Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Parable of the Seed

One thing I’ve heard lately, and the other I’ve read, have given me pause to think on destiny, on the potential of the human being. Last night as I was driving, I heard a small snippet of a talk show, where a man named Muhammad Yunus was being interviewed. Mr Yunus received the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for his work bringing micro-loans to people living in poverty in Bangladesh. My destination was only five minutes from home so unfortunately I didn't hear much, but the small bit I did hear was truly profound. His story is long and one can easily look up his info on the web, so I will only say what I heard. Over 30 years ago, he spoke with a banker about loaning money to the poor to help them to go to school, to start businesses, and so forth. This banker told him that you don’t loan money to the poor, they won’t repay, they are born poor, and they will always be poor. Mr. Yunus he set out to effect change. He told a little story about a seed. He said, “People are like seeds; if you take a perfect Bonsai seed and plant it in a flower pot, it will grow to perhaps a meter, then it will stop.” The attitude of the people in his country would be to blame the seed, to say something must have been wrong with it, but there was nothing wrong with the seed, it was perfectly good. It just could not grow because of the pot it was in. If it were to be planted in a forest, it would grow to immense height and be beautiful. He went on, “It is the same with people; these bonds of poverty are like the flower pot, keeping the poor from ever becoming their full potential.” I wish I could repeat what he said with as much eloquence. He talked about the human potential, and how the person born on the street and the person born in a palace are equally smart, equally with the potential to create and become something wonderful. The end of his story was that he started a bank to loan money to the poor, and there are now 7 million borrowers, among them doctors and engineers, whose parents and grandparents were illiterate, never expected to become anybody worthwhile. He talked about how poverty is man-made, that humans all have incredible potential within themselves, it is governments and rulers who keep people down. There is a great desire to have a peasant class, a slave class. We Americans are no better. We want our cheap goods, our $100 TVs, our $5 t-shirts. Sad, really sad, considering that we should know better.
This morning as I read Lés Miserables, this idea came again. Here is the passage:
“(England) believes in hereditary right, in hierarchy. This people, surpassed by none in might and glory, values itself as a nation, not as a people. So much so that as a people, they subordinate themselves willingly, and take a Lord for a head. Workmen, they submit to being scorned; soldiers, they submit to whippings. We remember that at the battle of Inkerman a sergeant who, so it seems, had saved the army, could not be mentioned by Lord Raglan, since the English military hierarchy did not permit any hero below the rank of officer to be mentioned in a report.”
This reminded me of my sister who, while living in London 150 years after Hugo wrote that last passage, bought for herself an expensive pair of shoes. Her roommate was appalled and told my sister that she should not be wearing those shoes, as they were above her station in life. As completely foreign as this idea is to so many of us in the USA, it made absolute sense to this Briton, for whom you are born in a certain class and there you stay. It is worth noting that although there is much in that British hierarchy way of thinking, which still in these days holds the Queen and the wealthy in the highest regard, there is also much progressive thought that comes out of England. I am reminded of Charlotte Mason and her belief that, “Children are born persons”. In that simple statement is a really huge thought, a completely new and different approach to viewing humanity. With the proper (equal) treatment and support, all people, like seeds, can grow to their full potential. I am indeed humbled and honored to be the caretaker of two little “seeds” myself, and I must see to it that they receive all the nourishment they deserve. A lofty responsibility indeed, being a homeschooling mom, lofty indeed.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Thoughts on Les Mis

From pg. 53 – “His universal tenderness was less an instinct of nature than the result of a strong conviction filtered through life into his heart, slowly dropping into him, thought by thought; for a character, as well as a rock, may have holes worn into it by drops of water. Such marks are ineffaceable; such formations are indestructible.”

This passage is prefaced with the fact that Monseigneur Bienvenu had previously been a violent man, and yet now, wouldn’t even step on a spider, he’s become so refined. I appreciated these thoughts on the formation of character and how even being born with or learning to have a violent nature can be changed into goodness and patience with small changes in habit, daily “drops of water”, if you will.

pg. 55 – “Was this narrow enclosure with the sky for a background not space enough for him to adore God in his most beautiful, most sublime works? Indeed, is that not everything? What more do you need? A little garden to walk in, and immensity to reflect on. At his feet something to cultivate and gather, above his head something to study and meditate on, a few flowers on earth, and all the stars in heaven.”

This beautiful passage reminded me of how little we really need to live a fulfilling life. People are so busy filling their lives up with useless junk, they have no space to till a little spot of earth, and so busy filling up their days with needless activities, they no longer have the time to contemplate. We are so busy seeking something, anything to entertain us, it is now seen as something deplorable to just sit and ponder. How many times have I heard someone say they are bored? What? Because you are no longer being entertained? I am never bored, I have my parents to thank for teaching me that reflection is a virtue, that solitude is sublime.
There is this constant message, especially from the public school institutions that humans, especially children, must have specific socialization, must have their hours filled with “something to do.” What a sad state of affairs when every moment must be planned, every spark of impulse and creativity vanquished! I remember many lovely hours spent outdoors, lying in the tall grass looking up at the clouds in the sky, or sitting up in a tall tree looking out over the landscape, just thinking. These are precious memories and little did I know at the time, moments spent forming character, learning the appreciation and wonder of nature.
Children nowadays are expected to be “properly socialized”. What does this mean? It means that our society thinks it beneficial for a child to be subjected to 6 ½ hours of dull education with the influence of 20-30 other children of the same age who’s values and ideas are generally not in accordance with our own. It’s thought to be good for them to have the influence of as many people as possible, no matter the moral values of those people. We as a society have forgotten how little we need, how excess is actually detrimental, how beneficial solitude is, how children can grow in strength and character with only the influence of family and community, how there is no need for formal so-called socialization.
I wish I could remember the exact words from the "Tao of Motherhood" by Vimala McClure, where she writes about simplicity. It was something to the effect of, "the more things we buy for our children, the more space we put between them and us." I totally botched that, I'm sure, but it struck me and continues to reverberate in my mind when I look around and see how much excess stuff we have, and how as soon as we get rid of things (workbooks!) or unneccessary classes or whatever, how relieved we feel, how much smoother life flows.
Successful homeschooling comes from simplicity, keeping things real. I've totally rambled off track now. :-) I better go pull some boys away from Legos and to their copywork.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

