Saturday, May 28, 2011

Experience not formulas

One of my early influences on the way I raise my children was Raymond and Dorothy Moore’s book Home Grown Kids. The Moores are known for their “delayed academics” approach, encouraging parents to let their children have plenty of time to play, to give them opportunities for real work around the house and yard, and to read good stories to them.

“Delayed academics” doesn’t mean NO academics; it just means to wait until they’re developmentally ready to handle formal study, which varies from child to child. The hard part of this for the home schooling mom is that it requires her to pay careful attention to each child’s needs and tailor their academic studies accordingly. It also means that if you have a child who doesn’t read well until he’s eight or ten or twelve years old (and I’ve had a couple of those) you’re going to hear from the grandparents and concerned friends, so you have to be pretty confident that you know what you’re doing.

That’s one reason why I’ve loved reading Poetic Knowledge, and Charlotte Mason’s books. They remind me that Mike and I really do know what we’re doing with our kids.

But they also keep me from becoming complacent—there’s always room for improvement. Poetic Knowledge is so full of ideas that I can’t even begin make good use of them all. All those ideas are just composting in the back of my mind, but I trust that my own soul will be nurtured and I’ll be better able to nurture my children’s as a result.

One idea that Taylor has presented throughout the book is what he calls “gymnastic.” I’m trying to get a handle on this because it’s something I’ve never realized was an important part of every child’s education. By “gymnastic” he doesn’t mean taking gymnastics classes and learning tumbling and so forth, although that could certainly be a good avenue if it suits your family. On page 142, Taylor defines “gymnastic” by quoting French educator Henri Charlier:

The essential of gymnastics is the training to race, including different types of jumps and climbs. But physical labor must be added, which gives resistance, brings one back to the hard realities of life.

Physical labor I can do—we have plenty of yard work and caring for animals to go around. Training to race, though. I think I need to talk to my oldest son when he gets back home and see if he can help me out.

Here’s an aspect of it that I feel more confident of ability to teach:

In the ancient times and in all the middle ages, music was a part of the studies…. For the Greeks, the word ‘music’ meant poetry, music, and dance, all at the same time. They never separated them…. Dance is the best way for youngsters to calm their senses and control this violence of a young vitality which they usually use in a wrong way. We re not speaking of the dancing of dance halls, but of outdoor dancing; the ancient folk dances.

For our family, that’s just a matter of building on things we’re already doing: learning to play musical instruments, participating in a community chorus of sacred music, singing prayers and hymns at home, square-dancing in the dining room and sometimes on the lawn.

The point of all this, the way it relates to a good education, is that it gives the child (and the adult who’s remediating himself, like me!) the proper foundation of experience in the real world to build upon. Charlier says that “it is indispensable that teaching break loose from a sort of academic letters of thought…. Teaching must fill up with intellectual experience and not with ready-made formulas.”

Taylor says:

This is not unlike the understanding Socrates had for the necessity of what he called “gymnastic” for his beginners, to learn the interdependence of the sensory faculties in contact with nature and crafts. This is learning in the poetic mode, and for Charlier, to learn by the language alone is simply the opposite of gymnastic and the logic of crafts. Language means the realm of formulas and general ideas bereft of the their actual antecedents. Under such teaching, there will be no images offered to the memory of the real things placed there by actual experience of the way things are…. [O]ne cannot simply think; one has to think about some thing.

So, give your children plenty of real play in the out of doors, and plenty of real, useful, work to do around the house and yard. Sing with them. Teach them the childhood games you played, like “London Bridge.” Teach them how to sip the nectar out of honeysuckle. Enjoy the journey together.

Poetic Knowledge(Follow the discussion of Poetic Knowledge: The Recovery of Education, by James S. Taylor at Mystie's blog)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Beating the bounds

The Gospel reading for next Sunday, the fifth Sunday after Easter, is John 16:23-33, which begins, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.” The Latin word for ask is rogare, and so this Sunday is known in liturgical churches as “Rogation Sunday.”

