Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Trouble With History: Rules? Heroes? Balance? What?

My mom and I tend to be phone tag kind of people. Not just the couple passes and misses kind either, I'm talking the kind that can go on for weeks. This is extremely problematic to a Gammy who just wants to hear from (and about) her grandbabies. Our remedy? A scheduled phone date every Monday. It could just be the season of our relationship, but I really wish we had thought of it sooner because somewhere in our swapping of monologues (we're bad like that, right mom?), the respect I ought to have given her a long time ago has grown and budded in it's proper place. This past month in particular, as I move forward in a journey that she's steps away from finishing (hers being over twenty years long!), we've had some really rich conversations. This week, she offered me a particularly hefty signpost that led to a nugget I'd been anxious to find.

I mentioned before that we wrapped up our Columbus studies, and somehow Mom and I got caught up in chatting about his character, repercussions of bad decisions, legends I didn't know about, and the trouble in teaching history.

"Trouble?" She asks.
"Yeah, as in balance," I say.
"Balance?" She prods.
"In taking all sides and weighing them to give the most whole picture of what was happening," I respond, "It's so hard to offer that though, you have to sift through so much to get to that point. I'm tired of seeing history presented as a set of opinions rather than as a narrative."
"Ah. Well you can't tell a story without having a opinionated perspective, not to mention believe it yourself."

The conversation drew out much longer than this, as those who know us well may have guessed, but I've been pondering the gist of our conversation. Tackling history in a politically charged time that finds something in everything to frown on is more chore than delight. There's so much talk about balance out there, but in offering "balance" (which I suppose means "two sides to every story" in this context), I see the same effect as we had with those phonics flashcards we had to ditch last week - confusion rather than interest or delight. So how do I approach history well? What narratives can we trust ourselves to?

In the midst of these somersaulting thoughts, we started our Jesus Storybook Bible over again. It's a gem, let me tell you. Besides stoking the fires of curiosity and passion in the girls, it reminds me of how every little thing reflects and points to the gospel in some way or another, and really is woven into a grand tapestry of His faithfulness. The introductory chapter? That one gets me every single time.
"Now, some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn't do. The Bible certainly does have some rules in it . . . . But [it] isn't mainly about you and what you should be doing. It's about God and what He has done. 
Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes. . . . The Bible does have some heroes in it, but (as you'll soon find out) most of the people in the Bible aren't heroes at all. They make big mistakes (sometimes on purpose). They get afraid and run away. At times, they are downright mean.
No, the Bible isn't a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a Story. . . . There are a lot of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them." 
"Why does this strike me as the answer to something?" My slow witted self wondered this time around. I didn't make the connection until the next morning.

Some people see history as a playback of general morality followed well or not so much, still others as a collection of heroes to look up to or villains to look down on. Sure, history holds a little of both these things, but essentially, it's neither. History is all the little stories telling one big story of God's faithfulness over and over and over again. And that right there is the narrative perspective we can trust ourselves to without batting an eye.

If ever there was a face-in-palm moment, that was one of my biggest.

I'm right back at the starting point of it all, and where I should have backtracked to in the first place - learning through all these things to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls, and minds. Needless to say, we're moving into this next piece of history much more at ease, eyes open to God's pen strokes rather than whatever the heck I was trying to see before.

Friday, September 1, 2017

The First Month: Pom Poms, Pattern Blocks, and Liturgy

This stack right here, if you threw in half a dozen nursery rhyme books, would give the most accurate peek into life right now. The bulk of every day goes to the actual nourishing of the hearts and minds (and tummies) of three hungry little girls, but the inbetweens and afters? It's equally split right here, learning how to do that while also trying to keep myself fed.

It's a little crazy but I like it. Somewhere between the math lessons and the two o clock snacks, I'm finding new and constant little jolts happening, reminding me to seek wisdom -  to stop and pray about this small thing I don't understand or that bigger thing I can't see my way through. Maybe I'd grown too comfortable with the old ones that happened between two am feedings and stuffed animal tea parties? I guess I can see a little foggy eyed sense in that. The great thing about being in the unknowns again though, is that for every all their tiring perplexity, they're also fruitful.

I'd forgotten that.

