Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Quote for the day: Something else teachers need to learn (or unlearn)

"The language of student learning is, on the whole, fairly bloodless. Learning objectives, learning styles, domains of learning, transfer of learning; all these suggest that learning is primarily a cognitive process to do with processing information in various ways. Yet as any teacher knows, learning--particularly that involving risk, discomfort, or struggle--is highly emotional. Sure, there are times when boredom and apathy reign supreme. But there are also times when anxiety, terror, shame, and anger are paramount. Fortunately, too, there are times when students feel joy, pleasure, pride, and love. It is interesting that no assessment protocols I know of make any use of these words or terms like these." ~~ Stephen D. Brookfield, The Skillful Teacher

Friday, May 18, 2018

Quote for the day: Something teachers need to learn

"The ability to listen and learn from participants [students] builds mutual respect. It affirms the dignity of all; it is the basis of empowerment. To listen is to be on an equal footing; listening means putting yourself in the place of the other. How can educators construct a setting in which there isn't a growing 'we versus them,' no matter how genuine our intent to do otherwise?...the art of listening is an important pillar in building structures that counteract some deeply ingrained, top-down teaching habits. At the base of all this is the educator's genuine belief in people's potential and [his/her] willingness to let go of some power and control." ~~ Rick Arnold et al, Educating for a Change (1991)

Thursday, May 17, 2018

New feature: The Intentional Thrifter

At one time my thrifting activities were randomly acquisitive.

Sometimes there's a strategy in that. Amy Dacyczyn once wrote about trying to scrounge cross-country skis for her family of eight. After passing up some partial sets, she realized that, having lots of storage space, she would do better to accumulate a big pile of boots, poles, and skis in different sizes, and then match them up to her people.

As young parents, we did the same thing with little-kid clothes: if a baby or toddler haul came along, we saved as much as we could for the next nothing-fits emergency. I accumulated craft and sewing supplies, and kids' books, although I was pickier about those.

Now, living in a smaller space and with less maybe-someday storage, I have to be more intentional about what comes home. Of course we are also beyond the stage of saving up kids' clothes and learning stuff. And at this point you might think my whole point is going to be "buy less, don't accumulate."

Well, sometimes you do buy less, and sometimes you don't. Like Amy, you may be over-accumulating with a purpose. Maybe you want as much red, white, and blue yarn or fabric as you can find, because you're planning a patriotic afghan or quilt. That's intentional. Maybe you need a hundred canning jars, because you're going to give everybody salsa and jam for Christmas. Or a bunch of flowerpots, because your plants are growing like crazy and need to be shared. Or every travel guide and history you can find about your bucket-list place, so you can plan a better trip. That's not hoarding, that's intentional.

My personal-stuff and home-stuff thrifting over the last couple of years has gotten more intentional, and that's developed a strange side effect. I now wander into thrift-store aisles that I used to ignore, and ignore the ones I used to spend all my time in. I price adult books, not children's, and I rarely look at the kids' books out in the store; I just don't need any. Until recently, I would never have bothered with business books, but I'm finding now that some of them are helpful in the courses I'm taking. Our needs change.

You can thrift more intentionally when you've narrowed down a basic colour scheme, or when you know what the gaps are. Our main living space here has a lot of beige, brown, and green, plus some floral things here and there. If I saw some table linens in those shades, I might pick them up; but not if they were neon pink or black striped. My eyes have gotten trained to think "yes, that's like our living room."

Very recently, I found a purplish button-up cardigan on the 75% off rack. It will go with all my favourite scarves, and my grey skirts and pants. Yes, it's May, but I'm putting it away for fall.

And that's intentional.

Good reading for today: Where did Charlotte Mason stand?

On the Northwest by North blog: was Charlotte Mason progressive, classical, or unique?

Recommended for your educational pondering.

Monday, May 14, 2018

From the archives: Charlotte Mason yet to come

First posted April 2010, part of the Month with CM series. (Edited somewhat.)

Where does CM advice become the most nitty and gritty? If we want to have the "whole package" as Charlotte Mason described it, but still need to work within our own context and circumstances what stays and what goes?  How long will Kipling and Kingsley continue to be meaningful? Where does old CM meet new CM, and your CM meet my CM, and become timeless CM, CM without boundaries?

