Poetry: Sir Orfeo

Sir Orfeo, as translated by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Our kids are studying Medieval literature this year. This necessarily means that my reading of The Brothers Karamazov, as well as other personal reading, will be interspersed with readings of Medieval inspired books and poetry.

Sir Orfeo is a poem believed to be originally penned around the 13th century. It is the lyrical, pleasant-reading story of King Orfeo. Orfeo is a happy king enjoying his life, his harp, and his fair wife, Heurodis. 

Sir Orfeo was a king of old,
in England lordship high did hold;
valour he had and hardihood,
a courteous king whose gifts were good.
His father from King Pluto came,
his mother from Juno, king of fame,
who once of old as gods were named
for mighty deeds they did and claimed.
Sir Orfeo, too, all things beyond
of harping’s sweet delight was fond,
and sure were all good harpers there
of him to earn them honour fair;
himself he loved to touch the harp
and pluck the strings with fingers sharp.
He played so well, beneath the sun
a better harper was there none;
no man hath in this world been born
who would not, hearing him, have sworn
that as before him Orfeo played
to joy of Paradise he had strayed
and sound of harpers heavenly,
such joy was there and melody.
This king abode in Tracience,
a city proud of stout defence;
for Winchester, ’tis certain, then
as Tracience was known to men.
There dwelt his queen in fairest bliss,
whom men called Lady Heurodis,
of ladies then the one most fair
who ever flesh and blood did wear;
in her did grace and goodness dwell,
but none her loveliness can tell

Not long after their introduction, Orfeo and Heurodis’ idyllic life is disrupted when she is kidnapped by the magic of the Faerie king and whisked away from her husband and home.It is, as I mentioned, Medieval literature. As such it is replete with all that the period entails; magic, darkness, and sufferings. 

What follows is 10 years of suffering and grief for Orfeo, who cannot bear to reign without his queen by his side. He wanders through the forests, aimlessly and bereft of hope until one day, he spots his beloved Heurodis. In addition to the suffering, Medieval literature also offers its readers romance, gallantry, and light. 

I don’t wish to give away any more spoilers, so you can read it here for free to discover what follows. It is far less linear than you might assume. There is much more to discover than have even begin to unpack here.

 It really is a beautiful piece of narrative poetry.

Real Homeschool Life

I’m almost always astounded by people’s perceptions of family life when weighed against reality.

I don’t recall who said it because I don’t have a Twitter account, but somehow I came across a tweet by a man who declared that every man should assess the value of his wife during the current quarantine. He asserted that this could be done by observing the state of his home during this period.

Since wives are sequestered, he said, their homes should be spotless. For a brief moment, I offered mild mental assent to the idea that since there are more women at home, a lot of housework that has been getting postponed by the rat race would suddenly move to the top of the queue. And then I remembered something vitally important, and it came to me quickly because I have had the experience as a mother of children in school full time and as a homeschooling mom.

The reality is that a house that is being lived in all day is much harder to keep neat than one where the children are absent for 7 hours of the day. This is doubly true when you’re homeschooling, which literally every family in America has been doing for six weeks straight. It’s just another one of those things where the perception held by the uninformed sound good because they’re usually preaching to people who are equally uninformed.

Lest I’m misunderstood, we keep to a pretty strict and thorough cleaning regimen in our house. Floors are mopped every day, bathrooms cleaned every day, etc. We don’t do dirt around here. But we also have many days when our very large dining room table has art supplies on one corner and a stack of math or science books on another. Prince Caspian might be left on the sofa, along with a guitar and music stand set up by the chair. An easel with whiteboard and markers for math instruction is in the family room, and the collection of items needed to perform a science experiment are waiting to be put away. That’s not including the normal bit of clutter that comes with making dinner for seven people from scratch every night.

In other words, there are almost no circumstances under which this house will ever appear as tidy and neat as it did when our older kids were in public school all day and I was able to clean the house, breathe in the freshly dusted air, then sit back with a book for a few minutes before it was time to pick them up from school.

To be sure, there has been time to tackle a few big projects. We did such things as cleaning the garage and purging the file cabinet. I helped my husband build a couple of really nice wood storage pieces. I redid the pantry with labels and hopefully a better organization system. I’m fairly certain every family we know has been doing things like that while being at home.

