Monday, October 5, 2015

Consider This: Virtue, Humility, and Synthetic Knowledge

Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition by Karen Glass

I have been reading about, contemplating, and imperfectly implementing Charlotte Mason's philosophy of education for more than seven years. This book is a delightful reminder that no matter how much I read and how many narrations I suffer through encourage, there is always more to learn.

Karen Glass is a member of the advisory of AmblesideOnline, a free online curriculum for today based on Charlotte Mason's philosophy. I recently read and reviewed her abridgement of Mason's sixth volume, Towards a Philosophy of Education, called Mind to Mind. I started reading this book earlier, but one of the disadvantages of reading through a library book slowly is the probability of another person requesting the book. A few of us were taking turns with it, I think, but I've finally finished reading it.

The author claims Charlotte Mason's philosophy of education is consistent with classical education.
We might understand character-training as a task that belongs to parents, or churches, but we tend to separate that kind of teaching from the teaching of school subjects such as math or grammar. The classical educators did not make such a distinction. All areas of education were brought into service for this single goal--to teach children to think and act rightly.
I don't know much about classical education, mainly just what I've read on blogs by those mostly interested in Charlotte Mason's methods, but it seems to me that Ms. Glass has smoothed Charlotte Mason's relationship with the classical tradition mainly by asserting that the modern idea of classical education (particularly the concentration on the trivium in sequence: grammar, logic, rhetoric) is a deviation from the original idea of a classical education. I'm tempted to agree, but I think someone educating using the trivium today would be less likely to be convinced by this book that Charlotte Mason was a classical educator. To do so, would they have to admit that they have strayed from the classical idea?
If we can get a vision of grammar, logic, and rhetoric not as subjects to be studied but as arts to be practiced and refined in the process of reading, narrating, and writing, we can see how beautifully Charlotte Mason's methods may be considered a synthetic implementation of the trivium of classical instruction, more especially when the ultimate goal of forming character and virtue is recalled.

Despite a title and main argument concerned with classical education, I most appreciated how this book inspired me anew in my dedication to my own education in reading widely and fostering humility and in my understanding of Charlotte Mason's philosophy in practice.
If virtue is the true goal of classical education, pride in intellectual achievement is the perfect stumbling block to ensure that the goal is never reached. In other words, we must not only become humble, but remain humble if we want to continue our pursuit of wisdom and virtue.
I have recognized my own lack of humility in the past year or so and have thought much on how to practice true humility.

Even after all these years, it is good to be reminded why we read so many books all at once, why we insist on composer study, piano, Latin, geography, history, and science.
We should not limit our children's exposure to knowledge, not because they need to acquire a great deal of information about everything, but because they need to develop relationships with every area of knowledge.
These relationships are the goal rather than the knowledge itself. Therefore, not only must students read widely, even in areas in which they do not feel an immediate affinity, but these lessons must be pleasant and inviting: living books.
Every child's mind will take what it requires, and we respect the personhood of children by not substituting our insights for their own needs. If they are to be nourished, they must take that nourishment for themselves. If one takes more or something very different from another, we accept this. If the feast is wide, various, and composed of only the best, there will be something for everyone.
Reading books on a variety of subjects slowly over time allows the student to make connections between them, recognizing the interwoven nature of science, discovery, and historical events.

Consider This encouraged me tremendously in our school's pursuit of virtue and poetic knowledge. A deceptively thin book, it's pages are thought-provoking and galvanizing for anyone interested in Charlotte Mason's methods.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

September 2015 Book Reports

Mind to Mind: An Essay Towards a Philosophy of Education by Charlotte Mason and Karen Glass - Read my review. (promotional copy from the author)

