Archive for the ‘Amy Welborn’ Category

7 Quick Takes

—1 —

Living Faith today. Here. 

And here’s the landscape in question:


— 2 —


I was, as thousands of others were, saddened at the passing of “Mrs. T.” – Hilary Teachout, wife of critic and playwright Terry Teachout. 

How generous of Terry to share a brief account of Mrs. T’s “last good day,” as well as the entire journey.

— 3 —

A Clerk of Oxford: The Long Lent and the History of Quarantine:

The sombre themes which Lent demands we reflect on are now our daily preoccupation; texts used every year in the liturgy during Lent – contemplations of mortality and the brevity of life, the lamentations of Jeremiah, Psalm 91 with its promise of being saved from plague and pestilence – seem almost too pointed this year.

Even the suspension of worship in churches, though in some ways unprecedented, has a slightly uncanny Lenten parallel. (The date on which it ceased was also, as pointed out here, an extraordinary coincidence with the single comparable precedent for this in British history.) In Lent the church traditionally forgoes, temporarily fasts, from some aspects of the liturgy: the Alleluia is ‘locked’ away, as it was expressed in medieval England, to be unlocked again at Easter. During Passiontide, the last fortnight in Lent, statues and crucifixes in church are covered up, hidden and shrouded as a token of the deepening solemnity of the season. Last week, many people could still at least see the inside of churches they love via livestreamed services, but tighter restrictions mean that even that is now forbidden for many; and so Passion Sunday marked the beginning of a period when many churches will be entirely shrouded and invisible for a long time to come. It’s a strange coincidence, of the kind a medieval historian, trained to be attuned to the intersections between unfolding human history and the liturgical year, would have found fascinating (and most likely they would have said it was not a coincidence at all).


— 4 —

I will be reading this book: Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family.

Don and Mimi Galvin seemed to be living the American dream. After World War II, Don’s work with the Air Force brought them to Colorado, where their twelve children perfectly spanned the baby boom: the oldest born in 1945, the youngest in 1965. In those years, there was an established script for a family like the Galvins–aspiration, hard work, upward mobility, domestic harmony–and they worked hard to play their parts. But behind the scenes was a different story: psychological breakdown, sudden shocking violence, hidden abuse. By the mid-1970s, six of the ten Galvin boys, one after another, were diagnosed as schizophrenic. How could all this happen to one family?
     What took place inside the house on Hidden Valley Road was so extraordinary that the Galvins became one of the first families to be studied by the National Institute of Mental Health. Their story offers a shadow history of the science of schizophrenia, from the era of institutionalization, lobotomy, and the schizophrenogenic mother to the search for genetic markers for the disease, always amid profound disagreements about the nature of the illness itself. And unbeknownst to the Galvins, samples of their DNA informed decades of genetic research that continues today, offering paths to treatment, prediction, and even eradication of the disease for future generations.


— 5 –

Holy Week at home? Yes, we will. A few resources. I might do a post on this over the weekend, so forgive the repetition in advance. Just in case I don’t get to it:

The Diocese of Phoenix has a nice pdf/flipbook here. 



— 6 —

From the Catholic Truth Society.

Most of us would pray the Stations of the Cross at church with our parish, but now that’s not possible we can still do it at home. This is a really important devotion for Holy Week because then more than ever we need to meditate on Jesus’ Passion. We’ll be praying two Stations every day throughout Holy Week from St John Henry Newman on the Hozana prayer platform, and you can either get the stations by email or via the app/website.

— 7 —

From Fr. Roger Landry:

On Good Friday, spend the whole day entering into the Passion of Christ as well as you can. In addition to the reading and videos mentioned above, it might be helpful to listen or watch one of the many recordings of Jesus’ seven last words available on the internet, to pray the Stations at home, to begin the novena to Divine Mercy. It would be a special day to entrust to Jesus all those who have died or whose lives are at risk because of the coronavirus, that they might receive what Jesus gave the Good Thief.

On Holy Saturday, prepare interiorly for the Easter Vigil after the long Lent of 2020. It’s the longest and richest Mass of the year, in which we relive so many of the principal events of salvation history. Stoke your gratitude for all God has done. Pray for the grace to enter fully into Jesus’ triumph over death. Commit yourself to seek the things that are above. Open yourself to the joy that the risen Christ is with us until the end of time.