On Les Misérables and Reading Only the Best

I am finally reading Les Misérables, having decided to do so well over two years ago at the behest of my mother. I’ve seen the movie version with Liam Neeson, which was arguably a decent movie, and read a highly abridged adaptation, so I’m familiar enough with the story, but oh! the richness of Victor Hugo’s writing! If only I could read his original French version, but alas, I’m sadly monolingual. Sigh… I am reading the unabridged translation by Lee Fahnestock and Norman MacAfee based on the classic C.E. Wilbour translation, and I’ve been told they do Mr. Hugo justice, so I can only trust that they do.
When I first took up the book to read, I observed that there were some 1463 pages. I figured that if I were to read roughly 10 pages per day, it would take me nearly 5 months (!!!) to read. This train of thought led me to ponder on how many (adult classical) books I could possibly read in the time I have left on this earth. Oh dear! Obviously, I could poof out of existence at any moment, however, even living to the ripe old age of 90 and taking into account that most books aren’t as long as Les Misérables, most being even 75% less, I could read an average of 8 books per year. Since I am 37, that leaves me able to read, gulp, 424 books. There are so many more!
Now, some days I read a lot more than 10 pages, some days less, and this is just me figuring in my current novel. Besides that, I read countless pages of classic literature to my children, pre-read books for my children’s personal reading, I often read and study the writings of Charlotte Mason and also the wonderful books based on her teachings (Penny Gardener, Karen Andreola, etc.), I am studying the mechanics of building a cordwood/cob home, I read magazines and internet articles about design, cooking, teaching, handicrafts, gardening, health, religion, faith, and more, not to mention e-mails and yahoo groups (which I’m trying to keep to a minimum-it’s SO hard!).
Another consideration is the idea of only reading 10 pages per day of a particular work of literature. Why not read more? Like I mentioned earlier, some days I do, however, this is an average, and I am not a fast reader when it comes to the classics. I can read a good, but fairly twaddly book in a considerably short amount of time, but I love more thoroughly getting to know the story and characters in classics by taking it slower, really appreciating what’s being read, pondering the ideas. Charlotte Mason was a big proponent of this type of reading, as others have been also. Victor Hugo spent nearly 15 years writing Les Misérables, why should I plow through it in a rush?
I could read faster and more hurried to “get through” as many classics as possible, but that’s not the point. There are pages I’ll never turn, I accept that. I read slowly on purpose. I have to accept that I’d rather savor 10 books than put quick checkmarks next to a list of 100.
This leads me to two separate ideas; the first being that I have made a goal to write a review of each book I read. For a book like Les Mis, I will make periodic notes as I go along, writing down favorite passages, and I’ll be sure to post some of them here.
The second idea, or goal, if you will, is that I am simply not going to waste my reading time. I have been a proponent of avoiding twaddle for several years now, but every so often (more than I care to admit!) I find myself reading pointless newspaper articles, junk mail, catalogs, etc. I am not going to limit myself to only classic literature just the same as I am not going to go through life only eating ice cream. Magazines and the like are relaxing and require very little of me and I think we all need that at times; just not too often. There are good reading choices, better ones, and then there are the best. I read a lot and since I have it within my power to choose from the latter group, I am resolved to be more discerning in my choice of literature.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Expanded intro and philosophy

I homeschool my children following the ideals of Charlotte Mason, and of course, enjoy the bountiful style of education her methods provide. I absolutely love teaching and learning with my children. We’re all doodlers, writers, and weather-watchers, but are just learning to sketch still life and keep formal nature notebooks; we all absolutely love it!
I also enjoy studying history, reading great literature on a variety of subjects, writing, gardening, wildcrafting, cooking, baking, canning, and doing pretty much anything with my hands from knitting, sewing, and felting to building furniture and tree houses.
Some day my husband and I hope to build our own home using the cordwood method.
I love to hike and take walks, and I also try to find time to ice skate, swim, and in the summer, bike. It’s imperative that we have daily doses of fresh air and exercise. Keeping our bodies healthy with proper nutrition and exercise is extremely important to me. Whole, organically grown foods and daily walks “through the woods” are as important to me as what we are learning academically.
I feel a great responsibility to provide ample opportunities for my children to build strong relationships with their family, other people, and the world around them.
Children (and all people!) should have access to the best ideas, literature, music, science, art, etc. available.
It has been said that “Education is the science of relations.” Humankind has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts; I feel it is our responsibility as parents to provide the best that life has to offer to enable our children to make sense of these relations. It is said that an educated adult, when presented with new information or ideas, will already know something with which to connect the new knowledge.
We are fellow students of life with our children, and as such, I do not pretend to be the sole source of all information, rather, I try to share as much as I know and give my children the inspiration and tools to discover more on their own.
It is the ultimate responsibility of the parent-teacher to raise children who have developed a love for learning, a desire for knowledge, and the skills to pursue these independently.