Ethereal is how you must have looked with that snow-white hair as you cried Daddy, please don’t leave me. And your young widowed father took you by the hand Never to send you off to live with another family again. And so from three years old you became the woman of the house to your daddy and 3 brothers.
Just seventeen years old, you left your father’s house to devote your life to a husband much Older than you. You left your oh-so-familiar homeland to go up north to the land of Yankees. A Tennessee farm girl in a factory-filled, melting pot of cultures. You made your Confession of faith soon after. Your own personal decision to follow Jesus forever. Even in the darkest days.
Rita came first. Your feisty first born. No wonder you waited nearly five years for the next. Intelligence, quite high, marked your second. Michael Lynn, the ‘rare’ name that you chose. Too soon, if your husband’s claimed master plan is true, came your third. Karen the witty. Then you’d line up the 3 after church, ‘Eeny meeny miney, and there ain’t going to be no Mo’. Except there was. Nearly five years later, according to his plan, here was Kay. The wanderer. Rarin’ to go describes the final one, five years later. James Lester. Full of life. Gone too soon.
Davis is the name, he’d say. You took his name 72 years ago. Until his death you did not part. And now you are surrounded by children, grands, and greats because of him. Back on the Very land from which he took you all those years ago. It has been quite a life. The motherless child became an amazing mother, fighting for the Souls of her children. The only thing that matters.
I’ve been taking a Saturday morning class with Karen Glass on In Vital Harmony, a book about Charlotte Mason and her 20 Principles, and which Karen authored. I really need to blog through each chapter of In Vital Harmony, but for now I want to share about the principle in this post title, as well as how good it is to revisit these ideas even after having studied Charlotte Mason for 17 years.
The subtitle of In Vital Harmony is “Charlotte Mason and the Natural Laws of Education”, and Karen explains in Chapter 1 that what is meant by Principle is natural law — ideas, like gravity, that just are by nature, unchangeable and out of our control. Of the 20 Principles, Karen has concluded that two of them, the first and the twelfth, Children are born persons and Education is the science of relations, are the chief principles from which the other 18 ‘flow’.
Through the first four weeks of our six week class with Karen we have covered those chief principles and 11 others, most of which are telling you that this is just the ways things are and work, as well as practices we ought not to do. In today’s class we discussed some principles which Charlotte Mason called ‘educational instruments’ — things we have at our disposal, things we can use and do.
We are limited to three educational instruments—the atmosphere of environment, the discipline of habit, and the presentation of living ideas.
Charlotte Mason, Philosophy of Education, p. xxix
Of those three ‘instruments’ — atmosphere, discipline, living ideas — it became clearer to me this morning, as Karen was describing what was meant by atmosphere, that it is strongly in the category of how things are, or natural law. I have known for many years that Mason did not mean that we should create some artificial classroom to appeal to children, full of plastic, flashy items; that we should not go out of our way to carefully construct some ‘child-friendly’, ‘educational’ setting; but that it is their natural environment, the one in which they (and we) daily live. I knew it wasn’t about the material things, but more about the ‘mood’, the ‘feel’ — you come up with some words. I really think that Mason was telling us, ‘Suck it up, buttercup, the kids are going to Do as you Do, and not just as you Say.’ It’s a fact. It’s a natural law. It’s just how things work for us humans. The Atmosphere of your home and your classroom will educate your children and students. It may not be in your carefully constructed lesson plan, but it will happen. Atmosphere is so closely related to the science of relations. Children (persons) are making connections everywhere. Character is forming from everything around them. Loves, affections, carings (yes, my word, and I like it!) are being ordered from their natural environment.
Our motto is,––’Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.’ When we say that education is an atmosphere we do not mean that a child should be isolated in what may be called a ‘child environment’ specially adapted and prepared, but that we should take into account the educational value of his natural home atmosphere both as regards persons and things and should let him live freely among his proper conditions. It stultifies a child to bring down his world to the ‘child’s’ level.