While the first Holy Week was chaotic, it still accomplished its purpose. As we relive those mysteries next week in the midst of multiple challenges, the God of miracles can nevertheless make it the holiest week or our year.





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Today, we remember St. Francis of  Paola, an interesting saint. Here’s a good post from the Monastery of Christ in the Desert:

The immensely popular saint of Paola, Francis, born Francesco Martolilla, lived from 1416 to 1507. He was the founder of the Order of Minims (think here, “minimal” or “little” brothers) and was never ordained a priest. The name of the Order, Minims, refers to the members’ role as “the least of all the faithful,” as their founder expressed it. Humility was and is to be a hallmark of the Minims of Francis of Paola.

The Minim friars profess the traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, as well as a fourth vow of abstinence from meat and other animal products, which includes eggs, butter, cheese and milk. In addition to friars, who are either priests or brothers, Francis of Paola also founded monasteries of contemplative nuns and a third order for people living in the world. One of the most famous members of the third order was the great French bishop of Geneva, Saint Francis de Sales. Just above the Paola sanctuary is a monastery of Minim nuns, eight in number. I was able to join them for Mass one morning during my visit to Paola.

Francis of Paola was canonized in 1519 by Pope Leo X and his feast day is April 2nd, the date of his death. Francis of Paola is patron of Calabria, as well as of boatmen, mariners and naval officers. He is much loved and venerated throughout Italy, but most especially, of course, in his birthplace of Paola.

Already a devout Catholic, in his adolescence Francis spent some time with Franciscan friars, partly in fulfillment of a vow made by his parents when he was cured of an eye ailment as a baby. After his year-long Franciscan experience, he made a pilgrimage with his parents to Assisi, passing through Rome, Loreto and a few hermitages along the way. This experience convinced Francis to become a hermit himself, which he did on his father’s estate and eventually at a small grotto on the hillside above the town of Paola next to the Isca waterfall and river that flows down to the ocean.

After several years alone in the cave by the waterfall and stream, in 1435 disciples began to come asking to share in the life Francis was living, desiring to dedicate themselves to prayer, fasting, work and contemplation, like Brother Francis of Paola. Eventually Francis and his followers founded a religious Order of hermits, at first called the Hermits of Saint Francis of Assisi, but later renamed the Order of Minims. The initials of the Order of Minims are O.M.

In 1483, when sixty-five years old, and with a reputation as a holy wonder-worker, Francis was called to the court of King Louis XI of France. The king was suffering from grave illness and hoped the holy hermit of Paola could bring about a cure. Instead, Francis was able to bring about the conversion of the king to a genuine Christian life. Francis of Paola remained in France for the next twenty-four years and died at Tours, on April 2nd, 1507, when he was ninety-one years old. He was buried in France. In 1562 the tomb of Francis of Paola was vandalized by Protestant Huguenots, who burned and scattered his bones. These were recovered by Catholic faithful and the relics distributed to various churches of Saint Francis of Paolo’s Order of Minims.

Now, one of the reasons I want to write about this St. Francis today is his connection with someone else  – the great composer Franz Liszt.

Liszt being on my mind because the youngest son worked on the  piece Sposalizio for months last year.

Liszt, of course, was a fascinating character who had deep and fraught ties to his Catholic faith.

Sposalizio, in fact, was inspired by a Raphael painting of the Wedding of the Virgin. 

Late in life, Liszt attempted to center his life more intentionally on faith (very complicated), moving to Rome and even taking minor orders. You can read about his spiritual journey here, in a piece by pianist Stephen HoughAlso, there is a great deal from a biography of Liszt available on Google Books here. He wrote a piano piece inspired by a legend of St. Francis of Paola:



More on Liszt’s religious works here.


Here’s a performance of the piece:



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It Can Be Done


Update:  Here’s a list of diocesan policies on this matter, regularly updated. 

I have a screed with an side of rant churning in my head about the institutional Church’s response to this pandemic. Two actually. I just need to tease the two ideas apart and make sure that my ranting is pithy.

But in the meantime, I’ll accentuate the positive, and share some good news from our local church, the Diocese of Birmingham.

