Thursday, March 28, 2013

Picture Study, Holocaust Week, and other Remembrances

by Megan Hoyt

Frida Kahlo painting her self-portrait
"We want to open their eyes and minds to appreciate the masterpieces of pictorial art, to lead them from mere fondness for a pretty picture which pleases the senses up to honest love and discriminating admiration for what is truly beautiful-- a love and admiration which are the response of heart and intellect to the appeal addressed to them through the senses by all great works of art."

(from a speech given at the P.N.E.U. 5th Annual Conference, held May 14-17, 1901)

It's Holy Week on the Christian calendar -- a blessed week for believers in Jesus that culminates on Sunday with what some call Easter, a celebration of the resurrection of our Lord. At our house, we call it Resurrection Sunday and leave the egg hunts and bunnies for another day. As a person of Jewish descent, though, I also take this week each year to do a brief but deep Holocaust study with my children. We don't ever want them to forget what happened under Hitler's regime. Every year, I choose a different book for them to read, and we watch a few movies and talk about what it might have meant to our family if my grandfather and grandmother had not emigrated to the United States from Narayev (Narajow), their tiny village in Austria-Hungary (now part of Ukraine, previously Poland). They did it for less than noble reasons, by the way. It was more ordinary than one might think. My grandfather was about to be drafted to fight in World War I. Had he remained in Austria-Hungary, he would have been forced into the trenches. But he was a gentle, soft-spoken man who didn't want to be a soldier. He fled the village he had grown up in and known so well and came to a new country, learned a new language, began a new life. Without this grand adventure, I would not exist. Thank you, Pop! There are all sorts of interesting side stories to the journey, one of which involves my grandmother's brother Isaac whose pen name was Moshe Nadir. Great Uncle Isaac, it turns out, was a famous Yiddish playwright in NYC. Very little of his work is published in English, but I managed to find a couple of his short stories here in Jewish American Literature: A Norton Anthology. But I digress.

This week, we read Milkweed, by Jerry Spinelli. It's a quick read, but very engaging. Misha (not his real name -- he doesn't know his real name) is an orphan and a thief, scraping by on the streets of Warsaw. We get a clear view of what life would have been like for a Jewish boy in Poland in the 1930s and 1940s. But we also get to see life through the eyes of an innocent child, to watch as he attempts to make sense of what is going on in his world. I love this perspective. I'm glad Mr. Spinelli chose it as his point of view.

I googled a bit after I finished planning for this week, and there have been some interesting discoveries over the years since World War II ended -- interesting for art lovers around the world and interesting when it comes to restitution for Jewish families and museums the Nazi regime looted. Here is what happened in Austria:

"Under a 1998 restitution law, Austria has returned some 10,000 Nazi-stolen paintings to the descendants of their former owners. Most notorious was the restitution of another painting by Austria's Klimt, the 1907 portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, which the Austrian state was forced to return to the heirs of its previous owner in 2006, after a lengthy legal battle. According to Haslauer, many more stolen paintings adorn Austrian living rooms: 'If these pictures were owned by state museums, they would no doubt have to be returned,' he noted."

Valuable privately-owned paintings ripped from the homes of Jewish families in Austria are still, now, today, treasured by the descendants of Nazis. Lovely. I'd like to believe that they just don't know how to find the previous owners or haven't yet realized the art adorning their walls is stolen. Who knows? Still, it gnaws at my insides a little, I have to admit. In Milkweed, Misha stole food to survive Nazi-occupied Poland. Why do these people continue to keep stolen property hanging on their walls? What is the payoff for them? Beauty? At what cost?

4 January 1944. German soldiers of the Division "Hermann Göring" posing near the main entrance of Palazzo Venezia showing a picture taken from the National Museum of Naples Picture Gallery. (Don't look happy.)

This happened in 2007 in Switzerland:

" 'A number of masterpieces believed to have been looted by the Nazis have been found in a Swiss bank safe,' the Zurich prosecutor's office said Tuesday, confirming earlier reports in the German media.

The paintings include works by Monet, Renoir and Pissarro, reported the German daily, Süddeutsche Zeitung. The safe was rented by Bruno Lohse, an art historian and dealer commissioned by the Nazis to assess works of art looted from Jewish people in territories occupied by the Nazis, especially France, the report said. Lohse died in March, aged 95. The paintings -- there are more than 14 -- were discovered in the safe of a Zurich bank by a Swiss prosecutor helping out with investigations into extortion and money laundering underway in Munich and Liechtenstein."

And here are some soldiers preparing to return this painting to its rightful owner after Nazis confiscated it during a raid on a museum and hid it in an underground salt mine. The soldiers returned it immediately, back in the 1950s. One person searches tirelessly to find the Jewish owner and return the painting while another quietly hangs it on the wall of his dining room. The difference, I think, is strength of character. We talked about how to help build that into a child from an early age in last week's blog. There's more on the theft of Jewish and museum-owned art and riches here. And here is the database of some 20,000 stolen masterpieces that are currently (as of 2008) being returned to their rightful owners.

