Living Books on 9-11 and the War on Terror

Dear Reader,

In my post on living books on the 2000s, I promised you a separate post on 9-11 and the War on Terror. You can find all my lists of living books here.

Living Books on 9-11 and the War on Terror

Not surprisingly, there are a ton of books on 9-11 and a good number on the War on Terror. My oldest was a baby during the 9-11 attacks. They have no first-hand memories of the attacks but they do know a lot just from being part of our society. My kids are middle and high school and I wanted them to really feel the impact of those events as they unfolded so we found some news footage from the day on YouTube and watched it. I think they appreciated this and that it gave them some sense of what it was like to live through the events. It was interesting for me because, having watched things unfold on TV as they happened, I remembered the big events — second plane crashing, building falling, hearing that something had happened at the Pentagon — but forgot how much time there was in between and how much the poor commentators had to fill in and guess what was happening with no real information. It was interesting to see how slowly they came to the realization that someone had done this on purpose and to use the word terrorism (even though the World Trade Center had been a target previously) while today our minds immediately jump to terrorism no matter what has happened.

We have gone beyond our spine book for the year but I did read this book aloud to all my kids:

911 6

Saved by the Boats by Julie Gassman is a long picture book (but, yes, I read it even to my high schoolers) but it tells the story of 9-11 very well while giving a slightly different take on events. I had no idea about the boat evacuations and how many ordinary people had pitched in to help. As with most books on this topic, I was in tears by the end.

As I said there are a lot of books on this topic and I am sure many are good. But I also didn’t want to belabor the point by just reading about what is essentially an event that covered only a few hours over and over again. But if you are looking for some others, here are some I skimmed through (mainly based on what was available in my library system):

Seven and a Half Tons of Steel tells the story of the World Trade Center (I believe).

14 Cows for America tells of the support that came from far distant lands, including one African village.

Fireboat is another one about the role of boats in the aftermath.

America is under Attack and Twin Towers are more general books relating the events.

Ground Zero Dogs, as its title suggests, is about the canine rescue workers. It does not seem like a living book to me but might appeal to an animal-loving kid.

A few more:

I am not going to go through all of these. The Cornerstones of Freedom series is one I usually like — but only the older books that begin The Story of  . . . The Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001 is a newer one (it pretty much has to be) and did not look as good.

A Nation Challenged is good if you want pictures.

To help understand the events, try Critical Perspectives on 9/11 and Understanding September 11th.

As we begin to understand the events, we also move into a discussion of radical Islam and terrorism in general, and to the War on Terror.

There are a lot of middle grade and up books on terrorism. Many seem poorly written and don’t provide a lot of true historical information. I had my 7th grader read Eve Bunting’s The Man with the Red Bag. Bunting is an author we know. The book wasn’t awful though I am not sure it was great either. He seemed to mildly enjoy it. I think more than anything it showed the paranoia in the wake of 9/11. From his narrations, it seemed weak plot-wise (or maybe he narrated poorly).

My 6th grader read The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis. This is the first in a series of books about a girl in Afghanistan. This is no Dickens but Ellis seems like one of the bets choices out there for a glimpse of life in Afghanistan and I believe she has books set in other Middle Eastern countries as well. My daughter chose to read the rest of the series on her own.

Life of an American Soldier in Afghanistan by Diane Yancey is what it sounds like and gives another perspective on the War on Terror. I believe The Unforgiving Mind is also the soldiers but looks longer, deeper, and darker.

Happy Reading!


New Light on Habits

Dear Reader,

One test of a living book is if you can get new things from it each time you read it. Charlotte Mason’s own books are clearly living because I am re-reading volume one and just understood something in a whole new way. This is not new information (it was first written in the 1800s!) and may not be a new idea to some of you, but for me it was a whole new way of thinking about habit-training.

When I was coming more and more to a Charlotte Mason way of thinking about education, I was slow to warm up to the idea of habit-training. There was something about it that seemed false. Of course, we discipline and train our children but the idea that habits could be so important seemed very externally focused. I have come to appreciate that while good habits may not always correspond with a right heart, that they can make life very much easier, both for parent and child.

But in my head I think I was still overly influenced by the nuances I associate with that word: “habit.” Perhaps it is a more modern understanding of the word that I was reading back into Charlotte’s writings or maybe it is just me. Habits, whether smoking or saying please and thank you, are something I thought of only as rote actions; they had nothing to do with the heart.

As I reread Home Education, I find that while habits, in Charlotte’s conception, are rote in the sense that once they are established we do not need to think about them, that they have everything to do with the heart.

In part 3 of her first book, “Habit is Ten Natures,” Charlotte begins by listing those things which contribute to the nature of an individual person. We all, she says, have a common human nature which includes both a conscience, however fallen, but also a sin nature. [If you read here regularly, you may know that my view of fallen human nature is not quite the same as Charlotte’s (see, for example, this post and this one); I will not rehash the differences here; I don’t think they matter for the purposes of this post.]

