Why We Care So Much About The “Why”

What makes a good man turn bad?

That’s an excellent question.

This week, a young white man in Georgia murdered eight people. He was raised in a Baptist church and had professed the Christian faith. His victims worked at massage parlors known to offer sexual services and most of them were of Asian descent.

The internet (and my social media feeds) are full of opinions about how and why this man did such a horrendous thing.

His own immediate confession notes his struggles with sexual addiction and a desire to remove the object of his lust. So, early headlines painted him as either some sort of religious fanatic or a racist terrorist.

Follow-up news stories have illuminated more of his story, noting that–though he’d been raised in a Christian home and had professed to faith years ago–he was a troubled young man who had recently been kicked out of his house, his sexual behavior had ruined a romantic relationship, he’d sought Bible-based behavioral therapy (that didn’t work), he was out of work due to the pandemic, and he’d frequented the types of massage parlors where he committed these acts of violence.

Some of my friends were quick to blame his murderous acts on the Southern Baptist Church, purity culture, and the Christian patriarchy. Some blamed it on the anti-Asian rhetoric of Donald Trump and white supremacy. I’ve seen a lot of hot takes that blend all these environmental factors together to paint the picture of a pressure cooker of a young man who was an anti-Asian, anti-woman, sexually-repressed, gun-toting, Bible-thumping ticking time bomb.

And maybe he was.

Over the past few years, I’ve worked hard to curb the compulsion to offer my own “hot take” on every current event. It’s almost impossible to know the truth of a situation at the start. I don’t want to perpetuate lies by opining on things I honestly know nothing about. What good does it do, after all, to throw fuel on a fire of false assumptions and half-truths?

What I do know, about this particular situation, is that what this man did was absolutely reprehensible and unjustifiable, regardless of his reasons.

But we still want to know “why,” don’t we?
And I think I know why the “way” matters so much.

A few days ago, I said this online:

“The news media of the 1980’s convinced Americans that all young black men were drug-dealing baby-daddy hoodlums. Let’s not now be misled into thinking all white men are women-hating racist terrorists. The world is full of decent men who will never make the news.”

What I meant by “decent,” of course, was not “good” in an ontological sense but decent in the sense that they could live peaceably with other men, that they would still do things like help a stranger change a tire or buy a neighbor’s girl scout cookies. You know, the kind of men who, while they might believe that sex work or infidelity or porn use is sinful, they will never shoot up a massage parlor because of it.

“Not all ideological errors,” I continued, “lead to inhumane behavior.” And I meant it.

When I was growing up, there was an implicit expectation that it was possible to establish a temporary truce, of sorts, among people with ideological differences. This is why my two grandfathers, who disagreed vastly on issues of religion and politics, could gather their families together for Thanksgiving and share a meal and watch a football game and enjoy each other’s company. They may have never become best friends. They would never solve the great problems of the world. But they could find pleasure in sharing space for a few hours on a few days a year without killing each other.

I don’t why this isn’t possible anymore. But it doesn’t feel possible anymore.

Without getting too theological here–because I don’t have the authority or the qualifications to do so–my sense is that there are a few fundamental and foundational Christian beliefs about the nature of man that we no longer believe. The most basic among these is the belief in “original sin.”

It’s the paradigm shift from the Puritan “self is sin” to the postmodern “self is Good.” It’s the shift from “Jesus as savior of the world” to “Jesus as moral example and self-help guru.” It’s what I (not jokingly) refer to as the “Glennon Doyle-ing” of American Christianity. And it’s not just progressive Liberal circles. It happens even among Conservative churches.

In my experience, this is evident anywhere we see secondary theological issues becoming primary issues. The most basic, primary message of the Gospel takes a back seat to the secondary issues of sexual ethics, social justice, racial issues, family structures, liturgical traditions, etc. Then, we subconciously bastardize the daily expressions of our faith from disciplines of simple dependence on Christ to public fidelity to secondary gospels.

We begin to believe that we are not the true Believers unless, for example, we’ve done enough for racial justice or enough to protect the traditional family or to fights for victims of abuse. The hyper-Patriarch, then, is just as obsessed with his own performative, acts-based, self-justification as is the progressive social justice warrior that he sees as his ideological enemy. Both have made the system of his faith his savior, and hold it up as the savior of the world.

When terrible things happen, the reason we become so obsessed with knowing the “why,” is because we believe that the error in men lies in his incorrect or unjust systems, not within the man himself.

We believe the lie that a correct system will create a good people.
And we want to preemptively absolve ourselves and our systems of producing the same evil men.

But we cannot.
The Bible doesn’t let us absolve ourselves in this way.

To be sure–
Believing in the sinful nature of man does not excuse our unrighteous or un-godly systems. And it doesn’t stop us from mourning and lamenting the injustice we see around us.

The Bible does–absolutely, beyond a doubt–demand more just, equitable, Godly systems of church, family, and government. And it also demands justice for the oppressed, protection for the vulnerable, love for neighbor, mercy for the broken, and personal piety.

