Friday, October 11, 2019

Medieval Christian Warfare in Poem: The Song of Roland (Schedule and Exam Questions for Level 5 Year 2)

translated by Glyn Burgess

The Mater Amabilis™ high school plans recommend The Song of Roland for the first term's epic in Level 5 Year 2 (tenth grade).

This Penguin Classics translation had reasonably good reviews online and was available from I haven't read any other translations, but this one was enjoyable and reasonably easy to follow while still reflecting some of the anachronisms of the medieval French. There's also an appendix of much of the French for the ambitious few.

You can find many excellent summaries of the poem online. What you'll find here is our schedule for the poem and a list of the questions from our exam. I'm not an expert on medieval literature or the writing of exam questions, but they may be at least a place to start for any other Mater Amabilis™ families.

The portion of the introduction assigned on the first day gives an overview of the action of the poem, which I thought would help First Son follow the events. The readings here seem of a reasonable length and are meant to be narrated each day. Finishing in seven weeks allows more time for Paradise Lost, which I anticipate being a more difficult read for First Son.

Week 1
1. Introduction pp 10 (start with last paragraph) - 13 (end of page) AND stanzas 1-26

2. stanzas 27-52

Week 2
1. stanzas 53-78

2. stanzas 79-92

Week 3
1. stanzas 93-116

2. stanzas 117-140

Week 4
1. stanzas 141-161

2. stanzas 162-182

Week 5
1. stanzas 183-203

2. stanzas 204-227

Week 6
1. stanzas 228-268

2. stanzas 269-298 (end of poem)

Week 7
Test on The Song of Roland

Exam Questions

1. Who is Ganelon? What does he do and what happens to him?
2. Who is Roland? What does he do in the poem?
3. Who is Charlemagne? What does he do in the poem?
4. Does Turpin fit your image of a Catholic archbishop? Explain.
5. Describe how the will of God is seen by the poet in the events of the poem.
6. What does The Song of Roland tell you about how medieval Christians thought about Muslims and Islam?
7. Compare and contrast the battles in The Song of Roland with those in The Iliad.
8. Describe your favorite part of The Song of Roland.

I have received nothing in exchange for this post. Links to Amazon and PaperBackSwap are affiliate links. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Adventure to Australia: Botany Bay

by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall

I snagged this book at a recent library book sale thinking it might be useful as historical fiction to read in our high school geography course when we get to Australia. It's the exciting adventure of a loyalist American who ends up arrested for highway robbery and sentenced to life in Australia. He falls in love, does well as a prisoner, escapes, and manages to get pardoned before returning to Australia as a wealthy colonist. There are, you may imagine, a great many twists and turns, which thankfully keep the reader interested despite a rather explanatory storyteller.

The historical details in the story are far-ranging: Loyalists in America after the Revolutionary War, the destitute in London, the squalor of Newgate Prison, and the injustices and horrors of the penal colony expeditions.

One aspect it barely touches is how the Aboriginal Australians viewed the prisoners and the colonists. Though at least one family lives near the narrator, they play a small role in the book. There is a pleasant description of a large family group, or extended family, that are observed without their knowledge. They are generally depicted as enjoying a loving and joyful outing.

This book is best for mature readers. There are plenty of descriptions of disreputable women, men, and the activities they share. There's nothing too explicit or graphic and they are generally derided. Also be aware many of the main characters are criminals and their activities are sometimes lauded. One of the main characters, in addition to being a pleasant highway robber, becomes a father before he is married.

Overall, I think this is a solid contender for supplemental reading for Level 6 geography when we cover Australia. The historical context is fantastic and the adventurous story is likely to interest high schoolers. It may not be high literature, but it's fun and already on our shelves.

I haven't linked to the Kindle edition above because it's economical and had a nice picture that matched the cover of the copy I have. I haven't read the Kindle edition, so I can't promise it doesn't have terrible formatting or something like that.

