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28 April 2016

On Classical Education: What Is a Student?

This post is part of a series:

Character is the True Aim
Cultivation of Godly Character
What is a Student? (this post)
Make Haste Slowly
Much Not Many 
Repetition is the Mother of Memory
Embodied Learning
Songs Chants and Jingles
Wonder and Curiosity
Educational Virtues
By Teaching We Learn
Classical Education is Like a Table

I've been listening to and blogging about Dr. Perrin's series of lectures about Classical Education for a while now, and this time I've been working on his lecture about Educational Virtues. I listened to this lecture three or four times before I started to make sense of it. Part of that is that, for some odd reason, coming up with a whole hour to just sit and listen just isn't happening. So I'm listening while I cook or do dishes. But part of it is that until now I have never, ever considered the effect of virtue on learning. And this new (to me) idea has taken some time to make room for in my thoughts. 

Dr. Perrin suggests that until students are ready to exert themselves, to develop what he calls "educational virtues", and use them to actively seek knowledge and growth, to love the thing is that are lovely, until people do that --

-- They're not really students. 

And the more I think about it, the more I am convinced he's right. We are meant to act, not to be acted upon. Education is the task of building our best self, of cultivating our capacity for Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.

Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ and His grace, our failures to live the celestial law perfectly and consistently in mortality can be erased and we are enabled to develop a Christlike character. Justice demands, however, that none of this happen without our willing agreement and participation.
-Elder D. Todd Christopherson,emphasis added, Free Forever To Act For Themselves

I can, and should, create opportunities for my children to interact with the True, the Good, and the Lovely. I am charged with the responsibility of seeing to it that their education takes place in a context that embraces the best books, that seeks for the virtuous, lovely, and praiseworthy and spreads it, like a feast, for their growth. But ultimately, they have to choose to take it in. Or it won't go.

But virtue isn't something that our culture thinks about much, anymore. Virtue is pretty much never trending or viral. What is it? Dr. Perrin, in his lecture about educational virtues says this:

"Virtue can be defined in a number of ways. It's related to the Latin word, the word for man is actually veir... There is a Latin word, virtus, but it had this idea of the ideal, excellent human being who embodied all what the Greeks call excellence or erite. We get the word virile from the same root, veir. So it was this idealized human being, that had all the great qualities that you would wish for... Virtues are... deeply embedded parts of our character... that readily dispose us to feel, think and act in morally appropriate ways."

As parents, we need to not only cultivate in our children an inclination and habit of thinking, feeling, and behaving in morally correct ways, we must also cultivate these same traits in ourselves: we cannot pass to our children that which we do not possess. We need to be, ourselves, journeying toward this heroic ideal of human excellence. We are trying to inspire in them the belief that they can be the heroic figures with which their education ought to be filled.

Interestingly, he also says that, in certain cases, habits can be synonymous with virtues, in that when we make a habit of feeling, thinking, and acting correctly, this begins to define who we are - in this way we become virtuous. Being that I'm also currently studying Charlotte Mason's thoughts on Classical Education, I thought this was really interesting: Charlotte Mason had a lot to say about habits.

The habits of the child determine the character of the man.
-Charlotte Mason, vol. 1, page 118

That sounds very much like what Dr. Perrin was getting at. Miss Mason also said this:

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.
-Charlotte Mason, vol. 1, page 134

Miss Mason is suggesting for our homes much the same thing that Joseph Smith said when he was asked how he governs his people. He said,

I teach the people correct principles and they govern themselves.
-Joseph Smith, quoted by John Taylor, JD 10:57-58

And that's exactly what we're looking for: students -people, parents, citizens- with the virtue, the self-discipline, to govern themselves at all times and places. And this need for virtue starts in education. And education starts when a person chooses to exert themselves to learn: when they begin to make choices from which a natural outgrowth of those choices is the cultivation and strengthening of these necessary virtues.

Dr. Perrin spends some time talking about what happens in the absence of virtue, when you have what he calls "disordered passions." This idea of disordered passions is really more broad than what the word passion might suggest. C.S. Lewis said it this way:

Aristotle says that the aim of education is
to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought.

