Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Convention Season: In Which I Want To See Through a Child's Eyes (or Go Buy All the Books!)

G.K. Chesterton and the Metaphysics of Amazement  - Martin Cothran 

First off, who is G.K. Chesterton? According to Wikipedia, Chesterton was "an English writer, poet, philosopher, dramatist, journalist, orator, lay theologian, biographer, and literary and art critic. Chesterton is often referred to as the "prince of paradox." Time magazine has observed of his writing style: "Whenever possible Chesterton made his points with popular sayings, proverbs, allegories—first carefully turning them inside out."

His name keeps coming up. Seems like everywhere I turn, someone is quoting Chesterton. So, this seminar caught my eye. I went to a seminar on Chesterton last year too. Martin Cothran is an author and teacher who often speaks about classical education at this homeschooling conference.

These notes are rather disjointed for two reasons. First, it was the last seminar on the last day of a three day conference so we were all rather mentally spent. Second, Cothran went at a breakneck speed through his information and I only got bits and pieces. The seminar was very eye-opening and I received glimmers of understanding throughout.  If you want the whole talk, you can download it here for $3.00.

Look at the world through a child's eyes again as a parent and one last time as a grandparent.

"The Ethics of Elfland" in Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton is the greatest chapter in the greatest book.
From that chapter: we all like astonishing tales because they touch the nerve of the ancient instinct of astonishment.

We are doubly handicapped now.
1 - We are adults.
2 - We are modern adults.

We have lost the idea that things MEAN something.

Existentialism was first seen after World War I in Europe, when the world had been torn apart physically, psychologically, and philosophically. Sartre. Camus.

Existentialists are half-right. If God does not exist, there is no meaning.


Modernists/new atheists believe in the "soft" Christian values (heresy) but subtract God.

Now it is the religion of science - "scientism."

Three Aspects of Any Religion
1 - Creed (set of beliefs)
2 - Code or methodology (moral principles)
3 - Cultic motivation

Yes, scientism is a religion.
1 - Its creed is materialism.
2 - Its code is the scientific method.
3 - Its cultic motivation is a society with all physical questions answered.

Camus wonders why we don't commit suicide. Max Weber wrote of "the disenchantment of the world."

"Why" questions cannot be answered through science. They are only remedied by finding a purpose in life. Viktor Frankl wrote of "the importance of finding meaning in all forms of existence, even the most brutal ones, and thus, a reason to continue living." (Wikipedia)

Most children's literature takes place in the country because things have an inherent purpose in the country. (The idea of wonder) Nihilistic children's literature takes place in the city. Artificial things don't have an inherent purpose.

Lewis Carroll contrasted with Edward Lear by Chesterton

Turning reality upside down to mimic seeing it for the first time. But no, Chesterton says, you're seeing it AS IT REALLY IS. You've just forgotten. It removes the scales from our eyes,

The way back is through children's literature.

There are things we will never know. Why the order of the world is like it is. A description is an explanation but does not answer the 'why'.

Favorite poem? Hey Diddle Diddle. Why is it magical?

Anna Karenina and War and Peace are the greatest novels EVER!

The English body of children's lit is unlike anything previous or anywhere else.
"It's got the magic! The Moffats

Because they woke for us a meaningful world...

By the way, everything Chesterton wrote was a first draft.

RESOURCES MENTIONED
The Re-enchantment of the World by Morris Berman
Chance or the Dance: A Critique of Modern Secularism by Thomas Howard
The Restitution of Man: C.S. Lewis and the Case Against Scientism by Michael D. Aeschliman
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book by Walker Percy
The Natural History of Make-Believe by John Goldthwaite
Samuel Butler's translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey (book of essays)
The Politically Incorrect Guide to English And American Literature by Elizabeth Kantor

FURTHER READING
The Rhetoric of Amazement by Martin Cothran - web article
G. K. Chesterton and the Metaphysics of Amazement: Martin Cothran's Interview on the Quiddity #Podcast at the CiRCE Institute

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Convention Season: In Which I Understand The Will and The Appetite (or Why It's Hard to Teach Kids to Read)





Teaching Reading in the Screen Age - Andrew Kern

I chose this seminar because I was so inspired by Kern's seminar on writing. I also am concerned about the difficulties in not only teaching reading nowadays but also in sustaining interest in reading.

