The Persevering Storyteller: An Adventure with Green Eggs and HamSeptember 29, 2017When Parris W. and his eleventh-grade classmates first heard that they would be memorizing entire books, they panicked. Although many of the ...
When Parris W. and his eleventh-grade classmates first heard that they would be memorizing entire books, they panicked. Although many of them had memorized speeches, dramatic extracts, poems, and sections of famous sermons since their first years at Cornerstone, the prospect of memorizing an entire book—even a children’s book—seemed daunting.
“[Miss LaPlue] wants us to memorize a thousand words!” one student exclaimed, in hyperbolic terror.
After a few weeks of reading children’s books with me in eleventh grade literature, the students began to study them in their Rhetoric I class as well, where Miss LaPlue asked them to focus on the performative aspect of children’s literature. Most children’s books are written with the idea that they can (and will) be read aloud, so Miss LaPlue asked her class to go a step further: they were to memorize adapted versions of their chosen stories, add dramatic gestures and expressions, and then perform the final products for the Kindergarten and Pre-Kindergarten classes.
Of course, they did splendidly. There were giggles as the Pre-K students heard one student’s train noises in a retelling of The Little Engine that Could and as they heard another student pretend to be a partridge in Blueberries for Sal. Some even guffawed as another student snorted his way through The Three Little Pigs.
In the illustration that accompanies this article, Parris W. is dramatically presenting the dreaded plate of Green Eggs and Ham from the classic Dr. Seuss book of that title, while the Pre-K classes sit, enchanted.
Two important lessons stand out to me from this performance. The first is the glorious triumph of these students who, in ninth grade, bewailed the agony of having to learn twenty lines of Julius Caesar and who were, even this year, convinced that memorizing and performing adapted children’s stories was impossible. Through skeptical perseverance, they nevertheless performed eloquently and elegantly in front of large crowds of little people. Even more important, however, are the gifts they gave to the students who will someday be in their shoes.
All of these eleventh-graders paused, on a rigorous school week in which their schedules were dominated by sports games, English papers, and pre-Calculus tests, and gave the twin gifts of time and story—two of the richest evangelical tools that they could ever take out into the world—to the littlest students in our Cornerstone family. I hope so much that these Pre-K students remember the delight of these stories—and their day with the “big kids”—when they themselves are telling stories to the tiny Pre-K students of Cornerstone in or around the year 2029.
Junior KindergartenApril 18, 2017My son has progressed tremendously this year thanks to the junior kindergarten program and Mrs. Key. Thank you all for your hard work and d ...My son has progressed tremendously this year thanks to the junior kindergarten program and Mrs. Key. Thank you all for your hard work and dedication to these kids.
Teaching Preschoolers God's CharacterFebruary 15, 2017One of my favorite things about teaching preschoolers is their love for every celebration. It doesn’t matter how small or large th ...
One of my favorite things about teaching preschoolers is their love for every celebration. It doesn’t matter how small or large the event their excitement is contagious. One of our favorite monthly traditions in Pre-Kindergarten is to celebrate a specific color.
“We celebrate all the colors of the rainbow. We celebrate the orange. We celebrate the red. We celebrate the blue because they are all so beautiful.”
-Harper, age 4
Why Celebrate Color?
Color parades God’s character. God considers color significant. He made it on the very first day of Creation. When God said, “Let there be light.” He created the light spectrum (Genesis 1:3). We call light, when refracted, a rainbow. It was designed with seven distinct colors and thousands of different shades and hues. The rainbow is a perfect illustration of God’s character. It allows us to see how orderly and creative He is.
Why do we celebrate color with our young students? Wendy, a student, simply said, “Because God made colors.” We celebrate colors to bring Him glory. What an amazing God to bring such beautiful color into a dark world!
How We Celebrate Color:
We admire Christ using color in different ways...
1.) We choose one color to focus on each month, and it usually connects to a holiday. For example, the color orange is celebrated the entire month of October. Thanksgiving is always surrounded by hues of brown. Pink is a fun pigment in February.
2.) We look at God’s creation to find our featured monthly color. We look through books, magazines, and pictures to find items that God designed to be that specific color. Students are amazed by God’s creativity when shown creatures made of different hues. Did you know there was a blue tarantula?
3.) Influenced by the classical approach, we sing songs about the featured color.
4.) We do crafts, go on scavenger hunts, and make collages.
5.) We party. We start our parties with a color themed snack. Harper, a preschool student says, “[I like] having blue berries; having muffins; having grapes. I love eating my favorite colors.” We ate blueberries, blue jello, and blue tortilla chips for Blue Day. Orange Day was really fun with oranges, candy pumpkins, and carrots.
May our students always see God’s glory even in the simple colors of the rainbow.
Why Choose Pre-K at CA?July 13, 2016Why Choose Pre-Kindergarten at Cornerstone Academy? “We wanted a place that would encourage loving the Lord, manners, hard wo ...
Why Choose Pre-Kindergarten at Cornerstone Academy?
“We wanted a place that would encourage loving the Lord, manners, hard work, respectfulness, a family centered dynamic, and strong academics.”
– Ashley Williams (Pre-K Parent)
- Biblical Instruction: Our students are taught Bible daily; however Christ and His teachings are implemented in our instruction in every subject. For example, when learning about triangles, our class might also learn about The Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). We learned about the twelve disciples during our Community Helpers week. It was a great connection for our young minds to realize that Jesus had helpers, just like we have people in our community to help us.
- Power of Play: Preschoolers love to play. It’s an important part of their development and how they learn. We use toys in our teaching instruction to help increase vocabulary and inspire learning. For example, during our Zoo Unit we built zoos with building blocks and Legos. They were given animals to put in their exhibits. Without realizing it, students started using math skills as they asked questions like: “Which zoo is longest? shortest? tallest?" They also found themselves building vocabulary and practicing fine-motor skills. This is a valuable learning opportunity that our young learners love.
- Phonics Based: We learn one letter a week based around a specific theme: H is for harvest, I for insect, T for transportation, etc. This strategy allows us to focus on the letter and really emphasize what each letter looks like, how it is pronounced, and what sound it makes. We also learn how to write and sign the letter with our hands. Learning one letter a week is a slow process; however it lays a beautiful foundation for learning to read.
- Qualified Teaching Staff: The Lord has really blessed us with an incredible teaching staff. All teachers have a teaching license and/or degree. Many of our teachers have different strengths and backgrounds. Mrs. Shannon Key taught for 8 years as a Special Ed. Teacher and has a strong teaching emphasis in Phonics. Mrs. Lynette Fowler, Director and Teacher, has a strong math and science background and brings that skill set into our classrooms.
"We chose CA because we were looking for a school that would reinforce values that we teach at home. We are very intentional about the people we place in the lives of our children when they are young. We know that the teachers at CA are people who will not only educate them to the highest standard but will also work alongside us as parents to shape and mold our children’s character."
- Caroline Kelly (Pre-K Parent)
- Sign Language: We love teaching our little learners sign language. Sign Language helps develop fine motor skills. By moving their hands in different ways, they are developing muscles that will help them hold pencils later on in their educational career.
- Music Instruction: I cannot sing the praises and benefits of music enough in a classroom. Most of our content and classroom procedures are learned through songs. In Math, we use songs to learn the formation of numbers, and in Science, types of dinosaurs. Phonics, letters and sounds are taught through music. Students are learning enormous amounts of information without the restrictions of deskwork. We have very cheerful classrooms full of music and movement.
"Jordyn loved the songs, bible verses and all the activities"
- Tonya Richards (Pre-K Parent)
- Extra-Curricular Activities: Part of our daily schedule is Physical Education or Music taught by a trained teacher. Physical Education is a wonderful addition to our program that develops gross-motor skills (balance and core strength). Another part of our program is class with our music teacher. She focuses on the basics and foundations of music, such as rhythm and beat. Our school also offers violin lessons.
- Community: The environment that God orchestrates in our building is my favorite part of our program. Every administrator, teacher, aide, parent volunteer, and office staff member has been placed here by God to interact with our students in such a way that points them to Christ. Another benefit of being a part of a larger school (CA is Pre-K through 12th grade) is that we have older students who love our youngest school members. Middle school students come into our classroom to read books and play puzzles, while high school students may come to model prayer. Our younger learners love when older students interact with them. It’s exciting to learn from other kids!
"We also loved that with this school EVERYONE is involved with our child's future."
- Tonya Richards (Pre-K Parent)
- Affordable and Available- Our four-year-old class is less expensive than most daycares in the area - and with the same flexible hours. Our doors open at 7:30 am for parents that need to attend work; however, school starts at 8:00 am. We have flexible hours with pick-up times at noon or 3:00 pm. We also offer AfterCare until 5:30 pm. For more information on our schedules and pricing, please check out our website.
These are only a few reasons to love our school, and it doesn’t give God the recognition He so rightly deserves for inspiring and creating an atmosphere of the working body of Christ. If you want a school that loves children, loves teaching, and continually points their students to Christ, consider Cornerstone Academy.
(This article was not only written by a Pre-K Director and Teacher, but also a mother of a Pre-K student.)
I Love Reading ShakespeareJune 24, 20165 Reasons I Love Reading Shakespeare with Middle School Students Chelsea L. Carrier When my 7th and 8th grade students first ...
5 Reasons I Love Reading Shakespeare with Middle School Students
Chelsea L. Carrier
When my 7th and 8th grade students first hear that we’re going to read Shakespeare, many slouch in their chairs, groan, gag, and roll their eyes. But each time we open A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet, they find out how accessible and enjoyable the Bard can be, and I’m reminded of five reasons I love reading Shakespeare with my middle school students.
1. It’s accessible.
In honor of the Bard’s death on April 23rd, my students and I drank tea, ate donuts, and read a few sonnets. Then they had a challenge: write a sonnet in 10-15 minutes. The form might not have been as precise as the bard’s, but hopefully the resulting verses dedicated to potatoes and sushi not only helped them remember the rhyme scheme and standard lengths of a Shakespearean sonnet, but enabled them to recognize Shakespeare as something they could regard with a bit more familiarity than fear.
2. It’s challenging.
Language has changed dramatically over the past four-hundred years. Not only does Shakespeare's language include archaic words, but poetic devices. Add that to the fact that we are reading aloud, something not everyone enjoys. Both drama and Shakespeare require a level of vulnerability - everyone feels awkward and self-conscious, and sharing that draws us closer together. In fact, I probably hear more encouraging remarks among the students to each other during this time because for once, all of them are intimidated by the reading, and it brings them together.