I have received nothing in exchange for this honest review. Links to Amazon are affiliate links.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Before the Trojan War: Tales of the Greek Heroes

by Roger Lancelyn Green

Roger Lancelyn Green is a master storyteller. I recently read his Tales of Ancient Egypt and was thrilled when someone posted Tales of the Greek Heroes on

There are plenty of books of Greek myths and heroes, of course, but Green's book does something a bit different. He attempts to weave the disparate tales into a single whole, mingling stories and ordering events as they might have happened in a mythical chronological order.

Before each chapter, Green includes an excerpt from a poem about or inspired by the subject. Some of them are translations of ancient works and some are modern references. It's a wonderful way to subtly imply the vast reverberations of the Greek myths through time and literature as well as introduce some excellent bits of literature.

I was not intending to use this book for our history studies, but it is included in RC History's Connecting with History Volume 1. Rather than rewrite our lesson plans, I've just added it to the optional supplemental reading lists for First Daughter (7th grade) and Second Daughter (5th grade).

I think you could also substitute it for the Greek myth book recommended by Mater Amabilis™ for Level 1A, Classic Myths to Read Aloud. I love that book, but some people find the stories long and these may be a bit shorter. It can also be frustrating if children are confused by the inexplicable switching from Greek to Roman names in Classic Myths to Read Aloud. Green's book uses only Greek names. There is a list in the back showing the Latin name for each Greek one.

Green doesn't include the tales of the Trojan War or of the Odyssey; he has other books for those.

I have the hardcover of the Puffin Classics edition and it's lovely.

I have received nothing in exchange for this post which includes only my honest opinion. Links to Amazon, RC History, and PaperBackSwap are affiliate links.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Connecting Math: Discovery Journal

In August 2018, Denise Gaskins (of the fabulous Let's Play Math and Math You Can Play books) offered a review copy of her new Discovery Journal. I requested one for First Daughter, who loves all things quotable. The quotations all appear at the tops or bottoms of pages in the same color as the dots. They don't get in the way. First Daughter did enjoy them. She read through all the quotes as soon as we got the book.

This is an excellent dot journal. The left-hand page has alternating dots to make easy triangles while the right-hand page keeps the dots lined up vertically and horizontally for a perfect grid. Ms. Gaskins shared some ideas for sketching with the journals on her blog and another one in an email to me. I tried to encourage First Daughter to try some of these in her journal. I also encouraged her to use our compass to draw circles and then made designs inside of them. But First Daughter really just wanted to use it for her math assignments. Every once in a while, she would doodle or use the dots to sketch out a triangle or graph for one of her problem sets, but she wasn't very interested in exploring all the fun ways you can connect dots.

The journal itself held up really well. First Daughter carried it everywhere and often left it lying around, but not a single page fell out and the both covers are still attached. The weight of the pages is good, too. They are thicker than the pages you would find in the dotted composition books in the school supplies aisle. Pen does not go through it, though our markers did. The colored pencils work well on them, too.

The post contains my honest opinion. I received a free copy of the Discovery Journal from the author. The link to Amazon is an affiliate link.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

September 2019 Book Reports

Look at the Sky and Tell the Weather by Eric Sloane - link to my post (purchased copy)

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare (No Fear Shakespeare) - Apparently, this is one of the Shakespeare plays most read in high school, but I'd missed it. Lots of blood and famous lines. First Son is reading this in tenth grade, but I'll assign it to the others in ninth grade (matching up with our study of ancient Rome in history). (purchased copy)

Out of Africa and Shadows on the Grass by Isak Dinesen - link to my post (copy from

Hamlet by William Shakespeare (No Fear Shakespeare) - Both my tenth grader and my seventh grader will be reading this play. It's quite long so they won't read an entire act each week. We're right in the midst of memorizing lines from the play using How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare so I thought it was an appropriate choice for the year. (purchased copy)

The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt (Landmark Books) by Elizabeth Payne and The Riddle of the Rosetta Stone: Key to Ancient Egypt by James Cross Giblin - link to my post (purchased copies)

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury - This classic was different than I remembered it, a little less exciting, a little more depressing, and a little more contrived. I think I skimmed over a lot of the "boring" conversations when I read it as a teenager. Those same conversations strike me as disturbingly prescient today. Though it was easy to pick apart the inconsistencies and the instances where the plot seems unlikely, there was something, as always, lovely just in listening to Bradbury's language: lyrical and powerful. (purchased Audible book)

Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa's Greatest Explorer by Tim Jeal - link to my post (library copy)

Lady Susan and The Watsons by Jane Austen - These two books, one Austen never published and a second she never finished, were recommended by Audible because they know I love all things Austen. I enjoyed listening to the stories, though obviously they are not her best. Lady Susan is written as a series of letters and sometimes it was more difficult in an audiobook to tell who was writing each one. (purchased on Audible)

Not So Fast: Parenting Your Teen Through the Dangers of Driving by Tim Hollister and Pam Shadel Fischer - link to my post (library copy)

The Creed in Slow Motion by Ronald Knox - link to my post (purchased copy)

After Anatevka: Live by Alexandra Silber - This is an Audible original offered as one of the free books of the month. Ms. Silber created this stage performance melding readings from her book, After Anatevka, and performances of songs from Fiddler on the Roof and new compositions written to complement her book. It was enjoyable with some delightful music. (free from Audible in October 2018)

The Rise and Fall of the British Empire (The Great Courses) by Patrick N. Allitt - link to my post (purchased audio book)

Elizabeth II: Life of a Monarch by Ruth Cowen - This was another Audible original offered as a free book of the month to members. I thought it would be interested as a supplement to my recent audiobook on the British Empire. It was kind of an interesting take on Queen Elizabeth's life, but it wasn't a complete biography. There were quite a lot of lurid details of the other royals' love lives. (free from Audible in April 2019)

In Ethiopia with a Mule by Dervla Murphy - link to my post (purchased copy)

Folsom Untold by Danny Robins - This audio book on Johnny Cash and his Folsom album is a little melodramatic, but it was interesting to hear something about the album, how it came about, and what happened later. It looks like it's no longer available on Audible, but if you're interested in all things Johnny Cash, you may want to see if you can find it elsewhere. (free from Audible in February 2019)

I have received nothing in exchange for these posts. All opinions are my own. Links to Amazon, PaperBackSwap, and RC History are affiliate links.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Off the Trail: In Ethiopia with a Mule

by Dervla Murphy

This book appears for Geography of Africa in the Mater Amabilis™ Lesson 5 plans.

Originally I picked it up because I thought my son might enjoy it more than The Flame Trees of Thika and Out of Africa, being of a more adventuresome nature. It is certainly more adventurous. Dervla Murphy is a travel writer from Ireland who started her career with a book on her bike ride from Ireland to India. She wrote In Ethiopia with a Mule after hiking through Ethiopia in late 1966 and early 1967. She walked, climbed, and tumbled more than 1,000 miles in just over three months, then lived in the capital another six weeks.

Ms. Murphy arrived in Ethiopia from Ireland with more money in her pocket than most Ethiopians will ever see, as well as the support of local dignitaries, but she depends on the people of the country as she travels through lands without hotels, sleeping in homes she finds along the way and leading a mule she cannot load. Her descriptions are lively, beautiful, and often humorous.
On the last lap I passed a big British War Cemetery and gazed into it enviously, feeling that a cemetery rather than a hotel was the obvious resting place for anyone in my condition.
Ethiopia's landscape is intimately learned when traveling by foot. Ms. Murphy often traveled by barely perceptible tracks through mountain passes and river valleys. Her joy was as much in the physical struggle to trek each day as it was in the physical beauty surrounding her.
Then quickly a faint pink flowed up from the hidden horizon -- giving mountains and valley a new, soft, shadowed beauty -- and soon this had deepened to a red-gold glow which seemed briefly to hold all the splendour of all the dawns that ever were. To lie beneath such a sky, surrounded by such peaks, brings an almost intolerably intense awareness of the duality of our nature. We belong to intimately and joyously and tragically to this physical world, and by its own laws we soon must leave it. Yet during these moments one knows, too, with humility and certainty, that each human spirit is immortal -- for time cannot destroy whatever element within us reverences the glory of a dawn in the mountains.
Later, as she travels around Lake Tana, her descriptions are reminiscent of the treks through Africa by the likes of Stanley and Livingstone.
Twenty minutes later I had discovered that the 'grassy plain' was a peculiarly hellish semi-swamp. Apart from patches of black mud, in which we occasionally sank to our knees, the vegetation was diabolical. Thick, wiry grass grew shadow-high, the stiff, dense reeds were seven to nine feet tall, and a slim, five-foot growth, which looked dead, had such powerfully resilient thorny branches that I soon began to imagine it was deliberately thwarting me.
Ms. Murphy is at her best when she writes of her lonely hikes and the harsh beauty of Ethiopia. Her forays into religion and culture are more difficult to reconcile to a modern reader. Though she is less colonial than earlier writers, the 1960s are still a long way to the modern conception of equality. It's difficult to know how much of her comments on Ethiopia arise from her own impressions and assumptions and how much might be accurate if we looked at economic development and historical records of the 1960s.

