Tag Archives: forming opinions

Pigeon Milk

A few months ago, Alex and I had a disagreement.  He asked what baby pigeons eat and I told him they eat bugs and such. He disagreed and told me they eat milk as babies. I calmly explained that, no- birds are not mammals and only mammals produce milk for their young. He said he’d seen on a nature show that baby pigeons eat milk. I explained that he’d misunderstood- birds are not mammals and only mammals make milk. He insisted that baby pigeons eat milk. So, I said that he misunderstood and just let it go without further exploring the idea since I knew I was right (bad homeschool mommy!). Even though he was willing to drop it, I knew he still believed that pigeons make and drink milk.

Alex was right. Pigeons make and eat milk.

I recently saw this on Facebook:

 

 

And it got me thinking… the teacher above (if this isn’t just a mock-up to make a point) wants the student to be quiet and allow erroneous teaching, likely so the class can run smoothly. But the little boy refuses to allow an incorrect teaching to stand. He won’t allow the falsehood (intentional or mistaken) be left alone. I can imagine that the teacher felt the boy was being disrespectful, questioning his reasoning, his ability to think, his authority over the class even.

This picture made me think of that event with Alex- he’d insisted he was right about the pigeon milk. He knew what he’d seen- had been taught and had demonstrated before him- and he wasn’t willing to allow me to dissuade him…

In some ways, I guess it would be easy to have a pliable kid- really, Alex is generally pretty easy-going. But when I read the letter in the picture above and I remember that my son was willing to stand up for what he knew was right, it makes me feel good. I want my son to question. I want him to think independently and to take the sum of his knowledge and experience and to stand firm when he knows he’s right. There’s never a need for genuine disrespect (which I believe the teacher above is showing to his students)- disrespect is a failure to appreciate the imprint of God in others and to treat them without regard for that imprint. Questioning is not disrespect.

The flip side of that coin is humility. Alex needs to allow others to find their own path to Truth- he can’t spoon feed it (like pigeon milk) to others. Sometimes they have to find things out for themselves- like his mama did when I saw the nature program myself a few weeks later. Humility also demands that we question ourselves and our own understandings and beliefs when others challenge us. Instead of stubbornly sticking a point, humility allows us to ask the question again- even if our original answer is confirmed.

I hope that my son is gleaning from Brian and I the ability to stand firm, to allows others room for their own exploration and the ability to graciously accept correction when we are wrong. I hope these are the kinds of lessons that my kids are getting from us- their imperfect teachers and parents.

But I am really proud that Alex stood his ground. And pigeons make milk- who knew!?!

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Alex’s Year 0 In Review- Geography

Yesterday I sat down to look at our schedule to see where exactly we are in our school year. Imagine my surprise when I discovered we actually aren’t behind (regardless of how I felt about the schedule the night before). We’re currently in week 34 of our 36 week ‘regular’ school year.

So now I’m reflecting on the work that we’ve done this year- how far we’ve come, what worked and what didn’t. Since this was a kind of ‘practice’ year of the Ambleside Online curriculum (as will be next year- Year .5), it’s so nice to be able to sit back and think everything through so I can make adjustments for next year (even though we’re schooling year-round and will beginning a summer term soon)…

Geography is exciting to me personally. I enjoy learning the topography of countries and regions and about the culture of the people who live there. I’ve been excited to introduce geography/cultures/social studies to my son (and daughter- Fae always follows along).

This year, I decided to slowly read through Jane Andrews’ ‘The Seven Little Sisters Who Live on the Round Ball That Floats in the Air’. Yeah, it’s a mouthful. Seven Sisters contains stories of little girls & their families who live in different regions of the world. The regions covered include those belonging to:

  • The Little Brown Baby- South America OR South East Asia/jungles (we chose South America)
  • Agoonak- the Arctic circle
  • Gemela- Arabian desert
  • Jeanette- Switzerland/mountains
  • Pense- China/rivers
  • Maneko- Africa/grasslands, and;
  • Louise- Germany/river valley

We would begin each section by looking at a huge map of the area. We’d discuss the physical characteristics of that area (climate, flora, fauna, natural resources which are all conveniently pictured in our atlas) and we’d compare the location to where we live on the little globe we own (I’d use words like ‘moving east’ or ‘south of where we live’). This generally took about ten minutes, but the kids enjoyed looking at the maps and talking about what animals could be found in the area. Then I’d begin reading about that Little Sister- each section begins with a short description of the Sister herself. After the first reading, I’d print out a picture from the internet of a girl in cultural dress that could be the Sister we were discussing.

