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Thursday, November 15, 2018

CM Tribalism

Sisyphus by Titian, 1549


A couple of years ago I heard Dick Keyes speak at a CMI conference I spoke at out here in California. He had two wonderful talks, one on imagination and one on heroes. At the end of one of his talks, he touched on the topic of Christian Tribalism - a term I'd never heard, but a phenomena I was familiar with.

He said that in order to cope with the reality of the world around us, Christians can tend towards one of two extremes. On the one end you have those who compromise and become so blended in with the secular world that they are indistinguishable from anyone else; you can't tell them apart from a non-believer. They have become saltless salt. On the other end, he said, "equal and opposite" is "Christian Tribalism" - a quarantined community with its own subculture that adheres to its own set of rules. Similar to the way musk oxen protect their young by building a barrier around them. They end up subordinating God's rules and voiding His commandments for the tradition of man. These two extremes exemplify two ways to destroy the bible: subtract from it or add to it.

As mentioned above, I had never heard the term "Christian Tribalism" before, but as I thought about it many times since then I couldn't help but draw parallels and notice the same phenomena happening in Charlotte Mason Homeschooling circles. On one extreme CM is no longer CM, it's watered-down, eclectic, anything goes with a touch of nature study and tea-time. On the other extreme it is a quarantined community with its own subculture adhering to its own rigid set of rules disregarding the whole truth of CM's.   

It's human nature. On the one hand, we don't want to take the time to learn about a thing, but we like some element of it so we adopt the part we like and call it a day. It's convenient, and if we call it CM we misrepresent its truth. On the other hand, we become obsessive and pedantic, exalting our own way of doing a thing, over and above its own purposes, to the detriment of others and the benefit of self.

I've definitely been guilty of the latter in my own home. My insistence on ordering our children's affections at times has gone above and beyond anything suggested by CM. In my pursuit of excellence for them, I've set aside their personhood and guilted them into cleaning the kitchen or finishing their school work. I've made them feel bad for wanting to play a video game or watch TV instead of read a book in their free time. Those kinds of things are my own kingdom's subculture's rules and not necessarily CM's. And the kids can completely detect the hypocrisy. It doesn't work to order the affections one. bit. In fact, it works quite well against it.

Charlotte Mason wrote:
The desire to be exceptional is in us all, and some of us prefer a bad eminence to none. Pride takes all sorts of unexpected action; and when it leads us to rest our right to distinction on some oddity proper to us, we are on the way to mania. ~Charlotte Mason, Vol. 5, p.406
When we find ourselves more concerned about our "right to distinction" than the families and children we are called to serve, we are most certainly on our way to mania, the prideful sort that crushes tender spirits and souls while splintering relationships and communities.

In a sermon last week, our pastor mentioned this quote by Charles Spurgeon:
The black devil of licentiousness destroys his hundreds, but the white devil of self-righteousness destroys his thousands.
I have seen and talked to too many moms out there feeling the burden of this kind of CM Tribalism. They feel the burden and the pressure of some subculture requirement never articulated by CM and feel less-than, discouraged, not-good enough. They pass the burden right onto their children in the name of CM. Their burdens are exacerbated as they scroll through an endless array of images on social media depicting people they can't be like, doing things they aren't doing. They are enslaved by a man-made subculture propagated by foolish pride. Mine, yours, all of ours.

Charlotte Mason said hers is a wide and generous education for all. Not just for the select few, not just for the ones whose lives are put together perfectly, but ALL. The messy ones, the dirty ones, the unfortunate ones, the lowly ones, the disorganized ones, the suffering ones, the difficult ones, the poor ones, the special needs ones, ... ALL. All can partake of this feast if you and I care to help them and avoid either of the two extremes. It was her hope and dream that we would, for the children's sake.
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. ~Galatians 5:1
Give yourself grace; give your kids and others grace. Enjoy the time you have. Enjoy the beauty of it with your children. Know that you're doing a wonderful, beautiful thing.
Like the quality of mercy, it is not strained; certainly it is twice blessed, it blesses him that gives and him that takes, and a sort of radiancy of look distinguishes both scholar and teacher engaged in this manner of education... ~Charlotte Mason, Vol.6, p.27
But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. ~1 Cor 15:57



Wednesday, October 17, 2018

SocalCM and Upcoming Conferences



We've created a new FB group SocalCM for any "CMers" who live in Southern California. There are many things particular to us - like the Burgess books aren't talking about our birds! So we created this space to connect and contemplate together about many and sundry such things. 