For centuries, churches celebrated this Sunday and the following three days by walking around the parish boundaries, praying for good weather, for a good harvest, and for the Lord’s protection over the people. In order to be sure that the memory of those boundaries was passed on to the coming generations, boys walking in the procession would carry sticks and beat the stones or trees that served as markers.

Most of us don’t live in geographically contiguous parishes any more, and more’s the pity. But there are still meaningful ways to observe this season, and my bishop has included several ideas in an email he sent out yesterday, which I have reproduced here, with his permission. I especially like his idea of blessing soil for each parishioner to take home—it reminds me of the soil of Lothlórien that Galadriel gave to Samwise to take back to the Shire, but I suppose Tolkien meant for the imagery to work in the other direction. :-D

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

“beating the bounds of men’s hearts”

Rogation Sunday and the 400th Anniversary of Our Bible.

This Sunday I encourage us all to pray for a good harvest from our fields and a spiritual harvest of souls. Too, I ask that we remember those who suffer from natural disasters... tornados, fire and flood.

This Sunday begins a little known season in the Church calendar not fully understood nor practiced: Rogationtide. It is a time for asking God for bountiful harvests, beginning Sunday and continuing through Tuesday.

2011 marks the 400th Anniversary of the most printed and widely circulated book in the world. In May of 1611 the Authorized Version (King James) of the HOLY BIBLE was introduced into the Church of England. This book is without question the most significant book in the history of civilization. How do these two relate, Rogation and the Bible? I will explain.

Rogation is an ancient service forgotten in many churches. Its early use was when most people farmed and depended upon the harvest for their sustenance. Now most of us think little of raising vegetables, fruits, wheat, hay and nuts to sustain our lives. We take for granted that the supermarkets will have what we need. We do not ask God to protect cattle, lambs and chickens from disease since we don’t see the effect if animals become ill and die. We suffer no personal loss or so we think. Unless the cost of our food and other agriculturally related items increases.

Rogation Sunday tradition for those who practice it is the same today as in the time of Queen Elizabeth I. She instructed by Royal Injunctions Rogation processions of clergy and parishioners to “beat the bounds” praying for a good harvest. “Beating the bounds” means walking around your property lines and praying that God will bless your harvest and protect you from evil.

Rogation prayers started in the sixth century in Rome and by the eighth century it was fully an Anglo Saxon tradition. This tradition is spelled out in Massey Shepherd’s Commentary on the American 1928 Book of Common Prayer on page 261.

The Collect for the Fifth Sunday after Easter and Rogation Sunday found on page 175 of the BCP is as follows.

“O Lord, from whom all good things do come; Grant to us thy humble servants, that by thy holy inspiration we may think those things that are good, and by thy merciful guiding may perform the same; through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen”

And on pages 39, 40 and 41 we have prayers For Fruitful Seasons, Rain, Fair Weather, and In time of Dearth and Famine.

Prayers from The Litany are appropriate in view of the numbers of recent deaths suffered in natural disasters and war. Page 54 of the BCP,

“From lightning and tempest: from earthquake, fire, and flood; from plague, pestilence, and famine; from battle and murder, and sudden death, Good Lord, deliver us.

Question: How can we follow the Rogation tradition when most of us are not connected directly to farming and crop production? Answer: we are all part of God’s creation!

I suggest this custom be taught. Parishioners bring a pinch of soil to the church building and place it in a basin at the church door. The soil is taken to the Altar and blessed by the priest. After the service each person may take a little soil home. The vestry may provide bags for soil and soil for those who may have forgotten or did not know to bring any.

At home the soil is spread on gardens, plants, crops or in potted plants while reading the 51st Psalm. The Gloria Patri is said after the Psalm. The priest may encourage people to place a small cross in the garden where the soil is distributed. Crosses can be blessed but do not have to be. Prayers are not only for our individual gardens but for a fruitful nation, for farmers who serve us and for all who sustain us by their toil. See the Priest Manual for blessings.