Six pages of notes! I apologize because I wrote down the nuggets I found memorable or interesting, but they don't always connect to the things I wrote down before or after. Kern does tend to speak like this, but it all makes sense in the end. I found a lot of meat in this talk, so here goes:

Use books!

Teach a child to....
...pay attention.
...remember things.
...bring it into harmony.

Do you pause when reading to allow images to form in your mind? IMAGE-ination....

Teach your child to handle the screens. (in the sense of creating good habits) Make a distinction between will and desire.

Nietzsche - everything living wants to live.
Humans have the ability to know what we want is bad.
There is a difference between what we want and what we will.
The screens appeal to the appetite. They are market-driven.

Capitalism (Marx) - desires will lead to centralization of big companies. Centralized economy --> socialism.

Strengthen the will and not the appetite. Train the will. Coaches know this. We accept this idea in sports.

Strong-willed people are actually weak-willed people with strong appetites. -Charlotte Mason

Discipline = legalism in some people's view

We tend to encourage the teaching of reading by exciting the appetites.
Instead, use white paper, black text, no distractions.

A child is a symbol of God. The eternal and unknowable "ikon".

Only the expert knows the basics of a subject. Kids can handle what is most obvious but not what is most basic.

Three Stages of Reading

1 - Dependent

When? Begins in the womb. Unborn babies can hear. Read to them. Choose adult books with good language.
Understanding is over-rated at this stage. Feel the flow of the language. It's complex.
Wind in the Willows contains the best sentence ever written. The second best is in Brideshead Revisited. (He did not tell us what they were.)
If you only read Cat in the Hat type books to children, the child will not be able to handle a complex thought.

2 - Decoding

This is an agonizing process of how the symbol = sound.
Only a symbolic creature could invent symbols and phonics.
Get to the point where you ignore the symbols for the meaning.
Study a foreign language with a different alphabet.
When you teach phonics simply, you are strengthening the will.
Discipline!

3 - Independent

The will keeps us going when the desires fade.
Reading is not a "subject." Not only is reading not a subject, there is not much difference between reading and writing.

Same Five Common Topics are for Reading and for Writing. (See notes from other seminar: The Five Topics of Invention aka The Common Topics.)

Use the rules like toys you get to play with.

What do these things teach us about how we learn?
1 - We don't know how we learn.
2 - No elemental sequence to reading.
3 - We read with the mind using the senses.

GOALS

1 - Transcendent Insight
2 - Think Analogously (relating to analogies)
We are made to be like Him but it frustrates us that we can't be. We are analogies of God living in a creation, a work of art. The means by which we see truth is by analogies - stories. The best are the most universal.
3 - Information Gathering
4 - Disciplined Thinking - Translating is reading in slow motion. It focuses you.
5 - Community - Friendship is more important than your job in life.
6 - Wisdom. Even from the ancients.
7 - Harmonic Perceptions

THREE PRINCIPLES

1 - Reading incarnates truth.
2 - Reading must not be moralistic. Instead be transformed by the text.
3 - If you're not willing to submit to the work of art, don't experience it.

Teach Three Stages of Reading
Phonograms
Practice narration.
Always read above grade level.
Learn a foreign language.
Put story over information. Verse over prose, Aurality over silence.

FOUR ISSUES


  1. What should we read?
  2. Why should we read?
  3. What are the dangers inherent in reading? (immorality, moralism, laziness)
  4. How should we read?

Well, that's it! A lot of food for thought, although much of it seems disjointed when I type it all out. I recommend listening to this if you can find a recording or listen to anything by Andrew Kern.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Convention Season: In Which I Finally Feel Comfortable with the Socratic Method (or One More Time Through A Bargain for Frances)



The Socratic Method for Dummies - Become a Great Teacher - Adam Andrews

Adam Andrews again! Of course! I've actually heard this seminar (or nearly this same seminar) before, but as my friend and I are planning to teach our literature class this year using the Socratic Method, I figured this would be a great review and motivator. Since I've heard it before, my notes are not complete. However, here is my blog post of the first time I heard this seminar.