3. It’s relational.
Since my students are encountering Shakespeare for the first time, we read the plays together in class. They love this, if for no other reason than they don’t have homework. As we read, I often stop them so we can discuss, and while many times the pauses enable us to clarify the basic plot or highlight a witty comment, we are also able to reflect and sympathize with the characters’ experiences, both tragic and comedic.
4. It's physical.
Drama is the marriage of the abstract and the concrete, the literary example of the Word becoming flesh. Plays are meant to be performed, so when we read, we don’t simply sit around the room and read parts. We move the tables and chairs aside, do a few drama warm-ups (voice exercises, tongue twisters, and concentration games) and then we perform an informal dramatic reading. Sometimes I’ll stop the students in the middle of their reading, and we’ll discuss what the character would be doing in that moment, and then we back up and actually do it.
5. It’s enjoyable.
What? Yes, actually, during these weeks multiple students come in and ask, with anticipation in their voices, “Are we going to read Shakespeare today?”
Ten Mile Markers Along the Road to CollegeFebruary 5, 2016Ten Mile Markers Along the Road to College by Lynn S. Hicks, College and Career Counselor I can remember feeling fear, trepi ...
Ten Mile Markers Along the Road to College
by Lynn S. Hicks, College and Career Counselor
I can remember feeling fear, trepidation and excitement all knotted together in my stomach as my mother and I set out across the southeast to visit more than ten colleges during the fall of my junior year in high school. Some schools were higher on the list of priorities, so we scheduled formal tours and admissions office interviews. Some schools held intrigue and mystery which necessitated a drive through campus just to experience the ambiance of a large state school or the wonder of an ivy league university. At that point, I’m not sure which made a bigger impression -- the schools we visited or the delicious food we savored along the way! I can vividly remember standing on the campus of Furman University in front of the front gate fountain and thinking with extreme clarity the following words from scripture, “This is the way, walk ye in it” (Isaiah 30:21). Was it the beauty of the campus, the small sense of community, or the emphasis on academic excellence? All of those factors were true but I just knew it was the “right fit” for the next four years of my academic career. For my mother, I seriously think it was the huge iron gate surrounding the entire campus including a guard gate station monitoring everyone entering and leaving! I had a peace and assurance in my heart: Furman was my next home.
At Cornerstone Academy, we equip our high school students with the tools necessary in order to choose the best college for their individual needs. Colleges are becoming increasingly more competitive and more expensive. Therefore, it is important for each student to find the “best fit” in order to maximize their funds and minimize time enrolled. Cornerstone has implemented a program called College and Career Pathways to assist students on this journey. This program guides and prepares our students through the decision-making and college acceptance process.
- In August, juniors, seniors, and their parents attend an informational college and career meeting. Students receive timelines stating specific tasks to be accomplished in each month.
- In the fall, juniors and seniors attend the college fair hosted by Carson Newman in order to speak with admissions representatives from over seventy colleges and universities. The students evaluate these schools on factors including size, geographic location, cost, private/public, Christian values, sports, majors offered etc.
- We encourage students to attend preview days hosted by their top three to five college choices beginning the fall semester of their junior year. This gives the student a personal representation of what it would be like to be a student on that campus.
- The guidance office provides ongoing one-on-one counsel and assistance as students apply to colleges of their choice and pursue various scholarships. Students identify their academic strengths and weaknesses. They also explore their own career interests (as reported on the ACT interest inventory) as they compare to other professionals in various career fields.
- Juniors complete an autobiographical sketch in order to begin organizing their extracurricular activities, clubs, honors/awards, leadership and service activities. This form assists the student in completing college applications and also to assist teachers and staff in writing letters of recommendation.
- In order to assess academic strengths and weaknesses, students complete a battery of standardized tests.
High school testing sequence:
In the spring, sophomores take the ACT Plan to prepare for the ACT.
In October, juniors take the PSAT to prepare for the SAT as well as to determine eligibility for the National Merit Scholarship.
Juniors and seniors are instructed to register for multiple ACT dates in order to achieve the highest score possible.
- Cornerstone offers dual enrollment courses through Bryan college for college credit. The Dual Enrollment Grant funds these classes with certain limits and criteria. Cornerstone Academy faculty teach these classes on our campus. Students may also enroll in dual enrollment courses after school hours at WSCC. These opportunities allow the student to accrue college credits with minimal financial commitment and to enter college with a jump start on college hours.
- The guidance office sends transcripts and letters of recommendation on behalf of the student.
- Students must complete fifteen hours of community service per high school year which comprise a blend of school, community, and church based service.
- We encourage students to meet TN Promise deadlines for applications, meetings, FAFSA, and service hours. This government scholarship will pay for any student enrolled in an AA program for two years at a participating community college or four year university up to $4,000 last dollar (after all other scholarships have been applied).
Now, as the mother of a senior, I have a whole new perspective on this road trip to college. No longer am I the senior making the “best fit” college choice, but instead I hold the role of a praying parent for my daughter to capture God’s vision for the next season of her life. It is our mission at Cornerstone Academy to prepare our students for the future by providing them with a Christ-centered, classical education that equips them to achieve academic excellence and spiritual maturity.
Teaching Preschoolers God’s CharacterNovember 20, 2015Teaching Preschoolers God’s Character Part One: Color Written by Lynette Fowler, Pre-Kindergarten Director One of my fa ...
Teaching Preschoolers God’s Character
Part One: Color
Written by Lynette Fowler, Pre-Kindergarten Director
One of my favorite things about teaching preschoolers is their love for every celebration. It doesn’t matter how small or large the event their excitement is contagious. One of our favorite monthly traditions in Pre-Kindergarten is to celebrate color.
“We celebrate all the colors of the rainbow. We celebrate the orange. We celebrate the red. We celebrate the blue because they are all so beautiful”.
-Harper, age 4
Why Celebrate Color?
Color parades God’s character. God considers color significant. He made it on the very first day of Creation. When God said, “Let there be light.” he created both the visible and invisible spectrum (Genesis 1:3). We call light when refracted, a rainbow. It was designed with seven distinct colors and thousands of different shades and hues. The rainbow is a perfect illustration of God’s character. It allows us to see how orderly and creative He is.
Why do we celebrate color with our young students? Wendy, a student, simply said, “Because God made colors.” We celebrate colors to bring Him glory. What an amazing God to bring such beautiful color into a dark world!
How We Celebrate Color:
We admire Christ using color in different ways.
- We choose one color to focus on a month and it usually connects to some holiday. For example, the color orange is celebrated the whole month of October. Thanksgiving is always surrounded by hues of brown. Pink is a fun pigment in February.
- We look at God’s creation to find our featured monthly color. We look through books, magazines, and pictures to find items that God designed to be that specific color. Students are amazed by God’s creativity when shown creatures made of different hues. Did you know there was a blue tarantula?
- Influenced by the classical approach, we sing songs about the featured color.
- We do crafts, go on scavenger hunts, and make collages.
- We party. We start our parties with a color themed snack. Harper, a preschool student says, “[I like] having blue berries. Having muffins. Having grapes. I love eating my favorite colors.” We ate blueberries, blue jello, and blue tortilla chips for Blue Day. Orange Day was really fun with oranges, candy pumpkins, and carrots.
May our students always see God’s glory even in the simple colors of the rainbow.
Glorifying Christ Through Stage and StoryNovember 11, 2015Cornerstone Theatre Arts Presents Beautiful Adoption Story from Classic Literature Morristown, TN-- Cornerstone Theatre ...
Cornerstone Theatre Arts Presents
Beautiful Adoption Story from Classic Literature
Morristown, TN-- Cornerstone Theatre Arts proudly presents Anne of Green Gables, adapted by Megan and Dane Bundy. The performance is directed by Dane Bundy with Haleigh Raye Winstead playing the part of Anne Shirley, Alaina Dubravetz as Marilla Cuthbert, Alex Bermuda as Matthew Cuthbert, Jessica Borchert as Diana Barry, and Marissa Breeden as Rachel Lynde. Performance dates are November 13th at 7 p.m. and November 14th 12 p.m. and 7 p.m. at Lakeway Community Church. For more information call (423) 307-1189.
You may already know or love the story of Anne of Green Gables. Lucy Maud Montgomery’s classic is, in the words of tenth grader, Jessica Borchert (Diana Barry), “a powerful story about adoption, love, and friendship.” When the shy, old bachelor, Matthew Cuthbert arrives at the Avonlea train station, he expects an orphan boy to help with the farm, but instead he finds Anne Shirley, a vivacious eleven-year-old girl with red hair and freckles. Charmed by her imagination and constant chatter and touched by her unashamed longing to be wanted, Matthew takes her home to his sister, Marilla, who is determined to send Anne back in exchange for the needed and asked for boy. However, the sensible spinster is soon persuaded to keep Anne, and learns not only what it means to raise a child, but to love one.
Since its founding in 2012, Cornerstone Theatre Arts (CTA) has strived to produce theatre that is student-led, parent-supported, and faculty-guided with the goal of magnifying Christ. Through productions such as Peter Pan, Little Women, Alice in Wonderland, and now Anne of Green Gables, student actors and crew have had the opportunity to develop their character and leadership skills by participating in the arts. Besides acting in the productions, students assume key support roles such as stage manager, crew manager, and house manager, and work alongside parents and faculty on costumes, makeup, set, sound, and lighting. CTA invites children from 4th to 12th grade to audition for their productions and continually seeks to train future performers and leaders for service in the community. Senior Marissa Breeden (Rachel Lynde) comments that “Kids from 4th grade to 12th grade come together for the same purpose of using their gifts to bring glory to God through theatre.” This leads to a natural opportunity for mentorship.
“For us,” writes Dane Bundy, director of CTA, “theatre is so much more than entertainment; it is a playground and training ground for the imagination; a place to study and live timeless characters and themes.”
Make sure to join us for a weekend of joy, laughter, and hope!
A Call to More PlayOctober 30, 2015A Call to More Play Chelsea Carrier For me, childhood outdoor memories include climbing a dogwood tree and flinching when I ...
A Call to More Play
For me, childhood outdoor memories include climbing a dogwood tree and flinching when I felt a caterpillar crawl across my hand, running barefoot through the hayfield that was still wet and warm with dew and humidity, and picking and eating June apples with a little red headed girl from across the street. Most summer and autumn days we pretended we were characters from whatever book we were reading, spinning stories as we explored our backyards. We weren’t rushed, and we were free to explore and create out of enjoyment.