We also each have familial influences. I am not sure Charlotte had our understanding of genetics or was familiar with the nature/nurture debate. It does not really matter in her conception whether a particular predilection is genetic or cultural. In this category we might include a predisposition to addiction or a bad temper that seems inherited from parents and grandparents or learned behaviors such as bad eating habits. Lastly, each individual has his or her own personal weaknesses. These three sources — common human nature, familial influences, and personal traits — all combine to create a unique individual nature, but not perhaps a very good one.

I call this the individual nature because it is unique to the individual but also because it is natural in the sense that it is what we have before outside influences act upon it. It is what we begin with. But, I hope, we are not happy to remain here. This is a fallen nature and, as Charlotte says, left on its own it will only get worse (Home Education, p. 76). Our goal then is to improve upon the nature we are born with.

This is where habit comes in. Charlotte calls it a lever. It is a small tool that allows us to do big work. This is really where my new (to me) insight comes in — Habit is not just about a polite veneer. It is more than a smooth pathway for our lives. Habit, for Charlotte, is the means by which we begin to change our natures. “Habit,” she says, “forces nature into new channels” (p. 78). Habit transforms our individual natures. I had heard before that Charlotte speaks of habit as “second nature” (p. 80). But I had not gotten the major spiritual implications of what she is saying here. Habit is a tool by which we begin to change our inborn, sinful natures into something better, something higher. It is not a mere external nicety. Habit works on the most basic human problem.

I want to be careful that we are understanding this is a biblical context. To use Christian terms, habit is a tool for our sanctification. But this remaking of our sinful human natures cannot occur without the work of the Holy Spirit. [Though she does not make it clear in this section, I think Charlotte would agree with this statement. She sees all of education as the work of God the Holy Spirit; certainly this area is no exception.] With His aid, our efforts, though they may seem aimed at externals, have real internal effect. Without His help, our efforts, as in all areas of life, would be in vain.

I came to a Charlotte Mason way of educating late and even when I appreciated her philosophy in some ways, I was slow to implement it in others. Habit-training was not something we consciously implemented in the early years. I have at time regretted this as I wish now that my kids were more organized and better at keeping things clean and put away. These habits are easier to train in the young years than they are in teens (be warned!). But as I am realizing that habit training goes so much further beyond putting away ones’ toys. It is a spiritual tool and as such is useful not just in practical day-to-day house-keeping ways but in shaping our very natures. It is not something that stops at the teens years or even in adulthood. It becomes at some point not the parent’s responsibility but the child’s and can still be used by each of us as we live our lives as adults. Charlotte says that “The problem before the educator is to give the child control over his own nature” (p. 76). This control that we hopefully have as adults, what Charlotte would elsewhere call the Way of the Will, is really just an extension of habit-training. Habit-training builds the Will by teaching us to do what we ought and not what we would and it is by the Way of the Will that we choose not what our own human natures desire but what God would have us do.

That is my big insight for the week. I realize that I am leaving one big question unanswered — it is the practical one. How do we habit train for more spiritual habits? What do you do with teens when the goals are not about putting away toys and shutting doors but are less tangible? I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.


Simple Recipe Book for Kids

Dear Reader,

My almost 12-year-old has been wanting to learn to cook more things. Now that summer is here and not so much else is going on, I told her we would begin a recipe book just for her. The idea is pretty simple — get a loose leaf binder and put in it all the things she can or is learning to cook. She thought of a couple of cool, practical features —

recipes 4

She places each recipe in a sheet protector to keep them safe from spills. This also makes it easy to change out recipes as needed.

And then she uses a dry erase marker as she goes to mark off what she had put in.

recipes 1

This is what she’s working on today — my own gluten-free, low-carb peanut butter muffin recipe.

Happy cooking!


Living Books on the 2000s

Dear Reader,

We are finishing up modern/American history! Here is my last booklist on this era. You can find all my booklists here.

Living Books on the 2000s

As we neared the end of the school year, I tried to zero in on the biggest topics to cover from the years 2000-2017. Here is the list I came up with:

  • The Election of 2000
  • The 9-11 Terrorist Attacks
  • The War on Terror including the War in Iraq
  • The Tsunami of 2004
  • Hurricane Katrina (2005)
  • The Obama Years

I am going to save 9-11 and the War on Terror for another post because there is so much to sort through but here is what I looked at for the rest of the 2000s:

Overview of the 2000s:

2000s 1

The 2000s: Decade in Photos by Jim Corrigan — photos but also text. About a 2 page spread on each topic. Not truly living perhaps but a way to get some events covered that one might not find other books on. Upper elementary to middle school. 57pp

The Election of 2000

Elaine Landau The 2000 Presidential Election — Not badly written. Seems relatively engaging. Upper elementary. 40pp. I had my 6th grader read it. She says “it was written well” and “it was fine.”

Election 2000: A Lesson in Civics — Very choppy. Author not easy to find. Not living.

Diana K. Sergis Bush v. Gore: Controversial Presidential Election Case — Focuses in the Supreme Court case. Gives historical perspective. Seems decent. Middle school level. 109 pp. I wish I had had time to have someone read this one.