 This is happening in France right now in 2013:

"France is to return seven paintings stolen, or appropriated under pressure by the Nazis, from their Jewish owners in the 1930s to their families on Tuesday. The paintings were destined to be displayed in an art gallery Adolf Hitler planned to build in Austria, where he grew up. Four of the works have been hanging in the Louvre in Paris. The official handover is part of a renewed effort by the French government to return looted or misappropriated artworks to their rightful owners. Between 1933 and 1945, the Nazis purloined about 100,000 paintings, sculptures and other valuable objects in Jewish private collections in Europe. Some were stolen, others were sold under pressure, often to fund an escape from German occupation and the death camps."

General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander, accompanied by Gen. Omar N. Bradley, and Lt. Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., inspect art treasures stolen by Germans and hidden in salt mine in Germany.
I'm happy that they are returning these works, but a little unnerved at how long it's taken them to do it. And what do we do with this word "restitution?" I'm wondering because sometimes things are done to a nation or a people or even one person that irrevocably alter the course of their lives in ways that change even entire generations. Take, for example, the Jews under Egyptian occupation. God told Moses to go to Pharaoh and tell him about the several plagues that were about to befall him if he refused to release the Jews from slavery. Pharaoh refused. Plagues came. Pharaoh eventually relented, but only after his and every other firstborn son was killed. And even then, he changed his mind again and followed them to the edge of the Red Sea. We all know what happened next. Sea parted. Jews danced on through (with Miriam and her timbrels). Egyptian soldiers get washed into the sea and killed. Life changed suddenly for the Jews who escaped from Egypt that day. But did you know that Moses told them (because God told him to) to ask for silver and gold and basically plunder the Egyptians right before they left? It's right there in Exodus 12.

Hermann Göring ordered the seizure of art treasures.
What's the difference between Hitler-sanctioned and God-sanctioned plunder? It was all stealing or gifts given under duress. Of course, under a regime that enslaved people (Egypt) or an evil regime that slaughtered six million people because of their heritage/religion (Nazis), the seizure and return of plunder to its rightful owners not only seems right but a natural consequence of their evil misdeeds. In fact, to me, there isn't enough we could ever do to offer restitution to the families of those who lost their lives during the Holocaust.

I don't pity either group. Human beings can be so dark and evil, and God can only stand so much of it before taking action. I am going to step out here on a limb and dare to say that God must be obeyed, no matter what it is He tells you to do. But I don't always understand His ways. I tend to think I might have stepped in sooner both times. Maybe He was giving them ample time to repent before their final destruction? And where is the rest of the stolen art?

This brings me to my main topic for this week (not really, but I needed a segue) which is the value of picture study. I have so enjoyed studying the works of great artists of the past. I have my favorites: Renoir, David, Caravaggio, Ghirlandaio. And the most perfect moment, the pinnacle of our studies, was when we traveled to Washington, DC, and NYC to go first to the National Gallery and next to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It's fantastic to study paintings by viewing prints at home, but it's far greater to see them in person. As I stood there, staring at Degas's ballet dancer in bronze or at Madame Charpentier and Her Children (It was bigger than I imagined!), tears streamed down my face. I was looking at old friends. It was as if we had been pen pals for many years, separated by time and distance, and were at last meeting face to face. Who WOULDN'T cry? The only thing better was having my daughter there with me to share in the joy I was experiencing. And she did share in it -- because she had grown up doing picture study!

This is picture study, in a nutshell (from a Parents' Review article):

"Our next subject is Picture Study, another feature of the P.U.S. Usually there are six pictures by one artist set for the term; this term there are three each by the Dutch painters Jan Steen and Gerard Dou. This is a lesson eagerly looked forward to by the children. The method on which it is carried out is somewhat as follows: Each child is given a copy of the picture to be studied and this he looks at carefully for several minutes. When he feels that he really knows it well, he turns it face downward and proceeds to tell you all he can about it.

Every little detail is noticed—the position of the woman sitting on the chair, the key hanging up on the wall, the vine leaves creeping in at the window, etc., etc. Having done this, he looks at his picture again, while the teacher adds any comments it is necessary to make, and the child then paints either a portion or the whole of it from memory. The position of the figures and the details in these reproductions is sometimes quite remarkable.

Then comes Drawing—six twigs of trees, studies of animals that you have been able to watch, children at play in brush-drawing. Original brush-drawing from books set for readings."

From Picture Talks, by Miss K. R. Hammond, Volume 12, no. 7, July 1901, pgs. 501-509:

"Let us then ask, What is the fundamental idea of our scheme of Picture Talks? It is, I take it, our conception of Art itself; not as the luxury of the rich, the plaything of the idle, the fetish of the would-be "cultured," but as a means of expressing man's noblest dreams, deepest thoughts and tenderest fancies. This conception has been variously expressed in various definitions. Thus:--

"Art is the incarnation of a soul of truth in a body of beauty."

