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A Birmingham-based writer and acquaintance of mine had a piece about mental illness and faith published in the Washington Post today. It’s very good, and I’d recommend anyone in any kind of pastoral ministry read it:

The Scripture for this morning was John 16:16-24. The pastor read the verses aloud and said a short prayer. As soon as he began talking through his main points, I braced myself for the disappointment I knew was coming. I suspected he wouldn’t take this opportunity to discuss things such as depression and anxiety in the Christian life.

I was right.

Although much of what he said was good and biblical, he didn’t mention mental illness. Instead, he said if you aren’t experiencing joy, you should examine your life and repent of any sin that might be blocking it.

I don’t want to hijack Charlotte’s excellent piece for my own purposes – but, well, old habits are hard to break. My tangent is to observe how this attitude reflects the dangers of superficial religious practice in which definitions of things like “joy” and “peace” have been untethered from hundreds of years of tradition – which means, basically, “human experience” – and come to mean not much more than what the culture-of-the-moment says they mean.

For indeed, traditional, historic Christian spirituality may not have understood the nature of mental illness the way we do today, but it did embody an understanding of the complexities of the human person, accept a mystery of how our particular personalities interact with the transcendent, and provide understanding pathways of how to navigate that.

It also points out to me, once again, why emotion-based religious events are so terrible. Usually I say something like “inadequate” or “flawed” when I talk about this, but I think I’ll just move on and say that gatherings in which individuals are manipulated into a certain emotional state by music, environment, rhetorical tricks, guilt and even personal witness are terrible.  Defining “great worship today” by the tears shed or emotions felt by the hundreds swaying along to your music makes me think, Fascist! 

Back to Charlotte’s point. This is an important one, and I think her treatment is balanced and fair. It’s not, she says, that every word spoken should revolve around the reality of mental illness, but neither should it be ignored, especially when speaking of the practice of spirituality.

Therese Borchard has been writing about the issue of spirituality and depression for many years.

I know someone who read this book – A Catholic Guide to Depression –   and found it very helpful.

****

This brings another, somewhat related point to mind.

I was talking to someone who knew a younger teen who was experiencing some faith questions. In fact, this young person had reluctantly determined that he must be an agnostic. Why? Because he didn’t and couldn’t seem to feel anything. 

When I heard this, my heart cracked a little and then I experienced a moment of clarity, in which my sometimes inchoate skepticism about youth ministry all pulled together and made sense.

I thought about all of the youth ministry programs that I see and am somewhat familiar with, that my kids are invited to participate in. They’re all emotionally-based. One one level, they’re about the emotion of enjoyment and fun, based on the assumption that this is necessary in order to just get them in the door. Moving to another level, they tend to emphasize other emotions – joy, remorse, connectedness, excitement –  from retreats to Adoration events that feature praise music and personal witness.

What if you’re a kid who searches for evidence of truth mostly through your head and not through your emotions? 

Adults can look at all of this with some perspective. We can separate the emotion from the core of faith. We can understand that for a lot of us, that emotionally-based stage – the affective stage  – is important and maybe even necessary. It was for me, when I was a senior in high school, and was deeply moved and felt an individual, very emotional encounter with Christ at a class retreat at the Jesuit Retreat House in Atlanta. But that was one moment, and perspective taught me that there was more to faith. The holistic nature of Catholic spirituality taught me that this type of intensity was rare, and didn’t define faith – my faith.

But teens?

Most of them probably don’t understand this. I’d say that the vast majority don’t. They just haven’t lived long enough. And so picture a kid whose personality and character is not oriented towards truth-seeking via emotion. Perhaps this stuff even makes them feel uncomfortable. They’re in all of these youth ministry events in which they’re constantly preached at about feelings of joy and happiness as the definition of faith, in which other kids are crying because Jesus is so real to them…

…and they’re not feeling it. They’re not crying. It’s not intense for them.

Does that mean I maybe don’t have faith? At all?

*****

(What helps? Correctly defining faith, to begin with. Start here.)

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You may or may not have heard about a controversy in the Diocese of Nashville about sexuality education. Some parents at Father Ryan High School are protesting the content of the 9th grade theology program, and the bishop has told them straight up too bad. No opting out allowed.

I looked at some of the material that’s been posted online. (warning…)

I’m a mother of five kids. I’m a grandmother. I’ve taught high school theology. I’ve written for Catholic teens and young adults. I’ve stood up at meetings and defending the teaching of sexuality education in a Catholic middle school program.  Here’s my response.

Wow. This is some really, really weird s***.

Not inherently, mind you. It’s just basic sexual mechanics and physiology. But in context? Of 14-year olds in classrooms? In between Algebra and History class? In a Catholic school? Right after Mass?

Weird.

Work with me here.