The Children's Charter by Mother Mary Loyola was written for catechists of First Communicants. Always searching for the imagined better sacrament preparation materials, I gingerly read my inter-library loan copy as it nearly crumbled in my hands, hardly believing the lending library would send it out. Thank goodness it survived! If you haven't read anything on preparing students for First Communion, you might find much good advice here. (It is available in newer copies, as you'll see if you follow the link to Amazon.) I intend to incorporate at least one new idea into Second Daughter's preparation next year. This is not, however, a book to read aloud with your First Communicant. (The Good Shepherd and His Little Lambs Study Edition: A First Communion Story-Primer is my favorite so far, which I purchased from Sacred Heart Books and Gifts.) (inter-library loan)

The Trailblazing Life of Daniel Boone and How Early Americans Took to the Road by Cheryl Harness is recommended in Connecting with History (find it here at RC History's store). Enjoyable and informative. I love the timelines at the bottom of the pages of these Harness books because they help me place events in the context of world events. First Son (in sixth grade) is reading this book independently, mostly for fun and without narrating it. (library copy)

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo - Read my review. (library copy)

Helena by Evelyn Waugh - Read my review. (library copy)

The Father Brown Reader II: More Stories from Chesterton adapted by Nancy Carpentier Brown is a companion volume to The Father Brown Reader: Stories from Chesterton which I started reading to the children when my parents were in town because they (my parents, not the children) love to watch a television series about Father Brown. The second volume is more serious in that in contains stories of murders rather than just thefts. Additionally, there is a suicide. My children were confused by that idea at first. Apparently, it's the first time they noticed a suicide in a book I've read to them. (It may be the first suicide; I can't recall another.) A few times, too, I had to walk my eight year old through the conclusion as often it is not explicitly written out. (read aloud to the children, borrowed from a friend)

The Extraordinary Journeys: Around the World in Eighty Days (Oxford World's Classics) by Jules Verne, translated by William Butcher - Read my review. (purchased copy used on Amazon)

How to Babysit a Leopard: and Other True Stories from Our Travels Across Six Continents by Ted and Betsy Lewin is a new book from these renown picture book authors and illustrators. It's a collection of bits and pieces from their journals, dating back decades in their lives together of travel and adventure. Illustrated with drawings and photographs, it's a fantastic example of observation and sketching I'd like to encourage in my children's nature journals as they grow. It may be best to wait until children have matured a little before sharing the book. Experiences described include a shaman's prophetic trance and blood gushing at a bull fight, among other things. The authors mostly refrain from making too many environmental or disparaging comments (about minority or majority populations), but there are some. This will be a book First Son can choose this year for independent reading (sixth grade) and I would have been comfortable with him reading it last year. I think it could appeal to boys and girls. (library copy)

Books in Progress (and date started)
Links to Amazon are affiliate links. As an affiliate with Amazon, I receive a small commission if you follow one of my links, add something to your cart, and complete the purchase (in that order). My homeschooling budget is always grateful for any purchases. 

Links to RC History are affiliate links.

Links to Sacred Heart Books and Gifts are not affiliate links.

These reports are my honest opinions.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Evelyn Waugh's Helena: Simple Prayer for Truth

Helena by Evelyn Waugh

Waugh's fictional novel of St. Helen imagines what life might have been like for the Emperor's mother, the woman credited by tradition as the one who discovered the very beams that held Jesus at the crucifixion, the ones furtively hidden by Roman guards as the rumors of Resurrection flooded the streets.  In the Preface, the author admits how little we know about St. Helen and justifies his liberties in the fictional account based on his research and suppositions.
We do not know that the wood Helena found is the True Cross. We need make no difficulty about the possibility of its preservation, for the distance in time between Helena and Our Lord is not greater than between ourselves and King Charles I, but if we do accept its authenticity we must, I think, allow an element of the miraculous in its discovery and identification.
Waugh eloquently describes Helen as a rash young Briton maiden who falls for a visiting Roman military man without realizing his future prospects.
It was as though she had fallen asleep in the secure, child's bedroom at Colchester -- the low-raftered room that had been hers since first she slept alone, where sitting on the press she could toss her shirt to its peg on the opposite wall; where, dressing, she had countless times paced it's length and breadth two steps from press to looking-glass, four paces from glass to door -- and had lived since in a nightmare where walls and ceilings constantly receded and everything but herself swelled to monstrous size and in all the remote corners dark shadows lurked.
Her child-like nature is integral to his characterization of her relationship with her faith. She is always asking "child-like" (and yet profound) questions of religions, eventually including Christianity.
"What I should like to know is: When and where did all this happen? And how do you know?"
Until she asks these questions of a Christian, the answers are vague or nonexistent. The Christian answers with dates and names, the names of Pontius Pilate, John, Luke...These questions are still relevant today which is why the answer to them appears in the Creed we recite at Mass.