Ted Gottfried The 2000 Election— Some historical perspective. Straight forward. Not too bad. Upper elementary to middle school. 55 pp

The Election of 2000 and the Administration of George W. Bush ed. by Arthur Schlesinger– Covers both the Election and Bush’s time in office. Seems too packed with names and numbers. Second half is mainly primary sources like speeches. Middle school. 120 pp

The Tsunami of 2004

In contrast to Katrina (see below), I found relatively few children’s book on the Tsunami that devastated Asia in December 2004.

The Killing Sea by Richard Lewis — fiction re two teens surviving the tsunami. High school. 220 pp. I wonder how it deals with religion and romance between the characters.

The Tsunami of 2004 by Gail P. Stewart — Middle school. 89pp. I had my 7th grader read this one. I like this series for modern non-fiction.

Hurricane Katrina (2005)

There are a lot of kids’ books on Katrina. It is one of those topics which seems to have fascinated writers at least. I tried to get all the middle school and up ones that I could from my local library and to at least skim through them so that I can point you to the best ones.


Zane and the Hurricane by Rodman Philbrick — The title of the first chapter is “My Stupid Trip to Smellyville.” The books says up front it will be gross and the tone, narrated by the tween (?) protagonist, is quite colloquial. I’m sure one can get facts about the hurricane from it but this is not great fiction. Middle school chapter book.

At the Crossroads by Travis Hunter — A longer chapter book, maybe later middle school. The narration isn’t quite so colloquial but the characters’ speech is. I got bored in the first chapter.

Buddy by M.H. Herlong — Though the young narrator uses his own dialect, this one’s a lot more readable. It’s the story of a boy and his dog in the hurricane. The first chapter makes me want to read more though I wouldn’t call it high quality writing. Middle school level again. Updated to add: I am reading this one aloud to my two middle schoolers and we are all enjoying it. The hurricane doesn’t come till at least half way through the book  but it is a good story that gives you a feel for the life of some of New Orleans’ poorer residents. I like that a lot of details, including even the race of the main characters, is implied and can be discerned but is not made too obvious.

Between Two Skies by Joanne O’Sullivan — From the start you can tell this one includes more of the unique culture of Louisiana, but the first chapter doesn’t capture my interest as much. Some concern over content as skimming through one character’s mother is described as “in too-short jeans and a bikini top, clearly wasted, … grinding up against some sketchy guy.” Not hard reading but I’d call it high school level for content.

Saint Louis Armstrong Beach by Brenda Woods — Another boy and dog story. A shorter book at only about 100 pages. But I can’t get into it and don’t particularly want to read it.

Hurricane Song by Paul Volponi — Life in the Superdome after Katrina hits. A broken family situation is prominent. This is the second most engaging book so far but it’s not that good. Middle school level again.

Finding Someplace by Denise Lewis Patrick — After chapter 1, I don’t really like these characters. Three vain kids concerned about trivial things and I’m sure the whole point of the book is that they learn what’s important but I just don’t care.

Another Kind of Hurricane by Tamara Ellis Smith — Hurricane Katrina and Tropical Storm Irene. Two boys, one from New Orleans and one from New Hampshire (?). I’m intrigued and willing to read more.

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers — From the adult section of the library. The main characters are adults, parents, but I think an older child (high school) could get into it. I may read the whole thing myself. Updated to add: I read this book. At times, I couldn’t put it down. But it was hard to read in the sense that there are a lot of tough events. I would not give this to anyone below high school and even then you might want to preview for content. I also did not like the portrayal of Christians. There were a few positive Christian characters but the bad ones stood out a lot more. This is a true story. The writing is not stellar.


The Storm compiled by Barbara Barbieri McGrath — students drawings and writings; picture book

Drowned City by Don Brown — graphic novel look; simply written but powerful because of the images and the glimpses into what people thought and felt. I don’t usually use graphic novels but this book was the right length for the time we had to fill for my 6th grader. She was very excited to read a “comic book.” I was shocked by how much detail she could narrate from such a book.

Mangled by a Hurricane by Miriam Aronin — as bad as it sounds

Hurricane Katrina: Survival Stories by Jeanne Marie Ford — 4 stories from Katrina. Okay but not overly engaging. Upper elementary

Hurricane Katrina: Devastation on the Gulf Coast by Debra A. Miller– I’ve liked some of Miller’s other books. She often gives a good overview interspersed with primary sources and divergent opinions on an issue. One of the better non-fiction books. 87pp. Middle school level

Hurricane Katrina: An Interactive Modern History Adventure by Blake Hoena — a choose your own adventure book. Upper elementary to middle school

The Obama Years


The Obama View by Karen Gibson Bush — re the 2008 election. Seems decent though not great. The style is somewhat engaging. Upper elementary to early middle school. 40 pp. My 6th grader says it was okay.

Happy Reading!






Books for Political Philosophy

Dear Reader,

My oldest (just finishing up 11th grade) has an interest in political science so, at his request, I created a course for him this year in what is probably best termed political philosophy. I looked at the AP comparative government course but it requires one to know a lot about and to then compare specific countries. This is not really what I was looking for for him. My goal instead was to have him delve into the ideas behind government. The overall plan for the course was fairly simple: read and narrate a bunch of books and then write a term paper at the end. As I write this, the term paper is still in the final stages (due Friday!), but his reading for the year is finishing up so I thought I would share with you the books we found for studying political philosophy.