It is not an environment that these want, a set of artificial relations carefully constructed, but an atmosphere which nobody has been at pains to constitute. It is there, about the child, his natural element, precisely as the atmosphere of the earth is about us.
The bracing atmosphere of truth and sincerity should be perceived in every School; and here again the common pursuit of knowledge by teacher and class comes to our aid and creates a Current of fresh air perceptible even to the chance visitor, who sees the glow of intellectual life and moral health on the faces of teachers and children alike.
After four decades of teaching piano and two decades as mom and home education facilitator, an exceptional opportunity has come my way! I have been offered a place in the House of Humane LettersFellowship Program. In short, this new fellowship program will train me in literary analysis and teaching literature.
I’ve been taking year-long classes, summer classes, conferences, and various webinars with House of Human Letters (HHL) for the past few years. As I related in my recent interview with The Literary Life Podcast, my interest in story has been life-long, but these recent years have brought a renewal—a fuller understanding and a wish to take a “deeper dive”, especially into reading metaphorically and identifying the images and motifs that go back to the Beginning….literally. My two teachers in the Fellowship, Angelina Stanford and Kelly Cumbee, are the brightest and humblest living literary teachers that I know, and I am honored, humbled, and thrilled beyond measure to be learning from them.
What it entails.
The one-year Fellowship will begin with an in-person retreat in North Carolina, in which we get to know each other better and begin our readings in literary analysis. After that we will have weekly online instruction time where we will discuss our reading assignments, receive instruction on analysis and teaching, and have opportunity to demonstrate teaching. Outside of the weekly meetings, I will be spending time reading the assigned books and preparing any lessons that I have been assigned. I anticipate there will also be invaluable daily chatting online with my fellow students about the material. One of the goals and blessings of the Fellowship is the camaraderie that is already there with some of my fellow students and will continue to grow as we learn to read and to teach together.
How you can help.
General encouragement, including listening to me go on and on about the things that I am learning. Please read and comment on my social media and blog posts about what I am reading and learning along the way.
Enrollment. If you are local and have young children, please enroll your children in my Story, Rhyme & Song class, currently slated for Fall 2022. Tuition from this can help offset my expenses, and it encourages my soul to share story and song with your children.
Financial Support. Perhaps you’re in a spot to donate. I’ve been able to pay for my own HHL classes these past two years, but the tuition for the Fellowship will be three times as much as those classes! It’s a higher level of learning and the class size is much smaller, allowing for more individual training so as to prepare the participants to be professional literature teachers. Along with the tuition (due by the end of July), I will have expenses for a flight and housing for our in-person retreat in North Carolina to kick off the year at the end of July. Once all this is paid, I will have no further direct expenses except for the necessary books (that I don’t happen to own already). I will, however, lose some prime time hours in my piano studio, due to class and study time, and will need to recover that lost income somehow to keep the bills paid.
If you would like to help me with a donation of any amount, you may send via PayPal, using the email email@example.com. If you would like to donate in another form than PayPal, please contact me to arrange that.
Update 6/9/22: A very generous donation has been made toward my tuition by a friend. I have booked my flight to our in-person retreat at the end of July, the cost of which was covered by the credit from my covid-canceled 2020 trip to Ambleside, England. I still need to pay for my housing and other expenses while in NC (5 nights) and the remaining balance ($1,000) of my tuition by the end of July.
Update 7/21/22: All of my tuition has been covered by donations from family and friends, along with a balance towards my housing and other expenses while at the retreat. If you would like to contribute to help with my remaining expenses, I will gladly accept those.
What’s in it for you?
Well, first, there’s the obvious: In the Fellowship, I’ll become an excellent analyst and teacher of literature, so I’ll be able to help others enrich their lives with literature. But really, the point of it all—the why that drives me, and that will have its chance to inspire my students—is this:
As we learn more about story, we become better humans. (This is why House of Humane Letters chose that name.) The payoff for my friends who donate, then, is that this will make me a better friend. For my fellow choir members, I will become a better part of the team and a better singer. For my piano students, I will become a better teacher.