" . . . the beautiful expression of thought tinged by emotion."

". . . the second revelation of infinity . . . across the mind of man."

". . . a second creation: man's will calling a thought into material existence, and his judgment pronouncing it to be very good."

If you want to learn the basics of picture study, grab a copy of Eve Anderson's Picture Study dvd from Bobby Scott at Childlight Schools. While you're at it, buy the whole set so you'll have her narration and nature study dvds, too. These are all well worth the $$. And here are a few other helps.

From my new friend Thomas Rooper:

"A lesson in which Literature and Art were combined in a most attractive manner deserves special mention. A poem by Browning was considered in connection with a photograph of the picture by Lippo Lippi, on which the poem was founded. The various figures in the picture were identified, and in this way the connection between the poem and the picture was explained so that the one interpreted the other. The picture was then studied from an artistic point of view, and the leading lines were blocked out on paper, so as to show how the various parts combine to concentrate the attention on the leading thought. [Perhaps this refers to Lippi's painting, St. Jerome in Penance, which is mentioned in Browning's poem, 'Fra Lippo Lippi'?]

"The students are accustomed to refer to numerous books and other sources of information in order to find suitable illustrations, and hence the matter of even the simplest lessons contains something of permanent interest and value. The lessons in Drawing and in Pictorial Art, which are given by Miss Sumner and Mrs. Firth, are of untold value in this connection."

Sample Picture Study Lesson (from a Parents' Review article via AO)
Picture Talks
Meet the Artist
Garden of Praise Art Appreciation
Recent Renoir Recovery

Do check out these links. They are spectacular and will aid your picture study greatly!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Character, Conduct, and the Conveyance of Vital Ideas

This week, we're going to hear from Miss Mason herself. This tidy summation of the chief office of education should offer lots of food for thought. The educational method that she created and aspired to was Miss Mason's mark on the world. These scratches along the trail are hers. What will yours be? And mine? We've talked about legacy. This is hers. 

I refuse to intrude, but I'd be happy to answer any questions you may have after reading this article. It's a little different from what we've read in the volumes. It sort of has a Socratic bent to it. Enjoy.

The Conveyance of Ideas
by The Editor (Charlotte Mason)
Volume 3, 1892/93, pgs. 349-358

"As the philosophy which underlies any educational or social scheme is really the vital part of that scheme, it may be well to set forth, however meagerly, some fragments of P.N.E.U. Philosophy.

We believe--

That disposition, intellect, genius, come pretty much by nature.

That character is an achievement, the one practical achievement possible to us for ourselves and for our children.

That all real advance, in family or individual, is along the line of character.

That, therefore, to direct and assist the evolution of character is the chief office of education.

But perhaps we shall clear the ground better by throwing a little P.N.E.U. teaching into categorical form:

What is character?
The resultant or residuum of conduct. That is to say, a man is what he has made himself by the thoughts in which he has allowed himself, the words he has spoken, the deeds he has done. 

How does conduct itself originate?
Commonly, in our habitual modes of thought. We think we are accustomed to think, and, therefore, act as we are accustomed to act.

What, again, is the origin of these habits of thought and act?
Commonly, inherited disposition. The man who is generous, obstinate, hot-tempered, devout, is so, on the whole, because that strain of character runs in his family.

Are there any means of modifying inherited dispositions?
Yes; marriage, for the race; education, for the individual.

How may a bad habit which has its rise in an inherited disposition be corrected?
By the contrary good habit: as Thomas a Kempis has said, "One custom overcometh another."

Trace the genesis of a habit.
Every act proceeds from a thought. Every thought modifies somewhat the material structure of the brain. That is, the nerve substance of the brain forms itself, so to speak, to the manner of thoughts we think. The habit of act arises from the habit of thought. The person who thinks," Oh, it will do!" "Oh, it doesn't matter!" forms a habit of negligent and imperfect work. 

How may such habit be corrected?
By introducing the contrary line of thought, which will lead to contrary action. "This must be done well, because--."

Is it enough to think such thought once?
No, the stimulus of the new idea must be applied until it is, so to speak, at home in the brain and arises involuntarily.

What do you mean by involuntary thought?
The brain is at work unceasingly, is always thinking, or rather is always being acted upon by thought, as the keys of an instrument by the fingers of a player.

Is the person aware of all the thoughts that the brain elaborates?
No, only of those which are new and "striking." The old familiar "way of thinking" beats in the brain without the consciousness of the thinker. 

What name is given to this unconscious thought?
Unconscious cerebration.

Why is it important to the educator?
Because most of our actions spring from thoughts of which we are not conscious.