Is it in the general comments, the principles and philosophy, given in her six volumes...which transition into the later parts of those volumes, describing specific work and practices of the PNEU schools? Or the technical details of the Form III Programme #90 for 1921? Is it only in CM's own books, or in the more diverse viewpoints given in the Parent's Review articles? Is it in Eve Anderson's teaching tool DVD's, or in PNEU teacher Mrs. Norton's taped interview with Susan Schaeffer Macaulay? Is it in the array of books by various parents and educators that have attempted to bring CM principles into the 20th and now the 21st centuries?

Is it more meaningful for me to track down Selfe's Work of the Prophets (used in 1921), in hopes that I can either use it as is or learn from it as a comparison...or to read suggestions from thoughtful CMers who have found new books that meet the same needs? How much should I worry if the nature notebook or Book of the Centuries doesn't get off the ground? Why do we recommend a leisurely education, and then realize that, according to the Form III schedule, our twelve-year-old is supposed to be narrating Dumas in French and starting German as well?

Did Charlotte Mason herself succumb to a few late-Victorian educational fads, or was she simply selecting the best of the new ideas that had come in at that time? Is that what we should be doing--pulling the best from our own educational time? Is there anything now worth pulling from?

What do you imagine a CM education might look like for your own great-grandchildren?

Saturday, May 12, 2018

New page: Summer Project 333 Clothes

Season: Summer 2018 (for as long as it lasts)
#project333 (link to Courtney Carver's home page)

Édouard Manet, "Carnations and Clematis in a Crystal Vase"

Friday, May 11, 2018

Peaceful happy thrifting

Found at the thrift store: a copy of Make Peace With Anyone, and a blue and green necklace that reminds me of stained-glass windows.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

From the archives: Sometimes we have to disagree

First posted May 2007; edited slightly. This was the first year that our oldest Squirreling was doing some of her schoolwork at public high school.

Once again something like the "Mars and Venus" syndrome strikes at the blog world, in the guise of a plea for less divisiveness between die-on-that-hill-homeschoolers and those who feel there are equally acceptable educational alternatives.

We could go on in this vein for a long time, you know. "Much-Read Blogger" continues to swat at some of the "divisive" flies that are buzzing around him, his fans pull out their swatters to help, and the rest of us either duck for cover or come swatting back the best we can. Is the issue of divisiveness really the point of these "I know I'll be sorry I posted this" posts? To be frank I think they sound more like politely-disguised attacks on positions with which "Blogger" doesn't personally agree, so it shouldn't be surprising that a bit of fur has to fly over them.

The fact that you exist in whatever way you do is bound to make somebody out there uncomfortable or annoyed, no matter how laid back you are about it. If you've read my snowman condo story,* you'll know we have considered this ourselves. Among homeschoolers, our three girls are considered an average-to-small-sized family; in the mainstream world, just three (who would certainly not only build snowmen but throw snowballs at each other as well, making a fair amount of noise while doing so) are enough to make some kinds of neighbours cringe. Our kids don't burn things down, but they do make noise. We don't have a pet alligator or grow pot on the porch; but Mr. Fixit does do whatever car repairs he can in the driveway, and sometimes I do have several cars here at a time for a meeting. Some people don't like that, you know? Some people had a problem with the big yellow phone van that Mr. Fixit used to drive and park in the driveway, but that's what kept us fed.

If I happen to mention that we had three wonderful homebirths, some people will say that's fine or tell me that their brother's cousin just had a homebirth as well. Other people, though, will assume that I a) feel superior about that, b) think that everybody else should have homebirths, and/or c) must be slightly demented to have thought of doing that in the first place. Some people are just on a different track to start with. There are some people that I'd think were crazy if they said they wanted to give birth at home. But you see, it's not what I say about it that becomes the issue for a lot of people; it's just that we did whatever it was in the first place, so it's assumed that we must hold some kind of militant position on it. We also vaccinate our kids, buy whole wheat pasta but also an occasional bag of marshmallow cookies, and teach them Lutheran catechism even though we now go to an Anabaptist church.

But I digress.

Why did we start homeschooling? It wasn't out of a religious conviction that everyone should homeschool. It was what was right for our family and our child (just one at the time) We had quite a few reasons, large and small, including the fact that the school system here seemed more interested in finding ways to cut back on "optional" things (like special education) than they were in doing what was best for the kids. That is not the same as saying that schools themselves, any schools, must be inherently bad. If I held that position, then I would be at odds with Charlotte Mason, who provided for the needs of both schools and homeschoolers.