But these good things only happen, naturally, as the fruit of a people who have already been changed from within.

Righteous systems–whether political or ideological–do not make a man clean from within. They can protect us from harming ourselves. They can protect us from harming each other. They can keep peace between us and make us decent. But only the savior of the world can change us.

This is an uncomfortable position to take in response to the evil of the world. It does not satisfy our desire for a scapegoat–whether it’s the Southern Baptist Church or pornography–and it does not offer the empty promise that “this will never happen again.”

And I’m sorry for that.

Sometimes I wish I could just co-sign with my friends and proclaim that “Yes! If we would just rid the world of White Supremacy, wars and murder and racism would all disappear.” But I know better. I think most of us know better.

We want to know the “why” because we want a guarantee that–if we can design a better political or ideological or religious system– this will never happen again. But, instead, by seeking the savior of the world in a better man-made system, we are doomed to repeat this over and over again.

Unless we are changed from within, our only hope in this life is to try and keep from killing each other. And that’s not much hope at all.

On Losing A Farmer

“As Gill says, ‘every man is called to give love to the work of his hands. Every man is called to be an artist.’ The small family farm is one of the last places – they are getting rarer every day – where men and women (and girls and boys, too) can answer that call to be an artist, to learn to give love to the work of their hands. It is one of the last places where the maker – and some farmers still do talk about ‘making the crops’ – is responsible, from start to finish, for the thing made. This certainly is a spiritual value, but it is not for that reason an impractical or uneconomic one. In fact, from the exercise of this responsibility, this giving of love to the work of the hands, the farmer, the farm, the consumer, and the nation all stand to gain in the most practical ways: They gain the means of life, the goodness of food, and the longevity and dependability of the sources of food, both natural and cultural. The proper answer to the spiritual calling becomes, in turn, the proper fulfillment of physical need.”
― Wendell Berry, Bringing it to the Table: On Farming and Food

On Tuesday evening, Cincinnati’s small farming community lost a good man: Scott Richardson. He was rear-ended by a car on a snowy road. His buggy was decimated. His horse had to be put down. He was air-lifted to a hospital in Dayton, Ohio, and he passed away a few hours later.

Scott was my farmer.
(“Only a farmer,” he would say.)

I’m not going to pretend to be a family-farm slow-food “local only” hero here.

To be honest, trying to keep up with the locavore movement has always exhausted me. BUT. I have tried, in small ways, to support the local food economy and to give my city kids the privilege of fresh, local food when possible.

Our first foray into local food was membership in a nearby urban micro-farm co-op. When I started having kids and it got too hard to volunteer at the co-op, I joined a bougie produce delivery service. That (quickly) got too expensive and I relegated myself to the very pedestrian farmers’ market scene, when I had the time and energy.

We decided on raw milk when my son was aging into drinking cow’s milk.

I found our first dairy farmer, Vernon Yoder, through his weekly presence at a local farmer’s market. A friend and I joined his herdshare together and took turns doing the pickup. But, after a few years, Vernon closed his farm. He’d gone through a mental health struggle and moved with his family to a different Amish community up north.

That’s when I found Scott.

A friend and neighbor across the street was switching to Scott’s herdshare from a different, more modern local diary farm.

Scott was an Old Order Mennonite, a lot like the Amish but not quite. He had been an engineer in the Peace Corps as a young man, met his wife overseas, and they had converted to the Mennonite lifestyle as adults. They were raising their brood of children on a farm in Hillsboro, Ohio.

As an Old Order Mennonite, Scott didn’t use technology. And, without a telephone or computer, he was hard to get ahold of. He had no online ordering system, no email address. USPS mail was the most reliable way to contact him, which meant communication moved slowly and lines were sometimes crossed in the process.

What he offered changed throughout the year. There was always milk (both cow and goat milk) and eggs, yogurt, raw milk cheese, sourdough bread, noodles, honey, maple syrup, and seasonal vegetables, Throughout the year, he offered limited butchered meats and sausage, as well as roaster chickens. There was salsa, tomato sauce, and some fermented foods.

Around the first of the month, Scott sent an order form that we were to fill out and send back. And included in the envelope was a bill for our previous month’s order and a letter from Scott.

I’m really going to miss his letters.

Scott’s letters were photocopied from his typed originals. They were winsome and informative. He talked about life on the farm, explained variations in our foods (why the milk changes color throughout the year, for example), and gave us a small window into the Mennonite lifestyle.

He invited us to the farm to learn about our food. He sent us articles about how raw dairy consumption affects wellness. He offered new paradigms for understanding diet and illness.

Having lived life on both sides of simplicity, Scott had a unique window into the frenetic lives of his customers. It gave him a somewhat prophetic voice. His letters were full of observations about values, health, community, and faith. They were a challenge to me and, from what I’ve heard, his other customers as well.

He was never condescending about his decision to take the difficult road of being a simple Mennonite farmer. Instead, he welcomed his customers into its beauty.

