Classics, educational, homeschool, In other's words, joys of reading, parenting

No Time for Reading Books?

More inspiration from the excellent classical educators at Circe Institute.

John Ehrett describes a recent phenomena of high school education that wasn’t common back during the dark ages when I was a high school student. Namely, that literature and language arts teachers are increasingly refraining from assigning classic works of literature as part of their curriculum.

Why you ask? Because of a growing belief that in the absence of the necessary time required to read the books, students are SparkNoting their way through the related assignments. Using the magic of the Internet, it is entirely possible to produce papers and test results which seem to indicate a thorough understanding of the literature even when they haven’t read it:

In my experience and that of many others, this precise problem is virtually ubiquitous across modern education. When it’s scheduling crunch time, “doing the assigned readings” is usually the first thing to go. And why wouldn’t it be? The savvy student motivated predominantly by grades has a whole range of resources at his disposal: Armed with readily available summaries and model answers, he can muddle through papers and exams with half-baked “analysis” that engages the work at the level of its most overt plot points. Viewed through this lens, a book like Anna Karenina becomes a story of infidelity interrupted by annoying digressions about farming rather than the comprehensive meditation on “the good life” that Tolstoy actually penned. Nobody learns anything in this scenario, but A-grades are awarded in due course and everyone moves on.

When grades are the holy grail on which everything of importance rests, the means becomes irrelevant. The ends are all that matter, and the deeper understanding of humanity, life, and nature that one acquires through reading great books is lost. It is not unlike those who are excellent at proof-texting their way through sacred texts to achieve whatever moral or psychological end they brought to the book before they ever picked it up. Winning the argument, the grade, or whatever we need to succeed becomes the goal. Whether that be a good job or peace with ourselves, we’ve learned how to get there. And clearly, we’ve taught our young people how to get there as well. This is not without cost, however:

Of course, eventually this habit catches up to a culture. Whenever I read about top-flight university departments jettisoning the classical canon in favor of more “relevant” offerings, I’ve comforted myself with the thought that most students at elite colleges have already read the Western core: Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Milton’s Paradise Lost, and the rest. If my teacher friend’s experience is representative, though, the situation is graver than that: We now have an educational culture producing students—ostensibly trained in the “liberal arts”—who have no connection whatsoever to the great works of the past, or even the reading habits necessary to engage those works.

This is one of the reasons we have chosen a classical approach to homeschooling our children, although we do so with a veritable mountain of educational support. I could never do it on my own. There are things of far more value than ticking off of the appropriate boxes required to be an efficient cog in the economic wheel:

That is the paradigm that classical education affirms—and by juxtaposing a commitment to moral formation alongside the conveyance of information and data, classical education strikes at the root causes of academic acedia. Surely in the end what matters isn’t an admission letter to a prestigious college—a letter that appears, all too often, to denote compliance with certain procedural norms rather than real intellectual curiosity—but the capacity to live a contented and virtuous life. Speaking as the product of a classically inspired home education, I can attest that such an approach is far more likely to produce students willing to tune out the frenetic clamor of the college-prep-industrial complex and love learning for its own sake.

Click over and read the whole thing. It’s worth the 5 minutes, particularly if you are still educating children. As a slow reader with a very full schedule, I appreciate the pressures of life than encroach on one’s ability to find time to read, savor, and integrate the ideas of deeper works of literature. This pressure is even more pronounced among young people who are facing deadlines in various subjects to numerous teachers. But somehow, we have to find a way to strike a balance for the sake of the lives they have to live when schooling is done.

 

autobiographies, books for women, Christian, marriage and relationships, parenting

Girl, Wash Your Face

girl wash your face

Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be, by Rachel Hollis. Published in February, 2018. 240 pages.

This book is burning up the best seller’s list, and a dear friend of mine really liked it, so I decided to give it a read. I figured going in that anything being read in the numbers that this book is would be a fairly quick read, and I was right. I think I read it in about three days.

