Pilgrim’s Progress

My Harvard Classics reading today was a few of the last pages of Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress”. There is a children’s version that I used to read to my sons when they were little that is so cute. I’d never read the real one until a few years ago and I loved it. I hope they read it themselves some day.

This morning though, this passage hit home.

“only when they tasted of the Water of the River over which they were to go, they thought that tasted a little bitterish to the Palate, but it proved sweeter when ’twas down.” and in the margin “Death bitter to the flesh, but sweet to the soul.”

The whole last chapter is portraying many of the characters as they cross that “river” into spirit. It’s very touching. While I do not relish the thought of dying and leaving loved ones behind, the idea that once that bitter part is over the sweetness will overwhelm me comforts me. I hope that it comforts those I leave behind as well.

When my Grandma died, and we were very close, it was so hard to see her go, but I know she walked across that river into our Father’s arms and is happy there. That comforts me. I know she isn’t “watching over” us. In the blink of her eye we will all be with her in Heaven.

Thank you, Lord, for reminding me of that Truth!


Life Long Learning

There is so much out there when I am reading that makes me wonder why we went to educating all the children of the world academically and “by the book”.

Here’s something I came across yesterday in my Harvard Classics reading. It’s from Thomas DeQuincey (1785-1859).

“Whatever educes, or develops, educates. By the education of Levana, therefore, is meant, – not the poor machinery that moves by spelling-books and grammars, but by that mighty system of central forces hidden in the deep bosom of human life, which by passion, by strife, by temptation, by the energies of resistance, works for ever upon children, – resting not with the night or day, any more than the mighty wheel of day and night themselves, whose moments, like restless spokes, are glimmering for ever as they revolve.”

We all constantly learn, forever. Anything we do is learning. I feel it is more important, as a home educating parent, to let my children do things than to teach them. Our lives are a mess of constant discovery and discussion. It’s an amazing process and comes naturally, without force or direction.


I’ll admit that I’m not very good a decent conversation. I’ve always been apt to run at the mouth a bit! I just get so excited about a topic or idea that I can’t stop talking about it. I have been aware of it and have tried to change. I’m still working on it!

This morning’s reading was timely because I’m getting ready to spend the day with family and that tends to get me going. I think I’m nervous around people and that makes me talk more. This was a very good reminder to let others speak their mind. This line alone could really help me to remember, “The two chief ends of conversation are to entertain and improve those we are among, or to receive those benefits ourselves;”. I must remember to allow others to speak!

The reading was Jonathan Swift’s, “Essay on Conversation”. And again, an old reading where nothing has changed over the years.


Locke on Learning to Read

Harvard Classics reading today was from John Locke’s “Some Thoughts Concerning Education”. I didn’t read the whole book, just the excerpt that the reading list suggests, but I’m definitely putting this on my “to-read” list!

The part I did read was about teaching children to read. I’m always amazed when I find bits of the ideas behind “unschooing” or “life learning” in old books. Here are a few quotes.

“When he can talk, ’tis time he should begin to learn to read. But as to this, give me leave here to inculcate again, what is very apt to be forgotten, viz. That great care is to be taken, that it be never made as a business to him, nor he look on it as a task.”

He goes on to talk of games to be be played, setting an example of how important and fun reading is, and how good it is for mothers to read to their children. All things we’ve done as our children have grown. There were never “lessons” or coercion. Some of his ideas are a bit contrived but I think it’s because there wasn’t as much print in his day as there is now. There are so many natural instances to point out letters and sounds today that you really can’t avoid learning to read.

“Children are much less apt to be idle than men;” Now there is something you don’t see much outside the radical unschooler message boards. They really are. You always hear about kids and their abounding energy. They really want to be busy doing a million things. Keep finding things for them to interest their minds and bodies about!

“’Tis better it be a year later before he can read, than that he should this way get an aversion to learning. If you have any contest with him, let it be in matters of moment, of truth, and good nature; but lay no task on him about ABC.” That’s something I’ve been telling people as long as I’ve had kids. It’s something people can’t get their brains around. I always hear, “But he’ll be behind!” We’re homeschooling. Who will he be behind? No one is behind. You are exactly where you need to be. Harassing a child to learn something faster than he is willing or able to learn, only creates tension and aversion to learning anything.

“And if those about him will talk to him often about the stories he has read, and hear him tell them, it will, besides other advantages, add encouragement and delight to his reading, when he finds there is some use and pleasure in it.” We learn so much from conversation. Young people love to talk and so few adults will take the time to listen to what they have to say. You may not really be interested in the book, movie, or game they love, but take the time to really listen. Ask questions about it. Find out what it is that they love about it. It’s so important to their education, more than any lesson.

And one more. Seriously, I could just quote the whole book! “the right way of teaching that language (French), which is by talking it into children in constant conversation, and not by grammatical rules.” Isn’t that the way we learn our own language? We don’t need grammatical rules for our own language, yet we speak fluently and correctly. Why would we not to that in a classroom? Can you imagine a class that you went to for an hour or so a day, where everyone spoke the language you were learning? Instead of meeting in a classroom you met at the park, the grocery store, the post office, and the museum each day and just walked and talked, over lunch or tea. Wow. I want that!