However, I learned very early on my homeschooling journey that I could either give all my energy to keeping the house clean, or I could give the necessary attention to my children’s education. The latter necessarily meant there would be pockets of clutter and temporary postponement of chores not directly related to ensuring a hygienic domicile.

I can only imagine how much of a challenge it is right now for families who are suddenly juggling working from home and home educating on top of regular homemaking duties, all at once, for the very first time.

The mark of a good wife and mother is not whether she keeps a spotless house simply by virtue of the fact that she’s home all day. Being at home all day with our children opens up opportunities to do many things. If the only opportunity we take advantage of is the opportunity to keep things clean, we’re not doing it right.

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.

 

 

 

 

Off the beaten bibliophilic path…

In case anyone was wondering, the answer is yes. Bibliophilic is a valid word rather than one of my creative conglomerations. According to Merriam-Webster, bibliophilic is the adjective form of bibliophile.

My regular reading schedule has been pretty derailed over the past several weeks. This has been the case for both noble and less than noble reasons. I suppose the marked decreased pace of book reviews reveals that I haven’t been reading as much as I normally do. I am reading, but the breaks between sessions are much longer than normal.

One of the reasons I’ve read less over the past month is because the quarantine has induced within me a burning conviction to be productive in quantifiable ways. Stuff that wasn’t getting done while we were running the rat race now has no excusable reason for going undone. To that end,  more time is dedicated to larger household chores and projects. Among them:

  • We cleaned the garage at the end of the first week of quarantine, although it’s quickly regressing.
  • The tedious, eye-crossing, painstaking work of cleaning and clearing out our file cabinets and other areas of paper jungles. We just finished that over the weekend.
  • Sewing a few masks, although I admit I haven’t worn any. I do make our youngest kids wear them on the few occasions they accompany me to the grocery store and two of our older children are required to wear them at work.
  • I’ve begun blanching and freezing fresh fruits and vegetables as a preparation measure for whatever economic situation may be coming around the corner.
  • I’ve helped my husband build out a couple of pieces of furniture to create storage in both the bedroom and family room.
  • We’ve all been cooking quite a bit more than usual, exercising creativity in the kitchen because we have the time to do it.

I am still working on a few things as well as re-visiting jobs that were done but need to be updated:

  • Rearrange and re-stock the pantry (again)
  • Continue prepping fruits and veggies
  • Gather unused items for Goodwill/Salvation Army pickup

In the midst of all of this, there is the additional work of staying on top of the kids’ studies and making sure that their assignments are scanned or emailed in on time. Because their school only met twice a week and the teachers work in conjunction with homeschoolers and their objectives, we haven’t had the kind of taxing experiences that have been reported from parents of children in school full time. However, there has still been some added work. Fortunately, for us, the formal school year ends at the end of this month so we will soon be on a much more relaxed schedule.

Our annual May vacation has, of course, been canceled this year, and a lot of other activities we would do in summer won’t necessarily be available either. Because of that, another challenge for me is filling the need for engaging activities through the months of May and June. I’m gearing up for that and am open to suggestions. The kids are 11 and 13, if that helps.

My time hasn’t only been filled to the brim with busy, productive activities. To pretend otherwise would be disingenuous. I have also recently gotten totally hooked on The Chosen, as much because of the back story of its creation and execution as because of the show itself. You should take a minute to read about it.

Despite all the distraction and upheaval brought on by this strange phenomenon called COVID-19, I am still reading, albeit at a snail’s pace. Hopefully, I’ll have a new book review up by the end of the week.

 

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.

 

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.

What is Classic Enough to Be Classical?

I already know the answer to my own question, but as usual, Mr. Joshua Gibbs has offered me educational food for thought. In his article Classical: A Word in Need of a Common Sense Definition, Gibbs uses his trademark -hypothetical?- conversation to demonstrate that we have woefully complicated a term that most people innately understand. Namely, what we mean when we identify our selves as classical educators or classical homeschoolers:

I would like to argue that classical educators should own up to a common understanding of what the word “classical” and “classic” mean. Rather than explaining classical education in terms of Dorothy Sayers and three stages of learning— which makes Sayers out to be little different from Freud, Piaget, or any of the other 20th century theorists who were always reducing childhood to a sequence of stages— classical educators should happily admit that “classical” connotes “old things” and not be embarrassed by it.

