Sunday, September 17, 2017

Another Cadillac Course?

Another Cadillac Course?

You might recall the homeschool product reviews the Andreolas wrote. Who knew anything about the quantity of stuff we didn’t review?     No one.    Until now.

Letting the dishes soak I decided to tackle instead, the box that sat on a chair at the far end of the kitchen table. I tucked some hair behind an ear. I straightened my glasses. I meant business. I always gave boxes of sample curriculum a sober and honest appraisal.

Landis Valley. The white doors lead to the basement. 
This time, it was a science curriculum. Wow. What large, beautiful photographs of the animal kingdom and their habitats. The kit came with two thick, hardcover textbooks; shiny and durable enough to last 100 years. The teacher’s book contained the identical text of the student’s book but with an added paragraph or two. This way the teacher could be “one-up” on the animal at hand. Why? Was the added information too difficult for a child to comprehend? Too boring? The text was expected to be livened-up by the teacher. The teacher’s edition said it was “an aid to formulating lectures.”

Our wild rabbits eat dogwood berries for breakfast.
It supplied dozens of questions on each animal. Added to this was a pack of animal-fact-check cards, a softcover quiz book and test book. 

It was an expensive package, impressively school-ish in the modern-classroom sense of the word. 

Following this course who could possibly say a child wasn’t doing school? (Charlotte Mason. That’s who?)

Leafing through the test material, my decision was firm. I would not review it. Time to wash the dishes.

At the sink I stood. Motionless. Mesmerized. I was staring out the window, a wet dishcloth in my hand. I wasn’t looking at anything outside. It was dark. I was seeing something in my mind’s eye. I saw a young mother, new-to-homeschooling, less-than-confident, well-meaning, hardworking, tired. I could relate. I’d been there. A little whirlwind of emotions swirled within me. It rose to the surface and I sighed just as Man-of-the-House entered the room. He wanted to know what was the matter. 
 
I finished a little quilt for a bedroom wall with early American scenes and scrappy stars.

“It’s this new fancy-dancy Cadillac course,” I blurted out, my back to him. I began filling the dishwasher. “It involves hours upon hours of teacher-preparation for giving lectures, a sort of spoiler, you-might-call-it, because much of the same information is repeated . . . as it’s supposed to be read by the student afterward. Then, repeated for the quiz. And repeated again for the test. It’s riddled with review questions, multiple choice, cross-word puzzles . . . and those dreadful match-the-columns.”

“I always hated those,” he said. “Are they meant to throw a child off?”

“I dunno,” I said weakly. But I revved up again. “The quizzes teach for the test. It all goes to substantiate a final grade. I can just see it.”   

“See what?” he said.

It's mushroom season in our front garden. 
“I can see this classroom busy-work, marketed to homeschoolers, leading to burn-out in Mother and tedium in student - if followed exactly as the course objectives advise,” I said, eyes widening. 

“And conscientious moms wanting the best for their children, who’ve just spent 300 dollars on it, might do just that – attempt to do it all

If all her courses are the biggest and best, the family will be doing “school” ‘till 5 o’clock. (I almost said “midnight.”)  



“So . . . this kit has all the earmarks of what Charlotte Mason advised NOT to do?” the Man-of-the-House asked, knowing the answer.

“Yup,” I said, emptying the sink of the last fork. I rinsed the sink of all its suds and squeezed out the dishcloth with unusual vigor.

When I finally turned around, I saw the Man-of-the-House squinting down at the books and rubbing his beard. He, too, was impressed with the pictures. He said, “A committee of Ph.Ds wrote this course, you know.”

I made a little face. 

He missed this. He was still reading. “Hmm . . . it’s as if the writing has no voice. It’s impersonal. Like a computer wrote it . . . not a person enthused with his subject.” He paused while he drew his conclusion. “It requires a gallon of teaching, doesn’t it?” He smiled at me.

“Yup.” I smiling back. Hanging up the tea towel for the night it struck me how glad I was for a husband who understood. Softened by this thought, I put a hand on his arm. 


“Okay. That’s that,” he said. 

There was one thing left to do. 

Knowing how much I disliked cardboard boxes strewn about the place, he carried the impressive-looking course to the basement. 

There it sat. Until it was given away with boxes of other material that had had their turn at cluttering up our keeping-room that year – our last year of writing catalog reviews.