I’m sure many parents and teachers would agree that children of all ages need to experience those moments of meaningful play. Thankfully, at Cornerstone, we as teachers are encouraged to create opportunities for kids to play, or engage in mindful (not mindless) enjoyment in what God has created and humans have experienced and expressed in literature, art, drama, history, and science.
Teachers of various subjects have also found multiple creative ways to engage their students’ imaginations, and as a middle school literature teacher, I find myself creating opportunity to play mostly through creative writing and drama. Below is a description of some of my favorites.
When we read A Christmas Carol in seventh grade, my students write imaginary letters from Ebenezer Scrooge to a London Newspaper demanding the Humbug Award. Summer reading projects have included creating their own universe and story (for The Silmarillion), writing their own Screwtape letter, and writing a short story sequel to Huckleberry Finn. Readers of Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream write letters from one character to another.
One year, I allowed my sixth graders to choose between The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Little Women. Students then worked in groups to create a scene between characters from both books. (What would happen if Tom Sawyer ever met Jo March?) In previous years, students have created their own skits from books like A Christmas Carol and The Swiss Family Robinson. Last year my students asked if they could dramatize a poem they were reciting called “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” and I let them. We assigned roles both onstage and backstage, and they experienced first hand (and leisurely) what it was like to plan, direct, perform, and prepare set, costumes, and make-up for a mini-play.
Finally, since learning doesn’t just happen in the classroom, I wanted to leave you as parents a few ideas for engaging your child’s imagination:
- Tell stories. Growing up, my grandma was always telling me stories about when she was a little girl. Take an evening, sit outside or somewhere comfortable in the house, and share some of your favorite memories.
- Listen to audio books and radio theatre. Both of these provide another way for families to use their imaginations together whether in the car, or at home while smaller children draw, build with Legos, play with play-dough, or while the entire family plays cards or a board game. Some of my family’s favorites from Focus on the Family include: The Chronicles of Narnia, The Truth Chronicles, Anne of Green Gables, The Hiding Place, and C.S. Lewis at War.
- Act it out. This could take the form of charades or dressing up as a character for dinner. My family enjoys dressing up as dwarves and hobbits every September 22nd to reenact the first part of The Hobbit in which the dwarves show up unexpectedly at Bilbo’s for dinner. If you’re feeling extra ambitious, you might just create your own play, but I’ll let seventh grader Megan Miles tell you about that.
How to Write a Play
Megan Miles, 7th grade
Would you like to write a play? Here are some steps to making your play a success!
The materials that are needed in a play are actors (or puppets, depending on if you are doing a puppet show), props, and costumes. If you wish to have a big set, you will need big pieces of cardboard to draw on for the background. Also, you will need pencil and paper, or a computer, if you would rather type than write your script. Now, on to play writing!
First, you need to choose a theme. If would be wise to choose something that you know about, instead of doing something that would happen on the other side of the world. Also, unless you have play experience or very high ambition, do not choose something difficult to perform on your first play. It might be fun to make the play about the meaning of a holiday or a moral you think everyone should learn. Choose names of characters and write or type a rough draft of your plot. Be sure to include some jokes to make your audience laugh!
- Then, ask siblings, friends, and relatives if they want to be in your play. Figure out a place where you can perform. Make sure the room is big enough for your set and that there is enough room for your audience. Remember that if there are any messy scenes that involve water or anything else hard to clean up, the floor of the stage should not be carpet. A wood stage would be ideal. Find a time when all the actors can come to practice and set a date for the performance. You do not want your actors missing on the day of the play.
Next, look around your house for things you can use as props. If you cannot find something you need, try making a craft that will work instead. You can go to a store and purchase materials if you need. Before you panic over what you are going to wear, check out your closet. Blankets will work for capes and robes.
Finally, practice, practice, practice. It will seem long and tiresome, but it is worth it! You will need to practice until everyone knows their lines and what they are supposed to do.
Play-making is fun, but performing is even better! Invite friends and family to see the show. After all, your show is going to be a success!
Showing the Gospel to Our ChildrenOctober 9, 2015One Way to Show the Gospel to Our Children Chelsea L. Carrier Recently I went on the annual high school trip to Doe River Go ...
One Way to Show the Gospel to Our Children
Chelsea L. Carrier
Recently I went on the annual high school trip to Doe River Gorge. On the first night we had a bonfire on the railroad tracks, and the headmaster led a hike above the gorge. No flashlights were allowed. We were to stay between the tracks and follow the headmaster’s voice and the person directly in front of us to avoid falling over the edge of the cliff. Most kept saying they couldn’t see their hand in front of their face, and I had to agree. The only thing I could see was the phosphorescent mineral on the tracks, an occasional glow worm, and the stars. Fortunately, I was right behind a young man who, despite his quiet demeanor, had the thoughtfulness to communicate each step.
“Watch your step here, Miss Carrier. Go a little to your right. Now back to the left. Watch the rails.”
He was only a few steps in front of me, but when walking in pitch darkness, the next step is all that really matters.
On our journey through life, hopefully with Christ, we may feel at times as though we are only one step in front of those following us. We may not really know our own next step. We are in just as much confusion as they.
As a young teacher who is still single and has no children, I often wonder what wisdom I could even offer my students. I’m still a student myself in so many ways, constantly having to seek counsel. But what I find from my colleagues and mentors is that we are all learning. Sometimes we are walking behind someone, sometimes beside, and sometimes just one step in front. But God uses all three. As I continue to learn through my own imperfections and contemplate the incarnation highlighted in our theme verse for the year, John 1: 14, I’ve determined that one of the best ways to exemplify the gospel is through my own brokenness.
Many situations and ideas come to mind with a word as broad as brokenness, and I’ve been contemplating this term for well-over a month now. After brainstorming on my own and discussing this word with a friend and colleague, I’d like to share the following three aspects of brokenness:
- human limitation
- consequences of a fallen world
- consequences of sin
In other words: being human. With the exception of Christ, who was fully human and yet never sinned, part of the human condition is experiencing all three forms of brokenness. In this post, I’ll only focus on the first one.
As I’ve developed relationships with students over the past four years, I’ve learned a few ways to “come alongside” students as we struggle with human limitation.
- Sharing with them that I’m not a math person, that I had a meltdown while taking the ACT for the first time, that I was the kid in college who always had her hand up, not because she knew the answer, but because she had a question, that I got mad at my mom for making me rewrite a paper in high school, that I’m just plain tired this week--those are the things I have to weave in my conversations with them.
- Asking for help passing out papers, opening a door, or cleaning the classroom--those the small ways to show them I am not above receiving help.
- Allowing them to pray for me on a bad day when I can no longer hide it--those are the moments when they realize that I am human.
I don’t have to share every detail, and I’m not advocating the glorification of past struggles or complaining as a perpetual victim or martyr. That’s not truly sharing brokenness. But even scripture is filled with examples of godly people honestly sharing their brokenness with others for the encouragement of others and glory of God. This is the story of the gospel: the God of the universe so loved the world that He accepted the vulnerability of becoming a man, and while He never sinned, He suffered as one who had.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 4:5-8)
The ESV Study Bible. Ed. Lane T. Dennis. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008. Print.
Summer SmartsJune 18, 2015Summer Smarts: Seven Ways to Make Summer Less Boring and More Meaningful for Our Kids Twelve weeks. Twelve we ...
Seven Ways to Make Summer Less Boring and More
Meaningful for Our Kids
Twelve weeks. Twelve weeks of glorious freedom! Twelve weeks of no school! Yippee!! Then it hits me. Twelve weeks. Twelve weeks of no structure. Twelve weeks of “What can I do?” and “I’m bored” and “Can I play my video games?” As a mom of three, I foresee trouble. The first few weeks of summer are delightful, but I know all too well that 12 weeks of 24-7 freedom is too much freedom. Here are my ideas to redirect my kids into a little learning during the summertime.
1. Make the Most of Travel Time
Time in the car is a perfect way to sneak in some education!
- Learning songs. (Here is a fun example: Ditty Bugs.)
- Audio books from your local library. (The list is endless – our local library has a wonderful selection.) You can also try an app-based approach and use Audible.com. My young kids loved Homer Price and Pippi Longstocking.
- An audio Bible. (The Jesus Storybook Bible, The Action Bible, or a full Bible recording.)
2. Family Reading Time
- Try a half-hour quiet-family-reading time daily (everyone with their own book). Kids read when their parents read. Good books for all reading levels can be found here.
- Read aloud to your kids! Did you know that children can understand books 2-4 years above their own reading level? Some of my all-time favorite read alouds: Mountain Born by Elizabeth Yates, Red Sails to Capri by Ann Weil, and PollyAnna by Eleanor H. Porter (and you simply must use a persnickety voice for Aunt Polly).
- Kids who read over the summer come back to school significantly ahead of their peers who do not (read this article).
3. Time with Tech
- Learning to type can be a great way for kids to use technology for fun learning. Our family has used these programs: Dancemat Typing, Mavis Beacon, and Typing Instructor for Kids. Don’t be discouraged if they are very slow at first. Their speed will eventually increase and they’ll benefit so much from learning while young.
- Learn with websites and apps. When it’s just too hot to be outside, and you want them to remember their times tables and Latin vocabulary, redeem the time with technology! Some that we like are: Quizlet, Stack the States, Stack the Countries, chess, and Tower Math.
4. Family Field Trips (Also known as family vacations!)
Traveling is a wonderful way to learn. Choose a historical site to visit while on vacation. Summer learning is not rocket science! (Or maybe it is; how about going to the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL? They have a special robot exhibit all summer.)
5. Hit “Restart” on Your Spiritual Life
- Start a new devotional book together, like Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing by Sally Lloyd-Jones.
- Use the more relaxed pace of summer to teach your kids to have individual time in God’s word.
- Memorize scripture together as a family. Nothing is more valuable and worthy of our time than hiding God’s word in our hearts! Gather up those good intentions and make them a reality.
6. Teach Your Kids to Cook
Cooking offers reading, measuring, reasoning, tasting, and togetherness. What more could you ask for? Pick out cookbooks together and go for it!
7. Old-Fashioned Play
Occasionally I will announce to my children a “No Screen Day” – no TV, no apps, no video games, no computer. It will seem like torture. You will hear moans and groans and protests. Hold firm. After the initial complain-fest, you will observe a most wonderful phenomenon. The children will find something to do! Magic.