If there was a Charlotte Mason school around the corner, would I send them instead of teaching them here? I can't answer that one. I can only answer for things as they are here, now, for our family. In that sense I do agree with "Much-Read Blogger" because I think he's trying to say that each of us should look to our own convictions and listen for God's calling in making decisions about education. I only hope that he's just as serious when he says that he would afford us equal respect for our choices.

*Earlier that year, we were looking at condo townhouses, and someone warned us that the neighbours in those units were very fussy about noise and children and cars with hoods open and other normal parts of life. Apparently there had been a family there with several children, and in the winter they built a snowman on the "common area" between the units. Someone complained to the property manager, and Frosty disappeared. We decided that it did not sound like a good fit for us.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

If you had ten Canadian dollars...

1. Ten dollars at the discount grocery store buys three bananas, a package of tortillas, a package of peppers, and two small bottles of pop to share. (What's for supper? Fajitas made with leftover chicken, along with reheated rice and a can of beans.)

2. Ten dollars buys two DQ cones. Not happenin' here. Well, maybe sometime in the summer.

3. Ten dollars buys three cash bus rides. (Tickets are cheaper.)

4. Ten dollars buys a package of ten razor blades, or a three-pack of socks.

5. Ten dollars at the thrift store buys a scarf, a 75% off cotton cardigan, and some books.

How do you spend ten dollars?

Monday, May 07, 2018

Do you want a limited special edition?

Two years ago, I posted a quote from Charlotte Mason on the benefits of owning a cherished, worthwhile collection of something, vs. the continual acquisition of mindless "collectibles." For some of us, a desire to "collect them all!" began with our first commercials for breakfast cereal (with toys), and moved on from there.
Buster Baxter (unwrapping a Christmas gift): Cool, it's CyberCod!
Bitzi: I'm sorry, Buster. We can return it.
Buster: (confused) Huh? Why?
Bitzi: Because you already have that one. See? (holds up a figure that looks similar, but decidedly not the same) I found it in your room right after I bought the other one.
Buster: That's TechnoTrout, Mom. He's very different. He has a speckled belly and he doesn't have CyberCod's kung-fu feet. (He demonstrates.)
Bitzi: Oh, thank goodness!
 (Arthur's Perfect Christmas)
In Goodbye, Things, Fumio Sasaki tells about a short-lived craze in Tokyo when the transit system offered a special anniversary edition pass. The card didn't offer any more benefits than a regular pass, but people still lined up for hours trying to get one. Sasaki decided to "pass" on it.

He also gives this very C.M.-resonant piece of advice: "Discard any possessions that you can't discuss with passion." Obviously, there are exceptions to this sparking-joy idea; many things are more functional than passion-provoking. But those things that we choose to keep around us, that we use to help tell our stories--they should have meaning.  And the worst offenders are things we keep because they make us appear trendy or intellectual or rich or cozily domestic. If we let them go, we might have to admit we're not any of those things. Big ouch.

What if we decided to detach, just a little more, from "collect them all?"

What if...we decided to be comfortably ourselves, and started to see the humourous side of our innocent but humbuggish attempts to "be somebody?"

Because each of us is, already, a limited special edition.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Frugal finds and fixes: Yard sales, wind storms, and earthquakes

Fixes: People in southern Ontario are starting off this weekend with lots of unexpected fixing ahead, after strong winds crashed through yesterday (up to 122 km/hr where we live). Trees blew down behind our apartment building, and we could see shingles flying off roofs in the neighbourhood. In Toronto, balcony furniture was seen flying through the air, and the roof blew off a school (there were also fatalities because of downed power lines). We had similar tree damage a couple of times at our old house, and it's not easy or cheap to deal with.

The only thing we had damaged here was one of the car ramps we had stored on our balcony (used for oil changes, not on the balcony). It fell over when the winds started up, and a piece broke off, but Mr. Fixit was able to re-glue it. That's pretty minor compared to what others are dealing with after the storm (and in other situations like flooding in New Brunswick and volcanoes in Hawaii). 