The Socratic method is based on the great Greek philosopher and teacher, Socrates, who said it is better to know nothing so as to ask a question to be informed.

To use the Socratic method, you need to be comfortable with your place as a co-learner with your students. This is much different from the workbook approach usually employed to teach literature with vocabulary words, comprehension questions, and optional enrichment activities.

You don't have to be an expert to use the Socratic method. Start from your own place of ignorance.

Five Conflicts
Five Thematic Elements
Five Elements of Plot

To decide the conflict, ask: What point in the story has the most tension?

The theme is the author's main point or reason for writing.

Adam used A Bargain for Frances by Russell Hoban to illustrate the Socratic method. A recent post on the CenterForLit blog covers this far better than I could, so I will just link you:
Picture Books for High Schoolers?

One thing I do want to know is that a good question to ask is: At what moment do we know it's going to be resolved? This is the tipping point of the story.

Whenever you have these discussions, you can ask students to defend their answers.

Teach vocabulary for discussing literature as you go through it, in the process, rather than separately.

What if you don't like the theme the author wrote about or if you disagree with it?
This is a great opportunity for clarifying worldview!

I am SO looking forward to teaching literature this way in the coming year to my co-op students with Ready Readers Volume 1 (which I had signed by Adam and Missy Andrews).

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Convention Season: In Which I Learn to Use Red Ink (or Writing Four Kinds of Comments)



How to Mark a Student Paper Like a Pro (Only Better) - Brian Wasko

I got up bright and early on Saturday morning to make it to this 8:30 AM seminar by Brian Wasko of Write At Home which offers online writing classes. I've heard Brian speak before and enjoyed it very much. Since I teach writing classes, I thought I'd see if there were any tips or tricks Brian could share that would help me out, or at least this would let me know I'm doing things correctly.

The worst place to learn stuff is a school.
The average time to mark up an essay is 20 minutes. If a teacher has 150 students (as many teachers in schools do), that is 50 hours of grading time for just one essay. No wonder teachers don't assign enough writing!

Brian doesn't like the word "grade" as in "grading essays." He prefers to say "mark up" the essay since it has more of a connotation of helping kids with their writing.

Basic Paper-Marking Principles

  • Ink color doesn't matter. 
  • Use a pen, but talk too. (Mark it up first.)
  • Think "process" (multi-step) Three drafts is often appropriate.
  • First draft emphasis is on larger issues. What is the paper saying? Get the big picture.
  • Read it through once without marking anything.
  • Limit corrections. Pick your battles. Avoid the "it makes me nuts" attitude. Leave mistakes unmarked sometimes. We're only working on a few things at once.
  • Good writing is more than grammar: Content, style, substance, mechanical
  • There is no answer key for writing. 

Four Comment Types

1 - Positive Comments
Learn to find something positive.
Editing "hurts".
Students may not be conscious of the good things in their writing.
Sincerity matters.

2 - Corrective/Directive Comments
Watch out for just noting "vague".
Offer suggestions. Prefer two suggestions.
Use complete sentences. (He doesn't like the comment 'frag'.)

3 - Relational/Responsive Comments
Watch for tone.
Responding to content shows you care and you are "hearing" the student.
Interact!

4 - Summary Comments or Evaluation/Scores
"Sandwich" method (something positive, something directive, something positive)
Brief paragraph of comments.

Brian showed some student papers on the screen that he asked the audience to comment on which was a fun exercise. Then he opened up the floor for questions.

Q - Once the marking occurs, do you recommend a particular rubric?
A - Six Traits rubrics
Don't get bogged down in rubrics because of multiple items in the checklist.
Customize rubrics. Weight the categories according to what you are working on.

Q - What types of assignments does Write At Home give?
A - Four modes - Narrative, Descriptive, Expository, Persuasive

Q - What is important in a writing curriculum?
A - Two approaches: Copywork/Dictation model or "Get Creative" model

I was pleased with this workshop because it confirmed for me that I am doing many things correctly as I evaluate and assess my students' writing. I disagreed with Brian on a couple of points and was encouraged to try a couple of new things as I mark up student writing in the future.

Great seminar!

Monday, June 6, 2016

2016-17 Writing Classes Announced!