I used two more textbook-y books as spine books: A Short History of Western Civilization by Sullivan, Sherman, and Harrison and Political Science: A Comparative Introduction by Hague and Harrop. Honestly, this is not a subject I ever studied in an organized way and I was hesitant about it. I chose these books to make sure we weren’t missing any big concepts. I only had my son read selections and though he did one or the other of them most days, the readings were using around 5 pages so it was not overly burdensome or a big part of what he was doing.

For these and many of the other books, I had him make notes rather than do a straight narration. We began the year by sitting down together and trying to come up with questions we might ask about any government. We came up with a list of 10 or so along the lines of: Who is in charge? Where does power come from? How does the government relate to the religion? I then encouraged him for each era, place, or philosopher he read about to think about these questions and to make notes answering them. I consider this a focused narration. In some sense, you could say we are starting with some sense of the ideas we expect to find, rather than just narrating and hoping ideas rise to the surface. I don’t know how Charlotte Mason would have felt about this, but I think it is an approach that works well for this subject.

Our approach was mainly chronological so we began by looking at the Greeks and Romans. (Egyptians and Ancient Near East were covered in his Western Civilization spine but not in other reading.) Our book for this was The Ancient City; a study on the religion, laws and institutions of Greece and Rome by Fusel du Coulanges. This is a dense book so I did go through it ahead of time and select passages for him to read. Because the goal of this course is to study the theory of government, we weren’t interested in every twist and turn in the government of each of these places, but more in the big trends and the reasons for them.

For the Middle Ages, we used On the Medieval Origins of the Modern State by Strayer. This is a thin book. I didn’t want to get too bogged down in this time period so it was a perfect fit. Moving into modern times, I had him read two slim volumes: The British Constitution: A Very Short Introduction by Loughlin and Magna Carta: A Short Introduction by Vincent.

Because I found it for free, we used On Democracy by Robert Dahl. This is a history of democracy and discussion of its pros and cons.

As we moved into modern times, our focus became more on philosophies and theories than on events and places. I came up with a list of major political philosophers and we read the relevant portions from various books. The philosophers we looked at were (in order):

Machiavelli, Luther and Calvin, Hobbes, Descartes, Locke, Hume, Rousseau and Bastiat, Kant, The Federalist, Burke, de Tocqueville, Hegel, Marx, Hitler, and Nietzsche.

The books we used were:

History of Political Philosophy by Strauss and Cropsey — A thick book of the college textbook sort, but well-written if dense. I usually skimmed through each section and marked specific paragraphs and sections for my son to read since it is so dense. The style is relatively engaging, however, and the tone is friendly to our beliefs.

10 Books that Screwed up the World and 10 Books Every Conservative Must Read by Benjamin Wiker — These are excellent books and every student should read them whether they are studying political philosophy or not. We didn’t do every chapter in them, just the ones relevant to politics. For 10 Books that Screwed Up we used the audio- book. It was very well done. The reader had the perfect tone for it. I would look for any of Wiker’s other books as well (he has one on the periodic table we have used).

The Consequences of Ideas by R.C. Sproul — Similar to Wiker’s books. I didn’t love this one quite as much but it is still very good and worth having any child read. We used the audio-book version again (we had a lot of car time this year).

We ended our reading for the year with some books from a particular perspective; our denomination (the RPCNA) traces its roots to the Scottish covenanters and historically is very committed to the idea of Christ’s mediatorial kingship over the nations. This principle is laid out in William Symington’s Messiah the Prince.  There is a simplified and updated version called Messiah the Prince Revisited. I read both and opted to have my son read only the original. I found that in the revised version the arguments are simplified to the degree that they don’t come through clearly. But if you are having problems understanding the original, you could read it side by side with the newer version. A more accessible book is Founding Sins by Joseph S. Moore. This is a wonderful book. Again, one everyone should read. If you think the US was founded as a Christian nation, you need to read this book.

That is all the books we used. As I said, the year ended with a term paper designed to pull from many of these sources.




“The Greatness of the Child as a Person”

Dear Reader,

This is a follow-up to an earlier post on a Charlotte Mason article originally published in 1911 — “Children are Born Persons.” Charlotte Mason Poetry recently republished this article online (here). As I have been looking at Charlotte Mason’s principles in the light of Scripture, I thought I should address the ideas in this article as they touch on both her first principle (for which the article is named) plus many others.

Where we are and how we got there

I began this series by looking at what it means to be a Charlotte Mason purist and why we should care. The big take-away from that post was that because Charlotte claims that her philosophy is based in divine law, we should, if we accept this basis, adhere as closely as possible to her philosophy as being so founded. But that is a big “if” so I turned my attention to seeing if Charlotte’s philosophy is indeed in line with divine law as far as we can know it. This divine law is known to us from both special revelation, i.e. the Scriptures, and from general revelation, that which we can discern from God’s creation through science and observation. I am not equipped to evaluate all the science behind her philosophy but I do think we can hold her principles up to Scripture and ask if they are “agreeable to and founded upon the Scriptures.” Thus far, I have looked at her first principle (and a side post on the image of God), her 20th principle and her second principle in three parts (see: part 1, part 2 and part 3).