Sermons are usually related to growth, planting, gardening, and plant life. God’s promise of new life is not only for plants and farm animals but is for the protection of our souls as well. Note several hymns from the 1940 Hymn Book (numbers 138, 101, 497, 311, 315 [n.b.“We plow the fields and scatter,” “O Jesus, crowned with all renown,” “O God of Bethel, by whose hand,” “All things bright and beautiful,” and “We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing,” respectively. Kelly.]) can be sung for Rogation Sunday.

The church yard is another option for “beating the bounds.” The congregation may visit a friend’s farm or walk the boundaries of their own property or apartments and “beat the bounds.”

It is important for Anglicans to not only pray for good harvests and for the victims of famines, droughts, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, winter storms and tornados in the United States but also for people abroad.

Lastly, there is His harvest which He calls us to and this is the harvest of men’s Souls. He reminds us in the Bible that “the harvest is great and the workers are few.” Seeds must be planted in the hearts of men. To be a worker in the vineyard is to share and spread nourishment by the dew of the Holy Spirit. In this 400th year of our Holy Bible let us powerfully lead the way.

Please, where ever you are, will you join with me in the “beating of the bounds” of men’s hearts?

Email and let me know.

In the Name of our Savior and Advocate, Jesus Christ. Amen

+Larry Johnson


Saturday, May 21, 2011

New blog name

What do y’all think?

Yes, there’s a story behind it, but I’ll tell it later.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Seasonal challenges in the home school

When I wrote that over-long post about our mini-farm the other day I meant for it to be this post, but I thought I’d better give some background information and it just grew into a post of its own.

So this is the post I meant to write.

When the weather is fine we like to have school outside.

[Our outdoor school room, under two pecan trees and one black walnut, between the house and garage-cum-barn. This is another picture from years ago—all the jungle beyond the yard and smoke house has been fenced in and eaten by the goats. Beyond that is the woods.]

On other fine days I might cancel school so we can be outside playing, but in the spring we often have to be out working. Monday is our regular yard work day. Normally my oldest son takes care of most of it, but it’s work I like doing so I’ll spend a couple of hours mowing each week, and I take care of nearly all of the seasonal pruning. But this year is much harder for two reasons. Life has been so messy the last year and a half that I haven’t pruned anything in all that time, and my oldest son has been with my mom in Arkansas since February.

Even letting the other children share the mowing, we still aren’t able to get it all done in one day, so I’ve only been mowing the acre or so that surrounds the house. You’d think we could get it all done, but that acre-or-so requires that we mow around various flower beds, shrubs, and fruit trees, so it’s a slow job. Much of it can be done on the riding mower, but there’s a lot that has to be done with the push mower and some that can only be done with the weed-eater.

Unfortunately, my missing son is also my mechanic and I’ve been having more trouble with the machines than usual. Mike works on them as he has time, but then most of his work-at-home time is taken up with infrastructure—mending fences, building a new chicken coop, and so forth—and taking care of the animals. My sixteen year old son does most of the milking on weekdays, but Mike does most of it on the weekends, plus he trims hooves, kills and processes poultry, and all of that sort of thing.

Last week I spent nearly the whole Monday and Wednesday pruning things and pulling honeysuckle out of trees and shrubs I don’t want it to kill. My twelve year old daughter and ten year old son mowed but they weren’t able to finish it all. I’d hoped to get back on top of it this week, but Monday was… Well, Eldest Daughter called it “three Mondays rolled into one,” but that’s a story for another time.

