And he writes of us

On this our 20th wedding anniversary my poet writes of our journey.

And if you’re curious about the day of the daisy, here is where I wrote about that.

What else would you like to know?

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On the Occasion of Two Decades of For Better, For Worse, For Richer, For Poorer

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

In the studio he made for her, this old girl sings about finally finding Home twenty years ago at age 40
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Appearances Can Be Deceiving; or First, Second, Third, even Fourth Impressions

In Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, Book IV, Canto V, there is a contest of knights’ ladies to determine ‘the fairest of them all’. The prize is a girdle which was made by Vulcan for his wife Venus, which he endowed with the ability to make the wearer virtuous. Apparently, he knew his wife was a wanderer. And so she was. One day she removes it so she can go play with Mars, and it is found and then possessed by a woman named Florimell. Previously in this story of The Faerie Queene, this Florimell has disappeared and been replaced by a totally false version. She’s not even human but made of physical materials with some magic thrown in. At the real one’s disappearance someone had found this girdle, and now it is being offered as a prize at this event. The thing to know about this girdle is that, at least now, not only will it make the wearer virtuous, it also recognizes if she is already virtuous.

So each knight escorts his lady in a procession, with each one being deemed more beautiful than the one presented before. They thought they had finally seen the fairest of them all in a woman named Amoret until a less than honorable dude named Blandamour presents who he thinks is the true Florimell, who we the readers know is actually the false Florimell. Not only is she not that woman, she’s not even a human. But she is all glowy and other-worldly beautiful (as she has been forged to be), and they are so in awe that they award her the top prize. We are told that they were so happy to see Florimell, yet they all were thinking that they didn’t remember her being this beautiful. But, hey, you say it’s Florimell, we’ll believe it is Florimell. Spenser tells us that the ‘guilefull Goldsmith’ will throw on ‘more goodly glosse…to hide his falshood, then if it were trew’, and that what they were looking at ‘seem’d to passe’ the (real) Florimell, as ‘forged things’ so often do. The fake things often look better than the real deal, and even though we should know better, we will believe in it.

So guess what happens when they put that grand prize girdle on this fake woman? It will not stay. Yes, the girdle knows lack of virtue when it sees it. And, also, with the real Florimell being its previous owner, it most likely recognizes that this one is false. But then many of those other beautiful girls are trying it on, and it will not stay on them either. All these beautiful women that so wowed the crowd, none are deemed virtuous by the girdle that knows. Until it’s put on Amoret — you know, the one that almost won the prize before the fake one showed up — on her it stays…..until false Florimell snatches it off. But I’m going to stop the story right there. I’m sure you’ve had enough. And now I want to share some thoughts about outside appearances and true virtue.

Reading this Canto this morning has got me thinking about how often I have been fooled by the outward appearance of people, thinking that they are just as bright, kind, honest, and thoughtful as they ‘appear’ on first meeting. And as I said in the title, on second, third, fourth, and on. Then one day you find out something quite different, and you wonder ‘where did that come from?!’ It has happened to me many times in my 6 decades, and perhaps it’s because life is speeding up, but it seems that it is happening more frequently to me. Is it because we’re in this age of appearances with our clever words on Twitter, and pretty faces and pictures and snappy reels on Facebook and Instagram? All the flashy graphics and filters. Who are you really?

I also wonder at what kind of people we are ‘creating’ from our education system, both public and private, as well as in the church world. The public school world may be awash with situational ethics and gray areas and PC jargon, but the world outside of those walls in private schools and home schools and the churches have been less than successful in producing truly virtuous people. Often what I’m finding (after those 1st, 2nd, 3rd and so on meetings) is people who present (somewhat) virtuously on the outside — they know all the proper answers and vocabulary and dress, but it does not go deep inside. Here’s something Jesus was compelled to say to some religious leaders:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.

And so they teach their people to be.

In the private school world, particularly amongst the religious ones, there are curricula written specifically for studies in Character. Often they use stories to teach these ‘lessons’. And if you’ve been around me enough you know that I am convinced that using stories is a bad, bad thing. Just yesterday I shared a CS Lewis quote on ‘education without values’ on social media and commented that I hesitated to share it because people would think, ‘Oh, we must purchase a Character curriculum or preach a specific moral when reading a fairy tale with our children‘, and I continued, ‘but that’s not it AT ALL. In fact, that’s a good way to rear an unloving, judgmental prig with tons of hubris.’ I have seen this over and over with kids raised on these kinds of characters studies and memorizing of facts. Here and here I wrote about such a thing.