She often writes disparagingly of the efforts to bring Ethiopia into the modern world with technology and education. Though I personally found her statements bemoaning these efforts to be excessive, I think there is room to consider what the relationship between a more technologically advanced society and one less so should be. How lovely it would be to share what is good and beneficial and somehow withhold that which is polluting or alienating. Ms. Murphy seems to think every bit of shared culture will only inflict damage on the people of Ethiopia.
What damage are we doing, blindly and swiftly, to those races who are being taught that because we are materially richer we must be emulated without question? What compels us to infect everyone else with our own sick urgency to change, soften and standardize? How can we have the effrontery to lord it over peoples who retain what we have lost -- a sane awareness that what matters most is immeasurable?
I heard something similar in our local town recently, though I think precluding participation in a world economy is not possible, even if it were preferable. More to the point, Ms. Murphy's own experiences, however, dramatically show the suffering of Ethiopian people without access to sanitation and health care. It seems inconceivable that she would really insist we withhold such medical and institutional advances that might improve health and well-being.

If you are considering sharing this book with your students, be aware Ms. Murphy has some disparaging comments on the Ethiopians Church. For example:
Lamas rarely encourage bigotry and racial arrogance -- as Ethiopian Coptic priests frequently do, by teaching that Ethiopian Christians are the only true Christians in the whole world. This defect is not exclusive to Coptic priests, but it is extra-pernicious in such a remote land, where a pathetic national superiority complex tends to run wild for lack of sobering comparisons with other nations.
She admits ignorance of the church, but comments on it anyway. She also describes the celebration of a church feast that, according to the author, included widespread and accepted infidelity. True? Misconception? Misunderstanding? There's no way to know.

There are a few other unconventional situations, such as that of a joint temporary wife, who "seems happy in her new role."

The n-word appears once, as a descriptive adjective for a color. The author engages frequently in rather unsafe behavior, like eating wild mushroom even after local children told her they were poisonous. She is robbed multiple times and is often in physical danger.

This is one of the alternate books for Geography - either as a substitute for the travel or adventure memoir or as free-reading to bulk up the course. Apparently I love geography because I have bulked up our course substantially with mapping exercises and three assigned books in addition to the travel and earth studies books. I think this book would be a good replacement for The Flame Trees of Thika, if you had a mature student more interested in high adventure than a child's memoir, especially for someone with hiking and climbing experience. In general, I prefer The Flame Trees of Thika. I think it's an easier read for students who might feel overwhelmed by the heavy Mater Amabilis™ schedule. It also seemed less critical of life in Africa, more just descriptive and accepting. While In Ethiopia with a Mule introduces some interesting topics for discussion like economic development in Africa, it does so in a brash and derogatory way, often sentimentally praising the traditional life of the Ethiopians while simultaneously presenting it as filthy and unhealthy. It is a complicated book.

For our homeschool, I'm going to keep Four Years in Paradise as our travel or adventure memoir. In Ethiopia with a Mule will be listed as a third term read. My student can choose between it, The Flame Trees of Thika, and Out of Africa. These are recorded only in a reading journal with brief notes for each chapter (who did what and sometimes why). I'm fairly certain First Son will choose The Flame Trees of Thika based solely on the size of the printing and the number of pages. First Daughter may happily read all of the above.

