Friday, March 28, 2008

Why Not KJV?

I use the Ambleside Online curriculum, and for our daily Bible reading AO suggests we use the KJV.  In an article on the AO website, the use of the KJV is defended on literary grounds.   The argument is that since the KJV uses big words and rich language, and since it is often quoted in great literature, we are intellectually improved by reading it.

I do not disagree with that argument.  Familiarity with the KJV is almost certainly useful in reading literature and in generally improving one’s intellect and grasp of language.  However, I think that this quote from early in the article is key:

"Decisions about which version a) is the more correct translation or b) will most readily help your child understand the truth of God’s Word, should be approached individually, intellectually and prayerfully."

Now, the article goes on to immediately add a third criterion, that of enhancing a literary education, but it is my contention that this criterion has no place in a discussion of Bible translations.  When selecting a translation to use for Bible study (rather than for some school-related reading that is in addition to regular Bible study), the two questions given in the quoted selection should be the primary considerations.

I am not going to advocate for any particular translation.  I am, however, going to argue that the KJV is singularly unsuited to effective Bible study today.

As far as question a) is concerned, which is the more correct translation, the old KJV is certainly out of the running as we now have available much better texts.  However, the NKJV has made changes based on the newer information.

Some sites which offer information to compare available translations (I have not extensively reviewed these sites, so I can’t vouch for them; on cursory review they looked helpful):
Question b) holds quite a bit of weight for me, assuming no significant issues were found with question a).  In other words, after we’ve determined that  a particular set of translations are acceptably accurate, then we need to grapple with which one is going to best convey the meaning of the text, which is of course the point of Bible study–understanding.

The KJV uses archaic language.  That of course is the attraction for those who wish to use it as a tool for improving our minds, and I understand that appeal.  But for the purpose of Bible study, using archaic language represents an obstacle to understanding.  It’s not just that the KJV uses big words and complicated sentences.  If those big words and complicated sentences fairly communicate the sense of the original, particularly if the original also used big words and complicated sentences, that would not be problematic.  The problem arises more from the fact that the KJV also uses words not in use today at all, as well as words whose meaning has changed so that what the word means today is not what it meant in the past.  That latter group creates the most barriers to understanding, since we read the word and assume we know the meaning because we have no way of knowing that its meaning has changed.

Can a child learn to read and understand the KJV?  Certainly.  I contend, however, that the Bible study done with this version will not reach the child’s heart as effectively as study done with a version using modern English.  I donate money each month to support Bible translation internationally.  These translations are being done in areas where Bibles are available in a language spoken in that area, but not in the "heart language" of the particular people group.  In other words, those people grow up speaking one language, but learn another for purposes of communicating with the larger world.  They have a Bible available in their second language but not their first.  The Bible translation effort is necessary because God’s word is not effectively reaching their hearts when it comes through a language that does not reach their heart.  How ironic would it be if I helped these people receive God’s word in their own language but gave my children God’s word in a language we do not speak in our home?  I have yet to meet anyone who speaks KJV English in their home.

Ambleside is a Charlotte Mason curriculum.  Charlotte Mason used the KJV, but she used it because it was the only option at the time.  Also, the language used in homes at the time she wrote wasn’t nearly as far removed from KJV English as the language used in homes today.  She doesn’t discuss Bible translations much because that wasn’t an issue in her day.  She suggests that children can understand Bible language better than we give them credit for, and that they should not be given watered-down retellings.  She does, however, emphasize the idea that spiritual training is about helping children develop a relationship with God and suggests in at least one place that KJV English interferes with that process:
From Volume 2, pp.56-7:
But the little English child is thrust out in the cold by an archaic mode of address, reverent in the ears of us older people, but forbidding, we may be sure, to the child. Then, for the Lord’s Prayer, what a boon would be a truly reverent translation of it into the English of to-day! To us, who have learned to spell it out, the present form is dear, almost sacred; but we must not forget that it is after all only a translation, and is, perhaps, the most archaic piece of English in modern use: ‘which art,’ [Catholics say 'who art'] commonly rendered ‘chart,’ means nothing for a child. ‘Hallowed’ is the speech of a strange tongue to him––not much more to us; ‘trespasses’ is a semi-legal term, never likely to come into his every-day talk; and no explanation will make ‘Thy’ have the same force for him as ‘your’. To make a child utter his prayers in a strange speech is to put up a barrier between him and his ‘Almighty Lover.’ Again, might we not venture to teach our children to say ‘Dear God’? A parent, surely, can believe that no austerely reverential style can be so sweet in the Divine Father’s ears as the appeal to ‘dear God’ for sympathy in joy and help in trouble, which flows naturally from the little child who is ‘used to God.’ Let children grow up aware of the constant, immediate, joy-giving, joy-taking Presence in the midst of them, and you may laugh at all assaults of ‘infidelity,’ which is foolishness to him who knows his God as––only far better than––he knows father or mother, wife or child.
Choosing a Bible translation to use can be daunting.  There’s no one right answer.  In our home we use several versions in different contexts and for different purposes, and the KJV is available to the children as well.  I do agree with the statement quoted above, from the AO article, that a translation should be selected after much study and prayer.