So when do we stop being fooled by outward appearance? What is the cost, really? We all have different neurologies (my made up word, I guess, because it gets the squiggles), so there are different levels of hurt and damage done. I do not want to become so jaded that I immediately suspect the one who appears friendly, honest, and open on the outside. But I have grown weary of the disappointments.

And then we should ask, ‘Am I such a person? Do I try to appear virtuous on the outside, but inside I am full of bad, bad stuff?’ Why might that be? As I said here, do you want to get well? (Yes, Jesus said it before me. Go read the post. I do give him the credit.) What can you do to get well? Throw out that lame curriculum and Sunday school type lessons, for one. Learn to read rightly. You might want to get away from certain influencers — both on social media and in real life. Lord have mercy that we have such a label as influencer. What do you do for a living? I influence. I got nothing inside, but I sure do influence. I don’t do anything, but I sure do influence.

I want to end with a brief message on Story. As I said, I do not believe in using Story, but you might think that’s exactly what I did in this post. I used the story to illustrate a point. But, you see, that’s the ‘magic’ of story, the transformative power of story. I did not go into it looking for ‘the point’ — ‘what is Spenser teaching us here?’ I was reading it because, well, it was my assignment for my class. But the images and metaphors got into my mind and heart (and maybe my belly, too!) who went to work on it, and it got me thinking about my own life and how I see similar things happening. Stories have many, many layers, my people. Images and metaphors, also. Stories will save the world. If we let them. Learn to read, my people. And stop tearing the stories apart, but rather allow the stories to work on you. “In the beginning,” the greatest storybook of all begins. Read it. Learn the images and metaphors. Be changed. Be genuinely like the One in whose Image the story tells us we were made.

[No picture because I really want you to see these words in your mind’s eye.]

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On the 16th Anniversary of our Daughter’s Birth: Grace meet Wendi, Wendi meet Grace

This post is sort of what I planned for this day of remembering Virginia Grace Pelham (February 3, 2006 ~ February 24, 2006), but with the death yesterday, February 1, of my friend Wendi Capehart, who was already a part of the story I wanted to tell, I will focus deeper on only one of the many ways my daughter changed my life. (For previous posts on Grace, you can click the ‘Virginia Grace’ tag to the right.) When disappointments happen in life, especially with the loss of a loved one ‘too early’, we often ask Why. With my daughter I wonder why she even came at all if she was only to stay those few weeks after her birth. Chatting with a friend the other day, I told her about my sleepless nights while pregnant with Grace, and how I stayed up nights surfing the internet, researching my plan to educate my son James, just 2 years old at that time, and what a wonder it was that Grace was helping her older brother back then from the womb as she kept me from sleeping. If that was the only reason Grace came to us but only for a while, that would be enough. As the years go by I see more reasons, but rather than go into those as I planned, I will park right there. Let me take you back to 2005, me sitting in our former carport/office in little Red Boiling Springs, TN, late nights to the wee hours of the morning, traveling through cyberspace, and meeting Wendi.

2005: When homeschooling information and chats were moving from catalogs and magazines to the internet. People were blogging and often joining those blogs together with ‘carnivals’. One late night I came upon a blog titled The Common Room. There was no real name attached to it. With their nicknames, I met the mother, ‘Deputy Headmistress’, and ‘Headgirl’, ‘Jenny Dots’, and about 5 others. Mostly it was the mother writing posts, but occasionally the older girls would contribute. This woman wrote about everything — homeschooling, raising children, food, old recipes, old books, vintage everything, politics, news, world events. How did she know so much? How did she read so much? How did she have time to do immediate analysis and commentary on the news, making so many connections, with all those kids in the house? I couldn’t keep up. This was truly the smartest woman I had ever ‘met’. But who was she? Where did she live? It was all so secret. She talked a lot about Charlotte Mason, some late 19th/early 20th century British educator. I’d never heard of Charlotte Mason — me who read so much and was a big Anglophile. Me who loved old books and old ways. I liked what I was hearing about this Charlotte Mason and what she thought about children and how we learn and what’s important in life. This DHM (Deputy Headmistress) also talked about AmblesideOnline, a Charlotte Mason curriculum. I might have been led there through DHM linking Mason’s writings which were housed at AO. In searching for how we would homeschool our son, I began with looking at all the ‘classical’ methods out there, and as I came to know Charlotte Mason more through DHM and AO, I knew I had found home. Here was the ‘classical’ that I wanted. It was different from many that I had been researching. It was ‘classical with heart’, as I thought of it then.