As in life, her baptism and acceptance of Christianity is hidden. She wasn't a Christian, and then she was. A fascinating conversation between Helena and Constantine describes the common but twisted view of baptism by those in power.
"Sometimes," Helena continued, "I have a terrible dream of the future. Not now, but presently, people may forget their loyalty to their kings and emperors and take power for themselves, each one of them. Think of the misery of a whole world possessed of Power without Grace."
Constantine misses (or ignores) her point. Eventually, he responds:
Well, then, what does the wise man do -- the man in a position like mine where it's impossible not to commit a few sins every now and then? He waits. He puts it off till the very last moment. He lets the sins pile up blacker and heavier. It doesn't matter. They'll be washed away in baptism, the whole lot of them, and then all he has to do is to stay innocent, just for a very short time, just to hold the devil at bay for a week or two, perhaps a few hours only. It shouldn't be too difficult. That's strategy, you see. I've got it all planned."
Her time in Jersusalem commences in a flurry of activity and hope, but as time goes on without reliable information on the true cross, Helena's strength fails, physically and spiritually. On Twelfth Night, she imagines herself talking with the Wise Men. It's a lovely scene of prayer, with bits and pieces like these:
"Like me," she said to them, "you were late in coming..."
"Yet you came, and were not turned away. You too found room before the manger. Your gifts were not needed, but they were accepted and put carefully by, for they were brought with love..."
"You are my especial patrons," said Helena, "and patrons of all late-comers, of all who have a tedious journey to make to the truth, of all who are confused with knowledge and speculation, of all who through politeness make themselves partners in guilt, of all who stand in danger by reason of their talents."
There are no stories linking the Wandering Jew with St. Helen, but Waugh uses him to lead her to the True Cross in an illuminating dream:
"I wouldn't take anything for you, lady, for a little service like that. I shall get paid all right, in time. You have to take a long view in my business. How I see it, this new religion of the Galilean may be in for quite a run. A religion starts, no one knows how. Soon you get holy men and holy places springing up everywhere, old shrines change their names, there's apparitions and pilgrimages. There'll be ladies wanting other things besides the cross. All one wants is to get the thing started properly. One wants a few genuine relics in thoroughly respectable hands. Then everyone else will follow. There won't be enough genuine stuff to meet the demand. That will be my turn. I shall get paid. I wouldn't take anything from you now, lady. Glad to see you have the cross. It won't cost you a thing."
Helena listened and in her mind saw, clear as all else on that brilliant timeless morning, what was in store. She saw the sanctuaries of Christendom become a fair ground, stalls hung with beads and medals, substances yet unknown pressed into sacred emblems; heard a chatter of haggling in tongues yet unspoken. She saw the treasuries of the Church filled with forgeries and impostures. She saw Christians fighting and stealing to get possession of trash. She saw all this, considered it and said: "It's a stiff price"; and then: "Show me the cross."
Waugh's prose is witty and poignant, a joy to read. In a time when we are all more likely to be "confused with knowledge and speculation," the child-like questions as well as the prophetic vision of Waugh's Helena invite us to remember the faith that is both simpler and richer.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Translations Matter: Around the World in Eighty Days

The Extraordinary Journeys: Around the World in Eighty Days (Oxford World's Classics) by Jules Verne, translated by William Butcher

I have never read anything by Jules Verne. Would it be shameful to admit most of what I know of him is from the Back to the Future trilogy?