First, the churches are open. This is very important. It is vile to close churches at a time like this. If you are concerned about contagion, you get off your lazy, fearful, unimaginative tail and take care of it. You limit the space where people can sit to pray (maybe blocking off  every other pew, for example), and have someone present at all times the church is open to 1) safeguard social distancing and 2) do a quick clean of a space after someone has left.

The two churches with which I am most familiar around here are our Cathedral and the church where my son plays the organ. Both are open, both actively encourage people to come pray, both provide resources for prayer and holy water.

(Links go to Facebook posts – I tried to embed, but it didn’t work.)

The Cathedral:


St. Barnabas:



Both are also streaming Masses and Holy Hours – and other parishes in the area are doing so as well. I won’t focus on that, since everybody seems to be doing so. (Much to the consternation of a Spanish bishop, who is not impressed. More on that later)

Both are encouraging continued access to sacraments, particularly the Anointing of the Sick and Confession, and even Baptism. In some dioceses, the CLOSED sign has been slapped up in respect to every pastoral and sacramental activity, but not here. I think our rector’s words on Anointing and Baptism are worth noting:

First, Baptisms:

The Church, following the clear indications of Sacred Scripture and immemorial Tradition, teaches that baptism is ordinarily necessary for salvation, and that parents are to have their children baptized within “the first few weeks” after birth (Code of Canon Law, canon 867 § 1). In view of the seriousness of this matter, even during this present COVID-19 crisis, Father Jerabek is continuing to offer the Sacrament of Baptism at the Cathedral, keeping in mind the following conditions:

  • Crowd size will be limited to 10 or less total (including the priest) – so the child, the parents, the godparent(s), and possibly a few guests.
  • “Social distancing” will be observed, with everyone standing at least 6′ apart for most of the ceremony; the one holding the baby and the priest will obviously have to get closer just briefly at a few moments — for the anointings and for the actual baptism.
  • The church will be locked during the ceremony, to prevent others from entering.
  • Hand sanitizer will be available for those who wish to use it after entering the church.
  • Fr. Jerabek will disinfect the holy water font, wiping down all surfaces, and fill it with fresh water before the ceremony. After the ceremony, he will remove the water from the font and clean it again.
  • It is permitted to use a video camera or cell phone to film the baptism or even “livestream” it for those who cannot be present.

We are rightfully taking many precautions at this time to protect physical health. However, we must not neglect spiritual health, which, in the end, is more important, since it affects our eternal destiny more directly.



Carefully, to be sure.

Like most priests, I’ve had many opportunities to anoint people who were extremely ill — including even times (such as with burn victims) where it was difficult to find a *convenient place* to anoint. Sometimes I’ve had to wear gloves (which I then burn and bury); several times, I’ve had to “suit up” to one degree or another in protective sanitary gear.

Nevertheless, notwithstanding all those precautions, the actual anointing was always done with my own thumb — until recently.

During this present crisis, where we are dealing with an apparently highly-contagious virus that can also be deadly, there is another level of precaution a priest can take: Canon Law (canon 1000 § 2) permits a priest to anoint by means of an “instrument”, for a grave cause.

Therefore, we can say the prefatory and concluding prayers from a safe distance, and instead of placing the hands on the person’s head to pray silently before anointing, extend the hand in the air; then, for the anointing itself, move in briefly, having dipped the cotton swab only once in the oil, and anoint the forehead and hands with it while saying the sacramental formula. Then into a resealable bag it goes — the whole thing to be burned and buried.

The Anointing of the Sick is a great consolation for those who have begun to be in danger of death due to sickness or old age, and it can even bring the forgiveness of mortal sins, when confession is not possible. We should always call a priest (and instruct our families and friends in that protocol) whenever and as soon as this sacrament is needed — don’t wait until the person is at death’s door!

Contact information is provided after both explanations, and encouragement –  encouragement – to get in contact.

Confessions at the Cathedral continue daily, via the front porch of the rectory. 


At St. Barnabas, Fr. Vu has erected “Mercy Lane” in the church parking lot:


And then, in one of many other  initiatives, up in Fort Payne, a priest processed with the Blessed Sacrament through a trailer-hood whose residents are mostly Hispanic parishioners:


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Looking Back at Toshiro Mifune's Legendary Career | The Dinner ...

I bet you’d almost forgotten, with all of this pandemic stuff happening…

But TCM didn’t forget – in honor of the great actor’s 100th birthday, they’re showing ten of his films today:

Known for his work with director and master of cinema Akira Kurosawa, Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune (1920-1997) became the face of Kurosawa’s work. Brooding and sinister or tender and funny, Mifune showed an impressive acting range. TCM honors his centennial birthday and celebrates this splendid talent with a day of his films, all of which were collaborations with Kurosawa.

Drunken Angel (1948), the first of Mifune’s 16 films for Kurosawa, casts him as a small-time hoodlum who is befriended by an alcoholic doctor (Takashi Shimura, the “drunken angel”), but runs afoul of his former gangster boss.

Stray Dog (1949), one of Japan’s first film noir detective movies, has Mifune as a rookie homicide detective investigating a gun racket.

Rashomon (1950) is the classic Oscar-winning tale, set in the eighth century, in which various characters provide differing accounts of the same incident – the rape of a bride and the murder of her samurai husband. Mifune plays the notorious outlaw who claims to have seduced the wife.

Seven Samurai (1954) is another hugely influential classic – an epic samurai drama about a village of farmers in 1586 who hire seven rōnin (masterless samurai) to combat bandits who plot to steal their crops. Mifune is Kikuchiyo, a rogue who lies about being a samurai but proves himself as a warrior.

Throne of Blood (1957) is an historical drama in which Kurosawa transplants the story of Macbeth from medieval Scotland to feudal Japan. Mifune stars as the Macbeth character.

The Hidden Fortress (1958) is the story of two greedy peasants in feudal Japan who escort a general (Mifune) and a princess across enemy lines without realizing their identity.

Yojimbo (1961) is a samurai adventure about a wandering rōnin known as Kuwabatake Sanjuro (Mifune), who arrives in a small town where two competing crime lords try to hire him as a bodyguard.

Sanjuro (1962) is a sequel to Yojimbo, with Mifune reprising his antihero character from the earlier film. In this one, Sanjuro becomes the protector of a chamberlain of a clan who is being threatened by an evil superintendent.

High and Low (1963) is a police drama starring Mifune as a wealthy executive who is told that his son has been kidnapped and is being held for ransom. The executive faces a moral dilemma after he realizes that his chauffeur’s son was taken by mistake.

Red Beard (1965) was the final collaboration between Kurosawa and Mifune. The actor plays a gruff-spoken but sympathetic doctor in 19th-century Japan who takes an arrogant young intern (Yûzô Kayama) under his guidance and teaches him lessons in humanity.

Also, I’m not one to generally care about looks, but Mifune is a very fine looking man.

We’ve seen: Seven Samurai, The Hidden Fortress, Yojimbo and High and Low. I’ve set the machine to “record” for the rest. I’m thinking Sanjuro will be next.


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…not saying that ironically either!

A short story I wrote, “A Reason for Everything” has made it to the final round of the Dappled Things J.F. Powers Prize for Short Fiction. 

I’m very honored and not a little surprised.

If you’d like to read more of my fiction – go here for The Absence of War. 

Also via Dappled Things, a post by Josh Nadeau on The New PopeYou might recall that I wrote about The Young Pope here, intending to watch the new series. I watched the first episode, read recaps of subsequent episodes, and decided, doing that calculus of “life is short – what do I want to spend my time on?” – that this probably wasn’t worth it. Nadeau’s piece indicates that my intuitions were probably correct, however – what he says about the guiding, framing instinct behind the work is important and thought-provoking. He’s absolutely right. And this isn’t just about art that has religion as its subject. It’s about all art in the present moment, cowering under the threat of judgment and Cancel Culture from every direction:

While I’m sure others might disagree, I have a feeling that if we want to get through to the other side, to a place where we see more art that engages wholeheartedly with the deep realities of religious, clerical and institutional lives, we need to process and imbibe just what The New Pope does right. Even if that means rubbing up against what it does wrong. That doesn’t mean legitimizing its flaws or pretending they don’t matter, but it does call for rigorous, generous engagement.

I think what I want to say is that I’m not entirely sure if The New and Young Pope are good. What I’m sure of, though, is that they’re important, maybe even precious. And one of the biggest reasons why is that they find new ways, new forms of presenting clergy, institutions, traditions – ways that transcend the polarizing rhetoric, ways that make conservatives out to be something more than crazy, wounded or intellectually malnourished. Sorrentino’s antiheroes are flawed, sympathetic, sometimes badass.

The sheer artistry in the cinematography makes St. Peter’s Basilica seem young again. The acting gives depth to figures that are simplified even in the religious media. Spiritual leaders, often publicly reduced to hypocrites or saints, are allowed moments of confusion, mischief, depression and surprise. There’s a palpable feeling of helplessness and horror over the crises this papacy’s inherited. Everywhere there’s an atmosphere of vitality, matched by loss. There’s the creeping sense that being surrounded by even this much beauty won’t insulate one from disappointment, indifference or aging. Sorrentino’s curia are clever, deflated, inventive and lonely. Genuine delight feels possible again because there’s no guarantee it will come at all.

For me, the show’s desire to humanize such a strange, even threatening (at least to secular liberal tastes) world is an unexpectedly powerful, not to mention encouragingly positive, cultural sign.

Much is made of how North America and Western Europe are becoming increasingly polarized – culturally, politically, spiritually. In this kind of environment, support structures break down, communication becomes difficult and defense grows more important than reaching out. Cultures, institutions or persons that are classified as an ‘other’ and seen as too threatening to even touch.

And the papacy is threatening. Its positions diverge strongly from the contemporary liberal consensus, and it has influence across the planet. Some describe it as an institution that has to be overcome in order to make a better world. None of that’s softened in The New Pope and this is part of what makes it so thrilling. 

Because even with the absurdity and the teenage drama and the occasionally hollow pontificating, this’s still an attempt to bring together voices that are usually sealed off in separate echo chambers. And while we may complain (rightly) about the show’s fuzzy ideas, its focus on the relationships between otherwise controversial figures may be what allows The New Pope to transcend our noisy culture war and become a point of genuine connection between the trenches. Priests, nuns, cardinals and even popes are given space on screen to be human without being forced to deny why they are or what they stand for. That doesn’t happen every day.

This isn’t the show we need, but it’s a frighteningly encouraging sign that we’re on the way there. And in spite of being repulsed by parts of Sorrentino’s vision, maybe we’ll get there faster by learning from it. 


There’s something dynamic, even fresh, in being willing to sit so near an open wound. 

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Monday Homeschool

For the record. I started this mid-morning, and here it is, 11pm. But this is sort of what happened.

So….here’s our day today.

First, College Freshman:

He worked at the grocery store yesterday, got home, did stuff, then we finally watched a video Mass last night around 8:30. From here. 

His current school load involves accounting, business statistics, history (Early Modern to the present), post Civil War American literature (Great Gatsby, currently, as well as a paper on My Antonia) and physics. He worked on all of that today.

Now, High School Freshman:

  • Latin II – chapter 19 of Latin for the New Millenium 1 (we were told that “Latin 1” goes to chapter 18 of this book, which was our focus until the NLE exam. Now that that is done, we’ll finish up this book – which, I guess, means, starting Latin 2 – and then get the second volume.) His task was to study chapter 19 vocabulary. I trust that he did it. Tuesday we’ll do the next grammar fact – Perfect Passive Indicative! – , introduced by this video. 
  • Math: We have two major topics left in geometry: coordinate geometry and then transformations. Introduced the former via Khan Academy videos on the Distance Formula and the Midpoint Formula. Tomorrow, he’ll do problems. I told him that what we’ll take two days to cover would take at least a week in school, probably.
  • Spanish: He worked on it, although I think it was mostly watching a couple of Dreaming Spanish videos. 
  • Literature: He’s supposed to have Book 9 of the Odyssey read by tomorrow.
  • Religion: We are working through an intro to the Old Testament. Last week, he read and we discussed big chunks of Job. Beginning the prophets tomorrow, with Isaiah. Also talking about Holy Week.
  • History: He’s reading about ancient Greece, mostly. That’s all on him. As I have said before, he could pass a 9th grade World History Final with an A+. He’s got the basic framework. What he wants to explore beyond that is up to him. But every day, he has to read something.  I say, “Go read history for at least thirty minutes” – and off he goes.
  • Music:Preparing organ music for Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. Yes, he’s getting to play for a local televised Mass. So that’s GREAT.
  • Also Music: practicing/preparing Prokofiev, Brahms and Haydn. Will finally have an in-person lesson this week, we hope.
  • (If you are new here – science since September was a Biology class taught in a Catholic homeschool co-op by a Ph.D. at a local university. It ended (by schedule, not because of the virus)  a couple of weeks ago. Chemistry will, we hope and pray, happen via the same system next year.)

