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13 December 2017

On Classical Education: Repetition is the Mother of Memory

Memory work, recitation, and a classical Charlotte Mason education


This post is part of a series:

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




Between the time I've been spending working on Scripture Memory Work ideas for By Study and Faith, and listening to various podcasts dealing with memory work and recitation, and also doing our first effort at having end of term exams, I've been thinking a lot about memory and memory work lately. In listening to Dr. Perrin's lecture, Education and Memory: Repetitio Mater Memoriae, one of the striking things he said, paraphrasing John L. Gregory's book, The Seven Laws of Teaching, is this:


The last law is the law of repetition, the Law of Review... he says, "knowledge has been thought into the minds of the pupils, and it lies there in greater or less completeness, to feed thought, to guide and modify conduct and to form character, what more is needed after we have taught children? The teacher's work seems to be ended, but difficult work remains, perhaps the most difficult. All that has been accomplished lies hidden in the minds of pupils, and lies there as a potency, rather than as a possession. What process shall fix into active habits the thought potencies which have been evolved? What shall mould into permanent ideals the conceptions that have been gained? ... The law of confirmation and of ripening of results may be expressed as follows: the completion, test, and confirmation of the work of teaching must be made by review and application." And he says that, unless we are reviewing, we're really not teaching. He says that we should be reviewing as much as one third of the time. That's how important it is, to make learning permanent.


When we had the kids in violin lessons, we were fortunate enough to have fantastic teacher who used a fantastic method: the Suzuki method. The more I learn about Suzuki, the more that I like it. I've been listening to a number of things that Andrew Pudewa says about memory, and one of the things he talks about is the time that he spent in Japan, studying with Dr. Suzuki. And he tells a story about an Australian student who came in, and was given a bowing exercise, and asked to do it 10,000 times. The student, of course, presumed this was hyperbole, and did nothing of the sort. But at the next lesson, Dr. Suzuki stopped him after he'd played only briefly, and asked him if he'd done it. Upon hearing the admission that it had not been done, Dr. Suzuki's response was simple: "Please do." Mr. Pudewa later asked one of the Japanese students if she thought that Suzuki was serious, and genuinely wanted a whole 10,000 times of practice on this little bowing exercise. The girl said that of course he did. I imagine that, if you did a bowing exercise -or anything, really- 10,000 times, you would have made that learning permanent. Inspired by this story, I started doing certain martial arts exercises and counting them, with an eye toward eventually reaching 10,000 repetitions. I've done more than 5,000 now, and this is a powerful way to really master the fundamentals!

Mr. Pudewa then talks about the difference between the Eastern approach to repetition and the Western approach. In English, we have a couple of sayings that deal with repetition:


If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. 
  -and- 

Third time's the charm.

So, third time's the charm, but after that, we tend to view things as drudgery. Unnecessarily beating a dead horse. In the Eastern cultures, they deal with repetition very differently. Mr. Pudewa shared a proverb he'd learned during the three years he spent in Japan studying with Dr. Suzuki:


一万回分かり始まります。
   -or-
10,000 times, then begins understanding.


The reason that we return to the classics -or to scripture- is that there's more there than can be learned in an afternoon. If, in looking at the Bible, we say, "Oh, yes, I read that," and then think that we are done, we have missed the most beautiful things scripture has to teach us: it is only through returning and rereading, pondering, and letting it soak into us, that we begin to understand its teachings. Likewise, it is foolishness to think that, after a single sheet of math facts our child has mastered them. Sure, he can show comprehension of a math topic in a single afternoon, but if we think we are done and never revisit the exercise then it's not going to stick. The learning will not be permanent, and he will not be able to call upon it to assist with later, more complected problems. Which is why our family does timed tests: 100 problems in 5 minutes takes a lot of repetition to work up to. The problems must be automatic, or they can't do them that fast. And automatic, permanently learned, perpetually available out of his own head, is exactly what I'm looking for with math facts. Interestingly, Hero(11) has learned a number of important character lessons in doing his timed tests. For instance, he will tell me now, as he's sitting down to take a practice test, about how if he stresses about going quickly, he knows that it will slow him down, so he just takes it as it comes, and tries to stay relaxed under pressure. I had no idea that making him learn addition and subtraction facts for timed tests was going to teach that, but it's a fantastic lesson. And he knows those math facts really really well.

As is the case so often in a Classical Education, the "academic work" is as much a vehicle for learning life lessons and character lessons as it is an end unto itself: being well prepared to meet adult economic goals is almost a fringe benefit. The most important parts of education all happen in the soul.

Here's a short clip from a moving talk that Elder Scott gave in Conference a few years ago: 


The same benefits that Elder Scott talks about from memorizing scripture, that of having it available to use, to be of comfort, to assist us in time of need, is also true of other things that we memorize.