I did something with this book that I rarely do when I read, but I almost always do when I read something that is current, popular, and marked Christian. I read reviews from other sources, starting with Amazon, and ending with a couple of reviews from Christian websites. Before I delve anymore into the whys and wherefores of that, I’ll preface it and my review with a short description of the book and its author.

Rachel Hollis is a lifestyle blogger turned motivational speaker and guru who savvily used social media to propel her brand into the mainstream. She’s the wife of a Hollywood distributor who recently left that job to run her company, which exploded in 2015. She’s the mother of four children, and is well loved in Christian cricles for her real talk and vocal profession of faith.

Girl, Wash Your Face is equal parts memoir, motivational pep talks, and self help advice. It was published by Christian publishing giant Thomas Nelson. This last bit of information sent me looking for reviews from other sources even while I was reading this book, because despite the occasional nod to faith and one or two Scriptures here and there, I wasn’t getting what I was expecting to find from a book categorized by Amazon as “Christian Living”.

None of this is to say that I ddn’t enjoy the book. There were parts I enjoyed quite a lot. Hollis has a funny way of telling her stories and an enchanting tone. There are also a few pieces of advice that I strongly disagree with, but overall, it isn’t a bad book. The problem is that it isn’t, to my mind, a “Christian” book.

I believed Hollis’ Christian testimony, so that wasn’t the problem. Mostly, the problem was that fully 90% of the advice in this book was advice any secular self-help person would dole out, because it put so much of the onus for your success, as it were, in your ability to be the hero in your own story. That was unfortunate, because the lies that Hollis induced women to overcome in each corresponding chapter are actually pretty good lies to be rid of:

  • The lie: Something else will make me happy
  • The lie: I’ll start tomorrow
  • The lie: I’m not good enough
  • The lie: I’m better than you
  • The lie: Loving him is enough for me
  • The lie: No is the final answer
  • The lie: I’m bad at sex
  • The lie: I don’t know how to be a mom
  • The lie: I’m not a good mom
  • The lie: I should be further along by now
  • The lie: Other people’s kids are so much cleaner/better organized/more polite
  • The lie: I need to make myself smaller
  • The lie: I’m going to marry Matt Damon
  • The lie: I’m a terrible writer
  • The lie: I will never get past this
  • The lie: I can’t tell the truth
  • The lie: I am defined by my weight
  • The lie: I need a drink
  • The lie: There’s only one right way to be
  • The lie: I need a hero.

Because this is a memoir, each corresponding lie (chapter) begins with a story from the author’s life, relates it to the things many women similarly struggle with, and follows that with admonitions and advice. The advice is usually along the lines of:

“You, and only you, are ultimately responsible for who you become and how happy you are.”
Or:
“When you really want something, you will find a way. When you don’t really want something, you’ll find an excuse.”
And ultimately:

Your life is up to you.

If we can identify the core of our struggles while simultaneously understanding that we are truly in control of conquering them, then we can utterly change our trajectory.

God, your partner, your mama, and your best friends—none of them can make you into something (good or bad) without your help.

You need to prove to yourself that you can do it. You need to prove to yourself you are capable of anything you set your mind to. You have the power.

Being a gal who leans more towards duty and a perpetual battle to learn selflessness, it might just be that I was reading the whole thing from a wrong perspective, and I acknowldge that. However you cut it, this falls woefully short of Christian counsel. That isn’t to say there are no gems tucked away in this book, because there are. For instance, this was one of my favorites:

“Someone else’s opinion of you is none of your business.” Let me say that again for the people in the cheap seats.”

And this made me laugh:

“Our society makes plenty of room for complacency or laziness; we’re rarely surrounded by accountability. We’re also rarely surrounded by sugar-free vanilla lattes, but when I really want one, I somehow find a way to get one.”

As far as light reading goes, this was a nice diversion and in some cases, served as a humorous reminder of things I already know. But nothing about it deepened my faith or propelled me to go deeper into the Scriptures. That was the crux of the very few negative reviews this book received; that whatever it is, it’s not a Christian book. Most of the review, however, were overwhelmingly positive which is why this baby is selling like hot cakes.