There is enhancement to all areas of my life when I gain new understanding about the treasures of story, metaphor, and imagery that exist in our Creator’s world. I hope to become a regular teacher of story and of how to read literature, and perhaps some of you or your children will be my students. I hope to inspire people to love and understand story more. I truly believe, as Angelina says, that “stories will save the world” , and as Stratford Caldecott says, “To be enchanted by story is to have a deeper insight into reality.”
This morning my husband, son, and I drove about 30 minutes to eat breakfast at one of our favorite little cafes. The interior is very log-cabiny, and more than the food (breakfast is my favorite meal to eat out), it is really the cozy atmosphere that I enjoy. I don’t get out much and go far from home these days, and I realized as we were driving that this was the longest trip that I had taken in a very, very long time, probably since the last time we drove there for breakfast a very, very long time ago.
Today was the first chance in many, many months that we had a chance to take a leisurely Sunday (or any) morning drive and eat relatively far from home. During the school year, especially in the past two years, my husband has worked 7 days a week on the classes, activities, and physical structure of “The Great Room” for We, Montana! This year’s classes and performances concluded April 8th, and Jack and James spent the remainder of the month dismantling and packing up “The Great Room” and turning over the keys to the new tenant, ending the lease agreement that Jack and We, Montana! had held since fall, 2018. This is by far not the end of We, Montana! or Authenticity Works, the non-profit under which We, Montana! is a project. It is the end of “The Great Room” and, for now, the homeschool program that Jack has put his heart and soul and time and money into since 2018.
This is both sad and a great relief. Now maybe our Sunday drives can go past the summer.
Off the top of my head (and I’m sure Jack could list more projects with more specifics about those projects) these are the things that would take Jack away from us, sometimes as early as 3 in the morning, for 7 days a week in preparation for the homeschool classes, activities, and performance groups: Remodeling and construction of the interior of the warehouse space; Technical design and construction of lighting and sound for performances; Planning the curriculum and weekly lessons for classes such as US Constitution, Reality-Based Thinking, Etiquette, Public Speaking; Producing power-point presentations for some of those classes; Choosing, Composing, Arranging music for the Choral groups — Kids Choir, Homeschool Glee Club, and Freedom Choir; Producing accompaniment tracks on the Korg Krome; Creating choral scores with Dorico software; Creating rehearsal aids (recordings of the choral parts, together and separately, as well as together with part dominant — that comes out to at least 9 tracks per song); Building and maintaining the websites; Writing and re-writing scripts for the skits classes and the Performance Troupe; Producing the programs for each choral, public speaking, and skits performance; Printing and reprinting and collating and recollating sheet music; Keeping all the office supplies stocked; Cleaning the kitchen area (which he built) and bathroom; Setting up for classes and resetting for the next………
And all this for no financial profit. In fact, our family went quite in the hole. But there was the joy of bringing truth, goodness, and beauty to these students.
And so here’s my thoughts on Talent as promised in the title, and that I expressed to Jack as we drove back this morning. You’ve seen the memes that say, “Oh, you’re so talented? How do you do it?” And the response is: “Practice” But the first person insists: “No, really. You’re so talented. How can you play like that?” And again: “Practice” As I’m pondering why some people refuse to make the connection between time/hard work and great results, I’m thinking that some people would rather just admire your talent than express gratitude and feel beholden to you for all the time and labor you have put into something. You see, if you go on and on about the Talent, you imply that this thing was easy for the person, and that you owe them nothing more than empty praise and placement on a pedestal. In ignoring the hard work that goes into producing the admirable thing, people are also refusing to acknowledge that they too, if only in some small part, could produce the admirable thing. But, no, it is just because you are so Talented. It’s like poof! the music is written and scored and parts recorded…..