But still, who was this DHM, this smartest woman I had ever met? As I got to know more about AmblesideOnline, and mined the depths of their website — it runs deep, my friends, but you don’t know that at first glance — I learned that there were 6 women who had founded, written, and continued to oversee this curriculum. They were called The Advisory. So mysterious they were, with their bios having no pictures, just those Willow Tree figurines representing each one and her family. I decided that DHM must be one of them, and through time I identified her as Wendi Capehart. And I was right! Deciding that this was the curriculum I would use with my son, we followed their ‘Year 0’ suggestions until we officially began ‘Year 1’ when he was 6. (For all that that curriculum meant to us over the years, see my several posts here on the blog.) Through the years I got to know Wendi personally online, sending many questions her way. I was so honored when she messaged me one day to ask if I would be a moderator on the discussion group that they were moving from Yahoo groups to a forum on their own website. “We trust you. We think you are very level-headed,” she wrote to me. Not that I felt capable, but how could I turn down these women that had given so much to me? In 2016, when I didn’t think I could afford to go to Dallas for the AO conference, Wendi was part of the team that made sure I got there. That’s when I got to see her lovely face and hear her lovely voice in person. That’s when I got to hang out after hours in “the green room” with the Advisory and close friends, and see these women “with their hair down”, as it were, and find that they were the real deal and not just for show, and also incredibly funny. In 2019 I was at AO Camp Meeting in Tennessee, which I wrote about here. In that post I share about a special moment with Wendi teaching us a folk song. Wendi was a champion for “the riches”: Folksongs, Hymn Study, Picture Study, Composer Study, Nature Study. Wendi was extremely smart with academics, but she knew “the riches” (she came up with the name, as opposed to “the extras”) in order to emphasize that they were essential to education and to life, and not to be left to last and then neglected because we ran out of time. “The Riches” make it all worth it. Just last month this podcast interview with Wendi and Cindy Rollins was published. Wendi speaks a great deal in the interview about the importance of folk music. I will be writing more about that in another post.

The AmblesideOnline Advisory. Best friends and colleagues for over 20 years. Six women so different from each other, but so bonded in heart. Each essential to the team. They’ve communicated daily, sometimes from different continents. They’ve met in person only a handful of times. Their impact on my family’s life is eternal.

Wendi’s life was far from easy. There were was some intense and near tragic times with her family. Wendi raised and educated her 7 children, including a severely disabled daughter. Angel was in her 30s and still being taken care of by Wendi full time when they both went into the hospital last month. Angel passed away the week before Wendi did.

I don’t have time and space here to explain Charlotte Mason to those of you who don’t know. Read more of my blog to find out, or ask me questions sometime. But I’ll briefly try to explain that “Charlotte Mason” is not just a curriculum or educational philosophy, it is a way of thinking and living. Charlotte Mason was one of the most authentic persons I have ever known. I imagine her to be a lot like Wendi Capehart. Brilliant. Truth-seeker. Honest. Blunt. Reader. Thinker. Bluff-caller. Lover of all Creation. In awe of the Creator. Never giving up although going through many physical trials. Charlotte and Wendi, neither sought fame but they loved the truth and children and just could not keep what they knew to themselves.

In one of her last posts on social media, Wendi shared this quote from John Ruskin:

“Education is not teaching the youth of England the shapes of letters and their tricks of numbers, and then leaving them to turn their arithmetic to roguery and their literature to lust. Rather, it is the leading of human souls to what is best, and making what is best out of them; and the final results of the education I want you to give your children will be, in a few words, this–they will know what it is to see the sky, they will know what it is to breathe it, and they will know, best of all, what it is to behave under it, as in the presence of a Father who is in heaven.”

