Sunday, April 21, 2013

What a Terror Attack in Boston Taught me about the Importance of Hymn Study

 by Megan Hoyt

What a week I've had. My heart was crushed to tiny bits as I watched news reports of the Boston Marathon bombing and subsequent murders and shootouts. It was like a horrible B movie in which my son, daughter, and son-in-law played bit parts as extras. And I was the woman who popped the movie into the dvd player and watched it all unfold. Only it was all very real. And these were my own precious children in harm's way -- they're students at music conservatories in downtown Boston. I'm pretty spent emotionally, quite overworked spiritually, and just all around exhausted. But my children are alive and well, albeit a little stunned and frightened. My prayers go out to the victims. I know you will keep them in your prayers as well.

 And now for Hymn Study!

There's so much I want to say, and much of it has less to do with what I've learned about Charlotte Mason and more to do with growing up in a large, vibrant Episcopal church -- the smells and bells kind (incense and chimes). I also went to an Episcopal school for six years as a child. I sang hymns every day except Saturday, and I probably sang them on more than a few Saturdays, too!

Here are a couple of photos of the church I grew up in. It was enormous, though you can't tell that by looking at these photos. The angels carved into the marble wall behind the altar are huge! As I peek at these pics again, 40 years later, odd, disjointed memories flood my mind. I was so short for my age that I was chosen to lead the procession up that long aisle one Christmas Eve for three identical services. We sang the Hodie Christus Natus Est, holding candles, wearing choir robes and cassocks, our heads covered with matching bobby-pinned beanies. We had spent months memorizing anthems and hymn descants for these special services. It was thrilling when Christmas Eve arrived and the procession began, in darkness and silence with only the haunting a capella Hodie filling the 500 seat sanctuary.

This is what Hymn Study was to me. And now, I'm tasked with a somewhat ominous duty -- to pass on that same love of hymns to my own children and to the students under my care. They have not grown up with hymns. The majesty and magnificence of St. Michael and All Angels church is not a part of their history. What do I do? How do I recreate the reverence, the hush over the congregation as these great hymns were announced, the splendor of the powerful organ as it filled the huge expanse with its magnificent rich, low tones. It's a daunting thing to make all that real for a new generation that hasn't been raised in a traditional church setting but who still deserve a chance to learn these meaty hymns that still bring tears of joy to my eyes.

The first thing I did was find an Episcopal church choir and put my kids in it -- The Choir School at St. Peter's in Charlotte, NC. It was a great place for our own children to learn not only hymns but self-discipline, reverence, and the value of hard effort and memorization. They learned to sightread music; they learned solfege; they received progressively more difficult musical training, and they learned hymns. Although we are no longer Episcopalian and I no longer live in Dallas, I was delighted to find this resource in my city. I'm forever indebted to Mr. Outten, Mrs. Johnson, and Mrs. Lillard (who tutored the children in private sessions until they had mastered solfege and were able to progress through the challenging tests).

The second thing I did was begin teaching them hymns at home, using my old ragged, war-torn 1940 Episcopal hymnal. We began with a short one we could sing at the end of each night, Hymn 172, the second tune, "Now the Day is Over." This video is from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I'm not Mormon, of course, but it's a beautiful rendition, nonetheless. How I taught hymns was pretty simple. I sang the first line for them about three times, then asked them to join in. We treated it like poetry recitation. This method works well! But if you feel you can't sing or don't want to, youtube has a lot of hymns you can play for them, and I'll post some helpful links at the end of this post to get you started, too.

Now the day is over,
Night is drawing nigh,
shadows of the evening
steal across the sky.

Jesus give the weary
Calm and sweet repose;
With Thy tend'rest blessing
May our eyelids close.

We only memorized those first two verses, but there are more. These two are particularly appropriate right now, after the bombings in Boston, where my son, daughter, and son-in-law live:

Comfort every suff'rer
Watching late in pain
Those who plan some evil
From their sin restrain.