I bring this up because this sentiment was expressed over and over to Jack with a big absence, as seen through words and actions, of the time and effort and sweat and frustration (technology is far from cooperative) that went into it all.
Oh, wow! as I’m typing this and working through how to explain this to you, dear readers, and trying to understand the human psychology, or whatever, of it all, I have just had an epiphany, if I may, which I think I should save for another day. Think TULIP on one side and Entitled on both sides.
I had the joy of spending 105 minutes chatting with two of the most brilliant, honest, humble, and kind women on this planet. As things go, and especially when you’re dealing with 60 years on this planet, we barely scratched the surface. But I do hope that the message that it is never too late to “start over” in ways is heard in our chat. And that we can never know it all, but what a kick life is that we can keeping learning so many beautiful things.
I was blessed in my life with a rich literary beginning, due mostly to my family life. I had some empty middle years, which were briefly mentioned in this interview. And then an even richer literary life came to me beginning in the last third of my life (so far) in teaching my son, particularly because of following the philosophy of Charlotte Mason, and in recent years with Cindy Rollins‘ online groups, the Literary Life podcast, and classes with House of Humane Letters.
There is the Courage of our opinions. By opinions I do not mean the loosely taken up catchwords of the moment, those things which ‘everybody says,’ and with which it is rather agreeable than otherwise to startle our less advanced friends; but those few opinions founded upon knowledge and principle which we really possess. ~Charlotte Mason, Ourselves, Book 1, p. 115
A friend posted the quote above in The Literary Life patrons group, and I commented, “You know, people have no idea who or what Charlotte Mason is until they read those volumes —- especially Ourselves. She had something to say about us humans and went way beyond narration, copywork, picture study, and tip-toeing through the tulips.”
And now I’d like to say a little bit more about that here.
There are a few “classical” (and I really mean those quotation marks) education methods that are based off of (a twisting and crystallization) of one speech from a brilliant classics scholar (and detective novelist). (Enough hints?) One writer in whose camp are many of these “classical” educators has a book with the same title as that speech, with one word added at the beginning. Another has a writing curriculum using the same title, with one word changed at the end. I could say much more about all that, but the thing I wanted to note here is that this “classical” education method was built from one short speech (ignoring nearly everything else the brilliant woman wrote that would oppose the kingdom that they have built).
Today we have Charlotte Mason’s thoughts and concerns about children and education available in six volumes, as well as various articles from the Parent’s Review (a periodical from the PNEU, her parent-teacher organization), and other writings by those who knew and worked with her. You can find the 6 volumes in print by a few publishers, as well as on the AmblesideOnline website, with their annotations. AO also has PR articles and a wealth of other information about Charlotte Mason and her philosophy of children and education.
There is a tremendous amount of material produced from the mind and heart of Charlotte Mason and her colleagues. I have been an avid student since 2005, and I am still at it, although I have officially retired from homeschooling my own child. That is because Charlotte Mason didn’t just share ideas about K-12, she shared about life — from the birth to the grave (and beyond, really). And if I haven’t made my point clear yet — there is a ton of material from which this philosophy of education and life is based, not just one speech, and it offers a lifetime of learning and pondering about education and life, based on her own lifetime of observing, learning, and discussing with others.
My son and I spent 6 years reading through her “Volume 4” Ourselves. Charlotte wrote that specifically for older students, so James and I read it from his Year 7 to 12 (which AmblesideOnline freely schedules out for its users). The book is brilliant right up to the very last sentence. And it is bold. Charlotte did not hold back. The sample above is mild compared to many other places where she exposes our weaknesses and follies. But she also shows how fearfully and wonderfully we are made, and our potential to live up to the Image in which we were made. I say it is brilliant, but I realize it only ‘works’ for those who truly want to ‘see’.
I could say it over and over until I’m blue in the face — Charlotte Mason is more than just a curriculum. It is more than just a book list, narration, copywork, composer, picture, and nature study, and handicrafts. It is even more than the 20 Principles, although that is a great place to start. And it is definitely more than just tip-toeing through the tulips.