A New Hen?

Two weeks ago my mom unexpectedly bought us a laying hen to keep our other hen company.  She got an 8-month-old Black Australorp from a flea market, and was assured that the hen had laid an egg that very day.   We had a little trouble introducing the new hen, which the kids named ‘Popo’, as she didn’t like to stay in our yard and kept escaping to the woods.  However, she eventually settled down, but she never did start laying.  The kids also noticed that she made strange sounds, different from our other hen.

Well, yesterday while we were getting ready in the morning my husband informed me that our "hen" was crowing.  I poo-pooed his observation, reminding him that she always had made odd sounds.  But later that morning, with the kitchen window open, I heard a flat out, clear-as-a-bell "cock-a-doodle-doo."  I have it on good authority that hens don’t crow, so it seems clear that we have a rooster who just reached puberty (and is not yet nearly 8 months old)!  Goodbye Popo; hello Alexander the Great!

The chickens had already been providing excellent opportunities for nature study, even to following the actual lessons in Handbook of Nature Study.  Now we are able to observe the remarkable, almost instantaneous changes in our rooster’s appearance and behavior.  Yesterday, when our rooster was mounting the hen, we got a whole new area of lesson, and I’m pretty sure our hen (who’s never been around other chickens) was taken by surprise!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Hickety Pickety My Fine Hen

We just acquired a chicken, one which was previously a family’s pet.  This was a boon to us because my intentions to build a henhouse and run never went anywhere due to time and money constraints, but once the chicken was here we had to build a suitable shelter immediately.  The henhouse we inherited but the run we had to create.

DD age 4 will be the owner of the chicken, and as such she’ll eventually take on most of the chicken care and half of the expense.  At the moment, DH and I are helping quite a bit as we figure out what we’re doing.  Right now the kids love carrying her around or watching her scurry around the yard snatching up bugs (and at least one small toad so far, to the older DD’s dismay).  And of course the first green egg collected was a wonderment.

Now I’ve got to go look through the relevant section of the Handbook of Nature Study, which as I recall suggests that bird study begin with chickens.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Easter Preparation

We don't really observe Lent in our house.  Neither of us comes from a liturgical church tradition, so my dh and I do not have any history to draw from.  We have decided to include some of the liturgical church year in our home, though, to provide a framework for some of our spiritual training.  Lent provides an excellent introduction to Easter (which is of course its intent), but we don't "do Lent" in any traditional sense.

This year, starting on Ash Wednesday or shortly thereafter, we began exploring the story of the Good Shepherd.  The girls each had a set of paper figures--one shepherd and several sheep--and a shoebox sheepfold, left from last year.  DS got a tissue box sheepfold, a clothespin doll shepherd, and some cotton ball sheep.  We explored a different aspect of the story each week.

Older dd needed a bit more, so we also read the Gospel reading from lectionary cycle A each week (although we missed a few weeks because I forgot).  Next year I'll try to remember to have both girls illustrate that reading each week.

Starting with Palm Sunday, we began reading from the lectionary Gospel reading each day at breakfast, still reading from cycle A.  In this way we've read through the whole passion story up through the burial.  We've been listening to the second part of Handel's Messiah each night at supper.

On Palm Sunday, the kids made their own palms and danced.