The summer is a great time to learn with our kids! Having more time together is such a blessing, especially when it comes to spiritually nurturing our children. Let’s teach them God’s ways this summer as we ride in the car, walk on the beach, or hike through the mountains. After all, teaching is our calling as parents of these precious souls!
Deuteronomy 6:6-7, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” (ESV)
Why Broken Stories MatterMay 22, 2015Why Broken Stories Matter A few weeks ago, in rhetoric class, my students and I finished studying ...
Why Broken Stories Matter
A few weeks ago, in rhetoric class, my students and I finished studying a number of short stories to look at persuasion’s role in fiction. Among the stories, “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne evoked the most rewarding discussion (maybe the year’s best). At first it didn’t look like this would be the case. A number of students found the lead character wretched: a man who is obsessed with creating human perfection. His obsession ultimately produces a dark narrative that concludes with little redemption in sight. It is a broken story.
Daniel Taylor in his work, Tell me a Story, places stories into three helpful categories: whole, broken, and bent. He defines a broken story as one in which good is portrayed as good and evil as evil, however, in the end, good is not victorious, but evil is.
When I think of a broken story I first think of the book of Judges. At this period in biblical history, the Israelites have worked themselves into a downward spiral of rebellion. Though we see glimpses of redemption from time to time (Ruth comes to mind), the story of Judges ends with the haunting lines, "In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (21:25). Gulp.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve thought a lot about the purpose and value of broken stories. Shouldn’t Christians feed themselves on what Taylor calls whole stories? He defines whole stories as tales in which redemption takes place and good (not evil) is victorious. The Bible itself is a whole story. We may also include Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia.
At Cornerstone, we don’t limit ourselves to whole stories. Actually, we read plenty of broken tales, ranging from the Greek or Shakespearean tragedies to the dystopian novels of Fahrenheit 451 and 1984.
I admit, broken stories are dark and unnerving and difficult to navigate at times. Have you ever had a grand piano dropped on your chest? I have: the afternoon I finished 1984. I was hoping, and expecting, Orwell would use Winston to expose and topple Big Brother; instead our hero is consumed by it.
If you let them, broken stories will burden your soul.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve come to realize that broken stories may serve an important purpose: they affirm what it’s like to live in a fallen world. Often it is the righteous who suffer and the wicked who prosper, and some people never experience a happy ending.
However, broken stories may stir significant questions.
- Why did the villain win? What did the villain want? Is there hope the villain will ever find redemption?
Why is this character the villain?
- Why did the hero fail? What did the hero want? Is there hope the hero may conquer the villain?
Why is this character the hero?
A couple of these questions led our rhetoric class to consider man’s pursuit of perfection. However, the bell rang and the students left with no answers, just a handful of questions, terribly applicable to their own lives.
Why does man seek perfection? Will he ever attain perfection? Is anyone perfect?
Good literature asks questions like these, questions that apply to my students, but also you and me, and, for that matter, all who are human. Storytellers have a high calling: to tell the truth. They turn their backs on their craft when they sugar-coat or misrepresent what takes place in the world. The author of Judges, and the author of every book in the Bible, fulfills this high calling. Because of this, when we read Scripture, we read about murder, rape, depression, persecution, and betrayal.
The Bible does not sugar-coat, because God always tells the truth: our world is a broken one. If you are human, you are broken. If you are human, you will never attain perfection. Left alone, we will never muster a happy story. It’s true: evil will always win.
My students must hear this. I must hear this.
If I don’t listen, I will never understand what’s about to come next: God became man and carried our burden of brokenness. Indeed, it was so heavy, it broke the god-man in the most violent fashion. But, after three days, God delivered justice, destroying evil in blinding glory. God made it clear: the only way to wholeness is through the god-man. This is the good news.
The broken stories of human existence matter because they can lead us to the whole story of the Gospel, and as a teacher at Cornerstone, I am called to help my students understand the road from broken story to whole story. What a privilege it is.
Part II: Ten Things I Love About Mock TrialsMay 12, 2015Ten Things I Love about Mock Trials: Part II Faith Acker In my last post, I discussed five traditional benefits of mock tria ...
Ten Things I Love about Mock Trials: Part II
In my last post, I discussed five traditional benefits of mock trials. They are a wonderful pedagogical tool, provide great practice for real-world situations, and help students learn to think and to express themselves more clearly. These are all good academic defenses of mock trials, but the mock trial structure also has some less traditional benefits.
6. Objections! The trial process is filled with rules and structure, as well as opportunities to challenge others who do not follow this structure. Learning how to challenge or contradict other people respectfully is one of life’s most important lessons. If practiced in secondary school, it will help these students in college (especially if they enroll in secular colleges), their careers, and even their relationships. While I don’t advocate shouting “Objection!” at a classmate, employer, or spouse, I do encourage my students to raise questions—and talk through the answers—not only in the mock trial process, but in all our English classes.
7. Pathos reigns supreme. Trial arguments require not only logos (clear logic) and ethos (appeals to standards), but pathos. The most persuasive opening statement in the world still must survive the emotional appeal of a bereaved witness pleading for the other side. Trials, of necessity, include all forms of rhetorical appeal, students must learn to identify (and respond appropriately to) whatever rhetoric the world offers them.
8. We study opposing views. Learning to understand differing schools of thought is an important part of the classical education, and both mock trial and debate allow students to anticipate and analyze differing opinions. My ninth graders are currently working on a mock trial of Creon (from Antigone), and at least two of them are annoyed that I’ve put them on the “wrong” side. Defending both sides of a given position is at the heart of the classical (Socratic) methodology, and it will also help us—as Christians—practice respect and discernment.
9. Trial preparations are frustrating. Life is full of unexpected complications, such as the closing statement that mysteriously deletes itself the night before a trial, the witness who does not remember key details, or the irksome lawyer who makes repeated objections. Learning to deal with frustrations with grace is an important part of life; it is an especially crucial part of Christianity. We are called upon to live our faith not only in the blessed times, but also during the trials, and the annoyances and panics that plague long and complicated projects (such as mock trials) offer safe opportunities to practice appropriate responses.
10. Trial preparations enable grace. Life is full of unexpected complications, and these also allow others to show us grace. Many of my students are (like me) fiercely independent and self-motivated. As Christians, we are expected to live in community, and in addition to serving others, we also sometimes need to allow others to serve us. During our Lancelot trial, one of my most independent students (who has many great skills, but is not the most accomplished typist) was driven by necessity to ask for last-minute typing assistance from a classmate. For her (and for me), learning to accept help with grace and gratitude is an important spiritual lesson.
As a teacher, mock trials require extensive (and sometimes exhausting) preparations and planning, but their benefits are tremendous. They are challenging and exciting in the moment, and some of these benefits will (I pray!) last these students for decades.
Ten Things I Love about Mock Trials: Part IApril 30, 2015Ten Things I Love about Mock Trials: Part I Faith Acker Earlier this year, our tenth-grade students presented Cornerstone&rs ...
Ten Things I Love about Mock Trials: Part I
Earlier this year, our tenth-grade students presented Cornerstone’s second (ever!) mock trial, in which Sir Lancelot was accused of treason against England. The trial preparations were intense and exhausting—for me and also for my students—but the rewards were great.
Here are five (out of ten) reasons mock trials benefit our students:
1. Evidence is weighed carefully. In preparation for trials, students must both understand the facts of a story and draw inferences based upon those facts. For our trial of Lancelot, students had to know not only what the characters did, but what their motives might have been. This ability to read beneath the surface is beneficial not only in English class, but during these students’ future perusals of books, newspapers, and even blogs.
2. Students imitate—and maintain—characters. I make my students analyze characters at great length on paper, but having them imitate the characters about whom they have read (and answer difficult questions while in character) is more fun and also more challenging. One of the highlights of our Lancelot trial was the steadfast determination with which one of my students stuck persistently to his story in the face of a very forceful cross-examination. This will benefit him later! As Christians, we must be able to keep our stories straight even when we are questioned by skeptics and critics, and students who have had to defend their characters—and their teams’ claims—on paper are well equipped to do this.
3. My students share stories. Story is at the heart of literature, and at the heart of human nature. As humans, we love to share stories, and, in a mock trial, many stories are told and re-told from differing perspectives—and with differing inclusions and exclusions. Although Lancelot may not want to discuss (or even mention) the death of Sir Gawain’s brother, that moment in the story is at the heart of Sir Gawain’s entire testimony, showing the importance of priorities and of details in life and story.
4. Students practice teamwork. In the real world, working well with others is a common and essential skill. On more than one occasion, my lawyers (essentially team leaders) grew frustrated because their teammates were not staying focused. Sometimes the lawyers had to decide whether to do work another student had not done, or to let it slide even if the team suffered. This dilemma will be familiar to anyone who has participated in a group project for school or work, and I hope that this experience will inform the ways in which my students approach future groups and group projects.
5. Students practice leadership. A mock trial cannot be won by one student, nor can it be won without clear direction. My tenth grade class is filled with leaders, and I was pleased and proud to watch them in action in the weeks leading up to Lancelot’s trial. They drilled one another on their witness statements, they critiqued one another on presentation skills, and my four lawyers emphasized and explained (repeatedly) the crucial facts their teams would need in order to win the verdict.
Mock trials are not easy, but they are a wonderful pedagogical tool, and—much as they are sometimes exhausting and frustrating—they benefit students in ways that extend beyond the reach of some of our more traditional assignments. My next blog will look at five additional—and less traditional—benefits of mock trials.
The Word Became FleshApril 14, 2015The Word Became Flesh A few weeks ago during dismissal, I sat at my desk for a moment and watched my students leave. Usually I join t ...
The Word Became Flesh
A few weeks ago during dismissal, I sat at my desk for a moment and watched my students leave. Usually I join the students in putting up chairs and gathering my belongings before I grade papers, email parents, and discuss teaching strategies with colleagues. My eighth graders had started one of my favorite books, To Kill a Mockingbird, and already several of the kids had come to me saying how much they liked it and how far ahead they were. But something didn’t seem right, and as I watched my my students leave, I wondered, How many of them actually get it? I wasn’t so much concerned with whether they grasped who wrote what book or why a character made a certain decision or what a hyperbole is, but who Christ is, what the gospel is and means. After the last student shut the door, I couldn’t help crying, which (at least this time) turned to praying. I opened my copy of To Kill a Mockingbird and flipped through the chapters we were reading about Scout’s first day of school battles with the new teacher, Miss Caroline:
Atticus stood up and walked to the end of the porch. When he contemplated his examination of the wisteria vine he strolled back to me.