This picture was placed in a manila file folder- we wrote the Sister’s name and her region next to the picture. This is the beginning of a Charlotte Mason-friendly ‘lap book’ (my apologies to those who create *real* lapbooks. *Real* lapbooks are beautiful, detailed and very directed. Ours is none of those things.)

Our first ‘lapbook’

We’d read for about 5 minutes twice a week. When we finished, I’d ask Alex what he remembered from the reading (proto-narration) and we’d jot down words around the picture. The next time we would read, we’d look at our picture of the Sister and would read/discuss the words we’d selected thus far.

I supplemented/supported geography lessons by selecting story books from the library about or from each region. I genuinely enjoyed some of these books and will have to write more about them later. We also have a world folk tale treasury- I would select a few folk tales from each region and would read those as well. This worked well as these picture books became our ‘Free Reading’ for the year. Sometimes, we’d watch a cooking or travel show that focuses on cuisine from a particular region (the cooking and travel shows on CREATE/PBS were wonderful for this purpose!)

What did I like about Seven Sisters? It’s written beautifully directly TO the child and my kids began talking about each Sister as if she were a real child they know. Used as I described above, I found this book a good ‘spine’ upon which to begin discussing world cultures with my kids.

However… I do not think I will be using this resource the next time around with Fae. In my opinion, the book stereotypes each region/culture and is, in some places, blatantly racist (for example foot-binding of little girls is discussed in the China section and in the African section, the narrator says that ‘we’ should not consider Maneko’s “wooly” hair beautiful. In fact, if Maneko knew any better, she’d want to be just like us). Yikes. It’s even worse when I write it out like that… And yet, that’s how the book reads. I found myself editing SO much and being genuinely disturbed by the way other cultures are presented by the narrator.

If I had it to do over again (and I do with Fae), I am going to use the supporting resources as the main resources. We’ll select a region, look at the map/atlas and will read lots of picture books and folk tales from that region. For Year 0, that’s plenty as far as geography is concerned.

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Rewording of Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles- Part I

The longer I live with dear Charlotte and steep in her words and wisdom, the more I realize I have to learn. A Charlotte Mason style education is not an easy thing to grasp. It is not easily explainable in just a few words or a blurb in a homeschooling magazine. I’ve been studying Charlotte’s ideas for about three years now and I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface! When her ideas capture us, we must have patience with ourselves and enact her methods as we understand them and see their value in our families.

However, Leslie Noelani, one of the wonderful moderators at Ambleside Online, took it upon herself to reword Charlotte’s ’20 Principles’ for the modern reader. These 20 concepts were listed in the front of each book Charlotte published (she wrote many) and give us a very good overview of her philosophy. This is very different than methodology, which we’ve been discussing in our ‘Wonders of the Last Sea’ threads. Anyone can take a book list and take a string of methods and put them into practice. What makes a Masonian education, in my opinion, is an internal agreement with Charlotte’s reasons for choosing those books, for using that method. The thought process and belief system behind the methodology give life to the method. I’ve been thinking through these lately and have been deeply impacted- again- by the depth of the insight dear Charlotte had concerning education. Well, let us begin:

Each child is unique and is born with the innate ability to become exactly who God has called her to be...

1. Children are born persons – they are not blank slates or embyonic oysters who have the potential of becoming persons. They already are persons.

Let that sink in a moment, let it rest in your mind. Are the implications of such a statement becoming clear? That children are people, with thoughts, needs, desires, opinions, hopes, fears, and dreams is a revolutuonary thought- even in our modern time! This is the entire basis for the Attachment Parenting movement around the world- that children are people whose needs should be respected. This is far more than an educational theory- this impacts to the very core what it means to be human; it colors our ideas of who deserves to be treated as I would like to be treated as our Master commanded us. If my child is a sentient being- a person- then she deserves intellectual respect (in addition to every other kind of consideration).  This means that I cannot assume that she has no ability to think until I teach her to do so or until I fill her mind with tons of facts so she has something ‘worthwhile’ to say. As Dr. Suess wrote, “A person’s a person, no matter how small”. Indeed.

