Making Connections

Unit studies were all the rage when I was reading about homeschooling in my mid-teens. Monthly themes governed every subject in the homeschooling curriculum.

A unit study on bugs would have children reading about bugs, catching bugs, counting bugs, exploring the bug ecosystem, learning about how bugs are used in different cultures or throughout history. Bug art would abound.

If mom didn’t have the time, energy, or creativity to come up with her own unit study, websites and books offered an abundance of options.

Learning like this is more natural, the unit study people declared.

I wished I could jump on the bandwagon, but it was unfortunately too difficult for me to figure out how to connect bugs to calculus.

It wouldn’t be long before a radical old approach became popular, thanks to Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer’s The Well-Trained Mind. This new approach was much more systematic than either the unit study approach or the traditional school approach (at least as far as social studies is concerned).

Wise and Wise Bauer’s brand of classical education focused on a four year cycle for both history and science – strictly (for history) and loosely (for science) following the progression of historical thought through the ages.

The Well-Trained Mind gave an example of how students make connections, even when their mothers don’t plan in such a way as to make the connections explicit. They used “Mars” as an example. A student might learn the mythology of Mars when studying the Roman Empire and later learn about the planet Mars (red with blood, like the warlike god). Likewise, he will learn about the martial arts and will trace the term “martial” back to the god of war. Each bit of knowledge becomes a hook upon which other pieces of knowledge (from disparate disciplines) are hung.

When I read this example, I nodded my head. Sure, I acknowledged that was probably true. It’s like when you get a new car and suddenly see that make and model all over the road. It’s not that those cars weren’t already there, it’s just that you became more aware of them.

But apart from my car example, I couldn’t really think of a time when I’d had “hooks” to hang new information on.

Then my husband and I checked out Tom Reiss’s The Black Count to listen to during our fourth of July travels. The Black Count tells the story of the novelist Alexandre Dumas’ father (also named Alexandre Dumas), a general during the French Revolution.

Now, until a year ago, what little I knew of the French Revolution came from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities (not a bad read by any means, but certainly not a comprehensive introduction to the Revolution.) But last year, that changed when Daniel and I started listening to Mike Duncan’s Revolutions Podcast. We listened as Duncan gave a history of the English Revolution, and then the American Revolution, and then the French (he’s not done with the French Revolution yet – and I haven’t listened past the first dozen or so podcasts on the French Revolution.) As we listened, I’ll admit that my eyes sometimes glazed over and my mind started wandering. So much was so unfamiliar – the names, the events, the political bodies.

But as we listened to The Black Count, something strange happened. I started hearing the names, the political bodies, the events I’d heard before. And I listened more carefully this time around. It picqued my curiosity to read more, to relisten, to become more familiar with the French Revolution.

I thought of the differences between unit studies and a more systematic approach as I listened.

While Daniel and I were listening to one podcast after another after another of Duncan’s Revolutions, I got worn out with the topic. If I’d have been listening to The Black Count concurrently, I likely would have ignored the parts about the French Revolution, thinking I’d heard it before.

But, listening to it several months later, I was able to see the Revolution through fresh eyes, able to enjoy it, able to pass through again to impress the events more deeply upon my own memory.

I feel that there must be application to how I choose to homeschool someday, but I’m not sure exactly what it is.

I’m still rather enamored with the Bauer and Wise Bauer approach to history studies. I still rather enjoy immersing myself in a topic every once in a while. But I think this has reminded me that connections can be anywhere – and that it’s okay to let them arise naturally.

I don’t have to beat my children (or myself) over the head with learning. I have to make plenty of good books, good audiovisual learning opportunities (like Duncan’s podcasts!), good educational experiences available to my children.

They will make connections – even if it takes them until they’re 30 to start recognizing it.

Book Review: “The Story of the Bible” by Larry Stone

After the the first book I agreed to review from a publisher turned out to be a dud (in my opinion, humble), I told myself that maybe I just wasn’t cut out for the “review copy” thing. I should go back to just reviewing the books I check out of the library. It’s much less pressure that way.

Then I saw The Story of the Bible from Thomas Nelson’s BookSneeze program–and saw that the foreword was by Ravi Zacharias.

Surely if Ravi wrote the foreword, it’s got to be okay, I told myself. So I went ahead and requested it without reading another word.

What a fortuitous impulse!

The Story of the Bible arrived outside my front door, I opened it up, and was immediately hooked.

For the next couple of weeks, I never went anywhere without my copy.

“You need to see what Thomas Nelson just sent me,” I’d say as I pulled it out of my tote to pass to friends, family, and strangers. (Lucky me, I carry a nice large tote that can hold the jumbo-sized coffee-table-style book.)

“It’s the story of the writing and canonization and preservation and translation of the Bible.” I told them as they rifled through the pages.

Then, lest they miss the most exciting part, I’d direct them to the vellum envelope pages found within every chapter. “Go ahead and take it out” I’d urge.

