Saturday, August 30, 2014

Curriculum update: Moving Beyond the Page (early review)

I've gotten a few questions via email over the years on the curricula we use in homeschooling our two boys. I'm always a little hesitant to answer because we have been trying different approaches to see what is a good fit for the boys and what isn't. The latter group doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad approach…instead it may just mean it didn't click with them and their learning style.

One curriculum that is definitely clicking this year is the Language Arts subject from Moving Beyond the Page. I'm using the Ages 10-12 package for the fifth grader and the Ages 8-10 package for the third grader and they seem to be a perfect fit. Based on an n of 1 for each package I can say I'm enjoying them as much as the boys.

The younger boy just finished reading Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The lessons often focus on the concept of interdependence…how the family was dependent on and impacted the environment around them. The lessons provide for plenty of topics to cover, weaving in grammar lessons along the way. I estimate we did about 75% of the activities in the lessons, substituting other activities to explore in areas he expressed interest. I liked the mix of activities, and even the ones we didn't use gave us ideas for things we did want to do. As a side-benefit, it's a book I enjoyed reading, too.

The older boy finished reading The Wanderer by Sharon Creech, a story about 13-year-old Sophie, her cousins, and her uncles sailing across the Atlantic Ocean. Told through journal entries of Sophie and her cousin Cody, we saw the challenges they faced and their development from the experiences. One thing I liked in both workbooks was the book-long recording of a particular topic. For The Wanderer the focus was on Sophie's and Cody's character development during their journey. There were also a lot of other fun lessons focusing on storytelling, grammar, and writing. Then there were the subtle mysteries just below the surface, resolving nicely at the end of the story. I'd say this was appropriate for the fifth-grade level.

The variety of the lessons in the accompanying workbooks was the high point for us. Since I'm not using the other subjects I can't comment on how well the other curricula offered tie in with this subject, but it's apparent from the way they approach Language Arts (and the books selected) that there is a perfect opportunity to tie other subjects in with these books. A caveat: because I felt Language Arts was the area I didn't cover best with the boys last year I really wanted to focus on it this school year. While the Language Arts package appears to cover areas of the topic well (including grammar, spelling, etc.), I'm going to supplement the curriculum with another one. It has nothing to do with any perceived shortfall on MBtP but reflects the additional emphasis I'm placing on this subject this year. The cost of the packages can be pricey, but it's nice that there are several options based on whether you can provide the books yourself as well as choosing e-copies vs. physical workbooks. Also to keep in mind is that the pricing is for the full year. We've been very happy campers so far, admittedly early on, and plan to update and post on the books as we go along…especially since I'm looking forward to all the books we'll be reading together!

Monday, August 25, 2014

American artists' sketches from World War I

Maybe I'm back? I hope so…I've missed this place.

While we're in the middle of so many -ennials, such as the War of 1812, the Civil War, and World War I, I did want to pass on this article from about American artists sent to Europe by the War Department (as it was called then) to sketch a historical record of what was happening. While the artists were sent late in the war (coinciding with America's late entry), it "marked the first time that the U.S. government commissioned artists to capture a war effort." [A serious aside to the Smithsonian and other sites…don't make it so difficult to copy a short quote if you'd like an article to be shared.]

Other countries were already doing this, realizing this was a history-changing event. According to the article, the American sketches were much more documentary, though, compared to other artists' expressionistic works.

The American History Museum digitized the collection and a paperback version of Art from the Trenches: America’s Uniformed Artists in World War I by historian Alfred Cornebise will be released next month.

Troops Leaving Esnes by Ernest Clifford Peixotto
Date of work: September 26, 1918

Monday, August 04, 2014

Slavnosti snezenek / The Snowdrop Festival (1984 film, Czechoslovakia)

In my post on Rambling on: An Apprentice's Guide to the Gift of the Gab by Bohumil Hrabal I mentioned that Jiří Menzel had directed a movie based on those stories set in the Kresko settlement of Bohemia. I finally watched a copy of the movie with English subtitles and I found it almost as much of a joy as the stories on which they were based. This is the third Menzel movie I've watched based on Hrabal's stories and I'm convinced they were a match made in celluloid heaven. Menzel captures the playfulness, ambiguity, and the subversiveness of Hrabal's writing.

Menzel includes many of the quirky people and situations populating Rambling on, capturing their traits and peculiarities making them memorable. For example, watching the farmer take his goats for a ride in his car provides the same smile, inside and out, as the reading provided. Menzel downplays the subversion in Hrabal's stories, probably a factor of filming in Czechoslovakia in the early 1980s. Hrabal's chief of police dispenses arbitrary justice favoring his friends (and himself) while meddling in everyday affairs. While Menzel's characters distrust the police chief, he provides a calming effect on the populace, especially at a rowdy dinner party.