“First of all,” he said, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—”
“—until you climb in his skin and walk around in it.” (39)
Since my first time reading Mockingbird, I have appreciated Atticus’s simplicity and wisdom, but as I read these lines again, I realized I had a new opportunity to share the gospel with my students.
The next day, I had my students write journal entries (funny or personal—their choice) based on the following prompt:
I just wish (insert a person here) would understand…
When they finished, I told them we would be rewriting the entries from the other person’s point of view. Then I shared Atticus’s words with them, along with the following verses:
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)
I then asked them, “Who climbed in our skin and walked around in it?”
We talked for a few minutes about how the God of the universe, who wasn’t under obligation to create us, much less understand us, came down and climbed into our skin, walked around in it, and then died for each person in the room. With that grace and knowledge, we ought to walk around in other people’s skin because Christ chose to do the same for us. Climbing in someone’s skin can be:
- as simple as imagining you are the person and reflecting on the situation,
- as convicting and compassionate as prayer,
- or as practical as physically doing whatever it is the person does--whether it be washing the dishes, watching the kids, or helping with homework.
As I read the student’s journals, the ones where they had to write from a different point of view, I noticed that most of these entries sounded more like letters. Some of the letters had to be hard to write, as they were from the perspective of someone who had offended or hurt the writer in some way. The beauty came from the students’ insight and compassion. The letters were characterized by an ability to give any offending parties the benefit of the doubt, not excuses, but a realization that we are humans broken by sin.
Scout never could understand Miss Caroline or the Cunninghams.
I may not understand a student’s inattention.
You may not understand your son or daughter’s mood swings.
And we won’t understand until we imitate Christ and climb in each other’s skin. Whether we remember, forget, or even fail, we can rest in the truth that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
The ESV Study Bible. Ed. Lane T. Dennis. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008. Print.
Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 1982. Print.
Latin's Not DeadApril 9, 2015Why Study a “Dead” Language? “Amo, amas, amat…amamus, amatus, amant.” This is the mantra of ever ...
Why Study a “Dead” Language?
“Amo, amas, amat…amamus, amatus, amant.” This is the mantra of every current and former student of Latin. Last week, as my 5th grade class chanted this verb, a hand shot up to ask a pressing question: “Why do we study Latin since it’s a dead language?” Well, young one, I’m glad you asked!
How can something so ubiquitous be dead? (ubiquitous, from the Latin ubique, meaning everywhere) Latin is a language (language, from the Latin lingua, tongue) that is hard to escape. Its remnants (remnant, from the Latin remanere, to remain) litter our English language like shells on a beach, each one a wonder to find and investigate (investigate, from the Latin investigare, to track or investigate). I propose that this language is far from dead, but vibrantly alive in the language we use every day.
True, Latin is not a modern spoken language. The Roman Empire from which it sprang has long since disintegrated. However, the Romans left behind ideas that shaped Western civilization, including their prolific language. The structure of English comes mostly from German (as well as many of our monosyllabic words), but even so, 60% of our vocabulary has a Latin origin. An even higher percentage of our words that are two or more syllables come from Latin. There are two main reasons for this abundance.
First, in the 4th century, St. Jerome translated the Bible into the vulgate (or common) Latin. Then in 1382, John Wycliffe translated that work into English. At the time, English was a new and somewhat underdeveloped language. Words like propitiation and sanctify did not have an English equivalent, so the Latin words themselves were adopted into the malleable English language. A thousand Latin words slipped into our language through the door of the Wycliffe Bible.
The second reason we have a generous amount of multi-syllabic Latin-based words is that all of academia in Europe knew and communicated in Latin during the Enlightenment. It was the international language of the well-educated. New ideas created a need for new vocabularies in science, astronomy, medicine, and philosophy, and thus found their expression in the “dead” language of Latin. The academic preference for the common “lingua Latina” spawned vast amounts of vocabulary. Today the fields of law, medicine, and science are filled with Latinate lexicons.
But why do we study Latin today? Are there still good reasons, even if you will never become a doctor, lawyer, or scientist? Educator Dorothy Sayers, whose essay The Lost Tools of Learning has inspired the resurgence of classical education in our country, offers us this startling perspective on the importance of Latin during a 1952 speech entitled “Ignorance and Dissatisfaction,” given in Cambridge, UK, “...If I were asked what, of all the things I was ever taught, has been of the greatest practical use to me, I should have to answer: the Latin Grammar.”
Classical education fosters sound thinking, writing, and speaking. These skills are not merely philosophical niceties, but benefit the student in practical ways. Latin has a positive and profound impact on the acquisition of these skills.
At first glance, you may wonder, as my young student did, "Why do we study Latin since it's a dead language?" As we look closer at this language of weighty influence, we realize that Latin is not dead. It's immortal.
“The Adventure of English: Birth of a Language,” BBC Documentary, 2003. YouTube, 2014.
*Note: This is a wonderful series, but due to some language and content, parental discretion is advised.
We’re All Mad Here: Keeping Faith in the Logic StageFebruary 12, 2015My eighth graders just finished reading Through the Looking Glass, the sequel to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Some of the kids ...
My eighth graders just finished reading Through the Looking Glass, the sequel to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Some of the kids loved it. Others were disturbed by the absurdities. Many of them asked questions. Lots of questions. Their logic radars were on high alert, but to their frustration, there weren’t always explanations.
I realized that I could have helped them pick the story apart, but I really didn’t want to overanalyze, therefore killing the story. So I began to ask myself: Why read nonsense literature? What’s the place of nonsense in the life of a Christian? Then I remembered something I had read a few months ago in Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton, a contemporary of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien:
The fairy tale discusses what a sane man will do in a mad world. The sober realistic novel of today discusses what an essential lunatic will do in a dull world….
The general fact is simple. Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion…To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain….
The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason. (30-31 and 34, emphasis mine)
I shared these quotes with my students, trying to emphasize that while I want them to develop good reasoning, ask questions, and seek solid answers, I don’t want to squelch their faith. That is not the purpose of logic. At the end of the day, there are some things that are simply beyond our understanding. We are finite beings living in a world created by an infinite God.
So we read chapters from the book of Job, tracing his suffering, God’s sovereignty and goodness, as well as God’s “answer” to Job’s questions. As one student pointed out, God’s answer was really more a series of rhetorical questions. Finally, we read Job’s response:
I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes. (Job 42.2-6)
In the madness of our lives, all we can sometimes do is choose to rest in the truth that God is good, He is sovereign, He loves us, and He is not obligated to explain Himself. And somehow, once we have that perspective, we are comforted. At least for a little while.
Chesterton, G.K. Orthodoxy. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2009. Print.
The ESV Study Bible. Ed. Lane T. Dennis. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008. Print.
The Blessedness of OrdinaryJanuary 22, 2015"In His incarnation, Christ has knit creation back together and sanctified our flesh, our mundane. He has redeemed for us all ...
"In His incarnation, Christ has knit creation back together and sanctified our flesh, our mundane. He has redeemed for us all the 'actual textures of physical life' and granted us the 'full extent of the mysteries of the incarnation and all that flows from it, and all that make our mortal life fruitful once more."
"The incarnation took all that properly belongs to our humanity and delivered it back to us, redeemed. All of our inclinations and appetites and capacities and yearnings are purified and gathered up and glorified by Christ. He did not come to thin out human life; He came to set it free. All the dancing and feasting and processing and singing and building and sculpting and baking and merrymaking that belong to us, and that were stolen away into the service of false gods, are returned to us in the gospel.”~Thomas Howard
You know the list. Laundry, cooking, dishes, cleaning, some crafting, and even the noble task of rearing young children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. It's quite noble work but it's so easy to despise it. To wish it away while daydreaming about grandiose plans and schemes of some lofty new year’s goals & a big important job where your work is highly valued.
But my life doesn't look like that most days.
Most days, I'm here doing ordinary work in a never ending cycle.
Washing the same dishes, cooking the same food, folding the same load of laundry, over and over again.
But today, I choose to relish it.
I hold the laundry tight and inhale extra long and think about the love that is modeled when a woman washes the same clothes over and over, day in, day out----almost touching something sacred----this washing and consecrating of materials things for a noble and good purpose. Lingering in the renewal that comes from being clean. My heart aches for that washing too. Perhaps it's a blessed thing, this daily rhythm of life.
We love the grand scale, the best days, the shiny things.
But what about all those ordinary days? Where is God then?
He always chooses the ordinary things to do his greatest work.
He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.
He chose ordinary fishermen.
He comes to us in the most humble of ways.
He gives bread to feed us, water to wash us, a baby in manger to be the salvation of the world.
He is no despiser of the small days.
It is in them that we see the key to life.
Not in falling in love but in loving everyday, with clean socks and warm soup.
Not in that one blissful day of childbirth but in the birth of each day, one a time, where the daily routine teaches us to depend on our Father, who has made no provision for tomorrow---but only today, in this daily bread.
Perhaps this thing I've come to dread----this daily drudgery----is in fact my greatest teacher, in disguise.
Teaching me to live in this moment. With these children. And this sacred work. It's really all there is.
Today is the day of salvation.
So, I hold on tightly to little hands. And I stir the soup. And I fold the towels.
And I say thank you for this work, this calling.
And for this blessed ordinary day---where grace and mercy rain down and turn water into wine, drudgery into vocation, and curse into blessing.
Public School, Homeschool, or Private School: What Not to DoJanuary 16, 2015When our first child was four years old my husband and I found ourselves in a sea of choices about his education. Adrift on unchar ...
When our first child was four years old my husband and I found ourselves in a sea of choices about his education. Adrift on uncharted waters, we researched and prayed. Public school? Homeschool? Private school? Questions did not always lead to answers, but more questions. Eventually, we did discern the will of God in order to begin educating our firstborn, but after three children and many years of educating, we still frequently re-evaluate the educational needs of each child.
Are you trying to discern the best educational path for your child? Consider the following:
We must not let our child decide.
Children do not have the wisdom to discern which educational choice is best for them. Their opinion should be heard and valued but not solely relied upon.
We must not let our friends decide.
Making choices because of peer pressure rarely yields a wise decision. We may have to swim upstream to do what we think is best for our child.
