Posts Tagged ‘homeschooling’

My Nature Lore Booklist

Dear Reader,

This is a question that came up on a discussion board and it’s one of those things I probably should have gotten together a while ago. You can find all my lists of living books here.

What is Nature Lore and How do you use it?

Simply put, “nature lore” refers to books that tell about nature and science-related topics in a literary way. I use the term because it is popular in Charlotte Mason circles. In reality, “creation lore” might be a better term. I fear that nature lore makes one think that we must read about nature only — animals especially and maybe a little about plants. I use “creation” to draw our attention to all that God has made, from the stars to the rocks, from weather to physical laws. Really any science related topic presented in a literary form is fair game.

If I could go back in time, I would do a lot less with my kids when they were little, but one thing I would definitely keep is reading nature creation lore aloud. The goal of science in the early years particularly is just to keep alive and feed children’s innate curiosity and love for knowledge. Most kids have a love for the world around them in some way. It may be a passion for dinosaurs or panda bears or a penchant for filling up your car and their underwear drawer with rocks and sticks, but one way or another it comes out.  Feeding this love requires two things: time outside and good books. (The former I hope is obvious but at any rate would be the subject for another post.) Books give us the knowledge to dig deeper into what we see with our eyes (and feel and smell and hear). They expand out horizons. We don’t all live near volcanoes and kangaroos. Books take us to the places we can’t go ourselves. Good authors communicate their own passion and inspire ours. They draw us in through their own enthusiasm for their subject. (For more on science and why and how we study it, see this post.)

The actual process of doing nature lore with your kids is simple: read and narrate, read and narrate. If you have multiple kids, have them take turns narrating what you read. Read chunks that are appropriate to their age and ability to retain. With the littlest kids, you may be reading a paragraph or two at a time only. If you have multiple ages, I usually gear my reading to just below the level of the oldest child participating. The oldest can still get something out of what it read but so can the next one or two. Don’t worry too much about littles. They will get more than you expect. One nice thing about science-y topics is that they often lend themselves to alternative forms of narration. Charts, pictures, and diagrams can be good ways to reproduce what one has heard. For instance, if you have just read about types of volcanoes, each child can take a few minutes to draw the various kinds and, depending on age and ability, label them.

Nature lore and time outside are really all you need for science in the elementary years. I know this can be hard to swallow and that you want to add in more but remember the goals — to encourage a love for creation, to build relationships with the things God has made, to encourage curiosity and observational skills. If your child wants to do some hands-on experiments, that’s fine, but you don’t need such things. (They will be getting some hands-on experience in their time outside as well. It is fun to make slime and watch things explode and I would not deprive any kid of those joys, but often science experiments made for young children are pretty preachy and basic anyway.)

Nature lore does not need to end. As my kids got older, meaning into middle school, I would often pick a topic for the year or the term. Things like meteorology or geology (again, look at my other booklists for some of those). Even in high school we continue to use living books as the basis of our science, adding in labs and definitely being more topical (a year each of biology, chemistry, physics). But that doesn’t mean you need to abandon nature lore. There are many wonderful books written for adults that keep alive that sense of wonder and that transport us to new places.

This is not going to be a complete list (if that were ever possible!). There is just too much out there and I am sure I have forgotten a lot of what we used when they were little. If you have other suggestions, please let me know and I will add them. Don’t be afraid to find your own books. Some of the best ones we’ve used were garage sale or thrift store finds that are not on anybody else’s nature lore list. After you have done this a bit, you will become more adept at judging books for yourself. You can usually pick up a book and read the first few paragraphs and get a sense if it is going to be an engaging book and if it is the appropriate level for your kids. If you get a little ways in and for some reason don’t love it, drop it and move on to another.

The books below are roughly sorted by age level, from the youngest to the oldest. I am very hesitant to give specific age ranges. Good nature lore often appeals to a wide range fo ages. Older children can still get something out of simple books and young ones will get more than you expect from books that seem over their heads.

Nature Lore Books for All Ages

Among the ………..People by Clara Dillingham Pierson — This series of books focuses on various environments — meadow, forest, etc. Each reading is fairly short, maybe 2 pages, which can work well with younger children. We had a one volume set that included all the books. My daughter did get tired of them after a while. I do think the whole lot might be a lot to do all at once.