Yes, this is what you’ve been waiting for!

Class information is now available on my new website - www.wagnerwriting.com - for my 2016-17 classes. What am I offering? 
http://www.wagnerwriting.com/uncategorized/2016-17-classes-announced/

Two great class choices for your middle school students are available in two locations. At Lapeer Free Methodist on Tuesdays, I will be teaching the IEW method to beginning and advanced students using the compelling Medieval Theme Based book from IEW. On Mondays at Richfield Rd. United Brethren Church, I will be teaching one of my favorite Creative Writing curriculums – Wordsmith. These classes are for grades 6-9.

High school students have three Tuesday options in Lapeer plus a bonus summer essay boot camp in Dryden. Once again, I will be offering my popular Academic Writing series which prepares students to write superb essays and research papers. Two new classes are on the schedule as well. First is a Response to Literature class that will enable your student to think and write analytically about literature. This class works as a stand-alone class but also fits perfectly with the co-op literature class I am teaching at Seeds of Faith Co-op. The other new class, Writing Remedies, is designed for the struggling high school student who needs a slower pace or more individualized instruction.

I am excited to add the new location in Flint and, as always, to be able to work with your students to improve writing skills.

Check my website for complete details and register early to ensure these classes will be held.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Convention Season: In Which We Learn to Be Biblical (or How Not to Be a Moralistic Therapeutic Theist)

How We (Mis)Read the Bible: Being Biblical As We Try To Be Biblical - John Stonestreet

Another speaker I heard last year was John Stonestreet, who is President of the (Chuck) Colson Center for Christian Worldview. I remembered him as a dynamic speaker and wanted to hear him again, especially in light of this topic. Lately, I seem to be surrounded by people who say God told them to do something but the thing doesn't seem to me to be very Biblical. So, what does Mr. Stonestreet have to say?

The first thing he told us is that he has the "spiritual gift of sarcasm." That should set the tone for you right away. This seminar is not for the easily offended. I will do my best to share his ideas from my notes, but I am sure I missed some important thoughts. He also recommended a lot of resources which I will share in a list at the end of this post.

1 - God exists (as opposed to the Naturalistic worldview)
2 - God is personal (as opposed to the Eastern or New Age worldviews)
3 - God has spoken (as opposed to the Post-modernistic worldview)

Are we being shaped by the Bible?

Teens today do value religion, but they mostly identify with a moralistic therapeutic theism which they have learned from their churches and/or parents.
Moralistic: God wants us to be good people.
Therapeutic: God wants us to feel good and be happy.
Theism: God is "there for them" but requires nothing of them.

On the screen, John projected many images of the different views of Jesus that our culture holds.

  • Buddy Jesus - Jesus is here to bless YOU. Consumer Christianity: I shop, therefore I am. (for Christian items)
  • Social Justice Jesus - This Jesus is all about alleviating poverty and has the attitude that "all poverty is financial."
  • Cool Jesus - Biker/hipster/etc.
  • Oprah Jesus - One way among many
  • Political Jesus - Salvation comes through a political party.
Jewish Rabbi Abraham Heschel – “It seems puzzling to me how greatly attached to the Bible you seem to be and how much like pagans you handle it."

Ways We MisHandle The Bible

Mistake #1 - We don't really read it. We own more Bibles than ever, but most are not read.

Mistake #2 - Read it without recognizing context. 
Don't take verses like Jeremiah 29:11 or Isaiah 55:8 out of context.
Bible verses are not fortune cookies.
Never read *a* Bible verse again. (Except for Proverbs)
For instance, the context of Matthew is Deuteronomy. 
Cross-references are helpful for understanding context.
Read larger sections of the Bible, but don't take those out of context either, such as 1 Corinthians 13.
Don't take the Moral McNugget approach (credit to Philip Yancey) which divorces the meaning from the larger context. He said we squeeze it and squeeze it until out pops a 'moral McNugget'.
Don't treat Bible stories like Aesops's Fables or children will equate them in importance.  He used the example of Max Lucado's Facing Your Giants as a way of taking a Bible story out of context. It's not true that just focusing on God means you will beat your giants.