Dutifully, they’d pull out the odd sized papers found in the various envelopes.

One started reading the writing:

Great Isaiah Scroll
The only complete Dead Sea Scroll is the Great Isaiah Scroll, discovered in 1947 by Muhammed Ahmed el-Hamed and pictured on page 25….

I could hear the quizzical expression in my friend’s voice as she read aloud. “Why on earth is Rebekah so excited about this?”

“Turn it over,” I urged.

And that’s when she discovered what I was so excited about.

Each scrap of paper within the vellum envelopes is a life-size full-color replica of a Biblical text.

A page from the Dead Sea Scrolls, pages from the Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, Wycliff’s Bible and Gutenberg’s. The list goes on and on.

It’s like a museum in one glossy paged volume.

I can’t be more excited.

The text itself is in well-written, engaging prose. I had no difficulty getting through the pages–or dipping in for a paragraph here and there in casual perusal (both of which I did.)

The author writes with an evangelical bent and an obvious reverence for the Word of God. This is no dull historical story of how men have preserved a book. This is a living story of how God has spoken a book, preserved His words, and communicated His heart to the nations of the world throughout the centuries.

This book is a definite keeper!

Rating: 5 stars
Category:Christian history
Synopsis:A museum in a book, telling the story (and showing the documents) of the writing, canonization, preservation, and translation of the Bible.
Recommendation: 5 stars

For the sake of full disclosure, I received this book for free via the Book Sneeze blogger program at Thomas Nelson. All views expressed in this post are my own. I received nothing for this review beyond the book I just reviewed (which is a reward of great worth, if I do say so myself!)

WiW: Breathing Room/Living Space

The Week in Words

While reading John Keegan’s Penguin Lives biography of Winston Churchill (unsurprisingly titled Winston Churchill), I found the following quote by Churchill, describing his vision for the world:

“The cause of the poor and the weak all over the world will [be] sustained; and everywhere small peoples will get more room to breathe; and everywhere great empires will be encouraged by our example to step forward into the sunshine of a more gentle and more generous age.”

Churchill said this in 1910 or so, four years before the world would be drawn into a Great War.

At the same time, German thinkers and political theorists were developing their theory of Lebensraum or “Living Space” which Hitler would take as a main Nazi party doctrine.

Hitler writes of the principle of Lebensraum in Mein Kampf:

“Without consideration of traditions and prejudices, Germany must find the courage to gather our people and their strength for an advance along the road that will lead this people from its present restricted living space to new land and soil, and hence also free it from the danger of vanishing from the earth or of serving others as a slave nation.

The National Socialist Movement must strive to eliminate the disproportion between our population and our area—viewing this latter as a source of food as well as a basis for power politics—between our historical past and the hopelessness of our present impotence.”
~Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf found in the Wikipedia article on Lebensraum

Living space, Hitler declares. Give us living space.

Breathing room, Churchill proclaims. Give them breathing room.

I couldn’t help but be struck by the similarities between the two phrases.

“Living space”

“Breathing room”

The same sort of vision.

One led to the destruction of over six thousand Jews and many thousand more minorities (whether political, ethnic, religious, or social).

The other led to the liberation of Western Europe from encroaching totalitarian regimes.

Similar dreams, completely at odds with one another.

The two men would be pitted against one another in the largest war the world has seen yet.

Hitler would fight for his Lebensraum, bowling over nation after nation in Europe.

Churchill would stand, for the most part alone, to regain “breathing room” for the many marginalized peoples of Europe.

What is the difference between the two?

While Hitler argues for the benefit of himself and his people, those he has considered to be the “master race”, Churchill argues on behalf of the poor, the weak, the “small peoples”.

The same goal, but two separate targets.

Fight for my rights, for my people, for my way of life?

Or fight for others?

Not to say that Churchill was not interested in Britain’s rights or people or way of life. In fact, he was, rather oddly, a British imperialist–and certainly interested in Britain’s interests.

But he was nevertheless conscious of the rights and desires of the downtrodden, the oppressed, the “small peoples”–and it was this that made his “breathing room” so different than Hitler’s Lebensraum.

Don’t forget to take a look at Barbara H’s meme “The Week in Words”, where bloggers collect quotes they’ve read throughout the week.

Hearing History

I live within minutes of my “home” office, but I drive around five hours a week to consult with my other two facilities.

This gives me plenty of time to listen–

and since I decided to be ambitious and include audio works that are an independent work of art in my “read every book” goal, it gives me a chance to breeze through Eiseley’s compact disc collection.

I’m almost done with the Christian music section–and I’ve made decent headway in classical and jazz. With trepidation, I’ve checked out a few rock and roll CDs.

But when I was trolling the library during my last visit, I happened upon a set of discs that fascinated me greatly.

The Words and Music of World War II.

“Cool.” I thought, and threw it in my basket.

If only I’d known.

As it was, I didn’t open the case or bother to look at it further until several weeks later when I’d just finished my current CD and was ready for another for my commute.