Mr. Pudewa talked about how he would ask his violin students to continually be reviewing their old pieces, and that the result was that, once a student had completed the 10 book series, they had some 15+ hours of music memorized: they were constantly reviewing the old songs, with the result that if a Book 8 student (college level) was playing a Book 1 song, they would play it like a Book 8 student - much more beautifully and musically than what they had done when they were a Book 1 student. Additionally, having that much music internalized like that, he said, would give them an edge in activities like improvising and composing: it gives them a deep well to draw from when they want to become creative. After listening to this, when I was working up exam questions for my kids this week, one of the things that I am having them do is I'm having them play all their old Suzuki songs as well as all the folk songs they've learned. Although we haven't been perfectly diligent about review work, and certainly not systematic about it, when I had Hero play his Suzuki songs for me, he was able to get through all but one of them. I made note of the ones that were a little less polished, and we'll make those review songs that get focused on in the next term. I'll also have him play the folk songs he's learned before we complete our exams. Our usual practice routine for violin is that they should practice one new song, an old song, and an exercise, and that's the minimum that it takes to say they have "practiced". Perhaps it's not so surprising it's working so well: that that falls right in line with Dr. Perrin's suggestion that we ought to spend around a third of our time on review. Honestly, I wish that when I had been learning piano, I had done this. I spent years and years studying the piano, but if I don't have music, I can't play: I seldom memorized, and songs that had been "passed off" were seldom ever played again; in many cases, once they were passed off I returned the music to my teacher and never saw it again. The difference between that style of teaching and Suzuki teaching is already striking; I'm seriously considering working on memorizing more piano music, and it's definitely informing the way that I want to approach my banjo learning.

All this repetition, however, must be approached correctly: if we beat the information into the student, but in the process, beat the love of learning out of them, then we have failed. Miserably.


"The only way to produce a scholar is to produce a student who loves to learn!"
-Andrew Pudewa, "What Are We Really Doing Here?"


It's ok to use worksheets to practice your math facts, particularly if you have a child like Dragon(7) who asks for them. But if your child hates them, then it's ok to find other methods to practice math facts: we need to know our students well enough to be able to present things palatably for them. But we also need to know them well enough to recognize when they are not yet mature enough to realize, not just the value of a certain skill they will need later in life, but the beauty of a truth that we are presenting them.



Knowledge of truth, combined with proper regard for it, and its faithful observance, constitutes true education. The mere stuffing of the mind with a knowledge of facts is not education. The mind must not only possess a knowledge of truth, but the soul must revere it, cherish it, love it as a priceless gem. 
-Joseph F. Smith


Our use of repetition needs to be aimed to assist them to learn to love the truth that we are teaching, to assist them to see the beauty in the regularity of the patterns of mathematics, the wonders of the natural world, the heritage of beauty we share in the folk songs or classical music and art. It's ok if they don't start out loving math; part of the purpose of education is to order the affections, to learn to love the truth -- and math is full of truth. If loving the good, the true, and the beautiful  always came naturally we wouldn't need to be educated! So it's ok and even expected that there will be resistance at times. The teacher's job is to help the student see past their initial distaste.


Learning new truths is an exhilarating experience and a good teacher awakens that joy.
-Elder John A. Widstow, quoted in Teach Ye Diligently by Boyd K. Packer, p 194



Distaste for lovely, true things (such as math) is a problem with us, not the math. But how we meet that resistance, as we work through the teaching and reviewing that we do, it matters. In addition to overcoming distaste -teaching our students to love the lovely- we also need to help guard them against other pitfalls, such as pride.


When a tool we are using sends a child the message, "I know," and builds up that pride, and kills curiosity, and the desire to learn more, then something has malfunctioned. ... Something has gone wrong at that point. Even if it's just the interaction of that particular child with this particular tool of learning. 
-Brandy Vincel, The Late Great Memory Debate


I think that one way that we can try to avoid building up pride is to be choosy about what we memorize, and to remember the purpose for which we do it. It's not really about knowing all the Presidents or all the States and Capitols (though those may be useful); it's about educating the heart. We should choose how we spend our time with that in mind.

It's also interesting that Miss Mason didn't talk about memory work -the phrase actually doesn't appear in her volumes- she talked about "recitation", which she felt was accessible to all children. 