Through the long night watches
May thine angels spread
Their white wings above me,
Watching round my bed.

My children are particularly musical, so we began singing it in harmony. I can still hear it now inside my head. So beautiful!

We next learned Come Labor On, Hymn 576. Under the number, it says: Ora Labora, in unison, very broadly. The words to this hymn are a call to evangelism. What? Episcopalians evangelizing? Yes! This is a rich, deep, haunting hymn.

 Come labor on.
Who dares stand idle on the harvest plain,
While all around him waves the golden grain?
And to each servant does the Master say,
"Go work today."

Come labor on.
The enemy is watching night and day
To sow the tares to snatch the seed away
While we in sleep our duty have forgot
He slumber'd not.

Come labor on.
Away with gloomy doubts and faithless fear,
No arm so weak but may do service here
By feeblest agents may our God fulfill
His perfect will.

Come labor on.
Claim the high calling angels cannot share
To young and old the gospel gladness bear
Redeem the time, its hours too swiftly fly,
The night draws nigh.

From here, I went on to teach them "God is Working His Purpose out."

God is working his purpose out
as year succeeds to year:
God is working his purpose out,
and the time is drawing near;
nearer and nearer draws the time,
the time that shall surely be,
when the earth shall be filled
with the glory of God
as the waters cover the sea.

From utmost east to utmost west,
wherever foot hath trod,
by the mouth of many messengers
goes forth the voice of God;
give ear to me, ye continents,
ye isles, give ear to me,
that earth may filled
with the glory of God
as the waters cover the sea.

What can we do to work God's work,
to prosper and increase
the brotherhood of all mankind--
the reign of the Prince of Peace?
What can we do to hasten the time--
the time that shall surely be,
when the earth shall be filled
with the glory of God
as the waters cover the sea.

March we forth in the strength of God,
with the banner of Christ unfurled,
that the light of the glorious gospel of truth
may shine throughout the world:
fight we the fight with sorrow and sin
to set their captives free,
that earth may filled
with the glory of God
as the waters cover the sea.

All we can do is nothing worth
unless God blessed the deed;
vainly we hope for the harvest-tide
till God gives life to the seed;
yet nearer and nearer draws the time,
the time that shall surely be,
when the earth shall be filled
with the glory of God
as the waters cover the sea. 

After that, we learned Onward, Christian Soldiers in two part harmony and never looked back. Hannah, our resident violin player, learned Come Thou Fount and Amazing Grace. They learned what a Sursum Corda, Nunc Diminitis, Agnus Dei, and Sanctus were. We even learned how to read some older forms of Medieval notation and sing gregorian chants. We mixed our hymn study with composer study and read about the lives of the men and women who wrote the music and lyrics to these hymns. I was salivating with joy. My childhood was unfolding again right in front of me! It was sheer bliss for this proud Mama. Hilary, upon graduating from the Choir School, sang the solo in the final choir concert, and my joy was complete. 

I know this post hasn't had a lot of deep, fulfilling explanations of Charlotte Mason's reasons for including Hymn Study in a child's education. I think it's a little self-explanatory, though I could probably stir up a few quotes for you. To me, the richness of learning hymns enlivens our souls, stirs our hearts, lifts our spirits, and brings us closer to the Creator of the Universe. After the sort of week I've had, worrying about the safety of two of my children who were on lockdown in the middle of downtown Boston during a terror attack, to my great astonishment, I discovered that my heart turned to these great hymns for solace. I had no idea I would do that. But see, there's great value in what we choose to teach our children. You never know when or where something that's alive and vibrant is going to turn up later in life. I'm happy to report through firsthand experience that I've learned hymn study is one of those living elements of a CM education that has stood the test of time. Many thanks to my mother, Nancy Glass, for placing me in a church environment where I would be enriched and where Jesus Christ was adored.

(See if you can guess which of these sailor-suited little girls is me!)

