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02 September 2019

Charlotte Mason: A Thoroughly Christian Education

It is of utmost importance that our children should in the first place, be taught faith in God. This cannot be left out of our system of education. Every child in our midst should be taught how to obtain a knowledge of God, this should be the cornerstone and foundation of ALL education. 
-George Q Cannon, quoted in A Meeting With the Principle, p5 (emphasis added)

By the time that I was in middle school, I knew that there were parts of my life that were not supposed to touch: school was one world, and church was another world. They each had their own cultures, their own rules, their own groups of friends and acquaintances. I learned very early that the results of trying to blend the two worlds were at best, awkward. In high school when I was attending early morning Seminary, I used my scriptures before school at church, and then carried them to school with me so that I could take them home and have them in the evenings. It felt like carrying contraband, bringing my scriptures to school and putting them in my locker. It felt like cheating the few times I read them during lunch: I knew very well that the scriptures didn't belong in public, but especially not in school: the banishing of prayer from schools, practically, was the banishing of God. If I wanted to pray, it was going to have to be silent. (Later, I learned that it's technically more nuanced than that; but that's what I understood at the time.) He, and thus His word, was not welcome. Knowing that the scriptures were not welcome, it felt like I was risking Big Trouble to have them out or even have them at school at all.

We allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and 'spiritual' life of children, but teach them that the Divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their Continual Helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life.
-Charlotte Mason, 6:xxxi

As we considered if we wanted to homeschool, religious instruction was never something that came up: it never even occurred to me at that point. I knew that some people educated at home for religious reasons, but I did not understand it. Our first reasons had to do with academics and social concerns revolving around bullying and the like. At that time, I still largely thought of education and religion as belonging to completely separate spheres of my life, existing in completely different "buckets", the one mostly irrelevant to the other.

Danger lurks when we try to divide ourselves with expressions such as “my private life” or even “my best behavior.” If one tries to segment his or her life into such separate compartments, one will never rise to the full stature of one’s personal integrity—never to become all that his or her true self could be.
-Russell M Nelson, Let Your Faith Show, April 2014

Learning to allow my faith to intersect with education was disorienting. It should have been obvious, but it was years before I thought to include a prayer at the start of our day: I effectively brought the ban on prayer home with me, because it was so deeply ingrained in how I thought about how to learn. Early on we started to include memorizing scripture in our memory work. But even still, when we started using the Rod and Staff grammar series, published by a Mennonite press, which typically uses examples drawn from the Bible, it felt good --but also illicit: teaching "academic" subjects with "religious" examples and exercises was odd, and sometimes disorienting. I could see that the Spirit approved of, and was directing the integration of faith and education. But it was interacting with the taboos that I absorbed early and well, and it was sometimes uncomfortable. Still, we kept going and I kept trying new things and learning how to do it better. But there was so much more that I still had -have, no doubt- to learn. One of the kind women of Ambleside Online, knowing that I was participating in the 20 Principles study group, suggested that I skip to Charlotte Mason's 20th Principle: that education should be thoroughly Christian, and said that she thought it would help. She was right.

You ought not to teach even the alphabet or the multiplication tables without the Spirit of God.
-Brigham Young, quoted in Karl G. Maiser: A Biography

Miss Mason talked about education as "the handmaid of religion." A handmaid is a servant: she's saying that, when it's in its proper role, education serves religion. It's meant to broaden our sight, and point it toward Him. Education is not primarily an academic or economic activity; it's role is to assist us in developing a godly character.

A man may possess a profound knowledge of history and mathematics; he may be an authority in psychology, biology, or astronomy; he may know all the discovered truths pertaining to geology and natural science; but if he has not with this knowledge that nobility of soul which prompts him to deal justly with his fellow men, to practice virtue and holiness in personal life, he is not a truly educated man. Character is the aim of true education; and science, history, and literature are but means used to accomplish the desired end. Character is not the result of chance work but of continuous right thinking and right acting. True education seeks, then, to make men and women not only good mathematicians, proficient linguists, profound scientists, or brilliant literary lights, but also honest men, combined with virtue, temperance, and brotherly love-men and women who prize truth, justice, wisdom, benevolence, and self-control as the choicest acquisitions of a successful life."
-David O. McKay, Gospel Ideals, pp. 440-441, emphasis added

