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Friday, January 24, 2014

Putting "Home" Back into Home Education

Many years ago we had only one car. Scott took the car to work, and I was left at home day after day with three little girls. Those were difficult days, and sometimes Scott would come home to find all four of us in tears. In looking back, however, I see that what I thought was a trial was in reality a gift from the Lord. It was the gift of time - time to read books, time to finger paint, time to make rainbows on the wall with a mirror and a pan of water in the sun.

More importantly, though, it was the gift of time to nurture relationships with one another and with the Lord without the distractions of the outside world. The girls are all teenagers today, and they are best friends. There are no rivalries among them. They don't fight over clothes or boys, nor do they fight with me. They are respectful, confident, talented, faithful. In every way they are a joy. They are exemplars of the "home" part of home education.

Home is where children learn the first principles of life. It is where they learn to fear God and to love one another. Children learn self-control, stewardship, sacrifice, loyalty, truthfulness, charity, and a host of other virtues through their day-to-day interactions with mom and dad. The "home" part of home education is the part for which there is no substitute. It is all about relationships and discipleship.

By the time our fourth child was born, we had another vehicle, and the kids had plenty of opportunities for social interaction and outside activities. We are not hermits, but the principle learned in those early years has remained with us. Our most rewarding and productive times are found at home. Home is where the kids' real education takes place. So we try not to overfill our schedule with outside activities that may be "good" but leave little time for those that are "better."

If I could share one thought with younger moms, it would be to redeem the time. I am thankful now for the days when I didn't have a car. I am thankful for the long days spent at home teaching little girls (and later a boy). Today, by God's grace, I am reaping the fruits of those labors, and someday you, too, will reap what you have sown. But you cannot reap a good harvest unless you spend time on the front end nurturing and watering your plants.

A friend sent me this appropriate quote by Charles Spurgeon:
We work and toil to serve our children by giving them knowledge, oftentimes at the expense of communion and relationship with them and Jesus.
I fear that too many homeschooling moms are trapped in an endless loop of activities: co-ops, dance classes, music lessons, sports, play dates, field trips, and on and on. There is nothing wrong with any of these activities, per se. The problem lies in the quantity. Too many outside activities mean too little time at home training our children. This lifestyle is not sustainable. Either mom will collapse from exhaustion and give up, or she will realize one day that her children have acquired a kind of knowledge that is not undergirded by Christian virtues. It is time, I think, to put the "home" back into home education.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

I See Nothing But Jesus

Bible distribution in Fiji
Until the late 18th century, the Fiji Islands were carefully avoided by sailors and explorers because the Fijian natives were known to be ferocious cannibals. One tribal chief was infamous for personally consuming over 800 people. After killing and cannibalizing missionary Thomas Baker in 1867, the natives boasted, "We ate everything but his boots."

Methodist John Hunt was the first missionary to take the Gospel to Fiji. He landed in 1838 and battled the spiritual darkness for a decade. He completed a translation of the New Testament from Greek into the Fijian language in 1847 and died the following year at the age of 33. As he lay dying, Hunt 
prayed in fervent ejaculations for the salvation of the Fiji islands. Suddenly he grew utterly calm. "You see a bright prospect before you," said someone.
"I see nothing but Jesus," exclaimed John.1
Within fifty years of Hunt's arrival in Fiji, not a single person on the islands openly professed the old heathen religion, and today, the Fijians refer to their cannibalistic past as  "na gauna ni tevoro" (time of the devil).2
Fiji's dark past makes its present circumstances all the more remarkable. Last November, at the invitation of the Fijian government, Baptist International Missions, Inc., began distributing Bibles to students in every school in Fiji. Over 200,000 young people received a copy of God's Word. 

Even more remarkable, however, is the fact that this nearly $500,000 project was underwritten by individuals and churches in the United States who have largely conceded their own nation's future to the devil. An attitude of hopelessness pervades the church in America as though the Light that penetrated the darkness of  "na gauna ni tevoro" cannot pierce the evils of this present age. O, we of little faith! If only we could see, not the wind and the waves, but the vision of John Hunt and exclaim with him, "I see nothing but Jesus!"

