". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Little Trip South

We have been on the road the last few days, taking my older son to audition for the music program at University of Alabama. The school was not one that was originally on Trevor's list, but they came after him with a pretty enough offer that he decided to give them a look. The visit went well, but Nebraska is still number one on his list. I think Trevor is theirs to lose. I am amazed when I think back to the beginning of his college search to recall that UNL was not even under consideration. It was an accident, really, that it came to be so. Sure, my husband is a huge Husker fan, and he raised Trevor to be one, too. But that's not the reason Trevor began looking at UNL. It all started when I took Trevor to a local college fair. There was a UNL table there, but hardly anyone was visiting it. We stopped by "just for fun" and in doing so discovered how well they treat National Merit scholars. And then Trevor researched their programs and became even more interested. Finally we visited the campus and met a top notch piano professor that impressed us in more ways than just his music. And then UNL turned on their recruiting machine. It's not final yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if the path between our house and Lincoln gets well trod over the next four years. We should know in a few months, and when we do, I'll announce the news here!

But back to the weekend. It was a quick trip with a lot of driving. We left Thursday, spent Thursday night in Nashville, Friday night in Tuscaloosa, and Saturday night back in Nashville, arriving home tonight. Everyone went, including Caitlin and Evan. It was a lot of time cooped up in the van watching the Sponge Bob movie more than most of us cared to, but we enjoyed the beautiful scenery and the time together away from responsibilities, not to mention the warm temperatures in Alabama Friday and Saturday. We hit the 70s! We had a meal at the highly recommended Full Moon BBQ in Tuscaloosa, and several of us enjoyed a swim in the hotel pool (actually, that swim occurred in Tennessee, as the pool in Alabama was an outdoor one). And on Sunday we had the pleasure of worshiping at Grace Lutheran-Clarksville, shepherded by the meandering Pastor Larry Peters. We were warmly welcomed by Pastor Peters and several of his flock. The music and preaching were excellent and we felt right at home. I was interested to see something I have not seen at many Lutheran churches. Following communion, Pastor Peters invited those who desired it to come forward and kneel for anointing. Enough people did so that the altar rail was almost full. Pastor went from one to the next, speaking Scripture and praying over each one while anointing him or her with oil. I was touched by the love and affection that I saw demonstrated for each individual that came forward. It was a beautiful ritual. I am not sure how often it is performed, but my guess is that it is a periodic event. Fifth Sundays, perhaps? Maybe Pastor Peters is reading and will let us know.

All in all, it was a fine weekend. We did have a larger than usual number of fast food foul-ups. The worst was Thursday night when we arrived in Nashville. We dropped our bags at the hotel and went in search of a late night snack. We were happy to see a Jack-in-the-Box, one of our old Texas haunts that doesn't exist in Illinois. We went through the drive-through lane only to realize that no one knew what he wanted and there was a car behind us. So rather than making that car wait we decided to drive around and just go in. Of course, as soon as we did we encountered another car at the window, and that car seemed to be having a problem with its order because we were stuck for a long time. Finally we got out of the drive-through lane and parked and went in. But wouldn't you know it, after everyone finished studying the menu and we started placing our orders (which were heavy on the ice cream products), we were told, "We're out of ice cream." I couldn't believe it. Who ever heard of a Jack-in-the-Box with no ice cream? Evan was crushed. Out we went. Can you guess where we ended up? Say what you want about McDonald's, in all the times we have been there they have never, ever run out of ice cream.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Can We Talk?

Pastor Beisel at One Lutheran . . . Ablog! writes about what he sees as a "confessional awakening" in the LCMS and suggests that for it to be truly fruitful confessionals need to be able to have meaningful discussion:

"There is so much fear out there still–fear to say the wrong thing. Fear to offend, or to take a position that is not popular, or to offend this group or that group of friends. If we are really going to take this confessional awakening into the end zone, then I think this is the key. We have to be willing to stand up and take a stand on things, and not just give 'thought-provoking' papers, or write 'provocative' essays, but to actually bring the Word of God to bear."