Natural Wonders Every Child Should Know by Edwin Tenney Brewster — This was one of those thrift store finds for me. It covers a wide range of topics (including reproduction!) at an elementary level. I include not because I expect it to be easy for anyone to find (though certainly pick it up if you do) but because look at that title — if you see an old looking book with a title like this, you should always buy it.

Millicent Ellis Selsam — Some authors are so good it is hard to pick one book by them. Selsam’s are fairly brief, mostly of the easy reader variety, and cover a variety f topics. She has books on seeds, microscopes, turtles, and more.

Robert McClung — McClung will reappear below as well. His easier books are fun, easy reader level books. We particularly liked the one about Stripe the Chipmunk.

In the Land of the Lion — Another thrift store find. Again, this is the sort of title you should perk up at if you see it. This book discusses various African animals which brings up another point: nature lore can also often be geography. It’s good to learn more details about nature close to home, but books also open the world to us.

Toklat: The Story of an Alaskan Grizzly Bear by Alfred Milotte — Some books are surveys of a time or place; some take us in depth on one animal. The title kind of says it all for this one. A quick search on Amazon shows me Milotte wrote others as well and I suspect they are all worthwhile.

How’s Inky (and sequels) by Sam Campbell — The story of a porcupine (if I am remembering correctly). Told with humor.

Tale of …………….. by Thornton Burgess — Burgess will reappear below as well. His books that are along the lines of “the Story of so-and-so animal” are wonderful for children learning to read chapter books. Each section is very short but manages to advance the story so one doesn’t get bored.  I prefered his books that stick to animals and was less enamored of the ones that feature Mother West Wind.

The Storybook of Science  by Jean Henri Fabre — This is one of my must reads because it covers so many subjects, from bees to volcanoes, even including some history as I recall. I am not actually crazy about its modus operandi which is to set the information as stories told my an uncle to his nephews and nieces, but is it still a good book. Fabre has many others though I am less enamored of those that stick to a single subject.

Jack’s Insects by Edmund Selous — There are some guides to go along with this book and it is quite popular on living book lists. We used it. I wasn’t crazy about it. Honestly, it might be a bit too much on insects.

Spotty the Bower Bird by Edward Sorenson — This was out foray into Australian animals. I lovely book if you can manage to find it.

Jacques Cousteau — The famous French diver and oceanologist has written a number of books for kids. We stumbled across two, one on dolphins and one on walruses and seals. Both were fairly well done and worth getting. They are from the series the Undersea Discoveries of Jacques-Yves Cousteau. I believe there are other series under his name that are a bit more textbook-y.

Naturally Curious by Mary Holland — This book focuses on New England (my area) and gives what to look  for in each month, what is blooming etc. It tends to list a few things and then go in-depth on one or two. This would not be an every day or even every week book but is good to check in with every month to get an idea of what one might expect to see.

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot — Herriot’s tales of a vet and the people and animals he encounters are quite well-known. My daughters really enjoyed them. He has various volumes and you can also find shorter versions of his books that focus on one topic, cats for instance.

Forgotten by Time by Robert Silverberg — Silverberg is a favorite author of mine. He also has books on history and one called Scientists and Scoundrels. This one is on all those animals (and a few plants) that don’t quite fit our usual categories.

The Rhino with the Glue-on Shoes by Lucy Spelman — Tales from a zoo-keeper, I believe. My daughter liked this one when she was in middle school.

Curious Naturalist by Sy Montgomery — This book has short readings organized by season. It is good even for high school. The chapter on beavers is worth the whole book.

The Animal Book and  The Bird Book by Thornton Burgess — I told you he would reappear. These two books are longer and a bit more of a haul. We found the bird book a bit much all at once though my one bird-living daughter read some of it on her own. Beware that sometimes things change in science: rabbits are no longer considered rodents.

Silent Spring and The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson — Silent Spring is quite famous and tells of the effect of pesticides on the environment.

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson — Tells the author’s adventures on the Appalachian Trail.

A Walk through the Year, A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm  and Circle of the Seasons by Edwin Way Teale — Teale has a number fo wonderful books. They can be read by adults but I also read one aloud to my elementary kids. Circle of the Seasons gives daily readings. A Walk Through the Year is organized by seasons and can also be found as four separate volumes. A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm  is more anecdotal and the title pretty much tells you where you are going with this one.