Which brings us again back to the cultivation and appreciation of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness, and to the need for virtue. In much the same way that we help our children cultivate the taste for healthy foods, rather than allowing them to eat their preferred diet of ice cream and marshmallows, we need to guide their education towards that which will help their souls to grow.

...seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom, seek learning even by study and also by faith...
-Doctrine and Covenants 109:7

The Lord wasn't only saying that we need both study and faith to learn the most effectively, though obviously that's important. But there's this idea of best books that is important because it is only the very best books that will develop the soul the way we need to in order to reach our vast potential as children of God. We cannot expect to dine, intellectually (which really is spiritually), on intellectual and spiritual ice cream and marshmallows, and expect to be able to grow a healthy soul that way. Nor can we indulge in pablum, twaddle, or award-winning trash that passes as "literature" and expect to grow the way that children of the Most High ought to. The injunction is to seek out, not just good books or better books, but the very best books for ourselves and our families. We need to find the cream of the crop, the ones that will urge us on toward the heroic ideal, toward ordered passions.

How will you manage to think rightly with a sick soul? A heart ravaged by vice, pulled this way and that by passion, dragged astray by violent or guilty love? Passions and vices relax the attention, and scatter it, lead it astray, and they injure the judgement in round-about ways. Knowledge depends on the direction given our passions, and our moral habits.
-quoted by Dr. Perrin

Scripture puts it more succinctly, not only giving instruction relative to our passions, but also pointing out the result of that effort: being filled with love.

...and also see that ye bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love...
-Alma 38:12

Disordered passions hinder and can even prevent the acquisition of knowledge. And this happens because, if, when the student sets down to learn, he has too many thing competing for his attention, then he will not be able to focus effectively. If he's not engaged in the learning at hand - which requires that he love it to some degree - then something else will occupy his mind, and his learning will suffer as a result. And here's the rub: in this fallen world, the thing which comes most naturally is seldom, if ever going to be that which is True, Good and Beautiful. Things that come naturally - the natural man - are in opposition to God, who is the embodiment and perfect fulfillment of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. It is always going to be harder to seek Truth, Goodness, and Beauty than it is to settle for the white lie, the good enough, and the pleasant. But settling isn't what education is about. It's not what a student is.

27 April 2016

Cookie Map of the Fertile Crescent

I saw cookie maps on Pinterest ages ago, but we've never done one -- until now. Honestly, I wasn't too excited at the start: cooking with all 3 kids is a Job, and I much prefer to do it one on one these days. They did better than I expected; it was fun!

First, I copied the recipe in cursive and gave it to Hero. He needs practice with cursive and recipe reading, so that's where we started. So he was kind of in charge, even though it was officially Dragon's project, to go with the history he's been learning. I think it was not worrying so much about the recipe and the little kids' that made doing the project more fun for me: not as much to track in my head, or to worry about. Plus, they shared and took turns really well this time, which was nice.

Dragon and Peanut did most of the adding of ingredients. When it was all mixed, everyone helped with beater and spoon licking-- probably the most important jobs! Then we made the map. The recipe says to cool the dough, but it was great for this project when it was fresh. 

We squished it out to be a blank canvas, grabbed a map, and used the fat end of a chopstick to tap in the Tigress and Euphrates. I did one, then Hero did the other. 

After that Dragon added the Dead Sea. I helped him figure out where it belongs on the map, but he did most of the putting it in, while I tapped in the Mediterranean Sea with my fingers. Then Dragon did the Nile and Hero did the Red Sea. Peanut helped pinch in some mountains above our rivers. 

Then we baked it. I reduced the temperature to about 300F, since it was one large cookie, and then took it out when it smelled good and was a touch browned. I think it was around 20 minutes, but I'm not actually sure. If we do this again, I'll take it out slightly less brown; it's just a touch too dry.

It was hard for the kids to wait for the whole thing to cool completely! But once I told them hot cookies melt icing, they were relatively patient. I split the frosting jobs by difficulty; Peanut went first. The kids mixed their own color; she got brown, for the mountains. 

Then Dragon started working on the green fertile areas. We used the grass tip, though he said that it didn't much look like grass. That's partly because I'm a bit out of practice with the frosting toys, and made the icing too soft. But it worked well enough, so we kept going.

Hero got the blue. The various water sections needed to be done last, and snaked around. He even filled his own frosting bag. 