Mistake #3 - Read Selectively.
We often read about Noah and the Ark but leave out the Noah Drunk in Tent story.
Can you read any novel that way? How about Les Miserables?

Mistake #4 - The "Magic" Use
The Bible Code. Don't look for hidden stuff until you've got the obvious stuff down pat.
Prayer of Jabez

Mistake #5 - Personalization
Every Bible promise is NOT ours.
The Bible is not an "answer book" like an encyclopedia.
The Bible (and Jesus) isn't necessarily interested in answering my questions.

Which world do we actually live in and what's its story?

God chooses to give us the gospel in a story. The entirety of Genesis to Revelation is the gospel. 

On The Handling of Scripture

1 - All but ignore chapter and verse. Better to read 45 minutes once a week than 5 minutes daily. (Except Psalms, Proverbs)
2 - Hold the story together as much as possible.
3 - Read it as written. Ask the questions.
4 - The story culminates in Christ Jesus.
5 - Avoid forced moralisms and therapy.
6 - It's not a book of heroes.
7 - This is our world, from Heavens to Earth to New Heavens and New Earth.
Genesis 1-11 show the brokenness.
Revelation 7-21 show everything returned and restored.
8 - Think "Re". Redemption and created intent.

Despair is a sin because Christ has risen.

RESOURCES MENTIONED

Big Picture Story Bible by Crossway (tells one single story - best children's Bible he knows)
Biblica - "The Books of the Bible" (reordered, takes out chapter/verse/columns, reads like a book)
He Has Spoken by John Stonestreet and T.M. Moore (DVD)

For further reading:
Beware Bible McNuggets: WHEN READING THE BIBLE CAN BE SPIRITUALLY UNHEALTHY
HOW TO (MIS)READ THE BIBLE (this appears to be notes on the same talk I heard)

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Convention Season: In Which I Learn to Ask Questions (or What are the Liberal Arts, Really?)

Why Writing is Not a Subject and Why Every Subject Needs Writing To Be Properly Taught - Andrew Kern

Last year was the first time I'd heard Andrew Kern speak. His seminar I heard then was called "How to Read a Good Book and a Hard One" which used Anna Karenina as an example. I'd never wanted to read Anna Karenina until hearing that talk and I was blown away by Kern's thoughts. So, I wanted to hear him again this year. When I saw he was speaking on writing integrated into the whole curriculum, I knew this was the seminar for me.

Andrew Kern is founder and president of the CiRCE Institute, the founding author of The Lost Tools of Writing, and a co-author of the best-selling book Classical Education: The Movement Sweeping America.

Andrew seems a bit scattered as a speaker, but really that is not the case. He just takes a while to tie everything together. Let's see if I can do any justice to the six pages of notes I took in this meaty seminar.

He began with the image of a tree with its branches broken on the ground. He then mentioned the tree of learning and asked what is the trunk of that tree.

Next, he discussed "subjects" which at present we usually describe as the things we study in school. Do we learn subjects though? Our educational vocabulary has been hijacked.

What we actually should be teaching is not random subjects, but the deliberate, imaginative, and patient teaching of the seven liberal arts. (Since he mentioned the list of seven a few times, but never gave the complete list, I looked it up. Here it is:  grammar, rhetoric, and logic (the trivium) and geometry, arithmetic, music, and astronomy (the quadrivium).)

Aspire to the truth, gaze upon the truth. The soul of your child needs to perceive the truth. You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.

Use logic well. Think coherent clear thoughts.
Rhetoric: push the argument and specify the disagreement, but be a harmonizing person.

A liberal art is different from a subject.
Science - is knowing ("to know") an area of knowledge. Branches of the tree, a domain of knowledge.
Art - a way of *making* something. Taking something abstract and making it visible.

The glory of humans is that we are made in the image of a God who creates. We have not instinct, but artistry. We are incarnating a Logos.

Homer described "winged words" flying between souls. Those words still have the power to change us 2700 years later.

Humans are imitators. We are all always artists. We are expressing something always.

The liberating arts make knowledge of the truth.

So, the trunk of the tree of learning is the seven liberal arts and writing (rhetoric) is the pith (the center of the trunk), Another definition of 'pith' is the essence of something.

