Posts Tagged ‘living books’

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!


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.




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!



Living Books on the 1990s

Dear Reader,

This is part of my continuing series of posts on the books we have been using on our homeschool. Find all my booklists here.

As I mentioned in my post on the ’70s and ’80s, it is getting tougher as we get closer to present day to find good living books to use. I was caught off guard when I realized that our spine series ended at 1990 so I scrambled to order all the library books I could find for kids on the 1990s. I checked out as many as I could and began sorting through them to find something that I could read to my kids (grades 6-11) to give them an overview of the major events of the decade:

Looking at all these books makes me appreciate how much better our spine series (Our Century) really was, though it may not be considered living by some.

The two I ended up using are The one on the top left there — The 1990s: Decade in Photos: The Rise of Technology and A Cultural History of the United States through the Decades: the 1990s by Stuart A. Kallen (top row, third book over). Note that the first book has no author listed on the cover; this is not a good sign. It is the simpler of the two and is really elementary level. I used it because it gave a not-too-too- bad synopsis of some events tat the other book left out. Kallen’s book is fuller and goes more in depth but it is a cultural history if the US and touches less on international events.  My third choice from this lot would be History of the 1990s (top, right) but in the end I decided it was a bit worse than my other choices. I did keep out Fashions of a Decade: the 1990s but used it only to show pictures of the fashions and trends of the era. The three on the bottom row I did not like.

More and more of what we are studying has direct bearing on current events so I have begun to take a slightly different take in their individual reading. My goal is for my kids to begin to understand the issues behind the stories they might see in the news. When studying Watergate, I ran across a book that I really liked edited by a woman named Debra A. Miller. A library search revealed that she has a quite a number of volumes available. They are part of different series and so there is some variation in format. Many, like the one I used on Watergate, are compilations of primary sources with only brief, added introductions. These selections may be speeches or statements by politicians and various groups or articles for or against an issue. They seem to be intentionally well-balanced — for every opinion on one side of an issue, there are opinions on the other.

So I began by getting a number of books on various countries and having each child pick one.

1990s 1

We ended up with North Korea, Darfur, Pakistan, and Iran. There is some variation in how hard these books are. Certainly a high schooler could handle them. A middle schooler might have to stretch a bit more. I wouldn’t recommend them for elementary age. I did not require my children to read all of their book but selected the essays that I thought most relevant. I also gave them each some targeted narration questions; that is, rather than just “narrate this” I would say something like “on today’s readings I want you to tell me about nuclear weapons in Pakistan.” Because they are each reading about different countries, they also have to share what they’ve learned with their siblings.

After picking countries, we are moving on to issues. Debra Miller again has numerous books on the hot-button topics of the day:

Some topics are political, some cultural. Some are more appropriate for my younger kids; some are acceptable for high schoolers. As I write this, we are just beginning this process, but my intention is to do the same as we did with the books on countries — guided narrations and presentations to their siblings.

One last book on the ’90s:

1990s 2

I found this one on Hispanic America which I may have my 6th grader read in place of one of the issue books. It seems to give a good idea of the scope of what we mean wen we say “Hispanic” and the different cultures that encompasses.



Living Books on the 1970s and 1980s

Dear Reader,

I have fallen a bit behind so I am going to give you the books we’ve have been using on both the ’70s and ’80s at once. We moved through both decades fairly quickly anyway. You can find all my lists of living books here.

This is a tough chunk of history to find good books for. IMO older books are more well-written, but you just can’t be that old if you are on recent history, now can you?

Our spine for the year, a series called Our Century by Gareth Steven Publishing, only seems to go through the 1980s; at least, I don’t own the volume for the 1990s and I couldn’t find it in my library system.  We did use the two volume son the ’70s and ’80s to finish up this section. As I am currently looking around for other books on the 1990s, I am more impressed with this series. The volumes are written as a series of separate articles, some written like news stories. They often take the perspective of putting you right in the time — i.e. they use the present tense. Though this is not one continuous narrative, for an overview of the time, I think they are fairly interesting and, as you get closer and closer to modern day, it is hard to find that. I like that they have few sidebars and the like which more recent books tend to overdo.

We covered the Vietnam War with the 1960s so I am not going to touch on that here. We had also dealt with the Cold War in our study of the ’50s and ’60s.

The big domestic topic for the 1970s is Watergate.

