Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Internet’ Category

Almost done, now.

One more practical post, and then next week, Big Thoughts.

Oh, and how is it going? Seems to be going well. It is very interesting to hear the experiences of a child experiencing school for the first time in four years, and with only the faintest memory of the last time, which was first grade. He’s been in classes in other settings, but of course, two hours once a month at the science museum or every other week at the zoo is a little different from…school. He’s pretty intrigued by the process. Aspects of classroom life that other students probably either take for granted or are tired of he finds interesting. It’s hard to explain. 

All right, I need to finish this part up. Let’s go. Yesterday, I outlined how we approached religious instruction. I probably should add that year before last was Confirmation year for the then-8th grader, and that was handled through an excellent school program.

As I have indicated so far, I didn’t homeschool so I could sit my kids down with books and worksheets. I was wanting to provide them with something different than what school was giving them, because I had come to see that school – as it was constructed, as they were experiencing it and as the Forces That Be are determined to make it – is not learning about the world in its complexity and depth, but about being rewarded for making the educational system’s priorities your priorities. Or at last pretending that they are.

What a way to spend almost every day of your life for twelve years.

So in terms of daily life – you can get a taste of it in the Daily Homeschool Report posts, which are all over the place – we did certain things almost every day, used a few textbooks in a few areas, did some drilling in things like cursive and math facts, but other than that tried to prioritize reading, discussing what we were reading and then experiencing life outside the home.

One or both of themselves participated in a lot of outside classes and activities.

McWane Science Center homechool classes

Birmingham Zoo homeschool classes

A Lego robotics group up in Madison, which is close to Huntsville. There was probably one in Birmingham, but for the life of me, I couldn’t find it, so I’m thinking there probably wasn’t one after all at the time. Both of them did it at first, but then the younger one lost interest, so we would go up there, J would do Lego robotics and M and I would go explore – we went to the Rocket Center a lot that fall.

Art classes at the Red Dot Gallery

An art class at Samford Academy of the Arts

Piano instruction through Samford

Boxing at Juarez Boxing

St. Thomas Aquinas Academy – drama and history of science

Weekly homeschool gym and social time on Friday afternoons

Those (except for the Red Dot classes and Piano) were for homeschoolers, particularly. During the time, they both did basketball every year, the older one did scouts, the younger one did children’s schola at the Cathedral for a year, they served Mass in the parish and the convent, and this past year, the younger one has become involved in Fraternus, a new Catholic boys’ and mens’ group.

Those were just the various regular activities. They also participated in various single events – like a rock climbing class, a class at the Birmingham Museum of Art, a field trip the Jones Valley Teaching Farm.

So…books. Interspersed in the post of photos of some of our bookshelves. To save me time.

Handwriting

This is important and awful to teach, unless you have a kid who gets into it. (I once was making conversation with a teen-aged homeschooled girl and I asked her what her favorite subject to study was. “Handwriting,” she said. So there’s one for you.)

But we forged on.

Writing our Catholic Faith

Wacky Sentences Handwriting Workbook

The older a kid got, the more work was done in cursive.

Copywork

I became a huge fan of copywork while homeschooling. If you want to read about the rationale behind it, go here. I think it is a very effective way of practicing the mechanics of handwriting and internalizing good writing. There are a lot of ways to use copywork. img_20160812_102749.jpgSometimes I took passages from books they were reading, interspersed into a more general schedule of that rotated Scripture passages, poetry, passages from literature and sayings/aphorisms. Fridays we did not do copywork – we either did “Friday Freewrite” – from the Brave Writer method – or they illustrated one of the previous week’s copywork passages.

Copywork is so much better than the stupid and invasive trend of beginning-of-class journaling writing prompts that you see in so many classrooms. Here’s a sample I pulled off of a website just now:

10. Persuade a friend to give up drugs.

11. Five years from now, I will be… 

12. Write about a day you’d like to forget. 

13. Invent and describe a new food. 
journal writing prompts
14. Describe an event that changed your life forever, or make up and describe an event that would change your life forever.

15.  Describe someone who is a hero to you and explain why. 

16.  Write about a time in your life when you struggled with a choice and made the right one. 

First of all, answering these prompts teach nothing. I suppose the purpose is to unleash the right brain or get juices flowing, but you have 50 minutes to teach – I don’t know if this is the best use of time.

But that’s not even my most serious problem with this type of activity. Look at those questions – and they are not atypical.

We have become accustomed to schools and educational systems getting personal with our kids. After all…we’re a school family. They’re given surveys on their family lives to fill out, they’re told to put personal information on tests, and they’re tested for drugs. Their reflections about and reactions to material they’ve learned rather than simply learning it and moving on. They’re asked “how do you feel” or “how would you feel” or “have you ever felt.”

Do you know what?

My kids’ memories of a day they would like to forget or an event that changed their lives forever or when they struggled with a choice….is none of their teachers’ business.

What a great day it would be, the day that a class began with kids copying out a passage from, say, To Kill a Mockingbird, noting the specifics of grammar, punctuation and appreciating the mode of expression – instead of being required to share their feelings about some aspect of their personal life with a 27 (or 45 or 60) -year old adult stranger who has a certain degree of power over them.

How about this? How about we tell our kids that if they are asked to “journal” in class in away that violates their privacy that it’s okay for them to just…. make stuff up? I have no problem with that.

People, I taught religion and I never crossed that line. I constantly made connections between what I was teaching – Scripture, history, theology – and the rest of life, and I invited and challenged my students to think about those connections and told them that faith was indeed, all about making those connections and living them, but I never asked them to write personal reflections on anything for me to read. I consider that kind of stuff inappropriate and even an abuse of authority in a classroom setting where students are required to attend and are giving you work on which you will give them a grade that will go on their transcripts.

Also, lazy.

Grammar

I did a bit of grammar with them the first year or so, then tapered off. I think grammar is very interesting and think that sentence diagramming is a powerful tool, but at some point, everyone understood what adverbs were and I decided they were better served by img_20160812_102739.jpgreading more literature rather than parsing grammar – we were also doing more Latin, and doing grammar in that context. I didn’t use one single curriculum for this, but various workbooks. Sometimes I just pulled things of the Internet, but I did make use of these:

We started off with Seton’s English for Young Catholics – grades 2 and 6. I thought they were pretty good. We did those in Europe.

Then we went to the Critical Thinking Company’s Language Mechanic and Editor-in-Chief. Both were fine. I did a lot of skipping around, because some exercises were just too simple.

The Grammar Minutes workbooks are good review.

I would not recommend the English grammar materials put out by Singapore Math.

Now, we never used Singapore Math. Yes, it’s the gold standard that all the Intense Homeschoolers use, but I was told early on that it was too challenging and too different to plunge into midstream and, in short..stay away from the Singapore Math unless you are a img_20160812_102622.jpgTrained Professional!

Okay, that’s fine. I wasn’t really tempted anyway. It looked complicated, with all those bars and such. But then I saw that they had grammar materials, and I thought…well, they must be pretty good! So ordered a few of the books. Received them, looked them over..and filed them away to sell or give away.

I don’t have them anymore, and it’s been three years since I looked at them, so I can’t recall the specifics, but the problem was essentially that the materials were written to teach aspects of the language to non-nativeEnglish speakers. The issues highlighted were not those that a native speaker would be dealing with. I’m sorry I can’t piece the specifics together, but really, if you go to a ESL website and look at the exercises, you’ll probably see what I mean.

Upshot? I think we “did grammar” for a year and half, then I stopped and focused on just writing.

Math

Speaking of math…

As I mentioned in a previous post, we began with what their old school used: Pearson’s EnVision Math. There is a lot of hate for this program on the Internet, even from teachers, but I confess that I, a non-math person, did not hate it. It was deeply flawed, but I actually could see the rationale behind it.

Yes, the program sometimes breaks down problems in what seem to be strange, counter-intuitive ways. But what was interesting to me about it was the presentation of different problem-solving strategies for a single problem or area of study. Given that there are, img_20160812_102633.jpgindeed, different ways to look at mathematics problems, and different ways that make sense to different people, I saw this as helpful.

But where the program collapsed, I felt was in expecting the student to demonstrate mastery of all of the techniques and strategies. That seemed to me to contradict the first premise: that different approaches are all valid and more helpful to some than others.

By the time we had finished those books, I had discovered The Art of Problem Solving programs, and I was all in. I had Joseph (6th-7th) grade do the Pre-Algebra program which was very challenging, but excellent. Michael was a bit young for Beast Academy at first, so we transitioned by using Math Mammoth – which is good, and the Life of Fred which is certainly popular among homeschoolers, quirky and interesting reading for a child, but not a comprehensive math program by any means. It’s good because it gives a narrative understanding of mathematics, but it is really not sufficient.

Wait, you’re saying. You’re a humanities person. What are you doing, talking and teaching math?

Well, I managed, and believe it or not, I was so convincing in the charade that last year, my son would come to me with questions about his high school honors Geometry class expecting me to have the answers! Ha!

But do you know what? I could help him, most of the time. I’ve never considered myself math-y at all, and I never took anything higher than what we called “Advanced Math” back in the day, but I suppose was some sort of basic pre-Calculus and Trig, but I don’t find math impenetrable. And the Art of Problem Solving stuff is so good, you really don’t img_20160812_102644.jpgneed “help” in understanding it, and it’s very well-presented that even I found it interesting. The program digs so deeply, yet effortlessly into the foundations of math, what had been taught to me in a way that seemed just random, actually made sense.