Is there any means of altering the trend of unconscious cerebration? 
Yes, by diverting it into a new channel."

" would appear that, as the material life is sustained upon its appropriate food from without, so the immaterial life is sustained upon its food -- ideas or suggestions spiritually conveyed."

May the words "idea" and "suggestion" be used as synonymous terms? Only in so far as that ideas convey suggestions to be effected in acts.

What part does the man himself play in the reception of this immaterial food? 
It is as though one stood on the threshold to admit or refuse the workmen who should fashion the house.

Is this free-will in the reception or rejection of ideas the limit of man's responsibility in the conduct of his life?

Probably it is, for an idea once intercepted must run its course, unless it be connected with another idea, in the reception of which volition is again exercised.

How do ideas originate?
They appear to be spiritual emanations from spiritual beings; thus, one man conveys to another the idea which is a very part of himself. 

Is the intervention of a bodily presence necessary for the transmission of an idea?
By no means, ideas may be conveyed through picture or printed page; absent friends would appear to communicate ideas without the intervention of means; natural objects convey ideas, but perhaps, the initial idea in this case may always be traced to another mind.

Then the spiritual sustenance of ideas is derived directly or indirectly from other human beings?
No; and here is the great recognition which the educator is called upon to make. God, the Holy Spirit, is Himself the supreme Educator of mankind.

He openeth man's ear morning by morning, to hear so much of the best as the man is able to bear.

Are the ideas suggested by the Holy Spirit confined to the sphere of the religious life?
No, Coleridge, speaking of Columbus and the discovery of America, ascribes the origin of great inventions and discoveries to the fact that "certain ideas of the natural world are presented to minds, already prepared to receive them, by a higher Power than Nature herself."

Is there any teaching in the Bible to support this view?
Yes, very much. Isaiah, for example, says that the ploughman knows how to carry on the successive operations of husbandry, "for his God doth instruct him and doth teach him."

Are all ideas which have a purely spiritual origin ideas of good?
Unhappily, no. It is the sad experience of mankind that suggestions of evil also are spiritually conveyed.

What is the part of the man?
To choose the good and refuse the evil.

Does this doctrine of ideas as the spiritual food needful to sustain the immaterial life throw any light on the doctrines of the Christian religion? 
Yes, the Bread of Life, the Water of Life, the Word by which man lives, the "meat to eat which ye know not of," and much more, cease to be figurative expressions, except that we must use the same words to name the corporeal and the incorporeal sustenance of man. We understand, moreover, how suggestions emanating from our Lord and Savior, which are of His essence, are the spiritual meat and drink of His believing people. We find it no longer a "hard saying," nor a dark saying, that we must sustain our spiritual selves upon Him, even as our bodies upon bread.

What practical bearing upon the educator has this doctrine of ideas? 
He knows that it is his part to place before the child daily nourishment of ideas; that he may give the child the right initial idea in every study, and respecting each relation and duty of life; above all, he recognizes the divine co-operation in the direction, teaching, and training of the child. 

How would you summarise the functions of education?
Education is a discipline-that is, the discipline of the good habits in which the child is trained. Education is a life, nourished upon ideas; and education is an atmosphere (Matthew Arnold)--that is, the child breathes the atmosphere emanating from his parents; that of the ideas which rule their own lives.

What part do lessons and the general work of the schoolroom play in education thus regarded?
They should afford opportunity for the discipline of many good habits, and should convey to the child such initial ideas of interest in his various studies as to make the pursuit of knowledge on those lines an object in life and a delight to him."

Friday, March 15, 2013

Nourishing a Life: Parents as Inspirers

by Megan Hoyt
What is our job as parents when it comes to education? Charlotte Mason answers:

"Our last paper closed with an imperfect summary of what we may call the educational functions of parents. We found that it rests with the parents of the child to settle for the future man his ways of thinking, behaving, feeling, acting; his disposition, his particular talent; the manner of things upon which his thoughts shall run. Who shall fix limitations to the power of parents? The destiny of the child is ruled by his parents, because they have the virgin soil all to themselves. The first sowing must be at their hands, or at the hands of such as they choose to depute." (Parents' Review, Volume 2, no. 2, 1891/92, pg. 38, "Parents as Inspirers")

Oh dear.

" rests with the parents of the child to settle for the future man his ways of thinking, behaving, feeling, acting; his disposition, his particular talent; the manner of things upon which his thoughts shall run."

"The destiny of the child is ruled by his parents, because they have the virgin soil all to themselves."

Um. Well. That's sort of a decently frightening amount of power to be invested in two people whose sole wish at the birth of their first child was that an owner's manual might be tied to his toe! Good grief! What are we to do?