Memory work, recitation, and a classical Charlotte Mason education
Photo credit: David Vandagriff; used by permission.
I suspect that, not only is it accessible to all children, it's far more accessible to adults than we would like to think: we know, we have memorized, vast amounts of information. Every word you speak or write in your day has been not only memorized, but internalized to the point of being able to call on it mostly without thinking, at any point. Most of us can say what's on our minds with a great degree of nuance. There is a sizable body of memorized knowledge that you use to accomplish your usual daily tasks. Stories that you know, from the Three Little Pigs to the most difficult texts, if you can tell about them without looking at them, then you have them memorized. The same with the hymns you hum while you work, the songs on the radio, the sayings that your mother told you and that you now tell your own children. All these things are drawn from our memory: they are memorized. Most of them in the course of just living life. The trick, when intentionally self-educating, and in educating our children, is to harness those organic processes and use them intentionally. I think this is why Miss Mason chose to focus on recitation, rather than memorization: it pulls the things learned more towards the every day. She's signaling her intent that students should plan to use the things they are learning by heart.



09 December 2017

Bullet Journaling For the Homeschooling Mama

I've been getting a lot of questions about my bullet journal lately. A bujo is amazing -- but I decided at the outset that I can't have the kind that is secretly an art journal, like what you see on Pinterest and Instasgram: I need mine to be functional. First and foremost, it's my planner. But it's also that notebook that everyone says you ought to keep to keep track of things, write down ideas as they come, and track All The Things. They're right. But nobody sells a planner that does all the things I need it to do. Happily, a bujo is what I need -- and if my needs change and the thing that worked last month falls on its face this month... I build next month differently. It's responsive: as my planning needs evolve, so does my planner.

Bullet Journaling For the Homeschooling Mama


Bullet Journaling For the Homeschooling MamaI got started because I had a blessing a number of years ago that said I needed to learn to be a "master of time management". It's truly a case of the Lord taking weak things and making them strong: I used to double book routinely, and I've been known to triple book myself. The most laughable example was that time I had my visiting teachers AND a thing I no longer remember happening at the same time as a piano lesson. A lesson I taught at the same time every week. It was pretty embarrassing. It was very me.

I tried using my phone's calendar, but hated it. And I forgot to put things in it. And frequently neglected to look at it.

It was not effective.
A bujo, built in a $.50 notebook is.

Bullet Journaling For the Homeschooling Mama

I cover it with scrapbook paper and contact paper because that makes it tough -- my scripture journal has been drug around to church and back and wherever else since 2013, and it's still going strong, so I knew a composition book could take the kind of beating a planner has to be able to stand up to.

Bullet Journaling For the Homeschooling Mama

Bullet Journaling For the Homeschooling MamaThis year, I found a notebook with graph paper. It rocks. I didn't buy enough; if my book gets full I may have to do something crazy and order one from Amazon or something, but it's totally be worth it, even if it costs more than the back to school sales I usually get my notebooks at. (It better last; the ones on Amazon are stupid expensive compared to the August sales!) Anyway. Get a graph paper composition book; you won't be sorry!

My bujo started out as a place to track my goals, and my long-term learning efforts, especially for Japanese. I actually didn't build the calendars right away; it was goal tracking I cared about first. A year later, the way I do it has evolved, but goals and long-term projects are still a huge part of my notebook. The instructional video for how to do a bullet journal says to set up your calendars first, but I don't follow directions well... I started out with what interested me: the "collections" or goal trackers.



It works great for that kind of thing: of the 14 goals that I listed a year ago, I've made satisfactory progress on most of them, and a several are completed. There are a couple of them that I gradually dropped: 14 is really quite a few, which I knew at the time that I made them. But I never have been good at moderation in the things I want to accomplish. I always bite off more than I can chew... but in attempting to do something huge, I usually end up actually accomplishing something satisfactory.


Don't tell me the sky's the limit when
there are footprints on the moon.
-Unknown

Bullet Journaling For the Homeschooling Mama

I made a relatively quickly built a monthly planner, which isn't anything fancy. When I did it in the notebook with lines I did it as a list; in my graphpaper notebook that doesn't work well, so I switched to a regular calendar format. Either way, I end up with a two pages, and room around the edges for notes. Space to jot notes has become a thing that I plan into my bujo in a couple of places. It would be nice to have a premade calendar, but this is almost the only page that it would work to do that, and so it's worth it to me to build these. It really doesn't take that long: probably about 10 minutes per month. For things further out than that, I have what's called a "Future Log" to keep track of them. There's not actually that much that gets scheduled that far out: dental cleanings, and Dragon's Tiger Scouts people had the whole year mostly planned out, a handful of things for our homeschool group... usually months will have 3-4 items on them when I go to put them on the bigger calendar, so you can get a lot of months on a page. 