I put that last half in bold because I imagine these are Wendi’s words to us now that she is gone.

This chain of Grace to Wendi to Charlotte (and still Wendi)…..Little Grace who could not stay. She brought me mentors who taught me what a child is and what education is, who gave me a curriculum to follow, a philosophy to lead me in raising her brother, and in seeing all children that I meet and that I teach as fully human and capable. Little Grace, who couldn’t stay and grow up and be a child here, her life mattered, and daily has an impact on the lives of every child and adult her mother meets. Thank you, Grace, for bringing me to Wendi. Thank you, Wendi, for bringing me to Charlotte. And now, Grace meet Wendi. Wendi meet Grace. Till we all meet again.

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Imagine That!

I will ponder all your work,
and meditate on your mighty deeds.

Psalm 77:12

Go to the ant, O sluggard;
consider her ways, and be wise.

Proverbs 6:6

This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways.

Haggai 1:7

Humans are wonderfully made and are unique in the animal kingdom in having the ability to ‘see’ in the ‘mind’s eye’ what is not physically there. Throughout the Judeo-Christian writings there are admonitions for humans to use that unique ability to ponder, consider, meditate, think, contemplate, wonder, as well as times when the writer himself is relating how he is doing these very things. Christians, as humans, are endowed with and often directed as followers of these teachings to use this ability to Imagine, to see what is not physically there, to see what could be. And yet so many of them balk at this idea. Just give me those facts, those 10 or more commandments, those requirements for salvation, and I’m good. Tell me what to physically do, and I’m good.

From beginning to end the Bible is full of images, symbols, and metaphors, to give our wonderfully-made minds ideas to feed on. This is the way that our Creator chose to transmit to us knowledge of Him. Do you really want to know Me? Here let me give you thousands of images to feast on. Then you will really know.

Open my eyes, that I may see
Wondrous things from Your law.

Psalm 119:18

I ask that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know…

Ephesians 1:18

Really? Literal eyes? Literal eyes of your literal heart? What we have here is encouragement to Imagine wrapped up in Imaginative language.

From In the beginning to the Revelation of Jesus Christ given to John, with all the stories and prophecies of the ‘Old Testament’ and Jesus’ the kingdom of Heaven is like, the Bible is full of images and metaphors. And so the tradition continues through the folk tales of nations and cultures all over this planet. In the beginning – can you say once upon a time? And so many of these folk tales are retellings of the Gospel story. Edens to Falls to Redemption. So many end with a reunion, a wedding feast, a dance, a celebration — just as the Bible story does. Did you know that? Do you know the Images? Are you giving careful attention? Do you have eyes to see? Do you use your Imagination?

Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

“You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.

’But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

To be continued…

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The Octave and Home

I have a million things to write about. So much I am constantly learning and want to share. It’s really overwhelming, and the more I delay writing, the more is piled on in my heart and head, and my overwhelmitude grows exponentially. I am grabbing this moment to make myself write about the subject in the title.

My teachers Angelina Stanford and Kelly Cumbee have mentioned the idea of the Octave, its metaphorical meaning, and how philosophers of the past (particularly the Medievals) thought about it. Musically we recognize the octave through the diatonic scale beginning with Do and returning (in the words of Oscar Hammerstein, ‘and that brings us back to’) Do, but at a higher level. Whether or not you understand music theory, you have experienced that feeling of being left hanging if a tune does not return ‘home’ to Do.

But is it really a return home if you do not end on the original lower Do? Again, you may not know the theory, but you certainly can recognize the feeling of a solid landing home with the arrival to the lower Do, and the feeling of being at a new home when you end with the higher Do. When I messaged my musician husband about this idea, he responded: “Going to the high Do brings you ‘home’, but with more energy. It’s like putting an exclamation point at the end of the final sentence! Not just a statement of fact, but of emphaticnessity.”