Oh, and I have a theory about education that pertains here.

People become educators for various reasons, but specialists get involved because they love their specialty. Which is great!

The problem, however, can be, that if you are a specialist, and if you are really good at something, if you have a gift for understanding or processing a certain subject…you might not be the best person to teach others, others who don’t look at the subject with a flash of intuitive understanding, but have to slog through the fog of confusion to reach the point that you just “get.”

So no, I’m not a mathematician. But I have had to think through the processes in a way – not only when I was in school, but in helping my older kids – that makes me, at the very least, not useless in accompanying my sons on their Math Journey. As we say.

So..yes to Art of Problem Solving. Even if your kids are in school…consider looking at img_20160812_102902.jpgBeast Academy for younger kids as a supplement and the high school classes and other resources on the website for kids who like math and are not being challenged in school. I consider it one of the best, most valuable discoveries of our homeschooling.

Oh, and since the younger one was learning his multiplication tables during part of our time together, I’ll mention that the best drilling app I found was this one: Quick Math.

Latin:

I started them both with …Getting Started with Latin – one in 6th and then the younger one in 5th grade. It’s a super casual, easy introduction. You are probably not going to remember what you learn in this way for the rest of your life or maybe even longer than a year, but as I said, it’s painless and somewhat entertaining. If an authorial sense of humor can shine through in workbook translation exercises, it does here.

We then moved to Visual Latin with the older one, and while the videos were entertaining at first, we both found the course wearisome after about ten lessons. The instructor’s schtick gets old and there was just something about the mode of watching videos and doing printed off worksheets that made retention a challenge. I don’t recommend it, but if you are determined to use it, I can sell you the DVD’s of the first course for cheap!

When it came time for the younger one to hit Latin more seriously, I moved to Latin for Children I had briefly reviewed a friends’ copy and it looked good. I was generally pleased with it, and the lessons stuck. The only thing I would say is to not bother with the activities book. It almost seemed as if some of the puzzles had been computer-generated rather than pulled together by hand, and they were in general either too simple or needlessly tedious.

Okay, that’s it. There’s more, but I’m getting tired of writing about this. I may pick up a few more areas on Monday, but if I don’t, check out the Homeschool Daily Reports. Most of the rest of it – the history, science and literature – involved non-textbook books and activities, anyway.

Are you a homeschooler? How many quarter-filled out activity books do you own?!

Read Full Post »

Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —

As you might be able to discern from my blog output this week…I’m not homeschooling anymore.

And not just because of the content in which I say, outright, I’m not homeschooling anymore. No, it’s the…sheer bulk of the posting that might clue you in. It is very weird for me to not have a head full of homeschooling notions in the evening and not have a day full of kid(s).

That’s a lot of creative energy….

Now if you’ve been following, you know that the my high schooler has been in school for two years, and for the past two years, it’s just been the now-11 year old and me. The decision for him to go to school was not sudden – it was sort of assumed it would probably be this way all along if the school in question continued to be maintain the quality it mostly has in the past. It seems as if it has, and even improved with new facilities, particularly a fantastic science lab. But for more that – go back over the posts this week. You will get an earful. Or eyeful.

— 2 —

Update on the Snapchat v. Instagram Stories journey. I am still Snapchatting (amywelborn2)– to some extent, although I’ve not done anything terribly interesting this week, so I have, I admit been scarce. But I do like Instagram Stories – I did a story yesterday on St. Clare, mixing up photos from our own trip to Assisi with some art – and I liked doing that sort of thing more there than I do on Snapchat. We’ll see.

— 3 —

Speaking of far more interesting pictures. The adult coloring book trend has another few months in it, and I am so happy to see Daniel Mitsui enter the fray. I am longtime fan of Daniel – I purchased a print of his wonderful Japanese-themed St. Michael – and was happy to see him make some pages available online a few months ago, and even more delighted to see that Ave Maria Press is publishing two sets of his pages:

Congratulations Daniel – and readers, do spread the word to all of your coloring friends!

 — 4 —

An odd bump in my stats this week. For some reason, my 2010 post on Saltillo , Mexico was getting a lot of hits, seemingly out of the blue. If you were reading back then, you might remember than in the summer of 2010, we did a parish-sponsored mission trip with Family Missions Company to General Cepeda, Mexico. It was a great experience. General Cepeda is in the diocese of Saltillo and I wrote a post on our visit there.

Well, a quick search showed that there was a claim of a miracle there – a  pretty lame one – someone just happened to be video recording the crucifix when the eyes of the corpus just happened to open.   Imagine that. Well, here’s the replica of that crucifix I purchased and brought back. I do love it, even with eyes closed.

"Saltillo Crucifix"

— 5 

Today is the feast of St. Jane de Chantal, great friend of St. Francis de Sales and foundress of the Visitation Sisters. Here’s a link to my post from last year on her, and I do invite you to go check it out and then follow the links to read some more of her letters – she writes in such a down-to-earth way and so practically about the spiritual life. I just love the way she so gently encourages her sisters to…maybe not take yourself so seriously?

6–

You have portrayed your interior state with much simplicity, and believe me, little one, I tenderly love that heart of yours and would willingly undergo much for its perfection. May God hear my prayer, and give you the grace to cut short these perpetual reflections on everything that you do. They dissipate your spirit. May He enable you instead to use all your powers and thoughts in the practice of such virtues as come in your way.

More of her letters  – so helpful and real. 

— 7 —

I wrote about St. Jane de Chantal in The Loyola KIds’ Book of Heroes.  The entry isn’t online, but here’s the first page….

amy-welborn

"amy welborn"

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

Read Full Post »

Fourth in a series. The others are here: My family background in education; the decision to homeschool; the basics of homeschooling for us.

This entry was going to be one entry on resources, followed by a “what I learned” post tomorrow. But I think I’m going to split the resources post in two, post the other half tomorrow, and save “what I learned” for Monday. Or maybe Monday and Tuesday. Every time I start thinking about it, I get all rant-y about education and can’t think in less that 5000 words, and that’s not fun for anyone.

So…what did we use for homeschooling?

As I mentioned before, there really was no way I was going to do a boxed curriculum. I couldn’t see the sense of it. There are so many great resources out there, I saw no reason to confine the boys to a certain way of learning, and while I wasn’t going to tie us to a specific style either, I did lean towards Charlotte Mason, which emphasizes “living books” (as opposed to textbooks) and experiencing nature/life/journaling – anyway.

OH..I should mention this. I probably should have mentioned it a couple of entries ago, because this played a huge role in my decision to homechool and how to go about it. Yes, this post will definitely get split into two sections now. Geez. How could I forget this.

What did the state of Alabama require us to do as homeschoolers?

Not much.

Alabama has very, very loose homeschooling rules. It even veers to..”almost none.”

Here’s how it works.

You make a decision to homeschool. The next thing is that you have to find what they call a “cover school” with which to associate. A cover school is the entity that mediates between the homeschooling family and the state – you register with the cover school, and the cover school tells the school system that you are enrolled.

At the end of the school year, you tell the cover school, “Yes, we had school for 180 days.”

AND THAT’S IT.

"amy welborn"

That is all you have to do. INFP dream life. You don’t have to report curriculum. You don’t have to test. You don’t have to inspected or certified or provide any more detailed documentation. All you have to do is report attendance.

It’s great. And honestly, I don’t know if I would have homeschooled if we had to provide a lot of detail to the government about what we were doing. One, having to do so really would tick me off. Secondly, I’m so disorganized lazy such an INFP it would be a lot of hassle, and I suspect it would have tilted that equation back in the direction of school.

Not kidding. As I considered this, I was all about the “sacrifice” and yes I was willing to sacrifice my time alone and creative energy that could go for work projects, but when you start talking “student portfolios” and “year-end evaluation” – I’m out. Jesus, take the wheel, because that cross is too heavy, and if I could think of one more metaphor, I’d use it.

When I was first learning about this, I also found it odd that the cover schools have to be church-associated. That got my dander up, and I was all about diversity and down on backwards Alabama, but then I realized that there’s a purpose for that.

First, the “church” can be any religious association you can dream up, so there are cover schools that are run by, oh, I don’t know, the Sisterhood of Transcendentally Aware Unicorn Seekers as well as First Church of the Blood of the King and Lord Jesus Holiness Tabernacle In the Piggly-Wiggly Parking Lot.

The purpose of it is to keep the state’s hands off of homeschooling activities, since in Alabama, chuch-related schools don’t have to operate by state standards. They can if they want to, and most do, but there’s no requirement.

So it actually makes sense – if you value your homeschooling independence. But I guess you could be against that.

If you’re a fascist.

Cover schools in Alabama provide more than just that letter to the school board, of course. Many sponsor activities and all provide transcripts when requested and the information is supplied by the parent. There is a diocesan cover school here, but I was a part of Everest Academy, which has a great, helpful website and sponsors good activities – last year, for example, M did a rock-climbing course and we went to a very nice program on Japanese art at the Birmingham Museum of Art.

So now…back to the specifics.