I happened upon this title and popped it in to hear something spectacular.

An air raid siren sounds.

A crackling radio voice informs me that Pearl Harbor has been attacked.

Music fills my car, forties swing reminding me to remember Pearl Harbor.

President Roosevelt begins his iconic address “a date which will live in infamy…suddenly and deliberately attacked…”

Forties swing takes me away again.

Back and forth it goes, a narrator describing the events of the war–then a song from that era. A radio reporter tells of flying over Germany with a group of bombers–then music. Announcers tell British parents exactly what items their children should carry in the hand luggage they take to school the day they will be evacuated to the country to escape the air raids. Another song fills the airwaves.

Two full discs, a drive to and fro. Music and memories, sad and sweet, crazy and comical.

It was a much different look at the war than the picture I’d been reading from inside Germany. This was the home front. America. Great Britain.

This started much later, only after Germany had invaded Poland and Great Britain declared war, making it an official “World” War.

But it was a necessary look. A reminder of how others’ lives, so far away, were affected or not affected by what was occurring in Europe and the Pacific.

And it was fun–swinging, rollicking tunes. Sad, sentimental songs. Hilarious bits like “Atom and Evil”.

Hearing History, almost like living history–a tiny piece of what life was like then.

In Praise of Historical Fiction

It may shock some of my readers, who are inclined to think highly of me (whether I deserve it or not), but I am not a fan of history.

I never have been.

While I looked with fascination at the fashions of bygone eras, was interested in olden modes of speech or transportation, and often envied historical skills in handiwork, I cared nothing for all the names and dates and circumstances and conflicts that make up the study of history.

I occasionally feigned interest in history so as to take interest in my brother (an avid history buff). But frankly? I didn’t understand the hoopla.

Oh, I played lip service to the value of history. You know, the whole “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it” and “if I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants” and all that.

But really, I’ve never been a fan of history.

At least, not until a few months ago when I picked up a copy of Bodie Thoene’s Vienna Prelude.

There I read of Adolf Hitler’s “peaceful” annexation of Austria, of Herman Goring and Winston Churchill, of the SA, the SS, and the Gestapo.

I continued reading and learned of Kristallnacht, of Nazi concentration camps, of the traitorous appeasement prize Britain awarded Nazi Germany by handing over Czechoslovakia. I learned of the narrow passage connecting Poland to the sea–and separating Germany from Germany. I learned of the pogroms and of the falsehood fabricated to justify the invasion of Poland.

I started to wonder what was true and what was fiction, so involved was I in the story unfolding in novel after novel.

I no longer cared only about the protagonists. I started to care about the whole story–the story behind and below and around the one created in the imagination of the author.

I became a fan of history.

Now I begin my journey into history, fueled by the fiction of an author who cares about fact.

My life, my outlook has been indelibly changed.

Such is the power of good historical fiction.

Book Review: “Founding Faith” by Steven Waldman

To listen to today’s secularists talk, one might get the impression that America’s founding fathers were ardent secularists, devoted to Enlightenment thinking, and irreligious if not antireligious. Conservative Christians tell a whole different story–a story that stars devoutly religious founding fathers who hold to an orthodox Christian faith.

Steven Waldman’s Founding Faith explores this controversial topic in a scholarly but still accessible manner. Waldman asserts that to lump “The Founding Fathers” together as though they all had the same views is a disservice to them. Instead, he explores the religious beliefs and actions of five “founding fathers” who were prominent in framing the debate for issues of religion and state.

Waldman explores the personal piety, personal and public writings, and public actions of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. He makes a good case for the plurality of religious beliefs among the founding fathers–as well as for the plurality of interpretations of how church and state should best interact.

I enjoyed Founding Faith tremendously, finding it to be a balanced, scholarly work that shines a great deal of light on the difficult question of what the Founding Fathers believed about religion in general and about state involvement in religion in particular.

I was interested to see the emphasis Waldman places on Madison as a primary framer of the “Establishment of Religion” clause. Waldman introduces Madison as a pious man, perhaps the most orthodox of the five men considered in this book. Unlike Jefferson, who primarily wanted separation of church from state for the sake of the state, Madison was interested in preserving the purity and vitality of the church from state intervention. Madison wished for an even more stringent separationist position–in part because of his sympathy for Virginian Baptists who decried the establishment of religion as oppressive to minority sects such as themselves.

As I said, this book is balanced and informative treatment of the faith of America’s founders and their views of how state and religion should interact. Lovers of history will enjoy this book–as will anyone who has ever been confused by contradictory reports of the Founders’ faith (or lack thereof).

Rating: 4 stars
Category: American History/Religion/Church and State
Synopsis: Waldman describes the religious beliefs of five founding fathers–and how each founding father felt the church should (or should not) be involved in religious affairs.
Recommendation: A wonderfully balanced portrayal of the faith of the founding fathers. Definitely worth reading.

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