Mater Amabilis recommends three works of classic literature for the first year of Level 3 (sixth grade) including Around the World in Eighty Days. I attempt to pre-read most books before my children read them so I can talk intelligently about them and, sometimes, decide against them. So I checked out a copy of Verne's book and settled down for a read...after two pages I wanted to give up. It was just...painful...and if I wanted to give up, what hope did First Son have?

Then inspiration struck! Jules Verne wrote in French! My good friend useful tool, Google, discovered someone dedicated enough to wade through multiple translations and offer his recommendations for the worthy ones.

Armed with an ISBN number, I purchased a copy. It did not disappoint. A trek around the world with Jules Verne was cheeky, adventurous, enlightening, and satisfying. I'm still contemplating it weeks later, which is one of the characteristics of the best books.

A note of caution: Verne's text contains a number of allusions to adult themes. Most of them will probably go right over First Son's head. I missed a number of them myself (being apparently remarkably innocent despite my years of age), until I read the end notes, which helpfully pointed them out (in professional language). I doubt First Son will read any end notes, not yet having displayed my tendency to read every single word on every page. If you have a student who will do so, be certain to either preview the notes and perhaps have a serious conversation about anything you feel needs explaining ahead of time.

If you haven't, read some Verne.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Book Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo

I heard about this book from Rachel Balducci and decided to request it from the library when I saw there were dozens of people waiting for it. They couldn't all be wrong, right?

Ms. Kondo writes in a casual style, relating stories of her own youth and learning experiences in sharing how to decrease unnecessary belongings.
I discovered that there is no point whatsoever in changing your approach to suit your personality. When it comes to tidying, the majority of people are lazy.
That certainly seems true, especially of my children.

For Ms. Kondo, tidying starts with discarding. The less we have, the easier it is to put everything in its place.
[We] should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of.
She claims we should hold each item, not just look at it, and ask of ourselves, "Does this spark joy?" Kansas Dad pointed out that he can't get rid of his electric screwdriver just because it doesn't "spark joy," but I think in many ways her point is valid. For example, she mentions purchased supplies for projects never completed that haunt us from the depths of our closets. Wouldn't it be better to admit that project will never be completed (at least by me) and pass those supplies on to someone else? I in fact did just that, discarding some supplies I had gathered back in 2004. Did I feel lighter or just imagine it?

She recommends that you start with your own room. The rest of the family will follow suit. Spending time in my own room cleaning and clearing is time I am not harassing my children or even quietly stewing about the messes elsewhere in the house. I suppose if they don't follow my example, at least I can go sit in my own beautiful tidy room to soothe my senses.

Then, there are the gifts!
The true purpose of a present is to be received....Of course, it would be ideal if you could use it with joy. But surely the person who gave it to you doesn't want you to use it out of a sense of obligation, or to put it away without using it, only to feel guilty every time you see it. When you discard or donate it, you do so for the sake of the giver, too.
Considering gifts in this light, I donated a number of items we had floating around the house after years of collecting dust without any guilt. It's also changed my attitude about receiving gifts. So often, when receiving something well-meant but unnecessary, I would feel frustrated. Instead of feeling their love, I would immediately start to wonder where I would put the gift. Now, I can (in theory) delightfully receive everything, focusing on the love instead of the thing.

You are very likely to get rid of something you find you need in the future. She admits this, but claims you'll find it doesn't matter that much.
Life becomes far easier once you know that things will still work out even if you are lacking something.
She has a strange affinity for possessions. She talks to them, thanking them for their hard work. She claims they want to help us. I think that's probably going a bit too far myself, but I do think it's better if material possessions are treated properly and if they are passed on to someone else who can really use them if they are no longer useful in my home.