Bullet Journaling For the Homeschooling Mama

Bullet Journaling For the Homeschooling MamaOriginally, I used a daily to-do list, and didn't build a weekly spread. But I found that daily lists meant that I was moving a lot of things to a new list a lot of days: although it worked better than the nothing I'd had previously, it wasn't efficient. However, I have tons of things I want to accomplish each week, but I just slide them in the cracks where they fit, and that's hard to plan out super specifically. However, the list helps make it happen more often. So I didn't want to just drop the daily list, like this one from last year. Not entirely, anyway.

So instead of a new to-do list every day, I've moved to a 2-page weekly spread that basically minds all my things that I want to accomplish in the week: appointments, things with deadlines, ongoing projects, lesson plans, daily chores, and space for notes. There's almost always some kind of notes that go with the week's events. I do the days of the week in Japanese, which has helped me to finally get comfortable using those. As I've figured out the vocabulary, some of my list headings are usually in Japanese, too: familiarity breeds fluency, and there's nothing like writing it out every week to make it familiar!

Bullet Journaling For the Homeschooling Mama

The main section on the first page is the weekly calendar: on the right, there's a list of appointments, with times and typically places. On the left is the to-dos that have a specific deadline: things that MUST be done by a certain time or on a certain day. This one (still only partly filled out) is for next week. I've already added a dentist visit, and I still need to look at the monthly calendar to see what else needs to be on here.

Bullet Journaling For the Homeschooling Mama

Bullet Journaling For the Homeschooling MamaBelow that is my daily habits chart. I took the Sweep & Smile course that Mystie Winkler offers. (Totally worth the price, btw.) The best parts of that course are where she talks about the purpose of homemaking, and connects our work at home to our service to the Lord. But the most practical bits were the parts where she helped us to set up routines to get things done. It's been totally revolutionary: I actually kind of feel on top of my house from time to time now. Sometimes. (As opposed to always drowning.) That's partly attitude shift, but partly it's new skills. And I track and maintain those skills in this section. I also mind some of my self-care and my martial arts practice here.

Can I just say how much I enjoy coloring in those boxes? I keep the book open in my kitchen, next to a bag of colored pencils. I switch colors nearly every box. The more I do, the happier my page looks. I love coloring boxes; I will write things down after they're done just so I can color a box. It's ok to chuckle; I do. But it works.

Bullet Journaling For the Homeschooling MamaNext to my routine tracker, I track the ongoing study projects: I decide (kind of realistically) how much I think that I can do this week, and draw some boxes. Usually I have leftover ones, but typically over a couple of weeks everything gets at least a little bit of attention. Which is how I did so well on this year's Resolutions: small measurable goals, monitored regularly. And boxes that I love to color in.

It was 6 or 8 months from when I started using a bujo before it occurred to me to put my lesson plans in my notebook. I had them on my computer before, and it was an ok system, but it's hard to have them there, because then when a kid is on my computer (a couple of Hero's books are online etxts of classics that are out of copyright) I can't check on my plans and get the next thing ready. Now that Miss Kitty is starting to do a little bit of school, I find that I have to be much more efficient: I needed my plans more where I can get them when I need them. They are *much* more accessible in my notebook than they are on my computer. And in doing them, I needed a week-at-a-glance schedule because I have a plan for the week, but we don't do the same thing every day, and we don't hit everything every week. I asked the ladies of the Ambleside Online facebook group how they plan, they kindly showed me, and that's when things started to click for me with scheduling school in my notebook.

First, I make a grid for each of the kids that shows what books they're reading and what sections they should be doing each week. Hero's is pretty busy; Miss Kitty's is super simple. Dragon has one, too. Each one is customized to what that kid is studying. Subjects that are just "do what's next" kinds of things just get listed at the bottom, which helps me remember them when I make my weekly schedule of boxes to color.

Bullet Journaling For the Homeschooling Mama

In theory we do school six weeks on one week off year round. In reality, it often takes us 7 or even 8 weeks to work through my six week plan. This happens for a number of reasons: I'm an over-planner, perpetually optimistic about what we can accomplish. Inevitably something comes up (today we had cousins in town from Colorado unexpectedly). Life happens. The great thing is, I just cross off what we do, and pick up where we left off the next time. It works out great. We have certain things that are daily no matter what; the stuff on my schedule is kind of looped: we finish one week before doing much in the next one. I've got some larger-scale planning here on the blog that I refer to when I'm making this chart;  I also use the Ambleside Online schedules when I make these. Not only are the book selections at Ambleside excellent, but they also have a very realistic sense of what can actually be done in a week, which is super helpful.

Bullet Journaling For the Homeschooling MamaI've also got a page that's supposed to help me do our drills for Japanese. In reality, this system needs tweaking still: I've got a breakdown between the planning and the actually doing it. But even with that issue, having it planned out means that I'm getting it done occasionally, which is more than we were doing before. More would be better; some is good.