On Thursday we ate matzo ball soup and a modified haroset (a fruit salad for Passover). 

Today we made hot cross buns (although again they are rising very slowly and look to be headed for the rock status they had last year, alas).  We also made jeweled crosses (to symbolize how beautiful is the cross of Christ) and a rock tomb, into which we put the clothespin good shepherd before sealing it with a rock.

Tomorrow we will go through our Resurrection Eggs, I'll hang up a fancy jeweled egg we have, and perhaps we'll decorate eggs (although that isn't likely).  I learned today that long ago the egg symbolized the rock tomb in which Jesus' body was laid, so egg activities are particularly appropriate for Saturday.  Then tomorrow night we'll bake our Easter Story Cookies.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Flower Garden

In Volume 1 (titled "Home Education") of her six-volume series, Charlotte Mason talks about the kindergarten, which at the time was a new concept.  She discusses this new approach to educating small children in terms of its educational value and then in terms of its philosophical value.  She had concerns about both.  In this post I’d like to look at her second area of concern, the philosophical underpinnings of the kindergarten. 

CM criticizes the "garden" concept as setting up a false analogy–children are not flowers and the sort of care effective with plants does not work well for children.  "The outcome of any thought is necessarily moulded by that thought, and to have a cultivated garden as the ground-plan of our educational thought, either means nothing at all, which it would be wronging the Master to suppose, or it means undue interference with the spontaneous development of a human being."  Vol 1, p. 189

I believe she is saying that these "gardens" give each child the same treatment, expecting the same result at the end for each child.  There is no recognition that children are actually "born persons" (remember the 20 principles?) and that they may have natural bents that differ from each other and even from what we’ve planned for them.  But CM always recognizes that children are people from the very beginning and that we must work with them as they are, in their individuality.  She goes on in the following paragraph and decries the organized activities for infants that are so popular even today.  What is her concern?  That the natural, sweet play of mothers with infants is being supplanted by something less when we substitute  pre-planned games for spontaneous play.  She follows this by decrying the unnatural arrangement which puts many children of the same age together for hours on end every day.  Then she explains, with two points:

1) "It is possible to supplement Nature so skilfully that we run some risk of supplanting her, depriving her of space and time to do her own work in her own way."  Vol 1, p. 191

God made us to grow in a certain way.  Sometimes, when we try to help the process along, we actually interfere.

2) "Nature will look after him and give him promptings of desire to know many things; and somebody must tell as he wants to know; and to do many things, and somebody should be handy just to put him in the way; and to be many things, naughty and good, and somebody should give direction."  Vol 1, p. 192

On the other hand, children can’t just be left on their own to grow without direction.  Parents are there to answer their questions and help them learn to do things and to help direct their moral development.  We must not interfere overmuch, but we must not let them alone altogether either.

"The educational error of our day is that we believe too much in mediators."  Vol 1, p. 192
We can make this error at home just as well as it can be made at school.  If we try to control the environment and development, hoping that in doing so we are ensuring a positive outcome, we are trusting in ourselves as mediator.  (This can be, in fact, a form of idolatry.)

Sometimes as homeschoolers we think we are avoiding many potential pitfalls by bringing our children home to educate, but I think the problems CM has with the kindergarten are often replicated in our own homes, even in homes where Charlotte Mason’s principles are being followed.

I believe this happens because so many of us find it so easy to slide into the "system" approach to homeschooling/parenting rather than using CM’s principles as a "method". For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, this is covered in Volume 2, where CM explains that she is giving a method (essentially some general principles to follow) rather than a system (a lined-out set of rules).

I believe that if you are viewing CM in terms of general principles that should be applied in a way that suits your particular child, you aren’t gardening.  At least, what I see CM telling me to watch for and diligently apply myself toward is very different from the externally-focused efforts that so many programs emphasize.
*But* if I instead try to outline her principles, look at the PNEU programs, see what others are doing, and then compile them all into a template that I can use in my home, and if I think that by following this template I will inevitably receive on the other end the sort of people I hoped for, then I’m making CM into a system, which was not her intention at all. 

I think one big culprit in this is the popular books about CM that really describe her philosophy in terms that easily become a system, a checklist of activities and experiences.  Another big culprit is our natural human tendency to prefer systems to methods.  Systems are easier and require less from us, and they also leave us with less responsibility.