If you have a high schooler and a lot of time, there is no substitute for Bob Woodwards and Carl Bernstein’s classic account of their investigation, All the President’s Men. I remember reading his book in high school myself though I also remember that a lot of it went over my head. We didn’t want to take the time so we watched the movie version. I know given the length of the book and the length of the move that there must be a lot left out but this is a very well-done movie. The action keeps going, it was easy for even my middle schcoolers to understand, and they really appreciated the story. I’d watch it even if you are reading the book (afterwards, of course).

Bob Woodward has also written another book, Secret Man, that traces the identity of their famous secret source “Deep Throat.” If you have  a high schooler and want to really go in-depth, you might consider this one. I thought it would be too much for my kids who only came into this with the barest sense of what Watergate was at all. I believe Woodward and Bernstein also wrote other books covering  the later days of the scandal and its aftermath as well.

At the other end of the spectrum, younger children might enjoy The Story of Watergate from the Cornerstones of Freedom series. This series gives nice introductions to a variety of topics at an upper-elementary to middle school level. Just be sure to get the older version of the series whose titles begin with “The Story of . . . ” The newer ones are much worse.

I read a portion of Art Buchwald’s “I am Not a Crook” and read selections aloud to my kids. It is amazing what you can learn about a time but reading political satire of it 😉 I don’t remember Watergate and my kids certainly knew little of the time but I found many of the short articles in this book entertaining and the ones I chose to read to my kids they also enjoyed. It’s definitely middle school and up and probably better for high schoolers.

Moving on to the Carter presidency, my 10th grader read What the Heck are you up to, Mr. President? by Kevin Mattson. This book tells the story of a speech Carter gave which should have been pivotal but wasn’t. From her narrations it does a really good job of telling about the issues of the day and she seemed to enjoy the book and understand it well. High school level again.

One of the big controversies of the time was the Iranian hostage crisis. I wanted to give my kids a sense of this not just for the historical value but also because Iran is still so much in the news. My 6th grader read America Held Hostage by Don Lawson which covers the Iran-Contra scandal as well. Amazon lists it as 7th-12th grade and I would say it was a bit of a stretch for her but it seemed like a decent book.

My 7th grader read Taken Hostage by David Farber. This too seemed like a solid book that gives a good intro to the issues.

My 11th grader read Shah of Shahs by Ryzard Kapuscinski. This book introduces the political situation in Iran rather than focusing solely on the hostage crisis.  It too seemed good. It could probably be done at a slightly earlier age, like early high school.

In fiction that gives a sense of the time, I had my 7th grader read When Zachary Beaver Comes to Town by Kimberley Willis Holt, the story of the fattest boy in the world who comes to a small Texas town and makes life more interesting for its residents. My 10th grader was upset when she saw him reading this for school and exclaimed, “Hey, I read that! I didn’t know it was a school book!”  When pressed, she admitted she had liked the book but she still felt tricked. I’d call it middle school level though honestly I’m not sure how much my kids learned about the 1970s from it.

My 6th grader read When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. This one is set in 1970s New York City and the protagonist’s mother is slated to appear on the game show $20,000 Pyramid. There are other plots about her friends and there is some mystery involved. It turns out you can still get old episodes of the $25,000 Pyramid on TV (the amount of the big prize changed over time) so my daughter got into those as she read the book, for better or worse. Se seemed to enjoy the story and I think it gave a better sense of the time than Zachary Beaver but I found her narrations hard to follow and I suspect it is not that well-written. Definitely middle school level or maybe upper elementary for a good reader.

I read Revolution is not a Dinner Party by Ying Chang Compestine aloud to my middle schoolers. It is the story of a Chinese girl during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. I didn’t think it was the best-written book I’ve ever read but it did give a pretty good sense of what things were like then. I’d call it middle school level.

For myself I read Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. This is the story of a boy growing up in Afghanistan through all the political changes there. I did learn a lot about the history of this very important place in today’s news. I began reading the book to see if it would be appropriate for one of my high schoolers. I decided not to let either of them read it yet. There are some very adult situations which are quite integral to the plot so read with care.

The big story for the 1980s is the end of the Soviet Union as such. My 6th grader read the Cornerstones of Freedom series again, The Story of the Fall of the Soviet Union. I also had her read Cause & Effect: the Fall of the Soviet Union by Don Nardo. It was in her words “okay.” I am not sure I would say it was spectacular but it seemed decent.