 For further research:

Squidoo Hymn Study site
(I don't believe in "worksheet pages" and they recommend them here, but there's also a lot of other great information on hymn study, too, and the worksheets are more like copywork pages.)

Nadene's Hymn Study page (Nadene has several links scattered throughout her page. It's great! Go check them out for a more thorough list of resources -- and yes, they also use worksheet pages that the children fill out. After looking over Miss Mason's beliefs, I think she would have preferred the children create their own pages starting from scratch rather than fill in a worksheet or copywork page. But she's not here to ask!)

A Jew in the Rain and a Song in your Heart

by Megan Hoyt

In my internet search on hymn study for last week's blog, like a crazed squirrel I followed many rabbit trails -- one of which led me to a blog called "A Jew in the Rain" and a post called "Judaism and Charlotte Mason." Did you know this blog existed? Did you know there were any Jewish educators who were even familiar with Charlotte Mason? I didn't.

Yeah. I know. This had nothing to do with hymns. But this Jew in the Rain blog is really interesting! Here's the link.

I think the author has a pretty solid understanding of the Charlotte Mason method. But their belief system tells them to seek Torah for character growth and not, as they perceive Charlotte Mason to have done, to go to ancient classical Greece and Rome for answers. I can see where this concept came from. Her recommendations to read Plutarch and the way her programmes always had an ancient history study going on at the same time as other history studies can lead one to believe her source for all things moral was the classics. It's assumed that a classical education does the same thing, but I've recently discovered that isn't true either:

So, also, in my opinion, are the folks over at A Jew in the Rain misunderstanding the true crux of a Charlotte Mason education, but I've invited them over here to learn alongside us as we study the Series and Parents' Review. Here's an excerpt from their blog:

"What Charlotte Mason has in common with Torah is the understanding that one's life as a religious individual is a whole into which certain general studies can be incorporated, without resulting in a religious-secular "double life."

 Off the top of my head, I would hazard that under rarefied conditions (and there is a spectrum of opinions on just what that means):

-Good science can help you to live sensibly and appreciate the wisdom and love of the Creator.

-Good humanities can also show you what is in a person or what is in the world, can illustrate poignantly and poetically principles of how to live or how not to live.

-It can be helpful for a person to be exposed to beauty, order, and genius.

Where Charlotte Mason and Torah part ways in general studies is on whether the arts and sciences are seen as an end in themselves.

Charlotte Mason's branch of Christianity, so far as I can make out, seems to have adopted the Classical Greco-Romans as its honorary forebears, and so to have inherited the Classical values of beauty, order, and genius for their own sake: of beauty as an end in itself. Thus, in CM it is an independent moral duty to study nature and to acquire discriminating artistic taste. ...

What I like about Charlotte Mason, then, is not why she teaches the arts and sciences, only how. I do think her methods are excellent, and a lot closer to Jewish ideas than a lot of educational theory out there. But one can't pluck the religion bits out of a CM education, tack a Judaic Studies curriculum on the CM general studies, and call it Jewish Charlotte Mason. Her reasons for studying secular studies inform her approach to them and her choices of material. If you want Jewish Charlotte Mason, you'll have to look into a truly Jewish approach to secular studies." 

From what I can gather through studying the Series and through reading the programmes and discovering (only a few months ago) how much time was devoted to studying theology each day, I believe she meant for students to dig into the Bible, commentaries, and other resources for themselves and to grow in various character traits by allowing the Holy Spirit to guide them. That is quite a different thing from what A Jew in the Rain presupposed!