Charlotte Mason calls us to be much more than gardeners, much more than mediators or gatekeepers.  She is calling us to exercise our God-given role, with the help of our intellect and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to assist in the work God is already doing with our children.  We can’t shirk our responsibility or foist it off onto someone else (a teacher at school or the creator of a curriculum), but we also shouldn’t believe that we are solely responsible for the outcome or that we can, by completely controlling the situation, ensure the results we desire.  The results we desire will come only by the grace of God.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Where Do I Start?

It seems like the biggest obstacle faced by parents thinking of implementing a CM homeschool is figuring out how to get started.  This is especially true if they are thinking of using Ambleside, because Ambleside doesn’t come in a nice neat package with a teacher guide.  This is magnified by the confusing array of websites and books professing to guide parents in implementing a CM education–in many cases these end up replacing CM’s method with a system.

Carol H., a wise and knowledgable contributor to the Ambleside Yahoo group among others, has a website full of helps for beginning Charlotte Mason homeschoolers, particularly those using Ambleside.

The various CM Yahoo groups can be helpful as well.  Many different curricula can be implemented using CM’s principles, but none will be completely successful if those principles are not understood.  You can’t just follow a teacher guide.  Reading and discussing CM’s volumes with others on one of the Yahoo groups helps clarify what a CM education really is.  The CM Series group always has one or more volumes being discussed.  The CMason group discusses implementation.  The Ambleside Year 0 group discusses applying CM’s methods to preschool and kindergarten (and is more of a general CM group than a specifically Ambleside group).  The Ambleside Online group helps answer questions specifically about implementing that curriculum.

Start where you are, and implement as much as you know.  You can learn as you go, but don’t be afraid to start.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Unforgiving Servant

My dh and I are taking a video course at church covering the material in the book Grace-Based Parenting.  In the book, Tim Kimmel encourages us to show the same grace to our children that God shows to us.  He explains what our children really need from us and what it looks like to show grace through our parenting.  As I’ve been thinking over my recent readings in the book, I’ve realized that I’ve had a perfect opportunity to show grace in my own home.

Last fall I had a baby, baby number four.  At least two of the other three kids had sensitivities to foods I ate while nursing, but this baby had severe reactions to almost everything I ate.  In order to allow him to sleep at all, rather than screaming while doubled-up in pain, I had to restrict my diet to chicken, rice, beef, pasta, and cheerios, more or less.  All seasonings had to go.  All dairy and soy had to go.  It’s certainly been a struggle for me to nurse a baby and handle my other responsibilities while not being able to eat normally, and it was especially difficult during the Thanksgiving/Christmas season.  But I’ve felt blessed that I’ve been able to resolve a source of extreme discomfort for my child.

Interestingly, I’ve had a couple of people express amazement that I would go to this length for my baby.  One even told me (and she has two small children) that she would just put him in his room and let him cry rather than adjust her diet so drastically!  Somehow, the thought of eating normally and just allowing him to suffer never occurred to me.  I think I did that somewhat with baby number three, but that was because I didn’t know my eating was causing his distress.  This time I had a wise advisor who helped me find the right foods to eliminate.

This situation has reminded me of the parable of the unforgiving servant.  God shows me grace in many ways, not least of which is the fact that even though I was completely helpless and completely unloving and unlovable, He went to the extreme length of sending His Son to go through terrible agony for me.  How could I fail to show a small measure of grace to my own child by enduring a much smaller discomfort on his behalf?  (A friend pointed out that, although I felt very deprived, I am still able to eat more variety and certainly much more quantity than many if not most of the world’s inhabitants.)

I don’t know when I’ll be able to return to an unrestricted diet.  But for now, every time I eat I’m reminded of the grace that has been given to me.

Free Time

There was much to think about in this article, but one statement really stood out to me:

Miss Mason devises time-tables which cover such reasonable hours as to leave time over for this solitude, but parents are often very culpable in thinking that Tango or some other new thing must be learned as well, and the much needed time for solitude is used for plans which necessitate hurried journeys, always in the company of a responsible person, who feels it her duty to talk in an instructive way, and the thinking time, the growing time, the time in which the mind is to find food is diminished, and the child becomes restless, tiresome, irritable, disobedient, everything that a child who is reputed to be difficult can be.