This short book is worth a bit of time. Even if you don't take all her advice to heart, you may find joy in reading aloud some of the more unusual passages.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

August 2015 Book Reports

 The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids: How to Plan Memorable Family Adventures and Connect Kids to Nature by Helen Olsson covers just about anything you might want to know before camping with children. Kansas Dad and I were planning a trip to the Great Sand Dunes and this book helped me feel slightly prepared. It covers all the important topics like food and wildlife in a light-hearted tone. Highly recommended, if you intend to venture into the wilderness (or a developed campground) with children. (library copy)

1776 by David McCullough was a great book to read as the children started to study the Revolutionary War this fall. Though I expected the book to center on the Declaration of Independence and the Continental Congress, it followed George Washington much more closely than the activity in Philadelphia. Fascinating reading. (library copy)

Osa and Martin: For The Love Of Adventure by Kelly Enright was a Kansas Notable book recently. I've been interested in Osa Martin since I found From Kansas to Cannibals: The Story of Osa Johnson at the library. This book follows their adventures closely but read a bit like a list of places they went and things they did. (library copy)

The Hostile Hospital (A Series of Unfortunate Events #8) by Lemony Snicket. The kids and I are going through this whole series. It's starting to drag a little, but now even I want to know what happens in the end. (library copy)

A Nice Little Place on the North Side: A History of Triumph, Mostly Defeat, and Incurable Hope at Wrigley Field by George F. Will - my review here. (complimentary copy from Blogging for Books)

Open Mind, Faithful Heart: Reflections on Following Jesus by Pope Francis, written mainly for priests, often spoke to my experience as a catechist. (purchased Kindle version when it was free for a promotion or something)

I'm pretty much caught up! Hopefully September's list will be published in a timely manner...

Links to Amazon are affiliate links. As an affiliate with Amazon, I receive a small commission if you follow one of my links, add something to your cart, and complete the purchase (in that order). My homeschooling budget is always grateful for any purchases.

These reports are my honest opinions.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

July 2015 Book Reports

Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Craft Rubin is a book Kansas Dad brought home from the library and I read because I know habit formation is one of the pillars of Charlotte Mason's philosophy. I was hoping it would give me some new tools in the habit formation of my children. There is not much new in this book for those who have already thought and read much on habit formation. The main addition, I think, is her suggestion to identify the type of person you are in terms of how you decide to change your habits. Using that identification, you can sift through the recommendations for changing habits to choose those that are most likely to work in conjunction with your type. Kansas Dad, for example, is a man of logic. Convince him his life needs to change and he will change it. I'm what she calls an Obliger, which means I'm more likely to start and maintain a new habit if I feel like someone else is depending on me. Unfortunately, the book rambles a lot and the most useful tools for each type are much more difficult to find within the text than I would have liked. It's not a difficult book to read and didn't take very long, but I think it could have been cut to about a third of its length and made more immediately useful. (library copy)

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: The Magical Car by Ian Fleming is a delightful story. I think it's recommended as a read-aloud on one of the Mater Amabilis pages, though I can't find it now. The Pott family adventures are a delight and I look forward to reading this book aloud to my children next year. I think they'll all enjoy it (from 11 down to 5). (library copy)

Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll was a book I read aloud to the children over the summer. In general, I don't think we enjoyed it as much as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, but it was worth reading. (library copy)

The Good Galilean by Alban Goodier is not a book on the historical Jesus, but rather one that delves deeply into the Scriptural Jesus, who he was and how he behaved in his time on earth as reported in the Gospels. It would be a good choice for reading before the Blessed Sacrament. (purchased from the publisher during one of their excellent sales)

A Midsummer Night's Dream (Shakespeare Made Easy) by William Shakespeare. We memorized pieces from this play last year but I didn't get around to finishing the entire play myself until the summer. I read from this Shakespeare Made Easy version which has a modern English translation alongside the original. I only read the modern version if I'm not sure what's going on but I find it helpful to have alongside. I love to read the plays when we are studying them, even if the children never hear the whole play from beginning to end. (copy requested from

The Vile Village (A Series of Unfortunate Events, No. 7) by Lemony Snickett. I might post about this series when we finish it. (audio version from the library)

I'll skip the list of books in progress until I catch up on my book reports

Links to Amazon are affiliate links. As an affiliate with Amazon, I receive a small commission if you follow one of my links, add something to your cart, and complete the purchase (in that order). My homeschooling budget is always grateful for any purchases.