This fundamental respect for the child is the basis upon which the other nineteen Principles are founded.

2. Although children are born with a sin nature, they are neither all bad, nor all good. Children from all walks of life and backgrounds may make choices for good or evil.

As I said above, these Principles are more than educational theory- these describe a basic world-view. This is why it is so diffucult to explain what a Masonian education is- we can describe what it looks like (methodology), but describing the inspiration means digging into the very way we see the world, our most basic beliefs about people, our nature and our possibilities.

In this second point, Charlotte is reminding us that each child we deal with is a fallen being, BUT is a fallen being with hope. Any of us, no matter who we are, have failed. We have sinned and have done horrendous wrong. But we are also capable of great good and compassion. In Jesus, we all have potential to be better than we are on our own. I think this statement also calls to mind the idea that there is no kind of education that is unattainable for anyone. The meanest street urchin in Brazil can make a choice for good regardless of his background- his potential, in Jesus, is not limited by his past. Also, the most privledged child may have the greediest bent. Origen does not portend destiny.

3. The concepts of authority and obedience are true for all people whether they accept it or not. Submission to authority is necessary for any society or group or family to run smoothly.

God has ordered the universe. He has ordered the planets to revolve, He has ordered the flower to grow, He has ordered parents to raise their children lovingly and has ordered that those children heed the authority of their parents. We, every one of us, exist under authority, even if we disregard it. God is Master, Jesus is King. Due to His kindness, some of us turn and acknowledge this relationship of ‘Ruler’ over ‘ruled’.  But He has passed on that authority to parents as well. We are to reflect the Lord to our children- both His love and His authority. Just how we do this depends in large amount on how we personally perceive God.

In my family, we see both His lovingkindness and gentleness and His awesomeness and fearsome-ness. He is our dear Savior, our Brother, our Father and our Friend, but He is also the Holy One, The Alpha and Omega, the great I AM. We can be perfectly safe, secure and loved, and yet understand that our God will not be mocked. Because God is nuanced in His relationship to us, we try to be similarly balanced with our children- free and ample with laughter and praise and grace, but firm where we believe it is needed.

Loving parents value their child's view of the world...

4. Authority is not a license to abuse children, or to play upon their emotions or other desires, and adults are not free to limit a child’s education or use fear, love, power of suggestion, or their own influence over a child to make a child learn.

There’s just so much to unwrap in this statement! We are not to: ‘abuse‘- children are not to be belittled, criticized or bullied into compliance; ‘play upon emotions or other desires’– we can not manipulate our children using rewards or promises to obtain their cooperation; ‘limits– we are not to decide when our children have had enough education. They must pursue their God-given educational inclinations and abilities to their furthest extent. This says to me, we should not be teaching our children that they only need ‘so much’ education and that will be good enough for their adult life. God instills the desire to learn in children, we must not come between that desire and the fulfillment of that desire because God has determined for that child what & how much s/he needs to know;  ‘use fear’– children should not be concerned about punishments or reprecussions for not attending to lessons, nor should they fear that they will not be allowed to learn unless they are completely compliant; ‘use love’– so often, I’ve heard people say that a child will do something if you only love them enough. What they are really saying is that the child will feel guilty if that thing is not done due to his love for the parent. Our love for our children should not be manipulated as a means to an end. Love is too pure a Person to be used to gain compliance; ‘power of suggestion’– I think this has to do with being an intermediary between the child and the Great Thought in the material being studied. We are not to direct a child toward a particluar interpretation of the work in question. We are to encourage the child to think his own thoughts and to support them from the work itself…

I believe that the basic two thoughts being communicated to us by dear Charlotte above are that 1) Kids have been created to learn and are pre-wired to do so according to their particular, God-given programming, and that 2) we shouldn’t try to force them to learn in any specific way.