I have received nothing in exchange for this honest review. I purchased In Ethiopia with a Mule used. Links above to Amazon are affiliate links.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Context for All the Books: The Rise and Fall of the British Empire

by Patrick N. Allitt

We've been immersed in Mater Amabilis™ for over ten years now. Repeatedly in that time, there have been issues raised with recommended books and Charlotte Mason herself regarding attitudes toward non-Western people and the history of England. This course has helped me put vast amounts of those readings in context. Professor Allitt came of age as the British Empire disintegrated and therefore is able to provide a personal story alongside the historical context. He touches on all aspects of the Empire, including the American colonies, the spread of cricket, and two lectures on some of the relationships between British literature and the Empire. (He pointed out some details in Jane Austen's novels I would never have connected with the Empire. Guess I'll have to read them again!) Many of the lectures touch on important milestones and attitudes that continue to impact world relations today. Quotes from primary sources intersperse all the lectures.

I think you could substitute this lecture series for Churchill's A History of the English-Speaking Peoples in Level 5 (the abridged one). You would lose the early British history and Churchill's sardonic wit, but it would probably be easier than reading Churchill. You might also read Churchill to the end of his book, then pick up this lecture series to follow just the decline of the Empire. If you wanted an honors level course, I think Churchill and this series would fit marvelously together.

The PDF included in an Audible purchase includes recommended reading for each lecture and questions to consider, some of which would make excellent exam or essay questions.

Another option might be to use a subset of the lectures either in history or geography courses.

America / The New World

Lecture Two: The Challenge to Spain in the New World
Lecture Three: African Slavery and the West Indies
Lecture Six: Wolfe and the Conquest of Canada
Lecture Seven: The Loss of the American Colonies
Lecture Eighteen: How Canada Became a Nation
Lecture Thirty-Three: The White Dominions


Lecture Three: African Slavery and the West Indies
Lecture Eleven: Abolition of the Slave Trade and Slavery
Lecture Twelve: Early African Colonies
Lecture Nineteen: The Exploration and Settlement of Africa
Lecture Twenty: Gold, Greed, and Geopolitics in Africa
Lecture Thirty-One: Israel, Egypt, and the Suez Canal
Lecture Thirty-Two: The Decolonization of Africa


Lecture Four: Imperial Beginnings in India
Lecture Five: Clive and the Conquest of India
Lecture Thirteen: China and the Opium Wars
Lecture Sixteen: India and the "Great Game"
Lecture Seventeen: Rebellion and Mutiny in India
Lecture Twenty-Seven: British India between the World Wars
Lecture Thirty: Twilight of the Raj
Lecture Thirty-One: Israel, Egypt, and the Suez Canal

Australia / New Zealand

Lecture Eight: Exploring the Planet
Lecture Ten: The Other Side of the World
Lecture Thirty-Three: The White Dominions

This is one of my favorite courses from The Great Courses. I enjoyed it immensely and would happily listen to it all over again.

I have received nothing in exchange for this post of my honest opinions. I purchased this course during one of Audible's recent two-for-one sales. Links to Amazon are affiliate links.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

What We Believe and Why: The Creed in Slow Motion (and exam questions)

by Ronald Knox

During World War II, Ronald Knox was a chaplain for a girls' school. He developed a series of conferences (lectures) on the Creed for their benefit. After the war, he revised them and published them in this book.

Knox simply explains the meaning of the Creed, revealing to young people a depth to their faith but in a conversational manner.