These reports are my honest opinions.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Mind to Mind Giveaway Winner!

Here's my Rafflecopter. He's much cuter than that one you can insert onto the blog.

First Daughter likes to help with everything.

And the winner is...

Congratulations, Sally! I've sent you an email asking for your mailing address.

I hope the rest of you have a chance to read Mind to Mind.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Book Review and a Giveaway(!): Mind to Mind

Mind to Mind: An Essay Towards a Philosophy of Education by Charlotte Mason and Karen Glass

Karen Glass, a member of the Advisory at AmblesideOnline, has abridged Charlotte Mason's sixth volume, Towards A Philosophy Of Education, in an effort to provide a clear and concise summary of Mason's most comprehensive book.

A Charlotte Mason aficionado might gasp at an abridgement, but I think Ms. Glass has done a great service to the modern educator, at home or in a school. Her website states:
If you cannot bear to think of reading anything less than every word Charlotte Mason wrote in her original volume, this abridgment is not for you. (I confess that I fall into that category, myself.) But if you have tried to read Charlotte Mason’s volumes and found the Victorian-style prose hard going, or simply lack the time to tackle the long books, this shorter version may be exactly what you need.
Very carefully, Ms. Glass has removed references to events and people unfamiliar today while maintaining the heart of Mason's philosophy and exhortations. She has not altered any of Charlotte Mason's words, merely removed some of them. Though I am not an expert, I could find no instance where the removal of words altered Mason's assertions. Mind to Mind flows seamlessly without jarring instances where the reader notices something missing. In addition, Ms. Glass also added helpful chapter divisions and introductory paragraphs. Some sections of complete text appear in one of the three appendices.

I read Towards a Philosophy of Education years ago when my oldest was just beginning school. With four young children and a part-time job, my ability to concentrate suffered greatly. A book like Mind to Mind would have introduced me to the philosophy of Charlotte Mason without wading through as much text. I would heartily recommend this book to anyone interested in an introduction to Charlotte Mason. After reading Mind to Mind, it would be a smooth transition to read not only the complete text of Towards a Philosophy of Education, but any of Charlotte Mason's five other volumes.


With the permission of the author, I have decided to give away my review copy of Mind to Mind. It's the one I read and the cover looks like it's been carried around a bit, but the pages are clean and I didn't write or underline it in. If you'd like to enter, just leave a comment below (make sure I can contact you) before midnight Central time on Monday telling me why you'd like to read Mind to Mind. Friends and family are welcome to enter, but US addresses only. I'll use a sophisticated method to choose a winner (writing names on pieces of paper and letting my one non-literate child pull one out of a bowl).

Mind to Mind officially releases tomorrow, September 4, but I see Amazon is already shipping copies, so you can order now and have your copy in hand before my giveaway is over and the Matchbook price for the Kindle is $0, so you could start reading the e-book within a few minutes.

I received a free copy of this book from the author for an honest review. Links to Amazon are affiliate links, but links to the author's website are not.

Friday, August 28, 2015

June 2015 Book Reports

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne Valente is a modern fairy tale written for middle grade readers. It's fully of grand statements and is an interesting story. If you are concerned about witches, dragons, or the use of magic, it's not the series for your family, but I think it's a fun one. I was disappointed myself simply because I didn't find myself wanting to read it but I can't point to anything within the book itself to explain my disinterest. (library copy)

The Great Whale of Kansas by Richard W. Jennings - my review. (library copy)

The Reb and the Redcoats by Constance Savery - my review. (purchased copy)

Daughter of the Mountains by Louise Rankin - my review. (received through

Since it's already nearly September, I'll skip the list of books in progress on this post.

Links to Amazon are affiliate links. As an affiliate with Amazon, I receive a small commission if you follow one of my links, add something to your cart, and complete the purchase (in that order). My homeschooling budget is always grateful for any purchases.

These reports are my honest opinions.