Wilderness Essays by John Muir — Muir is famous naturalist and I have heard he was a Christian. His love for nature comes through. This is the book of his we have used but I suspect his others are also worth the time.

Tristan Gooley — Gooley has a number of books that are good reads for high school boys who might be les enthused by nature books. They cover things like finding your way in the woods.

Lost Wild America by Robert McClung — McClung reappears with a book for the older crew. This one is on endangered animals and includes some historical context for each.

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell — I loved this book. I laughed aloud in parts. It is an upper level book because, well, the family is included and there is some adult content. Read it yourself if you don’t want to give it to your kids. The Durrell family moved from England to Cyprus and the boy, Gerald, was quite the collector of animals. There is also a PBS series about them, though it strays quite far from the book.

As a reminder, if you are looking for specific topics like geology and environmental studies, click on the “lists of living books” link above and scroll down to the science section. There are other choices there that would work well for nature lore also but I didn’t want to repeat myself too much.

Happy Reading!

Nebby

 

Reformed Thinkers on Education: W.H. Jellema

Dear Reader,

This post is part of an ongoing series in search of a reformed Christian philosophy theology of education. Find all the posts here.

I am currently in the midst of a series within a series in which I look at some modern reformed thinkers on education. The introductory post to this mini-series is here.

A number of the thinkers we will consider are represented in Voices from the Past: Reformed Educators (Lanham: University Press of America, Inc., 1997), a volume edited by Donald Oppewal. The first of these is William Harry Jellema who worked in the 1950s as a philosophy professor at Calvin College among other positions. Two of his essays are included in Oppewal’s volume. The first, “The Curriculum in a Liberal Arts College,” addresses specific decisions that Calvin College faced at the time with regard to revamping their curriculum. The second, “The Christian School a Prerequisite for and an Outgrowth of the Calvinistic World and Life View,” argues for Christian schools. Because the latter is more general, I will begin with it.

The thrust of “The Christian School . . . ” is contained in its title — Jellema argues the need for distinctly Christian schools. Though this rankles me a little as a homeschooler, I realize that he was writing in the 1950s when the modern homeschooling movement had really not begun so I will give him a pass and assume that this option was just not on his radar.

Jellema spends considerable time arguing for something that I have often said on this blog — ideas have consequences. In his words, our “life views” have practical “outgrowths” (p. 48). There are probably people who would contest this position, but I am not one of them nor do I suspect most of you are so we will not dwell on it overly much. Jellema’s argument is a philosophical one rather than a biblical one though I think this would be an easy point to argue from the Scriptures which ask of us not just faith but obedience. In the course of making his argument, Jellema shows that we are “rational moral” beings (p. 50) and that we embody biological, social, and religious impulses, all of which impact our actions (p. 53).

Jellema goes on to argue that, given that our beliefs have practical consequences, Calvinism will result in the need for Christian schools. This is a multi-stage argument. First he argues for the comprehensiveness of our worldview — that “the God who revealed himself in the Christ of the Scriptures” is “the source of ultimate principles for our world and life view . . . [S]uch a world and life view rooted in the Christian faith will issue in Christian education” (p. 56). But Calvinism “need not create its own social instrument” so he goes on to argue that we need to establish schools to provide this education.

His primary argument on this point is again one that we have seen before and boils down to the idea that there are no uninterpreted facts. Calvinism insists, he says, that “God is not only the object in a narrower sense of religious faith and devotion but is also the ground and end of all existence and truth and value” (p. 57). It is not sufficient to allow secular public schools to teach facts and to allow the church or home to provide religious instruction; the two must be merged and therefore a Christian institution is necessary to do the job.

Though in this essay Jellema does not say too much about the nature of education in the Christian schools he envisions, he does towards the end hint at a purpose for education:

” . . . only in the light of that view can my bits of knowledge become intelligible. And in the sphere of morality and character building this conviction means that my every experience of worth strengthens and deepens my appreciation of and loyalty to God . . . The cutting edge of our view is that intellectual or moral growth and the religious life are in each specific instance and at that moment inseparable . . . ” (pp. 57-8)

In other words, knowledge only makes sense in the light of our beliefs and this intelligible knowldge serves to point us to God so that we give Him glory and grow in Him.

