Trophies and Foundations: Guest Post by Jack Pelham

TROPHIES AND FOUNDATIONS

If you experienced even one highly-excellent event in your schooling years, you can probably relate to what I want to say here. For some, it might have been winning the big game. For others, putting on a great play or musical. For others, winning the Spelling Bee or the Brain Brawl, or getting a Superior rating at the Band Festival. I trust you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Well, there’s a difference in what people do with those excellent schooling experiences—whether they experience many or few such things. Some people take those experiences as trophies—as things to be remembered—as high-water marks of life. They are the sort to say, “Hey, do you remember that time that such-and-such happened?” A lot of people are like this, and draw joy (whether much or little) from these schooling-years experiences throughout the rest of their lives.

But there’s another kind of person that’s worth mentioning. It’s the one who takes those excellent experiences and who doesn’t only use them as trophies, but as *foundations* for the rest of his or her life. That is, having learned what it took to win the big game, people like this keep on applying those winning habits and become very successful in other accomplishments. Or remembering how the drama club had really pleased the audience with that one show, they continue on to mastering that kind of excellence, and using it repeatedly to do similarly-successful things. Or remembering how they had to push and push themselves to develop the skills that won them some award in high school, they continue to push themselves in their adult years, and they end up as avid life-long learners who remain engaged in the world, at the very time in life when so many others are eager to withdraw from the world as often as they can.

I think there are many more people for whom these early experiences in life are mere trophies than there are those for which they are foundations. For whatever reason(s), they are not now going after things as they did in their youth. And that’s a very sad thing to me.

I’m not writing this to point a blaming finger, but to appeal to the “what if?” of life-long learning and engagement. What if *everybody* kept on learning and stayed engaged? What if everybody got BETTER at things in their adult years than they had been as teens? Would that make for a different society than the one we have now?

I think so.

And on the other hand, what if *nobody* kept on learning and stayed engaged? What if we *all* shut down and retreated from the world? Then we’d be without those precious few who make such excellent teachers and leaders and parents today. And would THAT make for a different society than the one we have now?

Indeed, it would. Even those who think our current society is rather lousy, should readily admit that there are enough difference-makers in it to make for an obvious decline if they should stop making those differences.

I’m not entirely sure why people shut it down, rather than firing it up even hotter than before. But I’m pretty sure that they don’t HAVE to.

What if someone were to turn it around, and start getting deliberate again about excellence in this or that?

Well, I think that’s a pretty hopeful idea. And even if that individual doesn’t “change the world”, he’s changed his OWN life for the better. And what if EVERYBODY did that? Would that change the world? Yes, quite obviously.

I think that so many underestimate the power of personal and proactive choice—and the opportunity that it presents. And I doubt that very many people at all get to the end of life bewailing their lives thus: “If only I had learned less and been less engaged in the world!”

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Get Out 2020

Oh, my people, I have so much to be writing about. As always. It is overwhelming. Thinking and wondering and making connections, or trying to, all the time. It is tiring, actually. My son and I are reading so many thought-provoking works of fiction and non-fiction together. I’m really backed up with all that I could write about. But let me at least explain my word for 2020 that I have hashtagged often on Facebook since January.

#GetOut

Okay, that’s two words. I know.

Basically, I mean Get Out of the House. I really don’t have to go far. Some of this is for my physical health, but the biggest part is for my mental health. In 2019 I was becoming increasingly overwhelmed and depressed, and by the end of the year all I wanted was to complete whatever outside the home tasks each day, such as teaching 40+ piano lessons, and just come home and sit on the couch and watch Hallmark and British TV. I couldn’t even focus on reading any of my many beloved books — although, I did manage to meet my Goodreads goal for the year by some miracle. I had decided for my son’s new school year in the fall (he’s now an 11th grader in our homeschool) that the word would be Chill, and that had been and has been going well, but the rest of my life, not so much.