Even though the movie provides many laughs and smiles, a sadness permeates the bucolic setting. Like the stories, alcohol provides a social lubricant as well as an escape. Just what people are trying to escape isn't quite clear, amplifying Hrabal's ambiguous messages, although you wouldn't be far off the mark if you simply answered "their lives." While some things give these characters joy, many things drive their desire to escape, including family, work, government, opportunity, and materialism.

Similar to Hrabal's style, Menzel allows the quirkiness and banality of the residents to supply both beauty and humor. It's a dark humor, though, but one that celebrates the uniqueness of each character, breaking your heart while making you laugh. The central story for the movie is "The Feast," where competing hunting clubs argue over the right to feast on a wild boar shot in a local schoolroom. When you watch Menzel's version you'll agree with Hrabal's repeated admonition in the story that "you've never seen, nor could you have seen, the things I saw, we saw, the things that came to pass that time when a boar, a wild boar, got shot by us folk from Velenka inside the school at Přerov." Menzel combines "The Feast" with another story that marks a bittersweet turn to the drunken fight/feast.

I don't know where the movie was filmed but I seem to recall reading somewhere that the opening montage of local scenery was shot in and around Kresko (don't quote me on that, though), where Hrabal had a cottage he used when he wanted a break from Prague. Hrabal has a cameo in the movie, sitting on the porch of a pub with another patron, a pint of beer in front of him. I raised a glass to him while I was watching it and to the movie in general. Despite not displaying the full complexity of Hrabal's stories, Menzel does a wonderful job of adapting them to the screen. Very highly recommended.

Friday, August 01, 2014

The Galdós Drawings

It's August already? I wish I could say I'm tanned, rested, and ready to post. Unfortunately it feels more like pasty, stressed…but at least wanting to post.

I'll start with a wonderful site I've found regarding drawings by Benito Pérez Galdós. Dr. Michael A. Schnepf at the University of Alabama has a page on The Galdós Drawings. Dr. Schnepf
"has been studying the original manuscripts of Benito Pérez Galdós since 1987." According to The Galdós Drawings page, Galdós said that "Before literarily creating the characters of my works," he tells Carretero, "I draw them in pencil to have them before me as I speak of them." In some cases, the fascinating manuscripts housed in the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid and the 'Galeradas' housed in the Casa-Museo Pérez Galdós in the Canary Islands have gone virtually unnoticed for more than a hundred years . Galdós scholars can now see many of these drawings for the first time on this web site.

While the drawings are great, the part I enjoyed the most was the section on the Galeradas, or proofs. They show a combination of corrections, doodles, and many side notes. A wonderful site for anyone interested in Galdós! As Dr. Schnepf put it in his kind reply to some of my questions, "The more people we have talking about Galdis, the better." Indeed!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Posting will resume in August…until then...

I'll repeat a favorite non-book post (judging by visits). Since it's the tale-end of cherry season, you'll need to get on top of this to enjoy it during the winter holidays. From the wonderful Fancy Pantry by Helen Witty (New York: Workman Publishing Company, 1986):
A Cordial of Sweet Cherries

After the elements are assembled—the work of 10 minutes—time alone creates this pretty cordial. It requires several months in the jar before it’s ready to enjoy; put everything together in midsummer, and well before the winter holidays the fragrant spirits will be ready to sip.

When the cordial has been drained off and bottled, more sugar and brandy can be added ot the fruit, now awesomely wrinkled, for a second go-round, as described in the recipe.

2 pounds firm-ripe medium-size cherries, dark or light
2 to 4 cups sugar, depending on sweetness desired
1 quart good-quality brandy

  • 1. Rinse and drain the cherries and roll them on a towel to remove as much moisture as possible. Remove the stems.
  • 2. Divide the cherries between two sterilized, dry quart jars (or use a half-gallon glass storage jar with a gasket and a clamped lid, if you prefer),
  • 3. Divide the sugar between the two jars, using 2 cups if you are unsure how sweet you want the cordial to be (more can be added later). Add the brandy, which should cover the cherries and sugar generously. Cover the jars airtight and set them in a cool, preferably dark spot where you will remember to check them regularly.
  • 4. Shake the jars every few days or at least once a week; the sugar will gradually dissolve as the cherry juices join the brandy in the syrup. When all the sugar has dissolved, taste the syrup and decide whether you want to add more sugar; if you do, this is the moment. If sugar is added, continue to shake the jars occasionally until it has all dissolved.
  • 5. Leave the cherries in the brandy for a minimum of 3 months; 5 or 6 months is not too long.
  • 6. Strain the cordial from the cherries and funnel it into clean, dry bottles. Cap or cork them (use new corks only) and store them out of light.
  • 7. If you want to recycle the cherries, add to them half as much sugar and brandy as you used the first time and proceed as before. You may want to leave the cherries in this batch until time to pour the cordial in order to extract all possible flavor.