My grandson Anthony Gabriel
I think she sums things up nicely here:   

"They [ideas that lead to right living] are not to be given of set purpose, nor taken at set times. They are held in that thought-environment which surrounds the child as an atmosphere, which he breathes as his breath of life; and this atmosphere in which the child inspires his unconscious ideas of right living emanates from his parents. Every look of gentleness and tone of reverence, every word of kindness and act of help, passes into the thought-environment, the very atmosphere which the child breathes; he does not think of these things, may never think of them, but all his life long they excite that 'vague appetency towards something' out of which most of his actions spring. Oh, wonderful and dreadful presence of the little child in the midst!"

So that's it. We provide the atmosphere. We behave in certain ways, and they "catch" the vision without knowing it. This explains why my children love opera and hate sports. But there's so much more to this. What about those gravely important and desperately cherished values we want to pass on to our children? And how do we handle this overwhelming and awesome responsibility of raising children toward their destinies? What do we do to and for this virgin soil of theirs? The answers are sometimes contradictory, as evidenced by all the various parenting books and websites and blogs, but here are a few I really like:

"The long-range vision of Attachment Parenting is to raise children who will become adults with a highly developed capacity for empathy and connection."

And here are a few I don't like very much at all (read: hate):

 Train Up a Child
(Read a few of the comments at the bottom to get an idea of what this type of parenting is about.)
Growing Kids God's Way

It's not that I don't believe in disciplining children who are not obeying the family rules. I do. I really, really do. But despite what these "spare the rod, spoil the child" parenting books have to say on the matter, when we only get at the outward acquiescence of a child with his "yes, sir" and "yes, ma'am," (to avoid punishment) and we don't ever reach the heart of a child with all the wonder of the universe and the great and glorious God who rules over it and their duty to obey Him out of a deep and profound love for Him, we have missed the mark in our educational duties as parents in my opinion. Our duty, according to Charlotte Mason, is much deeper than to achieve the outward cleanliness of training the child's faculties for obedience to the masters (us).

"Thus we see how the destiny of a life is shaped in the nursery, by the reverent naming of the Divine Name; by the light scoff at holy things; by the thought of duty the little child gets who is made to finish conscientiously his little task; by the hardness of heart that comes to the child who hears the faults or sorrows of others spoken of lightly." (Parents' Review, pg. 38.)

I'll let her explain it further to you:

"an idea is not an 'instrument,' but an agent; is not to be 'handled,' but, shall we say, set in motion? We have perhaps got over the educational misconception of the tabula rasa. ... Here it is in its cruder form: 'Pestalozzi aimed more at harmoniously developing the faculties than at making use of them for the acquirement of knowledge; he sought to prepare the vase rather than to fill it.' In the hands of Froebel the figure gains in boldness and beauty: It is no longer a mere vase to be shaped under the potter's fingers; but a flower, say a perfect rose, to be delicately and consciously and methodically moulded, petal by petal, curve and curl; for the perfume and living glory of the flower, why these will come; do you your part and mould the several petals; wait, too, upon sunshine and shower, give space and place for your blossom to expand. And so we go to work with a touch to "Imagination" here, and to "Judgment" there; now to the "Perceptive faculties," now to the "conceptive;" in this, aiming at the moral, and in this, at the intellectual nature of the child; touching into being, petal by petal, the flower of a perfect life under the genial influence of sunny looks and happy moods. This reading of the meaning of education and of the work of the educator is very fascinating, and it calls forth singular zeal and self-devotion on the part of those gardeners whose plants are the children." (Parents' Review, pg. 38.)

Dad and me
Even though that example of the flower is beautiful, and even though Froebel was someone Miss Mason admired, I still don't think she quite believes in this whole idea of fussing over the child, flower or not. She's saying children are not vases waiting to be filled. Nor is our duty to prepare the vase so it will be more receptive to filling. It's not even to prepare the flower by delicately molding and shaping it with a touch here and a touch there, although that's closer to her ideas than Pestalozzi came. But still, there's this dreadful fear that all children will be more or less replicas of their parents or of each other if we all follow the exact same molding and fussing to make them into the image we believe will be beautiful. And who's to say that our idea of beautiful is the right one? And anyway, is that really our duty as parents? To make our children into the images we want for them? I don't know about you, but whenever someone used to say, "she's the spitting image of her father!" I cringed. I didn't want to be the spitting image of my dad! For one thing, he had a gigantic nose, wore thick glasses, and was mostly bald. But looks aside, he was bold and loud and I was quiet and pensive. Now imagine for a moment what beauty looks like to the bold, loud parent and what it looks like to the tender, delicate child. My parents would have made me into someone totally different than what my heavenly Father had in mind when He intricately designed me! Is that what Miss Mason means for us to accomplish when she says, " rests with the parents of the child to settle for the future man his ways of thinking, behaving, feeling, acting; his disposition, his particular talent; the manner of things upon which his thoughts shall run." Does she want us to make our children into who we believe they should be? I don't think so. Isn't there a better way to draw out the positive attributes and leave behind the negative ones than to fawn over our kids and constantly pick and peck at them until they look like what we want them to look like? Even in positive ways? Absolutely!