Have you heard of hygge? Go look it up; I’m not taking this space to explain it. That concept was like an answer to an introverted reader’s prayer. And I still think there’s a lot of good to it. As a Montanan, I appreciate the Dane’s concept of enjoying the potential coziness of winter. But how easy it is, at least for me, to take this permission to retreat to an extreme. “Avoid all extremes”, the writer of Ecclesiastes says. And then near the end of the year, I watched a friend making a decision to cut off relationships and out-of-the-home activities, and I felt very sad for her and then took a hard look at myself.

I had been trying to come up with my word for the new year and suddenly I had it. Well, them.

Get Out

I seem to stay in a constant state of disappointment over people and their thinking and actions, and over the past few years, major conflicts have happened about every six months. My Facebook friends can tell. I start posting stressed posts and quotes and memes and scriptures. I wrote about the weariness I felt after a particular event here. I occasionally get a little PTSD and have flashbacks, as evidenced by yesterday’s Facebook posting of witnessing my brother’s bloody death in 1998. I realized that when I stay at home — where there is plenty of chores to do — have you seen my stacks? and the dust? — I tend to obsess over the foolishness of people. School planning, piano planning, balancing my checkbook — those get done, but the stack of books and papers and dust and dishes remain. And my obsessing gets me no where. But if I get out — physically leave this place, I am instantly better. Go to my studio to teach, I am better. Go to the gym, I am better. Go to the store, I am better. Walk to the chiropractor, I am better. Walk to the bank, I am better. Go to Monday music classes at We, Montana’s Great Room, I am better. Meet a friend for coffee, I am better. Sit in my camp chair while Jack, James and friends play Ultimate, I am better. I don’t need to go hiking in the mountains, but it sure is nice seeing them in the distance when I Get Out.

I love Montana’s big sky and wide open spaces. I can breathe here. Just by walking out my door. And I need connections in the flesh. I’m grateful for my students and their families, all the kids and parents that participate in Jack’s We, Montana! classes, my local CM friends. It seems that when you lose some friends, more come along. I’ve had a couple of local CM friend’s (if you don’t know what that means, you haven’t been reading me), who have been especially encouraging to me when I wanted to give it all up.

And I’m especially grateful to my husband Jack, who never gives up on me. He understands depression and disappointment and encourages me in all my endeavors, weak as they may be at times. His tenacity and faithfulness are unbelievable at times.

Yesterday I posted this on Facebook, provoked by thoughts of people saying, “Nobody can tell me how to….” :

I have been a human being for 58 years, but I’m still learning to be a better human being. I’ve played piano for 51 years, but I’m still learning to be a better pianist and musician. I was taught about God and the Bible from birth and made my own decision to follow Jesus 48 years ago, but I’m still learning about God and the Bible and how to be more like Jesus. I have been teaching for 37 years, but I’m still learning to be a better teacher to all my students, including my son. I have been a wife for 18 years, but I’m still learning to be a better wife to Jack. I have been a mother for almost 17 years, but I’m still learning to be a better mother to James. I am learning (and often doing some unlearning — I’ve been wrong about many things) through reading and listening and seeking the advice of others further in their knowledge of all these areas of my life. And I am putting my learning into practice. I am not done. Are you?

I’m Out!

And with people!

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Review: Little Women (2019)

The following represents my feelings and thinking just after watching the Little Women film on its opening, Christmas Day 2019. My feelings and thinking, as they are wont to do, may change over time.

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When I was in 2nd grade, my Sunday school teacher, Mrs. Romberger awarded me a copy of Little Women for having memorized and recited Psalm 23. I read the book immediately, and then over and over during my childhood. I was fascinated by the connection to the author’s real family, and so read biographies of LMA and her family. I have visited Orchard House, the Alcott home in Concord, MA three times. Even though in recent years I’ve been less involved with all things Alcott, that book and the history around it have remained near to my heart.