I didn’t want to use a boxed curriculum. There are no hybrid schools in the area and I was not aware of any co-ops that I might want to join. I had heard about a couple in outlying communities, but that would not be worth the drive. Last year, a fabulous local Catholic homeschooling mom began a homeschooling “academy” working out of the Cathedral. It did very well, and is expanding this year. M really enjoyed it, taking classes on drama and the history of science. Here’s the website.Here’s the website.

I also did not want to do online classes. I considered it, and looked into it, and if we had continued to homeschool in high school (or if we do in the future), I’ll look into it again – although as I considered homeschooling high school, my thoughts were leaning more towards hiring tutors for science, math and language rather than doing online classes.

Why not? I know many find them very useful, and I’m sure they are. But I really am not enthusiastic about kids in front of screens, even at home, and I don’t know what I think about my kids establishing even casual friendships with others online. We just don’t do that – don’t do online gaming, etc.

I did think about my older son doing an Art of Problem Solving math class, but when I looked into it more closely, I decided the pace was just too fast. He’s sort of math-y, but not that math-y, and there was really no reason to put him under that kind of pressure.

So. No online classes. No preset curricula. So…where does that leave us?

Well, the first place it leaves us is trying to figure out where we have been left. There are a zillion books and websites on homeschooling. What your homeschool is going to look like is completely up to you and your children. But getting ideas from others helps. Here’s where I looked:

  • Homeschooling blogs and other websites. This can be overwhelming, because there are so many of them and people going about them in different ways. It’s very easy to feel intimidated, but don’t. That said, after the initial decision was made, I didn’t spend a lot of time on homeschooling blogs unless a search on a specific question took me there. Everyone is just so different, there was no reason for me to use another person’s experience as a permanent reference point.
  • Discussion boards – now these are useful – and not just in terms of homeschooling. I tend to find discussion boards one of the most useful information sources on the internet. Even if I don’t enter the fray with my own question, what I find is that someone out there probably has the same question as I do and someone else has an answer that applies, no matter what the topic: Why won’t the stupid snake eat the stupid thawed out rat? Why won’t the Ipod turn on? How can I unclog my dishwasher? Bologna or Ferrara for a base? How can I help the hummingbirds stop dive-bombing each other and all get along?
  • So with homeschooling, my go to resource has been the discussion board at the Well-Trained Mind website. The Well-Trained Mind is the homeschooling community and resource center that has as its core the work of Susan Wise Bauer, known for her texts on history and writing and advocacy of classical education. If you are considering homeschooling – or even if you are not and are simply looking for ideas for enrichment as a parent or teacher – use this website. I got so many ideas on books and curriculum, I can’t tell you – the give and take between board participants, sharing their opinions of various books and curricula was so very helpful.
  • REAL PEOPLE. IN REAL LIFE.

That last point requires emphasis.

When I got started, I didn’t know many homeschoolers. I think I might have known one homeschooling family here in Birmingham. But just about the time I started, a Catholic unschoolers group started meeting on a monthly basis – and I attended only a couple of times because the meeting place was a good distance from my home. But through that, I made some initial connections, got on some email lists and started getting to know people. Then what happens is that folks start organizing activities, and you go to the activities and you get to know people and make friends. When we returned from Europe, the boys also started doing classes at the science center and the zoo, and I made connections hanging out and talking to other parents in those settings, talking curriculum, home dynamics, activities, and the question every conversation would end with….

So…what are you going to do about…high school?

And we would all just sigh.

I think what I’ll do is just go through a few subjects today, talk about what worked and what didn’t, finished up tomorrow with more of the same and a list of some of my other favorite resources.

Well, I typed that sentence thirty minutes ago, at which point I interspersed a few other paragraphs, and now I’m running out of time – I have a book proposal to work on that I promised “this week because I won’t have the kids at home anymore” – and THIS WEEK is almost over, so I guess I had better get on that.

So I’ll start with one subject: religion.

This really isn’t fair or representative, since I have an MA in religion and have taught it and written books about it, but that also means it’s a good one to get out of the way.

Religion

Didn’t use any texts consistently. Religion instruction (for 2nd-5th grader and a 6th/7th grader) was centered on the following:

  • Daily prayer which was a mash-up of Morning Prayer and the daily Mass readings.
  • Saint of the Day.
  • After prayer proper, I would spin out interesting themes from the prayer, readings and saints. We’d talk more about the saint. We’d look at geography or history. We’d talk more about the liturgical season. We’d look at art related to the saint/feast, etc.
  • I used the Universalis site for prayer and readings.
  • For saints, I used this book and this one as a start.
  • That’s mostly it, in terms of our school-day religious instruction.
  • For specific seasons, I would pull out some old vintage Catholic textbooks and have them read chapters like this one.

 

  • I did get a couple of Faith and Life volume and had the younger one read here and there, but nothing consistent.
  • They serve Mass regularly at the Casa Maria Convent and Retreat HouseCasa Maria Convent and Retreat House and I confess that one of the reasons I have them do it is that since the priests saying Mass and preaching are either experienced retreat masters – and well-known, like Fr. Paul Check, Fr.Andrew Apostoli and Fr. Brian Mullady – or Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word – they always hear good preaching with solid instruction. And since they are sitting right up there six feet from the preacher, facing a couple of dozens sisters and a bunch of retreatants and their mother, chances are good that they will listen to at least some of it.
  • Of course, our travels include churches, monasteries and shrines. Daily.
  • Every once in a while I would lift my head up from this Rich Holistic Teachable Moment Catechetical Tapestry and think of the younger one, “Wait..he does know that there are seven sacraments, right?” And I would quiz him, and he might forget Anointing of the Sick, but other than that, he was good.
  • And our conversations about Scripture were always peppered with me quizzing them on how to do Scriptural citations properly and little things like, “Okay…this reading is from Isaiah. Old or New Testament?” or “Name the Gospels. What comes after the Gospels? What are most of the other books in the New Testament about?” “List the first five books of the Old Testament. What are they called all together?”
  • I don’t see any need to do a lot of theology with kids. Teach them the faith via the Scriptures, the lives of the saints and the liturgical life of the Church, be involved in that life of the Church and the Works of Mercy and make sure they understand the basics. I think that’s a good, solid start. Because all you really need to know  is:

"amy welborn"

Read Full Post »

This is sort of long, and offered, not because it’s fascinating, but because I known many parents are working over these same issues. Here’s how I got to the place where my conscience couldn’t say anything but “yes” to homeschooling at a particular moment in time. Others have different experiences: they never considered anything but homeschooling or the school options were all so very bad, they really had no choice. That’s not my experience – this is, and perhaps it will resonate with someone else’s dilemma.

And I really didn’t need to write this post. Not really. Because yesterday, in a comment, Sally Thomas said it all in the succinct way a poet does:

And largely what motivated us to stop going to school was the feeling that school was largely an annoying middleman that wanted to dictate our schedules for us.

 

But since, I started…..

At some point in the winter of 2012, I made a suggestion, asked a question, wondered aloud.

“What would you think,” I asked the first and fifth grader, “about homeschooling next year?”

They were horrified. Honestly, even though I’d been the one asking the question, so was I.

But there it was. The equation had become unbalanced. It had seemed to be for a while, but now the tilt was undeniable.

It wasn’t that something had to be done. Nothing had to happen. But as life and school kept happening the way it was, it seemed more and more clear to me that something should happen. It was becoming a conscience issue for me.

As I said yesterday, and have written before, I see this formal education thing as an agreement. A deal. It’s no different than any other aspect of life: a job, for example. The question is: what are you willing to put up with in order to receive the benefits? Hardly anyone adores their job a hundred percent, and many can barely stand it, but most of us do what we have to do in order to be support ourselves and our families and make some tiny contribution to …something.

Another way to put it is: How would you like your aggravation served today?

For there will always be aggravation, stress and frustration, today and every day. Sometimes you don’t have a choice about it, but sometimes you do. With the last two kids’ educations, I did have a choice, and that’s the way I had finally settled on working out the question.

How do I want my aggravation?

Do I choose to take it as I deal with an institution’s structures, rules and procedures – the folders, the particulars of supply lists and uniforms, the inadequacy of curricula – or…

…do I choose to take it in the form of having us all together most of the time, of planning, of teaching almost everything myself, of sorting out their learning, of being on 24-hour alert for resources and opportunities?

In other words, do I want to be annoyed about what others aren’t teaching them or do I want to be stressed about what I’m not teaching them? Do I want to be worried about what I feel they’re missing by being at school or do I want to be worried about what they’re missing by staying at home?

What had moved me to this point at which something I had never even considered in over twenty-five years of parenting was suddenly looming as a real possibility?

Mad Men Gifs

Long-term Dissatisfaction

Before I get going on this, let me make clarify what wasn’t an issue:

  • Concerns about instructional content that outright violated my principles.
  • Learning issues.
  • Concerns about social or cultural context.
  • A preternaturally  gifted kid who needed and wanted ten hours a day to develop his talent

None of that. Nothing odd was being pushed, neither boys experiences learning difficulties, we don’t have figure skaters or genius violinists, and we liked everyone and didn’t feel any need to be set apart. That, by the way, is not a part of my mental framework anyway. I simply mention it because homeschoolers are often accused of want to put kids in a cocoon. My issue was, as you’ll see, actually the opposite. I was concerned that school was narrowing their vision and experience, and I wanted to give them more, not less.