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Another E-Source

Heritage History's website is another source of free e-books. There is some overlap between this site and The Baldwin Project, but Heritage also has downloadable historical maps and images.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Sola Scriptura

The Reformation was a return to the authority of the Scriptures, and one of the battle cries of the Reformation was Sola Scriptura - the Scriptures alone. In the modern church, we give lip service to the idea of Sola Scriptura, but do the Scriptures really guide our daily lives? Jerry Johnson addresses the real guiding force in modern Christianity in this episode of Against the World:

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

"Holy Bible, Book Divine, Precious Treasure, Thou Art Mine"

"It was in every hand; men struggled to procure it, read it eagerly, and would even kiss it. The words it contained enlightened every heart." - J. H. Merle D'Aubigne on the effect of Erasmus' New Testament in England

I decided to count the Bibles in our house today. It wasn't easy because we have so many. Some of them are tucked away on bookshelves. At least one is in a box in the garage. I finally counted twenty complete Bibles: eighteen in English, one in Spanish, and one in German and English. I didn't even try to count the New Testaments. I still have the little red New Testament the Gideons gave me in the fifth grade. Some of the kids have keepsake New Testaments from the church. We also have the New Testament in Greek, but it's hard to say how many other copies are lying around in nightstand drawers or packed in boxes under beds. And these are just the physical copies of the Scriptures we have in our possession. I'm not counting electronic versions or those available via the internet.

In his history of the Reformation, J. H. Merle D'Aubigne writes of Englishmen struggling to obtain a copy of a New Testament that wasn't even written in English. It was a Latin and Greek polyglot translation. Yet even this was so precious that they read it eagerly and kissed it.

And today we keep old Bibles in the garage. Is the Bible less of a treasure than it was five hundred years ago, or have we grown so accustomed to owning the Scriptures that we no longer appreciate their worth? Do we put off reading the Scriptures today because we know that our Bibles will still be there tomorrow and the next day?

D'Aubigne says the words of the Bible "enlightened every heart." There's very little spiritual growth and enlightenment in the Church today. Have the Scriptures lost their power? Or is this just the telltale sign of neglected Bibles?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Natural and Unalienable Rights?

In my previous post, I mentioned The Young American, or, Book of Government and Law by Samuel Griswald Goodrich (1844). I'm still not finished with the book, but what I have read has kindled a few thoughts on "natural rights."

Goodrich, like Jefferson and Locke, believed in the law of nature, or the ability of man to derive moral values through  reason alone. Goodrich teaches that "savage" societies follow natural law. Natural rights descend from this natural law.

Romans 2:14-16 appears to support the idea of natural law:
For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. [ESV]
However,  I believe it would be a mistake to assume that men arrive at a "law written in their hearts" through nothing but human reason. Consider Romans 1:18-21, which say:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Clearly, verse 19 teaches that God has revealed something about Himself to every man. This revelation is not sufficient for salvation, but it is enough to make every man "without excuse" before God. This is the real law of nature - that God has revealed His divinity, power, and character to all societies, and they have suppressed this truth in unrighteousness.

Natural law gives rise to the concept of "natural rights." Jefferson called these "unalienable" rights in the Declaration of Independence. It is significant that the Bible doesn't speak in terms of "rights," i.e. that which is due to someone by just claim. (Some modern translations use the word "rights," but the underlying Hebrew or Greek words do not connote the meaning we presently ascribe to the word.) The Bible does speak of responsibility, duty, and accountability. So for example, while the Bible does protect life, it does not speak of the "right to life." Instead, it gives all men the responsibility to protect life - "Thou shalt not kill." The Bible does not speak of the right to own property, but it protects ownership by giving all men the responsibility to respect the property of others - "Thou shalt not steal."

The distinction between the "rights" of Enlightenment philosophy and the responsibilities of the Bible is critical. With the former, man is preeminent and God is all but absent. Essentially, the world owes me MY rights. With the latter, God is preeminent, and every man is accountable to God. I must protect the life of my neighbor and respect his property because God says so.

