Sunday, July 31, 2011

Best social commentary.

My new favorite commercial... This is living.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Baby worship...

"THE two facts which attract almost every normal person to children are, first, that they are very serious, and, secondly, that they are in consequence very happy. They are jolly with the completeness which is possible only in the absence of humour. The most unfathomable schools and sages have never attained to the gravity which dwells in the eyes of a baby of three months old. It is the gravity of astonishment at the universe, and astonishment at the universe is not mysticism, but a transcendent common-sense. The fascination of children lies in this: that with each of them all things are remade, and the universe is put again upon its trial. As we walk the streets and see below us those delightful bulbous heads, three times too big for the body, which mark these human mushrooms, we ought always primarily to remember that within every one of these heads there is a new universe, as new as it was on the seventh day of creation. In each of those orbs there is a new system of stars, new grass, new cities, a new sea."

G.K. Cheserton, "The Defendant"

Another Mason-classical approach.

A good friend recommended I look through the educational plan of St. Jerome Classical School in Maryland. Oh, wow. If anyone with more experience than I wants to help start one of these schools in the New Haven area, please let me know! I am only half-joking.

It's so good to know that schools like St. Jerome exist: for now, homeschooling is still our best option. But St. Jerome's plan will certainly help me with the tweaking I foresee in Ages of Grace.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Teaching the Kids, Part III

I've been writing through our educational decisions for the year, and I'm at the point where it's time to consider particular curriculums out there. I've decided against piecemeal and making it up as I go--both because I'm lazy and I'm eager to learn. Most curricula have been designed by women (and men) who have taught their own children steadily, at home, for years. They've been there, they've invented that wheel. I want their wisdom, and I want my children to reap the benefits of wisdom wherever it can be found.

Charlotte Mason has always attracted me: I love the idea of learning through "living books," of bringing history and its characters into the home and imagination. I believe--and have found in my own education--that it is immersion in history through the imagination that makes all the disciplines attractive to the child. In living stories, I discovered the drama of the human condition, the redemption, the abyss of evil, and the heights of the divine: these exist and thrive in human history, in society, and in every human heart. I have these seeds in me: this was the thought the so enchanted me as a child through the living books of history.

I also ascribe wholly to the educational philosophy of Dorothy L. Sayers: that through the various stages of development, children revisit the same content again and again but with new capabilities and new skills. Hence, the tradition of the trivium and quadrivium.

So, I'm looking for a kind of smash-together Charlotte Mason/Classical approach. And I'm also a complete snob about art and music. It's true: I have a hard time swallowing those 19th-century prints of Jesus and St. Joseph wearing eye-shadow. A lot of poetry in Garlands of Grace is... just smooshy. I want strong beauty, masterful language, and work that has stood and will stand the test of time.

Unfortunately, a lot of Roman Catholic offerings are just saturated in books published between 1880 and 1960. Not that there's nothing good to be found in them: they have that blessed imprimatur. They really and truly are sincere and orthodox (little "o") in their fidelity to the Church. But there must be something better than catechisms and Church histories that use terms like "Hottentots" or "Negroes" (Could someone please write a 21st-century translation of Laux?). Again, these are great books and students who read them will receive a good education. But we can do better: I think I will either have to go much earlier or write my own (someday when I, too, am a seasoned homeschooler). Hence, my foray into an Orthodox curriculum.

In Evlogia's (Katherine Johnson's) new Ages of Grace, I'm hoping to find the tools to make that Mason-Sayers mesh while, at the same time, exposing my children to the ancient beauty of the Church (in both her lungs, East and West). The language of the Eastern liturgies, supplemented with our Western Liturgy of the Hours and Gregorian chant, is something I want them to hear. The power of the icon, the depth of the Church Fathers, the Jesus Prayer--these are a common heritage for East and West. Evlogia has made a sort of reconciliation possible.

I also love the concept of the history cycle: the six ages of the world, presented in three levels as the children grow, are a beautiful vehicle for understanding the movement of history and the story of salvation.

And, quite frankly, my budget for the year is: "$200, but it would be really good if you didn't spend more than $150." Yeah, a full-blown Catholic curriculum is not an option right now. I steal paper from neighbors' recycling bins. That's our budget.

Ages of Grace is entirely electronic, making it so much more manageable on a budget (Did I mention the interface is aesthetically gorgeous, too?). And our library consortium has all of the books in Level A. It's affordable, it's doable, and it will demand just enough tweaking on my part (as a Roman) to keep me from falling into the "workbook/checklist" mode.

I'm anticipating the need to substitute in a Roman calendar, but this should not be difficult given the plethora of calendar-based saints books for children in the Catholic tradition. I'm also very glad that she's starting in the "Middle Ages," so I'll have a couple of years to discern how best to teach the so-called Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, and the post-Schism councils.

