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!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Bandits in our Backyard

A couple years ago we were hiking up by Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary and learned about Flores Peak (pictured above) where the bandit, Juan Flores, wanted for the murder of LA Sheriff James Barton made his daring escape by leaping over its precipice in 1857.

After some digging around I found a book by Hubert H. Bancroft titled, Popular Tribunals Vol. 1, that gave some account of the murder of Sheriff Barton, Juan Flores and his capture and botched hanging. Here are some snippets:
Insecurity of life, and immorality, prevailed to an alarming extent in Los Angeles in the year 1854. The mission natives had retrograded since left to themselves, and continually gambled, drank, and quarrelled with each other; so that in the morning when natives were found dead in the streets the matter was not considered of sufficient importance to require investigation 

It being a dark night they were obliged to wait until early morning when as they were making an advance they saw Juan Flores watching their movements from an overhanging rock. He was beyond the reach of attack and proceeded on farther and higher with his men of whom all but two were on horseback. The mountains in which the Mexicans had taken refuge were almost inaccessible, even on foot, and while the Americans were following they were eluding pursuit by most reckless daring. Juan Flores, Jesus Espinosa, and Leonardo Lopez, on mounted horses, slid down a precipice to a kind of projecting ledge fifty feet below where, abandoning their animals, by the aid of brush growing upon an almost perpendicular wall, they descended five hundred feet. 

What's most fascinating is that much of it happened locally here in Orange County. You can see it for yourself up by Harding Truck Trail and also at Dripping Cave, aka "Robber's Cave", in Aliso & Woods Canyon, which was reportedly used as a hide-out by Juan Flores and his gang.

It didn't take long after looking around for info on Juan Flores that I came across Joaquin Murrieta, a Northern California bandit from around that time whose head was cut off and kept in a jar of whisky along with the hand of one of his gang members named "Three-fingered Jack" and exhibited for years.


According to Wikipedia, Murrieta was likely the original inspiration for Zorro.

There's even a poem about him in Joaquin Miller's Songs of the Sierras;

This poet himself has somewhat of a story. According to the LA Times, he was born "Cincinnatus Hiner Miller" who took on the name of Joaquin Murietta for marketability:

"He ditched his Indian bride and daughter, got jailed as a horse thief, busted out, shot a sheriff in Northern California. Then he turned up, just a couple of years later, as a judge in southern Oregon. Still largely unknown as a writer, he sailed across the Atlantic and sold himself to London's literati, with the aid of spurs and a sombrero, as the preeminent poet of the American West."

He was apparently a liar criticized by his contemporaries, but the writer of the Times article "Poetry from a Scoundrel's Pen" defends him:

"It's easy to forget that in the 1870s, much of California was a bloody mess of fugitives, liars, land-grabbers and mercenaries. Yet here was Miller, pausing between pillages to rhapsodize about the mountains and decry the effects of mining on the stream water."

In any case, I've ordered Songs of the Sierras and may replace a term of our AO poetry with it. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Who wants to read Norms & Nobility with Karen Glass?

What is Classical Education? Is Charlotte Mason Classical? We're all wondering the same thing! Well here's your chance to delve into Norms & Nobility, a "reappraisal of classical education" with Karen Glass, author of Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition and dive into this discussion yourself. You'll find the discussion happening here on the AmblesideOnline Forum.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Reverence for Life

While we are getting our kids outdoors to experience God's glorious creation, let's remember that, though we've been given dominion over creation (Gen 1:26), we are also called to be good stewards (Gen 2:15). Charlotte Mason never intended nature study to be a careless ramble. In fact, she expected mothers to teach their kids reverence for life:
Is it advisable, then, to teach the children the elements of natural science, of biology, botany, zoology? on the whole, no: the dissection even of a flower is painful to a sensitive child, and, during the first six or eight years of life, I would not teach them any botany which should necessitate the pulling of flowers to bits; much less should they be permitted to injure or destroy any (not noxious) form of animal life. 
Reverence for life, as a wonderful and awful gift, which a ruthless child may destroy but never can restore, is a lesson of first importance to the child:–– 
     "Let knowledge grow from more to more;
     But more of reverence in us dwell." 
The child who sees his mother with reverent touch lift an early snowdrop to her lips, learns a higher lesson than the 'print-books' can teach. Years hence, when the children are old enough to understand that science itself is in a sense sacred and demands some sacrifices, all the 'common information' they have been gathering until then, and the habits of observation they have acquired, will form a capital groundwork for a scientific education. In the meantime, let them consider the lilies of the field and the fowls of the air. ~ Charlotte Mason, vol 1 pg 63