Charlotte Mason tells us self education is the best education. But it's our job to be their guide and to oversee the journey. We do that by offering a luscious feast of living ideas to them, carefully chosen by US to display the glory and wonder of the living God. That doesn't mean we leave out important scientific discoveries because they appear to prove evolution is true or that we don't tell our children about all the evil in the world or all the starving children or teach them to take action against the sex trade industry and pray for the wisdom of our nation's leaders despite their support of despicable things that we abhor like abortion on demand. We're in this world. But as Christians, we are not OF this world. We occupy, not Wall Street, but our place within the sovereign will and plan of our Lord. So we guide our children toward accepting that awesome responsibility, toward listening to God and hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit and effortlessly serving and loving and giving while being shrewd and putting forth large amounts of academic effort because it's our duty toward God, man, and country. These are the "unconscious ideas of right living that emanate from us as parents." And they're caught, not taught. Relieved? Don't be. It's even tougher to exemplify Christ than it is to teach about Him, don't you think? Thank goodness we have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, quickening our hearts to behave rightly and to show our children the higher path.

Hannah, Drew, and Jesse
The next portion of "Parents as Inspirers" says:

"How much is there in this pleasing and easy doctrine that the drawing forth and strengthening and directing of the several "faculties" is education? Parents are very jealous over the individuality of their children; they mistrust the tendency to develop all on the same plan; and this instinctive jealousy is right; for, supposing that education really did consist in systematised efforts to draw out every power that is in us, why, we should all develop on the same lines, be as like as "two peas," and (should we not?) die of weariness of one another! Some of us have an uneasy sense that things are tending towards this deadly sameness. But, indeed, the fear is groundless. We may believe that the personality, the individuality of each of us is too dear to God, and too necessary to a complete humanity, to be left at the mercy of empires. We are absolutely safe, and the tenderest child is fortified against a battering-ram of educational forces." (Parents' Review, pg. 38.)

I think she's saying that God won't allow educational systems to go so far as to shipwreck the personalities and individuality of children. That's a comforting thought, really. But I have to admit that I don't have quite that much faith. I believe it IS possible for educational systems to shipwreck our children in a variety of ways, especially to shipwreck their faith in God and indoctrinate them with morals and values that are less than stellar. If only poor Charlotte knew what we are facing today. Check out Nathan Harden's article in Imprimis, Hillsdale College's monthly newsletter, if you don't realize what's happening  at our nation's institutes of higher learning: 

There is clearly a radical sexual agenda at work at Yale today. Professors and administrators who came of age during the sexual revolution are busily indoctrinating students into a culture of promiscuity. In fact, Yale pioneered the hosting of a campus “Sex Week”—a festival of sleaze, porn, and debauchery, dressed up as sex education. I encountered this tawdry tradition as an undergrad, and my book documents the events of Sex Week, including the screening in classrooms of hard-core pornography and the giving of permission to sex toy manufacturers and porn production companies to market their products to students.

In one classroom, a porn star stripped down to bare breasts, attached pinching and binding devices to herself as a lesson in sadomasochism, and led a student around the room in handcuffs. On other occasions, female students competed in a porn star look-alike contest judged by a male porn producer, and a porn film showing a woman bound and beaten was screened in the context of “instruction” on how students might engage in relationships of their own.

And again, these things happened with the full knowledge and approval of Yale’s senior administrators.

As might be expected, many Yale students were offended by Sex Week, but university officials defended it in the name of “academic freedom”—a sign of how far this noble idea, originally meant to protect the pursuit of truth, has fallen. And the fact that Yale as an institution no longer understands the substantive meaning of academic freedom—which requires the ability to distinguish art from pornography, not to mention right from wrong—is a sign of its enslavement to the ideology of moral relativism, which denies any objective truth (except, of course, for the truth that there is no truth). 


Yes, it's disgusting, but God has provided the antidote! The following video clip is long, but I had to include it because as I was writing this blog post about the winding ascent and going higher up and further in, I heard Heidi say in the background on this video, "He will lead you higher up and further down." I asked God what she meant by that and listened to it again and discovered she was talking about going into dark places with the light we have and shining brightly. So another of our duties is to prepare our children to enter these dark places and not allow their lights to be doused by the wickedness and worldliness they'll soon encounter. Since I am in the throes of raising teenagers and not young children, this is all the more real to me, but those with toddlers and preschoolers can start invigorating their faith now, while they're still in the nursery, as Miss Mason advises. 

Miss Mason says, "We are absolutely safe, and the tenderest child is fortified against a battering-ram of educational forces." While that may have been true in the early twentieth century, I'm not so convinced it's still true in the twenty-first. But God is fully alive and capable of turning all of this around. And He may just have US in mind as the vehicles through which a gentle shift in educational theory will be accomplished, so keep your minds and hearts (and ears) open to His call. The college professors of the future are in our care today. How we nourish and inspire the children within our care can have an enormous impact on the future of American society. It's no small thing. Not in the least.