Here's what I mean:

"We are probably quite incapable of measuring the religious receptivity of children. Nevertheless, their fitness to apprehend the deep things of God is a fact with which we are called to 'deal prudently,' and to deal reverently." (Vol. 1, Part V-- Lessons As Instruments Of Education, p. 248)

"But let the imaginations of children be stored with the pictures, their minds nourished upon the words, of the gradually unfolding story of the Scriptures, and they will come to look out upon a wide horizon within which persons and events take shape in their due place and due proportion. By degrees, they will see that the world is a stage whereon the goodness of God is continually striving with the wilfulness of man; that some heroic men take sides with God; and that others, foolish and headstrong, oppose themselves to Him. The fire of enthusiasm will kindle in their breast, and the children, too, will take their side, without much exhortation, or any thought or talk of spiritual experience." (Vol. 1, Part V-- Lessons As Instruments Of Education, p. 249)

"The method of such lessons is very simple. Read aloud to the children a few verses covering if possible, an episode. Read reverently, carefully, and with just expression. Then require the children to narrate what they have listened to as nearly as possible in the words of the Bible." (Vol. 1, Part V-- Lessons As Instruments Of Education, p. 251)

"The learning by heart of Bible passages should begin while the children are quite young, six or seven. It is a delightful thing to have the memory stored with beautiful, comforting, and inspiring passages, and we cannot tell when and how this manner of seed may spring up, grow, and bear fruit;" (Vol. 1, Part V-- Lessons As Instruments Of Education, p. 253)

"Let all the circumstances of the daily Bible reading--the consecutive reading, from the first chapter of Genesis onwards, with necessary omissions--be delightful to the child; let him be in his mother's room, in his mother's arms; let that quarter of an hour be one of sweet leisure and sober gladness, the child's whole interest being allowed to go to the story without distracting moral considerations; and then, the less talk the better; the story will sink in, and bring its own teaching, a little now, and more every year as he is able to bear it." (Vol. 1 Part VI The Will--The Conscience--The Divine Life In The Child, p. 337)

"A word about the reading of the Bible. I think we make a mistake in burying the text under our endless comments and applications. Also, I doubt if the picking out of individual verses, and grinding these into the child until they cease to have any meaning for him, is anything but a hindrance to the spiritual life." (Vol. 1 Part VI The Will--The Conscience--The Divine Life In The Child, p. 348-9)

"The Word is full of vital force, capable of applying itself. A seed, light as thistledown, wafted into the child's soul will take root downwards and bear fruit upwards. What is required of us is, that we should implant a love of the Word; that the most delightful moments of the child's day should be those in which his mother reads for him, with sweet sympathy and holy gladness in voice and eyes, the beautiful stories of the Bible; and now and then in the reading will occur one of those convictions, passing from the soul of the mother to the soul of the child, in which is the life of the Spirit." (Vol. 1 Part VI The Will--The Conscience--The Divine Life In The Child, p. 349)

"Above all, do not read the Bible at the child: do not let any words of the Scriptures be occasions for gibbeting his faults. It is the office of the Holy Ghost to convince of sin; and He is able to use the Word for this purpose, without risk of that hardening of the heart in which our clumsy dealings too often result." (Vol. 1 Part VI The Will--The Conscience--The Divine Life In The Child, p. 348-9)

"The Bible, the great Storehouse of Moral Impression.--Valuable as are some compendiums of its moral teaching, it is to the Bible itself we must go as to the great storehouse of moral impressions." (Vol.3 Chapter 16 How to Use School-Books, p.175)

"A child might, in fact, receive a liberal education from the Bible alone, for The Book contains within itself a great literature." (Vol. 3 Chapter 20 Suggestions Toward a Curriculum, p.235)

Many, MANY thanks to a friend at Squidoo for lining up these quotes for me!

With these excerpts in mind, we can safely say that Miss Mason did not go back to Classical Greece and Rome to teach students how to be of strong moral character. She did, however, speak directly to parents about it being their duty to incorporate elements of study that will likely lead children to meditate on scripture, read stories of great moral value (tales of heroic behavior where courage, persistence, valor, and strong character are celebrated), and in all that they study to keep in mind that it is God who is the source of all knowledge, both secular and otherwise, and Who is the Creator of all the universe. Selah.