I know that my grief upon hearing of his death is mostly selfish–The modern world stole my beautiful Old World farmer from me.

But there is so much more to grieve.

Scott was a husband and father. He was a neighbor and a friend. My small amount of grief for my personal loss is nothing compared to the loss for those near to him. They were robbed of a future of working alongside Scott and learning from his wisdom and insight.

I was only a customer.

But beyond my personal, purely selfish grief at losing my farmer and possibly losing my herdshare, Scott’s death is breaking open a deeper longing in me for the community and connection that old world traditions like family farms and homemade goods and artisan craft provide and my modern, urban life lacks.

Maybe it’s the pandemic.
Maybe it’s my own stubborn introversion.
Maybe it’s just February.
But I feel disconnected from everything.

And now I’m wondering what it would be like to have a deep connection to all of our things and to the people who provide them. Maybe this is how it’s supposed to be. I should care about the people who grow my food. I should mourn when their livelihoods are threatened.

A quick story about Scott before I wrap this up–

A few years back, we became the hosts of one of Scott’s drop-op locations for his herdshare, which means we parked a few ragged, empty milk coolers out in front of our house once a week for the delivery driver, Jesse, to trade out the new week’s delivery. Then the herdshare members nearest to us picked up their new goods and dropped off empty jars and boxes, etc.

We live in an urban area with significant foot traffic. And, one day, things started disappearing. Over the course of a few weeks, milk and eggs and produce were stolen by, I’m assuming, a passerby.

We notified the other herdshare owners to make sure they picked up their deliveries quickly after the drop-off so it was less likely to disappear. And I sent Scott a letter letting him know that I couldn’t confirm how much was being stolen, but that some of the members may be writing him to say they never received their order.

Well, Scott never made any of us pay for items we didn’t receive.
And, more than that, for a few weeks, he wrote me back saying he would be sending extra eggs and milk every week, labeled with the name “friend,” just in case the thief was hungry and needed the food.

That’s just one example of the man Scott Richardson was.
I wish I’d known him better.

I should mourn for the passing of my farmer because no farmer is “only a farmer.” His family and his community are experiencing a great loss right now and I am desperately wishing I had kept every one of his letters that I’ve received over the years.






*If you feel compelled to support the Richardson family as they grieve Scott’s passing, another herdshare member has set up a GoFundMe account (with permission from Scott’s family) to help. You can find it here.

What a Third Party Vote Does (and does not) Accomplish

No one likes a third party voter.
I know this is true because I am one.

Historically speaking, I tend to vote Republican but I’ve never voted a straight GOP ticket. My approach to politics is pretty moderate. I lean fiscally conservative, environmentally conscious, socially conservative-libertarian, and prefer local over state or federal control on issues like social services, education and economic development. I am often willing to vote in favor of the more progressive local initiatives that legitimately address local problems. And, for the past three presidential general elections, I’ve voted for a third party presidential candidate.

But voting for a third party candidate, especially in a battleground state like Ohio, is not a very popular decision.

I’ve heard all the arguments–I’m throwing my vote away. I’m helping “the other guy” win. Or, worse, I’m betraying every person who is directly affected by the election results and abusing my privilege by doing it.

I’d argue that none of these arguments respects the true power of an individual vote, nor the distinctive power of a third party vote. But, the Electoral College being what it is, I also know my candidate will never actually receive my vote.

So why do it?

A few quick things to consider, for those of you who have been told that you absolutely must vote within the “GOP vs DEM” paradigm, even if both options make you queasy or betray your conscience–

First, every vote is counted. That means that your vote actually speaks. It speaks about what you want to happen, about the platform you can get behind, and about the people you want in office making decisions for you. And if you vote for something that you don’t actually want because you’re playing some sort of political poker game, you are communicating something false.

Because the election results do not communicate nuance. The men and women in a conference room in Washington D.C. tracking votes here in Cincinnati, Ohio don’t see the reason you cast your vote for This Guy or That Guy. They can’t possibly know that you only voted for Guy 1 because Guy 2 is a jerk, for example. Or that you don’t really stand behind the platform of Guy 2, but it’s not quite as troublesome as that of Guy 1. (They don’t read your Instagram stories *ahem* and most of us will not be interviewed as we exit the polls and be given a chance to explain our vote.)

The only thing those vote-counters know is that you voted for Guy 1. Because your vote–your actual vote–says, plainly, “I vote for Guy 1.”

So, what does a vote for Guy 3 say?
In a political system where nearly every voter has always voted for a Guy 1 or Guy 2, voting third party says, “I vote for Guy 3 instead.”

And, when your third party vote is a vote that actually reflects what you want instead of Guy 1 or Guy 2, it also tells them why they lost you to Guy 3. Every vote represents wishes and desires because every person running for office has a platform. And you have communicated which platform you support—a third option.

What else does a third party vote accomplish?

It strengthens bipartisanship by challenging the “this or that” narrative of our two-party system. It presents other options as valid options and proves we–voters–are interested in exploring them.