My 7th grader read The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union by John R. Matthews. It seemed again like a decent book.

My 10th grader read The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union (a popular title apparently) by Michael Kort. Her words : “It was okay for a school book.” She is very hard to get praise from so count this as a recommendation.

Nobody read The Age of Delirium but I did check it out. It looked long 😉 Amazon gives it good reviews but it definitely seems like high school level or above.

I am going to leave off here for now. Moving from the 1980s to the ’90s and beyond, I am having my children focus more on issues than events, but I will discuss the books we are using for that in my next post — stay tuned!





Method vs. System in the Law of God and Living Books

Dear Reader,

In the very CM spirit of making connections, I would like to discuss educational methods,  living books, and the Law of God.

In Charlotte Mason’s first volume, Home Education, she urges parents to consider the “method” behind their parenting but not to be sucked into accepting a “system.” Following a method, she says, implies “an idea, a mental image, of the end of object to be arrived at” (Charlotte Mason, Home Education; Wilder Publications, 2008; p. 18). But, Charlotte warns, a method may degenerate into a system which “is pledged to more definite calculable results” (p. 18) and “is mischievous, as producing only mechanical action instead of the vital growth and movement of a living being” (p. 19). Notice the contrasts: A method is an idea, a system is mechanical; a method aims at an image whereas the results one gets from a system are quantifiable. With a method, you have a picture in your head of where you are going. With a system, you can use a checklist: Have I done this or that? You can assign a number (a test score perhaps).

A system is not living and should not be used on living beings; it is for things. But a method takes into account the needs of living beings. It accounts for personality. If a method is an idea, it follows that a system is fact-based. So we see the first connection: as a method is to a system so living books are to textbooks. The one gives ideas and feeds a living soul; the other is mechanical and fact-based. It is not fit food for a living being. The attraction of a system is that it is quantifiable — you can measure it and you know what you are getting. So too when we assign a non-living book, we can give fill in the blank questions. We know what we want — specific facts — and we can check off whether the student has learned them. Not so a living book which demands narrations. One test of a living book is that Jane and Bob will get different things out of it or even that if Bob rereads it he may get new things out of it. Its results are unpredictable, but of far greater value than the facts we get from our textbooks.

I am indebted to one of the members of my local CM discussion group for the second connection. She equated method and system to the Law and Gospel. I am going to alter this slightly. I think the line is not between Law and Gospel but between what God’s Law truly is and how we portray it. God’s Law (and have said before in this post and this one) is a perfect image. God in  His being defines what is good. His Law is not a list of do’s and don’ts but is a perfect picture. If we were doing picture study, I would show you a picture — let’s say it’s the Mona Lisa — and ask you to describe it. You might do a wonderful job and tell me about the woman and what she is wearing and how she is smiling and even maybe say something about the artist’s brushstrokes and how he achieved his effect (if you are very good at these things). But if I took your description and handed it to another artist and said “now paint this,” would he produce the Mona Lisa? Of course not. No matter how good your description of the picture is it cannot truly convey the picture itself. So too our synopses of the Law of God do not accurately convey the Law. Even the best of them — of which the 10 Commandments is one — are only approximations. This is what Jesus tells the Pharisees when He chastises them for obeying the letter and not the spirit of the Law. It is what He teaches when He says that “Thou shalt not murder” also means don’t curse your brother or that lust is akin to adultery. The best summation of the Law is the briefest: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” But we don’t like this because it is hard to see if we are doing it. We want that checklist; we want quantifiable results. God humors us in that to a certain extent; He does give us the Ten Commandments, as well as various other summations of His Law, but they are all imperfect; they cannot truly encapsulate a Law that is just as full and perfect as its Creator.

I started with Charlotte Mason’s discussion of parenting philosophies so I will end there. Parenting is a big, important job. It’s not one you can do over (at least not with the same child) and, because we love our children, we consider the outcomes vitally important. We really, really don’t want to mess this one up. I think we often start with a method in our heads; we have some picture or where we want to go. But we get tense about the results and whether we are really getting there so, as Charlotte says, we let it degenerate into a system with quantifiable results. It doesn’t help that this is a long-term project and the outcomes are not easily or soon visible. But — just as in our efforts to keep God’s Law — the answer is not in ourselves. The answer is in the Gospel. It is Grace. It is God doing for us what we cannot do ourselves.


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