This book appears on the Mater Amabilis™ high school plans as Spiritual Reading for Religious Education in Level 5 Year 1 (ninth grade).  My son read it last year as a ninth grader, but one of the other mothers said she had used it for confirmation preparation. So this year, I've assigned it to my seventh grade daughter as she prepares for Confirmation. One week in, she said she already likes it because "it's like he's talking to me."
To believe a thing, in any sense worth the name, means something much more than merely not denying it. It means focusing your mind on it, letting it haunt your imagination, caring, and caring desperately, whether it is true or not.  
In the course of his lectures, Knox addresses many of the familiar questions raised by middle school and high school students.
When we say that God is Almighty, we mean that he can do anything which is not against reason. God couldn't create two equal-sized things one of which was larger than the other. But that isn't to say that he is being hampered by something outside himself. The laws of reason are part of the truth, and the truth is part of himself, or rather is himself; God is truth.
At the same time, he speaks eloquently of the profound truths of our faith.
No, there is no really satisfactory account of why Creation ever happened. We know that it did, because here we are. But the most the theologians can tell us is that it is the nature of goodness to diffuse itself, so that God uses Creation as a kind of reservoir for the overflow of his inexhaustible love.  
He writes on the working of the Holy Spirit in the writing of Scripture.
The Psalms weren't written to teach us lessons in geography; they were poetry, and the person who wrote that verse was just talking in the ordinary language of his time. So you can't be certain that every word of the Old Testament is literally true. But you can be certain that the theology of the Old Testament, once you have understood it properly and made allowances for the Hebrew way of saying things, must be true; because when it was written the Holy Spirit was at work to see that the thing got done right.
He also provides commonsense advice for young people. When talking about the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he explains that although the Holy Spirit sometimes intervenes miraculously, providing a clear message of a vocation or speaking directly, those experiences are rare. Most of the time, we pray for guidance and then talk with parents, counselors, and teachers, all of whom give us advice. Then we consider the arguments for or against a decision. The Holy Spirit is acting within us the entire time, helping us use wisdom and discretion to make the choice.

Often, he exhorts the young women to strive for holiness in their own lives and their own relationships.
I mean that we should be really generous in our love of God, really honest in our ambition to follow Jesus Christ. What holds up the conversion of  England, I always think, is not so much the wickedness of a few Catholics, as the dreadful ordinariness of most Catholics.
There are Editor's Notes referenced by endnotes in the text that provide definitions for English or out-dated terms as well as historical notes (on "The Crusade of Rescue," for example) and a note on the 2007 Vatican advisory document on unbaptized infants.

Below are the exam questions I used with my ninth grader last year. Right now I anticipate using the same ones with my seventh grader. If she struggles too much, I'll adjust them for my younger children (both of whom will also be confirmed in seventh grade). These would all be answered with a paragraph or a short essay...or, in the case of my oldest, a sentence or two.

Quiz #1 (chapters I – IV)

1. What does Ronald Knox say about the words “I believe” (credo) in the Creed?
2. What does it mean to call God the “First Cause?”
3. Ronald Knox says, “The laws of reason are part of the truth, and the truth is part of himself, or rather is himself; God is truth.” What do you think about that?
4. According to Ronald Knox, why does God, our “Father Almighty,” allow suffering?
5. In the Creed, we say God is the “Maker of Heaven and Earth.” Why do you think he created the universe?
6. Share something you particularly remember from the first four chapters of The Creed in Slow Motion.

Quiz #2 (chapters V-VII)

1. What does Ronald Knox say about the words “Jesus Christ” in the Creed?
2. Ronald Knox writes that “theologians will tell you that the greatness of an offence is measured by the dignity of the person against whom the offence is committed; whereas when it comes to making reparation for an offence the greatness of the reparation is measured by the dignity of the person who is making it.” What does that mean for the atonement of mankind’s sin against God?
3. We say “Our Lord” in the Creed because He is our master and we belong to Him. What do you think that means?

Quiz #3 (chapters VIII-XVI)

1. According to Ronald Knox, what can the Virgin birth tell us about marriage?
2. What does Christ’s sufferings (hunger, exhaustion, pain) tell us about suffering today? What about our own suffering?
3. Why is Pontius Pilate named in the Creed?
4. Why did our Lord want to be buried in the earth?
5. How does the sacrament of baptism remind us of the Resurrection?
6. Ronald Knox tells of a priest whose favorite mystery is that of the Ascension “because it was the only one which made you think how nice it was for our Lord, instead of thinking how nice it was for us.” How are other mysteries nice for us? Why is this one so joyful for our Lord?
7. What happens at the Last Judgment?