It strengthens the backbone of politicians by proving there are voters and constituents who are interested in issues more than major party affiliation and who will support them when they cross the party line or take more moderate positions.

It strengthens the platform of future third party candidates by showing what voters actually support. And, with every new election that has increased third party voting, we move further away from a two-party trap.

And, call me crazy, but it could actually change the Republican and Democratic party today. If a large number of constituents (speaking through the numbers themselves) leave the party and vote for a third party, it calls the party platforms into question in a way that might actually be addressed.

“Oh! I guess voters really do care about environmental issues.”
“Oh, geez. Americans are way more interested in healthcare issues than we thought!”
“Yikes. I guess this immigration thing really struck a chord with people.”

“If we want to get those voters back,” they may think, “maybe we need to listen.”

Crazy, right?
(Heck, crazier things have happened.)

But–here’s the bad news.
What does a third party vote NOT accomplish?

It doesn’t win the presidency.
At least not in 2020.

To vote third party in good conscience in 2020, you have to have a fairly conservative view of the presidential office. You have to trust the design of our federal government, the separation of powers, and depend on the limits of executive power. (You cannot believe that the winner of the Oval Office takes all.)

You have to do your homework and pay close attention to other candidates, offices, and positions of authority. And you have to take your local vote and community engagement seriously.

You have to trust that the American people–not their government–hold the power to make our country great.

You have to have a sense of the sovereignty of the Creator of the universe over all of us and trust that the fate of the world does not rest on us choosing “the right person.”

And, honestly, here is where the real acts of citizenship and civic duty come into play: to vote this way, you have to commit to not only voting your conscience but also acting in accordance with your conscience, regardless of who ends up in the White House.

Decently loving your neighbor every day is worth 1,000 “virtuous,” anonymous votes on Election Day.

At the end of your life, you will be accountable for your actions, your words, your spending, your service, and your choices.

Our votes are important, but they’re not primary. This is how we change the world: by how we live our lives.

I don’t need your approval for my third party vote.
But, if you think it’s your best option, we welcome yours.

Homeschooling: The Materials of Education

In my last post, I outlined some general information about how I organize our homeschool. Now, I’ll get into some of the specifics–the materials of our home education and what each child will be assigned for this school year.

This year, I will have a 2nd, 4th, and 6th grader, as well as a preschooler.

A note about preschool: I have no formal work for the preschooler, but I do keep some simple letter recognition activities and number games on hand so I can give him “school work” when he wants it. (My experience says that most younger siblings like playing along with school, so it’s good to have a few tricks in your bag.) One good goal for preschool siblings is to include them in as much of the group lessons as possible, even just in proximity and within ears reach, so they will more easily transition into full participation at some point. My three year-old will even fake his way through narrations during tea time, which is kind of hilarious.

Now–what do I actually teach?

I’ve uploaded a very detailed materials list for reference if that would be helpful. You can find a good digital version (to view online) here and a good printable version here. This list will change throughout the year. I consider it a map, not a rule.

To make it easier to understanding how this all fits into our school day, you can refer to my last post.

MORNING BASKET-
In the mornings, after the kids have finished breakfast and prepared for the day (and I have had a moment to myself for Mother Culture), we sit together at the table for our Morning Basket. This is a great way to begin the day by praying together, reciting Scripture, and singing songs.

I usually trade off days between Bible/Hymns and Folks Songs/German lessons. I usually have one designated Bible passage for memorization/recitation, a hymn, and a folk song per school term with some holiday-appropriate things thrown in, as well. I try to do a weekly Bible study with the kids but keep it short and simple.

(Sidebar: I don’t really know German beyond very remedial things so we do a lot of basic greetings and vocabulary, plus songs and rhymes and German culture, picture books, and history lessons. When the kids move up into about 8th grade, they can choose their own foreign language study and we will buy a language program for them to use.)

Includes:

MORNING PRAYERS

BIBLE-
– Recitation and memorization of long portions of scripture. (The same passages will be used for copywork and spelling/dictation exercises throughout the term.)
– Weekly group Bible lesson

HYMNS-
– Three or more hymns per year, one per term, memorized for morning worship and used for copywork throughout the term.

FOLK SONGS-
– Three or more folk songs per year, one per term, memorized and used for copywork throughout the term.

GERMAN LESSON AND SONGS-
– Remedial German lessons with picture books, vocabulary flashcards, coloring sheets, songs, and nursery rhymes.

INDEPENDENT WORK-
We jump into our most difficult work first. In addition to being the hardest mind-work, this is the work that might require my full attention with only one child. So, this is the time of day when the big kids bounce back and forth between working independently, sitting with me for tutoring, and helping with the preschooler. If all goes well, they can be done with this in one or two hours.

Includes:

READING
– Daily assigned reading- kids choose from a few options. These are often “stretching books” for them. They are sometimes more difficult than the books they’d normally choose for themselves.