I think he's right on. Problem is, I also think the fear that he speaks of is well-founded. In my experience, those who take a stand for what they believe in risk ridicule and marginalization. If they dare to chart a course that departs at all from the narrowest of confessional paths, their "confessional credibility" is likely to be questioned. If they stand up to those with more power or influence or popularity, they risk being labeled as difficult, volatile, or not a team player. If they don't play by all of the confessional rules, their club membership may be summarily revoked. In the long run they are turned out, no longer included in the discussion, no longer invited to the table. No wonder there is fear.

Before he was elected, the new LCMS president Rev. Matt Harrison outlined something called the Koinonia Project, which as I understand it would be an ongoing effort to address some of the questions that are dividing our synod with the hope of finally bringing some measure of resolution to them. I have always looked at the Koinonia Project as something aimed at bringing together the so-called "liberal" and "conservative" wings of our church body. But more and more, I think we may need a Koinonia Project for just us "confessionals." Before we can even begin to think about coming together as a synod, we need to learn to communicate in love and kindness and openness with one another. How to make that happen, I have no idea. Sometimes I despair of it ever coming to pass.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Just Stop Talking, Please

Pastor Messer at Abide in My Word is asking for comments on a video he recently posted. It is a great example of what many of us mean these days when we use the term "Contemporary Worship." (I capitalize the words to make a distinction between worship that is Contemporary and worship that is contemporary. All worship is by definition small "c" contemporary since it is something that happens in the present.)

Anyway, I encourage you to watch the video and participate in the discussion. As I was doing just that, I came across another video from the same church, Faith Lutheran in Troy, Michigan, that I think is quite lovely. It is a flute choir, accompanied by piano, playing an arrangement of "Be Still, My Soul" as the Prelude to the service. Whereas my church would never present anything musically comparable to the video posted at Pastor Messer's blog, I could easily see us doing something like this. It is a reverent instrumental interpretation of a hymn from our synodical hymnal (LSB 752) presented at an appropriate time in the service. The problem comes when the Prelude is over. Instead of embracing the stillness and quiet of that moment when the music is over and the service is about to start, the "audience" breaks into applause. What happened to "Be Still, My Soul"? And then, wouldn't you know it, the pastor has to come out and add his own two cents about the whole thing (starting at about 3:40 in the video):

"Praise God for instruments, right? I hope that that music that was played would help set your minds on, as the Bible says, things above, not on earthly things . . . . When we come in to worship . . . that's God's doing, and He's here, right with us, and He helps us to worship, Amen?" That comment is followed by an introduction and additional chatter.

Before I opine further, here's the video:

Again, I think the music is very nice. The applause and the pastor's comments ruin it. How much better if once the Prelude were over the service continued, without interruption, into the Confession and Absolution. No discussion needed. Just confess the sins and get the absolution. It's almost as if by talking about how God is present, the pastor is trying to convince himself and the congregation of the fact. The pastor is correct in saying that worship is "God's doing" but then he contradicts that statement with all his talk. And that's the problem with much of the Contemporary Worship I see. The people so often seem to be trying to convince themselves that God is acting by their talking and singing about how they feel. If we trust that God is present in Word and Sacrament we don't need to talk about it, we don't need to demonstrate it, and we don't need to look to others to demonstrate it to us. All we need to do is soak it in.

In sum, we don't need to try so hard.

Monday, January 24, 2011


At the 2010 convention of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, my husband was elected to the Board for International Mission, newly formed as a result of the synodical restructuring that was approved at the same convention. As part of his duties on the board, he has been giving the assignment of reading a book on missiology: Mission from the Cross: The Lutheran Theology of Mission (Klaus Detlev Schulz, Concordia Publishing House, 2009). This morning, he shared this passage from the book with me:

"Mission typically penetrates areas where the negative effects resulting from man's inability to be good stewards of God's creation are starkly apparent. Werner Elert once compared our failure to be good stewards to riders in a closed paddock where the horses are allowed to trample everything under the hoof. Therefore, not everything brought into this world through the progress of civilization should be seen in a positive light. The alarming increase of the world's population, the ongoing drain on the world's resources, the destruction of pristine rain forests, the pollution of land and water, and atomic radiation are all a result of human failure. The myriad of such failures prove that in order to be better stewards of God's world and creation, we must use our reason in a faithful and conscientious way. For God placed the obligation of taking care of His creation into the hands of humans . . . ."

I am speechless, utterly speechless to see this sentence-- "The alarming increase of the world's population . . . [is] a result of human failure"--coming out of our synodical publishing house. The increase of life is never alarming. It has nothing to do with human failure. It does not drain resources. God gives it and wherever he does so we are to receive it with joy as a blessing, not look upon it as a burden or lapse in stewardship. Whatever other good there is in this book, and I'm sure there is some for it to have been assigned for board study, this sentence for me would call it all into question. Did anyone even read it before it was assigned as a guidebook for one of our synod's governing boards? Both possible answers--the affirmative and the negative--are disturbing indeed.

Disturbed . . .

. . . by so many things these days. The world, even more than usual, seems turned upside down. Things I thought I could depend on, people I thought I could believe in, "experts" whose judgment I thought I could trust, leaders who are not leading, "friends" who may or may not fit that designation . . . all of it seems called into question. I find myself wondering whom I can trust, what I can embrace without hesitation, what I can rely on without doubt. The answer comes back: nothing and no one save Him who is eternal. I know this. Why is it so easy to forget?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

At Long Last, or How I Spent My Weekend

Last spring we began making plans for a major home project. We finally embarked upon it this fall. It is not primarily a remodel but a repair, as it was necessitated by the accelerating decline of an aging, leaky sunroom that was causing water damage to our house. After researching our options and the associated costs, we decided that our best course of action was not to repair or to replace but to remove the offending structure. That removal opened up some other possibilities for changes to that part of our home, one of which was the building in of custom bookshelves (yay!). As our house has been in a state of flux and mess and chaos for months now, those bookshelves have been a lodestar to get me through the remodeling darkness. So you can imagine my elation last weekend when they finally arrived and this weekend when they were at long last installed!

I wish I had taken a few more "before" pictures. I had to search for one of the interior of our family room (which adjoins to the sunroom). Here is a shot from Christmas of 2009. Beyond the 2-way fireplace and the glass panels on each side is the sunroom that was built on to the back of our house (not by us).

Here's an outside shot of the sunroom.

A shot from inside the sunroom of the other side of the fireplace and glass panels.

Bye-bye, sunroom and hello, patio.

Then, the plastic time.

Finally the plastic was gone and dry wall took its place!

No more glass. No more 2-way fireplace.

HELLO, BOOKSHELVES! After seeing them in place, we found ourselves wishing we could have replaced the brick, too.

It was a major undertaking to move all those books. I'm tired and my back and feet hurt. But I'm so pleased with the result! I wish I had taken a photo of the old, falling apart shelves.

LP records and games are stored in the cabinets.

There is much left to be done. New siding is on the back of the house (you will have to wait until spring for a picture of that), but gutters and downspouts are not. Landscaping will also wait until spring. The bookshelves are actually not quite complete--crown molding and knobs for the cabinets are coming. A new mantel and eventually a new fireplace will be installed. A new sliding glass door is already in place in the kitchen, but it still needs trimming and staining. Ceilings and walls need painting. Carpet needs to be stretched and stapled back in place. I'm sure I'm leaving something out. But for now, we finally have a family room that is functional!

Until the painters come . . . .

Friday, January 21, 2011

For What It's Worth

My previous post on cyberspace was intended to be descriptive, not prescriptive. I read an article and then did some thinking out loud about my own approach to some of the issues the article raised. Everything in my blog post was personal to me, outlining only what I am comfortable with in my own online interactions. It was not intended to be instructive for anyone else. So in case I communicated otherwise, let me now be clear: God did not say, "Thou shalt not vague-book" or "Thou shalt not text" or "Thou shalt not chat" and neither did I. What I did say is that for various reasons these things don't work for me. That doesn't mean I would presume to tell others to stop doing them. I know people who have the rule of not posting anything remotely political or religious on Facebook because they don't want to risk offending or angering someone or opening themselves up to those sorts of discussions. That is fine--it is what they are comfortable with. For them to have that rule for themselves does not mean that it applies to me, and I don't take it as such.

As long as you are not breaking one of the Biblical Ten Commandments, you are free to do, without guilt, whatever you please, in cyberspace and elsewhere. If I seemed to imply otherwise, I am sorry.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Do You Serve Cyberspace or Does It Serve You?

I saw this article * linked on a friend's Facebook page. It is a review of a book by Sherry Turkle, Alone Together, which, in reviewer Eric Felten's words, considers "whether the powerful electronic tools we are adopting may be deforming us." Felten observes that in recent years there have been a number of books on this topic but asserts that Turkle's book offers an original take on the question: "What she brings to the topic that is new is more than a decade of interviews with teens and college students in which she plumbs the psychological effect of our brave new devices on the generation that seems most comfortable with them."

Here in a nutshell are a few of the facts of today's plugged-in lifestyle that many of us are having to come to terms with:

1) The condition of constantly being "on": Between the internet, email, blogs, Facebook/MySpace, Twitter, chat, cell phones, and texting, the electronic media monster is ubiquitous.

2)The pitfalls of leaving an electronic history that can never be escaped.

3)The danger of using electronic communication as a means of avoiding human contact.

4)The need to control and manage one's public face, which can easily become an unhealthy obsession or tool for deception.

I think articles such as this raise concerns that all of us who engage in electronic communication would do well to reflect on. I have been doing that for the past few days and I encourage my readers to do the same. Here are some of the ways I personally manage (or fail to manage) each of the heads of the online monster (corresponding to the four points above):

1) Of the items in the list for #1 above, I make use of the internet for general purposes and of email, blogging, Facebook, and cell phones. I have a Twitter account but don't use it. Elephant's Child says I should delete it. Maybe I will--it was created for a certain purpose and now that purpose is gone. I keep chat turned off in email and Facebook. As much as I love my friends, I don't like being interrupted for the purpose of what is usually casual/trivial conversation when I am at the computer trying to get something purposeful done. I don't send or receive text messages (to the surprise and inconvenience of friends and non-friends alike). That is not because I decided against it on principle, but because I don't want to pay for it and I don't like typing with my thumbs. That may change when my oldest son goes to college, since he doesn't like to talk on the phone any more than I do.

My assessment of my connectedness is that I am probably more "plugged-in" than I should be. As a more-or-less stay-at-home mom, I have email and Facebook always available for the checking. They are probably my greatest temptation away from things I should be doing. I have arrived at a comfortable level of online reading, doing it mostly in the morning with my coffee or at night before I turn off the light. By not participating in online chatting or phone texting, I limit my availability to casual messaging. I don't know if I realized until reading this article how much of a help that may be to erecting a fence around my flesh and blood self to keep the online behemoth at bay. I found this quotation from the article, a teenager's lament about the inability to escape the communications of her peers, rather poignant:

Teens may embrace the peculiar sociability that the wireless computer makes possible, Ms. Turkle says, but they do so with unease and ambivalence. To put it in theater terms, they are "on" all the time, expected to respond immediately to every text, every IM, every scribble on their Facebook walls. There is no escape from the pestering, nudging, hectoring, chattering demands of being connected. Many high-schoolers are more exhausted than exhilarated by their virtual lives. "I can't imagine doing this when I get older," says one student about the hours he devotes to meeting the demands of his online social life. "How long do I have to continue doing this?"

I would say to that student, "You don't have to do it at all. You don't owe anybody, save family, that much of your time, and you can communicate with your family in other ways."

2) and 4). I think these are two sides of the same coin. If one is going to have an online presence, there is a need to moderate it. In the same way that we don't divulge our entire beings to people we meet in real life, we don't do so in cyberspace, and I think that's appropriate. We all have different "faces" that we wear for different areas of our lives, and our online life is no different. But I think as with all the other "faces" we display, we should aim for honesty and integrity in our online persona. It is natural to want to present ourselves in the best possible way. We don't go to church in sweats and hair curlers. But in our online communications we should not be dishonest about who we are, and we should be alert to the dangers of narcissism.

One of the things that helps me most in the policing of my own online communication is an awareness of audience. Every time I post something on my blog or on Facebook, I try to consider all the people that may potentially read it and to ask what the point of the post is and whether it will be constructive. I try to avoid what is known as "vague-booking": posting something online, particularly on Facebook, that only raises questions and puzzles people. I won't say that I have never done it. I have, particularly when I am feeling sorry for myself. But I am trying overall to avoid it because I think it is on a par with pouting and then not sharing what you're pouting about or enjoying inside jokes that may leave others feeling left out. Instead, on Facebook and here, I try to post things that I think might actually be interesting or enlightening or helpful to my friends and readers.

3) For me, this is probably the greatest danger of online communication. I am a strong introvert. I am shy (not all introverts are). I am not as debilitatingly shy as I was as a child, and I have learned to manage social situations much better, but I am still likely to avoid people rather than face the stress of interacting with them. I am insecure and worry excessively about what people think. So the ability to dodge human interaction by transferring communication into the electronic sphere is something that for me could be unhealthy. Cyberspace can also provide a means of avoiding things I should be paying attention to but am trying to escape because I feel depressed or overwhelmed.

On the other hand, when I think about my online life, it strikes me that I now have many more friends--and I do mean friends--than I had before I plugged in. Facebook and email enable me to keep in closer touch with them, and with some of my family, than I otherwise would. Additionally, I enjoy many more connections with people that I may not be as personally close to but to whom I nevertheless feel a bond because of shared values (political and cultural), beliefs (religious), and experience (vocational). These connections allow me to converse with fellow moms, homeschoolers, musicians, conservatives, Lutherans, and the like, and I find that for the most part these conversations build me up, encourage me in the various realms of my life, and actually draw me out of my introverted existence. You might call me a cyber-extrovert.

Nevertheless, Turkle's book sounds like it offers some excellent cautions which all of us should heed. The most important part of one's life is not to be found in a cell phone or computer. It is, rather, in the people we can see, hear, touch and yes, even smell, on a daily basis. If we ever perceive that our virtual life is crowding out or taking precedence over our physical one, it would be wise to "minimize" the one and "refresh" the other.

*I highly recommend you read the entire article. The comments of some of the interviewees are both enlightening and distressing.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Almost Paradise

Yesterday I spent some time with my teenagers reviewing their English literature reading from the past month. We are supposed to do this on a weekly basis, but it is one of those things we find easy to slough, particularly when life gets complicated. Luckily, my current class is composed of excellent readers. Not only do they actually read what I assign, but they understand it! In fact sometimes I wonder if they really need me. The book is brimming with information and I am not. I used to have more in my head, but I don't live and breathe this stuff anymore. Luckily, as far as my current students are concerned, I have realized that much of what I used to do as a classroom English teacher is not necessary for them. Many of my former students had to be dragged kicking and screaming to their literature books. More often than not, classroom time was spent reading what didn't get read at home or trying to make sense of what was read but not in the least understood. My own kids don't need that. And the older I get the less benefit I see of imposing on them the kind of close, analytical reading I did as an English major. All I really want is for them to read and enjoy their Western literary heritage. And I think that is what ultimately makes it beneficial for us periodically to sit down and talk through some of their reading assignments. More than anything else, it's fun. (For some reason our literature sessions seem to awaken the comedian in all of us.)

Anyway, back to yesterday's "class." My teenagers have already read and/or seen a respectable amount of Shakespeare, but since our survey of British literature has brought us to the Elizabethan period it seemed time to do another. This time around it was Macbeth, and today we had a little fun considering that play's potential as a murder mystery. Then it was on to the carpe diem tradition with Marlowe & Raleigh & Herrick & Marvell, and finally, the loss of paradise with Milton.

I was fortunate as a graduate student to take a Milton seminar with one of the preeminent Milton scholars of the 20th century. Not only was he brilliant, but he was a dear, grandfatherly man and a product of the traditional, old-school style of literary criticism. I don't remember having read Paradise Lost in high school, but I read it in its entirety, as well as other works of Milton, for this class. It was pure pleasure each week to sit around the table with Dr. Hunter and my fellow grad students as we considered Milton's life, craft, and theology. Some scholars view the narrative voice in Paradise Lost as a persona that Milton created to tell his story; Dr. Hunter believed the narrator was Milton himself and that Milton had earnestly set out in the epic "to justify the ways of God to man," and that's how we approached our consideration of the text.

Yesterday, while perusing my Milton notes with Trevor and Caitlin I stumbled on something I had forgotten: with Dr. Hunter's encouragement, I had submitted one of the papers I wrote for his class to the scholarly publication Milton Quarterly. Although Dr. Hunter wrote an accompanying recommendation, my article was rejected (turns out someone had already written something similar a few years back). That was pretty much the end of my scholarly publication hopes, but it wasn't the end of my time with Dr. Hunter. I was privileged to take another seminar, this one on Shakespeare's history plays, with him the following year.

Dr. Hunter was already retired when I took his Milton class almost 20 years ago. He was to the point in his professional life that he was only teaching what he wanted when he wanted. I figured chances were good that by now he was no longer living. But maybe . . . . The kids and I did an online search. Was he still alive? We found the answer to our question here.

Even though I wasn't surprised, I was sad to see that he was gone. I'm glad that I still have one of his books, dated December 12, 1990, with the inscription: "To _____ _____, who worked with me on some of the difficulties in Milton." Wow. Such a grand and generous man, to address me as a scholar and an equal when I was only a skull full of mush benefiting from his expansive knowledge and prodigal kindness.

As I think back to my time in college, both as an undergraduate and graduate student, I am astounded at the absolute luxury of it. To sit and read for hours on end without being interrupted. And then to spend more hours talking, just talking, about what was read. Did I really do that?

I did. And at times I got to do it with the best. To Dr. Hunter and to others like him who handed me a basket and bid me gather some rosebuds all those years ago, thank you. I think I still have a few of them saved somewhere, pressed between the pages of a long forgotten book.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Parenting for Success

I've seen this article in a few places recently.

"Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior"

Yesterday a friend emailed it to me and asked for my thoughts. So here goes.

The article was written by Amy Chua, who was born in the United States the daughter of Chinese immigrants and who grew up to become a Yale Law School professor. It explores why "Chinese" parents (Chua uses the term loosely to represent a certain approach to parenting that is often seen not only in Chinese parents but in other cultures as well) are so seemingly successful at rearing high-achieving children. Chua attributes the success to three things:

First, I've noticed that Western parents are extremely anxious about their children's self-esteem. They worry about how their children will feel if they fail at something, and they constantly try to reassure their children about how good they are notwithstanding a mediocre performance on a test or at a recital. In other words, Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches. Chinese parents aren't. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently. . . .

Second, Chinese parents believe that their kids owe them everything. The reason for this is a little unclear, but it's probably a combination of Confucian filial piety and the fact that the parents have sacrificed and done so much for their children. (And it's true that Chinese mothers get in the trenches, putting in long grueling hours personally tutoring, training, interrogating and spying on their kids.) Anyway, the understanding is that Chinese children must spend their lives repaying their parents by obeying them and making them proud. . . .

Third, Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children's own desires and preferences. That's why Chinese daughters can't have boyfriends in high school and why Chinese kids can't go to sleepaway camp. It's also why no Chinese kid would ever dare say to their mother, "I got a part in the school play! I'm Villager Number Six. I'll have to stay after school for rehearsal every day from 3:00 to 7:00, and I'll also need a ride on weekends." God help any Chinese kid who tried that one. . . .

I find it interesting that Chua concludes her article by stating that "all decent parents want to do what's best for their children" and that the "Chinese" and "Western" approaches are just culturally different means for pursuing the same goal when the title of her article is "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior." Perhaps she didn't write the title. But she clearly sees her parenting style as superior, not merely different.

I also find it interesting that several times in the article Chua refers to her husband Jed, an American who, as Chua tells it, takes issue with the Chinese view of child-raising. In response to Jed's questioning Chua's treatment of their 7-year-old daughter while Chua was coaching the daughter through learning a difficult piano passage, Chua mocked her husband:

"Oh no, not this," I said, rolling my eyes. "Everyone is special in their special own way," I mimicked sarcastically. "Even losers are special in their own special way. Well don't worry, you don't have to lift a finger. I'm willing to put in as long as it takes, and I'm happy to be the one hated. And you can be the one they adore because you make them pancakes and take them to Yankees games."

Wow. I hope her daughter wasn't around to see that.

My thoughts on this article are, I suppose, something of a copout. I think there are things "Western" parents can learn from their "Chinese" counterparts. I really like the pursuit of excellence through hard work, success as its own reward, and the respect that Chinese children are taught to have for their parents. The belief that Chinese children are indebted to their parents reminds me a little of the John Rosemond school of parenting. I agree that Western parents and educators are too enamored of self-esteem. And when I read Chua's description of how a Chinese mother would react to her child's getting a part in the school play and assuming that it would be acceptable to have that play take over the family's life for days on end, I found myself cheering inside. One of the reasons we home school our children is that we don't like anyone having more say over their schedules than we do.

I find it ironic, then, that a parent like Chua, who is so willing to flout the prevailing culture in certain ways is simultaneously so willing to acquiesce to the expectations of the school by bowing to the grade and deadline god. Again, one of the reasons we home school is that we place more importance on learning for its own sake than on chasing perfect report cards. Chua in much of her article is describing what I would call intrinsic motivation--pursuing excellence because it is gratifying to be excellent--but the obsession with grades, which are an extrinsic measure of success, does not jibe with that.

So my copout response is that I think the best parenting probably contains elements of both the "Chinese" and the "Western" approach. Lucky for me, I have a "Chinese" husband to balance my overly "Western" self. If you ask me, our kids hit the jackpot.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Gone to Texas

Word for today from my Forgotten English calendar:

"gone to Texas" - An American expression for one who has decamped, leaving debts behind. It was, and is, no unusual thing for a man to display this notice--perhaps only the initials "G.T.T." on his door for the callers after he has absconded. - Trench Johnson's Phrases and Names: Their Origins and Meanings, 1906

So I guess "gone to Illinois" (as we did a number of years ago) must mean not that you're leaving debts behind but that you're taking them on? That's about how it seems to me, anyway, considering the financial situation of the state of Illinois and the coming 75% hike in the state income tax.

One of these days if you click on my blog and see nothing but a "Gone to Texas" sign you'll know it's because I could no longer afford to live in Illinois.

Friday, January 7, 2011

I Think I'm Seeing a Connection Here

Recent entries from my 2011 "Forgotten English" calendar, compiled by Jeffrey Kacirk

Thursday, January 6

"married all o'er" - Said of women who after their marriage . . . become . . . miserable-looking. - Georgina Jackson's Shropshire Word-Book, 1879

Friday, January 7

"toozle" - To pull about, especially applied to any rough dalliance with a female. - John Brockett's Glossary of North Country Words, 1825

Please note that I do not personally identify with either of these locutions. My husband is a complete gentleman, and being married to him has only made me better. :-)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

This Is Just Wrong

"New Edition of Huckleberry Finn to Lose 'N' Word"

Those who are in favor of the censorship say they hope it will lead to the book being read by more people. If I were Mark Twain, I would rather have it not be read at all than have it read in a compromised form.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Homeschooling Under Attack

My husband and I are members of the Christian homeschooling organization HSLDA--the Home School Legal Defense Association. You might think that any Christian homeschooler would want to join such a group. You would be wrong. There are many homeschoolers who choose not to be members of HSLDA. They have thoughtful reasons for their decision, reasons that I can respect. My husband and I have considered the pros and cons of membership and have made a different decision.

That, though, is not the point of this post. The point of the post is an article I just read in the Nov./Dec. issue of the HSLDA publication, The Home School Court Report. The article, written by HSLDA chairman Michael Farris, is entitled "The Third Wave of Homeschool Persecution" and outlines what Farris sees as the third in a series of attacks on homeschooling by those who are threatened by it. He says the first two attacks failed because they were based on faulty premises which were in time shown to be faulty, namely that 1) homeschooling doesn't work and that 2) homeschoolers suffer from not being "socialized." Farris says no one seriously argues either point anymore because homeschooling has proven itself to be quite successful in producing students and ultimately adults who are able to function in the world as effectively as students coming out of institutional settings.

What's left, then, for those who want to go after homeschooling? Farris says that the anti-homeschoolers have found a third war cry, and this one (unlike the previous two) happens to be based in fact. According to him, the "third wave" is the argument that "Christian homeschooling parents are effectively transmitting values to their children that the elitists believe are dangerous to the well-being of both these very children and society as a whole." He quotes at length from an article by Catherine Ross, a professor at George Washington Law School. The article, published in May 2010 in the William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal, is entitled "Fundamentalist Challenges to Core Democratic Values: Exit and Homeschooling." Here is an excerpt:

"This essay explores the choice many traditionalist Christian parents (both fundamental and evangelical) make to leave public schools in order to teach their children at home, thus in most instances escaping meaningful oversight. I am not primarily concerned here with the quality of academic achievement in the core curricular areas among homeschoolers, which has been the subject of much heated debate. Instead my comments focus on civic education in the broadest sense, which I define primarily as exposure to the constitutional norm of tolerance. I shall argue that the growing reliance on homeschooling comes into direct conflict with assuring that children are exposed to such constitutional values."

Are you tracking with this? Homeschooling is dangerous to our children, the country and the Constitution. Farris also quotes from another author, Professor Martha Albertson Fineman from the Emory University School of Law, who in 2009 in the book What is Right for Children? The Competing Paradigms of Religion and Human Rights wrote,

"Indeed, the long-term consequences for the child being homeschooled or sent to a private school cannot be overstated. The total absence of regulation over what and how children are taught leaves the child vulnerable to gaining a sub-par or non-existent education from which they may never recover. Moreover, the risk that parents or private schools unfairly impose hierarchical or oppressive beliefs on their children is magnified by the absence of state oversight or the application of any particular educational standards." Fineman's solution to the problem? Read on:

". . . [T]he more appropriate suggestion for our current educational dilemma is that public education should be mandatory and universal. Parental expressive interest could supplement but never supplant the public institutions where the basic and fundamental lesson would be taught and experienced by all American children: we must struggle together to define ourselves both as a collective and as individuals."

Are you catching those buzzwords? "Struggle"? "Collective"? Would you like a cup of Marxism with your afternoon dialectic?

The battle line is being pretty clearly drawn. Having failed to attack homeschooling on the merits there is nothing left for the anti-homeschoolers but to attack a parent's right to do it. And that is achieved by going after the child, claiming that the state, not the parent, has ultimate responsibility for that child.

On the one hand, I have a certain sense of security that homeschooling has become so common and accepted that any attempt to eradicate it would fail. I am in the second generation of homeschooling and have personally never encountered what I would describe as homeschooling "persecution." Most of the time the people I come in contact with, even if they don't understand homeschooling, respect it as one of the educational options out there and respect my and my husband's decision to do it. They have overall positive images of homeschooling and often say they would do it themselves if they "could."

On the other hand, I think it pays to be vigilant. We live in a country that has for a very long time now been slowly expanding the power and reach of the State. There are some signs that may be starting to change, but those signs are not definitive and I am not convinced the tide has turned. I for one plan to tighten my grip on my kids, plant myself firmly between them and the ever-grasping State, and proclaim loudly, "Over my dead body." I suggest you do the same. How you do it is up to you.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Words to Live By

My thoughtful and intelligent older son got me a neat Christmas gift. It's a tear-off calendar entitled "Jeffrey Kacirk's Forgotten English: A 365-Day Calendar of Vanishing Vocabulary and Folklore for 2011." I thought some of my readers might be interested in today's word:

"Scurryfunge: A hasty tidying of the house between the time you see a neighbor and the time she knocks on the door."--From John Gould's Maine Lingo: Boiled Owls, Billdads, and Wazzats, 1975

Bet you didn't know there was a word for it!

I'll plan on sharing some of the more noteworthy entries over the course of the coming year. Thanks, Trevor!