at home with us all day, every day. One critical distinction is that what we delegate in time as we outsource some of the instruction, we pay for in treasure, because it’s not cheap, and no one is giving our kids their books as they would in the government school system.

So… if our kids do some of their learning at home, some of it in school, and some of it independently, what would be the proper term for such an education? I for one, believe it’s far more sane and reality-based than the traditional model. A model, I might add, which is only providing optimal results for the children whose family have the time or treasure to properly supplement with home learning and extracurricular support, which sounds eerily like what we’re doing.

We’ve chosen religious rather than secular instruction, but that’s the major difference.

A la carte education is here to stay, unless and until someone decides that is too harmful to the political status quo. I am of the opinion that proper acknowledgment of the a la carte educational model would be a very good thing.

For now, we’re homeschoolers.

Pedagogical Errors

We’ll get back to Mating in Captivity tomorrow; Scout’s honor.

In the meantime, The Atlantic has published a piece which confirms my assertions from the post preceding this one. Specifically, that the attempts to modernize instruction away from techniques that have been proven effective is yielding poor results. After describing an example the author observed in a D.C. elementary school classroom, the article begins to state its case:

That girl’s assignment was merely one example, albeit an egregious one, of a standard pedagogical approach. American elementary education has been shaped by a theory that goes like this: Reading—a term used to mean not just matching letters to sounds but also comprehension—can be taught in a manner completely disconnected from content. Use simple texts to teach children how to find the main idea, make inferences, draw conclusions, and so on, and eventually they’ll be able to apply those skills to grasp the meaning of anything put in front of them.

This is backwards, right? It gets worse, yet simultaneously gives me comfort with the fact that our kids have 1) not been subjected to this approach, and 2) always read whole books, whether they could read themselves or whether I had to read them to them. Here’s why:

In the meantime, what children are reading doesn’t really matter—it’s better for them to acquire skills that will enable them to discover knowledge for themselves later on than for them to be given information directly, or so the thinking goes. That is, they need to spend their time “learning to read” before “reading to learn.” Science can wait; history, which is considered too abstract for young minds to grasp, must wait. Reading time is filled, instead, with a variety of short books and passages unconnected to one another except by the “comprehension skills” they’re meant to teach.

As I noted, the results are in:

As far back as 1977, early-elementary teachers spent more than twice as much time on reading as on science and social studies combined. But since 2001, when the federal No Child Left Behind legislation made standardized reading and math scores the yardstick for measuring progress, the time devoted to both subjects has only grown. In turn, the amount of time spent on social studies and science has plummeted—especially in schools where test scores are low.

And yet, despite the enormous expenditure of time and resources on reading, American children haven’t become better readers. For the past 20 years, only about a third of students have scored at or above the “proficient” level on national tests.

I taught my kids to read by reading to them and also using this admittedly drab phonics book, Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy LessonsIt wasn’t glamorous, as phonics instruction rarely is, but it got the job done and prepared them to be able to read content and then comprehend it.

Of course, it might be helpful if teachers, you know, actually teach kids something about the content they are expected to comprehend as well, which also seems to be missing from the current model. At least it is if The Atlantic piece is to be believed.

The passage and quiz approach leaves a lot to be desired, and I’m sure it’s easier on both the student and the teacher, but what about the long term implications? Why use it if it doesn’t work?