In the next part of this series, we’ll discuss what parents CAN do, according to dear Charlotte, to help their little one’s learn…

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The Wonders of the Last Sea- exploring ‘narration’

A few weeks ago, we started our discussion of dear Charlotte’s teaching methods in a discussion about living books. To continue, let’s turn our attention to the second of Wikipedia’s methodologies- narration.

One of the most attractive attributes of a Masonian education is the lack of ‘busy work’. Busy work consists of all the many trifles that modern education insists upon to better drill a fact into a child’s head. A child reads a passage and then completes comprehension questions to show whether or not the child has understood. A math fact is learned and then is repeated ad nauseam in various ways just to be sure the child has really mastered the lesson. Busywork is all the things that the child is ‘put to’ to prove that the child has, indeed, ‘got it’.

Charlotte found this kind of repetition unnecessary and insulting to the child’s intelligence. Instead, she advocated narration as the only reinforcement of the lesson. What is narration? Simply put, narration is the act of retelling in one’s own words exactly what one remembers. Narration is a powerful tool in a child’s education.

Think about the times you have learned something. The information was received and taken into your mind. But if you later had to teach someone that same information, your understanding, your relationship with the material changed. It went from being a surface fact (something you remembered until the test and then tossed away), to being something your mind had really chewed, mulled over, and synthesized so it could be communicated to someone else.

The child listens, absorbing the story into himself...

Narration is not used to test a child’s knowledge. It isn’t used to discover how much the child forgot about the passage, rather narration is used to help the child reinforce the connections she has made with the material on her own. The teacher is not enforcing an agenda of comprehension- that is, that the child will remember what the teacher/adult thinks is important about a passage- instead the teacher is helping the child deepen her own connections and think through what has just been read. Leading questions should be avoided, as should correcting the child during the act of narration. If a child doesn’t mention a fact or seems to have misunderstood it, the parent may simply do a short ‘recap’ of the story immediately prior to the next reading (the next day, etc). If a child is simply lost, put the book aside for a month or two and try again later; the child may not be ready for that particular work.

I often think of professional wine tasters and how they differ from the casual drinker. The casual drinker tosses back the wine, notes how it tasted and if he liked it or not and then it is forgotten. The experience has left no lasting impression on him and an hour later he couldn’t tell you much about it. But the professional sommelier first looks at and smells the wine, chews it, interacts with it before rendering an opinion. And the professional is able to remember the experience, the nuance of the drink- it has become part of his overall wine experience. If it is an especially good glass of wine, he may be able to recall it years later.

The child can express her connection in many valid ways...

Narration can be accomplished in many ways- orally (where the child retells what he knows), in drawing/painting/sculpting, through play acting with figures or as actual play, and, after the age of 10 or so, in written composition (indeed, narration is the basis for fine essay writing in the future). Any way in which the child expresses a connection with the material is valid narration.

But what about evaluation? How can you be assured that your child has actually understood the material? Well, how do you know an adult understands the materials she’s teaching to you? As the person is speaking, you can hear an internal consistency of information. A clarity of reasoning that makes sense in context. A teacher in a classroom full of students may need worksheets and tests to ascertain if each student has understood the material, but a parent in a home with a limited amount of children will certainly know if a child truly understands what she is retelling.

My son is only five, so I am not requiring narration from him yet- dear Charlotte recommended that a child have no formal schooling until age 6, so I am holding off on asking for narration. However, even in our ‘informal’ schooling, Alex retells parts of his day. It’s interesting to me to see what he remembers hours later, which ideas and facts he connected with.

A Young Girl Reading- our current picture study

Narration seems simple- too simple to be an effective learning tool. But over a hundred years of history and many parents of graduates attest to the effectiveness of this method. As a child grows into adolescence, narration takes on more of a conversational tone. The child still retells, but then the parent may ask questions to draw the child deeper, may correct and challenge what a child has shared- as the student becomes an adult and has much practice forming a viewpoint, an opinion- the conversation becomes more like adult conversation. The teacher has simply refrained from usurping the child’s own mind prior to her learning how to use it.

I look forward to many conversations about books, politics, morality, science, literature on and on and on as my children grow…

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