Until Number One Son returns late in June it looks like I’m going to have to devote at least two days a week, maybe three, just to maintaining this yard. By the time he gets home the heavy rains and rapid growth will have stopped, so I’m making a note to myself never to let him leave home during the spring again. He’s simply going to have to stay home until he gets his youngest brother trained to take his place. ;-)

In the meantime, when we do have time for academic work, I’m having to shift around what we do. I’ve been using Ambleside Online’s reading lists, with a few modifications, since the summer of 2007, but it takes me a year and a half to two years to get through one year of their recommended reading, so that means that we’re currently on Week 14 of Year 3, having begun last fall.

Every school day we have our prayers, memory work, and poem of the day, so we’re accomplishing more than that confession makes it seem. We’re just moving through the books slowly. But since we’re moving even slower than usual lately I’ve decided to change something about the way this works.

We’re reading a biography of Marco Polo, and instead of reading one chapter a “week,” and by “week” I mean “Ambleside reading list week” not “calendar week,” I’m going to read a chapter each time we have lessons. The same for Children of the New Forest, and I’m going to try to finish a book on ancient China by the end of the month, and when we start the story of Jason and the Argonauts from The Heroes I’m going to try to finish it within a couple of weeks, instead of timing the readings to fit the Ambleside schedule.

Most of the other books don’t lose anything by being strung out—Our Island Story, This Country of Ours, Stories of the Old Dominion—but I’m trying to keep the whole thing from feeling so sporadic, and then when this yard work season is over and we can spend more time at the books, hopefully the schedule won’t seem so daunting.

The good news is that we’ve already finished all the poetry that was planned for Year 3, so I’m reading poems by Edgar Allan Poe, interspersed with poets we’ve already read but love to reread, like Robert Louis Stevenson and A.A. Milne.

My next big challenge will be to figure out how to make consistent time for “drill” work, like math and reading and Latin, which is my great weakness.

Friday, May 13, 2011


Especially for Dana.

This picture was taken a few years ago, but I don't have anything more recent. The tallish white flowering thing beyond the peonies is a flowering almond, which, sadly, means it's ornamental and doesn't produce any nuts. The blossoms are lovely -- some have four and some six petals, cup shaped, with a delicate yellow crown inside, but unfortunately don't have any scent. It's my favorite part of the garden this time of the year, mainly because the the rapturous frangrance of the peonies.

I think I'll go outside and smell them again right now -- they won't last much longer.

Our mini-farm

We have a little over three and a third acres, about half of which is covered in woods. Our house, the garage, smoke house, and surrounding yard and flower and herb gardens take up about half of the rest, and that leaves a largish open place at the back for growing vegetables, playing ball, and keeping chickens, and another spot to the north for other poultry and a goat pasture.

When we first bought the place, the civilized parts around the house and along the driveway were beautifully landscaped, but the rest of it was a tangle of wild rose, sawbriar, poison ivy, Virginia creeper, honeysuckle, wild grapes, and I don’t know what all. It was beautiful, but it was infested with black snakes and ticks, and the moths and June bugs were so bad at night that we couldn’t leave any outside lights on or stay out after dark.

My predecessor spent several hours a day maintaining the gardens but I don’t have the time or the talent for that, so the gardens aren’t nearly as pretty as they were six years ago, and we’ve had to remove several things that were just too labor-intensive. But having poultry has nearly eliminated the bug population plus they keep the snakes away from the house. The goats have eaten all the undergrowth so that we have a lot of clear land. The woods are more open to the sun and breezes now so it’s a lot more pleasant in the summer.

Our farm animal population right now consists of eight goats (a wether, four does, and three kids), some chickens (we already had a few males that were for meat, and we just got about a dozen hens and another rooster from a neighbor who is selling out and going to live like gypsies for a year or two), three turkeys (Thanksgiving dinner for us and a friend), a few ducks (for eggs and meat), a gosling, and one guinea hen that is sitting in vain on a well-hidden nest of unfertilized eggs.