Once I've got my 6 week schedule, it's time to make a weekly schedule. This means that I count up how many days I think it's going to take to do each thing, and draw a box for each one of them. Math and violin get 5 boxes each: they're done every day. The kids get some kind of writing every day, but it varies: Hero can expect to split his days between grammar work, spelling lessons, and written narrations -- sometimes more than one category in a day. Dragon's load is a little lighter: he's not doing written narrations yet, but he does copy work most days. Some readings we do only once a week. Plutarch and Shakespeare are actually looped, so we'll do several weeks of the one, then switch and do the other for a while.

Bullet Journaling For the Homeschooling Mama

When I put things on the schedule, I have three sections: one for each kid and one for the things we all do together. As always, because I'm a chronic overscheduler, there are going to be empty boxes at the end of the week. But because I cross things off the six week chart, the things that get missed in one week get hit another week. It's rare for something to be dropped altogether. I've developed a feel for how many boxes we should have colored in at any given point in the week, so I can monitor how much we're doing at a glance, and having the other chart keeps us on track over the long haul, so although they look a little bit duplicative, they're not really. I use washi tape between the lines because it makes a sharp distinction between the sets of work, and because it's pretty. Also it's fast and easy to put on.

Bullet Journaling For the Homeschooling MamaUnder my lesson plans, I've got a block for taking notes: addresses for places we need to go, things I want to remember, stuff I want to ask somebody... all kinds of stuff ends up there. And next to that is my week's to-do list. I love the Japanese phrase for this: "things I want to do". That about sums it up perfectly. These are things that I'd like to accomplish or that I need to accomplish, but that don't have a particular deadline. If I want to work on a thing more than once, it gets a second box. This week was pretty typical: there were several boxes that didn't get colored. A half-colored box means that I worked on it, but it's not done.

At the end of each week, I build the next week's page. Takes about 20 minutes, but it's such an amazing tool for keeping things humming all week that it's totally worth the time. The boxes for lesson plans tend to be the last thing added, but I hate facing Monday morning without them, so I work hard to make sure they're ready to go before I sleep Sunday night. 

Bullet Journaling For the Homeschooling MamaThere's other stuff I do in my book, too. This will be the second year that I've done a list for Christmas cards. It is currently telling me that I need to get hopping. But it's set up so that I can mark each family as we write the card and again when it's actually mailed. That was so nice to be able to check on last year.

There's a page for menu planning. Which takes the thinking right out of it, and I can make a menu so much faster now (and without feeling the need to whine on Facebook!). Getting the menu made quickly and painlessly is good!

Bullet Journaling For the Homeschooling MamaThe menu maker is stratigically located at the front of the notebook, as is my birthday calendar. This calendar was one place where I allowed myself to get a little arty. It's based on this layout I found on Pinterest. Making it arty makes it nice to look at, which makes me more likely to use it... and I've actually been kind of successful at calling people and telling them happy birthday since I made it! That's huge. It's another thing that I'm not at all good at doing, but I think the tool will help me be better at connecting with my family on their day.

Bullet Journaling For the Homeschooling MamaI've also used the notebook for taking notes at my little kids' violin lessons. Hero doesn't need that kind of support as much anymore, as he's moving nicely toward more independence in a number of areas, but for my younger kids, it was really nice to have notes on what their teacher had said. We're between teachers right now, which makes those notes especially important, as she gave them some things to work on until we find a new teacher.

I've planned out special projects in the planner as well. This page is one I did when I wanted to make pegdolls for A Winter's Tale, which was our most recent Shakespeare play.

Bullet Journaling For the Homeschooling Mama

This style of tracker I've somewhat moved away from, because my weekly page has taken it all in, but for much of this past year, these were the backbone of my progress: a list of things I want to do, with days across the top, and color in the boxes on the days when I get it done.

Bullet Journaling For the Homeschooling Mama

Hopefully peeking into my book is helpful to you. A bullet journal is a fantastic system. Good luck building one that will work for you!

06 December 2017

Psalm 17: Boldness Before God

Come Boldly Before the Throne of God



Hear the right, O Lord, attend unto my cry, give ear unto my prayer, that goeth not out of feigned lips.
-Psalm 17:1


This Psalm starts out with a plea for the Lord to "hear the RIGHT": right comes from the Hebrew tsehdek, meaning a national, moral, or legal right, also equity or, figuratively, prosperity. It's translated as "righteousness", "just", or "justice". The entry in Strong's is lengthy and a lot of it is pretty interesting. It comes in a masculine form (tesdeq), used 157 times throughout the Old Testament, and in a feminine form (tsedeqah), used 119 times and found mainly in poetic literature:


"The first usage of tsedeq is: 'Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgement; thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty; but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbor' (Lev. 19:15); and of tsedaqah is '[Abram] believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness' (Gen. 15:6). ... [there is a] two-fold significance: relational and legal. On the one hand, the relationships among people and of a man to his God can be described as tsedeq, supposing the parties are faithful to each other's expectations. It is a RELATIONAL WORD. ... On the other hand "righteousness" as an abstract or as the LEGAL STATUS of a relationship is also present in the Old Testament. ... The books of Psalms and of the prophets particularly use the sense of "righteousness" as a state... Tsedeq and tsedaqah are legal terms signifying justice in conformity with the legal corpus, the justice of the king as judge, and also the source of justice, God Himself. ... The verbs associated with "righteousness" indicate the practicality of this concept. One judges, deals, sacrifices, and speaks righteously; and one learns, teaches, and pursues after righteousness. Based upon a special relationship with God, the Old Testament saint asked God to deal righteously with him."


Affected as we all are by the Fall, it's a bold cry, "Hear the right, O Lord", which draws on the covenant relationship of both Israel in general, and of David as king in particular, as he is the author of this Psalm. Like the Old Testament saints, modern saints enjoy a covenant relationship with Deity, entered into in both the waters of baptism and also in the temples. It is the strength of the special relationship -the covenant relationship- that allows saints then and now to approach Deity with such boldness.


Hear the right, O Lord, attend unto my cry, give ear unto my prayer, that goeth not out of feigned lips. Let my sentence come forth from thy presence; let thine eyes behold the things that are equal.
-Psalm 17:1-2


Equal here, comes from a word that means rectitude or uprightness, adding to this sense of confidence before the Lord that this passage conveys.

Here I am.
I am unafraid of Thy judgement.
Pass sentence on me; you will see that I am upright.

Perhaps it was the David's bold cry Paul was thinking of when he admonished the Hebrews to labor to "enter in to [Christ's] rest" and then went on saying:


Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. 
-Hebrews 4:16


I love this balance that you see in Paul's writings, between grace and works. It makes perfect sense: if you let these two principles get out of balance with each other, you go too far in either direction, then you actually destroy the need for a Savior: Too much reliance on works is pride. It's the mistaken idea that you can earn heaven. But of course all have fallen short of the glory of God, save Christ alone. None of the rest of us has any hope of ever being able to life the perfect, sinless life necessary to earn exaltation. To the extent that we rely on our works, that we try to earn heaven, we are saying, "I don't need a Savior; I can do this on my own." This hubris is doomed to failure.

On the other hand, if we let our pendulum swing to far to toward grace, and begin to deny the necessity of putting forth our fullest effort, we deny that our works matter. But if our works don't matter, then we are essentially saying that there is no functional difference between goodness and badness. And if there's no difference... there is no need for grace. Denying the necessity of works actually, ironically, destroys grace by making it irrelevant.

Grace and works are opposite principles that define each other: Christ commands us to do the works we've seen Him do -- works are an inescapable part of being Christian. BUT. While it is good and right to do good things, to keep commandments, and all that that entails, each right choice only serves for that instance -- they do not cover those times where we fall short, as we all inevitably do. Thus the absolute dependence on Christ's grace.

This duality between faith and works makes the David's confidence intriguing.

Here I am: search me. I have nothing to fear. 

There's actually several verses about this kind of thing. I collected some of them into a scripture chain:

1 John 4:18 -- Perfect love casts out fear
Moroni 8:16 -- Moroni is bold because he's not afraid
Acts 4:31 -- Boldness comes through the Holy Ghost
Hebrews 10:19 -- Repentance brings boldness
Alma 38:12 -- Boldness, but not overbearance
Hebrews 4:16 -- Approach God boldly through grace
Psalm 17:1-2 -- David is bold because of righteousness

Thinking about all this reminded me of the quote from the Lectures on Faith:


Let us here observe, that three things are necessary in order than any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation. First, the idea that He actually exists. Secondly, a correct idea of His character, perfections, and attributes. Thirdly, an actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing is according to His will. 


I think that third point is key: we need to know that we are living in compliance with God's will. This isn't something that's nice for those favored few; this is a thing that each one of God's children needs - hungers for. Interestingly, the scriptures in my scripture chain indicate that it comes down to the very first principles of the Gospel: faith, repentance, and the Holy Ghost.

David saw with an eye of faith, took confidence from repentance, and from the Holy Ghost.
Do we?


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29 November 2017

The Study of Nature: Finding Native Clay

We went to one of the "wilder" of the parks -- less sculpting by the big machines, less manicured, more natural, because I wanted to see if we could take some of the things that Hero and I have been reading in Madam How Lady Why, about how water sculpts the coasts of England, and find some of the same kinds of action happening a bit closer to home. The outing was successful beyond my wildest expectations.

