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30 April 2016

May Watercolor Challenge

Our logo this months is Bell Rock Lighthouse, painted by Joseph Turner in 1819. According to Wikipedia, it's the oldest surviving sea-washed lighthouse. The artist never actually traveled there; they think that he had drawings as reference material when he did this painting.

This month's chapter from Artists' Color Guide is chapter 6, The Reds, which shows how to play with both red and violet. There are some beautiful pictures in the book that could be copied, or you could try imitating one like these, which I found on Pinterest:

And here are a couple of timelapses to have a look at, and see how they build their pictures.

As usual, after you've played around with doing blending and technique practice, try doing a painting. Then stop by the group and post your work so we can all admire your progress!


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
Ordered Affections
Repetition is the Mother of Memory
Repetition and the Habit of Attention
Embodied Learning (part 1)
Embodied Learning (part 2)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
Ordered Affections
Repetition is the Mother of Memory
Repetition and the Habit of Attention
Embodied Learning (part 1)
Embodied Learning (part 2)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

This post is part of a series. Feel free to visit the series index for more thoughts on the writings of Charlotte Mason.

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.

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. 

04 April 2016

April Watercolor Challenge

A couple time lapses to watch:

Then, read The Artist's Color Guide to Watercolor, chapter 5. This starts a new section of the book, where they look at each color of the rainbow, starting with yellows. Read the chapter, then play around with some blending using as many yellows as you have. Then, using the various pictures in the book as inspiration, try a study of something where yellow is the primary color, or even something in a monotone, like the studies that the author included on page 50. 

Finally, do a painting, either copying your artist, or something of your own design. Remember to stop by the group and show off your work; it's so inspiring to see what everyone does!

01 April 2016

Socialism and Agency

In the process of a discussion of current presidential candidates, a very old friend of mine asked me how socialism violates agency. It's a good question.

Somewhere in junior high or high school, they introduced socialism, and I thought, "Hey! Cool! This sounds really close to what they described in Sunday School when we talked about the United Order! I wonder if they're the same thing, and the world is going to come around and figure it out?" Since then I have realized just exactly how unlikely it is that the world would "come around to" and figure out or embrace doing things the Lord's way. That's just not the way our culture is going, unfortunately. However, the question of if they are alike, possibly even the same, is an important one: we are bound by Christian Duty to care for one another, and particularly to care for the poor, the widow, and the unfortunate among us, and our hope for salvation is tied, in part, to our care for each other. So nothing in what I'm saying here should be construed to say that we should abandon the poor or anybody else - I am looking only at if socialism is what ought to be done, if it is consistent with scripture and the teaching of the prophets. The question is not if we ought to help, but is socialism how we ought to do it. To try to look at other options for assisting, in addition to examining socialism's place in LDS theology, is simply too much to take on in a single blog post.

In any case, there are a some superficial similarities between socialism and the United Order, particularly in the claims that each system makes: both systems make the elimination of poverty one of their primary goals, but in spite of this they are not the same. The difference between the systems comes, to a great degree, in how they deal with agency. Under the hood they are not only different, but diametrically opposed. It is not enough that we should try to care for each other: we are required to do it in the Lord's way, and no other way is acceptable.

Agency, as well as devotion to Christ, are the elements present in the United Order that are missing in socialism. Devotion to Christ is a necessary prerequisite for the United Order.

The basic principle of all the revelation on the united order is that everything we have belongs to the Lord; therefore, the Lord may call upon us for any and all of the property which we have, because it belongs to Him. This, I repeat, is the basic principle. [Conference Report, October 1942, p. 55]
-Elder J. Reuben Clark, Jr., quoted in The Law of Consecration

Because it is all His, He can call for any or all of it, at any time and for any reason that He chooses, assisting others being one of the things that He has said the United Order exists to do, though that assistance consistently plays second fiddle to the perfecting of the Saints who are living the Order in the talks that I have read. Socialism, on the other hand, is not at all focused on Christ. It is a purely political system, and indeed, historically, socialist regimes have most often been actively hostile to  religion, which is an extremely unlikely way to do away with the evils of greed and selfishness. To try to eliminate evil from society without both eyes firmly focused on Christ just seems contradictory to me.

But the question posed was focused on the relationship of socialism and agency. I think the best way to approach the question is to return to the beginning, and consider the two plans as proposed in the Premortal Counsel, with particular attention to the methods and effects of the plan that was rejected. One of the key features of that rejected plan - and I believe that this feature is what made it so appealing that a full third of the hosts of heaven wanted it adopted - is that he promised that "not one soul should be lost". No risk of failure, no empty seats; everybody wins. It's a powerful enticement. However, it's not the Father's way: this plan promising success to everyone was not only rejected, but those who continued to embrace it after a certain point were cast out for rebellion.