I suppose I should also mention that this was an elementary school issue for me at the time. The boys were in first and fifth grades, and I was not thinking about high school. The question was about the rest of elementary school.

Oh, and a word about other options. Public school isn’t an option , even given my own background – I have just really come to believe that the daily faith formation offered in Catholic elementary education is invaluable for a child. The only classical schools around here, sadly, are those offered by Reformed churches, so that’s not happening. A Catholic Montessori school would be great, too, but there’s none of that around here, either. The one local Catholic school that is not of the parish model, St. Rose Academy, is run by the Nashville Dominicans, might have been an option (and is indeed where my younger son will be going next year), but at the time, as you’ll see, it wasn’t so much which school, but school in general that was the problem, and I didn’t think that making the kids change schools and adapt to a new set of kids and teachers was really the answer to the question hovering over our days.

So, I’ll start with matters that had been festering for a while – the basics are in the previous post, but let me take it in a slightly different direction. Go grab a snack and settle in.

As is the case with many of you, I’m sure, I have never been impressed with contemporary pedagogical fads, movements and materials. So that was always there: A grudging acceptance of the reality of dumbed-down, lowest common denominator materials. Catholic schools that for the most part embraced secular curricula and made not attempt to integrate faith into the entire program. Catholic schools that, if they were not appealing to the lowest common and non-denominational denominator, were running in the opposite direction, anxiously pursuing “blue ribbon” status in order to appeal to upper-middle class striver parents.

Over the years, my kids had experienced many good teachers, but always in the midst of systems that seemed determined to undermine authentic Catholic education by emphasizing the priorities of the Secular Pedagogical Flavor of the Month. I remember once going into one of my kids’ Catholic elementary schools in which for a couple of weeks, they had been all about the rainforest. They had been reading about the rainforest, writing about it, and were super proud of the hallways bedecked as little rainforests in between cinder block walls. So much effort put into the rainforest in a school that could not be bothered to celebrate a single saints’ feast day in a memorable way. But hey, they were a Blue Ribbon School, right?

And then time went on, everyone got older, and my concerns and issues focused and got more specific, nagging me and not letting go.

First, I was just tired. Of all of it. I had been doing elementary education as a parent for twenty-five years. I confess, this did play a part  in the decision. Six different Catholic elementary schools, hundreds of weekly folders and envelopes, thousands of hours spent quizzing, checking planners, interpreting teacher and administrator instructions, running over spelling words, going over the water cycle, looking at one more unit on the rainforest, and oh don’t forget endless fundraisers, one after the other, coming at me in fat envelopes and bleak, empty order forms.

I was 51, my husband had been dead for three years, my parents were dead, my older children were moving on, as they should, and here I was, still checking those freaking weekly folders. Older than most of the teachers and other parents, I was over this routine, tired of their systems and rules and tired of being frustrated by and paying for lame curricula and well-meaning if superficial Catholicity.

Geez, I would think, we could do so much more at home, couldn’t we?

Which of course was then promptly answered.

So. Why don’t you?

Wait. What?

Listen. I was not opposed to homeschooling – for other people. In fact, I admired and stood in awe of homeschoolers.

I didn’t know many in real life, but it did seem to me that everyone I “knew” online professionally homeschooled. I mean – everyone.

So why not us? Well, a few reasons.

  • As I had raised the older kids, it never really occurred to me. It wasn’t a thing among anyone I knew in that stage, and I didn’t meet any serious homeschoolers until we moved to Indiana in 2001. I didn’t think it was crazy or weird, it’s just that it wasn’t a part of the lives of people I knew for a very long time.
  • I didn’t see the need. Up to that point, it seemed as if the balance was still holding. School was school, and while imperfect and not my ideal, it still left space for the rest of life.
  • Finally, even as the possibility seemed more possible, and my conscience spoke more and more insistently, there was just a simple, Are you kidding? I don’t…want to.
  • I’m an introvert. I get my energy from being alone. It takes me about three hours after everyone has gone to bed at night for me to recalibrate and feel like myself. What was going to happen if we were together? All day? Every day? Would I just….go insane?
  • Finally, I was skeptical about how healthy it would be for them to be with me all day. Not that we would be alone, stuck in the house or inactive, I knew. But still. I came from a rather intense , controverted family situation and knew that being homeschooled would have been disastrous for me. Basically, would my kids…go insane?

(Almost done. Be patient)

So there you have all the vague dissatisfaction, the fears, the suspicion that there was a better way, but inability to see the way there. It might have continued, but for some rather specific moments during that 2011-2012 period. Some of these things are going to strike you as silly, and perhaps they are, but taken all together, along with a zillion other small school-related aggravations piled up on a quarter of a century of the same, they were enough:

  • This actually begins a couple of years before, when my older son started at this school. As one would expect, he had spelling words. The first few weeks, he was a spelling ninja, and then his grades started to fall. He was missing more and more on the spelling tests, having assured me during the week that he didn’t need to study, no thanks. Finally, after he almost failed one test, I asked him what was going on. He admitted that he didn’t study the words. Okay, but didn’t he study in class? Doesn’t the teacher go over the words, break them apart and talk about them? Oh no, he said, that’s not the way it works. They give us the words on Monday, and we’re just supposed to study them at home. We never talk about the spelling words in class. And I thought…wait. I’m paying you so I can homeschool my kid in spelling? What?
  • The reading program was horrible. All the parents hated it. For all I know, the teachers hated it, too. I’ll just straight out say that it was Pearson’s Reading Street and it sucked: Boring stories written in flat prose, with, worst of all, impenetrable and ridiculously random comprehension questions. And I thought…we could be reading Treasure Island. Charlotte’s Web. Shakespeare. Poetry.
  • The “special” classes – that is, music, art, computer, foreign language and PE classes – that my children were experiencing were all unfortunately mediocre, rifled with discipline issues and makework. I thought…we could be going to concerts and plays, studying Latin, going on hikes, learning instruments, taking quality art lessons, music…

Mad Men - Peggy Skates, Roger Plays

  • I had various and more or less constant questions about matters of Catholicity and other issues of curriculum including Common Core, which was starting to rear its head with no one batting an eye about it.
  • For a couple of years, one of my son’s classes were quite small. As in, fewer than fifteen children, all capable and motivated, in a class. A perfect opportunity for lots of hands-on learning which did not happen. He’d say, “We talked about plants today.” I’d say, “What plants did you look at and examine?” He’d say, “None. We just looked at diagrams.” And I thought, plants..microscope, kitchen chemistry, botanical garden classes, science center classes, homeschool classes at the zoo….

  • And then finally, two relatively small incidents gave me the final push. First, my older son complained about being bored in class when he got his work done. I said, “You always take a book to read to school. Just read your book.” He said, “We’re not allowed to. If you get your work done early, you have to put your head on your desk and just wait for everyone else to be finished.”
  • A few weeks later, there was a big, school-wide event for which all students spent much time preparing. It was a good event. The theme of this even this particular year was related to Eric Carle. It was late April, as I recall, and I was going through homework with my fifth-grade son. I said, “Social Studies?” And he said, “Oh, we’re done with social studies for the next couple weeks, probably for the year. We’re going to be working on our projects for the program.” Oh, I thought, they’re going to be writing and peer editing and such. Nice!

    No, he said, they (fifth graders, remember) were going to need the time to CUT OUT TISSUE PAPER CIRCLES FOR THE ERIC CARLE PICTURES.

 

Image result for hungry caterpillar book

 

 

I was done. That was it. We were out. Nothing personal, but these were my last two kids that I would ever be given the opportunity to raise and form, and if I can give them more than this…I have to.

We have to change this up. And just maybe…we can. 

Rainbow Jimmy has arrived.

It was not about rushing them home, slamming the door, and shrinking their world, but about blowing it open, throwing out worksheets and textbooks, getting outside, getting dirty. I was privileged. I didn’t have to work at a job, I had no other family responsibilities, I was healthy and had the means..I had no excuses anymore. What was I doing, sending them off to well-intentioned mediocrity while I sat at home doing a bit of work that really didn’t even need to get done? I’d written over twenty books by then. Who cared if wrote more. I didn’t.

It might not be forever, but they were frustrated and felt as if their time was being wasted. They were hesitant mostly about leaving the social setting, but they would stay connected to all those kids through the parish, scouts, sports and other social outlets, so it wasn’t like they’d never see anyone again. In the end, by that spring, they were ready to try a new way of learning and daily life, that the initial horror gave way to openness to the possibility that this ride might not be too bad, after all. Right?

Right?

Read Full Post »

Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —

Okay…Instagram Stories??

I had started using Snapchat before our Italy trip earlier this summer, and have continued since. Some people use it to document EVERY minute of their day, but, er..no. Why would you want to involve strangers in your life at that level? So, no.

My reasons for using it are related to the reasons I have for watching other people’s Snaps – to share a glimpse of interesting sights and sounds and experiences. So the Snapchat and Instagram accounts I follow are overwhelmingly in three categories: cooking, travel and Catholicing.

