Books for Cultivating Honorable Boys

In a post on my old blog (the now defunct ordo-amoris.com) I wrote about how we are failing to give our boys a reason to learn, how boys are motivated by honor and how our society has left them without hope, and how one antidote to the problem may be using great literature to motivate our sons to pursue honor. 

But what books should they read?  

I recently asked a group of longtime homeschooling mothers, women I highly respect, what books they recommended for boys. The following is what I gleaned from raising my own sons combined with suggestions from these moms.

 I have broken the list down into 3 parts: fiction, poetry, and biographies. With a few added additions this is a fine list for girls also but girls are much more motivated than our boys, in general. 

Noticeably missing from the list are books I would classify as Victorian moralism.  The group of women I surveyed almost unanimously agreed that moralism is antithetical to real heart change.  My friend Chris put it this way, “Moralism looks good on the outside, which makes mothers feel more comfortable with their children: if they look good on the outside, I must be doing things right. It is just another kind of legalism. But in a world out of control and chaotic, one is always willing to sell their liberty for tyranny that will bring order. It's an old, old story.”  

Our goal is not to produce self-righteous prigs like our old friend Eustace Scrubbs before he met the dragon (See: The Voyage of Dawn Treader) but rather to motivate our sons by the examples of true heart change whether that heart change is in the real man Stonewall Jackson or the fictional mouse Reepicheep.  When we read of these sorts of characters we don’t feel smug and good, we feel challenged and even ashamed.  We question our own motives and behaviors.  In the best cases, we repent. 

The Last Lesson Plan

It is printed. The last lesson plan for the last week for the last child in my homeschool.

When my oldest was 5 I filled a notebook with his lessons plans for his entire school career-what we were going to use each year until he graduated. 

Yes, I did that.

Planning is such a wonderful thing unless you put too much stock in it. I planned to homeschool all my children through all their school years. And now suddenly it is finished, a few years short of that lofty goal. Life works like that. Things change. 

You nurse the last baby for the last time, you change the last diaper and you don’t even mark the occasion. It passes unnoticed in the whirl of family life. 

But sometimes we get to mark the occasions of motherhood, even if only quietly in our own hearts.

Reflections on the End of a Good Run

Reflections on the End of a Good Run

As I near the end of my homeschooling career, it has dawned on me that I am not really nearing the end of anything at all. In some ways my own education began when I started homeschooling my children and I hope that it will continue until I reach the end of this earthly stay. Being a stranger and an alien on this planet, there has been a lot to learn and I have not even scratched the surface as my education is teaching me.

This idea was driven home to me this month as I read Laurie Bestvater’s book The Living Page subtitled Keeping Notebooks with Charlotte Mason. I had at first dismissed this book as something not pertinent to my time of life -- like Sing, Spell, Read and Write or Singapore Math.  My childrens' days full of daily journals, nature notebooks, narrations, and Books of the Centuries are nearing an end. But when at a meeting of our local Charlotte Mason group, I held the book in my hands and turned the pages and I realized that this book was idea for me in this particular time of life.  In fact, in many ways, this book offers an antidote to the wear and tear done by our technological lives.  It is a great reminder that what we know about education is for our lives and not just for our children.

Remembering, the Trivium, and Educating for the Future

When asked what my favorite new book on education is I only have one answer: Stratford Caldecott’s Beauty in the Word.  I just love it so much (said in my best Holly Hunter accent).  I love it so much I am rereading and blogging through it this summer. Nine posts in and I am only part way through Chapter 2.

Modern Christian and Classical education has been highly influenced by Dorothy Sayers’ essay "The Lost Tools of Learning".  Sayers is one of my favorite writers and I have nothing against her essay except that I wish some people hadn’t read it.  What has been done in the name of Grammar is shameful.

Caldecott throws us a line and saves us from drowning in our own modernity because that is where the trouble comes from, doesn’t it?  Sayers tries to describe something medieval to an audience who has been severed from the past. We have no way of understanding the medieval mind. We have Google. Dorothy is as incomprehensible to us as the Southern Agrarians who we don't understand because we have no past. All we have is a vast technology stretched before us. 

Enter Stratford Caldecott. In one deft stroke of the pen Caldecott reimagines grammar as Remembering. The stars align, the picture comes into focus; we are free:

"Memory, then, is the mother both of language and of civilization. This is what gives us our link between Remembering and language."