Quiz #4 (chapters XVII-XVIII)

1. What do we mean when we say the Bible is “inspired?”
2. What are some of the ways the Holy Spirit was at work before Jesus came?
3. What happened at Pentecost?
4. What is the difference between the extraordinary and the ordinary operations of the Holy Spirit?
5. How can the Holy Spirit guide us when we have a decision to make?

Quiz #5 (chapters XIX-XXII)

1. What does it mean to say the Catholic Church is “holy?”
2. What is the “Church?”
3. How is the Catholic Church “Catholic” (meaning universal)?
4. What does it mean to say that the Catholic Church is “apostolic?”

Quiz #6 (chapters XXIII-XXVII)

1. What is the communion of saints?
2. How is the sacrament of communion a sacrament of union within the Church?
3. How is the forgiveness of sins one of the great mysteries of our faith?
4. What is the resurrection of the body?

I have received nothing in exchange for this post, which contains only my honest opinions. Links to Amazon are affiliate links.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Preparing for a Teen Driver: Not So Fast

by Tim Hollister and Pam Shadel Fischer

One of the other mothers in the Mater Amabilis™ for High School Facebook group mentioned this book in a thread where I asked about books I could include in a health course to address things like alcohol and the opioid crisis. It's a relatively short and easy read, probably worth the time of anyone with a teenage driver (or an almost teen driver).

Tim Hollister is writing out of personal experience. After his son died in a single car accident, he started to wonder what he could have done differently. After some research, he decided our cultural approach to teaching driving should change based on evidence of what actions by parents and teens can decrease crashes and deaths.
Driving requires the continuous evaluation of hundreds of ever-changing factors and circumstances, and thus experts say that it takes three to five years of experience to become familiar and comfortable with the myriad situations that drivers encounter, not the twenty to one hundred hours that most states require for a teen to obtain a license.
Basically, teens are inherently terrible drivers. We can take some actions to mitigate that risk like requiring a plan (like a flight plan) before driving, eliminating "joy riding" (riding around for fun without a specific place to be at a specific time), and providing vastly more supervised driving practice than is required by law. It is also important to discuss the factors that increase teen crashes like drugs, alcohol, and cell phones.

The authors are strongly against allowing your children to ride with teen drivers. They recommend you not send your younger children with teen drivers and that your teens should not ride when other teens are driving. This is a tough sell to parents who are anxious to share those time-consuming carpool responsibilities.
Parents who conclude that it is safe for their child to ride with a teen driver because that driver is a "sensible kid" who has taken driver's ed are playing with fire. The best advice about riding with a teen drive is don't.
They suggested, if your son or daughter is riding with another teen, that they have a strategy for getting out of the vehicle if they feel unsafe.
[The] most popular is "I feel like I am going to throw up."
I have discussed a code my son could text us if he finds himself in a dangerous or uncomfortable situation and wants out. We promised to come and get him, no matter where he is, and ask no questions as long as he promises to tell us if someone else is in danger. (The code word also means we can provide a "cover story" so he doesn't have to tell his friends he asked us to come and get him.) A code word like this won't get him out of a car, but it will get him picked up if he's standing on the side of the road where they let him out.

I have found myself driving more carefully after reading this book. Even though it seems like my fifteen-year-old is not paying attention, I want him to have a good example.

I intend to have my son read this book as part of his health class in tenth grade. It's not written to teens, but I'm hoping having him read the book may give him a deeper understanding of why we ask him to follow our rules when it is time for him to drive.

The authors of the book do not suggest we don't let our teenagers drive at least, I don't think they do. After all, the only way to become a better driver is to practice driving. There's nothing wrong with taking your time, though, and in considering making the process more thorough than state law requires. All state laws are compromises. After all, we could decrease traffic fatalities dramatically if we lowered the speed limit to 30 mph on all roads, but as a society we've decided we're willing to take on the additional risk. Teenage driving requirements are a compromise as well, and as parents, we have the ability to consider whether we want to make those compromises.

On a related note, I have heard excellent reviews from parents for this driving course, available to teens that already have a driver's permit or driver's license.