Further, if Snapchat went down today, the only account I would miss at all is David Lebovitz’s. Lebovitz is a Paris-based American cookbook author whose website is wonderful and who has made a fantastic use of Snapchat. I love following him around Paris as he shops the markets and then returns to his apartment to cook up his purchases. He’s absolutely mastered the Snapchat game.

From the Catholic perspective, two great accounts are Fr. Roderick Vonhogen, who puts most of his stories up on YouTube anyway, so you don’t even have to Snapchat to find him – his recent vlog and series of Snaps from Krakow made me definitely want to go there.

And then there’s the Catholic Traveler, Mountain Butorac, who makes great use of Snapchat – he’s currently doing a Novena tour of Rome, and he just does a wonderful job – succinct (as you have to be) but substantive, with a real eye for what will interest the viewer.

As for my own use, at this point, I mainly document interesting sights and sounds – if we travel, for example, or if the hummingbirds are active at the feeder. SUPER EXCITING.

But what I find useful about it is the video aspect. I have never done much with video and Snapchat is just a very easy way for me to do it – video Snaps strung together as a story can be downloaded and then uploaded to the blog very easily.

 

— 2 —

Oh, but now we have Instagram Stories, which is much the same thing as Snapchat, but with a couple of differences at this point – although I’m sure that will change. The one thing I don’t like about Instagram Stories is that you can’t download your whole “Story” at once, as you can with Snapchat – you can only do it one photo or video at at time.

But I am doing it. If you’re on Instagram, the stories are arranged at the top of your feed, and if you want to go directly to any one person’s, go to their profile, and if they have a story, there will be a little colored circle around their profile photo. I think it only appears on the phone app, not on the regular computer site.

(Here’s a tip – if you are using both, it is very possible to download, say, a Snapchat photo or video and then just post it to Instagram stories. And vice versa.)

That said, I don’t expend a lot of energy thinking or using social media, to tell the truth. It’s a tool for seeing and sharing, not, for me, for engaging. I try to save most of that for real life.

amy_welborn8

 FOLLOW ME ON INSTAGRAM AND BE THRILLED BY PHOTOGRAPHS OF AWESOME RETRO PINK STOVES I SEE AT ESTATE SALES. 

— 3 —

Recent reads:

I finished Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and was so very glad I read it. I don’t know if you can really understand this period – or even American history – without having read Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It’s a polemic, to be sure, but a powerful one. Stowe does a masterful job of laying out the various, complex views of slavery via her character’s choices and opinions. Most important of all are the characters who are either torn or fancy themselves exonerated from culpability because they are not directly involved in slavery – Stowe does not spare them, of course, and even today, the dissection remains pertinent because moral issues are still hard-fought and we are still tempted to complacency and hand-washing if we fancy it not our problem or beyond our powers to have an impact.

I do wonder how much this novel is taught in the present day, not just because of the uncomfortable racial assumptions and portrayals that lent themselves, subsequent to publication, to terrible stereotypical representations, but because the book is such a deeply religious one.

For Stowe’s fundamental point, even more foundational than the immorality of slavery, is about Christian freedom. Tom may be enslaved in earthly terms, but he  is a free man because he belongs to Christ, even if the unjust laws of the United States do not recognize that freedom. Tom is a martyr, not for the cause of earthly freedom, but for the sake of the souls whom he dies to protect and who find real freedom – salvation – because of that death.

I can’t even imagine a modern public school classroom being able to deal with this intense religiosity.

 

 — 4 —

I read The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark. Fascinating, subversively Catholic.  You can read my discussion of it here. Now I’m reading The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. I have only read one Collins before – No Name, which I absolutely loved and was so surprised by – you can read that here – and am looking forward to getting into a book he’s actually known in the present day for.

 

— 5 

Some great feasts coming up next week! Dominic, Edith Stein, Lawrence….

6–

I am going to have a lot of education-related posts next week (see the next take to see why….), but I thought I’d share this with you today.

So you know how schools – Catholic and public both – are all on the technology train? That they want you to know that they are really up-to-date and Preparing Students for the 21st Century by having Ipads and Laptops for everyone and going textbook-free and having all the assignments done on Ipads or Chromebooks or whatever else they’ve been snookered into buying by modern snake oil salesmen?

Long-time readers know my skepticism on this score and how firmly I believe that the tactile experience of holding a book, turning pages on a book, locating information on a page in a book located in space and time and writing things down actually helps you learn better because more of your senses, more of your whole self is engaged in the process.

More and more studies are indicating that this is so, and here’s my interesting addition to the argument. My daughter just started law school and one of her professors has banned computers and other electronic devices from the classroom. You have to take notes by hand – which my daughter had been planning to do anyway.

And this is happening more and more on the college level.

So parents, don’t buy what the salesmen are telling you. If your kids’ schools are telling you that taking away their notebooks, pens and textbooks and replacing them with screens is preparing them for college….don’t accept it without question.

 

 

— 7 —

Oh, and yes. That news.

Well, I will talk a lot more about this next week, but…as of next week, the homeschooling journey has come to an end, at least for the moment. It’s nothing sudden – it’s been sort of the plan since mid-year last year – and it’s definitely nothing negative.

It’s just that the high schooler is content to stay the course in school (he’s in 10th grade) for another year, and M is going into 6th grade. I’ll go into more detail on the decision next week, but it wasn’t a terribly hard one. He’ll be going to the local school run by the Nashville Dominicans, their middle school is excellent (other son went there in 8th grade), they have a new building with a fantastic science lab, a Ph.D. who teaches in it (whom my daughter coincidentally had as a teacher in the public high school International Baccalaureate program here, and loved), and he just really wants a more consistent posse to hang with. He has neighborhood friends (who go to different schools) and the homeschool activities, but in terms of the latter, the populations that participated in the various activities wasn’t consistent – different groups doing different things – the boxing, the science, the zoo classes – and as I said, he just wants more than that & Mom during the day. Hard to believe, I know.

And…Nashville Dominicans.

I’ve told them both:  if either of you get dissatisfied and want to do homeschool again..it’s no problem at all. And I will say, even with three years to go to that point, I can’t see my rising 6th grader doing traditional high school at all. He has little interest in it and I think will definitely be doing homeschool for that, especially considering his entrance into high school will coincide with brother going to college, so we will be free to take off and really Roamschool at that point, which both of us would really like.

So next week, what I’m going to do is a whole series of posts – for the record, in one place – on why we started homeschooling in the first place, what it was like, what I learned from it, and my sense of a whole raft of education-related issues and the future. And much railing on the Catholic education establishment for being so….establishment. You definitely have that to look forward to.

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

Read Full Post »

Continuing with my “reprinting” of De-Coding Mary Magdalene.  This is a long chapter that lays out the claims of and arguments against the gnostic writings that some claim present Mary Magdalene as the special companion of Jesus and the leader of the real Christian movement, suppressed by the patriarchal Peter and his ilk.

In a way this is old news, for much of this moment seems to have passed beyond ten or so years ago when, thanks to The Da Vinci Code and other books, “Magdala Christianity” was all the rage in some quarters. It’s still around though. Do a search for “Mary Magdalene” “July 22” “celebration” and you’ll come up with plenty of nuggets:

Celebrating Mary Magdalene and her message which is so powerful for us at this time… and embracing the Magdalene within each and everyone of us and our story.

 

Find out how Mary the Mother and Mary Magdalene were part of an ancient Lineage of the Sacred Mystery Schools of Isis in Egypt. They were the Keepers of the Lineage of Light. Honoring the feminine was the deepest truth of the secret teachings of the Holy Grail. Discover why the Celtic Lineage of Feminine power holds a key to the healing of modern society. Revered as the sacred keepers of the mystical knowledge of the stars these women were the anointed ones who kept the frequencies of light alive in the darkest of times. Mary Magdalene’s in sacred partnership with Christ embodied the union of both sexual and spiritual beauty. Healing the split between sexual and spiritual power is a key for women of all cultures in these dark times.

Pope Francis has just aknowleged her as one of the beloved Apostles and although many of us have known this for many many years it is a direct call to honor the feminine throughout the world.

Pope declares Mary Magdalene the Apostle to the Apostles – this is huge!!!

The 2016 Feast Day of Mary Magdalene is now an internationally celebrated landmark occasion of the highest order because of the Pope. This paves the way for a major shift in consciousness regarding the state of women in the world. The Pope has taken a powerful stand. We celebrate and aligned with his decision to lift the Feast Day of Mary Magdalene and place her – on par with that of the other Apostles. …

Please join us and help spread the word of this incredible celebration that will prayerfully uplift the consciousness so all can see and feel the deep worthiness of women and deeply appreciate the men who join us in this sacred honoring. Who are we honoring— YOU— the sacred holy one as is expressed and danced and known in a greater and deeper truth. For who is Mary Magdalene in all of these different archetypes if not aspects of ourselves – aspects which we now elevate to the highest state.

Okay.

In addition to the continuing celebrations of Mary Magdalene as a goddess-figure, something else on the horizon is Dan Brown’s puzzling release of The Da Vinci Code in a “young adult” version – as if the original were too erudite and layered for the kids. Anyway, I don’t know if this new edition will interest anyone, but just in case it does and you meet someone who has JUST DISCOVERED this amazing truth about the “real” Mary Magdalene…here you go.

So on to chapter 3….