Before you hop over to join the group, please be aware this group is not a place to sell products or services or spam a list. (Is it sad that I even need to say that? YES!) Neither is it a place to argue the rightness about the particulars of CM, or the rightness of something that is completely not CM - there are forums for that and this group is not it. Civil discussions are welcome.

Our hope is that this group will provide a fun and engaging space for us all. Of the many things I've heard CM moms say over the years, the one thing they long for is community and connection with other CMers - people who love and enjoy the wide feast also. We realize there are many pockets of individuals and groups here, there, and everywhere in Socal so we hope it will be a place where you can find that as well as encouragement and inspiration. 

You can find the group at www.facebook.com/groups/socalcm



We are also having a conference this coming weekend and hope many of you were able to register. Registration is closed already but you can follow along at our hashtag #socalcmconference where we'll hopefully get to posting pics from the day. 




The AmblesideOnline Camp Meeting is coming up April 4th - 6th, 2019 in Dickson, TN. Registration opens November 1st and will likely sell out quickly so don't wait to register! 




The Great Homeschool Convention in Ontario, CA is coming up June 13th - 15th

Mind to Mind - an Old Commonplace Page

I came back tonight to take a peek at my sorely neglected blog and I found this old page sitting unpublished with the title "Mind to Mind." We're calling it "keeping" and "commonplace" these days (wow that makes me sound old!) but I thought I'd share it with you now. Here's what Charlotte Mason said about "Mind to Mind" in Volume 6:

Diet for the body is abundantly considered, but no one pauses to say, "I wonder does the mind need food, too, and regular meals, and what is its proper diet?" 
I have asked myself this question and have laboured for fifty years to find the answer, and am anxious to impart what I think I know, but the answer cannot be given in the form of 'Do' this and that, but rather as an invitation to 'Consider' this and that; action follows when we have thought duly. 
The life of the mind is sustained upon ideas; there is no intellectual vitality in the mind to which ideas are not presented several times, say, every day. But 'surely, surely,' as 'Mrs. Proudie' would say, scientific experiments, natural beauty, nature study, rhythmic movements, sensory exercises, are all fertile in ideas? Quite commonly, they are so, as regards ideas of invention and discovery; and even in ideas of art; but for the moment it may be well to consider the ideas that influence life, that is, character and conduct; these, would seem, pass directly from mind to mind, and are neither helped nor hindered by educational outworks.

So here are some words from the minds of others that passed to mine years ago. (Now I sound old and nostalgic!)


Love is like understanding,
that grows bright,
Gazing on many truths;
'tis like they light,
Imagination! which from earth and sky,
And from the depths of human fantasy,
As from a thousand prisms and mirrors,
fills the universe with glorious beams.
~Epipsychidion, Percy Bysshe Shelley (as quoted by CM in Vol. 6, p.157)

-------------------------------------------------
Be slow in choosing a friend, slower in changing
He that cannot obey cannot command
God helps them that help themselves
Diligence is the mother of good luck
What is serving God? 'Tis doing good to man
The worst wheel of the cart makes the most noise
He that lies down with dogs shall rise up with fleas
~Ben Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanac

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Madame Guyon, persecuted for her faith, spent many years imprisoned in a dungeon lit only by a candle at mealtimes wrote this poem:

A little bird I am,
Shut from the fields of air,
Yet in my cage I sit and sing
To Him who placed me there,
Well pleased a prisoner be,
Because, my God, it pleases Thee
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In a Library
by Emily Dickinson

A precious mouldering pleasure 't is
To meet an antique book,
In just the dress his century wore,
A privilege, I think,

His venerable hand to take,
And warming in our own,
A passage back, or two, to make
To times when he was young.

His quaint opinions to inspect,
His knowledge to unfold
On what concerns our mutual mind,
The literature of old;

What interested scholars most,
What competitions ran
When Plato was a certainty,
And Sophocles a man;

When Sappho was a living girl,
And Beatrice wore
The gown that Dante deified
Facts, centuries before,

He traverses familiar,
As one should come to town.
And tell you all your dreams were true;
He lived where dreams were sown.