Comedy, Tragedy, and Romance have come to suggest different things today from their original meaning when it comes to story structure. If you are a legitimate teacher of literature, as my teachers are, as well as 20th century writers/teachers Northrop Frye and C.S. Lewis, you know those original meanings, which are still valid today. Tragedy and Comedy in the simplest description are inversions of each other, the tragedy represented by the frown, and comedy by the smile. (You see these in the Greek theatre masks.) A Romance takes the upward motion of the ending of a Comedy even higher. There is a journey to Paradise beyond the resolution of things on Earth. I was very moved recently by listening to Kelly talk through the ending of King Lear, which has always seemed like a total tragedy to me with the deaths of just about everyone, including practically angelic Cordelia and her repentant father Lear, who have just been reconciled. Kelly showed us the Romance sub-layer of this Tragedy. Cordelia and Lear are reconciled and have moved on up to Paradise, our final home, our real home.

And so this morning as I have been contemplating the Octave — musically, metaphorically, spiritually — I am determined that it is a Romance. We do not return to our original Home. We are not brought back to Do (sorry Mr. Hammerstein), but instead are brought to a new Home, a higher Home. The 8th is Resurrection. God rested on the 7th day, and then there was the 8th day. We all are familiar with “the passion week”, Jesus’ final week leading to his crucifixion. But it wasn’t final because on the 8th day, the first day of the following week, He arose! The work was completed, and we all have a chance for a new Home. Christ is both Dos, both homes. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last.

The Creator of this cosmos is amazing. So generous with all the beauties that I’m certain he got a kick out of making, and so thrilled when humans make a connection with and get joy out of the glorious order about us. What a genius teacher He is to show us concepts of reality through all of this. What a living education is story and music and nature. And what grace is shown to people like me that it is not too late learn and love all of this.

I’m pressing on the upward way,
New heights I’m gaining every day;
Still praying as I onward bound,
“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”
 Lord, lift me up, and let me stand
By faith on Canaan’s tableland;
A higher plane than I have found,
  Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.
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A Great Question: Do You Want to Get Well?

John, one of the apostles of Jesus, tells of a time when Jesus was in Jerusalem and passed by a pool where many disabled people waited for healing. Jesus says to a guy that he learns has been in this condition for a long time, “Do you want to get well?” Most modern versions of John’s story translate the question that way, but the King James version has: “Wilt thou be made whole?”, which I find closer to the strength of what I think Jesus is really asking the man.

Principle 17 of Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles begins: “Children should be taught to distinguish between ‘I want’ and ‘I will'”, and she goes on to elaborate on The Way of the Will. When Charlotte speaks of ‘the strong-willed child’, she does not mean it at all in our modern use of the phrase — no, quite the opposite. And this Will is something that must be trained, and this training of the Will is well described in Charlotte’s writings.

There are all kinds of things that we want or wish for, but the proof is in our thelō (the Greek verb that John quotes Jesus saying). That word can be defined as: to be resolved or determined, to purpose. A truly strong Will does not happen overnight. The training of the Will can be strenuous and often needs a rest or diversion, and then it is ready to be at work again. Alongside the training of the Will is the training of the Conscience so that the Will is directed in the right direction.

I hear many things from friends about wanting this or that — to be a better mother, to be a better teacher, to be a better friend, to be more organized, to eat better, exercise more, be kinder, more patient, more confident, more at peace —- and the question is, “Wilt thou?”

The Way of the Will is a hard road — perhaps not for long, though. The more we train and practice, the lighter the load it is to Do when we ought and to say No when we ought. It really is foundational for the education of and living out this Life to the fullest.

To learn more about The Way of the Will, I suggest the writings of Charlotte Mason, as well as books by Karen Glass and Anne White, including the following: Ideas Freely Sown, Minds More Awake, In Vital Harmony.

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The Need for New

Recently a parent asked my husband if his Glee Club, in which her children had participated, always repeated songs. Apparently, they had been comparing notes with former members, and these former members, for whatever reason, said several times to their friends, “Oh, we did that song.” Whether or not it should have, it made the current members feel their experience was less than. My husband explained to this parent that, yes, new music was learned, but there was also something known as “repertoire”, where some things became standard fare, and repeated performances of these songs happened. I wondered how these kids could be unfamiliar with groups in the performing world — their own favorite bands, perhaps — who sing their own music repeatedly in concert. I was reminded of this interaction when reading this posting from one of my favorite “bands” — The King’s Singers:

This is one of the best-loved arrangements in our library, and it means so much to us. Getting the opportunity to expand it and create a version with Voces8 (as the encore in our ‘Live From London’ concert) was just wonderful.