In the early 90s there was a movie adaptation of Little Women starring Winona Ryder as Jo, which I found to be a very good rendering — well cast, well told, well directed. But since that time, I’ve ignored any ensuing theater or television productions. So why I decided to give this new one a try, I don’t know. I don’t even like going out to the theater anymore. Maybe it’s because my husband likes Hermione. (Emma Watson plays Meg.)

So, we went on the day of its opening — Christmas Day.

Because I should probably tell you the good things first, I will tell you that we both agreed it was a beautiful production. I was particularly delighted that they got hair and dress appropriate for the period. The color and mood in general had the effect of the period and the March family’s living circumstances. The roles were cast well. I’ll save a couple of exceptions for later. The acting was for the most part perfect to me. One of the things that bothers me in modern productions (and a reason I avoid them) is that they tend to make the feelings, language, posturing of the characters be contemporary to us. That did not happen here. The Marches (and the real-life Alcotts) were very “progressive” in their ideas of race, women, education, etc. and this movie portrayed that well.

And as the story has always done, I cried all the way through.

But here’s what bothered me. And here be SPOILERS. But then, because of what they did, the movie itself was a spoiler. Confusing even this LW veteran, they started at nearly the end! I’m serious – I nearly came out of my seat at one point and wanted to scream …at the screen, the projector, the universe. But I was a good little woman and stayed seated. The opening scenes give us a glimpse of all 4 March sisters (in their separate locations) at this later stage in the story, and then appears on the screen “7 Years Earlier”, and we are taken back to Orchard House (but still not the opening scene of the book). The movie continues to move back and forth in time with no further screen words to tell us when or where we are. Again, this LW veteran had to work it to figure out where in time it was. My poor husband was lost, but still enjoying the beautiful production. I was frustrated that I couldn’t explain things to him in the crowded theater. I felt a wee bit of outrage at what they were doing to my beloved story, even though each scene was acted and directed so truthfully. It was this whole arrangement of back and forth in time. I was put out that….here be SPOILERS again, but like I said, the movie did it…..we know that Jo rejected Laurie even before we meet Laurie in the “7 years before”, that Meg marries Mr. Brooke even before we meet him in the “7 years before”, that Beth is very sick and….SPOILER doesn’t make it to the end of the story.

Through it all my clueless-to-the-March/Alcotts husband enjoyed a beautiful production, but at the end was unclear just how many March sisters there were, and that the old gentleman next door was not *their* grandfather. Does this matter? We both agreed that the movie was written for those that already know the story, and I came out of the movie knowing I was going to tell everyone just that and never recommend it to someone who did not already know about Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy and how they grew. But maybe it’s okay to pay your $15 and just enjoy a beautiful but confusing production. I don’t own the story, after all.

Just be careful, it’s my heart.

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Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

I was thinking this morning of older (in the eyes of some) friends who are continuing to learn and grow. They read and discuss good literature and philosophies of education and living. I pondered if a person could see a difference in my friends’ characters from year to year — and if this was okay. You see, most of these friends are believers, and I find in the Christian world almost a fear of growing and getting better — that it is a “works-based salvation”, and they want nothing to do with that.

I find this sad, and I find it to be the opposite of the God I have come to know from the Bible. And yet, this is the God (and the Bible) that these Christians claim to believe in and follow.

I wrote previously about what it means to be Human, and how it is so much more than “to err is Human”. The Psalmist David wrote: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made…” And one of the things that the Creator built into these wonderfully made humans is the desire and ability to grow — to be better.

If it were not possible, and if it were not a praise to God to do so, why would there be encouragement throughout the Judeo-Christian scriptures to overcome, to grow, to bear fruit, to throw off the old and put on the new? And why be ashamed of this growth that brings glory to God?