What does Caldecott mean by "remembering"? It is not a vapor, although we have to think hard to understand exactly what he means. He says, "The ideas are in us, or we could not recognize them."  Remembering is bound irrevocably to truth and because of that love.

Breaking for Wisdom (Not Just the Beach)

Breaking for Wisdom (Not Just the Beach)

This week in our school district, it's spring break. If you watch the news then you might have heard that the college kids take their dorm brothels South during this time, outdoing even their on-campus shenanigans (impossible though that that may seem).

For families things are not so obviously degenerate.

Many families in our community head to Gulf Shores in Alabama while I sit on the sidelines alternately making up philosophies worthy of Wendell Berry about the evils of the modern American vacation and being jealous. I like the beach too, even if it is crowded with minivans. 

We homeschool, so spring break, or any break really, is not so easily defined for us. This is a blessing and a curse. When a traditional break rolls around we look at each other and sigh. We have already missed so many days dealing with that thing called life we have to skip the scheduled break. 

What is wrong with us? Why can’t we keep a normal schedule?

Moms Are Born Persons Too

Moms Are Born Persons Too

Nothing like questions for stimulating thought. My inbox is pretty full after our first Mason Jar podcast. I am always stunned by the burdens homeschool moms carry. I am pretty sure we are not meant to carry such burdens.  In a culture that does not honor the past we have to start all over each generation learning the skills of life.  

We talk a lot at CiRCE about not teaching out of fear and truly much damage is done when we do. Many of the burdens moms carry really are just fears.  I do not have all the answers to combat this pervasive pest but I do have a couple of hints. 

When in comes to Truth, Goodness, and Beauty: Relax.

How I Nearly Let My Son's Transcript Get in the Way of Virtue

am still here. Even though my son Alex is in public school, I am still here. I am still looking at life through the lens of classical education.

Things have been going pretty well for Alex at school. I like his teachers and his classes and I have been pleasantly surprised at how much they care.  Most of them really do care.  

I put Alex in honors classes because I heard through the mom grapevine that the honors classes are not disrupted as much. Plus Alex is a bright kid in need of a challenge.

I have been happy with the assignments. Sometimes ecstatic. When Alex was required to make a nature notebook I was giddy. When he had to read Fahrenheit 451 right out of the starting gate,  I was happy. I was so excited about school I couldn’t wait to do homework every afternoon until Alex said, “It’s my homework. You need to let me do it.”  I was happy about that too and when he got a 97 on his first essay, an essay I didn’t help him with at all (if you don’t count the last eight years and The Lost Tools of Writing.)  I was tickled pink.

Then it happened. One day he brought home a bad grade. I did not freak out. Yes, my voice was strained and high-pitched but I did not throw anything. What I did was spend two days pondering life. Did I put Alex in honors classes out of pride? Were they too hard for him?  Oh my goodness, what if he got a C on his transcript and couldn’t go to college and spent the rest of his life being ordinary because of that C.  I needed to quickly get him out of these wonderful classes where he was learning wonderful things and into easy classes where you didn’t have to learn anything at all but could go to college and become a professor or something because you got an A on the transcript. The Transcript. THE TRANSCRIPT.

38 Books from My First Year of Homeschooling

38 Books from My First Year of Homeschooling

By the time I had Timothy, my oldest in 1984, I had already spent three years reading about homeschooling so when he turned four I was chafing to get started.

We were already using the morning to review his Awana verses and read nursery rhymes and picture books, but I was anxious to start reading longer books—chapter books. So I picked up a Signature Biography I had on hand from a library sale and began reading a chapter. He listened, then asked for another. I read another and another and by the end of the year we had read thirty-eight chapter books—"read-alouds" we call them now.

Looking back I knew that we had read many books that year, but I would never have guessed the total could have been thirty-eight until recently I found the paper where I recorded them. Looking over the titles my mind returns to those happy days and those happy stories, and I bet Timothy’s does too on occasion. 

That year always stands out in my memory as my best year of homeschooling. The year before things got serious and stressed. Perhaps it was the year I taught from a state of rest—reading aloud, fishing at lunch, and looking at pretty pictures.

From 1989 to 1990 here is what Timothy and I read.