Our goats give us all the fresh milk we drink year-round. The first few years we had them, we bred the does in the late summer, then dried them off two months before the kids were due, so we had a few weeks when there was NO MILK. It was awful. After you’ve gotten used to drinking raw milk it’s really really hard to go back to pasteurized milk. During the dry times we bought a few gallons of raw cow milk from an Amish farmer in Maryland, but it’s not only expensive, it’s just not the same as goat milk, which I’ve found I like better than cow milk.

For the last couple of years, we’ve managed this by not breeding all of our does. We have one in particular that “milks through” quite well. That means that she doesn’t have to be bred every year to keep her production up. Many goats are like this and will continue to produce high quality, good tasting milk, unlike cows which have to be bred every year or the flavor of the milk will deteriorate. Production does drop in the winter and I have to ration the milk, but then it comes back up in spring.

My 22 year old daughter has a salad and herb garden along the south-facing side of the house, and she’s moved our raised beds to a location that makes mowing easier for me. She put the beds very close together and mulched between them with old hay and straw from the barn floor, hoping that she can keep the grass out of the beds this way. The one old raised bed that’s still in place has a crop of garlic she planted last fall, so that has to stay until the end of summer. In the new beds she has cabbage, beans, tomatoes, and some herbs that make good companions and help repel pests. She also has a patch of Jerusalem artichokes.

We also have three apple trees, four peaches, and two pears, but the fruit is small and not very good. We have a nice patch of blackberries in the back yard, which finally started blooming a week or so ago. Here’s some folklore for you that has always been reliable: when your blackberries bloom you’re past all danger of frost and can set out your tomatoes. :-)

Well, this is a lot longer than I meant for it to be. I wish I had some nice pictures for you but I don't have anything recent. Even the pix in the mosaic in the sidebar are from a couple of years ago. :-p

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Cogito cogito, ergo cogito sum*

Yesterday I spent the day outside trying to tame this jungle we live in. I’ll tell you what’s real – honeysuckle is real and it’ll take over the world if we give it half a chance. I’m all for reducing carbon emissions if it’ll keep all this plant growth in check – they’ll take over the planet otherwise. But somehow I don’t think that’s what the greenies have in mind with their environmental proposals.

I’m glad to have a slightly better understanding of what Descartes was about. I remember in high school having classmates who were what can only be called skeptics. They doubted whether existence was real. Maybe everything we think we see and know is an illusion. I couldn’t tell whether they’d been educated beyond their level of intelligence or had had too much pot over the weekend. After reading this chapter I’m guessing they were taking a philosophy class and trying on existentialism for size.

Prior to Descartes, there were certain “givens” that were universally recognized by philosophers – that the physical world is real, for instance, and that it can be truly known through the senses. A broad experience of the physical world lays the foundation for further knowledge, so that, eventually one can reason his way to knowledge. I can’t find the quote now, but I think Copernicus said that he came up with the idea of a heliocentric universe by means of philosophy, not science.

Decartes, however, begins with reason. He then applies the scientific method of breaking a thing down to the smallest possible parts and analysing them. This, he claims, is the only place where experience has any value – experiments are made to prove or disprove each particle of information in an effort to build up a factual knowledge of the thing being studied. Interestingly, by starting with reason, by starting with his own thoughts, Descartes removes the possibility of learning anything simply by thinking.

This idea is developed in Dewey’s philosophy, which “neglects the innate powers of the knower to know prior to experiment.” His goal was completely utilitarian: to adapt the student to meet the needs of the community, those needs being political and economic.

Dewey’s so-called pragmatism, as it filtered down to the masses who largely never read a word he wrote, fit neatly into the American view of education for the good life. It was perfect, in its popular versions, for the American oligarchic man, that is, the practical businessman seeking to not only retain, but to increase his property and profits. Ideas were important to these descendants of the European industrial revolutions and the new notions of the wealth of nations, insofar as they worked toward increasing the common wealth of the country and the personal wealth of those practical and clever enough to succeed….