Speaking of the 20 Principles, when people say that they don’t like “Charlotte Mason” or don’t agree with “Charlotte Mason”, I want to ask, ‘So, you don’t believe children are born persons? They’re more like little data machines or empty sacks to be filled? Not persons but objects?” And I could go on down through the 20, stating them in the opposite (which perhaps I’ll do in another post), trying to find just what the objection is to “Charlotte Mason”.
Because, you see, Charlotte Mason, is more than…..well, I hope you’ve got my point. And I hope that if you don’t care to know more about her ideas and how they inform how we live and teach, you will at least admit that you do not really know what Charlotte Mason is.
Let me know if you’re interested in hearing more. I can also suggest a stack of books by my own colleagues concerning the matter of Charlotte Mason.
I’m going to do some more barely scratching the surface as I attempt to give a glimpse of pre-Modern ideas of the cosmos, particularly the Heavens (or as we moderns call it, Space), and how that gave them a sense of ‘lanes’ and proper order.
Prior to our time of rapidly advancing technology and distractions, humans did a ton more of observing and contemplating on what they saw. Not just the scientists and teachers in their ‘ivory towers’, but also the ‘lowly’ farmer, who recognized the signs and seasons. I think the ‘lowly’ farmer went beyond ‘Look and See’ (in the words of Wendell Berry) just for the sake of his crops, but he was simply curious about what was beyond him.
Order. One thing that humans learned from their seeing and contemplating, and which became a part of the culture of belief and morality, was that there is Order in the Heavens (as well as the Nature below our Moon). Some often commented about the Dance that they saw above — a very orderly dance. Everything in its place, or moving in its proper path, and in its proper time. They could see all this because they spent a great deal of time looking up. We don’t. And from their observation many mythologies (in the true meaning of the word) came about to explain, for one thing, the origin of this Order. Just as the Genesis story tells, Order came out of Chaos. And people understood that when anything is put out of Order, Chaos returns.
Humility. A second thing that happened when humans gave considerable time to seeing and contemplating is that they realized how very small and insignificant they were in comparison to the great expanse above them. It did not stop them from ‘studying’ the Heavens, but it did create a different thinking and ethos than our modern idea of ‘space exploration’ has done. There is a big difference (and results) between exploring in order to know ourselves better and in exploring for the sake of knowing alone. There is definitely a ‘knowledge puffs up’ in our modern way and purpose for exploring. C.S. Lewis had a great knowledge of the medieval understanding of the cosmos, and was concerned about the modern ‘space race’. To put in perspective the time in which he lived, Lewis was born just before the turn of the century and died on the same day as JFK. Lewis could see where all the focus of the ‘Cold War’ was headed. Again, there is the idea of exploration and knowing that produces awe and humility, and then there is the purpose of exploration and knowing in order to conquer the material, to be above the material studied and its Maker. To conquer God. Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin has been quoted as saying in 1961: “I went up to space, but I didn’t encounter God.” According to friends, Gagarin was a devout Christian and never uttered these words, but it is telling that the Soviet leadership promoted this as words he said. This was their purpose. Unlike the thinking of this Psalmist:
When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which you have ordained, What is man that You are mindful of him? ~from Psalm 8
Enough for now. Stay tuned for Part 3.
Do yourself and your soul a favor, and go outside and consider the Heavens.
Let me say at the beginning that I will only be ‘scratching the surface’ of the ideas that I want to discuss, especially because I’m only on the surface of contemplating and having a real understanding of them myself. Just about everything that I’ve been reading, and the classes that I’ve been taking for the past few years have all been challenging me on how much I (and the rest of my world) think like a ‘modern’. Even as you learn about the ways of seeing the world in any era prior to the so-called ‘Enlightenment’, you have to battle against the way you’ve been trained to see and think your whole life, in a culture that has been inundated with this thinking for generations through the classroom, media, and the communities in which we live.