Anyone that has pitted cherries will recommend wearing an apron, smock, or something to avoid spot-treating

I like the results when I pit the cherries. Plus I use around 3 cups of sugar per batch, but be sure to adjust to your tastes. The picture below shows half-gallon jars (with a clamp closure). I've tried recycling the cherries, but I prefer letting them sit longer for their initial, and only use. Put it in the back of the pantry for five or six months and forget about it until it's ready to be strained at the end of the year!

My 2014 vintage

If interested, please see an earlier blog post on the cherry cordials.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Catching up

I apologize for the unplanned silence. I haven't really felt like reading or posting lately, so maybe a break was what was needed. Since I haven't read much I'll post on what I've recently watched, which was infinitely better.

Trevor at The Mookse and the Gripes has a great review of Inside Llewyn Davis, the latest Coen brothers movie now available for viewing at home. I would say I'm one of the few moderate fans of the Coen brothers…some of their works I love, some I'm not so wild about…and this one was a winner for me. The "WTF is that supposed to mean" symbolism that the Coens include in their movies is still there but seems dialed down quite a bit, letting the story naturally unfold. It also includes some of the most rounded characters they've ever presented, even if they are on the screen for a few seconds. Like Trevor I watched the film again soon after finishing it to pick up on things I missed the first time. Read Trevor's review. It's a movie I'm sure I'll watch again soon.

I had been meaning to watch Jean Renoir's The Rules of the Game and was finally able to do so. While it's now considered a masterpiece, I found it much darker than any review I've read. The plot is simple—a week-long retreat at a country estate provides plenty of opportunities for tangled relationships of French society's upper crust (and of their servants) to play out to a disastrous end. Renoir liked to say it mirrored the "moral callousness" of the time, but I don't think that's quite right, as reflected by the title. Most of the characters are only callous toward anything that is outside their code of ethics. It's OK to cheat on your wife as long as you follow certain rules, for example. But there is a double-edged sword at play here. While simultaneously criticizing the mores of the time and showing his characters sympathetically, Renoir seems to reinforce the importance of what *should* underlie the rules. For example, the estate gamekeeper Schumacher demonstrates a cartoonish view of honor that reveals no underlying basis other than his feeling that he has been offended. How he reacts to the offense demonstrates he doesn't understand why she should feel that way. He's adrift and the two options reflected in other situations is a nihilistic approach, not caring about what happens, and the exaggerated responses he delivers. It's a brutal reflection of society at the time and I now understand the violent reaction at its release—no one likes seeing such an ugly reflection in the mirror. Very highly recommended. Watch it and you'll see the basis for many other films. I'm looking forward to going back and rediscovering some of the influences on the movie, such as Musset's Les Caprices de Marianne and Beaumarchais' Le Mariage de Figaro.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, it the "Dumas summer of the musketeers" for us. Our timing is great since BBC America has just started airing The Musketeers series and (based on the first episode) it's a hit with the boys. The credits are clear that the series is based on the characters from Dumas' novels, so expect a lot of invention and liberty taken with the original. Which is fine with me, especially if the episodes continue to be done as well as the first one. I'm never quite sure why some changes are made from book to screen…why 1630 was chosen instead of the novel's opening in 1626, for example…but as countless other filmmakers have discovered the stories and the characters provide so much opportunity for fun. A few snippets of dialogue:
King Louis XIII (while shooting birds): "There's something about shooting that makes a man feel fully alive."

Queen Anne: "Unlike the birds, I suppose."

King Louis: "They're born to be shot like rabbits…and poets."


Guard: "What do you want?"

Constance: "Fifty sous and I'll take you to heaven."

Guard: "Are you one of those religious nut cases?"

Check your local listings and enjoy.

One of the 'goals' I had this summer was to take the boys to a play, so I took them to see a local performance of City of Angels by Larry Gelbart (book), Cy Coleman (music), and David Zippel (lyrics). The storyline follows an author as he attempts to turn a successful novel into a screenplay. Author and story intertwine as his creation takes on a life of its own, which leads me to reflect once again that everything comes back to Cervantes (with a healthy dose of Unamuno). While the youngest boy was bored by the intermission the oldest enjoyed the whole thing. I thought it a very well done performance of a complicated (staging-wise) production by a local troupe. Who knows…I may even convince them to go to another play this summer!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

This weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal

If you have a chance to pick up a copy of the current Weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal I recommend you do so. The review section has reviews on books about World War I in addition to several essays about the conflict. There's also a review of The Professor and the Siren by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (author of The Leopard), a NYRB Classics collection of three stories recently translated by Stephen Twilley. The stories include the title story of the book, his final work, as well as “Joy and the Law” and "The Blind Kittens."