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. ~ Jesus, according to Matthew

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.  ~Paul in a letter to Timothy

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, ~ Psalm 72

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge… self-control… steadfastness… godliness…affection, and brotherly affection with love.  For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  ~ Peter in a letter to fellow believers

But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. ~ Peter, further in the same letter

But so many that claim to be believers act out of fear like the one-talent man in Jesus’ parable who said: “I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground.” And the Master responds with, “You wicked and lazy servant!”

Do you get the idea that Jesus won’t be pleased with a do-nothing?

Or they act out of warped view of grace. They have no sense of their humanity and the Creator’s will for all with which he endowed his creation. I find some to even be proud of their never growing but remaining “wretches”. Thank God for grace, they say. Thank God for that blood of Christ that continually cleanses. They, to me, show the foolishness that Paul warned of in saying, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?”

The Creator has indeed fearfully and wonderfully made Man. We are built with amazing abilities physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. To overcome. What other creature can intentionally overcome? Sure, some animals can be trained, but did they come up with the desire and plan themselves? Does it really give glory to the Creator to bury these abilities that he built in us?  To change. To be better. Kinder. More Patient. More thoughtful. More giving. More disciplined. More dependable. More loyal. Growing in knowledge and wonder of the creation around us. Better at whatever our particular skills and talents are — art, teaching, music, gardening, math, engineering, crafting, cooking, etc. etc. etc.

The physical abilities and talents are one thing, but it is the obvious changes in our character that I’m really thinking of today. They should be obvious to others. They are evidence of the grace we have been given. They bring glory to our Creator.

It is nothing to die; it is frightful not to live.”  ~Jean Valjean, “Les Miserables”

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Dear Politicians (of “both” parties)

Guest Post by Jack Pelham

Dear Politicians (of “both” parties)—

Imagine that your rhetoric were all going on the record, and that you’d be held completely accountable for it someday by someone with complete authority to put you where you belong. Imagine that your lies and exaggerations and cheats and biases and dodges and false accusations and fallacious defenses were all brought into the light of day and shown for what they truly are.

Matthew 12:34 ….For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

As a class, and with exceedingly few exceptions, you are corrupt people—and we likely disagree as to whether there’s really a God and whether he’ll really judge you for your bad behavior someday. But there are at least SOME of us alive who see you for what you are right now—who see through the masks you wear, and who are impervious to your twisted rhetoric (because we know better).

But you’re not playing to the few who see you for what you are—but to the masses, who are vulnerable to your manipulations, on account of how they do not love (or understand) the truth very well themselves. So while you strive to appear to them as heroes, please know that to some of us, you appear as fools and mockers.

Shame on you—on all of you who do such things—regardless of which party you’re in. In my novel, Benjamin True nails one of your sort with this line: “One big difference between you and me, Senator, is that I think that wrongdoing is wrong, even when YOU do it.”

You are not listening now, but if the Bible is right about God, you’ll have no choice but to listen later–when it is too late for you to change your mind and your ways, and when every knee will (finally) bow to truth and justice. And those who praise and support you will themselves be shown to have been in error for it.

But for now, we must endure all the ruckus of debates in which both sides are cheating, and of rhetoric in which both sides level the same charges against one another. You never get enough of lying and spinning. You never have your fill. There’s always one more fool to be won over by your rhetoric.

And you? You are utterly empty. Vacuous. Devoid of honor. Mockers and scoffers. You will not let the truth be settled:

Proverbs 29:9
If a wise man has an argument with a fool, the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet.

There is no number of good acts or qualities that exempts one from accountability for this sort of bad behavior. You’re accustomed to being your own judges in such matters, excusing yourselves as you see fit. But you’ll eventually find yourselves in the hands of another judge who will judge justly and without favoritism or bias.

Why can’t this country replace you all with righteous people who would serve the good rather than serving self? Well, righteousness is simply not a high priority for very many of us here. That’s why. Otherwise, there would be LOTS of great candidates for public service. It’s just not that hard to do the right thing. You just DO it.