My most recent post in this series is a return to the first principle based on the article I mentioned above. In that post, following Art Middlekauff who has written on the article for Charlotte Mason Poetry, I delineated four points that Charlotte makes relating to the proposition that “children are born persons“:

  1. “the greatness of the child as a person”
  2. “the liberty that is due to him as a person”
  3. “some forms of oppression which interfere with his proper liberty”
  4. “the aliment which he is to live by – Admiration, Hope and Love”

I looked briefly at numbers 2 through 4 but left most of the discussion of the first point — “the greatness of the child as a person” — for another time as it is a large topic that I want to be able to delve into.

What Charlotte Mason Means

As has been my habit, I would like to begin by looking at how Charlotte explains her own idea; what does she mean when she speaks of “the greatness of the child as a person”? This concept is addressed in various points throughout her six-volume Home Education series but I find its explanation in the 1911 article to be her most concise and deliberate treatment so I will focus on what she has to say in that article.

Charlotte begins her discussion by quoting the poet Wordsworth who, she says, expresses “the immensity of a person, and the greater immensity of the little child” (Charlotte Mason, “Children are Born Persons,” as published at, paragraph 4). She then goes on to make the enigmatic statement that:

”  . . . not any of [the child’s] vast estate is as yet mortgaged, but all of it is there for his advantage and his profit, with no inimical Chancellor of the Exchequer to levy taxes and require returns! But perhaps this latter statement is not so certain; perhaps the land-tax on the Child’s Estate is really inevitable, and it rests with us parents and elders to investigate the property and furnish the returns.” (paragraph 4)

There are two questions immediately before us:

  • What does Charlotte mean by “the greater immensity of the child”? To what extent and how is a child greater than an adult? Is he truly more of a person as she seems to imply here?
  • What is Charlotte saying about the sin nature of children? In the longer quote about the child’s estate, she calls to mind her second principle on the goodness and evilness of children (which I have already discussed in not one but three posts, see links above). Her language is figurative and I do not want to make too much of it from this quote alone, but as we look through the rest of the article, I think we will see that we cannot separate this idea of the greatness of the child from the question of man’s original sin (I do recommend reading at least this post in which I discuss the various Christian views of man’s nature/original sin to get a sense of the variety of positions available within mainstream Christianity).

As we look first at what Charlotte calls the greatness of the child, we must be clear what she does not mean. She does not fail to recognize the child’s limitations. While making clear that the child is indeed a person, Charlotte acknowledges that he is a “weak and ignorant [person], whose ignorance we must inform and whose weakness we must support, but whose potentialities are as great as our own” (paragraph 6). And again: Children are “differentiated from men and women by their weaknesses, which we must cherish and support; by their immeasurable ignorances, which we must instruct” (paragraph 9).

But if they are weak and ignorant, children also have areas in which they show superiority to adults. Charlotte lists the following (paragraph 7):

  • The child “sees with a closeness of observation that we have long ago lost”
  • “he enjoys and that he sorrows with an intensity we have long ceased to”
  • “he loves with an abandon and a confidence which, alas, we do not share”
  • “he imagines with a fecundity no artist among us can approach”
  • “he acquires intellectual knowledge and mechanical skill at a rate so amazing that, could the infant’s rate of progress be kept up to manhood, he would surely appropriate the whole field of knowledge in a single life-time”

Charlotte goes on to give some examples, but I think all of us who are parents or have experience with young children can think of many of our own. We know that children seem to be made for learning languages, that they memorize quickly and well with a skill that their elders seem to have lost, that they can be quite imaginative, that they feel things profoundly (often to the consternation of their elders who find their concerns quite small). These points are more in the realm of science or observation, placing them under the heading of general revelation, and while we might quibble over some specifics, I don’t think there need be much debate or that we need take much time on them. My only observation would be that God seems to give children some of these skills  — language acquisition stands out — when they need them. Charlotte raises the question of what would happen if “the infant’s rate of progress [could] be kept up to manhood” but this is at best a hypothetical question; for whatever reason, God has given us these skills when we need them most but then chosen to diminish them as we age.