COPYWORK
– Daily copywork- kids alternate between workbooks, scripture, poetry, hymns, letter-writing, etc. We begin cursive in 3rd or 4th grade.

GRAMMAR
– Izzy and Elsa do one or two lessons a week in Grammar, usually alternating between dictation exercises, spelling quizes, basic language lessons and sentence diagramming. Content for these lessons is taken directly from their reading assignments. We literally open whichever book they’ve been reading and discuss the grammar or use an excerpt for dictation/spelling.

LATIN
– Izzy does two Latin lessons a week.

PLUTARCH
– This is a once weekly independent reading for Izzy, a good hard lesson in classical literature.

FREE READS
– Each of the kids has a list of mom-approved “free reads” that they can read anytime and anywhere (when not otherwise engaged). I will often use these books as a calming measure if things are tense or as a distraction from twaddle books I’m not as excited to see them reading.

MATH
– Daily math lessons. I have never used a textbook or work book for early elementary. We have transitioned into a formal curriculum around 2nd – 4th grade. It’s been different for every child.

GROUP LESSONS-
I usually alternate days, with two days a week for Science & Nature Study and two days for History and Geography. This year, we’ll be focusing our first two terms on a “hard science” and then we’ll try to spend as much of the Spring term as possible outdoors, studying birds and conservation.

These lessons are done together, usually around the table or outdoors, in a very conversational style. We narrate our lessons orally as we go and then each kid responds with age-appropriate work. (After a history lesson, for example, Izzy might do a three sentence written narration in response. Elsa might write a sentence about what we read and draw a picture to illustrate. Edith might draw a picture and dictate a short narration for me to write in her notebook.)

Includes:

SCIENCE & NATURE STUDY-
– We have two science lessons a week, alternating between one “hard science” curriculum and a more nature-based study. We also consider any nature study done while hiking and nature journaling as a part of our science work.

IMG_2626

HISTORY & GEOGRAPHY-
– We have two history and geography lessons a week, alternating between a story-based world history curriculum and history-relevant geography lessons, and things like map drills, US states and capitals, and understanding landforms and topography.
– Starting in 4th grade, the kids begin their own Book of Centuries, which is their own record of world history.

A note about the book Pagoo: This is the third book we’ve used by this author, Holling C. Holling. His books tell a long-form story and work as a history, geography, and science book all in one. They have lovely detailed illustrations and diagrams. We use these books in addition to a formal science study. We usually draw the book out for most of the year, reading a chapter every other week or so, and doing appropriate science observations and mapwork/geograpy lessons as we go. Pagoo is about a hermit crab and tidepools, so we’ll use it to study the ecosystem of tidepools, crustaceans, the history and geography of coastal regions, etc.

RICHES and OCCUPATIONS-

Includes:

RICHES-
These are the really beautiful parts of education–art, music, poetry, etc. Sometimes we sit down to study these outdoors. Sometimes we sit at the piano or the record player. Sometimes we do it over tea or while learning something else like how to crochet. A lot of this is fluid. In a normal year, we would add as many live performances and museum visits as possible.

I choose one artist and one composer per term to study, plus a poet per child. And I choose a list of family read-aloud books for the year, but the list is very fluid and we don’t always keep to the list.

This year’s selections:

ARTIST STUDY- Titian, Leonardo, Rembrandt

COMPOSER STUDY– Wagner, Handel (Messiah), Mozart

SHAKESPEARE– A Midsommer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing

POETRY-
– Izzy Poetry Study- Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, Langston Hughes
– Elsa Poetry Study- Alfred Tennyson, Emily Dickinson, William Wordsworth
– Edith Poetry Study- Walter De La Mare, Eugene Field, Christina Rossetti

FAMILY READ-ALOUDS-
(Our Family Read-Alouds are often done either over tea or at bedtime.)
– The Wingfeather Saga III and IV, Heidi, Understood Betsy, Five Little Peppers and    How They Grew, The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: Book I, At the Back of the North Wind, The Vanderbeeks of 141st Street

OCCUPATIONS-
Three days a week, the kids are basically on their own to occupy their afternoons. This is the time for their individual lessons or skill-building. They can engage in reading, games, build something, or learning something new on their own. The goal is to put their education to life. If they need to, they can take a nap. If they want to, they can help me prepare dinner or (sometimes) do an extra chore for pay. Sometimes I let them listen to an audiobook or play an iPad game.

Izzy- can choose from things like Typing 1, piano lessons, Karate, art & handicrafts (carpentry, carving, sketching/drafting, book-binding), nature journaling, creative writing

Elsa- can choose from things like Typing 1, piano lessons, American Heritage Girls badges, handicrafts (painting, sketching/drafting, claywork, gardening), nature journaling, creative writing

Edith- can choose from things like piano lessons, ballet, handicrafts (bracelet making, claywork, painting, baking), nature journaling, creative writing

 

I do not run our homeschool on a tight regimen.

In some ways, the flexible nature of our school day reflects my own struggles with personal discipline and we would benefit from tightening things up a bit. In another sense, my ability to pivot in a moment and reorient our days is necessary and has kept us relatively at peace in the home and happily learning together.