You’re the parent of an 8th grader. Maybe not a sweet innocent 8th grader, but just your normal 13-year old. You’re all pretty excited about next year.

High school!

And what’s more…

Catholic! High school!

There’s going to be Mass and crucifixes and people are going to talk about Jesus and there’s going to be praying and saint-talk, not to mention algebra and history and literature and Spanish….

Awesome!

Oh, and did you get the memo on this class?

OUTER LIPS (Labia Majora) a. The outermost hair-covered folds of skin surrounding the genitals. b. They vary greatly in size. c. Like the scrotum, the outer lips swell slightly with  stimulation; in their stimulated state they pull back and expose the Inner Lips.

That’s happening too.

Is that what you envisioned for next year for your kid?

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Now, in the official responses from All The Officials, I’m reading a lot of consistent with Church teaching…sanctity of human body….the…and…maybe…shut up…

And words like that.

Guess what?

Nope.

Classroom lessons and tests for teens on the effect of stimulation on lady and gent parts? Not sane Catholic pedagogy. Pretty much not sane pedagogy at all.

But you know what? I’m not even going to focus on the Catholic part of this, because it’s seriously so stupid that anyone thinks that “Instruct the Ignorant” means “Provides schematics of spread-eagle Views of Vaginas for Teenagers to Share.”

One Mad Mom has all of that covered, and very well, thanks. Oh, and the parents, too. They know what’s right.

They’re articulating all of that very well.

I just want to focus on something else.

The weirdness.

Maybe just distance yourself from this for a minute. Pretend that you don’t know anything about culture wars, Catholic or otherwise, or that you don’t have a stake in any of these issues.

Now. Consider this.

Consider the possibility that it’s a little …weird for an adult to stand in front of a group of young teen boys and girls and teach this material:

CLITORIS a) This is the most sexually sensitive part of the female body. It corresponds to the glans or head of the penis. b) Though there is no reproductive purpose, the clitoris is made of erectile tissue and contains a high concentration of erotic neural receptors and blood vessels. c) When flaccid or unaroused the tissue is c.1” long; when aroused, it swells to 2” to 3”.

Not weird in a counter-cultural Albanian-nun-picks-up-dying-poor-from-Calcutta-streets kind of way.

More like…what adult in their right mind wants to talk to other people’s 14-year old kids about the clitoris? kind of weird.

And more like…with all the fascinating things to learn about the world that will help kids find a unique way to help make the world a better place, YES let’s spend time on the mechanics of sexual activity with 14-year olds kind of weird.

(Imagine you are a parent of a teen. And then you stand up in front of your kid and his or friends and give this lesson.

GLANS 1. Located at the tip or head of the penis is a structure which contains a highly concentrated amount of neural receptors sensitive to stimulus; it is the center of sexual pleasure for the male.

That would be weird of you. Your kids would die. You might even get arrested.)

And no nonsense about “What they already know” and “what they see on their smartphones.”  No kidding. And you think this helps? 

It’s not weird at all to want to help kids navigate this culture and their own desires and questions. It’s not weird to want to share the Good News of the truth about sexuality in a reasoned, understanding, realistic way. It’s really important to do this, as a matter of fact.

But again…context. Which is SCHOOL. Required attendance. Grades. Mixed gender groups.

More context:  14-year olds, boys and girls of varying levels of maturity and awareness, going to school as part of a system in which modesty and discretion are still key values and parents have prime responsibility for education. There are many ways that a Catholic school can and should work with parents on fighting this battle and helping kids. Sniffing that  parents should just bug off because they’re not keen on your program that tests their  son or daughter on the physiology of sexual simulation and even subtly encourages them to envision their classmate’s bodies on that level is perhaps not on the top of that list.

Have some mercy for pete’s sake!

Let me share a couple of experiences that might make my perspective clearer.

(Perhaps beginning by reminding you of my fundamental school-skepticism on every score. Remember that?)

Many, many years  ago, the Catholic middle school that one of my kids was attending was going to incorporate some sexuality education in the 8th grade. Very mild, general stuff, really, but there were some who objected, and made that clear at a meeting. At the meeting I defended the curriculum, partly because it was fine, in my opinion, and also because the teacher was a much-beloved, trusted, deeply faithful Catholic woman whom the kids all loved as a firm, calm, charitable person of faith. I felt really good about Theresa affirming in the classroom what we were doing at home, and it was not explicit at all. It was spirituality. 

(But some objected nonetheless, and that was their right! And their kids didn’t have to participate!)