For entertainment value and cute story telling, I’ll give it:

3 out of 5 stars

coming from where I'm from, Culture, educational, Els' Rabbit Trails, parenting, philosophy

Corrupting language and education is a political strategy.

Words, their meanings, evolution, and usage are a subject of endless interest to me. Hardly a day passes when I don’t hear or read a word used in ways that are not only incorrect, but defy the actual meaning of the word in insidious ways. The topic emerges with such frequency in conversations in our home that our 12-year-old has taken to making jokes about it at my expense. This is a story worth retelling, so I will.

I mentioned previously that we read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as a part of this semester’s literature course. The kids mostly read the book independently, but at particular intervals, we’d sit together and use the chapters as an opportunity for them to listen to me read, with appropriate intonations and emphasis so that they could fully appreciate the story and language. While I read, they also read long in their personal copies of the book. Yes, we procure three copies of every book their literature teacher assigns them.

One of the things it is important to do while studying classic books is guard against those which are slightly abridged or in which the language has been tweaked to be easier on the modern ear. I am very careful of that, and as I read a particular passage where Mark Twain referred to females as a sex, our 12-year-old stopped me and said, “Wait. My book says gender”. When I asked her to read the passage for me from her version, she smiled and said, “Nah, it says ‘sex’, I was just messing with you.” Touché, young one.

This changing of language, and the redefining of words in ways that our grandparents wouldn’t recognize is common, normal and mostly seen as harmless. For most of my life, I thought so too. That was before I came to realize that the evolution of language has not only accelerated, but has rapidly watered down the desire to think critically rather than simply emoting. Because I am short on time and also desire to leave openings for you all to fill any gaping holes in my argument, here are just a few examples of linguistic evolution that are not only frequent in occurrence but also shockingly unquestioned, even among the sharpest tools in the shed.

  • Sex, which is most accurately and classically defined as one of the two biological classifications assigned to male and female creatures, has been shifted to reference coitus or sexual intercourse and it has been replaced by the word gender, which changes male and female from biological realities to subjective identifications. Even I have to make a conscious effort to avoid the ambiguous gender when I really mean sex.
  • A matriarch is a mother who is the head of her family, household or tribe, and a patriarch is a father who is the head of his family, household, or tribe, but patriarchy is suddenly “the patriarchy, defined as a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are abused and excluded from power. Hmmm.
  • Health insurance, rather than understood as a type of insurance coverage which  covers medical and surgical expenses for a policy holder, has now been shifted and  defined as health care, which is more accurately and classically understood to mean doing the things which maintain and improve one’s physical and mental health. Ergo, you can be perfectly healthy, doing healthful things, but without health insurance, there is no health care*. Marginalized groups have higher percentages of members without “health care”. So we should look at what it means to be marginalized.
  •  Things and people which are marginalized are treated as insignificant or peripheral, and forgotten or abused as a result. At least, that’s the correct and accurate definition of marginalize. Today however, if you are a part of a minority group, you are hereby and forever labeled as marginalized because everyone is permanently slotted into the caste to which they belonged in 1950 America. This satisfies agendas of the current power brokers in education establishments and media. Even if you enjoy whole months of designated to your celebration, and every conceivable legislative policy is amended for your protection, you must be perpetually protected and elevated in status -by force if necessary. Marginalization has its privileges. The greater the number of marginalized groups you belong to, the more you need to be protected because….
  • Intersectionality. This one is so new my browser put the squiggly red line under it, even though it is ubiquitous in academia and grievance industry propaganda. I know how it works in practice, but I’m still working out the intricacies of its use so I’ll just offer the official definition. My dictionary defines intersectionality as “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.” Standard application of intersectionality means that my combination of race, sex, and class, categorizes me as part of a marginalized group with no privileges at all (using the class I was born in rather than the class my zip code and husband’s career has placed us in). There’s even a rubric to tell me how marginalized I am!  I’m in a bad way, let me tell you! It sounds ridiculous, but consider that this is how the majority of Americans are being educated. Which brings me to my last word for today.
  • Education, which long, long ago was defined as an enterprise of instruction and discipline which is intended to enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, form the manners and habits, and fit youths for usefulness in their future stations has now been reduced to mean to go to school*.  School has become a convenient place to check off countless arbitrary boxes for the purpose of securing corporate employment. Fitness for future stations such as citizen, volunteer, spouse, parent, mentor, clergy or even logical thinker, is no longer included in our definition of education although these are all future stations to which most people aspire. That one can attend school for a full 17 years and yet be uneducated in ways that truly matter hardly occurs to anyone before the age of 30, when the extent our ignorance rushes in like a flood.