Let me know if you have any specific questions about how this all works its way out.

What would you like to hear more about?

Considering Homeschooling?

With the COVID pandemic threatening to make traditional classroom education untenable this fall, a handful of my friends have recently asked for help navigating the world of homeschooling, just in case.

Instead of addressing them all individually, I thought it might helpful to publish a few things publicly here on my blog so they’ll be easier to share.

I anticipate publishing this content in 3-4 parts over the next few days.

For this first post, let me address some of my friends’ most pressing questions (And please forgive me if I didn’t do a great job proofreading this. I’ve been staying up super late the past few nights and I’m seeing double) —

“Where do I start?!”

When you start homeschooling, it’s really normal to obsess about “the stuff” of school. The material. “What will I teach!!?” you ask yourself. But, honestly, why you’re teaching and your goals for education are far more important than the materials you use. If you can pin down your “why,” it will be easier to choose your “what.”

If you have your “why” in line, you’ll be able to adapt any materials to your use. (Though some materials are obviously better than others!) Your materials and methods may very well change over time anyway, even with every child. These should change in response to the refining of your goals and your guiding philosophy. So don’t get too hung up on the materials of school first or you’ll miss the whole point of education—“missing the forest for the trees,” as they say.

Speaking personally, my methods of schooling have changed over the past few years as I’ve developed a more refined philosophy of education. I usually tell people I prescribe to a loose Charlotte Mason (CM) philosophy. (I say “loose” because I’m certainly not a purist.) If you’re interested in learning about Mason and her pedagogy, you can read some of her books here but there are some great books about her philosophy that are a little easier to digest, like this one. (And there’s a good primer here, too, if you just want to read something quick online.)

“But how will I know what to teach for science or math, for example? What curriculum should I buy?”

Many of the resources I use here at our home are what you’d consider “the Classics” together with what Mason called “living books.” I do use some modern Classical Christian homeschool materials, as well. But I apply these with a CM method.

I am a bit of a minimalist in regards to schoolwork and materials. Our school days are very book-heavy, with a lot of reading together and we do very little paperwork and very few worksheets, especially in early grades. The kids’ school “work” is mostly accomplished through conversation, in oral or drawn/written narration, which is a hallmark of the Charlotte Mason method. (I’d be happy to explain this concept further.)

And I try to give my kids ample time to work out their education and develop their own unique skills and interests in their unscheduled time. To that end, lessons are short and we don’t clutter our days with unnecessary busy-work.

For now, all of the lesson are done here at home with me (with John teaching most fine art technique and handling the bedtime reading). But now that Izzy is in 6th grade, his independent work is becoming increasingly more demanding and I may eventually have to outsource more of his lessons (like Latin, for example) with tutors, outside classes, or online classes.

I gravitate toward using older “Classics” but I’m not afraid of new materials. And I definitely avoid dry text books and picture encyclopedia types of books, opting instead for beautiful living books that are more humane and memorable. For early grades—prek through about 4th—you can truly teach an entire school year with little more than a collection of picture books and ample time spent outdoors. (Honestly, there are entire websites dedicated to it!)

Some of my favorite homeschool materials/resources.

Many of the books I use—as well as the subject matter I choose for art, poetry, and music, for example–are recommendations found on Ambleside Online, which is an online Charlotte Mason curriculum. I also love to steal recommendations from the book lists published by Read-Aloud Revival for my kids’ independent reading.

We use Singapore Math for our math curriculum. The Primary Mathematics series works best for us, but they do have a Common Core series that might work best for you if your kids will transition back into traditional school. (I don’t bother buying the textbooks until about 5th grade level but if you’re weak in math, go ahead and buy them.) In early years, I find it helpful to teach math conversationally, without workbooks or paperwork. I have never used a curriculum for k or 1st grade math. Edith has asked to “move faster,” so she will be starting a 2nd grade workbook this year so she can work independently.

If you’re looking for a packaged curriculum, I highly recommend The Good and The Beautiful. This will be our second year using one of their Science curricula, as well as a typing curriculum, and they have many more subjects. (We used their Anatomy curriculum last year.)

We use Learning Without Tears for copywork and penmanship/cursive.

Simply Charlotte Mason publishes some really lovely packaged curriculum, especially for artist and composer studies. They have a great elementary arithmetic program.

I like The Well-Trained Mind Classical curriculum offerings but have never used them as scripted. We use their history curriculum–Story of the World–and Grammar–First Language Lessons. (I use these books more a guide for what to teach, not how to teach it. I don’t follow the rules.)

Brave Writer is awesome, too, for developing writing and reading comprehension skills.

Khan Academy is probably the best free secular resource available online. It’s great for educational videos. And I love the math tutorials for times when I need extra help teaching something. (IXL is great for this, too.)

There are as many homeschool curricula available as there are stars in the sky. It can get overwhelming really quickly. Just focus on your goals and philosophy and choose something that you can imagine wanting to take off the shelf every morning.