So why is that? Under our Father's plan, not only is there a risk of failure, but the way is variously described as strait, straight, and narrow, and we are told repeatedly that, although nothing can separate us from our Father's love, "few there be that find [the narrow way]". It is not particularly surprising that God's way of doing things seems somewhat counter-intuitive, but we also know that not only did we accept this plan that anticipates that some will fail, but that we were ecstatic about its adoption.

I think the key to understanding this apparent contradiction is in understanding the method by which our Father intends to assist us in coming to our full potential. Agency is key -so much so that it precedes the Atonement, in that the Atonement only becomes necessary under conditions where we have Agency. It is the capacity to act -and not be acted upon- that allows us the growth that is critical to reaching our potential as Sons and Daughters of God, and joint-heirs with Christ. Regarding this potential, Brigham Young said:

"I wish to notice this. We read in the Bible, that there is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars. In the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, these glories are called telestial, terrestrial, and celestial, which is the highest. These are worlds, different departments, or mansions, in our Father's house. Now those men, or those women, who know no more about the power of God, and the influences of the Holy Spirit, than to be led entirely by another person, suspending their own understanding, and pinning their faith upon another's sleeve, will never be capable of entering into the celestial glory, to be crowned as they anticipate; they will never be capable of becoming Gods. They cannot rule themselves, to say nothing of ruling others, but they must be dictated to in every trifle, like a child. They cannot control themselves in the least, but James, Peter, or somebody else must control them. They never can become Gods, nor be crowned as rulers with glory, immortality, and eternal lives. They never can hold scepters of glory, majesty, and power in the celestial kingdom. Who will? Those who are valiant and inspired with the true independence of heaven, who will go forth boldly in the service of their God, leaving others to do as they please, determined to do right, though all mankind besides should take the opposite course."
-Brigham Young, 20 Feb. 1853, emphasis added, JD 1:309

Brother  Brigham was talking specifically about unthinking deference and obedience to church leaders, but his comment gives great insight into what is necessary for us to reach our full potential - what he calls "the true independence of heaven". This independence, of a necessity, allows the space for people to choose poorly, because only preserving the potential for poor choice can we allow space for the choices that are good and beautiful. Socialism is destructive of Agency because it treats the Sons and Daughters of God as perpetual children, incapable of either providing for themselves, or of demonstrating the necessary virtue to care for their fellow man. It denies that we have the capacity to function under the divinely decreed independent circumstances, and it denies that we have the will to discipline ourselves for our own good or the good of others. It works on the assumption that people will not voluntarily do good, so we must use the power of the State to compel them to do good. This assumption comes directly from our Enemy's plan, rejected from the beginning because of the way it destroys Agency, and with Agency, goes all hope for the growth necessary to reach our potential.

In general, I think that it is good to recall, when we hear of a program that promises to deliver something, even something good, to all without exception, it is very likely that, upon close examination, it will be more in line with Satan's plan than with the Lord's. The only way to guarantee that everybody will succeed is to do away with Agency: otherwise, there will always be those who make uncommon decisions, to both positive and negative effect.

One of the things we touched on as a "for instance" was education. My friend accurately identified our public school system as an example of socialism in America today. He said that it is a place where socialism is serving us well, but I must respectfully disagree. Not only are news articles about poor student performance a dime a dozen, concerns about low reading achievement rampant, there's plenty out there about adults who won't read, and who have a dismal understanding of civics and our Republic is the norm, as is sexually explicit "literature" (surely the opposite of the best books the Lord has commanded we seek learning from), but  to me the most telling is the comparison between what I personally learned as an honors student in high school, and then in two years at UIUC (ranked as a relatively exclusive university), and what 8th graders learned 100 years ago. The 1912 8th grade exit exam left me feeling woefully under-educated. One of the few things the Right and the Left seem able to agree upon is that our schools are failing -- which hardly seems like recommendation for education as a poster child for socialism "working well".

Additionally, when the concept of public schools was introduced, the Brethren were absolutely adamant in their opposition. President Brigham Young, in the 1877 General Conference said this, at once condemning both the principles of socialism and also the specific practice of public education:

“I am opposed to free education as much as I am opposed to taking away property from one man and giving it to another who knows not how to take care of it. .... I now pay the school fees of a number of children who are either orphans or sons and daughters of poor people. But in aiding and blessing the poor I do not believe in allowing my charities to go through the hands of a set of robbers who pocket nine-tenths themselves, and give one-tenth to the poor. Therein is the difference between us; I am for the real act of doing and not saying. Would I encourage free schools by taxation? No! That is not in keeping with the nature of our work..." (Journal of Discourses, vol. 18 p. 357)