Though I take issue with the idea that we need schools specifically, I am largely in agreement with Jellema thus far. His other article, “The Curriculum in a Liberal Arts College,” leaves me a little more puzzled. As I said above, he is here arguing for specific changes in the curriculum and course requirements at Calvin College. I am not so much interested in the particulars but along the way he makes some general statements about education.

“Education is for wisdom” (p. 5), Jellema tells us. If this is meant as a definition, I am willing to accept it as such. But Jellema goes on to define wisdom saying it “consists very simply in the ability so to use nature as to achieve position in a society devoted to mastery over nature” (p. 5). Though wisdom is a topic covered at length in the pages of the Bible, this is no biblical argument nor is there  any appeal to the Scriptures. Jellema seems to be saying that our goal is mastery over nature — an argument which could certainly be substantiated by Genesis 1 — but he also says that nature shapes us, that our minds are molded by the patterns in nature. Though we know that God is revealed by His creation, we also know that creation was changed by the fall of man. There is no discernment here, no recognition that not all we find in nature as it now is would be worth emulating. He repeatedly calls this a “new idea of wisdom” (p. 15, 25) which I find quite disturbing given that wisdom is such a deeply-rooted biblical concept. It is not something that it seems we should have a “new” concept of.

Jellema’s overall argument in this essay is for a Christian liberal arts education. The liberal arts, he says, deal with the man as an individual and as a whole (pp. 16, 27). They educate the intellectual for the sake of the moral.  He implies that the ultimate goal of such an education is to fit us to discharge our moral responsibilities (p.16). Though a liberal arts education covers many subjects, he argues against a fragmented approach — a little here, a little there — and for an approach that looks to unifying principles across subjects. He speaks specifically of three or four minds, that is, ways of thinking. The Christian mind, which is associated with the Middle Ages, is primary but one also should learn the ancient and modern minds (pp. 21-22, 31). These minds are learned through the reading of their literature and also the learning of their languages. It is not enough to read the classics in translation but one should also learn Greek and Latin (p. 25).

I like some of the specifics here. I agree that we are much better equipped to understand someone when we learn their langauge (I argued as much in this post). I also like the idea of a broader more unifying perspective rather than a smattering of knowledge from a range of fields. I am a little confused by the minds thing. It may be true but I would like to see more on why these three distinct minds are valuable to know and understand. There is certainly Christian thought and non-Christian, but, as Ecclesiastes says, there is nothing new under the sun. I am not so convinced that the ancient and modern are really all that different. There is also the matter of other minds. Jellema mentions a couple of times that we should learn the occidental (i.e. western) minds.  Perhaps the world has changed since his day; I am not sure we can so limit ourselves. Eastern philosophies pervade our culture.

The biggest issue I have with Jellema, however, is this idea of wisdom that he advances. I cannot get over a reformed thinker advancing a “new” idea of wisdom without any reference to the Scriptures. In the first article we discussed, Jellema hints at quite a good goal for education — it causes us to glorify God and it transforms us. I would have liked to see him pursue that train of thought rather than the “new wisdom.”

Nebby

Living Books on Diseases

Dear Reader,

My eighth grader asked to learn  more about diseases for her science this year. Since it’s her last year before high school hits, I indulged her. She had studied medicine and anatomy last year; you can find that booklist  here. You can find all my lists of living books here.

Living Books on Disease

IMG_0013Blood and Guts: A History of Surgery by Richard Hollingham — As its title suggests this book gives a history of surgery. It is fairly engaging and what tween/teen doesn’t love to read about all the gory mistakes of the past?

Terrible Typhoid Mary by Susan Campbell Bartoletti — The story of typhoid in America and the mystery that led to the one carrier who spread it all.

Microbe Hunters by Paul de Kruif — This book is often recommended on homeschool lists and is well worth it. It is something of a history of microbiology through the stories of the scientists who advanced its study.

When Plague Strikes by James Cross Giblin and David Frampton — This book covers a number of “plagues” including the black death, small pox, and AIDS.

Breakthrough by Jim Murphy — Murphy’s books are good, fairly brief treatments of various issues, Breakthrough is about blue babies and the struggle to save them. She also read An American Plague by Murphy about yellow fever. Though we didn’t have time for it, his other books include The Invincible Microbe about tuberculosis.