Writing - if you can't write, you can't succeed. In modern society, you can't do anything if you can't write. "Writing is the life-giving core."

The most important thing you can teach children is to ask questions. The quality of your learning (and your life) is determined by the questions. The questions are simple, obvious, God-given.

  • What is this I see?
  • What is it for?
  • How did it become what it is?
  • How did we get here?
  • How does it change?
  • How is this like that? (comparison precedes thought!)
  • How are things related?
  • What was happening around it?
  • Who has something to say about this?


Our souls are asking these questions before we think them.

Coaching may slow you down at first. You look at what you are doing. You over-think, repeat the behavior. In the long run, you get better.

Writing is thinking in Super-Slow Motion.
When you do it more slowly, you are thinking about what you are doing.

Write before bed.

Most writing is subconscious. When you write, in a way you are studying yourself.

CATEGORIES FOR ANY LESSON
The Five Topics of Invention aka The Common Topics
(a 'topic' is a place to go to get thoughts)

1 - Comparison
How is this alike/different from that?
Quantities, qualities

2 - Definition
Who or what is that?
What kind of thing is that?
What are its parts?

3 - Circumstances/Context
What was happening at the time?

4 - Relation
Cause/Effect
Why did you do that?
Why is that what it is?
What caused that to be?
What were the effects of that?

5 - Authority
What do the experts say about that?
What do the witnesses say about that?

These questions are the heart and soul of human thought. They are the life of every subject.

Learn to enjoy thinking.

Dante's Paradiso (written while he was in exile by the sea)
Much worse than uselessly he leaves the shore 
(more full of error than he was before) 
Who fishes for the truth but lacks the arts.

Every soul fishes for the truth and NEEDS THE TOOLS.

We owe this to our children.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Convention Season: In Which I Feel Validated (or The-Book-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named)

Witches, Wizards, and Wands, Oh My! A Parent's Guide to Fantasy, Fiction, and Faith - Adam Andrews

A chance to hear my favorite convention speaker, Adam Andrews, is so welcome! I always leave his seminars motivated to go and teach literature RIGHT! He makes it seem so easy. 

Adam and his wife Missy are the directors of CenterForLit which "offers curriculum materials, online classes, live teacher-training, and parent-teacher support networks, all dedicated to helping readers understand and revel in the beauty of classic books." My friend Darlene and I are teaching a high school literature class this fall using their materials.

Beginning the seminar, Adam acknowledged that some may be attending looking to vilify fantasy literature and some may be attending hoping to validate their literature choices. 

A realization that Adam had while playing golf: We are all just struggling to make par (just good enough) in life. We need to "raise our eyes to the hills and look for help." In other words, our peace must come from God's provision, rather than our efforts at par.
When Adam was with a good friend, he began telling him of this enlightenment he had while playing golf. But the buddy interrupted, saying how much he hates golf. Adam told him not to change the subject.

Yes, this relates to literature! The point of reading is to join a discussion with the author. Metaphorically, ask the author, "What do you want to talk about today?" and then don't change the subject. 

Sit still, pay attention, and don't change the subject. It's rude to change the subject. Instead, recognize which discussion the author is having in the work of literature.

How to we find out the author's real theme? Identify the essential issue by asking the essential questions. 

Adam then related the story of an ancient king in search of wisdom regarding a war. The king's trusted advisor was dead, so he went in search of answers. Since he had driven all magicians from the land, he had to go far and in disguise, looking for a witch who could put him in touch with the spirit of his dead advisor. Having finally found a woman to call forth the spirit, he listens to the voice of his dead advisor who berates him and tells him he will lose the upcoming battle. The next day, the prophecy comes true and the despairing king takes his own life.

Let's ask the essential questions. 

What does the king want? Power, control, independence from the gods.
What kind of conflict does this story show? At least, Man vs. God and Man vs. Self.

But an additional thing to consider is that the supernatural element in this story is incidental to the plot. This is not a story about the evils (or benefits) of witchcraft. The supernatural element here is a symbol of rebellion. This is a story about a power struggle, a rebellion against God, about human frailty. This is what we see when we look carefully and ask the right questions.