Young George Herbert (Christian Poet) and Mother. Painting by Charles West Cope
A Different Story
One day, Charlotte Mason observed a PNEU class of girls, age 13, read an essay on George Herbert with 3 or 4 poems included. None of the girls had read either the essay or the poems before. They narrated in full paragraphs. 


“No point made by the poet was omitted and his exact words were used pretty freely,” Miss Mason says. “The teacher made comments upon one or two unusual words and that was all. To explain or enforce (other than by a reverently sympathetic manner, the glance and words that showed that she too, cared), would have been impertinent.”
“It is an interesting thing,” she says, “that hundreds of children of the same age [following the PNEU syllabus] . . . scattered over the world, read and narrated the same essay and no doubt paraphrased the verses with equal ease. I felt humbled before the children knowing myself incapable of such immediate and rapid apprehension of several pages of new matter . . . In such ways, the great thoughts of great thinkers illuminate children and they grow in knowledge, chiefly the knowledge of God.”

Yet usually, the work of education, she says, “is drowned in torrents of talk, in tedious repetition, . . . in every sort of way in which the mind may be bored and the affections deadened.” *1
    
Read the living book. Narrate. This is mostly what’s necessary. But it’s a BIG necessary. Children are brought up acquiring powers of self-education, by this method. They want opportunity and direction. Not mental gymnastics for storing information. Rather, their mind comes alive when it ponders ideas conveyed in literary language. Are the children free to make their own associations, follow a train-of-thought, draw conclusions? This is how persons truly become knowledgeable. By it, they enter a state of knowledge, like friendship.

Dean fondly remembers "Stones & Minerals" from his boyhood.

Example: “Tell (or add to your notebook) what you’ve learned about Australia’s amazing kangaroo from its birth to adulthood. Draw a series of 3-4 illustrations for it.” An ounce of teaching, for a gallon of learning. Not the other way around.

Today, some call this “minimalist-homeschooling.” Call it what you like. I call it “The Gentle Art of Learning.”
Label stitched to back of quilt written in fine point laundry marker. 

End Notes
For preparation for year-end tests children need to be familiar with multiple-choice. Sample test-booklets are available and can be worked a month or two before the test, 10 minutes a day. But mostly, multiple choice can take a back seat.  

*1 Charlotte Mason, Philosophy of Education, pages 64-65 (Italics mine)


Comments are Welcome,
Karen Andreola

(I'm working on the log-cabin table runner at present. Nice to have you for a visit.) 





Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Story Hand-Me-Downs

Story Hand-Me-Downs

I'm squirreling away gifts into the Christmas-Closet and knitting mittens.

A small pile of books is forming. I noticed something they share in common. They recall true events. What a strange coincidence. I'm guessing that if an adult finds the events interesting, a child would, too.

People of all ages enjoy (and can learn something) from a well-written picture-book.

Out of the Woods - A True Story of an Unforgettable Event by Rebecca Bond is a brand new hardcover. What beautiful illustrations! (Pen & ink with color wash.)

This gentle story was handed down by the author's grandfather. An old photograph of him as a boy is in the "Author's Note" - surrounded by the mittens I made for my 3 grandchildren.

The author's grandfather.   Mittens for my grandchildren.
The setting is the woods of Ontario, Canada, 1914. Young Antonio's mother runs a hotel for lumber jacks and trappers. With no other children nearby Antonio pokes his nose into the goings-on of the hotel and wanders in the woods. During a forest fire a remarkable event brings people and animals together. (Pub. 2015)

Pages inside "Out of the Woods"
I purchased a used copy of Mailing May by Michael O. Tunnell. Although the story is fictionalized the historical facts are accurate. Five-year-old May Pierstorff really was mailed from Graneville to Lewiston, Idaho the winter of 1914.


May would like to spend some time with her grandmother but a railroad ticket would cost a full day's wage for her father. He can't afford that. But May's parents come up with an idea. Mail May. Because she, with her suitcase, weighs under 50 pounds, she is classified as a baby chick. Her uncle Leonard works in the postal car. He could easily watch over this special live parcel. The train's conductor approves it.

Pages inside "Mailing May"
The author gathered his facts from museums and word-of-mouth, included May's son. Mr.Tunnell wrote his book to show that ordinary people can come up with creative ways to solve a problem. The illustrations are richly saturated in color with accurate details of the period. (Pub. 1997)



Just before sitting down to write about The Matchlock Gun by Walter D. Edmonds, Dean shared a bit of news. The thought had already crossed my mind that it is doubtful whether The Matchlock Gun would win a Newberry Award today.