We must not let our extended family decide.
Family members often have strong feelings about choices in education. If Aunt Sue was a public school teacher, there may be pressure to go that route. If your sister homeschools, there may be an expectation to choose that route. While we should consider their opinions, the privilege and the burden of the decision rests on us.
We must not let our anxieties decide.
Remember God’s instruction in Philippians 4: 6-7. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
We must not let our finances decide.
Homeschooling and private education sometimes come with hefty price tags.
Consider God’s promise of help and provision. Finances factor significantly in our plans, but let’s not forget that God can provide a way for us to follow our convictions.
We must not let our own educational experience decide.
Just because we were educated one way does not necessarily mean that way is a good fit for our child. Each person has a unique personality, unique gifts, varying levels of intelligence, and a special path God has ordained.
We must not let our fatigue or discouragement decide.
How many times has our exhaustion caused us to lose heart? During those times of parental fatigue and discouragement we may look for an “easy way.” Beware. We may need to stay the course through the tough time rather than altering our path due to difficulties.
Each of these may be a factor in decision-making, but beware of allowing one of them to steer the ship. We can trust the Master of the sea to guide us. Remember that He says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go. I will counsel you and watch over you” (Psalm 32:8). Let’s pray and listen for His instruction. After all, He loves our children even more than we do.
Three Reasons to Still Read as a FamilyJanuary 9, 2015A few weeks ago I was in the library with my 6th graders. As they lay on the rug reading Nancy Drew and perusing the shelves for books b ...
A few weeks ago I was in the library with my 6th graders. As they lay on the rug reading Nancy Drew and perusing the shelves for books both desired and required, my eyes caught sight of a book I hadn’t heard in years.
It was The Good Sam Harrington, and I vividly remembered watching my best friend’s mom recite it. Mrs. Stockton is one of the best story-tellers I know, and I remembered how even in high school she had held me spellbound as she performed a dramatic retelling of the simple book she had memorized. I slipped the book from the shelf, thinking I’d try it out on my eighth graders during study hall. I asked them to simply be respectful as I read and even told them they could work as they listened.
At first, I was too busy trying to read the story well (and honestly getting caught up in it myself) that I didn’t pay much attention to my students’ responses. But at one point I managed to see some of them in my peripheral. They were sitting there, looking at me, eyes filled with anticipation. The same pairs of eyes that give me blank stares. The same pairs of eyes that have rolled in my presence. The same pairs of eyes that have narrowed in deep thought at times and widened with laughter at others. Once again, I was reminded of the importance of reading to children, regardless of their age.
Below are three reasons why you should still read as a family.
1. Reading as a family allows your child to learn from your example.
I remember sitting in my dad’s lap while he read this little book called The Little Taxi that Hurried. No one can read that book like my dad. One of these differences has to do with sound effects. Only Dad can make that taxi honk properly. Thankfully, I have five younger brothers and a sister, so dad hasn’t stopped reading The Little Taxi that Hurried. In fact, everyone crowds in the living room when he reads to the younger kids.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that more than the sound effects, different voices, and expression, one of the beautiful things about my dad’s reading is that it isn’t perfect. He stumbles over sentences and mispronounces words, just like the rest of us, but he doesn’t care because he loves his kids and wants to share a story with them. For some reason, I’ve noticed that people tend to approach reading aloud like praying: if you can’t do it perfectly, then don’t do it all. While we want our students to improve their reading skills and learn to become engaging storytellers, it’s important to remember that we are all human, which means we are full of quirks and imperfections and therefore in desperate need of a holy and loving God. When you read with your children, you are providing them with not only a model of good reading but a parable of living in grace.
2. Reading as a family allows older children to encourage and challenge younger children.
About a year ago, I read a few passages from The Hobbit in my living room during a discussion I was having with my mom and fifteen-year-old brother. I didn’t anticipate my other younger brother and sister listening. They asked me if I could read the book to them. They were six and seven, but I thought I’d humor them. and then let it go when they got bored. But they wanted to hear the story. After about twenty minutes or so, my voice would start cracking, my throat would grow dry, and they would still be asking me to keep on reading. It was during those months that we read that I realized how important it is for younger children to listen to challenging books. Not only does it make them feel special because someone is paying attention to them, but reading challenging books familiarizes them with advanced vocabulary, grammar, and style. In addition to exposing them to language, many times reading challenging classics introduces children to the great ideas and themes explored in literature, generating vital conversations at home.
3. Reading as a family allows younger children to encourage older children.
I tried an experiment a year or two ago. I told my seventh graders they were going to read to kindergarten. We practiced reading children’s books. No one complained. Little kids don’t know when you mess up, or at least they don’t care. Students who struggled with reading Dickens and Shakespeare had five and six-year-olds in their laps hanging on their every word. One young man in particular caught my attention. I already knew he was a good kid and that he thought deeply, but reading took him a while. He had those kids entranced, and he came alive, reading them this story, and all I could think was, “He’s going to make an amazing dad.”
Not only did my seventh graders find a “safe zone” for reading, but they were able to minister to children in a practical way. They also experienced success with reading, something that some of them rarely experience or believe possible.
True learning is a lifestyle involving a community of people at various ages leading, serving, encouraging, and challenging one another. So create some free minutes this evening, have everyone pick out a book, and read together.
Three Reasons to Get Married at FiveDecember 19, 2014Students lined the hallway. Parents waited at the mouth of the aisle. Our Headmaster stood in his best. To the right of his knee stood a ...
Students lined the hallway. Parents waited at the mouth of the aisle. Our Headmaster stood in his best. To the right of his knee stood a little groom wearing a tuxedo with the letter Q pinned to the fold of his coat; he was awaiting his bride. The violin pierced the hum of the crowd and one by one the rest of the kindergarten class walked down the hall. First the flower girl, then the bashful bridesmaids and the giggling groomsmen, and finally came the bride. Her face was sweet and elegant, as if she were imagining what her real wedding would be like one day. Tied to her white bouquet was the letter U. Vows were exchanged, and finally the wedding ended with a resounding “kw”! Yes, it was our annual Q and U wedding.
This Cornerstone Academy tradition, started by former kindergarten teacher Hope Walker, is an excellent window into what we try to accomplish through classical education. This is an education where students are not simply told what to learn, but where they celebrate it, experience it, and integrate it with life.
1. To celebrate learning
Learning is not meant to be a passive experience where kids are simply told what to do and remember. The Q and U wedding shows kindergarteners that learning is a privilege, not simply a requirement. While every lesson cannot be turned into a party, it sets a tone for the children that learning can and should be celebrated.
2. To experience learning
The Q and U wedding allows the students to actively experience an idea using all five senses. The kids are not simply told that U always follows Q; they become Q and U, and take a familiar concept like marriage and use it as a lasting reminder of the forever union of these two letters.
3. To integrate learning
Traditionally our kindergarteners bring a “wedding gift” to the Q and U wedding. The gifts that would normally be for the bride and groom are instead given to a charity. Through this, students begin to understand that learning is not simply meant to be self-serving, but it should be shared, used to give back to the community. We especially emphasize that what we learn should always be used to glorify God.
In conclusion, marriage at five is not too young, but just the right time to celebrate, experience, and integrate learning!
Why Failure is Acceptable: An argument against perfectionDecember 16, 2014As I write this blog post, my desk is piled with books and papers and ungraded student work. My coffee mug huddles timidly (only because it ...
As I write this blog post, my desk is piled with books and papers and ungraded student work. My coffee mug huddles timidly (only because it is empty) in the shadow of an enormous stack of papers I am supposed to grade and checklist of tasks I am supposed to complete (including this blog post).
I do not feel either efficient or productive.
When I originally drafted this post, it told a story about the importance of asking questions, and of resting in uncertainty. Cleverly linking this to my previous post, I pointed out that the questions The Odyssey raises allow us to appreciate the limits of our knowledge, defined by the all-important phrase “I don’t know.”
Since that draft, I have noticed that my own pride is not focused on right answers, but on efficiency and timeliness. For my students, “I don’t know” is often a mark of failure; for me, “I can’t do that” is the downfall of my pride.
It is easy, particularly in school, to become entranced by the idea of perfection. My students desire the all-elusive “A+,” and I selfishly long both to see them succeed and to seem efficient and productive in the process. Each week, my students strive for high grades and correct answers (and I applaud them for this), while I struggle to return tests and papers and quizzes in a timely manner. We focus on these goals, but they are ultimately irrelevant.
Far more important than my students’ grades are their questions and, even, their failures. I long to see them rest in the security of God’s omniscience when their own strength fails them. Similarly, in my own life, it is far more important that I learn to be humble and to rest on God’s strength than that I complete all my required tasks by the deadlines. (Did I mention that this blog post is late?)
Much as Christians want to understand God and His world, we are limited by our frailty. When I have failed to check off all the items on my list of daily tasks, I fail. I hate this, but when the day ends and I leave my teetering tower of uncompleted work, I go home not as a failed teacher, but as a sinner loved by God. When my students forget the facts they have learned, or (more typically) don’t pause to read the directions, they can relax in the comfort that God knows all things (and created the ultimate directions). Even as we admit our ignorance and feebleness, our
God reigns supreme.
As midterms loom, my own weaknesses become more and more evident, and my students become more and more panicked. This year, I hope to rejoice in my failure instead of wallowing in frustration, because it is—as all things are—an opportunity to see God work in me.
The One Thing Our Kids NeedDecember 9, 2014The sun was pouring into the east sky, scattering orange like a blanket over everything. She was sitting in the front seat, unable ...
The sun was pouring into the east sky, scattering orange like a blanket over everything. She was sitting in the front seat, unable or unwilling to look at me, her head turned decidedly away and her body clinging to her side of the car sending its message loud and clear. Was there a tear in the corner of her eye? I don't know because I was too angry to ask. We were on our way to a social gathering and I just needed her to get over herself already. What I was really secretly thinking is that I wanted her to show my friends how pleasant my teenager was, how smart and well adjusted, how sweet and kind to be around—all of which would translate into some imaginary points for me. What I didn't want was for her to sulk through the whole thing and make me look bad.
And we were running out of time, because we were almost there and neither of us seemed capable of moving toward reconciliation.
Why was she even sulking? I couldn't for the life of me figure it out and I was too stubborn to ask—maybe too afraid that I had done something to cause it.