Flash forward a bit. Now it’s another kid in 7th grade parish religious education. Theology of the Body had been mandated, and there was a parent meeting. Things went okay until the actual instructor stood up to talk. I had no idea who she was . My kid didn’t know her. A woman in her mid-40’s, a mom, a parishioner known to many, but not to me – not that that matters.  But this is what she said, in the most casual, hey you guys!  tone about what was coming up for the 12-year olds, and as I recall it, it was almost as if she was chomping gum – “Now I don’t know what you all have told your kids  about the details of sex, but you need to get caught up before we start the class. They need to know everything because we’re going to talk about everything– we’re gonna  talk about masturbation, we’re gonna to talk about porn…”

mad men 6x03 betty draper season 6 field trip

Who are you???? 

Yeah, so that didn’t happen for us.

This is about more than this particular situation. It gives anyone working on these issues in parish or school settings something to think about.

So if you’re in charge of things like this in your school or parish, you might want to consider the weird factor. You might want to consider that the parents who are not down with your plans don’t hate sex, don’t want their kids to be ignorant about sex and don’t want them to be ignorant of the Church’s teaching. The parents of kids in your school might even have had some sexy time themselves recently.

Maybe, just maybe…they think it’s…. odd …for random adults to be bound and determined to talk to young teens  – who are required to be in this setting, without parents present and are graded on their responses- about the mechanics of  sexual activity, diagrams and aroused clitoral dimensions helpfully included. 

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Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —

 

I usually try to get this 7 QT blog post done on Thursday night, but that didn’t happen. I couldn’t sleep at all Wednesday night, for some reason – too much Diet Coke too late in the day, a bunch of stuff happening over the next few days – all that combined to render the OFF button on my brain unusable. So for the first time in a very long time, I just got about an hour of sleep. Wow. I POWERED THROUGH, however, and actually didn’t feel bad at all during the day, but Thursday night..was useless.  All recalibrated now.

 

— 2 —

Yesterday morning, I received a shipment in the mail:

"pivotal players"

Yes, my new book – Praying with the Pivotal Players. It’s my contribution to Bishop Barron’s Pivotal Players series. If you go here, I have a short video on Instagram looking inside the book. It’s listed on Amazon, but is not available yet – I don’t know when it will be. If you have received a shipment of the entire program,entire program, it’s included in that, however.

— 3 —

 

Saints! Here are last year’s entries on today and tomorrow’s saints:

September 16 – St. Cyprian

September 17 – St. Robert Bellarmine

 — 4 —

Good listens this week while walking, both from the BBC In Our Time podcasts.

Sovereignty –  Which was excellent, but missing any serious consideration of how the loss of a sense of divine sovereignty over all impacted the development of the concept.

The Collapse of the Bronze Age – the beginning of which at least I am going to have my younger son listen to, as it deals quite efficiently with the tenuous nature of our understanding of the deep past and the almost arbitrary nature of periodization.

— 5 

Really great news for artist Ben Hatke – those of you with kids have perhaps (I hope) encountered his Zita the Space Girl series (You might have learned about him first years ago as the illustrator of Regina Doman’s lovely Angel in the Waters book.)  Well...Zita’s been optioned for the movies!!

6–

If you want to hear some of the kind of sacred music we have here at the Cathedral of St. Paul…here’s a tiny bit. 

— 7 —

For some reason, Dan Brown has released a “young adult” version of the Da Vinci Code.  I wrote about it earlier this week.  My De-Coding Da Vinci is now out of print, so I’ve put it online in a free pdf version. You can access it either at the previous link or more directly, here. It’s basically a short course in early Church history and formation of the Canon of the Bible…so have at it!

 

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

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I never try to do much on Labor Day weekend.

Once, in 2011, I did.

I stupidly rented a house down on the Gulf – as one does in this part of the world  –  then spent a couple of days in the week leading up to the weekend emailing the owner, my nervousness mounting by the day as I watched the weather turn, and turn badly, since with rentals that close to the booking date, you’re generally stuck no matter what. I got the boys out of school early that Friday, started down 65, and then got the call from the owner. Don’t bother, he said, it’s coming. (I think the storm was Lee?) But he was also very generous about the whole situation and offered another weekend to me   – which he absolutely did not have to do.

Oh, well, the point was that ever since then I’ve not bothered to even think about making big plans, especially in this part of the country where Labor Day means not so much “end of summer” as “beginning of hurricane season.”

At first, this year, I had another reason to stick around as well: the boys were scheduled to serve at the convent Sunday morning. But early last week, Sister called and said that someone wanted to switch, and would that be possible? Since the weekend to which we’d switch was a weekend we had to be in town anyway for a piano recital…sure!

So, what to do? Friday night was high school football, and someone wanted to go to the game – as it ended up, both of them went. I toyed around with spending the next couple of nights away…but where? North Georgia mountains maybe? We’d done that one November and it was lovely. But this time – Nah. Too far. Nothing available for a reasonable price. Too much trouble. Besides, with both of them in school, hanging out at home and getting to sleep late in your own bed is a welcome change from days of early rising. “Vacation” would just not be restful, and I had to accept that.