I agree, because while the whole grammar, logic and rhetoric thing speaks to me as a nerd type, it’s really not revolutionary. For example, we all *get* that you teach kids their multiplication tables when they are very young so as to prepare them for more complicated math later. Internalizing the multiplication facts makes it much easier to solve complex equations which also include a knowledge of multiplication facts.

This principle can be applied to phonics, the scientific method, historical dates, or myriad other subjects. You fill the stufdent with the basic knowledge while they are young and spongelike (the grammar stage) to prepare them for later stages. Even educators who have no frame of reference for the classical education model intuitively know this.

We also know that the spirit of postmodernism tries desperately to assert that there may be new, better, more fashionable ways to transport a child from the grammar stage to the rhetoric stage. They never give up the fight to discard the tried and true no matter how well it works, and  no matter how much cultural or educational carnage their experiments leave in their wake. We all see how it is turning out, which is the reason for this current revival of classical education.

The fact that the basic stages of a child’s mental development are widely understood, even if only intuitively, is why Gibbs is inviting those of us involved in the movement to consider embracing a common sense, common man’s approach of describing to others what it is we mean by classical education. In this conversation, he invites us to listen in to one such explanation, one which proves the statement I made above. Most people basically already know what classical means:

Fellow on a train: What line of work are you in?

Gibbs: I’m a classical educator.

Fellow: What’s that mean?

Gibbs: Well, when you hear the word “classical,” what are the first things which come to mind?

Fellow: I suppose classical things are usually old things. Ancient Rome. Statues. I also think of classical music, which is old music, and I’ve heard that classical music is really good— and it probably is— but I’m not really into it, even though I probably should be. Or maybe “classical” is related to “classic,” as in “classic cars” or “classic rock.” So perhaps “classic” means something which is old, but still kind of good.

Gibbs: To be quite frank, I could not have defined the word “classical” any better myself. Would you mind humoring me by answering another question?

Fellow: Why not?

Gibbs: Supposing your understanding of the word “classical” is spot on, what do you suppose a classical education is?

Fellow: I suppose it’s an education that centers around old things and old music.

As the conversation unfolds, Gibbs explains to the fellow traveler why we esteem the old things as “good”. You can read the rest here, but there was one bit that jumped out at me precisely because it hits me where I live:

Gibbs: A moment ago, you said that you’ve heard “classical music is really good,” and that this judgement was probably true, but that you nonetheless don’t like classical music. And then you said something really fascinating. You said, “I probably should” like classical music. How come?

Fellow: If everyone says it’s good, it probably is.

Gibbs: Lots of people say Post Malone’s music is good, though. There are songs of his which have well over a billion streams on Spotify.

Fellow: That’s true, but Post Malone doesn’t seem much like Beethoven.

Gibbs: Agreed. How come?

Fellow: Because when I hear a song by Beethoven or Mozart or whoever, I always think, “I should probably like this.” But no one has ever heard a Post Malone song and said, “I should probably like this.” People like Post Malone’s music immediately, but if they don’t like it immediately, they would never say, “I should probably like this.”

Gibbs: Why not?

Fellow: By the time you learn to like Post Malone, everyone will have moved on to something else. However, if it took you ten years to learn to love Beethoven, at the end of it all, everyone would still be listening to Beethoven.

Gibbs: So, if you learned to love Beethoven, there would be a community of Beethoven lovers waiting for you in the end?

Confession: With the exception of a few of his piano somata’s, I’m not a huge fan of Beethoven. This is despite the fact that my children attend, and I teach at, a classical school.  In fact, some of my taste in music is pretty base by comparison. I really enjoy music that makes me want to move. I’ve matured enough in the years since we began our classical journey that popular music has lost most of its appeal, but I have developed an interest in Latin music because I like to dance. In my house, only. I have even considered joining a Zumba class just so I can indugle my hip gyrations guilt free.