When it was all done, it looked pretty cool! We talked about where the different things are, and what everything is called, and it was fun!

26 April 2016

This Means War!

We played with our math cards today. Lots of War on the living room floor. Hero practiced subtraction, and the small number won. Dragon practiced addition, with the big number winning. He had the biggest War we've had to date -- 4 in a row! And Peanut practiced naming numbers and counting. It was a very pleasant way to do math today!

22 April 2016

On Classical Education: Series Index

I've discovered that Dr. Perrin, of Classical Academic Press, has a lovely series of lectures about Classical Pedagogy, and I'm having a lovely time going through them and learning from what he says about Classical Education, both in terms of why and how, then blogging about what I've learned.

 Dr. Perrin's lectures are available on YouTube:

Eight Essential Principles of Classical Pedagogy
Festina Lente: Make Haste Slowly
Multum Non Multa: Do Few Things, But Do Them Well
Education and Memory: Repetitio Mater Memoriae  
Embodied Learning
Songs, Chants, and Jingles: How Singing Delights Students Makes Learning Permanent 
Wonder and Curiosity: Affection for Truth, Goodness, and Beauty
Educational Virtues: Cultivating Habits of Learning 
Restoring Schole to School: Cultivating Restful Learning
Docendo Discimus: By Teaching We Learn

And an essay from Dr. Perrin:

Once More, What Is Classical Education?

I have several posts written or planned for this series, which can be found here:

Character is the True Aim
Cultivation of Godly Character 
What is a Student? 
Make Haste Slowly
Much Not Many 
Repetition is the Mother of Memory
Embodied Learning
Songs Chants and Jingles
Wonder and Curiosity
Educational Virtues
By Teaching We Learn
Classical Education is Like a Table

18 April 2016

20 Principles: Habit in Religious Life

I've joined a Charlotte Mason study group. I'm already behind. But I'm learning tons anyway, so I'm happy; it's not a race. I've been reading Teaching in the Branches, where Miss Mason outlines some of the principles that underlie the work they did as they were teaching in the various branch schools in her organization. There's a lot of great food for thought, but this really caught my attention:

The next point we have set ourselves to consider is the laying down of lines of habit in the religious life. ... Let us consider the subject as it bears upon habits of thought and of attitude of life and of speech; though indeed all these are one, for every act and attitude is begotten of a thought, however unaware we be of thinking.

The Lord has asked us to acquire a number of habits that, taken together, comprise the heart of our relationship with Him: He commands that we pray, that we read, search, and ponder scripture, that we bring Him our questions and problems. Additionally, that which we might describe as "Christian living" is a way of life that grows out of habits drawn from scripture: we are hard working rather than idle, honest, rather than deceitful. We honor our parents and care for our spouses and children. We turn the other cheek, forgive, and are kind. We care for the widow, the fatherless, and the unfortunate. We are hospitable and generous.

All these things are often thought of as morals or values, but it is doing them habitually that writes them on our hearts, that slowly brings about the mighty change of heart and, through the Grace of Christ, transforms us and overcomes the natural man.

Man is the sum result of what he thinks and does. Habit is the instrument that molds his character and makes of him essentially what he is. Habit can become a monster to tarnish and destroy, yet proper behavioral traits can bring lasting joy and achievement. To say no at the right time and then stand by it is the first element of success. The effect that both good and bad habits have on our lives is all too real to be ignored. 

We don't often talk about it in those terms, but certainly habit plays a big role in our efforts to endure to the end. Many times, the Lord has used the habitual scripture study our family does at the end of the day to speak to me in times of need. And teaching these things, these ideals, habits, and patterns of life to our children is a parent's sacred duty. I think it is our duty because it will give them the tools they need to be strong and resilient and safe in the Lord during the hard times.