What about testing and assessments?

We do not do formal testing. Instead, we do oral exams at the end of each term. These exams just walk each child through a few of the things we’ve learned throughout the term to gauge comprehension. I record the conversations and make detailed notes. And it helps me know what’s working and what’s not so I know how to move forward.

I will likely have the kids suffer through two or three standardized tests prior to HS graduation, just to familiarize themselves with the process, but we have not done it yet.

In the state of Ohio you can choose, instead of standardized testing, to submit an assessment of your year’s work. You just need a liscenced Ohio educator to assess the work–sometimes called a portfolio–and verify that your child has done “an adequate amount of work for their ability.” Every assessor is different, but we hire a woman who is a former homeschool mom. We create our portfolio of samples of the year’s work and she talks through it with us and asks a few questions and then signs off on it. She also offers any advice or suggestions we might need for the next year, if we want it. The school system itself will never even see your child’s actual work.

(We would usually submit this assessment to the Superintendent when we submit our official “Intent to Homeschool” paperwork to withdraw for the following year. But, for 2020, due to COVID, assessments are being waived.)

So how do we organize our days so we get everything done?

I’ll run through the basics of our day now and then my next post will have more info about the elements of our school day and what we study, specifically. (So if something doesn’t make sense yet or a concept is completely foreign, stay tuned.)

Click here to see a basic outline of our daily schedule.

Our days begin with rising and preparing for the day. After feeding the kids, I “excuse myself” from responsibilities for about 30-45 minutes so I can focus on what Charlotte Mason called Mother Culture. This is my time for feeding my own body, mind, and soul.

Our school time starts with a Morning Basket.

Then we move into Independent Work.

Then, there is hopefully a nice break before lunch for tidying/chores and resting or outdoor play.

After lunch, we do our Group Lessons, which we can all do together (and is best done when the 3 yr-old is sleeping).

Then we alternate days between Riches–which are often done during a shared tea time or outdoors–and Occupations, which the kids work on independently.

One day a week, we try to hike and do a nature study outdoors. (This is usually our co-op day.) To make this possible, we leave most Fridays pretty wide open but can adjust the day as necessary.

Also–we organize our school year in 3 12-week terms, roughly Labor Day until Memorial Day, with about two weeks’ wiggle room for holidays.

The Stories that Changed My Mind

Telling stories changes us.

Five years ago, I started taking occasional freelance journalism work with the local weekly Soapbox, a digital news publication with a heavy focus on community news. Up until then, I had subcontracted a few stories for journalist friends and was often copywriting for work, but I was mostly writing music and dabbling in blogging for myself.

The Soapbox gig was exciting for me because I’d spent the past ten years involved in community-based nonprofit work, first as an AmeriCorps member and then on staff with Keep Cincinnati Beautiful. I had met many amazing Cincinnati residents during that time and had partnered with people in nearly every city neighborhood, as well as regional communities.

I loved the people of Cincinnati and I was excited to help tell their stories.

Of all the stories I’ve written, my favorite by far are the “people stories.” For these stories, I’ve had the pleasure of sitting face to face with the subjects, sometimes sharing a cup of coffee or a glass of beer, around town or in their homes, hearing about not only the awesome work they’re engaged in today but where they’re from and what motivates and inspires them.

I have met some remarkable people and have heard both heartbreaking and encouraging stories. More than once, I’ve found myself choking back tears in our interviews. More than once, I’ve found myself laughing with them and sharing my own similar experience. Nearly every time, I’ve walked away wondering how I could possibly do justice to their experience.

Many of my stories have been focused on amazing people of color or the issues relevant to, specifically, black residents or neighborhoods in our city–including two separate three-month embedded journalism projects in the Walnut Hills neighborhood. From my brief experience with these people, I have learned how much we have in common and, just as often, how very different our lives have been.

I have learned how very much I still have to learn.

I count myself blessed to help tell their stories and twelve of my favorites are shared below.

Walnut Hills diversity and affordable housing issues with resident Kathryne Gardette and business owner Matt Cuff (2020).

– MORTAR co-founder and entrepreneur Derrick Braziel (2015)

– Avondale resident and community leader Fulton Jefferson (2015).

– Walnut Hills’ Frederick Douglass School’s resource coordinator Sheena Dunn and parent leader Jeanna Martin (2016).

Walnut Hills’ Frederick Douglass School with resident Sowonie Kollie (2020).

– Bush Recreation Center Director Vanessa Henderson and Grand Master Martess Miller of Miller’s Karate Studios (2016).

– Covington, Kentucky’s Lincoln Grant Scholar House and resident Teasa Johnson (2017).

– Ollie’s Trolley’s owner Martin Smith (2018).

– Cincinnati Health Department Commissioner Melba Moore (2019).

– Racial reconciliation group facilitator Lynn Watts (2019).

– Walnut Hills residents and urban professionals Allen and Kyla Woods (2020).