An old, if not classical music art form that I have begun to enjoy a great deal over the past year is jazz. In particular, Duke Ellington’s compositions from the 1930s and 1940s. It’s old, it’s birth is unquestionably Western, but I know that it isn’t classical. As I read Gibbs’ piece, I wondered if a day might come when someone might consider it classical. And I wondered if I will ever, in my heart of hearts be what one might call a truly classical educator. If nothing else, I do love old books.

This is one of my favorite Duke Ellington recordings, In a Sentimental Mood, recorded in 1935:

 

Another confession: I have absolutely no idea who Post Malone is either.

 

Continuing Education Adjustments- Writer’s Edition

Juggling the student ball with wife and motherhood balls is a delicate balancing act. I assumed that enrolling in Local U. via online classes would significantly reduce the need to carefully schedule my life. I was mistaken. I thought having done this before, I knew what it would be like, but my life is much different now than it was the first time I went back to college.

Back then, I had three children rather than five, and those kids were in school from 8AM-3PM, freeing up many hours to take care of everything that needed to be taken care of, without much interruption. Even when I accounted for my school volunteer time, I had at least 20 solo hours a week to dedicate to studying, housework, and self-care without missing very many beats.

This time, I have two children with me all day, every day, and I am responsible for their education as well as my own. It’s summer, so the demand is significantly less, which is why chose a summer session, but there are still demands to be met alongside the time I spend doing class work and participating on class discussion boards. My husband, the driving force behind me finally taking the plunge and hitting the books again, has been extremely helpful, as have our older children, but at the end of the day, I’m still the mistress of this little domain. As such, I always feel the pressure to make sure that I get done what needs to get done. Overall, it’s going quite well.

As an aspiring writer, I decided that current knowledge of industry information was paramount to accomplishing my goal. I’m not particularly interested in typing out my random thoughts, checking the grammar, and then self-publishing. There are millions upon millions of books out there which meet minimum standards of readability, but I desire to do more than that. And while I have heartfelt appreciation for the many people who have encouraged me over the years that I write well, and have something worth saying, even the roughest diamond needs a lot of polishing. When I write what is in my heart, I want it to shine.

One area of knowledge I believe is important is a thorough, working knowledge of current copy editing standards. The first round of classes I am taking will leave me with the certifications I need to be proficient as a professional copy editor. Anyone who has read my blog for any length of time has noticed that my writing is often riddled with typos. Training my eye to see mistakes quickly, to notice deficiencies in syntax, and to make the most of my writing style can only help me as I combine my thoughts into something worthwhile.

The surprising thing about this new excursion has been discovering that I know much more than I realized. There have been moments, even in the scant three weeks since I started the first class, when I have felt woefully over prepared. I did well on my pre-assessment, when I expected to do much worse considering the years I’ve been out of the classroom- as a student. I haven’t run into any major difficulties yet. The temptation is rising in me to coast and not put in the effort to excel. I’m not sure if any real effort will even be required for me to excel. The area which has required the most mental diligence is the study of specific publishing indutry standards, of which I am woefully ignorant. This experience is teaching me something valuable.

My years out of the classroom (as a student) and at home, haven’t been void of learning, growth, or intellectual stimulation. Homeschooling my cildren, as well as teaching the children of other homeschooling families, has kept me sharp and up to speed on a lot of things I may have otherwise lost along the way.

Investing the time and treasure to pursue this continuing education is worth the shuffle. Whether I succeed at writing an inspiring tome, or simply make a few bucks as a freelance editor, this will, I pray, prove to be a rewarding encounter for years to come.

A Logophile’s Educational Musings

I really enjoy word games. Whether Words with Friends, Word Cookies, or Word Cross, they can keep me entangled and unproductive for longer than I care to admit. I love words in general, and my children have inherited many of my logophile ways. Grammar, turns of phrases, and puns are regular sources of conversation for us; as well as the origins of many idioms and axioms. Words fascinate me. More than fun or even useful, words are also powerful.

We throw them around far too carelessly, forgetting that words can be agents of uncommon inspiration or destructive demoralization. I am among the aforementioned we.  I’m not always careful with my words either. I’d like to think that as a lover of words, I’m more careful than most, but a subjective analysis isn’t worth much.