The Great Trouble by Deborah Hopkinson — The 1850s cholera epidemic in London told as a mystery story. Another book I considered in this particular epidemic is The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson.

Pox and the Covenant by Tony Williams — The story of smallpox in Boston and how Puritan preachers helped by preaching the need for immunization.

Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities by Amy Stewart — This is slightly off topic but I had checked it out and my daughter really wanted to read it. It is really more of a catalog with one page or so each on a variety of plants classified as deadly, intoxicating, etc. I’m not at all worried.

A couple more books we considered but didn’t have time for:

Hot Zone by Richard Preston — The story of an Ebola epidemic told as a suspense novel. Written for adults.

The Radioactive Boy Scout by Ken Silverstein — The true story fo a boy who plays with nuclear energy and poisons himself with radioactivity.

Happy reading!

Nebby

 

 

Living Books on Geology

Dear Reader,

My senior chose geology for her science this year. She had a pretty busy year and she is aiming for an art school so I didn’t feel the need to make her science too tough. You might want to add additional books or some labs or other activities if you are looking for a more robust curriculum. You can find all my lists of living books here and a list of geology books we used at younger ages here.

Living Books on Geology

Secrets from the Rocks by Albert Marrin — Marrin is a favorite author of mine. He writes more often on history but has a few books, like this one, on science. This is a fairly simple book, ceratinly not high school level. It tells the story of one particular man in search of dinosaur bones.

Annals of the Former World by John McPhee — This is a thick volume intended for adults and combines a number of works which the author published separately originally (I believe). McPhee is a well-known writer who has written for The New Yorker and other publications.

A Grain of Sand by Gary Greenberg — The story of sand and what we can know from different kinds of sand.

The Map that Changed the World by Simon Winchester — The story of how one man noticed and deciphered layers in the earth and made a map to depict them.

Beneath Our Feet by Ron Vernon — An introduction to some of the basics of geology including basic forces and types of rocks. Includes lovely microscopic photos of rocks. 

The Rock Book by Carol Lane Fenton and Mildred Adams Fenton — A fairly detailed catalog of different kidns of rocks and minerals.

Happy reading!

Nebby

Reformed Thinkers on Education: Gordon H. Clark

Dear Reader,

This is part of an ongoing series in search of a reformed philosophy theology of education. You can find all the posts here.

I am endeavoring to look at more of what’s out there by other reformed thinkers on the topic if education. You can find my introduction to this series within a series here. Today’s thinker is Gordon H. Clark (1902-1985) who was primarily a philosopher.  His “A Christian Philosophy of Education” was published in 1988 (apparently posthumously) in Trinity Review (this seems to be a shorter article summarizing a longer book originally published in the 1940s). The period from roughly 1965 to 1990 generated a lot of  Christian writing on education, most of which took the form of a call for a more distinctly Christian approach. Most of my book reviews relating to Christian education are from this period: Dawson (a Catholic), Vos, Van Til, Greg Harris, and Rushdoony. It is no wonder that the modern homeschooling movement has its roots in this era.

Clark, like these others, is clearly responding to a crisis he saw in his own day. He cites particularly modern advances — the telephone! and end to typhoid! — which though seemingly good can also be used for evil and do not make people inherently better (and, yes, he does see a downside to the end to typhoid as well; read the article to find out what it is 😉 ). One can only imagine what he would have made of the internet. If there is any specific event which seems to have generated this article it is the prohibition by the courts of prayer in schools, though he is not entirely opposed to such a prohibition, acknowledging that not all prayer is righteous prayer.

Like all those others whose books I have reviewed, Clark sees no compatibility between Christianity and public education. He spends some time on the origins of the public schools and notes that they have never been Christina institutions. Be their very nature, they must be opposed to true Christian doctrine. Though he laments the lack of good Protestant schools, he does not mention homeschooling (perhaps it was not at all on his radar). His call is a fairly general one — for an education based on Christian doctrine (he cites the Westminster Confession of Faith specifically as a proper ground for such education).