Finds: Street sales are starting, and in spite of the mess left everywhere this morning, there were lots of people out enjoying the warm weather. I found a Daytimer the same size as my planner (so the Bible cover can go back on my Bible), and a pair of earrings. The Daytimer was two dollars, and I actually bought it just for the paper and dividers inside it. Half-size filler paper is hard to find here, unless you go to the expensive office-supply store. Walmart used to carry it, but I haven't seen any there for awhile. Anyway, I cleaned up the cover and then decided that I like it as is; so I got more than I expected for my two dollars.
Finds: The one thing I'm not interested in right now at yard sales is books. I see enough of those at the thrift store. Here's one that came home recently: The Invention of Clouds, by Richard Hamblyn. It's about Luke Howard, the amateur meteorologist who gave the clouds all their Latin names.
E-book reading: I had to wait awhile to be next in line for Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism, by Fumio Sasaki. I wasn't sure how much relevance to expect from a lifestyle book written by a single male thirtysomething, and translated from Japanese.  However, it was one of the better short books I've read recently on what we expect our stuff to do for us, and why we keep chasing down more of it. The author referred several times to the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, and how that affected his own and others' attitude toward possessions. (He points out that his previously large book and camera collections could have been dangerous in such an earthquake.) In comparison, I recently read a twenty-year-old (thrifted) book about the simplicity journey, and I could barely get through it--too preachy. (So you know I don't recommend every minimalism book that comes along.)

Finds, again: I have been very lucky lately, finding summer clothes at the thrift store. I am putting a Project 333 list together, to be posted near Victoria Day. (In a couple of weeks.)

In the meantime, this is my happy find for this week: a chambray shirtdress, that was even more of a bargain than it might have been, because it was tagged as a shirt instead of a dress, and priced accordingly. It's a short shirtdress, okay? Anyway, this one also has sort of a patience-pays-off moral attached. I had been wanting a dress like this for awhile, because they're so useful: you can wear them closed, open, layered, whatever. The discount store next to our building has shirtdresses for about twenty dollars, and I looked at them a couple of times when I was over there getting milk, but I never got around to trying one on. They looked sort of flimsy, and I kept thinking about people sewing those dresses overseas. Please note that I have bought shoes, hats, and other things there, and even the occasional t-shirt or sweater over the years, so I'm not trying to get all sustainable-purist about it; but something about those particular dresses just didn't seem right, and I didn't feel right about buying one. 

And then this one, a better brand, turned up at the thrift store for a quarter of even the discount-store price. Plus it has a pretty floral pattern (hard to see in the photo, you have to look close). 
So, worth the wait.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Quote for the day: "The mechanics of unhappiness"

"In the same way that your joy does not equal the price of an item you buy, neither do the functions of that item. A down jacket that costs double the price of the one you already have will not offer double the warmth. Your dissatisfaction continues, and you reach out for something else. You know you'll get used to the next thing and become tired of it as well, but you can't help predicting the future based on your present feelings...In the back of your mind you know that you'll never be satisfied, but you keep thinking that maybe this time the brief sense of happiness you feel will be the real thing. These are the mechanics of unhappiness, and they exist no matter how much you spend, no matter how much you own." ~~ Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism, by Fumio Sasaki

Sunday, April 29, 2018

From the archives: Charlotte Mason and dandelions

First posted May 2010, part of the Month with Charlotte Mason series

We started with A Leisurely Education. Freedom from the small round of busywork, opportunity to grab hold of something bigger, learning to see ourselves (including our children) more as we are in God's time and in God's universe. Living without futility.

And I'm ending with dandelions.

The Treehouse backyard this week has been covered with yellow dandelions. Much-maligned little flowers that provoke criticism from the neighbours (spraying's in disfavour, but they would like to see us at least hard at work rooting them out). They're not good for much except making more dandelions (okay, I know you can eat them too). The first big batch are either going to seed or were cut off last night with the lawnmower, but they'll be back. [As in, within 24 hours.] Nobody really gets rid of dandelions forever, even if they want to--they're stubborn. And we don't want to get rid of them. In spite of the seasonal allergies kicking in around here, we like our dandelions.

I get the feeling that cultivating a yard full of unfashionable dandelions is somewhat like our approach to education, and maybe our approach to life. This is a time of too many conflicting ideas, at least around lawn care. Lawn spraying is now illegal here (we didn't spray anyway), but people still expect you to have a weed-free, dandelion-free, well-trimmed piece of grass around your house...more or less the same as anyone else's. Educational powers talk about diversity while squeezing out the individual. They dump a lot of fertilizer, if you'll pardon the metaphor, and try to control what grows and what doesn't.