They have a library of tunes that they perform (and sometimes even record more than once). They sometimes expand and create new versions of those songs. Why do we allow that for and expect that of the groups we listen to, but feel that we ourselves in our own groups should always be learning something brand-spanking new to us? Where do we even leave room for improving on our own work? Why are we willing to work hours and hours on a song, give one performance of it that lasts less than 5 minutes, and then be ready to put it away forever?

The selection that The King’s Singers shared is actually an arrangement of a song written, performed, and recorded by Billy Joel. Which brings me to another point. Imitation in art, which here would be not just a sampling, but a complete cover. Today we have this notion that imitating any part of an already known story or song is cheap or “lame”; whereas, in the past, imitation was expected. Audiences at first showings of Shakespeare’s plays already knew the stories for the most part — they contained known myths or histories or standard tropes in story. They were thrilled to know what was coming, and if there was a twist, then that was very cool, too. Today we say, “Oh, that’s been done before. Can’t they come up with anything New?” I was one of these kinds of people once….upon a time. Even though I had your standard English and literature elementary to college education, and read tons of stories on my own from the time I could read on my own, I did not know about this (sanctioned) imitation thing until the past few years as I listened to The Literary Life podcast and had classes with Angelina Stanford and Co.

Methinks we’ve become rather arrogant in our modern age, always wanting something New. We’re so Progressive. If it’s completely New it must be better than the Old and Already Done. And we want nothing else but that. It doesn’t matter if it good art or not. New is better than Old and Already Done. Already Done equals Boring. This is sad to me. And not right.

So I leave you with this beautiful art — The King’s Singers arrangement mentioned above. It’s Old and Borrowed and Already Done. Tell me this is not worth singing and hearing over and over.

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A Facebook post from a year ago that illustrates my post “How to tell if a child learned how to read correctly”

This appeared in my FB memories from a year ago, and I thought that what was said here went along well with my blog post of 2 days ago, especially at the point where I wrote “…there are methods of education that claim to teach virtue, where a student does tons of memorizing of things and performing of those things … and I see the outcome of persons with a ton of hubris — which I hope you know is not a Virtue.” In the FB post, I quoted someone (with permission) who was familiar with one of those methods (the name of which I chose to edit out. See brackets below), had used it herself for a time, and who gives witness to the results I shared above.

“I made my decision to homeschool with tears in my eyes reading Charlotte Mason’s Attainments of a six-year-old. THAT was what I wanted for my sons – what beauty! That was 12 years ago. We did 1 year of AO and then 3 years of [another curriculum] and I bought into all that was described because I had no clue what a good education looked like. They had studied it all! They had ‘put God in the center’. After my 3 years, I opened my own co-op with a combination of things I did [with the other curriculum] for the youngsters and AO. …And what I’ve found over these 12 years, including spending time with [that other curriculum’s] graduates – (and this is just my experience, and not intended to harm) – is a lack of love of the beauty of what God created and a desire to know Him with delight, in the classical model. They are sort of puffed up from what I’ve seen and focused more on how accomplished the child is, rather than how much they care.”

I’m considering a Part 2 (and more!) about the wrong way to read, the wrong way to acquire knowledge, and the wrong way to “dispense” knowledge”, and the results I have seen in my long life in the people that have come out of such systems. I’ve been making a list, checking it twice. You better watch out. Santa Kay is coming to town.

Because there must be a picture

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How to tell if a child learned how to read correctly

A-ha! This post is probably not going to go where you thought it would by that title. There is learning how to read, and then there is really learning how to read.

Let’s go with the first one since that’s probably what you clicked to read about. I started official reading lessons with my son when he was three. (Not necessary, but it is what I did, and thankfully, I didn’t ruin him.) By the time he was five he was reading at a 2nd grade level — so the book we were using told me. How could I tell he had learned to read? Because he could read to me. Easy-peasy. Lemon squeezy.