Moral Habits, the way to form them and the bounden duty of every parent to send children into the world with a good outfit of moral habits, isn't a subject so much to the front in our thoughts... The moral impulse having been given by means of some such inspiring idea as we have considered, the parent's next business is to keep the idea well to the front, with tact and delicacy and without insistence, and to afford apparently casual opportunities for moral effort on the lines of the first impulse. 
-Charlotte Mason, Teaching in the Branches

Moral habits can and should be at the heart of education because, as David O. McKay said,

Character is the aim of true education; and science, history, and literature are but means used to accomplish the desired end.
-David O. McKay, Gospel Ideals, pp. 440-441

But character is most often a plant of slow growth. Habits of thought are cultivated when we read history and literature with an eye toward noticing the virtues and vices of the characters we encounter. By reading quality literature that shows truly the effects of choices on outcome, we give our children the opportunity to experience vicariously the costs and benefits of different choices, and good books can help us to guide our children toward right living, as well as reenforcing the need and benefit of good religious habit. 

Little Women was the first book where I noticed this effect on myself: the goodness of the March girls left me wanting to become better myself. Since then, I have become much more aware of this aspect of reading, and appreciate the way that a skilled author can inspire without ever preaching. Consistently choosing high quality literature for their education offers our children many opportunities to encounter and admire the results of these religious habits, as well as the lack of those habits - and it allows us the opportunity to discuss it as thoroughly as our children need, without running into concerns about gossip or other difficulties that come with too much discussion of real, live people in our community and acquaintance. Of course, the very best literature is scripture. There is no more direct way path toward wisdom and virtue than by studying scripture, which should hold a primary place in the education of our children.

"Our children should be indoctrinated in the principles of the Gospel from their earliest childhood. They should be made familiar with the contents of the Bible, the Book of Mormon and the Book of Doctrine and Covenants. These should be their chief text books, and everything should be done to establish and promote in their hearts genuine faith in God, in His Gospel and its ordinances, and in His works."
-Wilford Woodruff (source)

Sometimes, dealing directly with the Word can be intimidating, and it is easy to become reliant on devotional books and even church manuals (many of which have much to offer), but none of them can offer our children the strength or depth or power that is in Scripture itself, and you cannot grow into understanding the actual words of the Lord recorded in scripture if you do not meet with and work with the actual text of scripture.

The habit of hearing, and later, of reading the Bible, is one to establish at an early age. We are met with a difficulty that the Bible is, in fact, a library containing passages and, indeed, whole books which are not for the edification of children; and many parents fall back upon little collections of texts for morning and evening use. But I doubt the wisdom of this plan. We may believe that the narrative teaching of the Scriptures is far more helpful to children, anyway, than the stimulating moral and spiritual texts picked out from them in little devotional books.
-Charlotte Mason, Teaching in the Branches, emphasis added

This post is part of a series. You can also visit the series index for more essays inspired by Charlotte Mason's excellent work.

13 April 2016

20 Principles Series Index

I am participating in the Ambleside Online Forums' reading and discussion of Charlotte Mason's 20 Principles, as they are outlined in Brandy Vincel's Start Here. The group schedule is here. There's a lot to think about in all the materials; I don't know that I can take it all in as fast as they're going. But they've invited people to participate and discuss at our own pace, even after the schedule says it's officially time to move on to other things, so I'm excited. Whatever the pace that I manage, there will be growth. And I'm collecting here my posts that are inspired by this study, and this post will be updated as I plan and complete posts over the next several months.

Ambleside Forum Threads: 

Principle 1: Children are born persons. 
Principle 2: Children are born with possibilities for good and for evil.

Inspired by Teaching in the Branches:

Cultivating the Lovely
Habit in Religious Life
Teaching Science and Religion
The Limits of Authority

Inspired by Principle One:

Born Persons

Inspired by Principle Two:

12 April 2016

Psalm 9: Passover Paralles

I sat down to work on studying this Psalm in the days leading up to Easter, having just re-read the Exodus story at the request of my five year old. Which is a really great way to get ready for Easter; I had never before seriously considered the many connections and parallels between the Passover and Easter. You could study just that for a very long time.

So as I studied the chapter and came to verse 9, I thought of the Exodus, and it made the passage much more meaningful. 