Interestingly, Dewey’s scientific and practical philosophy with its emphasis on dealing with the conflicts of social change was also attractive to some Marxists, although this fact is not surprising, for both systems of economics, industrial capitalism and communism, inevitably in the first case and absolutely in the second, are materialistic and have little or nothing to do with eternal truths, or beauty, or goodness in any transcendent way…. Sooner or later, the education for a student under either way of progressive, materialist life will be informed by the dominance of the practical ends of the state.

Sadly, since most American Christians have been educated this way, it even affects the way we approach the Faith. We either put too much faith in Reason, or we expect to be led by direct revelation.

Taylor doesn’t make this connection himself, but I think this section where he quotes Jacques Maritain describes the over reliance on Reason nicely:

In Descartes the result is the most radical leveling of the things of the spirit: one same single type of certitude, rigid as Law, is imposed on thought; everything which cannot be brought under it must be rejected; absolute exclusion of everything that is not mathematically evident, or deemed so. It is inhuman cognition, because it would be superhuman!

Therefore, some expressions of American Christianity tend “to displace from reality, if not remove altogether, the order of knowing that includes the valid role of the sensory-emotional response, integrated with the will and the intellect.”

At first glance, it seems like a contradiction for me to say that the mystical kind of experience relied upon by another branch of Christianity has the same root, but consider this (quoting Maritain again):

The angel neither reasons, nor proceeds by reasoning; he has but one intellectual act, which is at once perceiving and judging: he sees consequences not successively from the principle, but immediately in the principle.

Taylor continues:

Maritain sees this angelism as the greatest error of Descartes’ philosophy; that is, he begins with the proposition that man is essentially a thinking substance, a definition hitherto reserved for angels whose intellect is “always in act with regard to its intelligible objects [and] does not derive its ideas from things, as does ours, but has them direct from God.”

This is actually a splitting apart of Descartes’ method, which insists “that all knowledge, after an exercise in the rigor of mathematical method, be angelically intuitive,” but it makes sense, as his method itself “causes a disintegration of the natural unity of the knower to know.”

Poetic Knowledge(Follow the discussion of Poetic Knowledge: The Recovery of Education, by James S. Taylor at Mystie's blog)

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

*I can’t take credit for the clever title – a forum friend uses it for his signature line.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

I love reading George MacDonald

He has such an interesting way of seeing things and then writing what he sees. This example is from the very opening paragraphs of The Princess and Curdie, which can be read online here.

A mountain is a strange and awful thing.... I will try to tell you what they are. They are portions of the heart of the earth that have escaped from the dungeon down below, and rushed up and out. For the heart of the earth is a great wallowing mass, not of blood, as in the hearts of men and animals, but of glowing hot, melted metals and stones. And as our hearts keep us alive, so that great lump of heat keeps the earth alive: it is a huge power of buried sunlight - that is what it is.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Making cheese

Whenever our goats produce more milk than we can drink or give away, I like to make cheese.

Over the years I’ve tried making Gouda, Mozerella, Ricotta, Queso Blanco, and Cheddar, but I don’t really like the way these turn out with goat milk. The variety I have the most success with is a soft, spreadable cheese, like what you might buy in the grocery store labeled “Chèvre.” It’s also the easiest to make since it sets up overnight, then in the morning all I have to do is strain and season it, and it’s ready to eat.

I’ve also tried to make Feta on several occasions. It’s a much more complicated cheese, involving cutting and cooking the curds, draining, cutting, salting, aging, and brining. So far I have not had a single successful batch, but I’m trying again because I love Feta and it’s meant to be made with goat milk.

Today I’m going to see if the batch I started two weeks ago is ready to be brined. The last time I got to the brining stage, it hadn’t dried long enough and the blocks of cheese all dissolved within a day of being put into the brine, so I’m going to make a small batch of brine and put one block into it, and see what happens. The rest of the cheese will have to wait in the fridge.