 "The problem of education is more complex than it seems at first sight, and well for us and the world that it is so. "Education is a life;" you may stunt and starve and kill, or you may cherish and sustain; but the beating of the heart, the movement of the lungs, and the development of the faculties (are there any "faculties"?) are only indirectly our care. The poverty of our thought on the subject of education is shown by the fact that we have no word which at all implies the sustaining of a life: education (e, out, and ducere, to lead, to draw) is very inadequate; it covers no more than those occasional gymnastics of the mind which correspond with those by which the limbs are trained; training (trahere) is almost synonymous, and upon these two words rests the misconception that the development and the exercise of the "faculties" is the object of education (we must needs use the word for want of a better. Our homely Saxon "bringing up" is nearer the truth, perhaps because of its very vagueness; anyway, "up" implies an aim, and "bringing up" an effort." (Parents' Review, pg. 38.)

Yes! The winding ascent. The striving ever upward, further up and further in, reaching for the higher goal. That is my aim. I may not be able to do much more than lead by example at this point with only a 16-year-old watching, but that's one thing I can still do. And be present to answer any and all questions. Hopefully, the early years will bring forth a harvest of curiosity and a quest for truth that will last for years to come.

I'll leave you with these last few quotes. Ponder them. Ingest them. Let them sink into the depths of your heart. To me, this is the real purpose of parenting and education. 

"It rests with parents not only to give their children birth into the life of intelligence and moral power, but to sustain the higher life which they have borne. Now that life, which we call education, receives only one kind of sustenance; it grows up on ideas. You may go through years of so-called "education" without getting a single vital idea; and this is why many a well-fed body carries about a feeble, starved intelligence, and no society for the prevention of cruelty for children cries shame on the parents." (Parents' Review, pg. 38.)

"Every study, every line of thought, has its 'guiding idea;' therefore, the study of a child makes for living education, as it is quickened by the guiding idea 'which stands at the head.' " (Parents' Review, pg. 38.)

"Ideas may invest, as an atmosphere, rather than strike as a weapon. 'The idea may exist in a clear, distinct, definite form, as that of a circle in the mind of a geometrician; or it may be a mere instinct, a vague appetency towards something,... like the impulse which fills the young poet's eyes with tears, he knows not why.' To excite this 'appetency towards something'--towards things lovely, honest, and of good report, is the earliest and most important ministry of the educator. How shall these indefinite ideas which manifest themselves in appetency be imparted? They are not to be given of set purpose, nor taken at set times. They are held in that thought-environment which surrounds the child as an atmosphere, which he breathes as his breath of life; and this atmosphere in which the child inspires his unconscious ideas of right living emanates from his parents. (Parents' Review, pg. 38.)

"There is no way of escape for parents; they must needs be as 'inspirers' to their children, because about them hangs, as its atmosphere about a planet the thought-environment of the child, from which he derives those enduring ideas which express themselves as a life-long 'appetency' towards things sordid or things lovely, things earthly or divine." (Parents' Review, pg. 38.)

"The whole subject is profound, but as practical as it is profound. We must disabuse our minds of the theory that the functions of education are, in the main, gymnastic. In the early years of the child's life it makes, perhaps, little apparent difference whether his parents start with the notion that to educate is to fill a receptacle, inscribe a tablet, mould plastic matter, or, nourish a life; but in the end we shall find that only those ideas which have fed his life are taken into the being of the child; all the rest is thrown away, or worse, is like sawdust in the system, an impediment and an injury to the vital processes." (Parents' Review, pg. 38.)

I'm not a child anymore;
I'm tall enough
To reach for the stars.
Your hands held mine so few hours,
And I'm not a child anymore.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Sacredness of Personality or Why We're Not the Duggars and It's Still Okay

I saw a commercial today for a tv series called "19 and Counting: The Duggars Do Asia." 

Bless their hearts. 

I am not knocking the Duggars. That is in no way what this post is about. What I want to get at is this idea that if you are a Christian family and you DON'T resemble the Duggars, well, honey, there's something terribly wrong with you. 

That just isn't true.

We started out very duggaresque, I must say. And I was extremely proud of myself for it, too. We modeled our parenting after some very specific families who we admired and whose children we wanted ours to emulate. That's not so terrible a thing, is it? This couple had daughters who were polite and courteous, knew how to cook and bake, spent time serving others within the church, assisted their mom with the younger children, their beautiful peasant dresses and long hair flowing behind them. What's not to love? Not a thing, really. 