 

Over the past twenty years, interest in Mary Magdalene has exploded. Books, websites, seminars, and celebrations of her feast day on July 22 have multiplied, as many in the West, particularly women, look to her for inspiration.

Ironically, though, much of this interest in this great Christian saint is being fueled by texts other than the Christian Scriptures. The popular websites devoted to Mary Magdalene refer to her as “The Woman Who Knew All” (www.magdalene.org). One of the more popular treatments of Mary Magdalene, The Woman with theAlabaster Jar: Mary Magdalene and the Holy Grail, by Margaret Starbird, emphasizes Mary as “Bride 9781879181038_p0_v2_s118x184and Beloved” of Jesus. And, of course, there’s The Da Vinci Code, the mega-selling novel that has brought these depictions of Mary Magdalene to a mass audience. Brown’s novel brings it all together in one convenient package: Mary Magdalene was the spouse of Jesus, bore his child, and was the person he really wanted to lead his movement. This movement, of course, was about nothing the New Testament suggests it is, but was rather a wisdom movement dedicated to help humanity reunite the masculine and feminine principles of reality.

So in this context, Mary Magdalene was the “real” Holy Grail, since she was the vessel that carried Jesus’ child and his teaching. But she’s more: she’s a “goddess” — a mythical figure through whom the divine can be encountered.

It’s all very confusing. It’s also ironic, given the constant modern criticism that the claims of traditional Christianity are suspect because they can’t be “proven,” or because the texts upon which its claims are based are too ancient to be trusted. The modern devotion that so many seem to have to this figure of Mary is actually based, in part, on far less trustworthy sources and has no relation to the Mary we meet in Scripture.

So where does it start? Of course, much of this revisioning is rooted completely in the present, in a mishmash of conspiracy theories, false history, and wishful thinking that we will address in the last chapter. But the truth is that Mary Magdalene wouldn’t be the subject of interest from many of her contemporary fans outside traditional Christianity if it weren’t for some other ancient texts: the writings produced by Gnostic Christian heresies.

Secret Knowledge

Here’s the short version. From about the second through the fifth centuries, a movement that we now call “Gnosticism” was popular in many areas around the Mediterranean basin. “Gnosticism” is a word derived from the Greek word gnosis, which means“knowledge.” Although there were various Gnostic teachers and movements over the centuries, most of them shared a few common characteristics, succinctly described by Father Richard Hogan in his book Dissent from the Creed: Heresies Past and Present (Our Sunday Visitor, 2001):

“Gnostics claimed a special knowledge,a gnosis. Included in this special gnosis was an understanding that there was God Who created the spiritual world and a lesser anti-god who was responsible for the material (evil) world. Gnosticism represents a belief in dualism.There is a good and an evil. Evil is material and physical. Good is spiritual and divine.

“According to the Gnostics, a disaster at the beginning of the world had imprisoned a divine ‘spark’ in human beings, i.e., in the evil world of material Creation.This divine element had lost the memory of heaven, its true home. Salvation consisted in knowing that this ‘spark’ existed and liberating it from the human body.” (Hogan, p. 43)

 

The creation myths of Gnosticism that describe this imprisonment are quite complex and intricate. Just as intricate were the Gnostic visions of what salvation was about. The emphasis, naturally, was on knowledge, rather than faith, life, or love. The way to salvation involved knowing the truth about human origins and then knowing the way to progress, both in this life and the next, through the various layers of reality that were imprisoning that sacred spark.

Early Gnosticism, which predates Christianity, drew from many sources, including Platonic philosophy and Egyptian mythology. Christian Gnosticism used the Gospels 516ywedgjtl-_sx321_bo1204203200_and other Christian traditions, eliminating elements that were not consistent with Gnostic thinking. So, for example, Gnostic Christian teachers taught that Jesus was not really human — since the material world is evil. Valentinus, who lived around the year 150 in Rome, taught an extraordinarily complex story of Jesus being the product of the yearnings of Sophia — the personification of wisdom. Historian David Christie-Murray describes it in the following way:

“Christ,who brings the revelation of gnosis (self-consciousness), clothed himself with Jesus at baptism and saves all spiritual mankind through his resurrection,but had only a spiritual body. Men can now become aware of their spiritual selves through him and return to their heavenly origin. When every spiritual being has received gnosis and becomes aware of the divinity within himself, the world-process will end. Christ and Sophia, after waiting at the entrance of the Pleroma [the center of spir-itual, divine life] for spiritual Man, will enter the bridal chamber to achieve their union,followed by the Gnostics and their higher selves, their guardian angels.” (A History of Heresy[Oxford UniversityPress, 1989], p. 29)

This is just one example, but Gnostic Christianity is really simply a variation on this theme: Creation is evil. Jesus was not fully human. He did not suffer or die. Redemption cannot, of course, be achieved through such a means, for it involves the material body, which is sinful anyway. Salvation is not available to all, but only those with special knowledge. This way of thinking infiltrated many other systems of the time, including Christianity.

Those who tried to merge Gnostic thinking with Christianity produced writings, some of which survive, mostly in the context of quotations in the works of Christian writers arguing against them. In the late nineteenth century, some Gnostic Christian texts, not seen before, were discovered, and even more in the mid-twentieth century. The discovery of these texts caused a stir among some who believed that, more than giving an insight into a Christian heresy, these texts opened a world to what they believed could be the real story of Christianity that was concealed by orthodox Christian leaders.

Consequently, over the past century or so, these Gnostic texts have been rediscovered and reinterpreted. Some have taken their existence as proof that there was a whole other, and long-hidden, response to Jesus’ ministry, one with roots as ancient as those we see in the Gospels, and just as legitimate. The modern re-visioning of Mary Magdalene as Jesus’ bride, as the special recipient of his wisdom, and as the foundress of an alternative mode of Christianity owes much to the fascination with these Gnostic writings.

Unfortunately — or fortunately, depending on your point of view — what we actually know of the history of early Christianity just can’t back up these exalted claims for Mary Magdalene or even of any substantive link between Jesus’ ministry and Gnostic Christianity and Gnostic writings.

The simplest way to put it is this: Gnostic Christian texts tell us a lot about Gnostic Christian heresies in the second through the fifth centuries. They tell us nothing about the historical figures of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Peter, or the origins of Christianity in the first century.

So what follows is that these Gnostic texts tell us nothing substantive about the real Mary Magdalene, either, and that all those who use them in that way are engaging in, at best, misguided efforts, and, at worst, deceitful misuses of historical materials.

But it continues, nonetheless, and for a reason: this technique of suggesting that the Gnostic Christian texts reveal secret truths about early Christianity and who Jesus “really” was and what he “really” taught serves to undercut not only the New Testament but also the Church that produced it and is formed by it.

As I’ve done talk radio shows discussing this matter, I’ve heard it again and again: “All of these works were written so long after the events they describe — they’re all equally dependable and undependable. What version of Jesus you choose doesn’t matter, for there’s no way to know the truth, anyway.”

That’s just not true. Early Christianity was an enormously complex movement, about which we cannot claim to know everything.

But we do know — and any serious scholar will affirm — that Jesus did not teach Gnostic platitudes and did not marry Mary Magdalene, who then embarked on a life of teaching Gnostic platitudes of her own and emanating divine energy.

It just didn’t happen.

But because these Gnostic texts are so important in so many contemporary treatments of Mary Magdalene, we definitely need to look at them and understand what they’re really about.

 

Know Nothing

 

It’s somewhat challenging to describe Gnosticism because it wasn’t an organized movement, a religion, or even a homogeneous philosophical school. Perhaps the best way to describe it would be to compare it to the self-help movement of our day. For some reason, in the last part of the twentieth century, this notion of the importance of self-esteem took hold in our culture and infiltrated almost every aspect of life, including religion.Two hundred years ago, Christian thinkers and preachers of any denomination would have been appalled at the suggestion that a goal of Christian faith is to help the believer feel better about herself or help her overcome insecurities and self-doubts. On the contrary, despite their differences, Chris-tians and Protestants alike would have described the goal of the Christian life as believing rightly and shaping your life in a way that meet’s God’s standards and spares one an eternity in hell.

Gnosticism was, of course, more complex and cosmic than this. But it’s a decent example to start with, for, like the self-esteem movement, Gnosticism wasn’t confined to groups that identified themselves explicitly as “Gnostic” and separate from other religions. It infiltrated and impacted almost everything it rubbed against, including Judaism and Christianity.

You can see the problems. Gnosticism wasn’t a minor movement. In most major cities of the Roman Empire during these centuries, Gnosticism and even Gnostic Christianity thrived. Most of our knowledge of Gnostic Christianity comes from its Christian opponents, great theologians like St. Irenaeus, Tertullian, and St. Clement of Alexandria, who all wrote against Valentinus, for exam-ple, and quoted copiously from his writings in doing so.

But independent copies of some Gnostic Christian texts do exist, and it’s these texts that form the basis of the modern, non-Christian devotion to Mary Magdalene.