His presence is enchantment,
You beg him not to go;
Old volumes shake their vellum heads
And tantalize, just so.
-----------------------

These ideas are "found," as it were, not manufactured, and it is the independent discovery of these ideas by men and women down through the ages that has led to "the great conversation"
~David Hicks, Norms & Nobility
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If descriptive science is to aid our schools and flourish them, it must remain in the service of a prescriptive ideal.
~ David Hicks, Norms & Nobility
-------------------------------------

The older I get the more I realize that the only thing a teacher has to go on is that rare spark in a boy's eye. And when you see that, Brian, you're an ass if you worry where it comes from. Whether it's an ode of Horace or an Icelandic saga or something that goes bang in a laboratory.
~Dr. Prescott, headmaster in The Rector of Justin
----------------------------------------------------

If I set the sun beside the moon,
And if I set the land beside the sea,
And if I set the town beside the country,
And if I set the man beside the woman,
I suppose some fool would talk about one being better.
~G.K. Chesterton
-------------------------------------------------------

There is no better place than this, not in this world and it is by the place we've got and our love for it an our keeping of it that this world is joined to heaven.
~Wendell Berry, Hannah Coulter
-----------------------------------------

For when a man is a king among men, as was King Arthur, then is he of such a calm and equal temper that neither victory nor defeat may cause him to become either unduly exalted in his own opinion or so troubled in spirit as to be altogether cast down into despair.
~Howard Pyle, The Story of King Arthur

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Beauty, Truth, and a Gothic Trio


My 10th grade daughter entered into Gothic reads this year with Jeckyl and Hyde and Frankenstein, followed by The Deadliest Monster which I have on order as I write this. I decided to read the the first two, the former because it is so talked about - Tim Keller references it in his book Reason For God - and the latter out of morbid curiosity. I mentioned my readings to a friend and she highly recommended Dracula so I am now reading that.

As creepy as these stories sound - and truly are - I also found great beauty contrasted out of the darkness in the storyline. Most of you have heard the story of Dracula, if not from the story itself, from The Count "ah, ah, ah, ah!" on Sesame Street or somewhere else. Van Helsing is the Dutch professor who is called on to help with a particular young, beautiful patient, Lucy, who dies and becomes a vampire, the "un-dead." As they drive the final stake in her heart to once and for all kill the thing she had become and release her soul, we read:
There, in the coffin lay no longer the foul Thing that we had so dreaded and grown to hate ... but Lucy as we had seen her in her life, with her face of unequalled sweetness and purity. True that there were there, as we had seen them in life, the traces of care and pain and waste; but these were all dear to us, for they marked her truth to what we knew. One and all we felt that the holy calm that lay like sunshine over the wasted face and form was only an earthly token and symbol of the calm that was to reign for ever. 
Contrast that to an earlier description of her in her un-dead state:
She seemed like a nightmare of Lucy as she lay there; the pointed teeth, the bloodstained voluptuous mouth - which it made one shudder to see - the whole carnal and unspiritual appearance, seeming like a devilish mockery of Lucy's sweet purity.
There is so much here that this brought to mind for me. It made me think about the truth of beauty by contrasting dark voluptuousness and purity. Much of the first half of the book is about these men's fight for Lucy's life, a pure and sweet girl who is gradually losing her self and succumbing to the vampire and the dark. She seemingly becomes more "beautiful" in death than she was in life. Her lips are a deep red. She has a seemingly irresistible attractiveness about her. But we come to find it is a selfish, uncaring and dark beauty by how she treats a child and tries to attract her husband only to save herself.

What really is beauty? I think Van Helsing's thoughts as he sees the transformation in Lucy in the first quote above describes it so well - her beautiful character, her "real-ness," her truth. It brought back to mind a podcast I listened to a while back called "The Propoganda of Pretty" that had a great discussion on true beauty. It's a good one to listen to with your older girls.

It also made me think of our conversion. It parallels a person's transition out of sin into the peace of a soul claimed by the Holy Spirit; how the soul rests as we are redeemed and reconciled to God by the blood of Christ.

When I told my daughter that I thought this part in the book, where Lucy's husband releases her soul by driving a stake through her, was a beautiful depiction of our salvation, she said, "But isn't releasing a soul God's doing, not man's?" And I thought that was a pretty great question.

Jeckyl and Hyde and Frankenstein are both on AmblesideOnline's Year 10 curriculum (what we use) while Dracula is not. I continue to love the AO curriculum and the thoughts and ideas it brings up and the perspective it brings in through books like these, paralleled with books like Deadliest Monster. It guides them to discernment and makes for interesting and enjoyable conversation in the family as we make our way through the curriculum and life. 

Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
~Proverbs 31:30











Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Delightfully Casual Element of Nature Study - In Memoriam


Did you know that after Charlotte Mason's death in 1923 there was a tribute written by her students and colleagues? In MemoriamBrandy at Afterthoughts has just made it available to us all in book form with a beautiful cover by local CM mom/artist/graphic designer, Alissa Clark. She also designed the beautiful new AmblesideOnline logo some of you saw at the Heart of AO conference last year.