So, I lost my patience and basically demanded that she play the part. I didn't yell but I was harsh. I bulldozed right through the situation and got what I wanted. It wasn't my best parenting moment. We walked in and she pulled herself together. She was perfectly behaved. She was engaging and courteous. But, she was hurt and probably only I could tell.
On the way home, my heart began to soften and the guilt set in. I wondered to myself at what price had I wrangled her obedience. I thought back to times in my own life when I knew I was being valued for my performance, by what good I could bring to the table and I felt the sting of doing the same thing to this person I supposedly loved with all my heart. We had a long talk about what had happened. I apologized for being harsh, for demanding results. She explained why she was upset and then apologized for the sulking. It was pretty simple, in retrospect. We are sinners who fail each other everyday. The magic is in being willing to fess up to all the ways we hurt ones we love most. She just wanted to be heard and understood. But she didn't know how to ask for it and I was too full of my own selfish expectations to even ask.
Parenting by law or by sheer will will often get us the results we want but those results won't endure because they will begin a long and slow fracture of the heart. Just like in our spiritual life, the law requires us to be a certain way, to follow certain rules, but it does nothing to win our hearts. Only love can do that. The law requires but love inspires. The law kills but love makes alive. The law leaves us empty, despairing at all the ways we never measure up. Love fills us to overflowing, and the overflow seeps out to everyone in our wake. This is the love we have been given in Christ, the God Man who came into our very flesh to be our perfect substitute in all things, even our failure to love rightly.
In turn, we have been given the tremendous, dare I say, impossible task of passing that love on to our children. And for that, there is no shortcut—only a lifetime of living it out in the everyday mundane trenches of ordinary life, mostly confessing how painfully we fail at doing the one thing we had hoped to do well.
It never fails. Even when we do. Perhaps especially then.
Five Books to Buy or Read this ChristmasDecember 8, 2014Italo Calvino. Why Read the Classics? Calvino has been one of my favourite authors since I first encountered him in graduate school. ...
Italo Calvino. Why Read the Classics?
Calvino has been one of my favourite authors since I first encountered him in graduate school. In
addition to being a skilled storyteller (though we read his books, like many of our older classics,
in translation) he also has a gift for literary analysis. Why Read the Classics is new to me this
year, and I have repeatedly fallen in love with his aplomb and with the agility with which he
carefully tries to identify the attributes that distinguish everyday books from true classics.
The Second Shepherd’s Play.
This is the most properly Christmas-y of my selections. I first encountered—and enjoyed—
this play in high school, but each subsequent adventure into the drama has brought even more
delight. The Second Shepherd’s Play is a medieval mystery play filled with Christian allusions
and slightly grumpy shepherds. The language may be a little old-fashioned for some readers
(probably not for the students in my medieval class this fall) but the story is charming and the
John Donne. Poems.
John Donne’s life is a study of God’s grace, and his biography is reflected in his verses. His early
works, largely directed towards young women, reveal his youthful desires for earthly pleasures,
but his later poems break sharply away from this form and feature a desperate, passionate, and
occasionally even playful pursuit of God.
Here’s the passionate but playful final stanza of his poem “A Hymne to God the Father”
I have a sinne of feare, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
But swear by thy self, that at my death thy son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore;
And, having done that, Thou hast done,
I feare no more.
Sigrid Undset. Kristin Lavransdatter.
In my mind, December is always a time of reflection and waiting—the liturgical season of
Advent—that culminates in a celebration of great redemption. (In my academic life, this season
is marked by a lot of reflection on my students’ work—or grading—that ends with a celebration
of literary splendor in which I read any books I choose for two weeks straight). Like Donne’s
poems, Kristin Lavransdatter reflects this pattern of waiting and celebration. Like The Scarlet
Letter, Kristin’s season of waiting includes some sin, but her redemption is glorious. Undset’s
novel in three parts is probably best saved for readers of high school age or beyond.
Gene Stratton Porter. Freckles.
I have loved Freckles since the day I first cracked open the copy my mother gave me one year
for Christmas. Like all the best books, it is suitable for readers of many ages (nine to ninetynine!)
and contains important lessons about trust in the face of despair, sacrificial love, and
redemption (apparently, I think, a theme of my Christmas list). I don’t want to say anything
about this book for fear that I will spoil it for would-be readers, but it is suitable for readers (or
listeners) ten and older, and would be a wonderful story to read as a family.
Four Truths to Help You Survive the Logic Stage With Your ChildDecember 1, 2014One of the qualities I’ve grown to love about my logic level students is the quirky combination of playful innocence and sporadic ...
One of the qualities I’ve grown to love about my logic level students is the quirky combination of playful innocence and sporadic insight. While the fluctuating maturity levels can prove frustrating, they also indicate a beautiful transition.
Below are four simple truths to help you and your child survive some of the possible obstacles common to the logic stage.
1. Transitions may be frightening, even painful, but they are healthy.
At some point during the logic stage, students often have to make some pretty painful transitions. These are the years in which they are learning (and parents and teachers are training them) to think for themselves. Consequences start to become more natural. It’s one thing to tell your child before he starts sixth, seventh, and eighth grade, “You’re going to have to buckle down this year because Mom and Dad and all of your teachers aren’t going to hold your hand anymore.” It’s another to discover missing papers on the kitchen table, in the couch cushions, in the floorboard, or worst of all, in the trash. It’s also another matter entirely the first time your straight A student makes a C on a paper or fails a quiz simply because she didn’t study or take her time. The work in the logic stage is different, it’s hard, and with all of the new freedom comes plenty of opportunities for students to stumble, and then, with grace and firmness from those placed in their lives to train them, discover what God is developing them to be.
2. Erratic behavior can be…normal.
I’ve had girls who refused to speak above a whisper when performing a recitation turn right around and ask to do hand motions while Christmas caroling at the nursing home. I’ve had boys squeal at random times and then giggle about it. A few weeks, days, even hours later, they’re asking deep theological questions about the trinity that most adults don’t even begin to know how to address.
3. The logic stage looks different for every child.
Many times parents’ frustrations include the underlying assumption that their child is the only one struggling with x, and therefore they shouldn’t be. But God develops people as he sees fit when he sees fit. Sure, there are patterns that he seems to follow, but there’s a wide range within those patterns for developing a unique story for each person.
So often when I hear from parents, it’s as if they’re thinking: Who is this kid? Where did I go wrong? We never had this problem in fifth grade! Or even the first half of sixth!
But now their A/B perfect attendance ray of sunshine is losing papers, turning in late assignments, failing quizzes, and worst of all…rolling her eyes and slamming doors. When they ask her what she has for homework, she sighs, maybe even falls into a fit of giggles, and answers, “I don’t know.”
Or maybe not. Maybe he insists on staying up past eleven working on homework due the next day, or Friday, or next week. He keeps his planner, crossing everything off the list. He won’t watch T.V., get on the computer, read his favorite book, or play outside. He begs to stay home from church because he “has so much to do.” But he won’t talk to his parents, let alone his teachers. He’s too afraid of disappointing them.
4.Students are naturally inquisitive, and they do want to talk.
I’ve had C students, students who struggle to keep that C, but are some of the best students I have ever had. These are often, though not always, the same students who communicate with their parents and teachers and do what they are asked when they are asked. Most of them genuinely struggle with reading and logic level/ analytical thinking. But they are, ironically, the ones who “get it.” By “get it” I don’t mean sentence diagramming or Shakespeare. I mean they seem to truly grasp that Christ is the center of everything, even the small, everyday occurrences. These are the kids whose parents talk with them when they sit in their house, when they walk by the way, when they lie down, and when they rise up (Deut. 6.7). While some logic level students may spend time giggling or flying paper airplanes, nearly all of them have plenty of questions, if not now, then later.
It’s hard to pinpoint the source of these changes. Some might say hormones, others busy schedules, still others a relationship conflict with friends or family--we could analyze the factors for hours and find plenty of possible causes. But at the end of the day, growing pains aside, I still see a group of kids who, for the most part, desire to please the Lord, even if, just like adults, they haven’t quite figured out what all of that means.
The ESV Study Bible.Ed. Lane T. Dennis. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008. Print.
Book Review: Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoungNovember 24, 2014Crazy Busy A Fresh Perspective I was too busy to read this book. You know how it is — soccer practice, dan ...
A Fresh Perspective
I was too busy to read this book. You know how it is — soccer practice, dance class, piano lessons, work, housework, just too busy. I always feel behind, like I’m trying to catch up. So I definitely did not have time to read this book. I told some other people to read it. I thought about reading it. But I was just too busy.
Can you relate? Rush, rush, rush — always the next thing. Life seems to be on fast forward. So what made me actually stop to read it? A podcast. I serendipitously heard Kevin DeYoung speaking on one of my favorite podcasts. As I heard him talk, I was magnetized. I just had to read it.
Since I know you are as busy as I am, I am going to give you the best things I gleaned from this book, Crazy Busy, by Kevin DeYoung.
Sit at the feet of Jesus. Simple, right? You already knew that, right? Yes, but we forget. We too easily become Marthas — worried and bothered about so many things. We cannot do everything, and we cannot discern what to do and what to leave undone without seeking His wisdom.
We are finite. We cannot do it all, and we weren’t designed to do it all. God has a specific place for each of us and a specific sphere of influence.
Sleep and rest show us that we are dependent creatures. Our God needs no sleep, but we must plan to have breaks.
This little volume was a refreshing breeze to my soul, pointing me to worship our great God who is boundless, limitless, infinite, and wise. The ideas DeYoung shared caused me to take a deep breath and think about why I am so busy, and then to sit at Jesus’ feet and ask Him for wisdom and help. Highly recommended!
“If Jesus had to be deliberate about his priorities, so will we. We will have to work hard to rest. We will have to be dedicated to being disciplined. We will have to make it our mission to stay on mission.”
Why "Waste Time" in SchoolNovember 20, 2014Why “Waste Time” in School Two years ago I walked outside and stumbled upon a striking image. There, sprawled o ...
Why “Waste Time” in School
Two years ago I walked outside and stumbled upon a striking image. There, sprawled on the ground (no doubt a fire hazard), were a number of my students eagerly “wasting time” in conversation.
As I approached them, I noticed they were exchanging words with unusual vibrancy. They had books in their hands (philosophical books) by authors like Anselm and Lewis. They were dialoguing about the Trinity!
What have I done right, I thought. How can I patent it?
But, that’s the catch, I hadn’t really done anything. This “waste of time” was all their doing!