In a culture where nearly everything is dumbed down to its base level, is it any wonder that great ideas, expressed in beautiful prose, are lacking? Where does the ability to express ourselves and encourage others come from, whether verbally or in written form? If “intellectual stimulation” is gathered mostly through Twitter, television, YA fiction and Facebook blurbs, it doesn’t offer much to draw on for discussing big ideas.

Lindsay Brigham Knott examines what this means for helping students to develop as writers in her recent offering at Circe Institute’s Apiary blog.

Amongst the greatest gifts a classical school can bestow upon its students is the opportunity to become skilled in the use of words.

“Opportunity,” not “ability,” for no institution nor teacher nor curriculum can make good writers any more than one man can convert another: the student himself must labor to train his hands for the task, and pray for the Muse to animate them. But it is incumbent upon classical schools—which aim to make students more human, tend all their natural capacities into full blossom, unshackle their desires and discipline their wills towards the wise use of leisure time, and enable them to know and live “the good life,” all by nurturing them in wisdom and virtue—to commit a large portion of their and their students’ energies to word-training.

In other words, words and their usage are vitally important. A cursory glance or slightly perked ear easily reveals how words can be used to manipulate everything from our spending habit to political policies to social and cultural mores. She adds:

It’s in attempt to communicate this vision that I often begin writing classes by asking students to consider all the parts of their lives that involve words. By words we commune with family and friends who give our days meaning; by words we decree the rules and call the plays of sports that delight our bodies and imaginations; by words we advertise the commodities that flood the markets and saturate our desires; by words we scribble out daily lists of chores, assignments, groceries, goals, dreams that form us down the years; by words we struggle to illumine the murky impulses of our own mysterious souls; by words we receive God’s scriptural self-revelation and respond in prayer and praise.

The question this author poses is whether or not those of us committed to classical education are seeing the fruits of our labor as graduates from classical schools and programs are launched into the world. Do the students reflect a level of thoughtfulness in their use of language which reflects years of studying St. Augustine, Homer, or Spenser? She determines that the answer is negative, but that most of us barely notice or see this as a problem. After all:

…they made good grades in their classical schools. Their college professors compliment their uncommon ability to express individual opinions and formulate intriguing thesis statements. Their essays ruin the curve for the rest of the class. They do in fact use words well . . . in the supremely limited context of academic writing and speaking.

This dichotomy suggests that classical school students are, in fact, mastering what their schools give them opportunity to learn about using words—but that schools themselves may not be shaping those opportunities as holistically as they could. Consider: most classical schools do prioritize training in language. Indeed, many schools of the Classical Renewal so emphasize the subjects and sequence of the Trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) that some onlookers may equate “classical education” with “linguistic and literary education,” consisting of lots of Latin, lots of old books, and lots of essays. But by and large, curricula and classroom instruction suggests that skill with words means merely correct grammar, proper essay structure, varied diction and syntax, and a tasteful sprinkling of rhetorical flourishes, for that is what they teach and assess.

In other words:

I wonder whether classical schools, in their laudable zeal to train students to write well, have unconsciously adopted a model of writing instruction that does not in fact cohere with their larger aims for students—humanness, rightly-formed desires, the good life, wisdom and virtue. Too often they have taken the best of the writing instruction that non-classical schools use, focusing exclusively on academic writing like persuasive essays, literary analysis, or research papers, and married it to classically-influenced content of old books and rhetorical terminology. The fruit of the union is a program that is more college preparatory than classical, and graduates whose skill with words differs from that of their peers only in the classroom.

You should read the whole thing.

What Mrs. Knott describes is the perpetual challenge homeschoolers of every stripe must overcome. For those of us who were traditionally educated, the tendency to transfer the strategies, pace and benchmarks to our kitchen tables –while using better literature- is a constant temptation. Old habits die hard and all that.

These habits, coupled with unhealthy media consumption and reading habit, don’t only create writers with less appreciation for using words well, they also fail to inoculate emerging adults with the foundational ideals necessary to counter the onslaught of propaganda and clever use of words they’ll encounter throughout their lives.

Words, read, spoken, and written, are powerful. We forget this to our peril.