My first clue should have been that my girls took their pretty pink playskool dollhouse and turned it upside down. They wanted to make it into a zoo for their adventure friends. They have generally turned our world upside down ever since -- mostly in fantastic, wonderfully creative ways. While the "girls who must be emulated" were learning how to become lovely young ladies and homemakers, our daughter Hilary decided she wanted to become Mary Anning or The Crocodile Hunter. While they were baking, she was chasing imaginary snakes and crocodiles around the yard in khaki shorts and a raggedy tee shirt, shouting, "CRIKEY!"

Our other daughter appeared to be heading toward "Suzie homemaker," but that, too, was a false alarm, based solely on the length of her eyelashes and the curl of her often tangled hair. While it's true that she wanted to be a symphony violinist like her grandmother, it's also true that she craved adventure. She wanted more than anything to be a fairy -- not the fairy princess kind but a fairy who could fly around saving people from distress with her superpowers like a superhero. Once she found the Redwall books, she HAD to own rats and a guinea pig. And we soon had a turtle living in our bathtub. What happened to those freshly coifed french braids and those pressed and starched school uniforms? Sigh.

Did you know we once had our picture in the newspaper? More than once, actually. The first time, though, we made the front page of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. They called me randomly from a list of homeschoolers, looking for answers as to how we managed our time. They sent out a local photographer who snapped a couple of fab shots of our kids in uniform, sitting at their desks in our makeshift schoolroom. It was simply marvelous. Only that isn't really where they learned much of anything. The world is our classroom. Northwest River Park in Chesapeake, Virginia was where the real feasting took place. The zoo was their favorite field trip. The dark nocturnal building was their favorite spot at the zoo. They loved the sloth most of all. 

So the Duggars we are not. And we were even less so as the years went on and our children began to look about the world and pick and choose from what they saw various things they'd like to incorporate into their own lives, some desirable and some less so (in my opinion). One saw that the rights of homosexuals were being violated and began picketing Chick-fil-a restaurants. Another began going to Chick-fil-a whenever possible in support of religious liberty. Our son began playing the drums and growing his hair past his shoulders. His favorite store to buy clothes is Hot Topic, which is let's just say, not a Duggars type clothing store.

I shuddered inwardly as I watched one thing lead to another. I wanted my perfect little children to live perfect little lives on a perfect little suburban plot of land and one day raise perfect little children of their own. Then I noticed just how whitewashed my tomb had become. Several things went wrong all at once. My mother passed away two weeks before my teenaged daughter had a baby. She wasn't married. I was in way over my head. I imagined the Duggars shaking their heads and warning me that this is the result of allowing our children to delve into the ways of the world. And I would have to say I completely agree with that assessment. But we're discussing the sacredness of personality here. Where does intervention stop and the sacredness of who our children are begin? I clearly have no idea. And although I continuously offered wise counsel, support, anger at times, and correction, a certain amount of "the world" still crept in while I wasn't looking. 

Not all of it was bad. And there have been bright, shining moments along the way, too. That day my daughter told me I was right about everything. The day she told me she wants to homeschool her children, too. The day I watched my eldest daughter get married at a castle (wearing fairy wings!). The day my son made it into Boston Conservatory, one of 55 who get in each year out of thousands who apply. Watching my youngest grow in his musical gifting and become a strong Christian man, despite my feeble faith and fumbling ability to meet his educational needs (and despite his long hair!).

Here are a few tidbits from Miss Mason on the sacredness of personality (or how not to blow it by trying to make your children into people they are not as if you are God and your job is to fit them into a certain mold):

Principle # 4: "These principles are limited by the respect due to the personality of children, which must not be encroached upon, whether by fear or love, suggestion or influence, or undue play upon any one natural desire."

"We get a little nervous when she says we oughtn't try to 'train [the child's] moral nature.' We must understand that she means we _can't_ change a child's moral nature. A child is born with a natural affinity toward his creator (remember that Jesus said one must become as a little child in order to see the Kingdom of Heaven), and it is our job to nourish that affinity. We read Holy Scripture with the child, and share with him the idea of God as Father, King, Shepherd, etc. We model piety and fear of God with our lives. But we can't _make_ the child love God; we can't awaken his spirit. God has given the child a spirit, and Holy Spirit does the quickening." Lynn Hocraffer 

“Let children alone... the education of habit is successful in so far as it enables the mother to let her children alone, not teasing them with perpetual commands and directions - a running fire of Do and Don’t ; but letting them go their own way and grow, having first secured that they will go the right way and grow to fruitful purpose.” 

"But we hold that all education is divine, that every good gift of knowledge and insight comes from above, that the Lord the Holy Spirit is the supreme educator of mankind, and that the culmination of all education (which may at the same time be reached by a little child) is that personal knowledge of and intimacy with God in which our being finds its fullest perfection.”  

“ Ariel released from his tree prison, a beautiful human being leaps out of many a human prison at the touch of sympathy.”  

My final advice to you is this: 

Teach your children well. Feed them on your dreams; the ones they pick will be the ones they live by.