Tuesday, July 27, 2010

More Summer Reading

I've read some fantastic books and one just so-so book lately. Here are the latest:

Why Johnny Can't Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal by Dr. T. David Gordon~~This is the best book I've read in years. Dr. Gordon, who teaches media ecology at Grove City College, traces the roots of contemporary worship styles and urges caution in their use in worship services. He claims that the type of music we use in worship is not just a matter of taste and supports this claim with some very strong arguments. This book is so important that I think I will write a series of posts about it, but I hope your appetite is wetted and that you will immediately go to the bookseller of your choice and order it. It will cause you to re-think your position in the worship wars, whatever side you are on.

To Say Nothing of the Dog, or How We Found the Bishop's Bird Stump at Last by Connie Willis~~Funniest book ever written! The perfect summer read. I actually prefer listening to the Recorded Books version rather than reading the print version because the narrator, Steven Crossley, is fabulous! His timing and comedic voice are perfect and add so much to the hilarity. The plot is a huge, messy tangle that you think can never be unraveled. Don't let the fact that it's classified as science fiction turn you away. It's only science fiction because, like many of Connie Willis's books, it involves time travel, this time to Victorian England. The rest is an ingenious mix of history, literature, romance, and laughter. Get ready for a wild ride!

The Teacher's Funeral: A Comedy in Three Parts by Richard Peck~~The second funniest book ever written! Peck's writing style, sometimes subtle humor, and characters are reminiscent of Mark Twain. The plot revolves around every child's dream~~the death of his teacher on the eve of the first day of school. This is one of those children's books that has more than enough in it to engage adults. Take the Listening Library audio edition with you to listen to in the car while on vacation. Dylan Baker narrates the tale, which is told from the perspective of a boy growing up about a 100 years ago on an Indiana farm. Baker's narration is superb and shows he remembers what it was like to be a fifteen-year-old boy who'd rather be fishing than reciting lessons.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien~~Do I really need to say anything about this book? This time around I was impressed by what an excellent read this is for children and adults alike. Adventure, a quest, a dragon, treasure, a battle, narrow escapes, peril, tests of wits, far off lands~~it's got everything! I love Tolkien's illustrations, too!

Richistan: A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich by Robert Frank~~Now we come to the so-so book. Reading like a print version of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, sections of it were quite interesting and left me with my mouth hanging open in amazement, like the description of the 500+ foot yacht, $100,000 spa bills, and $200,000 birthday parties, but I thought that Frank often focused too long on the exceptions and not enough on the norm. He claims that the new rich are forming their own culture and "country," which he dubs Richistan and its inhabitants Richistanis. Frank describes them as continually trying to out-do one another in the purchasing and showing off of bigger and better status symbols. It seemed silly and pointless to me and made me glad that I'm not a multi-millionaire. Written before the recession began, it left me wondering how Richistanis are faring today.

Picture courtesy of www.allposters.com

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

True Riches

When Man of the House and I were married, like most newlyweds we didn't have much money. I was teaching part-time and he was still in school and working part-time. We rented a rather ramshackle trailer and decorated it in typical early newlywed style with mismatched hand-me-down furniture and dorm room leftovers. It was necessarily cheap, though, but we worked to make it as comfortable as we could. Sometimes I would be envious of the gorgeous houses with impeccable lawns I would see as I drove around our midwestern town. It was a prosperous and growing university town with acres and acres of newly constructed houses. But it occurred to me one day that I was just as warm and dry in my small, slightly dilapidated trailer as they were in their big, fancy houses. The roof of my trailer kept the rain out just as well as the roof of the gorgeous Georgian home I coveted in a neighborhood several times removed from mine. Were those people any better off if any real way? I didn't think so. In fact, I was discovering that many of those families in those neighborhoods were not as happy as Man of the House and I were. I wouldn't have traded places with them.

I was reminded of that first year a few nights ago when I was washing dishes. Out my kitchen window I could see the luminous half-moon suspended above the trees with a few wispy clouds sailing across it in a royal blue sky. It was truly beautiful! I thought to myself that it wouldn't be any more beautiful if I were gazing at it from the balcony of a mansion or any less beautiful if seen from the flap of a tent. Those kinds of riches are priced the same for everyone: taking time to enjoy the beauty that no one can buy.

"Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you'" (Hebrews 13:5).

Why We Homeschool~~Reasons #3, 4, 5, 6, and 7. . .

Wow, Erica has a lot of guts. It's worth reading to the end.

One Valedictorian Survives the Soul-destroying Classroom by Erica Goldson

(The following was read as the valedictorian's speech at Coxsackie-Athens High School in recent weeks, creating quite a stir among administrators, to great applause from students and many of their parents)

There is a story of a young, but earnest Zen student who approached his teacher, and asked the Master: "If I work very hard and diligently, how long will it take for me to find Zen?" The Master thought about this, then replied, "Ten years . ." (The student then said, "But what if I work very, very hard and really apply myself to learn fast - How long then?" Replied the Master, "Well, twenty years." "But, if I really, really work at it, how long then?" asked the student. "Thirty years," replied the Master. "But, I do not understand," said the disappointed student. "At each time that I say I will work harder, you say it will take me longer. Why do you say that?" (Replied the Master, "When you have one eye on the goal, you only have one eye on the path."

This is the dilemma I've faced within the American education system. We are so focused on a goal, whether it be passing a test, or graduating as first in the class. However, in this way, we do not really learn. We do whatever it takes to achieve our original objective.

Some of you may be thinking, "Well, if you pass a test, or become valedictorian, didn't you learn something? Well, yes, you learned something, but not all that you could have. Perhaps, you only learned how to memorize names, places, and dates to later on forget in order to clear your mind for the next test. School is not all that it can be. Right now, it is a place for most people to determine that their goal is to get out as soon as possible.

I am now accomplishing that goal. I am graduating. I should look at this as a positive experience, especially being at the top of my class. However, in retrospect, I cannot say that I am any more intelligent than my peers. I can attest that I am only the best at doing what I am told and working the system. Yet, here I stand, and I am supposed to be proud that I have completed this period of indoctrination. I will leave in the fall to go on to the next phase expected of me, in order to receive a paper document that certifies that I am capable of work. But I contest that I am a human being, a thinker, an adventurer - not a worker. A worker is someone who is trapped within repetition - a slave of the system set up before him. But now, I have successfully shown that I was the best slave. I did what I was told to the extreme. While others sat in class and doodled to later become great artists, I sat in class to take notes and become a great test-taker. While others would come to class without their homework done because they were reading about an interest of theirs, I never missed an assignment. While others were creating music and writing lyrics, I decided to do extra credit, even though I never needed it. So, I wonder, why did I even want this position? Sure, I earned it, but what will come of it? When I leave educational institutionalism, will I be successful or forever lost? I have no clue about what I want to do with my life; I have no interests because I saw every subject of study as work, and I excelled at every subject just for the purpose of excelling, not learning.

John Taylor Gatto, a retired school teacher and activist critical of compulsory schooling, asserts, "We could encourage the best qualities of youthfulness - curiosity, adventure, resilience, the capacity for surprising insight simply by being more flexible about time, texts, and tests, by introducing kids into truly competent adults, and by giving each student what autonomy he or she needs in order to take a risk every now and then. But we don't do that." Between these cinderblock walls, we are all expected to be the same. We are trained to ace every standardized test, and those who deviate and see light through a different lens are worthless to the scheme of public education, and therefore viewed with contempt.
H. L. Mencken wrote in The American Mercury for April 1924 that the aim of public education is not to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence. ... Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim ... is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States. (Gatto)

To illustrate this idea, doesn't it perturb you to learn about the idea of "critical thinking." Is there really such a thing as "uncritically thinking?" To think is to process information in order to form an opinion. But if we are not critical when processing this information, are we really thinking? Or are we mindlessly accepting other opinions as truth?