It was dramatic, the refuge the Lord provided from the Egyptians. The passage I wrote in the margins is describing some spectacular atmospheric phenomenon. First, there's the Lord's pillar of cloud that's been leading them, but now, with the Egyptians approaching, it moves from the front of the camp to the back. And it's not just a bit of fog. It's a barrier of cloud and fire formidable enough to stop the entire military force of the kingdom of Egypt. All night long, the Egyptians were struggling in profound darkness, but the Camp of Israel has light to work by. That's a lot, but it's not everything; in addition, there's the wind. It's not just a bit of a breeze, but a strong east wind -east winds being consistently associated with destruction in scripture - that blows all night. And even among east winds, this one was something special: it's strong enough to not only split the sea, but also to dry out the seabed. That's no small feat to accomplish, and it was done overnight. So the Israelites go through, and then the Egyptians chase them. Between these big walls of water. Chasing down the Lord's people doesn't go well for them: first the chariots break, then the Lord sends the water rushing back to its place. Interestingly, Moses never asked Pharaoh for freedom, just for a break to go and sacrifice.

The Psalm praises the Lord as a refuge for the oppressed, and it conjured up for me images of this dramatic sheltering refuge behind first an impenetrable wall of cloud and fire, and then between mighty walls of water, where they were simultaneously sheltered and brought to freedom and safety. Far from being forsaken, the Lord had heard their groaning, He heard it when they cried "by reason of the bondage", and His response was so remarkable that we still sing the praises begun by those ancient Israelites. He remembered the lost sons of Israel, and called the Egyptians to account for their evil.

So I went through the chapter like that, and with the Exodus story so fresh in my mind, there were quite a few places that suggested connections between the Psalm and the Exodus. 

But as deeply meaningful as Easter is, the Passover and the Exodus isn't "just" about that. The Lord also identified the parting of the Red Sea as the classic example of revelation

First of all, revelation almost always comes in response to a question, usually an urgent question—not always, but usually. In that sense it does provide information, but it is urgently needed information, special information. Moses’ challenge was how to get himself and the children of Israel out of this horrible predicament they were in. There were chariots behind them, sand dunes on every side, and just a lot of water immediately ahead. He needed information all right—what to do—but it wasn’t a casual thing he was asking. In this case it was literally a matter of life and death.You will need information, too, but in matters of great consequence it is not likely to come unless you want it urgently, faithfully, humbly.
-Jeffrey R. Holland, Cast Not Away Therefore Thy Confidence

The 9th Psalm also has encouragement for the hurting soul in need of revelation, and particularly those who are persecuted or wounded by the choices of other people. 

When he maketh inquisition for blood, he remembereth them: he forgetteth not the cry of the humble.
Have mercy upon me, O Lord; consider my trouble which I suffer of them that hate me, thou that liftest me up from the gates of death:
-Psalm 9:12-13

The phrase "he make inquisition for blood" threw me at first, but after I'd spent a few minutes browsing through verses about blood, I started to get a better sense of the scriptural uses of blood, and it started to make more sense. I then looked into inquisition, which basically means to inquire diligently, or investigate thoroughly. He invesitgates thoroughly the claims of the wronged - the petitions that we put up to Him when we are hurting and wounded. And He won't forget to make it right.

08 April 2016

Coin Patterns

Dragon is weak with patterns, and I thought it would be good to practice identifying money while we practiced the patterns. Turns out that combines two tricky tasks and makes for a very challenging activity.

We aren't worrying about value, yet, just working on correctly naming the various coins. They've been making buckets of new coin designs while I wasn't paying attention, so it turns out that just identifying the coins is a tougher job than it used to be, and the motley collection from our coin jar includes some coins that are spectacularly dirty. But that's life, so I didn't fuss about it. 

We tried a growing pattern the other day, and it proved terribly challenging, so this time we just stuck with repeating patterns. 

Nickel-nickel-penny.  That was the first one. Nope. That's a dime. There are no dimes in my pattern. Nickel-nickel-- What's next? Good. Do it again; I need you to make a second group for this pattern. 

The second one was easier: we had a pattern almost just like it earlier this week.  

Here is a penny pattern. Add two more groups to my penny pattern. No, that's a dime; there are no dimes in my penny pattern. Good. Here's another penny pattern. Make two more groups for my penny pattern. No, don't add to my rows, make your own. Watch out; those aren't pennies. This row is good, but that one has a dime. Try again. 

He was scattered and distracted, but he got there. 

Considering how tricky he found this, I have a feeling that we'll be making more coin patterns next week. Identifying coins is necessary, and patterns are fundamental to all math. Better get good at both. 


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