In case you didn't recognize the story, it is a story from the Bible, found in 1 Samuel 28. The king is Saul. 
Saul and the Witch of Endor Benjamin West

A human being is a supernatural being. So, the supernatural or the occult in art (including literature) should not be surprising. It's actually more surprising when it is absent, such as in The Hunger Games series. Materialistic art (with the absence of the supernatural) is the real sign of the decay of a civilization.

Adam referred to C.S. Lewis stating that the world must be re-mythologized before it can be saved. (I cannot find this original quote, so if anyone knows it, please comment.)

We have been taught that a myth is something that is not true. However, another way to define a myth is that it is larger than life and usually as true as true can be.

Salvation is a miracle. Minds and hearts that know the spiritual can hear the word of God. Recognizing the supernatural prepares our hearts for the other-worldly heart of Christ.

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is an occult bargain, hidden from the eyes of the materialistic. 

We need to recognize the universal urge put within us by God to "raise our eyes to the hills" where our hope comes from.

Develop a spirit of empathy rather than judgment when reading. 

At this point, Adam opened the floor to questions from the audience. Here are some excerpts from that Q&A.

In all great books, the setting is tangential to the theme. However, issues of setting *can* be a concern. 

Finally, someone asked about the book which must not be named, which Adam referred to several times in the talk. Adam recommends that we have the conversation with J.K. Rowling that she wants to have in the Harry Potter series.

Uncle Tom's Cabin and The Aeneid were mentioned as books that were seen as dangerous by the public at the time of their publication.

I asked Adam: How do you handle objections from parents to specific works of literature in a homeschool co-op setting? He recommended discussing the Socratic List (of essential questions) with the parents. Tell them that the best hope for our students is to teach them to be good readers and teach them *how* to read. (Not phonics, but discernment, is what I assume he meant looking at my notes now.)

He quoted someone as saying, "Every story is a bridge to the gospel." (I didn't catch the name.)

Someone asked about the addictive nature of some book series which then makes the classics seem boring. Adam answered that when they have been taught *how* to read, a good book will delight them and a bad book will repel them.

I highly recommend the audio of this talk, since this recap can barely scratch the surface of what Adam was communicating. If I find a link to it, I will post it. It would be worth the download fee!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Convention Season: In Which I Begin To Cry (or Reflecting on Beauty in the Homeschool Life)

Beauty and Delight in the Ordinary Chaotic Homeschool - Sarah Mackenzie

Every seat was filled at 11:30 on Friday morning as a perky Sarah Mackenzie greeted us all with a sincere, "I'm so glad you're all here." Sarah has six children, ages 14, 12, 10, 4, 2-1/2, and 2-1/2. She is an author and blogger that also hosts the Read-Aloud Revival podcast.  Her book is called Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler's Guide to Unshakable Peace. I was not familiar with Sarah before this weekend, but another mom who was with me clued me in to her and her message.

Here are some highlights from her talk. (which, by the way, made me cry, though that would not surprise my kids. They say I cry at everything.) 

These first thoughts sound rather random written down, but I promise they were both coherent and cohesive.

Efficiency = Maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort & expense.

Homeschooling is not efficient. Nor is mothering. Relationships aren't efficient.

Twenty years from now, what will you wish you had spent more time doing? We need that long-range perspective every day.

Thoughts on consistency: Focus on doing a few important things consistently rather than consistently doing too much. 

Relationships Trump Accomplishments.

Lots of quotes flavored Sarah's speech and I noted a few that I wanted to include here. Not surprisingly, many of them were from C.S. Lewis, further strengthening my resolve to read all of his writings.

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which,if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” 
― C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Don't damage the relationship.

Moments pass me by every day. Beautiful small moments that we miss in waiting for the Big Beautiful ones.

The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them,and what came through them was longingThese things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols,breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

"....you become what you behold." -Andrew Kern

Very few of us need to ADD something to our homeschool day. Instead how about small shifts or tweaks that line up with our vision?