This was happening to me, and if it wasn't for the rare occurrence of an avant-garde tenth grade English teacher, Donna Bryan, who allowed me to open my mind and ask questions before accepting textbook doctrine, I would have been doomed. I am now enlightened, but my mind still feels disabled. I must retrain myself and constantly remember how insane this ostensibly sane place really is.

And now here I am in a world guided by fear, a world suppressing the uniqueness that lies inside each of us, a world where we can either acquiesce to the inhuman nonsense of corporatism and materialism or insist on change. We are not enlivened by an educational system that clandestinely sets us up for jobs that could be automated, for work that need not be done, for enslavement without fervency for meaningful achievement. We have no choices in life when money is our motivational force. Our motivational force ought to be passion, but this is lost from the moment we step into a system that trains us, rather than inspires us.

We are more than robotic bookshelves, conditioned to blurt out facts we were taught in school. We are all very special, every human on this planet is so special, so aren't we all deserving of something better, of using our minds for innovation, rather than memorization, for creativity, rather than futile activity, for rumination rather than stagnation? We are not here to get a degree, to then get a job, so we can consume industry-approved placation after placation. There is more, and more still.

The saddest part is that the majority of students don't have the opportunity to reflect as I did. The majority of students are put through the same brainwashing techniques in order to create a complacent labor force working in the interests of large corporations and secretive government, and worst of all, they are completely unaware of it. I will never be able to turn back these 18 years. I can't run away to another country with an education system meant to enlighten rather than condition. This part of my life is over, and I want to make sure that no other child will have his or her potential suppressed by powers meant to exploit and control. We are human beings. We are thinkers, dreamers, explorers, artists, writers, engineers. We are anything we want to be - but only if we have an educational system that supports us rather than holds us down. A tree can grow, but only if its roots are given a healthy foundation.

For those of you out there that must continue to sit in desks and yield to the authoritarian ideologies of instructors, do not be disheartened. You still have the opportunity to stand up, ask questions, be critical, and create your own perspective. Demand a setting that will provide you with intellectual capabilities that allow you to expand your mind instead of directing it. Demand that you be interested in class. Demand that the excuse, "You have to learn this for the test" is not good enough for you. Education is an excellent tool, if used properly, but focus more on learning rather than getting good grades.
For those of you that work within the system that I am condemning, I do not mean to insult; I intend to motivate. You have the power to change the incompetencies of this system. I know that you did not become a teacher or administrator to see your students bored. You cannot accept the authority of the governing bodies that tell you what to teach, how to teach it, and that you will be punished if you do not comply. Our potential is at stake.

For those of you that are now leaving this establishment, I say, do not forget what went on in these classrooms. Do not abandon those that come after you. We are the new future and we are not going to let tradition stand. We will break down the walls of corruption to let a garden of knowledge grow throughout America. Once educated properly, we will have the power to do anything, and best of all, we will only use that power for good, for we will be cultivated and wise. We will not accept anything at face value. We will ask questions, and we will demand truth.

So, here I stand. I am not standing here as valedictorian by myself. I was molded by my environment, by all of my peers who are sitting here watching me. I couldn't have accomplished this without all of you. It was all of you who truly made me the person I am today. It was all of you who were my competition, yet my backbone. In that way, we are all valedictorians.

I am now supposed to say farewell to this institution, those who maintain it, and those who stand with me and behind me, but I hope this farewell is more of a "see you later" when we are all working together to rear a pedagogic movement. But first, let's go get those pieces of paper that tell us that we're smart enough to do so!

Erica Goldson
Athens, NY

ht: Angelina

Sunday, July 18, 2010

From My Commonplace Book

"Earlier in this century someone claimed that we work at our play and play at our work. Today the confusion has deepened: we worship our work, work at out play, and play at our worship."~~Leland Ryken

"The feeling that 'if nothing is happening, nothing is happening' is the prejudice of a superficial, dependent and hollow spirit, one that has succumbed to the age and can prove its own excellence only by the pseudo-events it is constantly organizing, like a bee, to that end."~~Vaclav Havel

"Wonder is the workshop of worship. The child who wonders is moving toward worship."~~Steven Faulkner