 

Ancient Words

 

In the nineteenth century, several discoveries broadened scholarly comprehension, and eventually popular understanding, of Gnosticism. An ancient work of the Christian Hippolytus, Refutationof All Heresies, lost for centuries, was discovered in 1842 in a Greek monastery. This work, of course, quoted many heretics, including Gnostics. More important to many was the rediscovery (in the British Museum) and then translation of Pistis Sophia (into English in 1896), a probably third-century work in which Mary Mag-dalene — and Mary, the mother of Jesus, by the way — figure prominently in dialogue with Christ. Snippets of other Gnostic texts existed, but the real revolution in this area came in 1945 with the discovery in Egypt of the Nag Hammadi library, a collection of Coptic texts, bound in leather, and dating from the late fourth and early fifth centuries, that included many Gnostic works (as well as a partial copy of Plato’s Republic). Hidden in jars and stored in caves, it is thought that the library belonged to a Gnostic Christian monastery.

 

The Nag Hammadi collection contains fifty texts in thirteen codices (a form of book), three of which — the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of Thomas, and the Dialogue of the Savior — are of interest to those intrigued with Mary Magdalene. Other Gnostic texts believed to mention Mary Magdalene, and found outside the Nag Hammadi library, are the Gospel of Mary and the Pistis Sophia. These texts emerged from different periods and reflect different strands of Gnosticism. All are discussions between Jesus and various other figures, mostly about the nature of the soul, the after-life, and the end of time. Let’s take a brief look at how each of them treats the figure called “Mary.”

 

Pistis Sophia (third century)

 

This work consists of extensive dialogues between Jesus, who has been on earth teaching for eleven years since the Crucifixion, and others, including women. Mary, his mother, takes an enormous role, and several times a “Mary,” not explicitly identified as either his mother or anyone else, including Mary of Magdala, is mentioned and praised for her understanding, and is even the subject of envy by other disciples.

 

The Gospel of Philip (third century)

 

This work is made up of dialogues and sayings of Jesus in conversation with his disciples. It mentions the Magdalene, “who was called his companion,” along with “Mary his mother and her sister,” as three who “always walked with the Lord.” The passage, quite provocative to some, ends with the sentence, “His sister and his mother and his companion were each a Mary.”

This work also contains the passage describing Jesus as kissing Mary Magdalene often and the rest of the disciples disapproving,asking, “Why do you love her more than all of us?” Jesus’ answer is obscure, but implies that she is more enlightened than they are. Those who see this kiss bestowed by Jesus as an expression of a unique companionate relationship are missing the point in a big way. In Gnosticism, the kiss is symbolic. As one scholar points out: “The Logos lives in those whom he has kissed, hence the disciples’ jealousy, for they are not yet worthy of the kiss” (Jorunn Jacob-sen Buckley, quoted in The Making of the Magdalen: Preaching and Popular Devotion in the Later Middle Ages, by Katherine Ludwig Jansen [Princeton University Press, 2000], p. 27).

 

The Gospel of Thomas (third century)

 

This, the most well-known of all the Gnostic writings, is a collection of sayings, many of which are also found in the canonical Gospels, but with a heavy dose of the androgynous themes that contemporary readers find so appealing. A “Mary” is mentioned once (the other female character is a “Salome”), as Peter asks Jesus to make her leave. Jesus, in a passage that is not often quoted by modern fans of this gospel, says, “I myself will lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.”

 

The Gospel of Mary (third century)

 

This is another dialogue, this time beginning with Jesus but ending with a “Mary,” who is identified as the one Jesus loved “more than the rest of the women” and as the primary teacher, in a rather subtle competition, it seems, with Peter.

 

A ‘Few’ Problems

 

These, then, are the basic texts that modern devotees of Mary Magdalene use to support their case that she was an important leader of early Christianity, and probably in an intimate relation-ship with Jesus — but even if not, that her wisdom was esteemed by him above the other male disciples, and that there was friction between Mary Magdalene and the male disciples. This friction, in the eyes of some, reflects a real, historical division in early Christianity between those who followed Mary as a teacher and those who followed Peter.

There are numerous problems with using these documents to support this view of Mary Magdalene. Let’s look at a few of them.

To begin with, this position assumes that the Gnostic texts reflect first-century events. The simple truth is, they do not. No scholars date any of the texts earlier than the second or third centuries. The view they present of Jesus, his teachings, and his ministry are radically different from what we read in the Gospels, which were all composed before the end of the first century. Scholars of all types consistently consider the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament to be the starting point for studying the history of early Christianity. They may disagree on what the texts mean, but none would suggest, for example, that the Gospel of Mary is of equal value with the canonical Gospels in determining what the early Jesus movement was all about.

518hvfnbhsl-_ac_ul320_sr210320_No, the Gnostic texts “tell” us exactly what they should: namely, the ways that Gnostic Christian heretics took the basics of the Christian story and molded them to fit Gnostic thinking. Since some elements of Gnosticism were interested in questions of gender and androgyny, that concern is reflected in some texts, and in the roles played by female figures. They might reflect a greater role for women in some Gnostic sects, or they might even reflect a desire to demean the role of Peter, recognized as the chosen leader of orthodox Christianity.

But if you take the time to read these works yourself, you’ll see that they are radically different from the canonical Gospels in tone and content. (The Gnostic texts are not long, and all are available on the Internet. The Gospel of Mary, at least the fragment that we have today, is reproduced in full in Appendix B of this book.) The canonical Gospels, with all of their very human, flawed figures, are reflective of an attempt to present events accurately, through the prism of faith, certainly, but accurately nonetheless. The Gnostic writings are preachy, tendentious, obtuse, and . . . well . . . Gnostic in their concerns.

So the contemporary thinkers who suggest that a strand of “Magdalene Christianity” was born from Mary’s early leadership that was eventually suppressed by those loyal to Peter are basing their conclusions on the most tenuous of threads: that these Gnostic writings, written some two hundred years after the fact by Gnostics, reflect an ancient, hidden relationship between Mary and Jesus.

Let’s take this one step further. Who’s to say that the “Mary” mentioned in all of these writings is, each and every time, Mary Magdalene?

After all, there are only a couple of incidents — in the Gospelof Philip and Pistis Sophia — in which the Magdalene is specifically mentioned. The much-vaunted Gospel of Mary speaks only of a “Mary,” does not specify the Magdalene, and gives no identifying clues to tie her into the historical figure of Mary Magdalene, despite modern editions tacking “Magdalene” on to the title. Even the Gospel of Philip, which has been held up by many as evidence of a “companion” relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus, is not as clear as it seems on who that Mary is. A close reading of the text indicates, a growing number of modern scholars suggest, that the female figure is a composite, mythical “Mary,” representing the feminine aspect of reality.

One of the features of some contemporary celebrations of Mary Magdalene is that the Gnostic writings indicate a tension between her and Peter and the other disciples, thereby implying a separate strand of “Magdalene Christianity.” Entire books have been written on this. That view, of course, is dependent on reading these Gnostic texts as if the Mary in conflict with the disciples is, in fact, Mary Magdalene. That’s by no means certain.

In the Pistis Sophia, Mary, the mother of Jesus, is described as being in conflict with the disciples. On a couple of other occasions, another Mary is described in the same way, and many assume this Mary is Mary Magdalene, although she is not explicitly identified in this way. However, some scholars — looking at the way this Mary is described, as “blessed among women” and “called blessed by all generations” — believe that a case could be made for identifying this Mary as Jesus’ mother. At the very least, it is not certain at all that she is Mary Magdalene, who does, in turn, play a prominent role in the dialogues in Book Two of the work.

Scholar Stephen J. Shoemaker summarizes this perspective:

In summary then, the Gnostic Mary’s identity is by no means a simple matter, nor is her identification with Mary of Magdala as certain as it is frequently asserted in modern scholarship. The particular spelling of the name Mary is in no way a reliable criterion distinguishing the two women, even though this is the most frequently advanced argument in favor of the Gnostic Mary’s identity with Mary of Magdala. If anything, the spellings Mariam and Mariamme appear to favor an identification with Mary of Nazareth, as I have demonstrated elsewhere. Likewise, the writings of the New Testament fail to resolve this problem, since they show both Marys to have equally been important figures in early Christian memory. Even the Magdalene’s role as apostola apostolorum in the fourth gospel does not tip the balance in her favor, since in early Christian Syria, where it seems most likely that the Gnostic Mary traditions first developed, it was believed that Christ first appeared to his mother, Mary of Nazareth, commissioning her with a revelation to deliver to his followers.

Moreover, despite frequent assertions to the contrary, there is significant evidence that early Christians occasionally imagined Mary of Nazareth in situations similar to those in which the Gnostic Mary is found: she converses with her risen son, expounds on the cosmic mysteries, and reveals her son’s secret teachings to the apostles, with whom she is occasionally seen to be in strife. Such is especially evident in the Pistis Sophia, a text whose interpretation has been tightly controlled by the last century’s interpretive dogmas. Both this text and the Gospel according to Philip make clear that the Gnostic Mary traditions do not have only a single Mary in view. Although many will no doubt continue to take refuge in the Gospel according to Philip’s description of Mary Magdalene as the Savior’s favorite, we should not forget that the New Testament identifies Mary of Nazareth as the ‘favored one,’ who has ‘found favor with God.’ (“Rethinking the ‘Gnostic Mary’: Mary of Nazareth and Mary of Magdala in Early Christian Tradition,” Journal of Early Christian Stud-ies, 9:4, pp. 588-589)

 

Why take so much time to unpack this? Because it’s terrifically important in getting Mary Magdalene right. Many contemporary activists have adopted Mary Magdalene as a representative of an alternative vision of Christianity, based partly on wishful thinking, partly on her role in the canonical Gospels, but confirmed, in their minds, by the evidence of these Gnostic writings. In them, they see traces of an ancient tension, an ancient movement within the followers of Jesus that held up Mary Magdalene as a wisdom teacher, as the one Jesus designated as his successor.