In the first half or so of this article, Clark seems to be focused on stemming the evils in society. Discipline in the schools seems to be an especial concern. Interestingly, the view of evil is cited as a key element behind one’s philosophy of education:

“The two philosophies [Christianity and secular humanism] and their educational implications differ on what to do, on what evil is, and on how it originates.” (Kindle loc. 100)

In the latter half of the article, Clark advances a particular theory related to the image of God in man. He argues that the image of God is reason. He sees reason as the thing which separates us from the animals. “Christianity,” he says “is intellectualistic” (Kindle loc. 180). Fellowship with God requires thinking and understanding. Morality as well is impossible without reason. The animals are incapable of sin, or of doing good, because they cannot reason. We could glorify God, he says, without reason, but we could not enjoy Him forever (Kindle loc. 189). The fall did not erase the image of God in man but it did corrupt it. Errors in thinking, even something as basic and concrete as arithmetic mistakes, are a result of the fall. “[S]alvation will improve a man’s thinking in all matters” (Kindle loc. 218). Education, then, is an intellectual endeavor. He rejects hands-on enterprises, carpentry, plumbing, even the making of music and art, as skills, God-given skills perhaps, but skills nonetheless. Education, for Clark, is about the mind because this is the focal point of his view of man. The art critic, for Clark, is higher than the artist because he thinks about art rather than making it.

“The object of education is truth; the transmission of truth to the younger pupils and the discovery of new truth by more advanced students. The aim of education, at least the aim of the purest and best education, is intellectual understanding.” (Kindle loc. 244).

This series exists because, to a large extent, I stand with these (slightly) older authors. Like them, I am issuing a call for a more distinctly Christian approach to education (and in my case, a reformed Christian approach). As a homeschooling mom, I find that their calls often stopped short of where I want to be. They don’t tend to get down to the nitty-gritty of, okay, what are my kids going to be doing on Monday morning? I hope that I am advancing more towards this goal.

Clark stands in this body of work. His criticism of the public schools of his day and his call for a Christian education are not new or unique. He does get into some new territory when he discusses his own view of the image of God and its implications for education. There are many ways the image of God has been delineated in Christian thought and I am very hesitant to tie it down to one quality as Clark does. I would agree with him that the fall affected our reason and I like his point that this affects even our most concrete reasoning. Our kids would not make mistakes in math if they weren’t fallen  creatures. His emphasis on the mind, to the detriment of any physically based aptitudes, also makes me uncomfortable. It smacks a bit of a dualistic understanding which separates man’s mind and spirit from his body. I do not believe this is the Christian view of man.

My short take on “A Christian Philosophy of Education” would be that it stands firmly within the Christian writings of the time on education. There is a germ of a new idea here, but it is not one I can wholly subscribe to.

Nebby

Reformed Thinkers on Education: Introduction

Dear Reader,

This is part of an ongoing series in search of a reformed philosophy theology of education. You can find all the posts here.

Though I have been blogging for a while on a reformed Christian approach to education and slowly developing my own philosophy of education, I am realizing that there is a body of material I have not interacted with and should.

I have come to this enterprise with my own particular bent, coming from  homeschooling and having used Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education. Most of these other authors come from Christian schools often with a classical bent, or at least influenced more by the Christian classical movement. My goal over the next months is to read and distill what they have written.

I have a few convictions that I come into this enterprise with. One, born of my readings in various approaches to homeschooling, is that every philosophy of education says something about the nature of man and his ultimate purpose. I believe that the Bible is the “only infallible rule for faith and life.” The wording is from my  denomination’s membership vows and it is important. “Only” here modifies “infallible.” God’s Word is our only infallible rule, but not the only place we may go for guidance. I do not believe the Bible will give us all the answers to all the questions we have. I do not believe, for instance, that it tells us which diet is right. But, given that questions about education are ultimately questions about the nature of man and his purpose, we should expect to get a lot of insight from the Scriptures. Lastly, we need an approach to education which accounts for every child, not just covenant children. I find it quite odd actually that most Christian approaches are just for kids from Christian homes. Anyone who teaches can have non-Christian children under their care. This is certainly true in public schools but also in Christian schools unless they strictly limit enrolment. It can even be true in the home for those who take in foster kids or watch others’ children. There may be differences in how education is applied and received by covenant versus non-covenant children, but our statement of what education is should be applicable to all people.