But there is something more here that Charlotte hints at which brings us back to our second question about the nature of the child. After speaking of children’s weaknesses and ignorances, Charlotte goes on to say:

” . . . by that beautiful indefinite thing which we call the innocence of children and suppose in a vague way to be freedom from the evil ways of grown-up people? But children are greedy, passionate, cruel, deceitful, in many ways more open to blame than their elders; and, for all that, they are innocent. To cherish in them that quality which we call innocence, and Christ describes as the humility of little children, is perhaps the most difficult and important task set before us. If we would keep a child innocent, we must deliver him from the oppression of various forms of tyranny.” (paragraph 9)

She further defines what she means by the child’s innocence when she speaks of:

“that liberty which we call innocence, and which we find described in the gospels as humility. When we come to think of it, we do not see how a little child is humble; he is neither proud nor humble, we say; he does not think of himself at all: we have hit unconsciously upon the solution of the problem. Humility, that childish quality which is so infinitely attractive, consists just in not thinking of oneself at all.” (paragraph 14)

Thus, just as the child has abilities beyond that of the adult in the intellectual and emotional aspects of his person, so, Charlotte says, there is a way in which he is spiritually superior. Specifically, he has a quality which she calls innocence or humility, which is contrasted with pride, and which she defines as “just . . . not thinking of oneself at all.”

Charlotte does not proof-text her ideas as we might but biblical language and thinking often permeates her writing. On this point more than some others, it is clear that she is thinking of Matthew 18. In considering what she has to say, I’d like to begin by looking at this chapter and examining how Charlotte uses it and finally looking briefly at the “scientific” evidence, i.e. what our own observations may tell us.

The Biblical Evidence

Matthew 18 begins a section of short discourses by Christ. It begins thus:

“At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’  And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.'” (Matt. 18:1-4; all biblical quotes are from the ESV unless otherwise noted)

In Matthew 18:1-4, the problem at hand is a dispute among the disciples as to which of them is the greatest. Jesus calls to Himself a child and uses him as a kind of object lesson to the disciples. This, He says, is what you should be like. The word Jesus uses is “humble” — whoever humbles himself like a child — and the implication is that this is just exactly the opposite of what the disciples are doing; they are exalting themselves by all trying to be the greatest. We can find a similar idea in Luke 14 in which Jesus advises that when invited to a feast one should “go and sit in the lowest place” (v. 10) for “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (v. 11). In this context, then, to humble oneself means to not aspire to an exalted position but to intentionally opt for a lowered one.

There is some ambiguity here in terms of what it means for the child to be humble. We can read “Whoever humbles himself like this child” either as “whoever humbles himself as this child humbles himself” or as “whoever humbles himself as this child is humbled.” In the former case, the disciples are called to do what the child does and the child has a positive virtue — he humbles himself. In the latter case, the child does not have the positive virtue of humility; it is not that he humbles himself in the sense of choosing a lower position, or at least not aspiring to a greater one, so much as that he is inherently humble because his position in society is low.

But, Christ goes on to tell us, there is protection for such a one:

” ‘Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.’” (Matt. 18:5-6)

Presumably with the child still before Him, Jesus warns that to cause such a one to sin is itself a great sin worthy of the harshest punishment. The child is called a “little one” which may be a reference to his position as much as to his size and age. [In this post I discussed the terms used for children in the Old Testament and showed that in Hebrew at least the “little ones” are likely toddlers, though their age is not strictly defined, and that they are capable of both sin and faith and are numbered among the people of God.]

As a side note — I find it interesting that He says “these little ones who believe in me.” It is not all small children who are in view but those who believe in Christ, who are counted among the people of God.

If your Bible is laid out like mine, Matthew 18:7 is a new paragraph with a new subject heading. These headings and parapgraph divisions would not have been in the Greek original; they are added by our editors. In verses 7-9 Christ rails against sin more generally saying that if your hand causes you to sin, you should cut it off. But in verse 10 He returns to “these little ones” saying that we must not “despise” them for God desires that not one should perish (v. 14). Chapter 18 then finishes with what to do if your brother sins against you including the parable of the unforgiving servant (vv. 15-34). 

[Scholars generally see Matthew 19 as the beginning of a new section as it begins with the words “Now when Jesus had finished these sayings . . . ” (Matt. 19:1).  In Matthew 19:13-15 children appear again, but while Charlotte clearly references this passage in other places, I could not find a clear reference to it in this article.]


The two questions we have to answer with regard to Charlotte’s interpretation of these chapters are:
  • What does it mean that the child of Matthew 18:1-4 is humble?
  • How do the other sections of Matthew 18, particularly verses 10-14, relate to this idea of the child’s humility?
My first instinct in reading Charlotte’s thoughts was to think that she goes too far when she uses the word “innocence.” This seems a very broad term and we might think it means the child is sinless, but Charlotte makes clear that this is not the case when she calls children “greedy, passionate, cruel, deceitful” (paragraph 9). Rather, she says: “Humility, that childish quality which is so infinitely attractive, consists just in not thinking of oneself at all” (paragraph 14). The opposite of humility if self-consciousness; humility ends when “a child becomes aware of himself.” The opposing sin is pride. (In this Charlotte is in line with other Christian interpreters, including Matthew Henry and Spurgeon.)
In the context of her article, it seems that Charlotte’s point is that, just as children are in some ways intellectually and emotionally better, so in this area they are inherently superior in the spiritual/moral realm (I don’t believe she distinguishes the two). In particular they possess a natural humility and are free of the corresponding sin of self-consciousness or pride.
Though most people will exhibit this particular sin, Charlotte does believe it is possible for some to avoid it:

“The principle is, I think, that an individual fall of man takes place when a child becomes aware of himself, listens as if he were not heeding to his mother’s tales of his smartness or goodness, and watches for the next chance when he may display himself. The children hardly deserve to be blamed at all. The man who lights on a nugget has nothing like so exciting a surprise as has the child who becomes aware of himself. The moment when he says to himself, “It is I”, is a great one for him, and he exhibits his discovery whenever he gets a chance, that is, he repeats the little performance which has excited his mother’s admiration, and invents new ways of shewing off.” (paragraph 14)

Charlotte in this section is dealing with the child’s vanity or sense of self from which she would spare him. She presents a nice picture of how this self-consciousness comes about.  There is no big, deliberate sin involved. The picture she gives is of something quite unconscious but which nonetheless results in a person who is different than he was before — he has learned pride.

Notice how Charlotte characterizes this change: “an individual fall of man.” Though we are all fallen in Adam, she is here saying that there is some sense in which each of us falls. This language initially rubbed me the wrong way because it could, taken out of context, be seen to advocate the view that people are not really born sinful, that we are not all inheritors of Adam’s original sin, but that we each experience our own fall, or perhaps even that we might be capable of avoiding such a fall and remaining sinless. I do not think that this is what Charlotte had in mind, however. It is not a view she advocates elsewhere nor would it have been the view of her church (the Church of England; again my second post here discusses views of original sin, including that of the COE in Charlotte’s day). I think, rather, that she equates this particular sin with the Fall  because it is the sin of pride. Pride, it is commonly believed, was the first sin, and it is the sin of Satan himself (Isaiah 14:12-15). Pride, as Charlotte defines it, is an awareness of self; so we see that as soon as they sinned  Adam and Eve became self-conscious (Gen. 3:7). When an individual learns pride, he re-enacts the original fall not because he was not previously sinful but because of the nature of the sin itself.

I mentioned above that there is some ambiguity in the biblical text as to what it means that to humble like a child. Charlotte takes this humility of the child as a positive virtue. It is not merely that the child is on the lowest rung of society; he has a positive quality which the disciples are lacking. This is not my own interpretation, but I cannot say that Charlotte’s interpretation is ruled out by the text. What she says could be true; I do not happen to believe it is true.

But Charlotte’s interpretation does not stop with verse 4. She alludes to Matthew 18:10 when she talks of “despising” the children (paragraph 6) and to verse 14 when she  uses the word “perish”:

“We can only see the seriousness of this failing from two points of view – that of Him who has said, “it is not the will of the Father that one of these little ones should perish”; and that, I take It, means that it is not the divine will that children should lose their distinctive quality, innocence, or humility, or what we sometimes call simplicity of character. We know there are people who do not lose it, who remain simple and direct in thought, and young in heart, throughout life.” (paragraph 14)

Charlotte here ties verses 10-14 closely to verses 1-4. She takes “little ones” to refer to children and she equates their “perishing” with the loss of their humility. With regard to the former, I am not fully convinced that “little ones” need refer only to children. I think it could refer to any that would be considered lowly in that society, but I will admit that to take “little ones” as children is the simplest explanation within the context of both this chapter and the Bible as a whole. It is also supported by verses 5 and 6 which use “child” and “little one” in parallel.

To take “perish” to mean “lose one’s humility” is a much bigger interpretative jump. In the immediate context of verses 10-14, the “little ones” are compared to sheep who get lost and are in danger of real, physical death. Verses 5 and 6 speak of causing one of the little ones to sin, as it is in the ESV, or, in the Greek: “to stumble.” Verses 7-9, though they do not refer to children, also use the word “stumble” and make it clear that to stumble is to sin.

In the light of verses 5-9, I am comfortable saying that when Christ speaks of little ones perishing in verse 14 that He is not referring to physical death but to the spiritual death that comes through sin. I am not comfortable linking this, as Charlotte does, specifically to pride or the loss of humility. This is due in part to our differing interpretations of what it means for the child to be humble. I do not see it as a particular virtue of the child so its loss does not become the key to my interpretation of what follows as it seems to for Charlotte. If we were to start where Charlotte does, and see the humility of the child as a virtuous condition and as the lack of a particular sin, and particularly if we accept the depiction of this sin, when it comes, as a sort of individual fall of man, then to tie the warnings of verses 5-6 and 10-14 particularly to leading the child into this sin, that of pride or self-consciousness, makes some sense.

If the question before us is “Is Charlotte’s view of the greatness of the child, as explained in this article, biblical?” then I would have to say that her interpretation of Matthew 18 is plausible. I personally don’t agree with it, but I think the text allows it.

The Evidence of General Revelation

I had said that I would not tackle general revelation, that which we know through our observation and experimentation rather than through Scripture, in this series. I am going to break that rule and at least introduce the idea here.