Their vision sounds plausible to those unfamiliar with the original texts, or even to those who only read them in translation, interpreting them according to the assumptions of the promoters of “Magdalene Christianity.” But ancient texts are usually not as simple to interpret as we think or would like to think.

A careful, objective reading shows, quite simply, first, that the figure of Mary of Nazareth played an unquestionably important role in some Gnostic texts. Why hasn’t she been chosen and celebrated by modern interpreters as the special chosen one of Jesus? Second, while Mary Magdalene does appear in these texts, most of the evidence for “Magdalene Christianity” is derived from the presence of a “Mary” who is, in fact, not clearly identified as Mary Magdalene, and is probably either a mythical composite female figure or Mary of Nazareth. Most importantly, though, all of the figures in these Gnostic writings really function on a level of symbol more than historical reality. Scripture scholar John P. Meir sums up the case quite well:

 

“I do not think that the . . . Nag Hammadi codices (in particular the Gospel of Thomas) offer us reliable new information or authentic sayings that are independent of the NT [New Testa-ment].What we see in these later documents is rather the reac-tion to or reworking of NT writings by . . . gnostic Christians developing a mystic speculative system.” (A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus,Vol. 1 [Doubleday, 1991], p. 140)

As we will see throughout the rest of this book, Mary Magdalene is a great saint, and a woman worthy of our interest and honor. But there is simply no evidence that she was who her modern interpreters would like her to be. The Gnostic texts that they use to make the case tell us nothing about early Christianity in the first century, and the “hints” that some read in them, suggesting an ancient tradition being preserved about a leadership role for Mary Magdalene in competition with Peter, are by no means certainly about Mary Magdalene, and in some cases might even refer to Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Further, if you read the documents yourself, you will see how ambiguous they really are, how easily they lend themselves to selective reading, and even how, in parts, the Gnostic writings contradict what their modern proponents would have them say.

 

In short, when dealing with Mary Magdalene, Jesus, and the Gnostics, don’t trust the interpreters. Go right to the source.

 

Questions for Reflection

  1. What was Gnosticism? Do you see traces of Gnostic thinking in the world today?
  2. How do some try to use Gnostic writings in regard to Mary Magdalene? What are the flaws to their approach?
  3. What do the Gnostic writings tell us about the Mary Magdalene of history?

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

— 1 —

The talented pilots and cinematographers of France’s BigFly skillfully piloted a camera-equipped drone through the sanctuary of the 137-year-old Église Saint-Louis de Paimbœuf.

— 2 —

How fascinating. Terrence Malick’s next film will be about beatified Catholic conscientious objector Blessed Franz Jagerstatter:

He’ll next be directing Radegund, which will depict the life of Austria’s Franz Jägerstätter, a conscientious objector during World War II who was put to death at the age of 36 for undermining military actions. In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI declared Jägerstätter a martyr, and he was beatified in a ceremony. Set to play Jägerstätter is August Diehl(Inglourious Basterds, The Counterfeiters), while Valerie Pachner will also join.

This was first announced via Medienboard Förderzusagen’s posting that they are giving 400,000 Euros to the project, and a number of German news sources followed up that it will be Malick’s next film. The drama is set to begin production in Studio Babelsberg in Potsdam, Germany this summer, but it will also expand to other parts of Europe. The casting agency Han & Oldenburg also reports a shoot in South Tyrol, located in Northern Italy, will occur from July 11 through August 19.

The film will find Malick returning to the World War II era following The Thin Red Line, but of course taking on what looks to be a smaller scope. As for the title, Radegund: it refers to the Thuringian princess and Frankish queen from the 6th century who found protection under the Church after fleeing her marriage when her husband had her brother murdered.

More on Jagerstatter:

Around the year 1936, Franz wrote these bold words to his godchild: “I can say from my own experience how painful life often is when one lives as a halfway Christian; it is more like vegetating than living.” And he poignantly adds: “Since the death of Christ, almost every century has seen the persecution of Christians; there have always been heroes and martyrs who gave their lives—often in horrible ways—for Christ and their faith. If we hope to reach our goal some day, then we, too, must became heroes of the faith.”

 

— 3 —

Here’s a great story from Birmingham. From the local public radio station, a story about Holy Family, a high school in the Cristo Rey network. As is the case with all of those schools, the students spend a day a week working in local businesses. Most are in offices of one sort or another, but I’ve seen them at the library, in the diocesan offices, as well as the bus tooling around in the afternoons, picking them up.

Kirk Mitchell coordinates the more than two-hundred placements. He describes a moment when he knew Cameron had turned a corner:

“He was speaking to a group of eighth-graders considering coming to Holy Family, and he was really open and up-front with these kids. He told them, ‘I’m going to be honest with you-all: I got suspended five times in the eighth grade, and I was proud of it. But my parents saw that this was a better school for me.’ I’m really proud of Cameron, and I think he’s on his way to great things … And we’ve got tons of Camerons in this school.”

Cameron’s favorite subject is calculus. He plays basketball, writes poetry, and dances. He wants to go to Samford University and major in accounting, either to go into that field or to teach math.

“I see what these teachers can do,” says Cameron. “I’m seeing that the counselor, or the principal, and everybody just really care. They really care about your future, and I started to care about my future more ever since I got here. So that’s why I really do love this school so much.”

For kids with strikes against them, that motivation can be half the battle. Connections help too. Cameron hopes to intern at WBRC-Fox 6 over the summer and work at an accounting firm next year. He says being in a work-study program “shows you that, even though I’m young, I can still be mature enough to work.”

 

 — 4 —

In other Birmingham Catholic news, I was excited to see that the Winter Sacred Music Event for the Church Music Association of America will be held in Birmingham, at the Cathedral of St. Paul. I’m looking forward to some beautiful liturgical music (not that we don’t already enjoy that at St. Paul’s) and the encouragement for other local parishes to turn in that direction – of sharing the deep tradition of Catholic sacred music with their parishioners, a tradition that is also, as it happens, a powerful tool for evangelization.

I saw the announcement at the Chant Cafe blog, which is currently reporting on the 2016 CMAA Colloquium, wrapping up in St. Louis today.

— 5 

I ran across this blog by accident somehow, but can’t help but be moved by the story of Emily Meyers, aka the Freckled Fox, mom of five children under six years old, whose husband Marty died last week after battling melanoma. 

 

6–

Happy feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist! A few words from B16:

2006:

Yesterday, the liturgy enabled us to celebrate the Birth of St John the Baptist, the only saint whose birth is commemorated because it marked the beginning of the fulfilment of the divine promises:  John is that “prophet”, identified with Elijah, who was destined to be the immediate precursor of the Messiah, to prepare the people of Israel for his coming (cf. Mt 11: 14; 17: 10-13). His Feast reminds us that our life is entirely and always “relative” to Christ and is fulfilled by accepting him, the Word, the Light and the Bridegroom, whose voices, lamps and friends we are (cf. Jn 1: 1, 23; 1: 7-8; 3: 29). “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn 3: 30):  the Baptist’s words are a programme for every Christian.

Allowing the “I” of Christ to replace our “I” was in an exemplary way the desire of the Apostles Peter and Paul, whom the Church venerates with solemnity on 29 June. St Paul wrote of himself:  “It is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2: 20).

2007:

Today, 24 June, the liturgy invites us to celebrate the Solemnity of the Birth of St John the Baptist, whose life was totally directed to Christ, as was that of Mary, Christ’s Mother.

John the Baptist was the forerunner, the “voice” sent to proclaim the Incarnate Word. Thus, commemorating his birth actually means celebrating Christ, the fulfilment of the promises of all the prophets, among whom the greatest was the Baptist, called to “prepare the way” for the Messiah (cf. Mt 11: 9-10)….

 

As an authentic prophet, John bore witness to the truth without compromise. He denounced transgressions of God’s commandments, even when it was the powerful who were responsible for them. Thus, when he accused Herod and Herodias of adultery, he paid with his life, sealing with martyrdom his service to Christ who is Truth in person.

 

— 7 —

If you are still wondering whatever in the world the Snapchat app could be good and useful for in the adult world, take a look at these accounts (and unlike most other apps, you do have do download and join in order to see what people are doing..and it’s hard to actually *find* people on it. So it’s actually a more “social” social media than most others.)

Mountain Bouterac, aka the Catholic Traveler, took a 3AM stroll through Rome. It was fascinating and haunting. A brilliant idea and fantastic use of the app. He downloaded the whole story and it’s on his Facebook page. 

Mountain Bouterac on Snapchat. 

Paris-based food writer David Lebovitz has become an avid Snapchatter, and it’s so fun to follow him through his day as he shops at the markets, visits lovely bakeries and cooks up his own recipes.

And yes…me on  Instagram and Snapchat (amywelborn2). I’m currently in Charleston, and hopefully will get a few good photos and Snaps out of it, although most of our time will be dedicated to Toddler Rangling!

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: