Wisdom and Virtue are Best Learned at Home — A Response to Criticism, by Amy Rose

We at Sandbox to Socrates are not in the habit of getting offended by strangers on the Internet. We don’t have time for it after our pressing responsibilities of rocking babies, singing nursery rhymes, going on nature walks, standing at kitchen chalkboards teaching sentence diagramming or long division, getting supper on the table, finishing tomorrow’s Hamlet lesson plan, driving our teens to work, washing dishes, spending a little time with our husbands before they fall asleep exhausted after their day, staying up a bit later to read Chesterton and nurse the baby, going to bed to do it all again tomorrow…no. We don’t have time to look for offense. Life is full.

Sometimes, however, offense finds us. As lifelong friends of the classical education revival and frequent readers and purchasers of CiRCE Institute’s work, we were astounded this week to see classical homeschooling attacked in a piece by CiRCE member Josh Gibbs, both in the article itself and in the subsequent discussion. As our staff discussed amongst ourselves the many fallacies in the author’s logic and information, we decided a response was required. The author seems to be whispering to potential homeschooling mothers that classical education is best left to the experts. “Don’t try this at home.” We refute this opinion with the best possible evidence: our own children, who have achieved their classical education at our own kitchen tables under our supervision. The veteran homeschooling mothers at StS are not sitting around wondering whether we will ruin our children if we homeschool. We’re looking at our grown children, knowing that we taught them well. We are here to encourage other parents who desire to do the same.

The following response is the reaction of just one of our contributors as she attempted to take in the dubious wisdom of CiRCE blogger Josh Gibbs’ A Regal Fantasy. While our website is committed to a secular-leaning inclusive perspective, this author is a Christian and is responding to the Christian language and references in Gibbs’ article. The original article, included in its entirety, is bolded and the responses are in normal typeface. All scripture quotes are from the King James Version unless otherwise noted. ~Editor

A Regal Fantasy

Your own child spilled off the cliff of the Empyrean into this land of exile and shall someday return to the throne room of God. In what manner should they return?
By Joshua Gibbs

Mr. Gibbs, when my son stands before the throne of God, he will come as a son returning to his Heavenly Father. As the child of the King, he will have gained some lofty titles: Joint-Heir with Christ (Romans 8:17), part of a holy priesthood (I Peter 2:5), a priest-king after the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:21-25), a saint (Romans 1:7), and a pillar in the temple of God (Revelation 3:12) – but when he goes home, he will be going home as a son to his father. In all of scripture I can find nothing about earthly or spiritual monarchs as such greeting Jehovah in heaven on that footing. All must appear before the judgment seat of Christ (II Corinthians 5:10)…as men. They will be sons of God or not. Nothing else will matter about their station during their earthly life as nothing material exists beyond death. So what does this imagery of an abandoned earthly monarch have to do with us?

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On a Friday night, a stranger knocks at your door and puts into your hands a newborn. The stranger says, “This child is fated to be president of this country in fifty years,” then the stranger runs away, vanishing into the night.

Over the coming weeks and months, you don’t regard the newborn any differently than your own children, who are nine and twelve respectively. As the years pass, though, you come to think of the child very differently than your own.

Not according to the history and literature of the West. Ask King Arthur.

Leader of the free world, you think. The things I put into the mind of this child will someday come to weigh heavily on the heart of the man who makes war. The sense of fairness and justice I grant to this child will someday sway the imagination of the man who considers nuclear war, abortion, the arts, taxation and slavery.

You might think that, or if you are Sir Kay, you might send him out to tend the pigs and sheep because he lives here and there is work to be done. If you are Akki, you might set him to picking apples in the garden. If you are a fisherman who rescued the infant boy and his mother in their wooden box in the sea, fleeing for their lives, you might just teach him to fish.

What is man? Rather, what is the purpose of man? “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” according to the first question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, said the whole duty of man is to fear God and keep His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12: 13). If the goal is for my child to know the Lord and make Him known, the manner in which I raise him will not vary, whether he is to be butcher, baker, candlestick maker, or king. Whether he is a manager on a construction job, a father in a home, a leader in a church, or governor of the state, his character will need to be of one kind if he is to be both righteous and effective.

If a stranger knocked at my door and placed into my hands a newborn with a prophecy, I would tell him that I only know how to raise children created in the image of God and their destiny is known only by Him. “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord…” (Jeremiah 29:11 NLT). “He changeth the times and the seasons; he removeth kings and setteth up kings…” (Daniel 2:21). Shakespeare acknowledged as much: “There is a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will” (Hamlet, Act 2 Scene 5).

The Messiah Himself was placed into a humble home, not into a cradle for kings. He wasn’t given to a Lord High Chancellor. He was given to a mother. He was given to a family, to be raised with humble children as one of them. Tell me more about the education of Mary and Joseph, and of their great wealth to be able to send their son to the best schools. Jehovah God knew He was sending the Messiah to poverty-stricken carpenters who would follow their faith while eking out survival in an uneducated community. Yet that is where He placed the King of Kings for His childhood.

As I alluded above, this is an extremely common literary trope in the canon of the West, this idea of an infant monarch being stashed with humble folk for the duration of his childhood. We see it from Holy Scripture to Greek mythology to the early modern era to the post-modern era. People love this idea because it is true to life: Simple and good people are best qualified to raise someone else’s future leaders of the free world because they will bring him up along with their own children and according to their own home values. You assumed the humble folk would begin to treat destiny’s child with more love and care than their own. According to our history and literature, they don’t. They treat him exactly the same or sometimes slightly worse than they treat their own biological offspring.

Mr. Gibbs, as you are a high school English teacher, I’m sure names are already springing to mind, but in case they are not, here are a few: Sargon, Perseus, Alfred the Great, Arthur, Aurora, The Prince and the Pauper, Superman, Luke Skywalker, and Harry Potter. It’s 2014, and the world has largely forgotten Danae’s fisherman friend, Akki, and Sir Kay, but human nature is still quite ready to believe in the humble Kents from Kansas. Why? Because if baby Superman were dropped off on our doorstep we’d raise him the only way we knew how. We’d think in pity that even though he was special, the poor little thing deserved a proper Midwestern upbringing, the same as any child.

At the age of three, the child sees a “Looney Toons” show on television, though you have not shown him any such thing before. You wonder, “Is this the kind of thing I want forming the heart of the most powerful man in the world?” You turn off the television.

Mr. Gibbs, have you raised a man yet? I have. Of all the mistakes I made, a little exposure to Looney Tunes was not one of them. We first met Rossini and Verdi, Wagner and Corot through Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, and Porky Pig. (In the hands of Blanc and Jones, Rossini’s Barber of Seville became The Rabbit of Seville, and everyone knows What’s Opera, Doc? Porky Pig frequently walked out in blue smock and black beret, easel and chair under his arm in the fashion of that forerunner of French plein air painting — Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot.) Of course, our studies of composers and artists did not end with Looney Tunes, but the laughter and fun are very precious memories. As the mother of four sons I prefer to teach and share with joie de vivre, and I want my sons to be hale and hearty men who can laugh at harmless amusements within their culture. If they cannot, of what use will they be to this world? If they are so hot-housed and removed from those whom they are to serve, they will be useless.

Have you raised leaders yet? I have. I can claim the precious privilege of understanding for myself how George Washington could be better educated than his men, and far more apprising of the grave responsibility they all faced, yet able to joke with them according to their sense of humor. He wasn’t talking down to them either. He was laughing with them.

When the child cries for a toy which has been stripped from his hands, you hesitate a moment before giving the toy back. Yes, you can give the toy back and spare yourself a splitting headache, but years on, will the world receive a leader who cannot counter the difficulty of austerity and asceticism? You deal with the screaming. For the sake of the world, you deal with the screaming. For the sake of just tribunals, you deal with the screaming.

Good parents do not spoil their children, whether they are raising future kings or future ditch diggers, sir. Good parents do not go out of their way to put their children through trials, either – in the godly home, the family endures hardships together. We teach our children to be stoic and brave by being stoic and brave when the inevitable challenges of life come to us.

At the age of four, the child lusts for every sparkling and glittering thing he sees in a mall. You decide the mall is too much… for the child to deal with? No, the mall is too much for the world. You find it hard to see the child as anything other than a fifty year old man, a man with missiles and nuclear submarines and trillions of dollars at his disposal. The child is a child and the child is not a child. The child is but a child and must be treated like an angel. The child is a man and must be treated like a monk, like an abbot. When the child lies, you correct world currency markets. When the child strikes a playmate, you cut off preemptive strikes and encourage leniency—the kind of leniency which spares the lives of women and children who know nothing of political science and prudence.

No matter who our children will grow to be, we teach them self-denial by practicing self-denial. The child’s father works alongside him and in the sweat of their faces they eat their bread (Genesis 3:19), and A Man’s a Man for A’ That. Each knows that if any shall not work, neither shall he eat (II Thessalonians 3:10), and they sleep well because the sleep of a labouring man is sweet (Ecclesiastes 5:12). The child learns to speak the truth because he knows full well the difference between virtue and vice. He learned it at his mother’s knee. He learns not to strike others in anger because the Son of God, when reviled, reviled not again (I Peter 2:23), and no man who is a brawler is fit to be a pastor in the church (Titus 1:7). He learns to show mercy because he has been shown mercy. These are home lessons of the most basic kind.

At the age of five, you weigh your options. You might send the child to the best school in town and eat less for the next twelve years, or you might educate the child yourself and spoil everything in the child which could rise like a seraphim to please a strange teacher. You might send the child off to doctors and philosophers, and the leader of the free world might know Latin and Greek and read Plato and Ptolemy and Euclid and Athanasius, or the leader of the free world might get a discount education or a free education and you could trust yourself to read good books with the child on the weekends, when you’re not too busy.

Education in a good home begins at birth. Mr. Gibbs, have you made the sacrifices to live on one scanty income and teach your children at home, believing that you owe it to them to pass on the great traditions and heritage of the West? I have. It wasn’t a bit of reading on the weekend in my spare time either. Latin, Greek, Plato, Ptolemy, Euclid, and Athanasius are well known to my son through my own diligence over the course of his life. I have not spoiled what is best in him, and I care nothing for the strange teacher deprived of his seraphim. What does that even mean, that my son would rise like a seraphim in a classroom somewhere if I didn’t hole him up at home? If Christ Himself does not glorify and sanctify my son, the teacher will never be able to do it. Education is not the means to salvation. It never has been. Even though I give my life to teaching my child to know God and trust Christ, and though I love him far more than any schoolmaster ever could, even I cannot save his soul.

At the age of six, the child takes up an interest in ninjas and mutants which have crept in from well-meaning but undiscerning friends from church. What will you say to the leader of the free world about mutants? Will you say nothing? And what will saying nothing to the leader of the free world about mutants mean when all the aberrations of society are banging on his chamber door for pure discretion and unlimited rights three decades in the future?

The father, the foreman, the governor, and the president all need to know what is good. Ninjas and mutants are of no interest to my family, but those shows aren’t really about real-life ninjas or real-life mutants, you know. They are childish entertainment. With proper education and example, children will grow to put away childish things (I Corinthians 13:11). As our future classically-educated President finds himself confronted with citizenship rights for cyborgs, he won’t think of childish ninja turtles even if he caught an episode or two at a friend’s house when he was six. He will think of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. He will consider the definition of man and the rights of man, two common themes of the Great Conversation, in light of the best and brightest thinking of the West.

And on and on.

But your own child was given to you with the same promise that the hypothetical child in the parable above was given to the hypothetical you. Your child is the leader of the free world, which is only to say the leader of their own self, their own family, their own society. You are raising kings and queens. Do you want kings and queens raised on cartoons or something better? Do you want the leader of the free world raised on Pop-tarts and pop culture, or something better?

I am not raising kings. I am raising men who will stand before kings and give testimony of the risen Christ (Matthew 10:18). I choose to raise them carefully through character training and classical home education as my duty, but I know that Christ does not need them to be so carefully prepared in order to save them. As the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians after listing their former sins and deprivations of character, “…and such were some of you. But ye were washed, ye were sanctified, ye were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ…” (I Corinthians 6:11). Any missionary or minister will tell you that a person raised in pop culture and paganism can be saved and made new. The pride of the classical schoolmaster might bristle, but history tells us that the leaders of the free world don’t always need him, anymore than the Savior of the world needs him. Some of the world’s most important leaders have often been self-taught or trained out of school; it’s an American truism. Abraham Lincoln comes to mind. God will use whom He chooses, and He will discipline and train His children, according to the Hebrew writer, with an education we could never preempt nor duplicate (Hebrews 12:6). Shakespeare again in Twelfth Night: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

I believe in teachers and in classical education. I have devoted my life to teaching my own children classically at home. But let’s not lose our sense of proportion about our own importance and worth.

Education becomes nothing more than an idol when we start to believe that, through it, we have the power to determine and control the spiritual destinies or future earthly course of our children.

Your own child spilled off the cliff of the Empyrean into this land of exile and shall someday return to the throne room of God. In what manner should they return? What kind of upbringing is appropriate to kings and queens? Why are kings and queens given special treatment while young? And why should your own children not receive the same? Rulers must be “habituated to self-respect,” as Edmund Burke says in his Reflections, or else they have no sense of what might be lost if they fritter away their years.Too glibly we speak of “a child of promise.” If you knew your child would someday rule a nation, would you raise them differently? However you would raise a child to rule… this is how you must raise them anyway.

The royal interest returned on an investment into the education of a king… it is yours for the taking. If you would not raise a queen on cartoons because you fear a zany crown, then neither raise your own child this way. If you would not raise a king who patronizes mediocre artists, then do not fill your home with mediocre art. What kind of table manners ought a queen have when dining with foreign dignitaries? Incline your own child to care about the polity of dinner.

You might think I’ve been agreeing with you all along without knowing it, that I have colossally missed the point because I am obviously also calling for equality in child rearing. But while we might generally agree on how to raise children in this culture (from good books to table manners) I think you’ve got the wrong end of the stick as to the “why,” to an almost fatal degree.

You want the children of shepherds to be raised as if they were future monarchs. I want the future monarchs to be raised as if they were shepherds. History and, indeed, God Himself are on my side in that. Why was Jesus placed in a humble home? King David, Gideon the Judge, and Moses the Hebrew slave were all raised in the meekest of families and then called to take up their tremendous positions of leadership. Home is the seat of training in character, faith, philosophy, and leadership and is by no means in opposition to Burke’s call for that habituation to self-respect so necessary for future leaders.

In “Sin No More,” Rémi Brague suggests the universality of the command to keep the Sabbath points toward the aristocratic blood of all men. God commands that even strangers and foreigners and slaves be treated like gentry on the last day of the week. In the end, everyone is free. Everyone is folded into the leisure of the ruling class, because the privilege of the aristocracy is an icon of humanity, not an icon of wealth.

God claimed the Sabbath before He made kings and taught us to rest as He Himself rested after creating the world. We are not like kings when we take our Sabbath rest. Kings are like the humble and obedient people of God when they take theirs.

For this, no matter how poor and powerless we are, we must crown our children early.

I am not here to crown my child. I am here to crown my Lord with many crowns and to teach my child to do the same. Therefore, as a Christian classical educator, I cannot accept the imagery and metaphor of this article. I am repelled rather than inspired. We are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation – that is glory enough to aspire to without seeing ourselves as keepers of children more special than average. We’re not here to raise hot-housed prigs who have been so preciously kept, unfit to live among the common man and enjoy simple pleasures of life with those whom they are sent to serve. We are here to raise humble, wise, brave, and faithful people who identify more with shepherds and prophets than with the kings of this age. Their heads may be full but so are their hearts, filled with love for God and for their fellow man whom they believe to be equally created in His image.

12211601494_8a0a5dcb15by Amy Rose–Amy Rose was a middle child growing up in a trailer park in the Midwest with talented parents who struggled financially. Her future life was easy to imagine until one magical day when she was thirteen her fairy godmother gave her a box of oil pastels and a vintage textbook titled, “England in Literature.” Suddenly the entire wealth of riches found in the history of the West became to her a Holy Grail.  So she grew up and learned how to classically educate her own children who all turned out to be geniuses or at least mostly teachable.

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Healing Modern Warriors Through the Past, by Jen W.

 

“Great books help you understand, and they help you feel understood “- John Green

A recent item in the news helped solidify for me the fact that warrior cultures throughout the course of history have held many of the same values and had many of the same problems. A group including actors and directors known as “The Philoctetes Project” is performing Greek tragedies for current and former members of the military, but not just any tragedies. These tragedies deal specifically with some of the problems faced by ancient warrior cultures.

To quote from their website:

“Ajax tells the story of a fierce warrior who slips into a depression near the end of The Trojan War, attempts to murder his commanding officers, fails, and takes his own life. It is also the story of how Ajax’s wife and troops attempt to intervene before it’s too late.

Philoctetes is a psychologically complex tragedy about a famous Greek warrior who is marooned on a deserted island by his army after contracting a horrifying and debilitating illness. It is also the story of a young officer who attempts to betray the wounded warrior by stealing his weapon, but then faces a moral dilemma about leaving the suffering soldier behind.”

As a society, we sometimes seem to believe that war is something invented by modern societies, that modern wars are particularly brutal or that modern man is more psychologically fragile than warriors of the past. Programs like this emphasize to warriors that what they are experiencing is not new, and that they are not pampered nor spoiled by modern society in a way that makes them more fragile. They emphasize to the modern warrior that they are not alone, and that what they are experiencing is something that is part of the common experience of man.

But, it is important to do more than connect with modern warriors. Only one percent of Americans will ever serve in the military. A year ago the New York Times published an opinion piece on the disconnect between the modern American military and the majority of the American people.

Americans and Their Military Drifting Apart

I thought about this article when my husband recently deployed to Afghanistan and the most common response I received from civilians was, “Oh, I didn’t know we were still sending people there.” Unless they live in a military-heavy town like Fayetteville, NC or Clarksville, TN, most Americans are unlikely to have regular interaction with members of the military or their spouses and children. This is in stark contrast to World War II when Victory Gardens, scrap metal and rubber drives, rationing, war bonds and other methods to support the war were something that Americans participated in on a daily basis. The American people were part of the war effort. There have been no such initiatives for the Global War of Terror; we have simply added the blank check to the already crushing and mind-boggling national debt.

Veterans often talk about the fact that people rarely ask about their experiences. It is something most people avoid because questions might seem nosy or intrusive or might bring up painful experiences. But to veterans, it often feels like a disconnect or that people believe it is something of which to be ashamed.

We need a project like this that reaches out not just to veterans, but to the American people. We need a project to help the American people start to understand what soldiers and their families go through. I believe that reading about the “thousand yard stare” or the anger of warriors when mistreated by the institutions they trusted in an ancient context will help people start to realize that these are common experiences that should be shared, not shouldered by a small percentage of the people and ignored by the rest.

 

 

Jen W.– Jen is a born and bred Sooner who has spent twenty years following her military husband around the world. Jen jen_wstarted on her homeschooling journey when her eldest daughter learned to read at three years old, and she decided that she couldn’t screw up kindergarten that badly. That child is now a senior in high school, and they have both survived homeschooling throughout. Jen has two more children who are equally smart and have also homeschooled all along.

Great Books: The Canterbury Tales, by Jen W.

 

 

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The Canterbury Tales are one of those required readings that most people suffer through in high school without really taking the time to understand, deeply appreciate Chaucer’s ability to cover numerous aspects of the human experience or even stop and think about whether or not they find it enjoyable reading. Are you the type of person who likes the type of chaste, romantic stories that you might find in Christian romance novels? Or are you more of the type who loves irreverent humor like the type found in modern farce? Either way, Chaucer has something for you.

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When my students read The Canterbury Tales, the first thing I have them do is read through The General Prologue. I have them make three columns: people that Chaucer likes or approves of, people that Chaucer does not like or disapproves of and people that Chaucer is ambivalent about. Students nearly always get this wrong the first time around. They skim, they don’t see Chaucer’s biting sarcasm, they don’t connect that the implications they would read into the words today are often the same implications that Chaucer intends. Two prime examples of this misunderstanding are with the Summoner and the Pardoner.

Read quickly, students assume the usual modern tropes as they skim the text. These are religious men, so the students assume goodness. The Summoner’s appearance is described in detail, but in seemingly opposing phrases. His face is described as red and “cherubic,” but because it is covered with sores, he has crazy eyebrows over his small eyes and he smells bad. Modern students are accustomed to this sort of rough exterior holding a heart of gold, but Chaucer tends to be more literal. The Summoner’s interior is no better than his outward appearance, he is usually drunk, he is lecherous and a liar. The Summoner was someone who was charged by the medieval church to charge people with spiritual crimes and bring them before the ecclesiastical court. The description of The Summoner’s many faults, his ignorance (he barely knows any Latin, despite hearing it all day when in church), the way in which he brushes off the teachings of the church (pointing out that you can pay a bribe to excuse yourself) both show that Chaucer thinks little good of him. Students recognize this when you have them go back and read the section aloud. One of the main things they catch onto is the quip about children being afraid of him. Are they merely afraid of him due to his outward appearance and gruff, drunken behavior or is there another reason? My students have mostly asked when they came to this line, “is he a pedophile?” I think, yes, that definitely one possible implication that must be entertained, even if it is not a certainty.

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The Pardoner’s description is not much better, but without careful reading it’s easy to miss. The Pardoner is in many physical ways the opposite of the Summoner. He is gentle. He is smooth and hairless. He has flaxen hair. He is carries religious articles. But, a closer look shows other aspects. He is like a gelding. His flaxen hair is greasy and lank. He carries jars of pig-bones. He carries a bag stuffed full of pardons that he is selling for a price, hopefully to a trusting country parson who will pay a dear price for a real religious relic. The implications of his description are a matter of intense controversy. Chaucer surely means the hairless, gelding description to be distinctly negative. Is he really a woman? A hermaphrodite? Is he part of a couple with the Summoner? I don’t think it’s possible to say for certain, it only matters here that sexual immorality of some sort is being implied. These are as much criticisms of the church as they are personal criticisms. The church was in the midst of the great schism. Many of Chaucer’s close friends were executed during the political turmoil of the time. Chaucer was forced to leave London for Kent. There was even a specific event involving pardoners who stole money they claimed to be collecting for a hospital. The Friar’s Tale deals with a summoner who is working for the devil. Clearly, Chaucer is making statements about the corrupt nature of the ecclesiastical structure and politics of the time.

These are the sort of descriptions that can give many students their first realization that the human condition is exactly that, the human condition. There truly is nothing new underneath the sun. Society is no more degenerate now than it was then. Chaucer certainly seems to disapprove of the degenerate nature of several of the pilgrims, but does Chaucer fully approve of the opposite?

The Knight could be seen as the opposite of the first two pilgrims we have looked at. He is first described as “worthy.” He values truth, chivalry, truth, honor and other high-minded qualities. He has ridden to war in defense of Christendom. He is at once wise and humble. But, he is also serious and unhappy. He is the first of the pilgrims to tell his story. His story is chaste, romantic, classical and boring. This is the drawback of clean living. It isn’t very exciting. The same can be said of many modern similar stories. Each of the pilgrims tells a story that reveals their nature and reveals more of what Chaucer thinks about them. Their stories reveal both their proclivities and their prejudices (such as The Prioress’s Tale which is a gruesome, anti-Semitic story).

If you thought that the pilgrims were going continue in order of medieval societal hierarchy, you are quickly disabused of that notion when The Miller jumps in with his own story. The fact that the pilgrims do not continue in some sort of order gives a democratic or egalitarian feel to the group. The Miller’s Tale is a rollicking one involving adultery and more than a healthy dose of scatalogical humor. The ribald nature of The Miller’s Tale rivals modern movies like The Hangover.

The depth and breadth of Chaucer’s tales, told by his pilgrims, is one of the major things that makes them worthy of reading today. Few modern authors could manage so many different genres and styles of writing. The collection shows that movies like The Hangover are not the result of our cultural downfall or erasing of Christian values in a secular society. Stories both chaste and…well…not so chaste have existed since people started writing down stories in the English language. They even existed at this time, when the church was at the height of its political and social power.

Taken as a whole, both the prologue and the stories are a tale of what it means to be virtuous. Because the truth is, we are all Chaucer. Humans admired many of the same things then as they do now. People might find the risque nature of The Miller’s Tale hilarious or offensive, but it is a tale of getting by on one’s wits, justice and the benefits of maturity. The Parson’s Tale offers advice of not believing everything you hear, not being overly trusting and cautions against greed. The Reeve’s Tale takes a “eat or be eaten” attitude toward human nature that suggests that every man is out for himself.

These tales illuminate the nature of the each pilgrim and often, the nature of humanity of a whole. “Holy” men of highly questionable character, cheating businessmen, people who take their civic duties seriously, women fighting to be recognized as equal to men; the pilgrims are a mix of people that can still be found in modern society. This allows students to appreciate the fact that human nature has remained largely unchanged, that the struggles faced today are not new.

It smacks of Kurt Vonnegut’s quote, “But I have to say this in defense of humankind: In no matter what era in history, including the Garden of Eden, everybody just got here. And, except for the Garden of Eden, there were already all these crazy games going on that could make you act crazy, even if you weren’t crazy to begin with. Some of the crazymaking games going on today are love and hate, liberalism and conservatism, automobiles and credit cards, golf, and girls’ basketball.”

Careful reading allows students to connect with people of the past in a way that sanitized summaries in a textbook do not allow for. It allows them to see that there truly is nothing new under the sun. It humanizes the people of the past. It allows students to think that maybe they can make a small difference in the world, even if they cannot change human nature. Say what you want about the downfall of Christian values, but you cannot deny that people have always enjoyed stories that involve sex and fart jokes.

While sex and fart jokes are a large part of some of the stories, there are other stories that balance those out. Taken as a whole, both the prologue and the stories are a tale of what it means to be virtuous. Because the truth is, we are all Chaucer. Humans admired many of the same things then as they do now.

 

Jen W.jen_wJen is a born and bred Sooner who has spent twenty years following her military husband around the world. Jen started on her homeschooling journey when her eldest daughter learned to read at three years old, and she decided that she couldn’t screw up kindergarten that badly. That child is now a senior in high school, and they have both survived homeschooling throughout. Jen has two more children who are equally smart and have also homeschooled all along.

Frankenstein, by Jen W.

 

In August of 1945, after the bombing of Hiroshima, radio announcer H. V. Kaltenborn said, “For all we know, we have created a Frankenstein! We must assume that with the passage of only a little time, an improved form of the new weapon we used today can be turned against us.” It has been nearly two hundred years since Frankenstein was birthed into existence during the cold, stormy summer of 1816 by Mary Shelley. Frankenstein was a revolutionary novel. Not only did it create a sympathetic, beautiful character out of a monster, but it created a villain out of an educated member of the nobility. The book broke class barriers and protested treatment of the hated “other,” whomever that “other” might be. Since that time, the story has never been out of print and has been regularly reinterpreted and referenced in popular culture over and over again.

Many people have heard the story of how Frankenstein came to be. Percy Shelley took his wife, Mary, and baby William to Lake Geneva in order to meet with Lord Byron. It was July, but the year of 1816 was known as the year without a summer. Scientists today have a variety of theories, that the weather was due to a volcanic eruption in Indonesia or part of the the Little Ice Age or was caused by historically low solar activity or some combination of these factors. Regardless of the cause, the cold, dreary, stormy weather found the trio stuck indoors. Their boredom soon led to a game of telling scary stories. It was Mary’s story of a scientist destroyed by his greatest triumph that would have a lasting impact upon western culture.

 

Upon reading Frankenstein for the first time, some are surprised to find that Frankenstein of the book’s title is not the monster, but the scientist, Victor Frankenstein. We discover the creature never receives a name. He is simply called “the creature.” This accomplishes two things — it is designed to dehumanize the creature, but at the same time it makes the creature a sympathetic character. But we meet neither the monster nor his creator, at first. We first meet a ship captain in treacherous seas.

Robert Walton is a young ship captain who is navigating the waters of the North Pole while looking for passage between the Pacific and Atlantic. The letters he writes his sister reveal his intelligence, the spirit of adventure and discovery that border on obsession, and his loneliness. His crew discovers a man on the ice — starved, exhausted, near death. The captain finds the man well-spoken and genteel. The captain’s nature and situation help him to sympathize with and relate to the man. However, as our young captain describes the intensity of his passion to complete his quest, the rescued man becomes disturbed, begging the captain not to drink from the same cup of madness that had brought about the current circumstances. The captain listens as the man slowly unfolds his story: The story of Frankenstein.

Victor describes his carefree, idyllic childhood which was spent in the company of Elizabeth Lavenza (his cousin or adopted sister, depending upon the edition) and his friend, Henry Clerval. Victor studies philosophy, science, alchemy and the occult, but when a visiting scientist explains electricity to Victor after he witnesses lightning strike a tree, Victor realizes that the alchemists were mistaken in their ideas and latches on to this new and exciting field. This part of Victor’s life seems ideal.

Any loss experienced by the family is compensated for and any difficulty overcome by love and charity. At the same time, with each bit of trauma, Victor proclaims each an omen of his current misery. Even his mother’s death shortly before he leaves for university is described in this manner. Victor’s fatalism has a two-fold effect. First, it builds the tension in the narrative, but eliminates a piece of the suspense because we already know that Victor eventually ends up stuck on the ice of the North Pole. All of the talk of omens and signs indicates that Victor accepts his situation as his fate rather than a self-fulfilled prophecy that Victor could have avoided, if he had made different choices, much like Romeo’s proclamation, “I am fortune’s fool!”

When Victor arrives at the university he meets with a professor of “natural philosophy” who tells Victor that his studies of alchemy have been wasted. Victor decides to study science after attending a lecture on chemistry. Victor quickly becomes obsessed with reanimation, the harnessing of the power of life and death. He neglects every other aspect of his life, focusing on this singular pursuit. His vision is one of wonder and beauty. Following the example of the alchemists he had studied (and whose examples have already been discredited in the novel) Victor works alone in his reclusive apartments.

It is important to note these aspects of his work: He is going against the scientific beliefs of the time, going against scientific discipline, going against the close advice of his professor, and he is reverting to an earlier time rather than working within the framework of the modern science of his time. His studies lack scientific rigor, discipline, oversight and ethics. These are some of the things that will ultimately lead to his downfall.

He begins to patch together a corpse to re-animate. All together, his study of reanimation takes two years. His studies culminate in zapping the creature with lightning, bringing the spark of life back into the decaying corpse. But, as the creature comes to life, Victor finds it repulsive and, after awakening to find the creature looming over his bed, terrifying. Strangely, Victor attempts to simply ignore the living nightmare of his creation, avoiding his apartment. This continues the theme already begun: He is avoiding his responsibilities in favor of acting with the emotion of the moment. Rather than alerting authorities or getting help from the scientific community, he attempts to avoid the issue entirely.

Soon, Victor chances upon Henry who has newly arrived to study at the university. Victor takes him to the apartment, apprehensive that the creature may still be skulking there, but relieved when it is not. Victor falls into a long illness, implying that guilt or remorse may be at work within him. Henry slowly but surely nurses Victor, presenting him with a letter from Elizabeth upon his restoration to health. These attempts at ignoring the problem and hoping it will simply go away hint at the dire consequences that we know will lead to Victor being trapped on a ship in the ice near death.

The plot continues to proceed in a similar manner with Victor shirking his responsibilities, trying to “fix” the problems that compound one upon the other, never admitting his horrific mistakes or seeking help, but patching the problems after the fact as if he were sticking his fingers and toes into a very leaky dyke.

The creature first murders Victor’s youngest brother. Despite the fact that Victor believes the creature committed the murder and even sees the creature at the site of the murder, Victor allows a young woman to be tried, convicted and put to death for the murder. Victor does nothing to stop it. he is afraid to admit his wrong-doings, afraid to admit his shortcomings, afraid to admit the horror that has come to pass at his hand, afraid that he might not be believed. These are poor excuses for allowing the death of an innocent girl and shine a light on the lengths Victor will go to in order to avoid responsibility for his actions.

The Frankensteins go on vacation as a family to escape their grief. The fact that Victor goes with them, never warning them, is an indicator of his denial. Eventually, Victor meets with the creature. When he hears the creature’s side of the story, Victor actually feels so much sympathy for him that Victor actually agrees to create a mate for him. Victor patches together and reanimates a female corpse, despite knowing that the creature’s murderous behavior. Clearly, Victor is not a man who easily learns his lesson the first time.

The family travels back to Geneva, where Victor promises his father that he will marry Elizabeth, but first he must travel to England. He passes through England, going on to a remote island in Scotland where he will build a mate for the creature. When the she-creature is as hideous as the first creature, Victor destroys her. The creature is furious. He swears revenge and promises to be with Victor on his wedding night. Victor believes the creature wants to kill him. But most readers will be able to read the foreshadowing and recognize that the monster plans a revenge that is like the wrong Victor committed upon him, that of killing his mate.

As Victor starts to leave Scotland he begins to receive a taste of what he has visited upon others. He is accused of murdering another person that was killed by his creature. When he finds out that the victim was his friend Clerval, he falls into a delusional state once again. Once again, a member of his family must nurse him back to health. This time, it is Victor’s father who also talks Victor’s way out of the murder charge. Barely escaping with his life and with a vengeful, murdering monster hot on his heels, Victor merely continues on to Geneva in order to celebrate his wedding. He doesn’t admit the truth, even to his own father. These are further examples of Victor having his head in the sand and ignoring his problems rather than facing them or at least admitting them so that he doesn’t bring everyone else down with his quickly sinking ship.

Given the Victor’s present circumstances and the fact that this story is told in the form of flashbacks, modern audiences can intuit what happens next. Victor marries Elizabeth and the creature murders her on their wedding night. In a fit of grief, Victor’s father also dies. Finally, Victor takes decisive action. He vows revenge upon the monster, chasing it to the far ends of the earth. This is where the story comes full circle. After telling his story, Victor begs the captain to reconsider his desire for glory. As Victor sleeps, the crew confronts the captain for a second time, demanding they return to England if and when the ship is freed from the ice. This time, the captain listens, considers and finally agrees. Soon, Victor dies, but as he lay in his coffin, the creature comes aboard. He speaks to the captain, giving him an eloquent explanation of his own miseries. But. we already know what the captain has decided. He is allowing caution to be the better part of valor. He is placing the lives of his men above his own path to glory. He has decided to take the more ethical path.

This, ultimately, is the lesson of Frankenstein. Victor had been engaged in scientific fancy instead of hard science. Science without oversight, ethics, discipline or responsibility is a dangerous business. At the same time, the history of gothic romance indicates the strong sense of sympathy that Mary Shelley and other Romantics would have had toward Victor’s passion and obsession. This will be a distinct difference between how a Romantic age teenager (Mary Shelley was only 19 when she wrote Frankenstein) and a modern adult will experience the novel. Recently, I heard a young man explaining how Marianne from Sense and Sensibility was the sole character from literature that he felt a strong sense of relation to. This sense of Romance is one that teens and young adults still strongly relate to. It’s important to recognize this within our young adults. Every hurt cuts deeply, every love is the greatest of loves, the sense of wildness found in Bronte’s moors and the obsession of Victor Frankenstein are all imminently relateable. Victor’s obsession is not just with science, but is a duel with death itself. Mary Shelley had recently lost her first baby when she wrote Frankenstein, and one can imagine that this experience influenced her choice of subject. What young person doesn’t dream of living forever or of finding a fountain of youth or permanent reprieve from the pain of the death of loved ones?

Echoes of Frankenstein, often considered the first science fiction story, reverberate though literature, popular culture, politics and even hard science itself. Every debate on scientific ethics from the atom bomb to human cloning carries with it the ghost of Victor Frankenstein. Every scientist carries the weight of his or her ethical burden. Teens and young adults can relate to the single-mindedness of Victor in his quest to defeat death. Those are some of the reasons that Frankenstein continues to be a relevant part of the “great conversation.”

Why Classical and Why Now? by Apryl

 

Our homeschooling adventure did not start out with Classical Education in mind. In fact, I had never even heard of Classical Education, nor did I know a thing about educational theory. I just knew that I could provide a better education than my children were receiving at school. They were in the 3rd and 6th grades when they came home to stay.

We started off, as many new homeschooling families do, with an all-in-one curriculum. Then, as I discovered the gaps in my children’s education and began to see how they learned best, we moved towards a literature-based curriculum. I began to read more about homeschooling methods and began to frequent homeschooling forums online. That is how I came across The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer.

The Well-Trained Mind put into words the thoughts I had swirling around in my head about the kind of education I wish I had had as a child. It made me realize that I wanted something better for my own children.

We began to study history in a four year cycle. Latin and Greek entered our home. Great Books were read. While I never followed The Well-Trained Mind methods exactly, our homeschool began to have a classical flavor that it didn’t have before. The girls learned how to ask questions. They became familiar with the great minds from our past. They developed critical thinking and a desire to obtain wisdom. They began to show an intellectual maturity that I did not see in many of their peers; they could ask the deep questions and have deep discussions.

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Since Classical Education entered our home fairly late in the game, our eclectic methods have only a strong flavor of the classical. There are things I wish I had done differently, or had learned before my children ever set foot in a public school classroom. Now, though, my thoughts are shifting away from their education, and more towards the future of education in general.

I have begun reading more about the Great Conversation, and begun to think about the studies I want to pursue at home, for myself, such as logic, and a deeper study of the classics. The developments in the public education of our youth are becoming more of a focus for me, and the ways a Classical Education could improve the ability of future generations to problem-solve are becoming more apparent. I am realizing that the failure to pass on the ideas of the great minds of the past to the potentially-great minds of the future would be tragic.

So why do I care at this point in the game, when we are so close to the end of our homeschool journey? I care because it doesn’t end with my children.  Someday they too will have choices to make about their own children’s education, and I want to be there to help them. However, the scope extends beyond my own family. There are millions of parents out there who are looking at homeschooling for the first time; I want to be able to facilitate homeschooling for those families. I want to be able to explain the benefits of a Classical Education and point them towards the resources that can help them achieve it.

Finally, I want to do it for myself. A spark ignited in my mind as a small child, lit by my father: He gave me books. They weren’t easy readers or picture books. He gave me Aesop’s Fables, Bulfinch’s Mythology, and Grimm’s Fairy Tales. They were gloriously thick, hard-bound editions that were not watered down. He handed them to me with the expectation that I could and would read and understand them at the ripe old age of seven or eight. He encouraged reading in a way that was nothing like what I encountered in the public school system. It sparked that desire to learn for learning’s sake, a desire that has stayed with me far beyond my school years and I expect will be there for many years to come. I want to fan that spark into a flame and watch it spread to the next generation.

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“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”

― T.H. White, The Once and Future King

 

 

Apaprylryl–Born and raised in Tennessee, Apryl is a southern girl at heart.  She lives out in the country with her husband and her three daughters. After having an unfulfilling public school education herself, and struggling to find peace with the education her girls were receiving in the public school system, she made the choice to homeschool.  When they began their homeschool journey, the girls were in the third and sixth grades.  Now she is happily coaching three teenaged daughters through their high school years.

What Can Jane Austen Tell Us About How to Choose a Spouse? by Jen W.

 

A lady’s imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.

I will never forget sitting in a college survey class as a literature major while a nursing student complained about Pride and Prejudice. “It’s unromantic! It’s boring! Darcy is such a jerk!” Even at 18 years old, the comments made me believe that I had an idea of why divorce rates were so high. I didn’t think it was unromantic or boring, but I have a pretty good idea why other young women believed it was so. “Romance” has been sold as a product for a very long time, but the idea of what it means changes with the times. There is a famous correspondence between Charlotte Bronte and the literary critic George Henry Lewes in which Bronte roundly criticizes Austen as lacking in wildness and passion. Obviously, the books of the Bronte sisters have those things in spades. But, heroes like Heathcliff or Mr. Rochester would raise the eyebrows of any sane parent, just as Edward, the sulky vampire from Twilight, would likely do today in reality.

And that is the trouble with stories that tout the value of fantasy over reality. Sure, many women find men who brood and obsess over them to be exciting on some level. But, these are often the women who wind up pressing domestic violence charges against their partners later. Obsession, unlike what the perfume commercials would have you believe, is an unhealthy emotion. These types of relationships are hardly a recipe for domestic bliss.

It’s true, Jane Austen died nearly two hundred years ago when the lives of the women she wrote about were very different than the many choices that women living in much of the world have today. It is also true that she never married, so what would she know about choosing a spouse? But I contend that a large part of the reason that she is both popular and relevant today is that she was a shrewd observer of human nature, and those observances resonate today. But they resonate in the realities of long-term relationships, balancing a family and running a household instead of engaging in a love affair. Having a torrid love affair simply shouldn’t be anybody’s main goal in life, and it isn’t good enough reason to get married.

Novels, since the birth of the genre, have been full of rejected, seduced, and abandoned maidens, whose proper fate is to die. 

In Austen’s first novel, Sense and Sensibility, she focuses on the plight of a family of women who have not been treated kindly by their only living male relative. They are basically left destitute and rely on the charity of a distant relative. This focus provides a theme that continues through several of Austen’s books, the relative lack of economic and political power of women. Gothic novels are full of young women whose fates are exactly as described in the above quote. But, Austen hoped to give her heroines a chance at a happy, stable life. 

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The novel’s sisters, Marianne and Elinor, are a pair of contrasting heroines whose lack of economic status hampers their ability to marry decently, the only possible salvation from their current destitute status. Marianne is the “sensible” sister of the pair, however, this word at the time had a very different meaning than it does now. Today, we might call Marianne a free spirit or artsy or sensitive or even emotional. By contrast, her sister Elinor represents “sense.” In this context, it shows that she is intelligent, reserved and displays good judgment. We expect to see these two sides at war, but in truth, what we find in the end is that the desired result, according to Austen, is a balance between the two. Elinor nearly loses her chance at love by not being forward enough while Marianne comes close to ruination by sharing too much of her sensitivity and passion with a man not committed to her.

How about the men in the novel? Elinor is attracted to Edward Ferrars because he is intelligent, pleasant-mannered and steady. His sense of duty initially holds him back as he is promised to another and his restraint hurts Elinor. In the end, it is his sense of duty that allows him freedom of choice, and he chooses Elinor. Marianne, on the other hand is first attracted to John Willoughby, a dashing young man who flirts with and flatters Marianne. I’m certain that he sends her pulse racing in a manner that Charlotte Bronte would have approved of. He leads her to believe that he intends to marry her, and she allows him to take a lock of her hair, earning her the disapproval of the more careful Elinor. But he needs a wife of financial means. Even though he claims to love Marianne long after he has given her up, he has treated her in an unkind and careless manner. This is not how you should treat the person that you love. We later find out that Willoughby has impregnated and abandoned at least one other young woman, leaving an impression that this could have been Marianne’s fate as well. Marianne marries Colonel Brandon in the end. He is constant, kind, and takes her into his confidence with painful secrets in order to save her feelings. It is through making wise choices of marriage partners that the women gain both in love and in economics.

I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.

Arguably her most famous novel, Pride and Prejudice continues the discussion of women and their lack of economic power. As the novel opens, a wealthy and eligible bachelor has moved into a country neighborhood. This new addition has thrown the neighborhood, particularly the Bennet family, into a tizzy. You see, the Bennets have five daughters, an entailed estate, no male heir, and have saved little to support the girls upon their father’s death. The girls attend a local ball at which time we are introduced to not just one, but two rich bachelors!

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This focus on the wealth of potential suitors seems predatory, especially for modern readers. But, as the novel slowly unveils, it becomes clear that the financial future of the Bennet ladies is full of peril. The wacky family members, the financial distress, the fact that all of the girls are “out”– all of these things spell trouble of the sort that tends to scare off potential suitors.

What types of character traits does Austen find desirable and which does she condemn? Certain we see the condemnation of an excess of pride. Elizabeth’s pride blinds her to the true character of those around her until she is, nearly tragically, proven wrong. Mr. Darcy’s pride is what spurs him to deliver what is arguably one of the worst marriage proposals in history. Both learn to think outside of their personal scope to see the viewpoints of one another.

Other character traits that are undesirable include the flighty, nervous nature of Mrs. Bennet; the self-importance and the fawning, false flattery of Mr. Collins; the overt snobbery of Lady Catherine de Bourgh; Mr. Wickham’s gambling, indebtedness and womanizing; the wishy-washy behavior of Mr. Bingley; the rudeness and meddling of Caroline Bingley. Really, the book at times seems to be a parade of bad behavior and manners. But, by contrast, we have the kindness of Jane, the wit and vivacity of Elizabeth, the dutiful nature of Mr. Darcy. But, what does Mr. Darcy really do to recommend him in marriage? What is it that makes Elizabeth change her mind?

First, she reads the letter he gives her the morning after the disastrous proposal and learns the truth of her incorrect beliefs and the true wrong that Mr. Wickham has done to Mr. Darcy. The fact the he willingly reveals such painful events is the very beginning of intimacy between the two. We first begin to see real change in Darcy when he accidentally surprises Elizabeth and her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner. They are on a tour of country estates. He catches Elizabeth off guard by how kind he is to her relatives. He speaks to them as equals. He invites her uncle to come fishing. She learns to see beneath the surface. He learns to open up enough to take care of people outside his direct circle.

The story of Pride and Prejudice is romantic because he takes Elizabeth’s offenses to heart. He opens himself up in ways that are uncomfortable for him. He takes her into his inner circle. He accepts her family. He takes care of her reputation. He defies his own extended family for love of her. He accepts her lower circumstances because he finally realizes that her circumstances have made her the woman that he loves. Likewise, Elizabeth comes to see Darcy as deep, sensitive, caring, intelligent and dutiful. He would never embarrass her like Mr. Collins might. He would never run up debts or attempt to seduce vulnerable young women like Wickham does. He won’t mistreat the people around him as Lady Catherine de Bourgh does. He won’t misspend his money, putting her future children in jeopardy as her own father did. He will take care of her and cherish her in every way.

You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope…I have loved none but you.

The third novel that we’ll look at is Persuasion. An interesting point in this novel is that our heroine, Anne Elliot is the wealthy but less favored daughter of a lord while her only real love interest had been turned away several years before due to his lowly social status. In the meantime, he has raised himself to a distinguished rank in the British Navy (as did Austen’s two brothers) and accumulated a fortune as a successful Navy Captain. Anne Elliot is a beleaguered soul. She is considered a spinster at 27 years old. Her father is in debt due to over-spending, but still maintaining his snobbery. One sister shares these tendencies. The other sister is married and more than a bit of a drama queen, languishing in “ill health” or hysterics when she isn’t the center of attention. The surrounding cast of extended family members and friends simply do not share Anne’s kindness or true refinement of a sort that doesn’t come from fashion or money.

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Captain Frederick Wentworth returns to Anne’s life suddenly when his sister and brother-in-law rent her family home (it is being rented out in order to bring some income back into the coffers). He is aloof and treats her in a manner that shows he still carries the hurts of the past. He even praises one of the young women of their acquaintance for her headstrong manner when she vows not to let the opinions of other people sway her. He makes small efforts to take care of and protect her. But, when this turns to near tragedy, he quickly realizes that this isn’t necessarily the course of a wise woman.

In the meantime, her cousin and her father’s heir, Mr. Elliot, attempts to court her. She finds him attractive. His manners are pleasant and easy. He pays attention to her, which is a huge thing in and of itself for Anne’s confidence and mood. And yet, she doesn’t believe he is being truly open or honest. She tells Lady Russell (who encourages the match just as she discouraged Anne’s acceptance of Frederick’s proposal so many years before) that they would not suit. But Frederick doesn’t recognize Anne’s attempts to put off Mr. Elliott for what they are.

Finally, Frederick overhears Anne passionately explaining to another that women are the most constant in love, never giving up, even when all hope seems lost. This actually renews his own hope and spurs him into action. He writes her a beautiful letter, and she quickly rushes to reconcile with him. They are finally reconciled and their engagement renewed. Ultimately, this is a story of interrupted love in which the problems are overcome by forgiveness.

What traits does Austen warn us about? Vanity, not just in others but she warns us not to succumb to that trait within ourselves, giving over to false flattery. She warns about over-spending, urging economy, frugality and financial planning. She warns about both appearing too frivolous and too serious. She warns both about being too wishy-washy and too headstrong, instead urging us to approach problems with logic and a sense of balance. We should invest ourselves in quality people who are kind, who love us in spite of our many faults or the need to forgive us for past or present hurts. We should match up with spouses who are willing to put up with, take care of and socialize with our family, even when those family members we love are wacky, not socially appropriate or a bit crazy. We should look for ways they take care of us instead of associating with us when it is convenient or they get something out of it. It’s true that things like caring for your family may not seem as wildly romantic on the surface as digging up your grave or creepily watching you sleep. But, solid marriages aren’t made of people without normal coping mechanisms. I advise young women and men to look to Austen for advice on choosing a spouse instead of the Bronte sisters or Stephanie Meyer. You’ll be happier for it.

Beowulf, by Jen W.

 

I’ve had several people ask me why we still study Beowulf. What is the point? How does it relate to anything we experience today? Of course, Beowulf has value simply because it is one of the earliest stories written in Old English to have been found. We have a lot of good evidence and reason to believe that it was an oral tale long before it was written down by scribes. Beyond that, it is a very early tale of good versus evil: a hero versus monsters, a good ruler in opposition to an evil, bloodthirsty ruler. But where Beowulf most speaks to me is as a military wife.

Beowulf arrives in Denmark, determined to help a king who once helped his own father, and to kill the monster threatening the community. He is able to defeat both the monster and its mother despite the jealousy and treachery which are being fomented in the king’s court. His strength and leadership prove his worthiness. He returns home, sharing his treasure and rewards with his king. It is no surprise that Beowulf eventually ascends the throne upon his king’s death. Beowulf has a long and prosperous reign, and most stories would end there, but this one does not.

A new threat appears on the horizon, a dragon, whose lair has been disturbed by treasure hunters. Beowulf immediately wants to go fight it. The reasons are a little murky. Maybe Beowulf feels a sense of personal responsibility as king and protector of his people. Maybe he wants to maintain his reputation as a fierce monster-killer. Maybe he wants one last great hurrah before ascending to the great mead-hall in the sky. His motivations are unclear. Is it a selfish act or a selfless act? Can it be both?

Beowulf does defeat the dragon, but meets with his own death through the battle. His advisors and his people all worry that they will no longer be able to stand against their enemies, now that Beowulf is no longer there to protect them.

I know, relating this tale to modern warrior culture seems far-fetched. But, the truth is that warrior cultures have retained many of the same values, needs and qualities through the centuries. A Roman soldier carried between 60 and 90 pounds of equipment, the same as a modern US soldier. Strength, keeping a cool head while in danger, being able to lead, these are qualities praised both in ancient times and in modern militaries.

A trickier similarity is that soldiers feel both a sense of personal duty and responsibility as well as a desire for glory. These seem like competing rather than complementary feelings when viewed through the lens of Western values. It can be difficult for the average person to imagine feeling those things simultaneously. Beowulf can help people connect with more modern stories of soldiers.

As one example of a modern war story, these conflicting feelings are reflected in ending of the movie The Hurt Locker: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tqn-tSa1wYY

He tells his wife that they need more bomb techs, which shows a concern for others and a sense of duty. But, he also speaks about his love of the adrenaline.

There are soldiers who volunteer for deployments when it isn’t their turn, when they could avoid deployment if they wanted. They volunteer both out of a sense of duty and from a desire for the glory of war. How would you feel if you were a fellow soldier who didn’t want to deploy for some reason? How would you feel if you were the pregnant wife of a soldier who volunteered for deployment? Different people will interpret such an action in a different manner because of their own distinct relationships and perspective. We cannot easily dismiss any of these perspectives; each seems equally valid.

The fact that some semblance of warrior culture still exists today makes Beowulf very relevant to modern history. I think it can help people gain a small bit insight into the mindset of the modern warrior as well as the ancient warrior.

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Photo taken by Asif Akbar

 

Jen W.jen_w Jen is a born and bred Sooner who has spent twenty years following her military husband around the world. Jen started on her homeschooling journey when her eldest daughter learned to read at three years old, and she decided that she couldn’t screw up kindergarten that badly. That child is now a senior in high school, and they have both survived homeschooling throughout. Jen has two more children who are equally smart and have also homeschooled all along.