– And, my absolute favorite story to write was about three local centenarians, including Mattie Walker (2017). (One of these beautiful people has since passed.)

Enjoy!

Tongues of Fire and the City is Burning

I can hear the crackling outside my window.
Between the police sirens and helicopters’ beating and distant voices yelling, I hear it spreading through the cracks in the pavement.

Fire.

It’s the fire that grows from pain and frustration bubbling over into anger and chaos and it demands to be heard.

Well, I hear it.
And I understand where it comes from. I always have.

(I’m serious. Please believe me.)

The racism. The injustice.
Yes, I see it.

It’s one of the reasons I’m here.

I loved you and I wanted to do something to help.
I prayed to be a blessing.
I asked for the Spirit of God.

Maybe not enough.

For what it’s worth, you should know that I almost joined you yesterday, early, before the sun went down. Before things got crazy. Before the cops pulled out the body armor and shields.

But I was too tired. And too concerned with right and wrong and “the appropriate way to solve the problem.”

So I stayed home.

Now it’s 2am and there are sirens nearby.
I am not afraid because I am not the victim here.

But now I know that I am also no help.
And I have no answers.

Today is Pentecost.
We should be on Fire.
Instead, the city is burning.

 

How To Survive At Home With Your Kids During the Pandemic

Congratulations!

The COVID-19 virus has officially been declared a “pandemic” and that means you’re now officially a stay-at-home parent.

Welcome to the party.

Let’s be clear about something here at the start–
Being with your kids around the clock is hard. Super hard. So hard that the next few weeks will make you wonder, at times, why you ever decided to have kids at all. They will annoy you. You will annoy them. There may be screaming involved.

But your kids are actually pretty awesome. And you are going to do a great job. (God gave you these kids; you were made for this.)

And this won’t last forever. (Repeat that as many times as you need to so you can sleep at night.)

Now I understand that some of you are in really tricky situations at this point. Maybe you are unable to work from home–or to work well from home–or you will have to take unpaid leave to tend to your kids. Maybe you are a single parent with no childcare options.

I don’t want to make light of your situation but I also want you to understand that, once you find a solution that works, this disruption could be an immense blessing for both you and your kids .

I hope you find a way to be home together.
I believe that “home together” is a great place to be, even if it doesn’t last forever.

So, whether you’ll be rearranging work schedules so you can stay home with your kids or are already home but not used to having the kids around, let’s talk about how to make the most of the next few weeks.

First, you can use this time to establish healthy family rhythms that the busy-ness of your normal lives don’t allow.

You can begin your days together around the breakfast table and share dinner together without rush and hurry. You can spend more time sharing things you love–things like reading, praying, playing, or hiking. If you’d like, you can share poetry or fairy-tales over tea or hot cocoa in the afternoon like we do.

You can incorporate your children into the daily responsibilities of home life.

They can take on more chores and household projects during the day. They can help prepare meals. They can help care for siblings. They can help you care for neighbors in need. In so doing, they will develop a better understanding for all the work that happens “behind the scenes” while they are usually at school or at play or doing homework.

You can give your children space to explore interests that are usually only afforded a fraction of their time.

They can deep dive into subjects they’ve only skimmed the surface of at school or research something they’d love to know more about. They can spend three weeks learning about whatever makes them excited to learn, whether it’s WWII airplanes or the plumage of waterfowl. Or, if they need to, they can use the time to catch up on math skills or reading assignments they’ve fallen behind on in their regular classes. 

And you can let them play hard.

Without “school tomorrow” looming over their heads, your kids can immerse themselves in a favorite toy or game that usually takes too much time to play or set up (or take down). It might be playing a game of RISK, building a Lego city, writing a short story, or sewing a skirt. Maybe it’s writing a new song or organizing a game of Capture the Flag with neighbors. You child now has time to learn a new skill like embroidery or carpentry. They can read in a tree all morning; they can paint on the back porch all afternoon.

Basically, for those of you who are now on an extended Spring Break, this is your chance to experience the best parts of homeschooling without the actual “schooling.”

It sounds awesome, right? Enjoy it.

And for those whose kids have formal academic work to complete at home during this time–via digital lessons or take-home work–this is going to be a hard couple of weeks. I won’t lie. Homeschooling is hard. (Especially if you will be working at the same time, as well.)

But homeschooling is also awesome.

And with a family rhythm that works for you and your kids, a lot of patience with each other, and a little more intentional time management, you might find that it’s much easier than you feared and you’ll be surprised to see how each day affords plenty of time for both the work and the fun.

Heck, you might actually enjoy it a little bit.

 

 

 

 

 

If you are interested in some tangible resources that can help you order your day so it moves along without too much fruitless boredom or frustration, the internet is a wealth of resources. And there are as many homeschool family schedules as there are homeschool families because everyone’s needs are different.

I’d be happy to help you find what you’re looking for if you reach out to me. I’m certainly not an expert, but I’ve done enough research and have enough experience at this point to at least know where to find the real experts.