One of my favorite pictures of Charlotte Mason's practice of nature study is in In Memoriam in a section titled The Nature Walk at the House of Education by A. C. Drury. You can read it online on page 105 at:  http://www.amblesideonline.org/CM/InMemoriamIV.html The House of Education was a teacher training school. If you ever visit the Lake District, you'll want to read her inspiring nature-filled description of the area.


A.C. Drury describes the Nature Notebook used by the students at the House of Education in two ways: it is "the symbol of their knowledge," and "the peculiar privilege of the student."

Isn't that interesting to think of it as a privilege?


Here are some other quotes from her section that made me think about the way we approach nature study.
Miss Mason loved to see what "finds" the students brought back from their expeditions and to hear what birds they had seen or to tell what she had seen.
Out of doors the students learn to look and to watch that they may know creatures and plants by sight as they know friends
The Nature Note Book becomes increasingly valuable when the records of one year and one locality can be compared with another; and a student generally feels that she is making more progress in her second year though she was unconsciously storing up first impressions in the early days of her training.
There is a delightfully casual element in Nature Walks. We simply choose which way to go and then "Nature" does the rest because Ambleside is an unrivalled spot to learn in. We like to be teased when the Nature Walk lingers to watch a dipper or a grey wagtail...
...the fact is that we take whatever comes, and the unexpected almost always happens.

The Rev. Alfred Thornley, who examines the "Seniors"' Nature Note Books, testifies to the freshness and pleasure which this mode of Nature Study secures, and this spontaneous enjoyment was provided by Miss Mason when she taught us to gather the materials for science by studying Nature out of doors for ourselves and adding to our knowledge year after year.
What's interesting to me is how different this sounds from the nature study lesson I watched on the Eve Andersen DVD on nature study. That lesson was much more structured and teacher led. Everyone was told to get a leaf and they all returned together to draw it. Had it changed over the years and become more structured? Is it a difference between teacher training and elementary education?

Here's another quote that struck me:
We get a tremendous stimulus and answers to many of our queries when Mr. Thornley comes for his annual visit. A day spent out of doors with him acquaints us with many kinds of insects, their haunts, their food. We see an astonishing "number of things" in a few hundred yards of wood or of lakeside, and time passes like magic. To arouse wonder and admiration must be one of the teacher's principal aims.
I love this because it shows there were many unanswered questions in the students' minds. "Many of our queries..." They were wondering and had many questions. This confirms an important point made in the PR article "Elementary-Science Teaching" by Mary Everest Boole. Unanswered questions are a necessary part of the process in scientific education. To have a question in mind based on an observation, is more desireable than to be provided with facts that were never asked for.










The child who discovers a paper-thin, outer casing of an insect stuck to a leaf will wonder what it is and care more about the fact that it is a molt when he finds out *after* he spends some time wondering about it. He has time to think about it and roll it around in his mind. He'll likely come up with his own guesses as he tries to figure it out. He may even have a conversation about it with someone else. Contrast to the child who is told what it is before he ever wondered at all. Something in the wanting to know, I believe, causes it to become more personal and memorable. Just like the thing you had to save up for and wait before buying - it somehow became more valuable to us in the waiting and thinking about it.

In Parents and Children Charlotte Mason said it is important that we "offer real seed to the mind of a child, and do not make him a priggish little person able to tell all about it." I love her way with words.

Time in nature naturally (with freshness and pleasure) leads an inquisitive mind to observations. Observations naturally (with spontaneous enjoyment) lead to questions. Questions naturally lead to a desire to know. And this desire, in my opinion, is what Charlotte Mason invested her life trying to convey to us; that it *matters* in educating a child. Remember our favorite quote?
“The question is not, -- how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education -- but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?” 
Do read the full article for yourself and get the book too, she discusses lectures and books and much more. It will give you an idea what a comprehensive understanding of the area nature study provided - how synthetic her knowledge was - and what we might consider incorporating through nature study.

Did you wonder about the images in this post? Here's what they are in order:
- Crystalline Ice Plant - a jeweled plant that grows by the sea.
- Empty aphid caracasses that were inhabited by a parasitic wasp implanted into the healthy aphid.
- A skeleton shrimp, the tiniest, most interesting creature sometimes found on holdfasts that wash up on the shore.
- A praying mantis molt. Look close you can see even its antennae and eyes molt!