(The son who has just come off four years of homeschooling said the other day, “The days seem so long now! Why do they seem so much longer?”  I said, “Considering you used to sleep until 9 or 9:30 and now you get up at 6:30…yes, your days literally are longer.  That might explain it.”)

But we managed to get out and about anyway.

Saturday morning, we started out at Pepper Place Market near our house, a farmer and crafty market which happens every Saturday from late April through November. I didn’t buy anything, but they like to wander and taste things and see the dogs people bring along.

(Huh. Thought I had pictures. Nope. Reason for everything.)

I then suggested Ruffner Mountain, where we’d not been in a while. It used to be quarried and mined, so there’s that attraction, as well as the views of the city. There are no creeks or other water features and not that many rocks to climb, though, so it’s not the first place that comes to mind for an interesting hike, but it’s about fifteen minutes from the house, plus there was an estate sale just a few houses away from the preserve’s gate, so that was what we settled on.

(We didn’t get much at the sale – just a few toys for the soon-to-be visiting grandson/nephew – and I picked up yet another empty, unused photo album. I hate spending ten bucks on those things, and these days, since hardly anyone actually prints photos anymore, I usually find at least one at most estate sales, and never pay more than a dollar. Because you’re fascinated, I’ll also tell you that the day before, I’d picked up  two very good, heavy, barely used frying pans for two dollars each at another sale as well as a never-used door-frame pullup bar for ten, so I could finally fulfill a promise I’d made months ago to the boys. About a pull-up bar, not frying pans.)

Then a good walk.

"amy welborn"

 

Which took us to about three. Back home for a bit, then Mass, then…what? A movie? No, it’s football season now…so it was shifting between the Florida, Alabama, and Indiana games.

(Speaking of football. My daughter just started graduate school at Alabama. She said, “People here really do say “Roll, Tide” instead of things like “Heck,yeah.”  So of course I sent her this:)

Sunday, I declared the Day We Would Find Martha’s Falls.  The younger one had been there with a friend last year, and had been bugging me to go back ever since. I kept forgetting, and every time I would remember, it would be about 1 in the afternoon, and it’s an almost two-hour drive. But Sunday, I remembered earlier, and sleeping until ten was accepted as late enough, so up 59 we went.

(I am not a fan of that stretch of road, the interstate that takes you from here up to Chattanooga. It always brings to mind those months and months I drove it so many times back in late 2011 and 2012, when my father was sick and then died and then I had to go up to Knoville and back to settle things again and again. I also drove it into Birmingham when we first moved here in 2008- I must have been in Knoxville before the final leg. Every time, I mentally note the convenience store where I got gas. So I-59 always makes me think of  death and the weird places life takes you. But again, I think about that every day, so no really a big change there, just in intensity.)

We had been to Little River Canyon and DeSoto Falls a few times before, but never to this section. If you ever have a chance, you really should check it out. It’s a gorgeous part of Alabama, and a really interesting land feature. What you have is Lookout Mountain – a loooooong mountain that is really part of the foothills of the Appalachians, and on top of that mountain and down into it is the Little River and the canyon it has carved, which is truly beautiful and not that developed. There are just a few spots to access the river and this one – Martha’s Falls or the “Hippie Hole” takes more than just a stroll from the car to get to. You park, and then you have to hike about a half mile through the woods, and much of the path is strewn with large rocks. The last few hundred feet take you down a fairly steep bank.

img_20160904_153013.jpg

 

But it’s gorgeous!

It was also pretty busy, and I’d hate to see how busy it would get if it were easier to access. So they can keep the way it is. That’s fine.

There was swimming and jumping. He also jumped from one higher level on the bank than this, but I wasn’t quick enough with the camera to get it.

It was a typical Alabama scene. I hate to shatter your stereotypes, but a “typical Alabama scene” means that there are all different types of people there, enjoying themselves and getting along. College students, high school church groups, white, black, lots of Hispanics, South Asians, a group of Chinese families sporting Georgia Tech gear and a couple of dozen bikers.

Besides whatever you’re doing to amuse yourself, the major entertainment is watching people jump off the highest point on the bank. Some don’t hesitate, but more than a few do. We watched, for probably fifteen minutes, as a teenage girl considered the drop. She got to the edge half a dozen times, urged on by her friends below, looked as though she might do it, then backed away every time. Did Chloe ever jump? We’ll never know, because it was time for us to go.

Of course, I was boring and declared it to be a metaphor of sorts. I asked mine what it takes to do something you’re scared to do. “Just do it,,” they said. “Just stop thinking about it and what’s going to happen and just go.”

Like I said. A metaphor.

 

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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?!

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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!

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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"

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