First of all, we found the stream that I thought that I remembered -- and it being fall, it's done like a number of the small water ways around here, and it's mostly dried up. Which was perfect: we could climb right into the stream bed, and with a little care the kids stayed out of the water (I threatened that if they got soaked we'd immediately go home) and had a good time checking out the stream's banks. We saw where water had undercut, and followed the stream bed a little, just fooling around exploring. It's amazing how often fantastic things happen when we look like we're just playing outside: the trick is to learn to be observant and to ask good questions while you play. (John Muir Laws is great for learning good observation and question skills.) The importance of play is easy to overlook, but it's during play that you see the serendipitous discoveries that happen as the kids explore the environment.

The Study of Nature: Finding Native Clay

And that's how it happened this time. First, I asked Hero a few questions to help him see the way that water works on our land, and find connections between his reading and the real world, so that we could learn to see in new ways, the way that our book is teaching. The book is suggesting the possibility of a type of intense learning through careful observation that I'd never thought was possible, and I'm really loving the way that it's starting to shape our thinking. So I asked a few questions to get encourage the connection between our environment and the book. It took maybe 5 minutes. Then, I stepped back and they started playing. They found a log that had fallen across the stream, bridging the gap, which was a lot of fun.

The Study of Nature: Finding Native Clay

I didn't take pictures of the digging process (I wish I had, but I didn't realize anything important was happening, at the time), but Dragon got down under that log, and started banging and digging away at the bank, while my friend Mrs. T. and I chatted and played with her baby, and the other kids did other things -- and pretty soon both boys were digging, because they'd found this amazing clay -- it felt more than a little bit like play-doh, straight out of the ground. They brought over some for the baby to play with; she wasn't having anything to do with it at first, but Hero was persistent and she did eventually check it out. Which meant that the moms got to check it out, too. I didn't get a picture of the clay balls that I told the kids they could bring home, but I did think to get a shot of Dragon's feet. He was impressively muddy; this kid is an all-in type of kid!

The Study of Nature: Finding Native Clay

Happily, a lot of that came off as we walked over to the playground and back. So it's not all on my kitchen floor, needing to be swept up!

So, this morning, we got it out and started playing with it. The kids wanted to make something from it. I knew just enough to know that it probably needed to be cleaned up somehow, to make it more usable. Hurray for Google, right? I found instructions pretty easily: dissolve the clay in water, and pour it off.

The Study of Nature: Finding Native Clay

The Study of Nature: Finding Native Clay

The clay floats, forming a solution with the water, and the dirt sinks. So you can pour off the good stuff, and dump the parts that aren't usable.

The Study of Nature: Finding Native Clay

Once we got into the process, I was feeling a little unsure about how to go about getting the clay back out of the water, so I turned to YouTube to see if I could find an example of what it looks like when it's done, and I'm glad I did: turns out that, you can do a lot of pouring in this process. You pour the clay-water off pretty quickly, and that leaves behind your sediment. We had a lot more sand that I'd been expecting.

The Study of Nature: Finding Native Clay

Then, you let it sit some more and the water starts to separate back out, and you can pour that off too. It starts pretty quickly: this picture was taken after maybe 10 or 15 minutes, and you can already see the clear water layer forming on top.

The Study of Nature: Finding Native Clay

After it had sat for a few minutes -- I think it was maybe half hour, but it could have been a little more -- there was quite the layer of mostly clear water. Pouring it off turned out to be a little tricky, so I left it to sit a while longer and tried a scoop the second time.
The Study of Nature: Finding Native Clay

We had two containers, and the larger one looks like it's going to take  just a little bit longer. It's interesting to see the variation between the smaller batch and the larger. The ball of clay in the big bowl was considerably larger than what went into the mason jar, and so the solution was a fair amount thicker, and it seems like it's taking a little longer to separate. Or it could be that the water is spread out over the larger surface. I don't really know. But I think that getting the water off this one will be a bigger challenge.

The Study of Nature: Finding Native Clay
We spent a while, pouring, waiting, scooping, and pouring again, trying to get as much water out as possible, while losing as little clay as possible. It's pretty tricky: if you disturb the clay layer, it sends up clouds of clay particles into the water layer. And it's really easy to disturb it. I think that the clay particles must be pretty lightweight. But after a while, we'd made some progress, and I started thinking about what I wanted to sacrifice to be a filter for these. They need to stay separate, because Hero had a larger lump, and had done nearly all the work with his, and the little kids had combined theirs and had a lot more help with the process, agreeing that whatever clay comes out at the end, they will split evenly. So it's problematic to just put the two containers together and work with a single lump, although that would simplify things.

I wish I knew how well this stuff is going to wash out of the clothes and fabric we use.
I need to check if we're freezing tonight... I wonder how that would affect things.

The kids want to get some more clay, and have been debating if they think it would be best to go back soon, in spite of the cold, or wait until spring, and risk the water being in the way. I've never paid enough attention to the stream to have any idea how full it gets in the spring and summer. We'll have to wait and see on that one. I am not super excited about digging in the cold, myself, and the filtration process is going to be tough the more we get below freezing, which should happen any time here. Whenever it is we go, I'm loving the way that they're learning to think things through and plan how to do what they want to accomplish.

I also started to study how to get the clay to a point where it's usable, and figure out how to go about making it into a thing. Nobody's really decided what they want to build yet, but before we can make a project, we need to have workable clay. Looking at this tutorial for using local clays, it looks like it may be worth our while to call the local pottery shop and see if they can help us out at all with firing our projects. I don't think that the oven is going to be enough. But the site does have a procedure for getting the clay ready to work. This process is going to take a while, I'm thinking. Lots of evaporation that needs to happen.

Which is what the guy said when I called the local pottery shop: get it wet and remove the impurities, then work on drying it out. And the drying process isn't quick. Unfortunately, it doesn't sound like we're going to be able to have it fired at the pottery shops, so whatever we do will still be just messing around. Or maybe we'll learn from the survivalist websites how to fire things in the backyard. I don't know. But we've had a good time learning about this process. It's pretty interesting to see what we can do with fancy dirt that the kids dug up while they were playing!



26 November 2017

Switching Languages in the Gospel Library {Tutorial}

One of the best ways to integrate your adopted language into your daily life is to do some of your scripture study in it. Additionally, reading the scriptures in another language is a great way to see familiar passages in a new light. Using the Church's Gospel Library app for this is actually really easy. I'm using an iPhone, but I would imagine that it would be similar on Android devices.

First, pull up the bookmarks. Make sure you have at least one English bookmark set. The bookmark icon is in the bottom left corner; it looks like a little ribbon.

gospel library tips


Tap the ribbon to pull up the bookmarks menu. If you don't have at least one bookmark set in your English scriptures, do that now. Next to the word "bookmarks" at the top, there's a +. Tap it, and give your bookmark a name.

gospel library tips


Setting a new bookmark should take you back to where you were reading, and there should be a yellow ribbon with the name of your bookmark showing on your place. If you tap the ribbon, it will slide off to the side so you can see the text of the scriptures.


gospel library tips

Now you're ready to switch to your study language. Use the pull down menu to find the settings.

gospel library tips

In the setting menu, you'll see an option for "languages" near the top of the list. It should start out set to English.

gospel library tips

There are a lot of options. They're in order by the English name of the language -- so Japanese, for instance, is under J, and not at the end of the list with non-roman characters.

gospel library tips

Select your language by tapping on it. This will change the whole app to the new language, but don't panic: all you need to get back to English is the bookmark that we did at the beginning. You'll only need to go through the settings menu one time. Once you have selected your language, then all the content currently available in that language will be displayed. Some languages have tons; others have much less. The scriptures will be at the top of the list. Tap the first icon to see what scriptures are in your language.

gospel library tips

For Japanese, the Gospel Library includes the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. You can get a Bible through the Distribution Center, but I'm guessing that there's some copyright issue, because it's not in the app. The reading level of the Book of Mormon is easier than the other volumes of scripture, so that's what I suggest reading first. Be patient with yourself: it's ok to only read a tiny bit. When I started reading the Book of Mormon in Japanese I could only read a sentence at a time, and had to work up to reading whole verses. I'm now in Jacob, and I occasionally have verses that I can read without looking up more than one or two words, which is really exciting. This process can be very slow, but there's no better way to invite the Holy Ghost into your study than to read the scriptures, however slowly, in the new language.

So I have three volumes of scripture to choose from; the Book of Mormon is at the top of the list.

gospel library tips

Selecting the Book of Mormon gives me a list of the books in the volume. The Title Page, Testimony of the Witnesses, and so on are the first line. 1 Nephi is the second line. That's where I like to start.

gospel library tips

Next you choose a chapter; I choose chapter 1.

gospel library tips

And there you are: "I Nephi, having been born of goodly parents..."

gospel library tips

At this point, you set up another bookmark. It's exactly the same as before: tap the ribbon, tap the + sign, name your bookmark.

gospel library tips

At this point, when you look at your bookmarks menu, you'll have at least two: the one in the English scriptures, and the one in your second language. You can use them the switch back and forth between languages without having to mess around with the settings menu: the bookmarks do all the work for you.

gospel library tips



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