Here are the three Tweaks she recommends:

1 - Ritualize something you are already doing to make it more meaningful and more beautiful.
- Play music in the morning.
- Greet your child with a hug every morning.
- Sing the Doxology.
- Candles at mealtimes to emphasize enjoying the moment together.
- Poetry at breakfast (recommended book: Melissa Wiley, The Prairie Thief)
-  Habit apps 
- Two minute mysteries
- Daily audio Bible readings
- "Listening Lunch" (Listen to audiobooks while eating. This allows Mom to eat too.)
- Fragrance!
- Reading on the move... (take a book somewhere and read)

2 - Reading Aloud
Choose Good Books
“We do not want merely to see beauty... we want something else which can hardly be put into words- to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. That is why we have peopled air and earth and water with gods and goddesses, and nymphs and elves.”
― C.S. Lewis

Recommended: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson (inspires heroic virtue) 


TEXT GHC to 444999 for a book list (and to be added to Sarah's encouragement emails)

3 - Relishing
- Spend more time with the kids.
- Have a "Just Because We Can" Day.
- You can skip something.
- Do the things you know your kids will remember. (Doing them once or twice is often enough for them to say, "Remember when we used to....".)
- The point is the connections made, NOT the learning.

Rest and Rigor? How do they work together?
Kern & Perrin say - Don't try to give your child a rigorous education. Rigor evokes the stiffness of death. Instead be diligent. Diligere (root word) = value highly, appreciate, prize, etc... So, not rigor, but diligence.



"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life." - Charlotte Mason

School is not about school.
Homeschool is not about school.
It's about pursuing wisdom. 
It's about becoming virtuous human beings.
It's about soul transformation. 
- Andrew Kern

I was really encouraged by this talk because these tweaks are things I can do and the perspective is one that I need.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Convention Season: In Which I Practice Discernment (or which seminar was the stinker)

Immediately after the successful first seminar on teaching the reluctant writer, I headed over to a seminar that was supposed to help both children and adult writers get published. My goal here was to find some information on writing that would help me personally. The three speakers were all published authors of Christian fiction. Since I was unhappy with the seminar in general, I am leaving off the names of the speakers and the title of the seminar.

Let me first say that, after this seminar, I searched out the booth and looked at the books of these authors and they seem like perfectly fine Christian literature. My problem with the seminar was not with their books or their methods specifically.

Making me uncomfortable was the definition given in this seminar of "good literature". Here is the list of items that characterize "good literature" according to the speaker.
-Spiritual content (meaning it is supposed to turn the person toward Jesus)
-The message (same thing, I suppose)
-Interesting
-Sparking good conversations
-Well-constructed plot
-Good character development (and this may not be what you are thinking it is)
- Proper grammar & punctuation
-Quality literary style
-Moral tone of Philippians 4:8 
-Incorporates a Christian worldview
-Stimulates thought
-Positive lessons
-True to the period
-Does it glorify sin or show its horrible consequences?
-Does it promote worldliness or godly character?

While I have nothing against stories that promote godly character or incorporate a Christian worldview, I do take offense to the idea that *all* "good literature" does so. I think that a discerning Christian reader can learn from many stories that fall outside of the Philippians 4:8 filter. In fact, that verse does not limit us to only things that are pure, noble, right, etc...; it merely instructs us to think about those things. If we were honestly to *only* think of those things, then why are stories such as Judges 19:22-29 or Judges 11:30-39 in the Bible?

The rest of this seminar was intended to encourage writers in their craft and help them get published. However it was quite general in tone and not very practical. Here are the remainder of the tips:
  • Good readers make good writers. 
  • Set the example. 
  • Read as a family.
  • Discover students' interests.
  • Teach students to critique (other people's writing).
  • Enter a contest.
  • Generate creative ideas.
  • Read in your genre. See what works, what doesn't work.
  • Carve out space and time to write. Decide to write. No excuses. Take your laptop wherever you go.
  • Continue your education. 
  • Join a writer's group of like-minded writers. (With a warning to avoid writers who go against the "good lit" criteria above)
  • Write for publication, such as a blog, letters to the editor, travel articles, Sunday School take-homes (suggested for teens to do this specifically).
  • Check the Sally Stewart Christian Market.
  • Prepare your manuscript. 
  • Use beta readers (term was not explained). 
  • Send to a paid editor. 
  • Find an agent/publisher. Do your homework first.
So, there you have it - how to get published in the Christian fiction market.