So when you’ve grown up in a democratic society (yes, I know the US is supposedly a constitutional republic), and especially the American one where we are told we can be whatever and whoever we want to be, and you hear about this ‘stay in your lane’ idea of the Middle Ages (I know, how medieval, right?), you wonder, can this be a right way to think and live?
Forbidden knowledge. That goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden.
but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die. ~Genesis 2:17
but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ~Genesis 3:3
How does that make you feel that there are just some things that you do not get to know?
All over C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia there are instances where a character is told ‘that’s not for you to know’. When Lucy asks at some point if things would have turned out all right had she made another choice, Aslan informs her that no one is allowed to know what might have been. When she asks about the future of another character, again she is told it is not for her to know. It reminded me of this interaction between Peter and Jesus concerning John:
When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain until I return, what is that to you? You follow Me!”
There are just some things that are nunya business.
C.S. Lewis knew very well the mind of Medieval people. Their way of seeing the world — the Heavens, Nature, and Humanity — is all over his stories. He knew that for them Ambition was never good, that is was always associated with Pride. You know, one of the seven deadly sins.
Know your place. Knowledge of self is not forbidden. But it can take time. Maybe a lifetime. Identity quests are a big part of story, and there are several that go on in Lewis’ stories. And knowing your place does not always involve ‘stay below’. In the story of Prince Caspian he learns much about his past and who he is and who he is to become. Although he has learned much, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader he is still challenged to ‘know his place’ when he wants to go on with Reepicheep and not return with the others. He is reminded by Reepicheep:
You are the King of Narnia. You break faith with all your subjects…if you do not return. You shall not please yourself with adventures as if you were a private person.
Yes, even a King has no freedom to drive in another lane. He must know his place.
Stay tuned for my next installment where I scratch the surface of the humbling effect of pre-modern thoughts on the cosmos, a paradox involving pure intellectual research and imaginative ponderings, and an episode from The Fairie Queene concerning equality. I also plan to explore the idea of ‘vocation’ or ‘calling’, as I contemplate that lane in which one should stay. Exciting stuff.
Stories will save the world and your world….if you let them.
Twenty years ago today we stood on that stage at a little church in Tennessee, with our families and friends as witnesses, and made those pledges above. I remember that I also vowed to support all of his efforts to learn and teach the things he found important, and he promised to love my cat.
How did I feel I could soundly make that pledge to him? How well did I know the mind and heart of this man that I was promising all this to? Our acquaintance went back three years and four months, but our real getting to know each began in the spring of the previous year. I had been singing in Jack’s choir for about a year, getting to know him in rehearsals and performances, but it became a more personal acquaintance when care for a mutual friend had us communicating more. Through email chats and in person conversations and finally officially dating that summer I got to know the mind and heart and integrity of Jack Pelham. And I found that we cared deeply about many of the same things. We both had no dog in the hunt but a sincere desire to cut through the crap and find the truth about life and our Creator.
You might have thought that it was the music that brought us together, and although that is the reason we initially met, it was really those wonders about life, as I said above, that made the real connection. There was also that special moment when I found out he knew who “Cousin Pearl” was. That pretty much cinched the deal. I had found Home. But it was more than going back to the comforts of Home that I knew growing up; it was the Home I had been lonely for all my life. Finding a companion who cared about and could talk about all the things that mattered to me. Someone with whom I could be honest. Someone that I didn’t have to work around trying to find something to talk about, or working to keep my mouth shut about things they didn’t care about. Someone who left my mind and soul invigorated rather than exhausted. I had waited for 40 years for Home.
“I do want to be stuck with you.” ~old Mr. Carson to his Elsie
“The winter … exits March the second on the dot.” ~ Alan Jay Lerner
Feels like home to me Feels like I’m all the way back Where I come from Feels like home to me Feels like I’m on my way back Where I belong ~Randy Newman