One of the thinkers I will be looking at is Peter Ton. His master’s thesis, “Is Classical Christian Education Compatible with a Reformed Christian Perspective on Education?,” following Vriend, lays out a few schools of thought among reformed thinkers on education, he distinguishes three categories: confessionalist, positive Calvinist, and antithetical. Though not everyone need fit into one of these boxes, I think it is helpful to have these categories in mind. They give us some sense of the issues at stake and some way to evaluate where a given thinker falls on the spectrum of belief. Confessionalists, Ton says emphasize content. It is not enough to put a Christian spin on non-Christian facts. We need to teach our own theology and confessions and history. This approach is more in line with classical education which also emphasizes content. Awareness is preferred over action. Little concern is given to learning styles and teaching strategy. The Positive Calvinist is more progressive and emphasizes process over content. The  response to what is learned is important. The goal is not so much to develop students’ minds as to practice stewardship, justice and compassion. Lastly, the Antithetical approach, which Ton himself takes, bridges some of the gaps between the other two. It states that all ages have their problems and there is no golden age to which we look back. It combines the content of confessionalist with the practical application of positive Calvinist. Education equips children to live in this world and fulfill their covenant responsibilities. The faith of the teacher and community and the content of the educational materials are important. A distinctly Christian curriculum is also important.

Some questions to ask of each thinker, then, include:

  • What does he assume about the nature of man, including his ability to learn and to receive what is good?
  • What does he see as the ultimate purpose of man?
  • What is the purpose of education and how does it serve man’s ultimate purpose? Are they the same or is education a stepping stone?
  • Can these ideas be applied to all children, whether from believing homes or not?
  • Is there more of an emphasis on taking in knowledge or on application and action?
  • Is there a set body of knowledge that one needs to know?
  • How much individualism is allowed for?
  • What does it say about knowledge, especially knowledge that we get from non-Christian sources?
  • Is the method applicable to both home and school environments? Does it prefer one over the other?

Lastly, I will point you to a few writers whose work I have already reviewed:

J.G. Vos What is Christian Education?

Cornelius Van Til Essays on Christian Education

Rousas Rushdoony Philosophy of Christian Curriculum

Christopher Dawson The Crisis in Western Education (a Roman Catholic writer)

Greg Harris The Christian Homeschool

David Smith and Susan Felch Teaching and Christian Imagination

John Milton “Of Education”

Nebby

What We Study and Why: Fine Arts

Dear Reader,

This is part of an ongoing series in search of a reformed philosophy theology of education. You can find all the posts here.

This week we will be discussing fine arts, by which I mean why and how we study what other people have produced. Hands-on art, what we ourselves might produce, will be discussed in another post.

Why We Study the Arts

Most recently we looked at literature; many of the same arguments will apply to the arts. As one of the main goals in studying literature is to explore ideas, so with art and music. These ideas are often more subtly expressed when we use images, colors, and sounds instead of words, but they are ideas nonetheless. A picture is worth a thousand words, they say, and there are some ideas which are better communicated in an instant with an image than with those many words.

An artist (or musician) is like an author. Human words on not on the same level as the Word of God, and human art is but an echo of the artistry of God in creation. But we can learn from it nonetheless. Art and music allow us to reflect on what God has done, to take some small portion or idea and to meditate on it for a time.

The arts often follow the philosophy of the time. As such, they tell us as much about ourselves as about God, but this is still useful and good. We learn of the evil in our own hearts and, by God’s grace, our potential for good as well. We learn about our own need and that of our neighbor. Francis Schaeffer’s books do a wonderful job of demonstrating the philosophical trends that underlie art and of reflecting on what is good and bad in human art (see bibliography).

God not only made the world good, He also made it beautiful. Another reason we study the arts is simply to experience beauty. When Paul in Philippians tells us what to fill our minds with, he includes “whatever is lovely” (Phil. 4:8; ESV). Some perhaps tend towards a utilitarianism that sees no place for beauty, but when God in the Old Testament gave instructions for His tabernacle, it was a thing of beauty with much ornamentation and artistry. I remember a professor telling me that more than anything else the Hebrews were known for the beauty and ornamentation of the high priest’s robes.