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History and Political Games: A Glimpse into the Education of James Pelham

On 30 January 1939 — the sixth anniversary of his coming to power — Hitler told the Reichstag that in order to feed its population, Germany would need Lebensraum — living space. He then called Czechoslovakia to reduce the size of its army, give him overall control of its foreign policy, and provide Germany with whatever raw materials it required. ~ Martin Gilbert, “A History of the Twentieth Century”

 

My son and I read this today bringing his first term of History to a close. For the past few months he has been reading all about the goings on in Europe, as well as the rest of the world, as those nations are approaching a world conflict worse than the previous one that had ended 20 years before — you know, that War to end all Wars.

As I read aloud those words about Hitler claiming the need of Lebensraum for the people of Germany, I thought about how this idea of expansion of power and influence goes on right here in our own nation. And I so said aloud to my son. There are people — some in elected office, some being the “man behind the curtain” to whom we are not to “pay attention” — who may not be trying to add physical space to the US, but they are demanding and successfully extending their power and influence over areas within this nation in which they legally have no authority. One way that comes to mind is, whereas we are constitutionally a group of sovereign states, some act as if (as so deceive many) that those sovereign lines don’t exist. It is exactly what came to mind when I read about Hitler telling Czechoslovakia just how it was going to be. They are not satisfied with their current realm of power and influence — again, I am thinking of both leaders in business and politics — but want more. Power over our way of living and thinking.

Then my son began to talk about how these people are able to manipulate and work around and against the Law in order to fulfill their purposes. What follows are his words (with a little bit of Mom editing for brevity. You’re welcome).

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People take in their argument an axiom that they are correct. Everything they do is a circular argument because they’re saying I’m right because I’m right.

It’s like what I see that happens in the game of Mafia … a team strategy game.   At the start of the game, each player is assigned a secret role (normally by picking a card), which dictates the player’s team, and abilities.  The roles, alignment, and abilities are as follows:
-Citizen/Villager, Town, None
-Doctor/Nurse, Town, During the night cycle, pick one player to protect from attack.
-Investigator/Detective, Town, During the night cycle, pick one player to investigate.  The moderator then tells the alignment of that player.
-Mafia, Mafia, During the night cycle, the Mafia collectively pick one player to kill.

The game is split into two cycles, day and night.

During the day cycle, all players discuss who might be mafia.  If a player gets enough nominations, he must then attempt to reason why he is not mafia.  A vote is then taken, and if majority is reached, then the nominated player is lynched, and is out of the round.  Day cycle is then over.

During the night cycle, the moderator tells all the players to go to sleep (close their eyes), then wakes up all the special players (those with nightly abilities) in turn, and asks each which player to use his ability on.

The Town’s win condition is that all the Mafia have been lynched.  The Mafia’s win condition is that the amount of Town players is equal to the amount of Mafia players.  The game ends when either win condition is reached.

During the day cycle I noticed that some players would start with “I know you’re innocent, and I’m innocent, so it must be one of them”, which assumes that “I’m innocent”, which you know, but no other player knows, and no other player will assume that, so it’s a bad argument.  For it to be a persuasive argument, you have to argue from the perspective of your listener, and not assume anything that they wouldn’t.  And for it to be a fair argument, you can’t assume anything not in evidence.

This is similar to Pelosi trying to say that the Founding Fathers did not anticipate that the President and the Senate could be corrupt at the same time, so thus we should just ignore the system and act like the articles of impeachment have gone through without sending them to the Senate first.  This assumes that the Senate is corrupt (and not the House), which is not shown to be in evidence.  It’s a bad argument anyway.  What’s the point of having rules, if you can just break them on a whim?  If the rules become wholly insufficient, then you either legally amend them, or it falls to the people to start over again.