"We have also been the beneficiaries of an extraordinary web of relationships. We have begun to understand that true education is more about a culture than it is about a curriculum. It's more about a way of life than it is a way of doing. A vision of what God's called you to than it is about a mechanical set of prescriptives that are to be implemented in your life. It is about relationships, about community, about the rich covenant into which you have been grafted by God's good providence."~~George Grant

Friday, July 9, 2010

House Tour--Bathroom

At long last, pictures of our one-and-only bathroom! In the five places wherein we have dwelt for the 23 years minus one month that Man of the House and I have been married, we have had only bathroom. It hasn't been so bad with the just the four of us. A little creative scheduling usually gets us all in there as needed, though sometimes there is a bit of a pile up when we are going to be out and about. One time, a family of eight visited us and since we were going to the park, we all wanted to make a pit stop first. Talk about a pile up! But they were very patient and gracious. In fact, they were used to taking turns since they only have one bathroom too.

It's a pretty small room with a lot of angles, so it was hard to get decent pictures. I couldn't get a sweeping panorama because a long, skinny room is not conducive to good photography. I did my best.

Here's what you see as you come in and look a little to the left. I like shower curtains better than glass doors because they add some color and interest and they are easier to keep clean than glass doors.

Keep looking to your left and you see the sink, window, medicine cabinet, etc.

Another view:

I bought this wicker shelf at a rummage sale about 15 years ago for $2. It's been painted white, pink, and now gold. It's really served its purpose well. The picture on the right is a souvenir my mother brought me from Prince Edward Island showing Green Gables.

This porcelain penguin is another gift from my mother. Though she bought it in Hungary (I think!), it's stamped "USSR" on the bottom, which I think is neat since that nation no longer exists.

Proof positive that the shelf is hung above the toilet. This is the best picture of our toilet that you are going to get. I'm not into taking pictures of toilets and posting them on the internet.

If you close the door and stand under the window, this what you see at the other end:

The curtain on the window is not really a curtain at all. It's made of three cloth napkins! Ta-da! I couldn't find a curtain I liked, so I just draped these over the rod instead.

I cannot describe to you the utter and complete ugliness of this bathroom when we first moved here. Words fail me. Oh, the brown paneling! The worn out vinyl flooring! The dingy tub! The whole room was drab and dreary and depressing. The paneling is still there, but it got painted a nice warm ivory, and the floor has been redone twice, to say nothing of the installation of a new tub and shower enclosure. I think the painted paneling gives it a nice, cottage-y look. Here's the newest flooring:

I do love the big vanity. It's got lots of room to store toiletries and keep them out of sight.

It's not a luxurious bathroom by any means. There are no garden tubs, heated towel racks, or dressing tables, but it's been all we need. I think we all just ought to be thankful we don't have to use something like this:

I hope you enjoyed this tour of my bathroom! Next up: Man of the House's office (formerly, Girl Out of the House's bedroom).

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Summer Reading So Far

Remember this post in which I said that I wanted to read and make a quilt this summer? I have been sorting through fabric for the quilt, but that's as far as I have gotten so far with that. All that traveling is not conducive to quilting. But I can read while traveling and so far I have read four books. Here's the low-down:

Motel of the Mysteries by David Macaulay~~I almost feel guilty counting this one because it is so short. This book is a spoof of archaeology and its sometimes creative interpretations of ancient discoveries. An archaeologist from the 41st century discovers a 20th century motel site and completely misunderstands everything he sees. For instance, since everthing in the room is arranged for the greatest possible ease in TV watching, the archaelogist mistakes the TV for an altar and the remote control as a means to communicate with the gods. (Sounds like a lot of living rooms I've seen . . . and kitchens . . . and bedrooms.) His interpretations of the bathroom and its contents are even funnier. I think this is a valuable book for students in about fifth grade and up to read because it will teach them to take what they read in National Geographic and on museum plaques with a very large grain of salt.