Is all this Bible study really important to a well-rounded education? Some might say, in an effort to bring this glorious way of learning to the public at large, that we ought to dismember it -- to cut away the christian bits and lay the rest of the feast out for public school consumption. Without a strong spiritual component to this fantastic way to soak in the broad, rich feast of living ideas we all enjoy, I don't believe its impact would be quite the same. Constant interaction with God turned my life from flat and empty to full and rich. It went from 2D to 4D in a split second. I can't recommend turning your life over to God highly enough. Without Him, I am nothing. With Him comes bliss.


Given the choice between not offering this beautiful education to children at all (because of the religious component) or  secularizing it, I would have to say, let's go ahead and try to bring what disjointed bits of it we can to a weak and dying populace, dry and dusty, desperate for some sort of meaning and sustenance -- desperate for some living thoughts with which they can wrestle. Click on the link for A Jew in the Rain above and you'll see just how much of a CM education IS possible without any spiritual component at all. I think it's worth doing. What do you think?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Pot of Green Feathers: Lessons in Apperception from Thomas Rooper

 By Megan Hoyt

"Our minds are not passive; the opposite is true. Through the senses the mind receives impressions, but these contributions from the senses would not be objects of knowledge, would not be interpreted, would not be recognized unless the mind itself worked upon them and assimilated them, converting the unknown stimulus from without into a sensation which we can hold in our thoughts and compare with other sensations within us." (Thomas Rooper, The Pot of Green Feathers)

We have talked about The House of Mind. Now we're moving on to the work of the mind.And this is so crazy, but I've never really thought much about how we take in knowledge and information. I should have. You should, too. Because this is how and why people misunderstand one another, misjudge each other, and end up not speaking to each other. We have these preconceived notions about how people should behave or treat us or how they should react to the world around them. Charlotte Mason would tell us to respect the personhood of each child (and adult!) because we are all created uniquely different. But we so often forget that and get our feathers ruffled (pun intended, though hopefully, our feathers are not green -- with envy or otherwise!) I've had my aha moment for the week. Each person has a lifetime of experiences that influences how he or she takes in new information. And some of that new information is coming from me. I can then expect push back from some and melted hearts from others -- all depending on their life experiences so far. That's freeing in a way. Now I don't have to get upset if someone doesn't receive what I have said very well. I can now officially blame it on their previous knowledge and experience. Thank you, Thomas Rooper!

This little 54-page book, The Pot of Green Feathers, teaches us about the assimilation of knowledge better than any other volume I've read. Rooper explains that to a child who has never seen one, a potted fern looks like a pot of green feathers. The basic premise of this entire book is that without an apt amount of cherished knowledge upon which to "hang" new information, a child will only be able to give his best guess at what he is seeing and experiencing and will therefore be unable to assimilate new ideas very well. This means the art of educating a child is extremely important, doesn't it?

I have seen this played out many times with my own children and now it's starting again with my grandchildren. Just recently, I sent some Chicken and Dumplings over to my daughter's house for my grandson Anthony. He loved it. He had never had Chicken and Dumplings before. How tasty it was to him. He made sure to tell my daughter to tell me thank you for the "Chicken and Ducklings." Well, maybe we need to speak a little more clearly or maybe read a little less McCloskey to the little guy. But see how children perceive things differently than we think they should?

This is weighty. Today, it's a pot of green feathers that the child sees and the teacher grins and explains what a fern is. Tomorrow, there may be a teen who believes abortion is the emptying of the contents of the womb (without examining for even a second what those contents are) or a young adult who believes it's more important to get a high grade on a test so he can get into law school than it is not to cheat. The outcome? Women are killing their unborn babies, and attorneys are lying in court. There are far-reaching consequences to not having a clear, true understanding of what we are seeing and experiencing and learning and to not assimilating strong moral values somewhere along the way.

Rooper speaks of how different minds receive impressions differently. This is another interesting concept. He says that when looking at the same landscape, "The geologist can tell you of the strata, the botanist of the vegetation, the landscape painter of the light and shade, the various coloring, and the grouping of the objects, and yet, perhaps, no one of them notices exactly what the others notice."