Wow! Isn’t that exactly what we homeschoolers are terrible about doing? When the children should have free time, we instead schedule all kinds of extra activities that we just know they *have* to have, and so their lives pass away without this valuable time for reflecting. It’s hard to buck the trend and decide that they can, indeed, grow up without dance or soccer or choir or whatever worthwhile activity it is. Because the activities are generally good ones, but there isn’t time for all of them. And the more children you have, the more you really have to cut back if free time is to be secured for all the children (unless you have the resources to hire a driver to take the children to their activities lol).

Is Play Important?

Here are three very different articles addressing this subject:
Old-Fashioned Play Builds Serious Skills
Taking Play Seriously
A game called suicide

Children on Sundays

Defining our Sundays has been a nagging issue for me.  What do I want the children to get from Sunday?  What is it about for our family?  How can we best achieve that?

This Parents’ Review article nicely analyzes the issues and provides suggestions to help families come up with a plan that helps them define and achieve their goals.

I am always unimpressed with one-size-fits-all edicts, especially since one size doesn’t even fit my own family at different life seasons or circumstances.  This article makes no edicts but instead helped me clarify the real issues to be addressed.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Lenten Observance

This year for Lent, just like last year, we’re exploring the story of the Good Shepherd to prepare the children for the ideas embodied in Easter.   Our activities are coming from Celebrating the Church Year with Young Children, a book I’ve found very helpful even though it’s written from a Catholic perspective and I’m not Catholic (or even in a liturgical church).  Last year, I photocopied a sheet with a shepherd and sheep to cut out and made one set for each of the girls, along with a shoebox sheepfold for each.  This year the oldest boy needed a set, and I forgot to photocopy the page.  Plus, I didn’t think a paper set would survive his play for long.  We just happened to be making clothespin dolls anyway, so I made him a clothespin shepherd with cotton ball sheep (they really are just cotton balls!) and a tissue box sheepfold.  This was a perfect solution!

UPDATE:  The sheep in the picture is not a cotton ball, of course.  The ones in his set are.  In the photo he was using his shepherd with his farm toys.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Grace Based Parenting

Tim Kimmel’s Grace Based Parenting details an approach to parenting that meshes nicely with Charlotte Mason’s philosophy.  Kimmel’s approach, like CM’s, holds out high expectations for children but expects parents to help children meet those expectations with graceful guidance rather than brute force.  I see no indication that Mr. Kimmel has ever read CM’s works, but their thinking follows along the same lines.  Kimmel outlines the primary needs children have, then shows how parents can meet those needs by showing children the same grace that God has already shown us.  He recommends that parents examine their children’s strengths and weaknesses, looking for ways to hone the strengths and help the child overcome the weaknesses, in the same way that Charlotte Mason encourages us to use habit training not only to avoid the child’s natural flaws but also to avoid the pitfalls in their virtues.  He suggests that parents follow the child’s natural bent rather than imposing our own vision, just as CM says that "children are born persons" and we must respect the persons they are rather than trying to make them into the persons we want them to be.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

A System for Chores

DD, age 7, has a few regular responsibilities in our home, such as making her bed and clearing her place at the table after each meal.  She’s big enough to do more than that, and so for at least a year she’s had extra chores to do each school day.  We started with cleaning her toilet (on the outside) and mopping the kitchen floor.  However, she got tired of doing the same chores over and over, so after seeing someone else’s comments about negotiating for chores I started letting her contract for her work for a month at a time. 

At the end of each month, I get out a file box in which I keep 3×5 cards, one card for each household task.  (My list is extremely incomplete, but I add to it as I think of new tasks.)  Cards without a point value are not for her.  Cards for her have either 5 or 10 points marked.  She must select a total of 10 points each day, Monday through Friday.  When the chores are selected and I’ve agreed to them, we write them in her planner, listing the assigned chore for each weekday of the next month.

Often after she completes a chore for the first time, she decides she doesn’t like it or it’s too hard, but I remind her that it was her choice and she must finish out the month.  She does like the variety and the fact that she is able to choose for herself.