The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith by Peter Hitchens~~Name sound familiar? Peter is the brother of noted atheist, Christopher Hitchens. I found this book fascinating. Peter tells his story of his own loss of faith and subsequent return to it. He details his entry into the League of the Militant Godless, as he calls it, and states that atheism conveniently allowed him to behave very badly. His return to faith was particularly interesting to me because he has returned to the most traditional and liturgical form of Anglicanism he could find. Having recently become a Lutheran, I am finding myself falling in love with the liturgy, and I was excited to get this peek into why the author chose liturgical Christianity over the contemporary evangelical type. Peter Hitchens is honest about his own trespasses and his need for a Savior. He's also honest about his relationship with Christopher. And there are quite a few history lessons regarding Britain in the 20th that were compelling. Definitely worth the read.

The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease~~Okay, I picked this up at Goodwill for two bucks, so it was the second edition (1990), not the sixth edition (2006). I bought it because . . . well, I don't really know why I bought and I didn't really expect to do more than leaf through it from time to time, but the bits and pieces I skimmed were intriguing so I ended up reading the whole thing. We've always read aloud to our children, and I often tell Man of the House that I wish I knew how many collective hours we've spent reading to our kids. Thousands upon thousands, I'm sure. So I didn't really expect this book to have much to say me since I was already a firm believer. But I was wrong. The statistics were confirming but not as much as the real-life stories of children turned on to reading through being read to. One complaint I have is that the book is a wee bit repetitive. Oh, and I hope (and assume) that the new edition takes the internet into account the way the 1990 edition does the telly.

The Moffats by Eleanor Estes~~Why have I never read this delightful book before? In fact, I'd never read anything by Eleanor Estes before. I loved it! This book is more a series of vignettes of the Moffat clan than a book with a tightly woven plot with rising and falling action. There is the thread of an impending move woven throughout, however. Children everywhere will relate to the quirky escapades of the imaginative Moffats, a family trying to get along about the turn of the last century without the father, who has died. That's the only sad note in it. The rest is hilarity!

So that's it for summer reading so far. More to come later!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Our Trip to Indiana

Our trip to Indiana was for more than just fun, though we did have some of that too. Man of the House, who has been thinking of entering pastoral ministry for the past twenty-five years, was being interviewed by the Clergy Commission of the American Association of Lutheran Churches. I'm happy to say that he passed his interview, and the entire application process, with flying colors and has been accepted into the Rostered (or is it Registered?) Licensed Lay Pastor program. He'll continue taking classes through the American Lutheran Theological Seminary (he began this spring) and will be placed in a church under the supervision of another pastor. The entire process will result in a master's degree (his second) and ordination as a full-fledged minister in the AALC in five to seven years. He has already been approached about taking a church in Ohio (yea~the Midwest!), teaching Greek in the seminary, and editing the denominational magazine. So it looks like a move is inevitable, but the timing is still up in the air. We appreciated any and all prayers that the Lord will guide us through this process!

While Man of the House attended the AALC convention, Girl of the House and I did some shopping (fabric and books) and sightseeing. Before the convention began, we all three went to the delightful and enjoyable Fort Wayne Children's Zoo. We rode the Sky Safari (a ski lift type ride that offers a view of almost the entire zoo) and the log ride. Here are some pictures from the Sky Safari:

Jellyfish fascinate me:

A kangaroo as seen from the log ride:

Later in the week Girl of the House and I went to Science Central. While it's not as big and elaborate as the St. Louis Science Center we still enjoy it.

Girl of the House being all hands-on:

A model of the Hubble Space Telescope:

I always wanted to be an astronaut! (Oops! It's sideways!)

If you ever get to Fort Wayne, be sure to visit Hyde Bros. Used Books. It's a glorious place to get lost in. And there's even a cat! The shop is crowded but well-organized. I think I could easily spend a whole day there.

At Hancock's Fabrics we bought some brown sueded fabric for a skirt for Girl of the House, and I bought a remnant or two for the quilt I am going to make this summer. I'll show you pictures when they get made.

All in all, the trip was fun and profitable. After all, Man of the House is one
large step closer to his dream!

Catching Up

Lake Michigan--gorgeous! It really has been two months since I last made a blog post!  This summer has been full of traveling, gardening...

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