Although Jefferson gives a nod to God as the Creator, the Declaration of Independence does not acknowledge any responsibility or accountability to God. It merely speaks of "unalienable rights," putting man and his happiness at the center of all things. We should not be surprised then that there has been a proliferation of rights. Every special interest group now demands its "rights," and often these so-called rights are in direct conflict with God's Word.

The point of this post is that even when we use "Christian" books for homeschooling, we should read them through the lens of the Scriptures.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Homeschooling with Free E-Books

It would be difficult to overstate the impact of the moveable-type press on the Medieval world, and I think the same can be said of the internet and digital media in our day. Billions of pages of information can be accessed in mere seconds. It is truly amazing!

Electronic books are just a small part of the digital world, but their potential influence exceeds that of any social media outlet. Books contain ideas, and ideas change cultures.

I have only recently begun to see the homeschooling benefits of free electronic books. The copyright on a book expires after 75 years. Then that book becomes part of the public domain, and it may be digitized and made available to everyone for free. This means that old textbooks, written during an era when Christianity was the prevailing worldview in the West, are in the public domain. I already knew this, of course, as we have used reprints like Charles Coffin's The Story of Liberty (1875) in our homeschool. The advantage of digitized books, however, is that they are FREE!

As I have been putting together curriculum for next year, I have found some great old textbooks online. I access them on my Nexus 7 tablet through Google Play, but they are also available at Google Books. Some books are also available at The Gutenberg Project, The Baldwin Project, and Internet Archive.

So what have I found? For my soon-to-be-first-grader, A First Book in American History by Edward Eggleston. Eggleston helpfully includes both vocabulary and narration exercises at the end of each chapter. Because the book was last updated in 1917, I'll have to fill in the more recent events. We also plan to use New Language Exercises for Primary Schools by C. C. Long (1889). This delightful introductory grammar book is based on the premise that "the child learns by example and practice: not by rules or theory." It is divided into first grade and second grade sections. Home Geography for the Primary Grades, also by C. C. Long, introduces young students to the rudiments of geography (and science). The lessons are written in a conversational tone and include many questions for the student to answer. Poems That Every Child Should Know by Mary Elizabeth Burt (1904) is a multi-level book that begins with simple nursery rhymes and progressively becomes more difficult, ending with poems by Shakespeare, Keats, and Whitman.

The older kids will be using A Practical and Critical Grammar of the English Language by Noble Butler (1874). One of the things I love about these older textbooks is that they begin by introducing students to the first principles and vocabulary of the subject. Examples are taken from the Bible and other classical works of literature. We will also be using Composition-Rhetoric by Stratton Duluth Brooks and Marietta Hubbard (1905). My favorite textbook find thus far has been The Young American, or, Book of Government and Law by Samuel Griswald Goodrich (1844). I haven't finished reading it yet, but I can already see that Goodrich teaches the biblical principles of government as I have learned them from the Foundation for American Christian Education. I am also looking at a couple of geography texts by Matthew Fontaine Maury.

I won't attempt to cover literature in this post as the number of novels, historical fictions, and biographies available digitally is overwhelming.

I do want to offer a word of caution for anyone considering using old textbooks. Though these books generally present a Christian worldview (and often do it better than texts from modern-day "Christian" publishers), you may encounter some out-dated ideas concerning "races." I put that word in quotes, because there is really only one race - the human race. You should just be aware that writers of the past were products of their culture, and they were less enlightened on this subject than we are today.

Finally, you don't need an expensive tablet to use digitized books. I am looking for a couple of used Nook Simple Touch e-readers so that we will have enough reading devices for school. You can also download Calibre or another similar e-reading software (free, of course!) to use your laptop or computer as an e-reader. (Note: Kindles use a proprietary operating system that does not read some file formats. I think there is a work around, but I wouldn't recommend buying a Kindle if you plan on using a lot of old books.)