To take this even further, Rooper reminds us how the rooms we remember living in as a child look smaller to us when we revisit them as an adult. "The tremendous long throw which you used to make with a ball from one end of the playground to the other, to what a narrow distance it has shrunk!" he says. So impressions depend on the mind, yet the adult mind in the larger adult body gives us a wildly different impression than that of the child mind. Interesting, isn't it? Here's a short lesson in how to throw a football. This is an example of careful instruction with physical example. How long this indoor field must seem to a five-year-old and how short to a pro football player! It's all in how the mind takes in the impression. 

Now on to perception.

Rooper tells us that we interpret new ideas based on our learned perceptions and how we assimilate knowledge (which is based on earlier assimilated knowledge). My mind is spinning now. How do I take this in? Hmmmm. Okay, his example here is a little more complicated. Say, you see your brother coming toward you from a great distance away. How do you know it's your brother? Your mind automatically perceives it because of his gait, how his shoulders slump (or don't), his expressions, how he swings his arms, how he stumbles every now and then. All these things come at us through our senses, but we don't even realize we're taking them in. Yet they work together to tell us our brother is approaching. Rooper goes even further. He suggests that not only do we recognize our brother from far away but we cannot recognize someone or something we are not familiar with already. He gets this idea from several famed men of his day.

Carlyle: "We can only see what we are trained to see."

Goethe: "We only hear what we know."

Herder: "What we are not we can neither know nor feel."

Rousseau: "We can neither know, nor touch, nor see, except as we have learned."
I am not a huge Rousseau fan, but that quote stirred me a little. If we can't fully know or perceive or understand something unless we have first learned about it, that has far-reaching implications. It explains racism, antichristian bias (it's real, trust me), and more. But is the answer education? Do we need to rant on and on and lecture students about upright moral behavior in order to teach them that lying, cheating, and stealing are wrong? Charlotte Mason preferred that students learn and assimilate by reading living materials in which heroism was celebrated and nobility was praised rather than direct didactic explanation. I'm with her!

Rooper goes on to say that it's perfectly appropriate to delay in deciding what we believe about an idea. He says, "A wise man, therefore (if I may draw a passing moral), does not, if he can help it, decide or act in a hurry, under the influence of new impressions, but he will give them time to find points of connections with old impressions. What may today seem irreconcilable with truth, or honor, or happiness, may prove when time has been allowed for assimilation inconsistent neither with sincerity, nor good name, nor good fortune." (Feathers, p. 18)

This is so important! Children need time to take it all in!

I'll leave you with this final thought that Rooper calls The Plea of the Educator:

"Educationists, like Mr. Arnold, also, will continue to implore the public to simplify the studies of children, being convinced that unless the mind has leisure to work by itself on the stuff or matter which is prescribed to it by the teacher, the thinking faculty, on which all progress depends, will be paralyzed, and dead knowledge will be a substitute for living. The mind will have no power of expanding from within, for it will become a passive recipient of knowledge, only able to discharge again what has been stuffed into it, and quite powerless to make fresh combinations and discoveries. Cram is the rapid acquisition of a great deal of knowledge. Learning so acquired, though useful for a barrister, has less educational value than the public believe, for it does not promote but rather tends to destroy the active and constructive powers of the mind."

Now I know why Charlotte Mason admired Thomas Rooper so much. 

Resistance is futile. You must assimilate.  ; )

Postscript: Another fantastic book by Thomas Rooper is titled Apperception. In it, he explores more fully this concept of how we take in knowledge. He drew from the work of Dr. Karl Lange who wrote Apperzeption, from Herbart's Psychology, Bernard Perez's First Three Years of Childhood, Romane's Mental Evolution of Man, and the lectures of Professor T. H. Green. It's next on my list to read. I'll report back on it when I'm done!