I'll let you know how it goes. And, I'm not an expert. I'm just a nerd with Internet access and a love of the true, the good, and the beautiful. Sayers says we are all entitled to have educational opinions: "There is also one excellent reason why the veriest amateur may feel entitled to have an opinion about education. For if we are not all professional teachers, we have all, at some time or another, been taught. Even if we learnt nothing--perhaps in particular if we learnt nothing--our contribution to the discussion may have a potential value."

Suggestions and encouragement welcome: you were, at some point, taught, too.
Image source: Icon

OOPS! Update: Thanks, Dianna, for catching my blooper. I meant to link to Seton, not Catholic Heritage. Corrected.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Teaching the Kids, Part II

So, first I had to (still have to) reassure my self that I can teach my own children. Even if I yell at them. A lot.

Next, the question arises: How am I going to do this?

My singleton brother, who has done some pretty amazing things, gave me the admonition: "KISS" (Keep It Simple, Stupid). And, yes, he's right. It is very simple: Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us, sinners. I want to give my children the tools they need for two things: to wonder at all times and to pray in every circumstance. With these tools, they will be able to be holy and thus happy should they choose.

And now, the how.

My firstborn is only 6 years old. I know almost nothing about teaching my own children, in the home, day after day; I haven't had to get up in the morning and trudge through hours of mathematics with seven recalcitrant children whose intellects have been darkened and their wills warped by the lingering effects of original sin. The days are coming, says the Lord.

In a way, however, I have been living in the world of home educators for at least six years (plus my own experience of being homeschooled for five years). The wonderful school at which I taught in Georgia, Regina Caeli Academy (do you want to start your own? The director offers seminars!), offered two days per week of seminar-type courses for home educated students. I taught the Mother of Divine Grace curriculum (a 4C: comprehensive, classical, Catholic curriculum) at the 6th through 12th grade levels, with a few dabbles in earlier elementary. Through the teacher training and classroom experience there, as well as through friendships up and down the East Coast, I feel like I've been handed an ocean of homeschool techniques and methods, book lists and syllabi.

There is so much to sift through and think about! A nerd's paradise (that's me)! A party girl's nightmare.

Before I actually had to make decisions about teaching Miriam, I loved to dabble here and there, reading about various sources. I wanted to try everything--unschooling with National Geographic! Charlotte Mason with Flower Fairies! Neo-classical entirely in Latin! But my child is not my in vita experiment. She--both by temperament and by her human nature--needs some sort of stability, some consistency, some theme in her education. Life will happen, and plans will have to change. But her little person is not my playground for indulging my latest book-fed whim.

At the beginning of last year I was ready to piece together my own curriculum. This is what a lot of moms do, and it works well. Between chronic pain, a newborn, moving, and some serious postpartum depression, however, I ended up abandoning all planning time and then feeling guilty for not "really teaching" her anything. We made it through about half of the Saxon math curriculum (and really only completing about 30% of each lesson) and 75 lessons of Teach Your Child to Read. The rest was painting, crafts, and saying, "Go outside and bring me a rock that you like." But you know, I think she's doing fine. Lesson learned: a first grader who falls in the middle of that learning spectrum (i.e., is basically "normal"--ah! I said it!) can pretty much un-school and be quite happy.

While she did well, I'm the one who's going to need a little more help now. With three small children, I'm not going to be creating my own Spanish course, hymn study, nature journals, scopes and sequences, or coming up with enough glitter-crafts to distract a 3-year-old for 20 minutes while I plan the second grader's next lesson. Not that a second-grader needs much planning. In the grand scheme of things, if I read to her from the Scriptures, take her outdoors, bring her to Mass, and maybe play with numbers, she'll figure out what she needs to figure out. But I need some visible goals, some visible results.

Piecemeal schooling works well for some families. It worked well for us during a year of health problems, financial stress, and a new baby. Now, however, I feel the energy coming back: This is a year to practice some discipline in myself and some intentional planning.

So, for the busy mom who doesn't have time to plan, that means it's time to look at what someone else has already planned.

That's next.

We interrupt this broadcast...

I was sitting down to write some more about our homeschooling decisions for this year (preview: We're going Orthodox! Not ecclesially, only curriculum-ly.).

But I was distracted. Online. Can you imagine?

Inspired by a snippet on Ancient Faith Radio, I found this amazing collection called Prayers by the Lake, written by Nicolai Velimirovic, a Serbian monk. They are a beautiful reflection, before God, on the ways in which creation can lead us to the Creator.

This is from Prayer 16 (I've chopped out the "brood of vipers" litany, but you can read the whole thing here if you're feeling a need for a reminder of your wretchedness):

"Arise O sons of the Sun of God! Arise, the merciful sun has risen and has begun to pour its light lavishly over the dark fields of the earth. It has risen to set you free from sleep's gloom and terror.