I love finding treasures like this! I can’t wait to read more.

Cicero’s “On Old Age”

“There is therefore nothing in the arguments of those who say that old age takes no part in public business. They are like men who would say that a steersman does nothing in sailing a ship, because, while some of the crew are climbing the masts, others hurrying up and down the gangways, others pumping out the bilge water, he sits quietly in the stern holding the tiller.”

Thoughts on Hippocrates

My Harvard Classics list lead me to Hippocrates this morning. I found two interesting quotes.

From “The Oath of Hippocrates”

“I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel; and in like manner I will not give to a woman a pessary to produce abortion.”

Life was sacred 2500 years ago.

And from “The Law of Hippocrates”

“First of all, a natural talent is required; for, when Nature leads the way to what is most excellent, instruction in the art takes place, which the student must try to appropriate to himself by reflection, becoming an early pupil in a place well adapted for instruction.”

‘Natural talent is required”, I’d say that goes for any subject. Everyone at any age should be encouraged in their natural talents. I hear often, “My child is doing great in reading, but math is harder for him so we’re doing more of math.” Why? His natural talent is in reading, why not encourage and develop that instead? Don’t you think he’ll find math when he is more naturally ready to learn those things?

I find it strange that older texts understand education and children better than our current times. I find it heartbreaking to watch what we currently do to children and then wonder why they have so many learning and emotional difficulties.

What would happen if we let children develop their natural talents instead?

Harvard Classics on Education

Last December I got the Harvard Classics set for my birthday because my husband is awesome. I committed to going through the “Fifteen Minutes a Day” Reading Guide. There’s a whole years worth of selections that, according to them, helps create a well rounded educated human being. The funny part is that it’s written for “boys and girls from twelve to eighteen years of age”. Well, I’m pretty far beyond that age but I never read this kind of stuff when I was a kid, so why not read it now!

Years ago I came across “A Thomas Jefferson Education” and I heard Oliver DeMille (the author) speak about it. It made so much sense to me. In my opinion, it all boils down to the idea that no one can educate anyone else. It’s something you need to go get for yourself. And for each person it’s an entirely different path and destination. It isn’t “educate yourself with the same books and experiences that Thomas Jefferson did”, it’s more like educate yourself the WAY he did, by reading what excites you, speaking and writing with mentors and peers, and experiencing the world around you.

So here I am years later still reading and just getting started in writing about what I’m reading. I haven’t found any mentors in my classics though. There just aren’t a lot of people in my immediate area that are willing to spend time educating themselves. I can continue to be an example to my sons though.

Back to the Harvard Classics! The reading list is old. I find what I’m supposed to read that day and start to read it, but if I’m not comprehending any of it, or I can’t see any link to my world, I just put it aside. There isn’t much on that list though. Some things I’m just really not interested in and I know the reading list is circular so I’ll see the author or subject again in the future, so I just skip it this time. A few times over the years of reading, I’ve come across something I hadn’t found relevant in the past but this time it was timely.

I’m also reading the “Lectures” book of the set. I really enjoy reading these. The one I read most recently was “Lectures on Education”. One of them I was fuming at because I felt it was so off. It was by Professor H.W. Holmes. It came off as pretty authoritarian and communistic, filled with the ideas of the “common good” and “political control”. What was really upsetting reading it was that much of the ideas he was putting forward are what our public education system is using and it isn’t working out anything like he had hoped, or is it?

“For the public interest goes far beyond the need of supplying to all a uniform minimum of schooling. Democracy means far more in education than the warding off of danger from illiteracy. It is a crude and at bottom a wholly mistaken view of public education which confines it to the “the three R’s” or to those admitted necessities and such other subjects as the common good may dictate for the common school. The public interest is not met by merely elementary education. It is met only when every prospective citizen may secure without undue sacrifice that extent and kind of education which will make him most efficient in his fundamental social relationships, including his vocation. The state needs knowledge, efficiency, insight, and idealism in industry, commerce, the arts, science, philosophy, religion, and family life as much as in citizenship more narrowly defined. The only logical result of the thoroughly social character of education is public support of every socially profitable kind of schooling, with commensurate public authority.”

There are loads of problems with this, the least of which is the idea that the United States is a “democracy”. Democratic Republic. We vote for representatives that operate under a predetermined constitution. Anyway, the system of making sure everyone has the same basic education to promote all these “socially profitable” things is the exact opposite of what made this country grow and become great in the first place. Individualism, self-educating, and self-reliance is what creates the kind of human being that can rule himself. The education this man is promoting is what creates citizens and a ruling class. Which is exactly what we have now.

I’ll leave you with a quote from the essay about “Huxley on Science and Culture” by Professor A.O. Norton. “So clear and simple is it, indeed, that one constantly forgets that the printed page is before one. One seems to be looking directly at the thoughts expressed rather than at the words themselves, just as one looks through a clear window at a landscape.”

Have you ever read a book like that? I have. Poetry can sometimes do that, but Jane Eyre was one that made me feel as if I were looking right into that world. I wanted to reach out and hug the characters, or yell at them to stop and see what they were doing to each other. Makes me want to read it again.