Society thinks differently than it did in 1942. Therefore, when the news reached my ears it seconded my suspicions. Today, general opinion seems to be that guns are bad.

To those, however, who believe in the right to self-defense, the 2nd amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and small government, guns are not bad. It is violent people and big, tyrannical governments that are bad.

The news? Yale University decided to cover up an offensive musket held by a Puritan. (I googled. A group of 500 Puritans founded Yale in 1638.) In this carved stone relief on the outside of the Yale library, the musket is pointing in the direction of an Indian. The arrow, grasped in the Indian's hand, pointing toward the Puritan, is not covered up. Clay was used to cover-up the musket. This way future generations might find it (and see how far we've progressed to becoming a gun-free, 2nd-amendment-free society?)

Pages inside "The Matchlock Gun"  Antique doll quilt
It's Colonial America in The Matchlock Gun. Young Edward's father is away defending a village near Albany, New York, from an Indian raid. Edward, his mother and little sister, are home. Near the end of the story Edward (frightened but brave) is forced to use drastic measures.

His mother is being chased up the hill and to the door of their cabin by an attacking Indian. Edward, in the kitchen, stands behind his grandfather's heavy antique Spanish gun (that is propped up on the table). He has one shot.

He fires just as the Indian strikes his mother in the shoulder with a tomahawk. Mother is wounded. The Indian dies. The boy saves his mother's life. (No red blood is depicted.) (Pub. 1941)

The author's story was handed down to him as part of his personal family heritage.

This rooster pin-cushion has wings.  Missouri Star Quilt Co. has a chicken pin cushion tutorial.
I'm uncertain whether Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco is a memory from the author's childhood. But it seems so. She dedicates it to her Babushka Carle and writes in first-person, starting with: "On sultry summer days at my grandma's farm in Michigan . . .

Dean and I went bonkers at this enormous used-book sale this summer.
A Russian-immigrant grandmother deals cleverly with her granddaughter's fear of thunder. As a summer thunderstorm approaches Grandma relies upon her granddaughter's help to make a Thunder Cake. The granddaughter is busy collecting eggs from the hen house, milk from the cow, an over-rip tomato from the garden. Yes, a tomato. The cake must be made during a thunderstorm for it to be authentic Thunder Cake. By the time the cake is in the oven and the table is set, thunder is loudly crashing overhead. But when the cake is cool and frosted it is delicious; a tangible proof of  bravery.

A recipe for Thunder Cake, a chocolate tomato layer cake, is found in on a back page. 15 years ago, after being intrigued by a muffin recipe in Joy of Cooking, with the "secret ingredient" of tomato, I made a dozen. They were good. Therefore, it wouldn't surprise me if Thunder Cake was tasty, too. (Pub. 1990) I picked up a used copy.

Our herb garden around the back patio
Post Script
Zucchini
Zucchini burgers with garden herbs smell delicious while cooking.

When summer brings zucchini, I make vegetarian burgers. A gluten-free, bell pepper-free batch for the Man-of-the-House. A batch with "the works" for me includes finely grated carrot. Yum.

A generous helping of minced herbs from the patio garden add flavor: chive, oregano, sweet basil, thyme, parsley. I cook the burgers in butter and olive oil until brown and crispy on the outside, but creamy-soft inside.

The parsley is store-bought. (Can you see why?) Peter Rabbit lives in the back yard. Benjamin Bunny lives in the front yard. They love parsley. And leave none for us. Dean noticed that finicky Peter won't touch the Italian herbs. "I wonder if the rabbits in Italy have acquired a taste for them," I said "I hope our rabbits never do."


The Doll Quilt
The little blue-and-yellow quilt is an antique doll quilt presented to me by a family we invited for lasagna dinner. It was a sweet and thoughtful surprise. At close inspection I see it was a young girl who hand quilted it because the quilting stitches are wobbly. Cute. I wonder what her doll looked like.


The Mennonite Historical Society raises money each year with this enormous used-book sale out on their lawn. Some of the books fit under a tent. We found armfuls of gems.


Books reviewed are linked to Amazon.

Happy Reading,
Karen Andreola

(karenjandreola(at)gmail(dot)com
Typing-in my e-mail reduces spam. Thank you. 

Tiny oregano flowers fill-out my little bouquet nicely. 