Your sins of yesterday are not written out on the sun. The sun does not remember or seek revenge for anything. On its face there are no wrinkles from your forehead, nor is there any sadness, envy, or sorrow. Its joy lies in giving, its youth-- its rejuvenation -- lies in serving. Blessed are those who serve, for they shall not grow old.

What if the sun were to imitate you, my neighbors? How little light it would shed on earth, you misers! ....

Oh how fortunate it is for the world that the sun will never imitate you, O sons and daughters of earth!

Indeed, the sun does not know many things as you do, but it does know two things eternally: that it is a servant and a symbol. It knows that it is a servant of the One who kindled it and that it is a symbol of the One who put it at His service.

Be servants of the One who illuminates you with the sun on the outside and with Himself on the inside, and you will taste the sweetness of eternal youth.

Be a symbol of the One who put you among the animals of the earth, and you will surpass the radiance of the sun. Truly all the animals around you will swim in happiness beneath the rays of your goodness, even as moons swim around suns.

Yet what are the sun and all the stars except piles of ashes, through which You shine, O Son of God? Piles of ashes that lessen Your radiance and sift it through themselves like a thick sieve? For indeed, in Your full radiance nothing would be seen except You, just as in total darkness nothing is seen except darkness. ...

You alone know the measure of our needs, O Lord, glory to You!"

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Teaching the Kids, Part I

I've written about my reasons for homeschooling before: I believe in togetherness, respect for individuality and contemplation, personal attention, integrity of life, letting children care, and giving children time to be children and parents time to be parents. This is not to say that these principles can't be found in other education systems, but I truly believe that homeschooling gives us the time --raw minutes and hours -- to focus on childhood and learning. And I get to design my own uniforms (check out the painting to the right! I think I'll go for ridiculous lengths of red robes this time!). Just kidding. I'm lucky if we're all dressed by 11am.

Seriously, though, it's time for me to think about homeschooling again: goals, theories, and practical decisions. It's that time of year when mothers and fathers everywhere turn to thoughts of, "OHMIGOSH! It's the middle of July! It will soon be AUGUST!" Walmart was Back-to-School ready last week. Writing is how I process and make decisions, so here it goes.

Now, we must begin with a confession: School is fun for me. I love to pour over the books and possible curricula, I love to make maps and timelines, and I love love love to practice Gregorian chant and purchase beautiful art prints. This is because I am a nerd: Facebook is my crack, and books are my stiff drink at the end of a long day.

You do not, however, have to be a nerd to homeschool. You may hate graphs and charts. Lists of books and the course syllabus for 1st grade Math may give you hives. You may have flunked Algebra I. You are still the best teacher for your child (especially in the early elementary years) simply because you are Mom or Dad. If you can read Little Bear, you can teach first grade.

So, as I write about my decisions and thought-processes over the next few weeks, please don't think I'm especially suited to teaching my children. I'm not. I yell at them daily, I lose my temper. I love books; I'm not so good at housecleaning. I'm really good at finding saints' biographies; I'm not a saint myself.

The only qualification I have to teach my children is this: They have been entrusted to our care by their Creator. He who puts us to the task will give us the strength to do it: if we are called to educate them at home, we can. Period. Those are qualifications I share with every parent out there, nothing special to see here, folks.

Friday, July 8, 2011

First Friday.

The madness of the move!

I was convinced that today was the first Friday in July, but found it to be the second. I was sure it was Saturday, but then it was Friday. The second Friday.

I woke up thinking I was in Georgia, but I was in CT (I'm still not ready to try and spell that).

I dressed thinking I still lived in the woods, but Todd reminded me that our bedroom window looks into ... the neighbor's bedroom window. Oops.

It is good to be here and to start what we hope to be our life in a permanent location (Deo gratias), but we are all a little disoriented. So, instead of a blog post weighing the responsibilities and gifts of a Roman Catholic using an Orthodoc curriculum; instead of a post contemplating the meaning of mortal sin; instead of wondering about the human condition, its application to 3-year-old angst, and the repercussions of sleeplessness on my NFP charts...

I give you, TS Eliot:

Here is a place of disaffection
Time before and time after
In a dim light: neither daylight
Investing form with lucid stillness
Turning shadow into transient beauty
With slow rotation suggesting permanence
Nor darkness to purify the soul
Emptying the sensual with deprivation
Cleansing affection from the temporal.
Neither plenitude nor vacancy. Only a flicker
Over the strained time-ridden faces
Distracted from distraction by distraction
Filled with fancies and empty of meaning
Tumid apathy with no concentration
Men and bits of paper, whirled by the cold wind
That blows before and after time,
Wind in and out of unwholesome lungs
Time before and time after.