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And so you see how “there is nothing new under the sun” and how History and Current Events blend in the schooling of James Pelham. If you read through all the description of the Mafia game, God bless you. My son understands the Reality of rules of a game and rules of logic. In his 16 years, through reading History and through being aware of current events globally, nationally, and in his own social circles, he has come to recognize the good, bad, and ugly of human thinking and behavior. He is a mathematician and programmer who recognizes corruption in systems, both human and artificial.

What’s the point of having rules, if you can just break them on a whim? ~ James Pelham

It’s just not that hard to do the right thing. You just DO it.
~ Jack Pelham

A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God. ~ King Solomon

Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil
~ King Solomon, when he could have asked anything of God

Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!

 

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Defending Jane

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

Hardly a “once upon a time there was a girl who…” opening. The reader of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is aware instantly that this is going to be a story about ideas, with a great deal of ironic humor, and not just facts about events that happened. Perhaps it is “Once upon a time there was a notion that….” What follows this is another sentence along the lines of the first, and then dialogue begins between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. It is some time into the novel when the author first gives us a physical description of any character. She lets them do the talking to illustrate the truth of her opening idea. The structure and style of the story, with its immediate presentation of an idea and then development through story of that idea, is reminiscent to me of Charlotte Mason’s 11th Principle: “But we, believing that the normal child has powers of mind which fit him to deal with all knowledge proper to him….taking care only that all knowledge offered him is vital, that is, that facts are not presented without their informing ideas.”

I had said during my re-reading of Pride and Prejudice at the time of the Austen renaissance in the mid 1990s that Jane Austen’s works reminded me of Mozart. They did live during the same period in history, so there’s obviously some reason for their similarity in style. I was a different person reading Pride and Prejudice in my 30s than I was at my first teen-age reading, and this experience of reading coincided with my more mature appreciation of the music that I loved. I definitely had moved away from pure sentimental romanticism to being struck by structure and style and higher forms of humor. Austen is light as Mozart, but with that playful lightness develops some very human ideas. And you don’t have to strain yourself to discover the ideas; they come as you are letting yourself enjoy the music.

Years ago a friend and fellow-educator shared her frustrations about Austen — “They don’t do anything; they just go around and visit.” Yes, Pride and Prejudice is hardly Little House on the Prairie with their year round having to fend for their existence with hunting, farming, preserving, sewing, building, but Austen wasn’t telling a story about events, but rather ideas. It is tale of the inner-life of people rather than the outer-life. Nor did Austen write an in-your-face didactic, moralistic tale. Not that that is what Laura Ingalls Wilder did in her stories, but it is the style of so many novels, particularly in the Victorian period which came after Austen — the kind with which many may be more comfortable and think more effective for the moral cause. Austen wrote in such a way that lessons can be learned without the author pointing her finger at the reader. As Charlotte Mason said of novels –

…it is a serious question, what can be done to fortify these against the special temptations that belong to their time of life. Excellent help is to be found in novels. Here is the very knowledge of life the young person craves; the personages of the novel play their parts before him, and he is admitted to greater intimacy with them than we often arrive at with our fellows; there is no personal attack upon the reader, no preaching… He is not preaching to the young reader, to whom the lessons of life come home with illustrations never to be forgotten.

I think that Austen is most effective in these “lessons of life” for the reader who will allow himself to enjoy the ride, to be swept along with the lilting phrases and themes. And laugh. She is hysterical. She knows us. What better way to have your foibles exposed than with humor.

In the past couple of years I read Pride & Prejudice again with my teen-age son. Although my son was far less impressed than I’d hope, I, on the other hand, found myself even more in awe of her skills. And how she knows us. Still today. 202 years after her death, her observations of human psychology are spot on.

I am currently re-reading Northanger Abbey, and as my friend Cindy Rollins says, there is one good line after another. Bam bam bam. Funny. Insightful. Aptly and perfectly said and placed. Like beautiful music. And as someone who struggles with putting things into words, I come close to envy of that woman. Wouldn’t it have been something to be inside her mind. But, then, maybe that’s what a trip inside one of her novels is.