Just a few thoughts on linguistic evolution and why we must be ever so careful of how we educate our children. The transitions of today have profound implications on not only the people they become, but the world they have to live in.

* I realize that health insurance and health care are considered strongly correlated, as are schooling and education. Rather than flippantly dismiss that with “correlation does not equal causation”, I’ll just note that often our definitions of “healthy” and “educated” are the real issues.

 

nonfiction, parenting, philosophy

Children Learn What They Live

by Children Learn What They Live by [Harris, Rachel, Nolte, Dorothy Law]

Children Learn What They Live: Parenting to Inspire Values, by Dorothy Law Nolte and Rachel Harris. Paperback edition published n 1998. 224 pages.

I picked this book from one of the myriad circles I travel where homeschooling families we know bring their extra books to give away and make space for yet more books. It looked intriguing to me, so I picked it up. At the time, I didn’t realize that the book was based on a relatively well regarded poem of the same title by Dr. Dorothy Law Nolte:

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.

 

The chapters in the book are divided to correspond with each of the virtues as outlined in the poem. When I started reading this, I found a lot of encouragement and opportunities for parental introspection.  Any of us would be hard pressed to deny that the values extolled in the poem are  worthy of emulation and instilling into our children.

However, as I continued to read, I found my discomfort with the tone of the book gradually increasing. I initially chalked it up to my own sense of shame as the realization that my report card, as measured by this poetic rubric -particularly weighed against the examples and stories given in the book to illustrate them-  nets me a solid ‘C’ as a mother. Even making concessions for my inadequacies,  there was something about the book I couldn’t quite put my finger on until I could, and it was this: The ideals are presented in ways which negate the foundational truths of the Christian faith to which I adhere.

For instance, there was no allowance given to the reality that often we should feel shame for our actions  and that we should see the connections between our actions and what they tell us about who we are as human  beings, which can lead us to understand our need for God. Our children need to take this journey as well. That we should be transmitting this truth to our children in ways that which don’t do unnecessary damage is worthy of emphasis. However, this book seemed to imply that we aren’t to impart this truth at all; that shame in itself is inherently damaging. I don’t ascribe to that assertion.

As recognition of my issues with the book took shape, I was able to read it with more of an open mind because I understood that rather than presenting eternal truths, it is presenting ideals in the light psychological and cultural “truth”. Good values, but values which assume inherent human goodness which I reject. More importantly, raising children in this way to the exclusion of any exposure to the reality of human nature in a fallen world sets them up for failure.

We should praise our children when they do well, but Dr. Nolte offers no allowance for the reality that sometimes proper guidance insists that we offer our children constructive criticism. The vagueness in the examples of guidance towards children who have done a disobedient or dishonorable thing seemed to insist that we not make children feel bad, even when they should. The massive fog of entitlement that seems to have swept over and infected every generation from my own (GenX) forward is evidence enough to me that the self-esteem movement has failed. We do them no favors when we shield children from their need for forgiveness and grace.

Lest I am beginning to sound as if I hated the book, I didn’t. I learned some things. Things that I, even after 24 years of parenting, was thankful to be reintroduced to because I can be an impatient mother. The virtues are good ones, and we should be offering our children quadruple the grace as opposed to guilt, if only because we are keenly aware of our own need for grace.

The problem emerges when we uncouple the implantation of these values from transcendent truth, which is exactly what this book attempts to do. Morality without a tether is soon severed in pursuit of what a person thinks they “deserve” when they’ve been trained that they are wonderful, fabulous and deserving of only good things simply because they breathe.

 

3 out of 5 stars.