I only provided the opportunity. We cut “productive” time out of their busy school day to make room for “unproductive” time, or leisure. Or as James V. Schall puts it: “wasting time.”
As odd as it sounds, history, Scripture, and experience offer compelling reasons for why we should “waste time” in school.
Leisure in History
Leisure and learning have a rich history as close friends. The word “school” actually comes from the Greek word schole, which means “leisure.” Josef Pieper argues that the great Western thinkers saw leisure as the basis for culture.
The Greek and Roman thinkers drew stark distinctions between work and leisure. A slave who had to work could not afford time for leisure. The liberal arts (or the free arts) provided individuals with the tools and essential knowledge to live a life of learning and deep contemplation.
We can define leisure as time spent on things that are ends to themselves, such as friendship, conversation, and contemplation.
Leisure in Scripture
God has a word to say on this topic as well. God instituted the Sabbath for man on the seventh day after his own rest and leisure. As outlined for the Jews, the Sabbath was a day specifically marked for time away from work or productivity. It was “wasted time” in rest: the rejuvenation of the mind and body. It was “wasted time” in leisure: prayer, contemplation, celebration, and worship.
To the modern Christian “wasted time” with God may take the form of Bible reading, meditation, Christian fellowship, and corporate worship. “Be still and know that I am God,” writes the Psalmist. What a much needed exhortation to stop, be silent, and consider the deep things of God!
Leisure and Experience
In leisure, a strange phenomenon takes place: learning can feel more like joy than work. Leisure can spark a desire to learn for its own sake.
But, ironically, places of learning are often more characterized by work than leisure and by busyness than contemplation. Administrators, parents, teachers, and students all are busy.
Please don’t hear me say busyness or hard work is bad (God ordained the Jews six days of it). I’m also not saying leisure is easy. Contemplation demands sustained focus.
But what if our students are too busy and too overworked to stop and focus and contemplate? Would you not agree something is awry?
Leisure at Cornerstone
At Cornerstone, we have sought a number of ways to match leisure once again with learning.
Within the classroom, we discuss and debate ideas, and the students journal on a regular basis. I even designated a corner of my room (furnished with our theatre props) for leisure called Socrates’ Circle. We have it all planned out. When my students think an idea deserves debate or discussion, they shoot up their hands to give the signal. If the timing is right, I return the signal, we cry out “Socrates!”, and rush to the corner!
Parallel to the classroom, we’ve established the Contemplatorium. As the name implies, it is extended time for students and teachers to read, contemplate, and discuss. The students are assigned mentors (CA teachers) who match them with texts to interest and challenge them. There are no grades or exams for this time, and no competition or demand to produce anything. Most of the time it’s marked by silence, unless broken with the exchange of ideas.
As I write this post, my students are sprawled across the room. One is lying on the carpet in Socrates’ Circle and another sitting in the rocking chair. If all goes well, much time will be “wasted.”
Why we study The Odyssey (and not contemporary fiction)November 20, 2014Why we study The Odyssey (and not contemporary teen fiction) As I write this post, my ninth-grade English studen ...
- Why we study The Odyssey (and not contemporary teen fiction)
As I write this post, my ninth-grade English students are reading about the homecoming of weary Odysseus, whose hostility towards the son of Poseidon (the Greek god of the sea) has caused numerous complications and frustrations to delay our unhappy hero.
Our journey through the book is not without its own delays and frustrations.
“Why is Odysseus so mean to the Cyclops?” one student asked.
“I didn’t understand anything that happened on page 326,” another student journaled.
“Why does he have to sneak around in disguise?” my students demanded on several differing occasions.
Reading The Odyssey is, for many students, an odyssey in its own right. We read it for the better part of a school quarter, and it is one of the most detailed and dense books on the Cornerstone curriculum. Some students struggle with the line breaks and the elaborate poetical language; others are frustrated by the lack of proper nouns. A large percentage of them would prefer to read Divergent and The Hunger Games, with whose main characters they identify more strongly.
However, The Odyssey has one significant benefit: it provides a safe arena in which students can evaluate and critique the actions of other human beings.
In many first-person present-tense teen novels of today, the stream-of-consciousness monologues of the protagonist-narrators leave readers little room for literary interpretation. Towards the end of The Hunger Games, protagonist and narrator Katniss says,
“I can’t get caught out here. . . . Not only will I face death, it’s sure to be a long and painful one. . . . The thought of [my sister] having to watch . . . keeps me doggedly inching my way towards the hideout” (223).
- Collins’ readers can have no doubts about Katniss’ motivations; she wants to protect her sister from any harm or suffering. Her explanation isn’t wrong, but it means that discussions of the book focus predominantly on facts and personal reactions. Readers are not encouraged to discuss and analyze Katniss’ motivations, because the author has already revealed the answers.
In contrast, consider The Odyssey:
“They sent their ravishing voices out across the air
and the heart inside me throbbed to listen longer.
I signaled the crew with frowns to set me free--
they flung themselves at the oars and rowed on harder . . .
But once we’d left the Sirens fading in our wake,
once we could hear the song no more, their urgent call--
my steadfast crew was quick to remove the wax I’d used
to seal their ears and loosed the bonds that lashed me” (277).
Like Katniss, Odysseus is in great peril and great agony. Although his statements, like those of Katniss, are in the first person, my students were quick to query:
“Why does he want to listen?”
“Why do only the sailors seal their ears?”
“Why is he so desperate to get free?”
Both The Odyssey and The Hunger Games can be used to answer important and meaningful questions, and many of the same questions can be applied to both. For instance:
How does this book present a hero, or a savior?
What is the source of the protagonist’s strength?
What does this book teach about friendship, loyalty, or truth?
When the discussions have faded, however, uncertainty about The Odyssey remains. We could discuss and debate The Odyssey for an entire year, or read it once every year, and at the end of that year, there would be more to discover and debate. For a few, the same could be true of the newest teen novel; for thousands, this has already been true of The Odyssey.
Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic, 2009 (2008).
Homer. The Odyssey. transl. Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin, 1997 (1996).
One Man's Trash is a Kindergartener's Treasure: 5 ways to use trash as a tool for learningNovember 13, 2014One Man’s Trash is a Kindergartner’s Treasure: 5 ways to use trash as a tool for learning As I watched the k ...
One Man’s Trash is a Kindergartner’s Treasure:
5 ways to use trash as a tool for learning
As I watched the kids pack up to go home, I could tell by their squirmy bodies and glazed-over eyes that it had been a long day. I inspected the tidy classroom and gave the okay to play until it was time to go home. I was certain they’d jump straight to the toys and bask in their freedom. However, to my surprise they chose to pull out empty food containers and recycled Wal-Mart bags and recreate the math lesson from earlier that day. Who would have thought one man’s trash could be a kindergartener’s treasure! Making learning fun for your kindergartener does not have to bust the bank account; here are five creative ways to use your trash as a tool for learning.
1. Busting the Bubble Wrap
Hand over the bubble wrap and let your child destroy it! The key is using fingertips to pop the bubbles. This activity will build your child’s fine motor skills, giving them a stronger grip on their pencil and control as they write.
2. No Way! A Use for Junk Mail
Finally there is a use for junk mail! Let your kindergartener tear it up, cut it into pieces, or role play as a mail carrier and then cut it into pieces. Using scissors on thick packets and envelopes will make your child’s fingers stronger and cutting on the lines in school easier. Don’t forget to remind your kiddo that demolishing things with scissors should only be done with an adult’s permission. It would not be fun to see their next art project cut into pieces.
3. Pretend Grocery Store
Old boxes of cereal, pasta, and Little Debbie snack make a great pretend grocery stores. This activity encourages creative play and will enrich your child on several different levels. Using coins is a great way to review counting, addition, and coin values. Handling coins with finger tips will also develop fine motor skills. A grocery store is a great platform to teach manners. It is important to teach your child how to play and act out the customer and cashier first and then watch them run with it!
4. Old Egg Carton
Use an old egg carton to sort or count small objects. Label the bottom 1-12 and have your kindergartener fill it with dry beans according to the number. When you’re finishe,d cut it up and make a caterpillar train or boat!
5. Creative Play
Create an art space in your home. Kids love making things out of “junk.” Time and again I’ve watched my kindergarteners create crowns, walkie-talkies, and space ships out of scrap paper and old boxes. On a small table, set up scissors, glue, crayons, and a basket designated for scraps, containers, and junk mail. You will be amazed at what your child can come up with! Using trash for creative play teaches your kindergartener to be resourceful and think outside of the box, or should I say inside of the box!
Redeeming the Morning CommuteNovember 11, 2014It started before we ever got in the car. She couldn't find her jacket or her permission slip and her socks were all ...
It started before we ever got in the car. She couldn't find her jacket or her permission slip and her socks were all dirty. I never made it to the grocery store and the breakfast choices were slim to none. It was Monday and we were running late, to make matters worse. I was irritated with her shortcomings and she was irritated with mine. So there we sat silent, each avoiding eye contact with the other, each wishing the ride to school were shorter. I wheeled through the fog into the convenience store so she could get a nice healthy breakfast like pop-tarts or powdered donuts and she balked, saying she didn't have time to stop. Great. Now, I would have to feel guilty that she didn't eat. I made an angry u-turn and an equally angry sigh. She began to tear up.
When we got close to the school, I gave her my phone like every other day and asked her to read the Psalm for the day. She read it in a broken voice.
"Hear my prayer, O Lord; give ear to my pleas for mercy!
In your faithfulness, answer me.
Enter not into judgement with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.
For the enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead.
Therefore, my spirit faints within me; my heart within me is appalled.
I remember the days of old; I meditate on all you have done;
I ponder the work of your hands; I stretch out my hands to you;
my soul thirsts for you like parched land.
Answer me quickly, O lord, for my spirit fails.
Hide not your face from me, lest I be like those who go down in the pit.
Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in You I trust." (Psalm 143:1-8)
And then we said the Lord's prayer in unison like we always do,
Our Father, who art in heaven
Hallowed be Thy name,
Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil
For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory
Forever and ever, Amen.
And with the very words of God himself we are restored to fellowship with each other. She wipes her eyes and I hug her tight before she gets out of the car.
So simple, so powerful.
Just a few life-giving words and the prayer that Jesus gave us to pray. His Word creating faith where there is doubt, love where there is strife, forgiveness where there is sin—the morning commute and all its stress redeemed by better words than we would ever think to say.
And tomorrow, we'll do it all over again.