Miss Mason referred to the "Great Recognition" that parents must come to: that all knowledge comes from God, and is part of one great whole of Truth. Any divisions within Truth are artificial constructs. Miss Mason uses a fresco depicting how it all comes from our Father. Brandy Vencel explained it this way:

It was as our own day, in which a big black marker has drawn a thick dividing line between the level which holds Thomas Aquinas enthroned with the Law, Gospels, and Prophets on either side, and the level which holds the areas of study. These areas of study are all well and good, we say, but what have they to do with God, and what has God to do with them?

This is nothing less than a failure to understand who God is, and what He is like.

Do we really think we would find ourselves studying grammar and arithmetic if such things did not originate in the mind of God Himself? And do we really think we can know anything without His grace giving us the insights we so desperately desire?
-Thoroughly Christian: CM's 20th Principle (emphasis original)

My first efforts at integrating faith and education were like most starting places: neither large nor impressive: we'd been working on memorizing scriptures even before my oldest was school age. When we "started school" this was recategorized to become part of "memory work" -and that was pretty much it. I had no idea what rich blessings it would bring us all to simply recite a handful of verses (nearly) every day. We also started reading the narrative passages of the Bible pretty early on.

This was a start, and gradually, as we got further into this homeschool journey, the original reasons started to diminish in importance, as I started to dimly grasp what a blessing it is to be able to pause and talk about the Gospel, about Christ, about Creation, as it comes up.

Education which leaves out God is destitute of all true value. Satan is aware of the great power which a true system of education gives to the people. He is, therefore, opposed to such a system. He knows full well that a generation trained in all true knowledge cannot be lead by him, as they would if their education were neglected. He therefore stirs up all the agencies under his control to do everything in their power to defeat the purposes of God in regard to the education of our children.
-George Q. Cannon, Juvenile Instructor, 15 Apr 1890

But even when we were including scripture and speaking freely of our Father in Heaven, even then that is not as big, not a thorough as Miss Mason thought was needed for an education to thoroughly Christian. She talks about how "God ...is Himself, personally, the Imparter of knowledge, the Instructor of youth, the Inspirier of genius": it all comes from Him in the first place. To attempt to teach anything without acknowledging that it comes from Him is much like the rod that shakes itself: completely out of order.  Education is the doorway through which we have the opportunity to become acquainted with His works, His thoughts, His ways: it's the passage that leads us to become like He is.

This post is part of a series. Feel free to visit the series index for more thoughts on the Charlotte Mason's 20 Principles of Education.

02 August 2019

Commonplace: July 2019

A sample from my commonplace book, and brief instructions for how to keep one.

A commonplace is a traditional self-education tool: as you read, grab a notebook. Write down things that embody Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Write down notable quotes, with or without your own thoughts about them. Write down the questions you have as a result of the text you are reading. You will find the book becomes a record of your own growth, and it becomes a touchstone for memory of things you have studied in the past. This is what Mother Culture is all about: self-directed, conscious self-education.


One reader is better than another in proportion as he is capable of a greater range of activity in reading and exerts more effort. He is better if he demands more of himself and of the text before him.
-How to Read a Book, Adler, p5


It is poignantly symbolic that "blood [came] from every pore" as Jesus suffered in Gethsemane, the place of the olive press. To produce olive oil in the Savior's time, olives were first crushed by rolling a large stone over them. The resulting "mash" was placed in soft, loosely woven baskets, which were piled on upon another. Their weight expressed the first and finest oil. Then added stress was applied by placing a large beam or log on top of the stacked baskets, producing more oil. Finally, to draw out the very last drops, the beam was weighted with stones on one end to create the maximum, crushing pressure. And yes, the oil is blood red as it first flows out.
-D. Todd Christopherson, Abide in My Love, Oct 2016

01 August 2019

Principled Education: Ideas

I've been taking a look at Teaching in the Branches again, where Miss Mason lays out a couple of foundational principles of education. It's obvious that she must have spent a great deal of time, not only teaching, but also thinking about teaching: these three principles really are foundational, but like all profound truths, it's pretty easy to go along for a long time without ever really being aware that they're there. The fact that she not only recognizes that education stands on these things, but can also put it into words so clearly, I suspect is the reflection of a great deal of work and thought and time on her part. Which fits with what we know of her, and is why there's a whole educational movement that takes its name from her. But as I'm thinking about it this morning, it makes me think what a truly remarkable teacher she was.