Keep the dandelions growing, if only as a reminder that our natures are stubborn and won't be satisfied with educational sludge. Leave enough room for the intangibles and the poetry--as Cindy Rollins said, we can always catch up on grammar later.

A game of romps (better, so far as mere rest goes, than games with laws and competitions), nonsense talk, a fairy tale, or to lie on his back in the sunshine, should rest the child, and of such as these he should have his fill. ~~ Charlotte Mason

Quote for the Day: Don't turn off your brain

"There is even a sense that an undeveloped mind is more virtuous than one prepared for battle...for many Christians, humble ignorance is a far more noble human quality than a cultivated mind...[but] deep within the worldview of the biblical authors and equally within the minds of the earliest church fathers was the understanding that to be fully human is to think." ~~ James Emery White, A Mind for God

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Who made my dress? (Fashion Revolution Week)

This is a long black cotton t-shirt dress, made in Hong Kong. The label is a brand name used by a company in Toronto that imports clothing from Asia. If you're hoping for organic, fair-trade, and sustainable, this dress unfortunately isn't going to be it.
So why am I featuring it as a way to wrap up Fashion Revolution Week?

Because it illustrates the tensions we face in trying to act and dress with justice. What's the best way to use our resources?

I was looking with some envy at very nice organic cotton t-shirt dresses made by an ethical company in New Zealand, and sold through an online shop in western Canada. They run about US$100, or Canadian$130, and come in black, grey, and a gorgeous plum colour. You would probably not be sorry if you put your money into one of those dresses.

But that's still a lot of money. So I bought two t-shirt dresses at the thrift store, for six dollars apiece. One is sort of alligator green, and I was planning to re-dye it in plum, except that I didn't know its cotton-polyester blend ruled out home-dyeing-in-a-pail. (It might be possible to use a special synthetic-friendly dye and cook it on the stove, but that's not really practical for us.) I'll try to pass it on to someone who does look good in alligator green.

The other dress is black, which is generally not my favourite colour, but I kind of like it in this dress; it's practical and even a bit elegant. The long length can be belted up, and the style goes with just about everything. Just like a $130 dress from New Zealand.

I made a choice this time around, between buying something new and ethical, or something used and ethical. I don't know who made my dress. But I know who benefits from it.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Saving the planet when you're over fifty (Fashion Revolution Week)

Much of the media produced for Fashion Revolution Week seems aimed at young consumers (or anti-consumers). People who wear distressed denim and have tattoos. People who look great in wildly ethnic, eclectic, funky clothes (and can afford them). People who are not me, and maybe not you.
Thrifted silk t-shirt. I hardly ever find silk clothes, so this made me very happy.

However, those of us over a certain age have strengths too, such as longer memories. We remember when clothes really lasted, or when they didn't but we kept wearing them anyway.  We remember having to take sewing in school, or having someone at home who sewed and mended. We remember when shoes and clothes took a bigger bite out of our babysitting money, or our parents' wallets, so we had to take extra care of them.

Some of us grew up with hand-me-down clothes. Some of us had patches ironed on our jeans, and not the decorative kind. Some of us found back-to-school shopping downright torturous. Those long memories aren't all good.

But just as we are old enough to know that card catalogues weren't always on computers, and dinner wasn't always drive-thrus, we know that clothes haven't always been all fall-apart fast fashion.
Canadian-made jacket and skirt (thrifted)

We are old enough to make choices. And we are not too old to make choices.

If you knew that a particular retailer or manufacturer was causing harm to people or the planet, would you stop buying from them? Where do you think a retail store's unsold clothes go? Have you ever asked?
Do you notice where things are made, or what they're made from? How easy is it to find clothes made in your own country, or from quality fabrics? How much of a price difference do you think is reasonable for natural-fabric, fair-trade, or sustainably-produced clothing?
Do you ever shop consignment or thrift? Swap clothes with friends? Up-cycle something unwearable or boring? Knit yourself a hat? Happily wear a favourite piece of clothing over and over?

At fifty-plus, we are old enough to wear clothes we couldn't have carried off in our younger days. My husband said that grey suit has "character," and I took that as a compliment.

We are old enough to remember when blue rivers meant clean water, not dye runoff from jeans. But we are not too old to want to help make things better..