The early Brethren actually intended that the Church Education System should be a private school system, and not just the seminaries and institutes that we currently rely on. Brigham Young said in a letter to Karl Maser that "you ought not to teach even the alphabet or the multiplication tables without the Spirit of God", and Elder John Taylor, in a message from the First Presidency (collected here), said:

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. But under our common school system this is not possible... In no direction can we invest the means God has given us to better advantage than in the training of our children in the principles of righteousness and in laying the foundation in their hearts of that pure faith which is restored to the earth. We would like to see schools of this character, independent of the District School system, started in all places where it is possible. (emphasis added)

Sadly, the Saints at that time did not listen, and would not send their children to the church schools, or, if they did, often failed to pay tuition. But the fact remains: at the time the public schools were introduced, the Brethren opposed both the adoption of the public schools, and also spoke forcefully against the socialistic principles that underlie them, condemning both as being inconsistent with the gospel. In fact, as public schools were proposed across the nation, it was most often the parents and pastors who opposed them. One citizen in Massachusetts put it this way:

A government system of education in Prussia is not inconsistent with the theory of Prussian society, for there all wisdom is supposed to be lodged in the government. But the thing is wholly inadmissible here . . . because, according to our theory, the people are supposed to be wiser than the government. Here, the people do not look to the government for light, for instruction, but the government looks to the people. The people give the law to the government. To entrust, then, the government with the power of determining the education which our children shall receive is entrusting our servant with the power to be our master. This fundamental difference between the two countries, we apprehend, has been overlooked by the board of education and its supporters.
-Orestes Brownson, Testimony against proposed Truancy Laws before the Massachusetts Board of Education, 19th Century

100+ years out from the decision to adopt public schools, we see Agency abridged in a myriad of ways. It is distant and arbitrary government, not individuals and families, that determine when a child starts school, what he will study, and to a very large extent, where he will attend, as well as how long he must stay. Government determines how many hours children must attend, and if they are deemed truant, it is parents that are fined and potentially jailed for it. Parents have a holy trust in their children, yet in the eyes of our socialistic system they are deemed incompetent to determine the most basic aspects of their child's education. In my case, this meant that when I met a midwife who agreed to take me as an apprentice, I couldn't even consider doing it seriously: attendance at the public school was compulsory, and completely and wholly incompatible with the odd hours that newborn babies keep. Not only was my Agency thwarted, but it was done so in a way that had life-altering effects, and that from only a single instance of socialized opposition to Agency!

To the extent that socialism is introduced, our Agency is circumscribed. President McKay and others of the leading Brethren have repeatedly described Agency as the greatest of God's gifts to man, next to life itself. If Agency is a gift that is next to life itself in importance, then we should be as reluctant to do destroy to our neighbor's Agency as we are to destroy his life.

Socialism just isn't up to that standard.

Commonplace Sampler: March

"An educated conscience is a far rarer possession than we imagine ... we believe that Latin and Greek must be taught, but that morals come by nature."
-Charlotte Mason, Teaching in the Branches

Well do I remember an experience while speaking to a group of missionaries. After I had invited questions, one elder stood. With tears in his eyes, he asked, “Why did Jesus have to suffer so much?” I asked the elder to open his book of hymns and recite words from “How Great Thou Art.” He read:

And when I think that God, his Son not sparing,
Sent him to die, I scarce can take it in,
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.  

Then I asked this elder to read from “Reverently and Meekly Now.” These words are particularly poignant because they are written as the Lord would express His own answer to the very question that had been asked:

Think of me, thou ransomed one;
Think what I for thee have done.
With my blood that dripped like rain,
Sweat in agony of pain,
With my body on the tree
I have ransomed even thee. …
Oh, remember what was done
That the sinner might be won.
On the cross of Calvary
I have suffered death for thee. 
Jesus suffered deeply because He loves us deeply! He wants us to repent and be converted so that He can fully heal us.
-Russell M. Nelson, Jesus Christ -- The Master Healer, October Conference 2005

 On the other hand,  it is well that they should understand the limitations of authority. Even the divine authority does not compel. It indicates the way and protects the wayfarer and strengthens and directs self-compelling power. It permits a man to make free choice of obedience rather than compels him to obey. In the moral teaching of children arbitrary action almost always produces revolt.
-Charlotte Mason, Teaching in the Branches

"To the Editor of the Times & Seasons:

Sir:—Through the medium of your paper, I wish to correct an error among men that profess to be learned, liberal and wise; and I do it the more cheerfully, because I hope sober-thinking and sound-reasoning people will sooner listen to the voice of truth, than be led astray by the vain pretensions of the self-wise. The error I speak of, is the definition of the word “Mormon.” It has been stated that this word was derived from the Greek word “mormo.” This is not the case. There was no Greek or Latin upon the plates from which I, through the grace of God, translated the Book of Mormon. Let the language of that book speak for itself. On the 523rd page, of the fourth edition, it reads: “And now behold we have written this record according to our knowledge in the characters, which are called among us the “Reformed Egyptian,” being handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech; and if our plates had been sufficiently large, we should have written in Hebrew: but the Hebrew hath been altered by us, also; and if we could have written in Hebrew, behold ye would have had no imperfection in our record, but the Lord knoweth the things which we have written, and also, that none other people knoweth our language; therefore he hath prepared means for the interpretation thereof.”

Here then the subject is put to silence, for “none other people knoweth our language,” therefore the Lord, and not man, had to interpret, after the people were all dead. And as Paul said, “the world by wisdom know not God,” so the world by speculation are destitute of revelation; and as God in his superior wisdom, has always given his Saints, wherever he had any on the earth, the same spirit, and that spirit, as John says, is the true spirit of prophecy, which is the testimony of Jesus, I may safely say that the word Mormon stands independent of the learning and wisdom of this generation. —Before I give a definition, however, to the word, let me say that the Bible in its widest sense, means good; for the Savior says according to the gospel of John, “I am the good shepherd;” and it will not be beyond the common use of terms, to say that good is among the most important in use, and though known by various names in different languages, still its meaning is the same, and is ever in opposition to “bad.” We say from the Saxon, “good”; the Dane, “god”; the Goth, “goda”; the German, “gut”; the Dutch, “goed”; the Latin, “bonus”; the Greek, “kalos”; the Hebrew, “tob”; and the Egyptian, “mon.” Hence, with the addition of “more,” or the contraction, “mor,” we have the word “mormon”; which means, literally, “more good.”

(May 15, 1843.) T&S 4:194.
From the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p299-300

The truth made sense; it tasted good. It wore well, like an old coat.
-Joseph and Emma: A Love Story, vol. 1, p 37

We should begin by recognizing the reality that just because something is good is not a sufficient reason for doing it. The number of good things we can do far exceeds the time available to accomplish them. Some things are better than good, and these are the things that should command priority attention in our lives.
-Dallin H Oaks, Good Better Best, October Conference 2007

"Be courteous to all but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence. True friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation."
-George Washington

God can't use you as He desires until you have learned to be absolutely obedient. Many have faith, and many have love, but few have the fierce self-discipline to be completely obedient.
-Joseph and Emma: A Love Story, vol.1, p232

Stern lawgiver! yet thou dost wear
The Godhead's most benignant grace;
Not know we anything so fair
As the smile upon thy face;
Flowers laugh before thee on their beds;
And fragrance in thy footing treads;
Thou dost preserve the stars from wrong;
And the most ancient heaves, through thee, are fresh and strong.
-Wordsworths's Ode to Duty,
Quoted by Charlotte Mason in Teaching in the Branches

In the matter of the Ideas that inspire the virtuous life, we miss much by our laissez-aller way of taking things for granted.
-Charlotte Mason in Teaching in the Branches

In the Arena Chapel at Padua, we have Giotto's Faith and Infidelity, Love and Envy, Charity and Avarice, Justice and Injustice, Temperance and Gluttony, Hope and Despair, pictured forth in unmistakeable characters for the reading of the unlearned and ignorant. We have the same theme, treated with a difference, in what Mr. Ruskin calls the "Bible of Amiens," where Humility and Pride, Temperance and Gluttony, Chastity and Lust, Charity and Avarice, Hope and Despair, Faith and Idolatry, Perseverance and Atheism, Love and Discord, Obedience and Rebellion, Courage and Cowardice, Patience and Anger, Gentleness and Churlishness,--in pairs of quatre-foils, an upper and a lower, under the feet of each Apostle, who was held to personify the special virtue. But we know nothing about cardinal virtues and deadly sins. We have no teaching by authoritative utterance strong in the majesty of virtue. We work out no schemes of ethical teaching in marble, we paint no scale of virtues on our walls, and no repellent vices. Our poets speak for us it is true; but the moral aphorisms, set like jewels though they be on the forefinger of time, are scattered here and there, and we leaven it serenely to happy chance whether our children shall or shall not light upon the couple of lines which should fire them with the impulse to virtuous living. It may be said that we neglect all additional ethical teaching because we have the Bible; but how far and how do we use it? Here we have indeed the most perfect ethical system, the most inspiring and heart-enthralling, that the world has ever possessed; but, alas, it is questionable whether we attempt to set a noble child's heart beating with the thought that he is required to be perfect as his Father which is in Heaven is perfect.
It is time we set ourselves seriously to this work of moral education which is to be done, most of all, by presenting the children with high ideals. "Lives of great men all remind us we can make our lives sublime," and the study of the lives of great men and of the great moments in the lives of smaller men is most wonderfully inspiring...
-Charlotte Mason in Teaching in the Branches


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