Monday, August 7, 2017

Sipping Pages Like Tea

Sipping Pages Like Tea
I'm excited. Charlotte Mason's writings are back in print. Now in a large format. My new set has arrived and I've been writing in the margins! I love my new books. As always I am sipping the pages slowly, like tea.


The company Simply Charlotte Mason has published the series anew. We authorized use of the copyright material on the covers and the front-matter of our pink volumes. They asked Dean to write an introduction for this new edition. Here's a piece of it: 

"The 21st century has brought changes in the way people access, read, and store books. The demand for printed books has diminished while the demand for e-books has increased. Sadly, we are no longer able to continue our printing of The Original Homeschooling Series. Yet thanks to kindred spirits at Simply Charlotte Mason, we have been able to pass the baton, so to speak, and partner with them to see The Original Homeschooling Series safely back in print."


I'm happy to announce that the beautiful old-fashioned font is intact. The pagination remains the same, too.

Both are what I've become so fond, and so familiar, reading. I like how my eye can land on the page on the exact geographical spot of the pages of my pink volumes.

This is good news for those of us who are involved with personal and group study.

It preserves footnoting and referencing so that we can all be literally on the "same page."

More good news. The print is larger (for my old eyes) and the ink is darker and easier to see.
How is it that I'm noticing gems I hadn't noticed before? Was this bit always here? I asked myself.

Re-reading is re-discovering. And Miss Mason's ideas are Christian-life-wisdom for people of all ages; even grandmothers.





Beautiful old-fashioned font is intact. Pagination is the same. A larger, darker size print. Yeah.

Peony taken on Dean's walk, like a flower in the painting.


These days, I share tips with my daughter long distance, over the telephone when she asks. She is home-teaching. What exhausting effort Sophia puts into her bright, rambunctious children.

Sometimes she gets muddled. I suspect a probable cause. She sees an endless scroll of questions on Facebook sites. Here young mothers seek specific advice on learning materials. Then, a myriad of well-meaning, but conflicting answers flood in.

"I think you might be experiencing information-overload," I tell her. "Reading a product review and also a couple pages of a well-written book is a calmer, more consecutive, and less confusing practice," I remind her.




Old oil painting. Gift from Dean. A bouquet that never withers.

In the days of her girlhood, I endeavored to live Charlotte Mason's advise. I rarely talked about the philosophy with my children.

Now Sophia is the home-teaching mom. She is learning what to "think" as well as what to "do."

It's always a joy (and relief) to hear what she has decided to apply, and that it is working satisfactory, if not splendidly well, as yet.

It takes time to see progress with anything newly adapted. I commend her hourly effort.






The pages of Miss Mason's books are a big help with child training, home atmosphere, and discipline.
They provide a guide to the kind of books that open the door of a child's mind and create that wonderful "intellectual glow" on the faces of the children that make all the time and effort worthwhile.

I enjoy laying one of my new Charlotte Mason books open where my lap-top computer used to rest before it died. (I'm in no rush to replace it.) I like to read 2 or 3 pages in an afternoon quiet-time. That's all.

I might pencil a note in the margin. Also, whatever especially speaks to me I copy into a hardcover-notebook.



See the bunny? It sleeps under the lilies and ate every lily leaf and parsley leaf there. Humph.
A slow reading is the only doable one for me. Even during my years of young motherhood, when I sometimes had to contend with a quickening sense of urgency in wanting to understand Miss Mason, I sipped the pages like tea.

I didn't worry about having to understand absolutely everything I read. Ideas have a way of growing on you. Weeks or months would go by when I let "thoughts think themselves."*1 I would go about the business of life. Ideas have the potency to stand up to simmering on the back burner.*2 The "life" part (the application of practical ideas) is where the most patience and persistence is required. Keep plodding, my friends.

"Steadfastness is, of course, of the essence of all Loyalties," says Miss Mason.*3 

19th century cradle, gift from Dean. I wonder whose baby slept in it.





Here's a link to the new series for sale at Simply Charlotte Mason. 

It contains hidden gems to uncover. Gems to grow-by.


End Notes
*1  Charlotte Mason, Parents & Children, pg 156 "Thoughts Think Themselves."
*2  Ibid, pg 34 "Now is it not marvelous, that recognizing as we do the potency of ideas, both the word and the [concept] it covers, enter so little into our thought of education?"
*3 Charlotte Mason, Ourselves, Bk 1, pg 123
Yours,
Karen Andreola
"A Philosophy of Education" is one of my favorite volumes and probably the most often quoted in "Companion."