I have said that Charlotte and I diverge on this issue because we start out differently. A different interpretation of what it means to be humble like the child leads to different interpretations of what follows as well. But why do we start out differently? I suspect it is because our views of the child himself are different. In my many posts on Charlotte’s second principle, I showed that her church, the Church of England, takes what we might call a higher view of human nature than I as a reformed Christian would. That is, it allows for more ability or potential on the part of the individual to participate in his own salvation. That we come to these differing conclusions on Matthew 18 starts, I think, at a much deeper level. It arises from how we evaluate both our own hearts and those around us, particularly those of the children who are the most untouched members of society, the closest to their natural state.

So here are my questions for you — Are children inherently humble? Do they think of themselves? Or are they un-self-conscious? Self-focused? Self-promoting? These can be tricky questions to answer. The very smallest children, infants, are hardly aware that there are people other than themselves; the baby sees his mother as an extension of himself. My own observations lead me to say that the smallest children are quite self-focused. They do not think of the needs of others, but what this means in their case is hard to say. As they grow just a bit, they become aware of differences. I tend to agree with Charlotte that a girl will not be proud of her curls unless some adult has communicated to her that this is a point of pride. But the desire to be better in some way seems to be there almost from the start. A boy will run a race, with real or imaginary opponents, and insist that he is the fastest whether the facts support this claim or not. Charlotte sees self-consciousness, that embarrassment about one’s perceived faults, as a sign of the pride she speaks of. Again I agree that this sort of poor self-perception also stems from pride and I would also agree that it does not seem to be innate to the child but to be learned. But the opposite — to be proud of one’s appearance or abilities seems to spring quite naturally from the child’s (sinful) heart. I’d be interested in hearing others’ thoughts on this; do you think children innately think of themselves or is this a learned behavior?



What then does Charlotte mean when she speaks of the “greatness of the child as a person”? She sees a variety of qualities in the child which are superior to those of the adult. While we might dispute over one or two, on the whole I think we can see that there are things, like learning languages, that children are simply better at than adults. But Charlotte does not stop here. As her second principle applies to all aspects of the person, so she applies this idea of the greatness of the child to the moral realm as well as the emotional and intellectual. In particular, she lauds a quality of the child which she calls his innocence or humility. She firmly founds this idea on Matthew 18, particularly verses 1-6 and 10-14. Charlotte draws two conclusions from these passages:

  • That children have a positive virtue that the Bible calls humility and that she terms innocence.
  • That this is a quality which can and should be preserved and that those who cause a child to lose it bear a great fault for doing so.

While I do not agree with Charlotte’s interpretation of Matthew 18, I do not think it contradicts the text. I would say that the text allows for but does not necessitate this interpretation. Our interpretations differ because we have a fundamentally different evaluation of the child’s nature. This is based on a deeper division over the meaning of original sin and the effects of the Fall (which I will not revisit here) and a different perception of the small child and whether he does indeed think of himself.

My plan for the next post in this series to return to Charlotte’s Twenty Principles by looking at principle 4 and at what Charlotte calls the gospel principles of education.




Living Books for High School Physics

Dear Reader,

My oldest did physics this year. We were lucky to find a co-op near us that was offering just the labs for physics without is having to do anything else. (In the past we have used Landry Labs for high school science labs. Sadly, they are now out of business.)

I didn’t realize when I signed up for the lab class that it required a textbook as well. They gave a choice between Apologia and Conceptual Physics. Since I’ve never been attracted to Apologia, I chose Conceptual Physics. This is a classic textbook. I tried to have my son do the problems but I didn’t have an answer key so that proved tough. And there were a lot of them for every section.

Midway through the year, I decided to see if I could find any other way to get him physics problems to do, which does seem necessary as physics is so math-based. The best source of such problems seemed to be AP material so in January I decided that the poor bot might as well do the AP Physics 1 test. I had him watch Khan Academy videos and use an AP practice book to prepare. Scores are still pending. I do think he has a shot at a 3 (out of 5) which will get him some college credit at most schools he is looking at. I know 3 is not top-tier but given that I sprung this on him mid-year, I will be happy if that’s what he gets.

So much for the other stuff — let’s get to the Living Books on High School Physics:

Six Easy Pieces by Richard Feynman — A series of lectures on physics of noted professor Feynman

Russell Stannard’s Uncle Albert Books: The Time and Space of Uncle Albert, Black Holes and Uncle Albert, and Uncle Albert and the Quantum Quest — These books could be done earlier, even in middle school. My son really enjoyed them and found them easy reading.

Physics for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines by Richard Muller — This is the last one my son will be getting to for the year. It covers topics like terrorism and global warming. He has an interest in politics as well so I think it will be very good for him. I love how it applies physics to our world.

How Things Work: The Physics of Everyday Life by Louis Bloomfield —  I purchased this book but did not end up using it for my son when I found out he was expected to sue the textbook instead. This book is very much like a textbook but seems a bit more accessible. It seems to cover all the basic concepts. I plan to have subsequent children use it.

For the Love of Physics by Walter Lewin — I only ran across this book recently. I purchased it but have not looked at it much. It looks very good and I suspect I will use it in the future.


Lastly, I want to mention Paul Fleisher’s books. He has wonderful short but well-written introductions to various science concepts. They are really middle school level but if you have a child who is not quote so science-y I think you could sue them in high school too.

Happy reading!



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