And that’s it. It’s not a whole lot. We’re still in flux, as is everyone else. I have some ideas about some other things, but then I start obsessively looking at twitter and other news sources and he’s playing his video game, and there goes the day.

Such is the present moment.

If you would like to hear some of the music, go here. 




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The author, about 1966.

So, almost everyone is educating from home right now…

Here’s a map, in case you’re interested. It’s updated daily. 

And it’s not just in the United States. Most countries – worldwide  – have closed their schools. 

The coronavirus has disrupted schooling for more than 87% of the world’s student population, UNESCO says.

UNESCO—the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization—says that as of March 25, the pandemic has led 165 countries to close all their schools. That equates to 1,524,648,768 students, or 87.1% of the world’s student population.

That is really stunning. More than anyone else, I feel for the teachers, who are having to continue their efforts either online or through some other means.

(I was thinking last night – if I were an administrator of one of these schools, I’d be tempted to just send every kid home with twenty books from the school library, and be done with it….)

Hopefully, this will be a disruptor of sorts. No, I’m not for the end of the brick-n-mortar school – I’m for the radical reshaping of the system at both macro and micro levels, a reshaping that has flexibility and freedom, rather than top-down control at its core. One that is about img_20160819_110905.jpgintroducing and guiding rather than imposing and judging.

Perhaps this will shake us all up and encourage us to take an honest look at what education actually is.

BUT…for those of you lurching into this sudden transition from classroom to home, just know, that this is not homeschooling. 

I mean, of course it is, in a way, but even homeschoolers are having to adjust right now. This type of doing school-in-the-confines-of-home is not , for most of us, the “homeschooling” we know and (sometimes) love.


We can’t gather in groups – and gathering in groups – on playgrounds, in church facilities, in each others’ homes – is a huge part of homeschooling. For classes, tutoring sessions, field trips, or just playtime.

Almost everything’s closed. No museum trips, no zoo trips. Heck,I just checked and even our botanical gardens– only one little part of which is enclosed – is shut down. No concerts, no plays, festivals or fairs. The outdoors is open (for now), but organized outdoor activities are mostly cancelled. One of my sons’ guy groups had a big canoeing trip planned for two weekends ago, but the outfitter cancelled.


I’m sure that’s just a partial list, and you could add to it.


No way you can call the current situation “homeschooling” – with closed libraries. 

Seriously. We “homeschool” and we are going crazy because…we have to stay home!

Everyone homeschools differently. Some replicate a classroom environment. Some use online classes. Some don’t use any traditional materials at all, others let the kids follow their bliss. But hardly any homeschoolers stay in the house all day, doing worksheets. In fact, those of us who left traditional schooling left it in order to escape that worksheet regime. I often tell the tale that one of the aspects of my kids’ schooling that pushed me into this world was my then 5th grader’s experience in a very small class (no more than twelve kids, all well-behaved and motivated) in which they were studying plants in school, in a building right across from a nice park – and at no time in this unit of studying plants did the teacher actually bring a real, actual plant in for the kids to examine or take them across the street to look at even more real actual plants. Just worksheets. Lots and lots of worksheets. And if it were today, probably lots of Ipad or Chromebook time.


Take that, fifth grade!

So yes, we’re all educating at home right now – but while workbooks and online classes are certainly part of the experience for many homeschoolers, know that the appeal of this way of life isn’t about doing the same type of work, just in your living room. It’s not about doing what other people have decided is the right way, just at a distance. It’s about  looking at your kid(s), at the nature of this world in which they’re living and will be growing and working, and being willing to question your assumptions about all of it – about “learning” and “teaching” and “education” and “school” and, most importantly, being willing to make some sacrifices as the power of those assumptions collapse, along with so much of what we thought was true and important about “life before.”


For more of my homeschool blatherings, go here. 


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