I have received nothing in exchange for this review, which contains only my honest opinions. Links to Amazon are affiliate links.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

One Main in Africa: Stanley

by Tim Jeal

I found this book in our library catalog when I was trying to find the location of a former village along Henry Morgan Stanley's route along the Lualaba River for First Daughter's study guide for A Book of Discovery. (I have made the study guide available in the Mater Amabilis™ Facebook group.) It has excellent and informative maps at the beginning of the book.

Intrigued by the snippets I read, I packed it for our camping trip to the Rocky Mountains despite its heft at over 500 pages.

Tim Jeal has written an exhaustive biography of Stanley, drawing extensively on personal letters and diaries not available to earlier biographers. Stanley's often bewildering behavior as an explorer and writer come into better focus with a deeper understanding of his early life.

The author also addresses the kinds of qualms modern readers have when confronted with the events and actions of European explorers in Africa.
The sensitivity of the early twenty-first-century observer to racial questions makes judging the actions of nineteenth-century explorers with objectivity and fairness extremely difficult.
He goes on to place some of the violence of Stanley and other Europeans in context. Not that we should dismiss those actions as less appalling than they were, but that we should understand how they viewed those actions and how the Africans may have viewed them. Stanley himself saw clearly the chief problem with the entire situation, as quoted by Jeal:
Yet Stanley also put his finger on the central weakness of his own position. 'We went into the heart of Africa self-invited -- therein lies our fault.' 
One of the main themes of the book deals with the question of Stanley's involvement in the beginning of the disastrous Belgium occupation of the Congo. Teal persuasively shows Stanley's ignorance of King Leopold II's plans for the Congo. Throughout his time in Africa, his actions were focused on a effort to convince Britain to restrict the Arab slave trade, which started much earlier than the Atlantic trade and continued for much longer.
Of course, the argument that the slave trade could only be tackled if Africa were to be colonized offered a convenient justification for the politicians, businessmen and adventurers engaged in the 'Scramble for Africa' for purposes of prestige and financial gain. But Stanley's desire to destroy the slave trade was not a cynical stratagem.  
Later, Teal writes about Stanley's involvement in political pressure to maintain and increase British investment in Uganda to support missionaries and protect the African people there from a vicious threat from another group.
Few people can claim that events they have set in train have helped transform a great political party and changed their nation's intentions towards a whole continent, but from 1892 the workhouse boy could do just that, as could the self-made shipping tycoon. [Mackinnon, a friend of Stanley]
I'm currently listening to one of The Great Courses on audiobook, The Rise and Fall of the British Empire, in which Professor Patrick Allitt argues that despite atrocities and disasters within the British colonies in Africa, there were also benefits. I would say the eventual end of the Arab slave trade in eastern Africa is one of those.
With the benefit of hindsight, we know that colonialism had some disastrous consequences: the millions who died in Leopold's Congo, the badly drawn borders causing future conflicts, the German massacre of the Hereros, the Italian genocide in Libya, and British crimes committed while suppressing the Kenyan Mau Mau insurrection. So we virtuously condemn those who did not see these things coming many decades before they actually came to pass. 
I found this book a fantastic help in understanding better what really happened in Africa during the time of European exploration. After reading in our school books like A Book of Discovery about people like Stanley, I appreciated being able to put those stories in historical and cultural perspective, especially in a way that allowed me to continue to appreciate the strength and courage of a man like Stanley, even if his way of life would no longer be tenable in a modern world.

This is a long book, probably too long for most high schoolers as a supplement to the Mater Amabilis™ Level 5 Geography course on Africa. Very interested students may find it fascinating, however. In addition to the expected references to violent and disturbing acts, Tim Jeal unashamedly discusses extra-marital and other unconventional relationships, some coerced or enslaved. Violence is an inherent part of Stanley's life in Africa, but these and other incidents are described in circumspect and dignified ways; this isn't a lurid biography and, in some ways, counteracts the effects of earlier attempts to associate Stanley with those kinds of anecdotes.

I have received nothing in exchange for this post, which contains only my honest opinions. Links to Amazon are affiliate links.