Now on to what I really wanted to write about. Our approach to educating our son over his 18 years has to been founded in the philosophy of Charlotte Mason. Through the years, I have added on for myself, through discussions and reading, the educational philosophy of thinkers from the ancient Greeks to the present day, and found so many right in alignment with the ideas of Miss Mason. Charlotte Mason did not invent a philosophy. She says so herself. She was, as others have said, standing on the shoulders of giants. One of the hallmarks of a Charlotte Mason education is the practice of Narration. This practice does not formally begin until the age of six (I say formally because who can keep a 3 year old from telling you all about their day, their play, a story). Narration is the very simple practice of reading, looking (at a picture, at nature), listening (to music), and allowing the child to tell what they saw. Not what you the teacher saw, or what you want or think they ought to see, but rather what did the student see. This oral presentation, which can be done with words or play or drawing, grows into the written presentations of the middle/high-schooler.

So why am I talking about Narration when addressing ‘how to read’? Basically, because that is the extent of literary analysis in a Charlotte Mason education. We do not tear apart a story — especially for the youngest students — but see it as its whole. All the literary devices will come to life as the child compares one story to another, one event to another, one song to another, one painting to another. Well, that list could go on and on because they will be comparing stories to songs and pictures to events, etc. There certainly is a place to later define those literary devices that they are noticing, but not until the later years. And that’s where my next paragraph is going to take us.

One of my recent educational philosophy acquisitions is being under the tutelage of Angelina Stanford, through her podcast, as well as her classes and webinars. Angelina teaches middle-school, high-school, and adult classes. Angelina knows story. She has been studying and teaching story for 30 years. The most excellent thing about her to me is that she is still learning. She knows so much, but shows no hubris about that, and is always open about what she doesn’t know and what she has just learned. The entire academic year of 2020-2021 I took her “How to Read Literature” class, in which we she took us through stories from fairy tales to modern novels, teaching us about the standard motifs, metaphors, and images used in story. This summer I took her 2-week intensive on “How to Read Fairy Tales”. Besides all the things I have learned in her classes, I am particularly fascinated by her stories of her middle-school students and their responses to her teaching them these same ideas through story. Her students are excited. They get it. They love it. They have seen the connections most likely on their own (through narration, for most of them), but Angelina is helping them to see that there is a reason for those connections, those things that they see over and over in stories (both in books and movies), and what those things are called. As is often said, all the st0ries are connected. This kind of ‘analysis’ does not kill a story (as so many school and professional efforts do), but rather brings it even more to life. For anyone interested, here is a video that Angelina did to help others see how her way of teaching story aligns with Charlotte Mason principles.

Now I need to answer that question about how to know if a child, or any person, has learned to read correctly. I am convinced after all these years of living (almost 60!), and all the learning I’ve been doing about learning — from childhood, then graduate school (I have a pedagogy degree), then teaching since graduate school, then raising and teaching my own son, participating in online and in person discussions, and reading, reading, reading books on how we learn, seeing the results over a lifetime of watching the adult results of various educational (and parenting) philosophies — that you can tell by a person’s way of being and acting, their ‘persona’. The kind of analysis that tears apart a story with a lot of psychological mess, and searches for The Theme, etc. places a person above the story and author (like they are better than them). And there are methods of education that claim to teach virtue, where a student does tons of memorizing of things and performing of those things (to my Dad: this is definitely what you called ‘showing out’) and I see the outcome of persons with a ton of hubris — which I hope you know is not a Virtue. I see it with little ones, with teens, with adults. There is a certain ‘aura’, if I may be a little voodoo, that I feel. I have come to firmly believe that the ones who truly understand story grow to be the humblest and kindest (and wittiest) of people. I’ve seen it in the adult children of my friends who taught reading in the truly Charlotte Mason way (not just “CM inspired”. Blah!). I see it in Angelina, and I’ve seen in her adult students, as we’re all recovering from the ashes of our own education and history of bad reading. It is not too late.

I saw a meme some years ago that said something like ‘people who read are the kindest people’, and I thought, ‘well, it depends on what kind of books you read’ because I knew some people with tons of shelves of books in their house and who read all the time who were not kind people. And now I would add that not only does it depend on what kind of books you read, but also on How you read them. Perhaps one day I will tell you about the idea of Mirrors and Windows in stories. Some people use stories as Mirrors, and it shows.

Just so there’s a picture to accompany this post, here’s my beautiful boy with some of his favorite books from his junior year.

Favorites from AmblesideOnline Year 11

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