Ultimately, the reason we study anything is that it points us to God. Beauty itself — which cannot be explained by evolutionary science (see Ferris Jabr, “How Beauty is Making Scientists Rethink Evolution”) — points is to the Creator (see Rick Stedman, 31 Surprising Reasons to Believe in God). Hannah Anderson, in her exposition of the Philippians 4 passage, tells us that the Greek word used for “lovely” describes “both the thing itself and the response it produces in us” (All That’s Good, Kindle loc. 1642).  There is an irony here — beauty, by the very virtue of its being anti-utilitarian serves a purpose, to show us that there is more than what we see, something worth sacrificing for.

How We Study the Arts

If there are things which are lovely, then there are also things with are un-lovely. As God embodies an absolute standard of Truth, so He embodies a standard of Beauty. We live in a very subjective age which allows all things and says that whatever is good in your eyes is good for you. That is not what we believe when it comes to Truth, so we need not believe it about Beauty.

I am not the person to say what that absolute standard of beauty entails. Volumes could be written on the subject I am sure. Nonetheless, as I often do, I will give a few thoughts–

The arts have form and meaning. Ideas are expressed in a particular medium and within that medium in a certain genre or style. I find the ideas, once we are able to discern them, are much easier to evaluate. Which is not to say that we should only study pieces with good ideas; it is often just as valuable to look at the despair of our fellow man. We see his need and we see our own. We follow bad ideas to their conclusions and see their futility. The test of art is often in the result — does it ultimately point us to God? Sometimes it is the things that make us run the opposite direction which get us there quickest.

The intent of the artist is not necessarily the most important thing. He may not get beyond his own despair. He may not see the futile end of his ideas, or even if he does he may never reach for something more, but his work can still drive others to God. Just as the prophets did not always understand the full meaning of their message, so the artist may not fully understand his own work.

Education, I have argued, is the work of the Holy Spirit. Just as one person may look at an impending storm and think about nothing more than a ruined day while another sees the power and glory of God, so our reactions to art or music will depend upon the Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts. These moments of inspiration sometimes come upon us suddenly, but more often they come to us because we have developed that elusive thing called discernment.  When we steep ourselves in truth and in all those good things that Paul lists in Philippians, we become more adept at recognizing them when we meet them again.  This is another reason it is good to expose our children to good art and music — they will develop a taste for it and be better able to recognize what it good and true and beautiful.

The above remarks largely concern the content of art, but we can also consider its form. While there are certainly forms of art and music that I do not like, I am not a snob about it. There is always a new style that appalls an older generation. Many of the things that we now consider classic were once themselves shocking.

I am not arguing that we all need to study grunge rock because it could embody truth.  I think it is fine to follow one’s own tastes up to a point at least. On a practical level, I find it very helpful to study the arts alongside history. Schaeffer’s book, again, provides a good guide for how the art and music of a time reflect its ideas. Older children would even read this for themselves (there is a video as well which is even easier to digest).  I will include in the bibliography a list of resources we have used on in studying art and music,

Nebby

Bibliography

Books on the theory behind the arts and beauty —

how they express ideas and how they point us to God

Anderson, Hannah. All That’s Good. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2018.

Horner, Grant. Meaning at the Movies. Crossway, 2010.

Jabr, Ferris. “How Beauty is Making Scientists Rethink Evolution,The New York Times Magazine (Jan. 9, 2019).

Ryken, Leland. The Liberated Imagination: Thinking Christianly about the Arts.  Wipf and Stock Publishing, 2005.

Schaeffer, Francis A. How Should We Then Live? Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005 (originally published 1976).

Stedman, Rick. 31 Surprising Reasons to Believe in God.  Harvest House, 2017.

Resources for studying the arts

Adventures in Art. (Cornerstone Curriculum)

Beethoven’s Wig. (CD collection)

De Rynck, Patrick. How to Read a Painting: Lessons from the Old Masters.

Hillyer, V.M. A Child’s History of Art.

Janson, Horst W. and Dora Jane. The Story of Painting from Cave Painting to Modern Times.

Kohl, MaryAnn. Discovering Great Artists.

Lacey, Sue. Start with Art (series).

Persons, Marjorie Kiel. Themes to Remember. (books and CDs)

Roalf, Peggy. Looking at Paintings (series).

Sister Wendy: The Complete Collection  (video series)

Usborne Children’s History of Art.

Van Loon, Hendrik. The Arts. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1937.

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