Thank you, dear God, that I get to live in a world where there was a Beethoven and a Mozart. And a Jane Austen. Truth. Goodness. Beauty. Humor. And we are changed.

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For the Delight of It

As many of my friends have learned, my son fills up restaurant napkins (and this Thanksgiving, his napkin at our hosts’ table) with his math wonderings. We’ve had servers and bussers at a couple of our often-visited restaurants recently say, “So you’re the one that’s doing all that math.” Apparently, he’s the talk of kitchens across the greater Yellowstone County area.

On the occasion shown in this photo, James began to explain to me (which will never not happen if he has company) what he was working on. Not being distracted by things I’d rather be doing, reading, or thinking about (which is where I find myself the majority of the time), I began to ask questions to try to understand — first, the problem that he was trying to solve; second, the method he was using to solve it; and third, Why he even cared.

This third question I struggled with how to ask or even if I should. I wanted to know what the purpose was but was also trying not to sound utilitarian. As you may have figured out, I read a lot of Charlotte Mason and other educational writers in the classical tradition — some old, some current. In the past few years I’ve also been reading C.S. Lewis non-fiction works — some with my son, some on my own. There is a common thread in the thinking of these philosophers, and that is that learning should be for the sheer truth, goodness, and beauty of it. Our modern, mostly government-run, school curriculum runs more along the lines of building a worker class. If you read the history of our American system, you will find that this is intentional. Often a high school student will be asked when choosing a class, or a college student when choosing a major, “But what will you use that for? How will you make money from that? What kind of job can you get with that?” Charlotte Mason advocated that a liberal arts education was still important for those in vocational training:

We want a philosophy of education which, admitting that thought alone appeals to mind, that thought begets thought, shall relegate to their proper subsidiary places all those sensory and muscular activities which are supposed to afford intellectual as well as physical training. The latter is so important in and for itself that it needs not to be bolstered up by the notion that it includes the whole, or the practically important part, of education. The same remark holds good of vocational training. Our journals ask with scorn,––”Is there no education but what is got out of books at school? Is not the lad who works in the fields getting education?” and the public lacks the courage to say definitely, “No, he is  not,” because there is no clear notion current as to what education means, and how it is to be distinguished from vocational training. But the people themselves begin to understand and to clamour for an education which shall qualify their children for life rather than for earning a living. As a matter of fact, it is the man who has read and thought on many subjects who is, with the necessary training, the most capable whether in handling tools, drawing plans, or keeping books. The more of a person we succeed in making a child, the better will he both fulfil his own life and serve society.

In my own life, even currently, I question myself as to why I’m reading this or that book, why I am spending time working this crossword puzzle, why I am beginning to learn this late in life the cello and the clarinet — what will I use this for? shouldn’t I be using my time in more lucrative ways? But no, it is perfectly fine for me to read and play and puzzle for just the sheer joy of it. For the truth, goodness, and beauty of it.

Classical education, or a liberal arts education, is never utilitarian. The freeborn man is not concerned with utility or getting ahead. He is concerned with being. ~Cindy Rollins

And so I sit across from my son, who is a genius (to me) in a highly useful ($$$) skill. It is not something that most people would see as an art or entertainment. But could it be that James wonders about things and works at it just for the pleasure of it? In my asking for what purpose a person might need to know what he is solving, for what task might they use this, I finally say, “Why all your effort? Is it simply because it is fun?” And he responds, “Yes!” And beautiful. And he revels in that beauty the way I do with words and music. And this is all we need.

Great are the works of Yahweh,
    studied by all who delight in them.
~ Psalm 111:2

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You Gotta Have Heart

This is a bit of a Part 2 to my previous post of a few minutes ago. In that post I made reference to C.S. Lewis’ Abolition of Man, and the first chapter “Men Without Chests”.  Over the past 3 weeks my son and I read that chapter and at the close he entered those  concluding sentences in his Commonplace.