These long fallowed fields of my mind are suddenly sprouting with interest and curiosity and I'm growing a little right beside my girls. Things I've tried and tried to understand for years are becoming a little more clear now. How can I better put it. . . that after all these years of trying to peek into the heart of God through the windows of understanding opened to others, mine is finally opening in this most unexpected place. Maybe it's due to a teensy bit more life being lived or maybe it's a completely spiritual thing, but either way it's a new kind of wonder for me.

And now we're into September. Crazy, right? I'm glad for it though, because it signals the beginning of Autumn. Granted, it was incredibly warm and I didn't start it out on the right foot (totally had to jump ship halfway through our tiny load of Friday studies due to my bad attitude), but God redeems even these bad beginnings somehow. That's what I kept pounding into my heart, at least (despite the apple-sage latte, I'm still barely able to grab hold of that promise).

Equally hard to grasp are some of the studies we're already wrapping up, like the early explorers and the first quarter of a math book. "Did we really just do that?" I keep asking myself, because having a kid old enough to be doing these things still strikes me as surreal. It's been fun though, so fun. And, if I may echo my last post, so humbling.

The ugly truth is that I'm more ignorant than I care to admit and aesthetically minded than I consciously want to be, so if education is truly an ordering of the affections? Then Charlotte Mason, Elsie Ludicello, and my own dear MIL have been the oil to our gears this first month. Their insightful wisdom have helped me begin to grasp what this ordering of the affections looks like with lukewarm coffee in hand and toddlers running laps through the obstacle course that our home has temporarily taken on the look of.

We've played with subjects and schedules like putty, squeezing and molding to have that natural feel in our hands, shaping it to get to "good enough for now," and trying to remember not to bake it into a permanence that has the likelihood of eventually breaking. Learning is weird like that.

I will say that I did end up persisting in those breaks between subjects, and after a little trial and error, it ended up being the right thing. A needs the time to digest, the little people need it for routine reminders that they're a part of all this too, and I need it as a reminder to not rush (and so I can routinely make fresh pots of tea). Regardless, it was painful to figure out. At the point of totally writing off the idea, I came across the tip of putting each new subject at the top of each needed hour and letting the child(ren) finish in their own time (could be five minutes, could be the forty five) and then use the rest of the hour as they like. "Hey," I thought, "A can read hours so this could take some of the struggle of time management off my shoulders. This might work!" All I can say is that heavenly choirs broke into song the day that we implemented it (still singing, by the way).

Actually, the real joy in this has been seeing the things we study together go from getting buried under one another to coming alive with a little reflective space. "Mom," A said to me just the other morning after art studies, "S and I are visiting Monet's garden today. It's pretend but I want her to see it too. Someday though, we're going to the real one together. We'll send you a postcard."

This kind of thing wouldn't have happened before.

Did I mention before that my kids are super hands on learners? I am too but I somehow ended up not being an arts and crafts kind of person. The girls though? If some kind of hands on project isn't involved then it takes twenty times longer to grasp and is that much harder to enjoy. Go figure. Needless to say, that's been one of the other big struggles.

Of all the things, it was a podcast episode on biblical literacy that helped me stop fighting it so hard. Jen Wilkin was talking about how important it is to have context before digging in and I had that moment of, "oh! . . . oh." Because what I had been reading the night before in Karen Glass's book and vaguely picked up in a recent Aftercast episode suddenly fell into place beside this idea.

This part of education is context - building the foundation of ideas in whole. The opinions, the shortcuts, the digging deeper all comes later when we already know and have worked with the bigger processes that we're shortcutting or the mountainous terrain of an idea that is being dug into. So in short, seeing, hearing, touching, and tasting these whole ideas and concepts are these early years of education. Living literature is one side of the coin for sure, but dipping our hands into the concepts is the other just as necessary side to imprinting it on our hearts.

So we're finding middle ground.

I had to wait (a little anxiously) for it to happen, but subjects have started to trickle into one another now. This last week, a lesson on patterns led to patterns in nature, that led to A pointing out the pattern of the sun rising and setting, which moved right along into directions (east, west, etc.), which eventually ended in a conversation about how the early explorers navigated their adventures.

It doesn't always happen this way, I know the seasoned moms are going to be quick to say, but I'm thinking it's worth the slow merging and patience for places where it does because that's most like life? Liturgy, rather. Taking all the moments and people and things that trickle one into another to form a pattern that we can either ignore or take up as an opportunity to worship in and through. But how will we know unless we recognize it?

That right there seems the truer education.