She talks about Authority, which I blogged about last time, and she threatens to talk about Habits, but doesn't actually get to it in the time allotted, and she also talks about Ideas.

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, Teaching in the Branches

The leading brethren of the Church have, many times, spoken to this same goal of education as a means for leading the student to the virtuous life.

The Church stands for education. The very purpose of its organization is to promulgate truth among men. Members of the Church are admonished to acquire learning by study, and also by faith and prayer, to seek after everything that is virtuous, lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy. In this seeking after, they are not confined to narrow limits of dogma or creed, but are free to launch into the realm of the infinite.
But gaining knowledge is one thing, and applying it, quite another. Wisdom is the right application of knowledge, and true education—the education for which the Church stands—is the application of knowledge to the development of a noble and God-like character. 
-President David O. McKay,  Moral and Spiritual Values in Education, April 1968

So again, as I outlined this section of the lecture, I found that Miss Mason had offered several specific techniques for coming at the principle that she's getting at:

30 July 2019

Principled Education: Authority

It's interesting: this is the third time that I've read Miss Mason's Teaching in the Branches, which is an essay Charlotte Mason read at one of their meetings about the principles that their schools run on. The second time through, I felt like I'd entirely missed the point the first time. And this time, while I do think it would be going a bit far to say I'd missed the point the second time, I do think that I was still unclear on it --in spite of having pulled out 14 points in an "outline" of sorts of the essay. But she says right out, near the beginning, what the three main principles she thinks they ought to be attending to are:

(1) The recognition of authority as a fundamental principle, as universal and as inevitable in the moral world as is that of gravitation in the physical; 
(2) The recognition of the physical basis of habits and of the important part which the formation of habits plays in education; 
(3) The recognition of the vital character and inspiring power of ideas. 
-Charlotte Mason, Teaching in the Branches

The idea, at the time, was that the local groups running the schools affiliated with Miss Mason would get together and have lectures or other presentations on various aspects of these ideas. Now, for me, the idea is to consider the principles that our homeschool runs upon, and to put some thought into working out how that looks in practice in my home. Turns out, it's a topic well worth revisiting, repeatedly.

15 July 2019

Nature Journal: Bogs

Honestly, I was pretty skeptical about the whole Nature Journal Thing when I started. I mean, Nature Study, yes, that makes a lot of sense, and I was excited. We started to do it pretty early, after a fashion: we'd go outside and look for Interesting Things. It wasn't until much later that we started to carry sketchbooks with us, and even then, there was a while where dragging them around was pretty much all we did. But I'm halfway through my second volume now: the first one filled up. And it's gradually become something that I absolutely love doing. There are so many Interesting Things, and drawing them is both fun and educational: it helps me remember what I've learned. (Bonus points for getting some watercolor on the page!)

So this past week, I went to Cub Scout daycamp with Dragon, and we had a good time. We had to drive a little way to get there, and the environment was just a little bit different from what we see closer to home. Amazing how a relatively short distance can change things! It was a little different, except for one area: they have a bog.

The bog was very different.

And so very fascinating: I could have gone in there with my nature book every day for a long time and not been done looking at All The Things.

This isn't exactly the same as the place that we visited, but it was similar: our bog was a "quaking bog": when the guide told the boys to jump, the trees and everything around us shook. It was pretty amazing.

So I took some pictures, and I've been putting the stuff that I saw in my book in the past week since I got home. I started with a page about Monarch butterflies. Didn't see those in the bog, but I did get a picture, and I'm glad I did: it was fun to paint, and very interesting to learn about their migration patterns.

But once I'd finished learning about Monarchs, then I wanted to know more about bogs. Because that place was amazing. Turns out, I've had to work a bit to find out much about them.

National Geographic has a nice overview.

And this crazy bit of news about a "wandering bog" came up in one of my searches. I would never have guessed that was possible!

I've got some cool photos of carniverous plants to include as well: it's likely that this project of recording what I saw in our 30 minutes or so in the bog will take more than one page to get into my book, because it's just so different from "regular" ecosystems. I'm excited to see what I can learn about it all.

01 July 2019

Commonplace: June 2019

A sample from my commonplace book, and brief instructions for how to keep one.

A commonplace is a traditional self-education tool: as you read, grab a notebook. Write down things that embody Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Write down notable quotes, with or without your own thoughts about them. Write down the questions you have as a result of the text you are reading. You will find the book becomes a record of your own growth, and it becomes a touchstone for memory of things you have studied in the past. This is what Mother Culture is all about: self-directed, conscious self-education. 

"You can live your life worrying about what you don't know, or you can accept your limitations and make the best of it."
-The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara: Ilse Witch, by Terry Brooks, p179

"Many wear the Robe, but few keep the Way."
-Kim, by Rudyard Kipling, p73

Perhaps we know more about the world than we used to, and insofar as knowledge is a prerequisite to understanding, that is all to the good. But knowledge is not as much a prerequisite to understanding as is commonly supposed. We do not have to KNOW everything about something in order to UNDERSTAND it; too many facts are often as much of an obstacle to understanding as too few. There is a sense in which we moderns are inundated with facts to the detriment of understanding.
-How to Read A Book by Adler & Van Doren, p4

17 June 2019


Early this month, I saw a post on Facebook from a lady that was doing something to track wildfires in her nature journal; I wasn't real clear on what it is that she was doing: wildfires are not a thing in our neck of the woods. But she had it in a circle, and it was colored different shades of red, and it was really quite striking.

I thought, what if I did that with the daily temperatures?

So I built a chart.
In a circle, because I loved how that looked.

And, because it was already the fourth, and because I don't actually have an outdoor thermometer to look at, I grabbed some data from the Weather Underground. Which is pretty cool, actually, because that means that I've got the actual high and low for the day, rather than just whatever it is whenever I remember to look at the thermometer. This also meant that I have a range of colors to represent each day, which turns out to be quite striking, even after only a couple of days of data. I got the kids into the project; it totally counts as math!

12 June 2019

Claim Their Anointing

Scripture study is a funny thing. In the middle of following this question, I'll realize that it's related to that thing over there, and next thing you know I'm lost in the "rabbit hole" --but typically happy as a clam about it.

That's kind of how it went this time. I got to the adult session of Stake Conference early, and was thumbing through my Scripture Journal, and decided to fill in some of the things that I've found about lineage in the last little while as I waited for the meeting to start. There's this unexpected connection between lineage and priesthood that I've been noticing, though I haven't really explored it all very well. But I searched "lineage" in the scriptures, and one of the verses that came up was this one:

...by virtue of the decree concerning their right of the priesthood descending from father to son, they may claim their anointing if at any time they can prove their lineage, or do ascertain it by revelation from the Lord...
-Doctrine and Covenants 68:21

And I though, hold on here, bishops are anointed? It's not just a regular ordination?

So when the meeting was done, I went up front to see if I could ask the Stake President real quick (he's a friend of mine, and I couldn't see any of the bishops), and I ended up getting the attention of the visiting Seventy instead. Since I thought he might know, I went ahead and asked, not about regular Bishops, since I was 95% certain they just get regular ordinations, but about the Presiding Bishops. He said no. So I asked if he knew what the verse was talking about, and he didn't. Which was neither surprising nor distressing; it's not one that gets a lot of attention, and I was as much making sure that I hadn't missed something obvious as anything: I didn't really expect that either he or our good Stake President would know much about it; it just doesn't get discussed. But you don't know, really, until you ask.

So here I am, trying to learn more about anointings. Way back when, Elder Bednar shared a technique for scripture study that I think of as "Brother Bednar's Cut and Sort" technique: he looked up all the forms of his word, and then put them in a document, then cut them up, and sorted them into piles. I tried this with the word humility once. It completely transformed my understanding of the topic, and I never even really finished. It seems like a likely technique for learning more about this.

There's only 367 instances. ...  How hard can it be? ... right?


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