Here I go straying again from my original intent, but I wanted to acknowledge how grateful I am to the Charlotte Mason philosophy of slow-reading, and the Advisory of AmblesideOnline that have emphasized this over and over to their users, as well as the counsel of Cindy Rollins and Angelina Stanford for slow, deep, and contemplative reading. I’m reminded of this as I think about the comment I made following the posting on Facebook of my son’s Commonplace entry. I’m reminded that to really understand a quote or idea, much more context and time to contemplate is needed.

And now I quote myself:

I had seen these lines quoted on several occasions in the past few years, but it was in reading this chapter “Men Without Chests” with my son that I understood better (I hope) just what Lewis meant by “chests”. Even with the words “virtue” and “honor” in the quote, I still had this idea of Machismo — Superman puffing out his Chest. But what he’s addressing is men (humans) being robbed of what is associated with that organ in the chest — the Heart. He talks about modern textbooks discouraging beautiful, descriptive, moving passages, and teaching that only the (physical) facts are necessary. Students are robbed of the notion that it is valid to place a judgment of quality on an object or idea. They are robbed of beauty, of noble ideas, of Heart.

And just so’s you know where I got my post title:

 

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Education and The Ordering of the Affections

I have been homeschooling my now 16 year old son from birth. Our homeschooling has involved a lot of reading out loud. Interestingly, although I’m not a nature and sciency kind of person, some of my favorite things to read to my son over these years has been the nature stories. We’ve read many books by naturalists who share their stories of being there, and I’ve enjoyed “being there” with them as I’ve read the stories to my son. I’ve enjoyed reading our school literature selections, as well as our “free reads”. Over the years I’ve judged good writers, such as C.S. Lewis, by how good it feels (literally!) to read their sentences out loud.

As the years have passed, and my son has become an independent learner, I have increased my piano studio and have had far less time to be with him during his school hours. The thing I miss the most is reading out loud to him. In scheduling his days this year, I have reserved one hour before I start my piano teaching day (and some days that means 7 a.m.) to read to him. (And whenever I have a block of cancellations during the day, you might find me running home, rather than staying at the studio, as I ought, to practice my cello and clarinet, and saying, “I’m here! Can I read whatever you’re reading right now to you?”) For that precious “morning hour with Mom”, this year I have chosen to read books such as Plutarch’s Life of Alexander (just a bit each morning), Charlotte Mason’s Ourselves, C.S. Lewis’ Abolition of Man, and when I can steal it from his after-Mom schedule and squeeze it in before I dash to the studio on Fridays, Seven Men Who Rule from the Grave, which is a book not about politicians or business-leaders, but philosophers whose influence is still very evident today. I also do some Grammar, Latin, or Diagramming with him as a part of that hour. Do you really think that those 3 things are not like the others? You have not spent enough time with James, then. The study of language, which involves logic and the need for clear communication, generates a lot of discussion with us.  It’s a bonus for me when I can steal away and read History and Literature and Economics with him, as well, because those “subjects” are full of ideas well worth contemplating and discussing.

Truth be told (as one should), it is perhaps the discussion of ideas and the connections James and I make with them, and then with each other, that I miss even more than the reading out loud of the beautiful words. Sometimes I feel anxious about all the things that I’ve left undone or completely missed in the education of James Dewey Pelham. But then I sit with him and read C.S. Lewis or Thomas Sowell, or simply work on analyzing a sentence or translate some Latin, and I realize what a mature and honest thinker has been raised in our home. Sometimes I think I have harmed him with my concern about the wrong things, that I’ve not focused on filling his heart with ideas rather than his head with facts, and then I listen to this young man who picks up quickly on a logical or economic fallacy or grammatical error because he cares. He cares about Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Ordo amoris – somehow, in spite of his anxious mother, through the years his affections have been properly ordered. His conscience has been trained. He is not a Man without a chest.

From James’ “Commonplace” book

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