Two of the stories pick up on parts of The Leopard. Since the review is behind an online paywall I'll only provide a short quote from the final paragraph that looks at "The Blind Kittens," intended to be Lampedusa's second novel. Only the first chapter was completed, which is what is included here. "The Blind Kittens" starts with a nod to The Leopard, with the upstart Batassano closing a deal on the selling off of lands by aristocrats to prop up their dwindling estates. His meteoric rise seems tainted by his acquisition of tainted land.
Here once more is Lampedusa's dry irony; here is his tender gaze at the anachronistic Sicily, its cruelty and provincialism; here is one last shot at the impotence of its shunted-aside ruling class.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Instant viewing: The Three Musketeers (1973) free on Amazon Prime

The boys and I started reading The Three Musketeers last week and we're enjoying it. Looking to see what film versions were available for instant viewing I found 1973's movie directed by Richard Lester and written by George MacDonald Fraser (of Flashman fame). I've always enjoyed Lester's and Fraser's version and the kids love the additional humor in it.

Several Amazon Prime movies I was interested in seeing are no longer available for free viewing, so if you're interested in watching it don't wait too long!

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Paideia: the Ideals of Greek Culture (Volume 1) by Werner Jaeger – Introduction [bumped, edited]

Paideia: the Ideals of Greek Culture (Volume 1) by Werner Jaeger (2nd edition), translation by Gilbert Highet (New York: Oxford University Press)

I'm bumping this to the top to keep the posts in this series close together. I know this series won't interest everyone but I find Jaeger's work fascinating.
Every nation which has reached a certain stage of development is instinctively impelled to practice education . Education is the process by which a community preserves and transmits its physical and intellectual character. For the individual passes away, but the type remains. The natural process of transmission from one generation to another ensures the perpetuations of the physical characteristics of animals and men; but men can transmit their social and intellectual nature only by exercising the qualities through which they created it—reason and conscious will. … By deliberate training even the physical nature of the human race can alter, and can acquire a higher range of abilities. But the human mind has infinitely richer potentialities of development. As man becomes increasingly aware of his own powers, he strives by learning more of the two worlds, the world without him and the world within, to create for himself the best kind of life. His peculiar nature, a combination of body and mind, creates special conditions governing the maintenance and transmission of his type, and imposes on him a special set of formative processes, physical and mental, which we denote as a whole by the name of education. Education, as practised by man, is inspired by the same creative and directive vital force which impels every natural species to maintain and preserve its own type; but it is raised to a far higher power by the deliberate effort of human knowledge and will to attain a known end.

From these facts certain general conclusions follow. To begin with, education is not a practice which concerns the individual alone: it is essentially a function of the community. The character of the community is expressed in the individuals who compose it; and for man, … far more than for any animal species, the community is the source of all behaviour. The formative influence of the community on its members is most constantly active in its deliberate endeavour to educate each new generation of individuals so as to make them in its own image. The structure of every society is based on the written or unwritten laws which bind it and its members. Therefore, education in any human community (be it a family, a social class, a profession, or some wider complex such as a race or a state) is the direct expression of its active awareness of a standard.

Now, education keeps pace with the life and growth of the community, and is altered both by changes imposed on it from without and by transformations in its internal structure and intellectual development. And, since the gasis of education is a general consciousness of the values which govern human life, its history is affected by changes in the values current within the community. When these values are stable, education is firmly based; when they are displaced or destroyed, the educational process is weakened until it becomes inoperative. (xiii - xiv)

Forgive me for the lengthy quote but there was no good way to summarize Jaeger’s opening points in his introduction, titled “The Place of the Greeks in the History of Education,” other than to quote him. Now a summary for the rest of the intro...

Under the model the Greeks set up, education formed the basis for paideia, intertwining their values, culture, and community in the process. Jaeger credits the Greeks as creating new principals for communal life that focused on the pursuit of an ideal.

Jaeger’s purpose with the book Paideia was to give an account of Greek culture by looking at paideia’s character and development. As Greek city/states developed, they focused their usage of culture to create a "higher type of man." Education would need to embody and justify this goal. The Greeks looked at the role of the individual and the community and how each formed the other. This outlook was a part of their greater view of nature, where nothing was separate from the rest, each “an element in a living whole.” Within the interlocking nature of individuals and community came the development of the idea of individual freedom. “The variety, spontaneity, versatility, and freedom of individual character” provided “the necessary conditions that allowed the Greek people to develop so rapidly in so many different ways.”

Jaeger spends some time looking at the different arts in Greece and how they progressed, initially focusing only on aesthetic instincts but progressing to incorporate an intellectual component to idealize the subject. “[T]he Greeks always sought for one Law pervading everything, and tried to make their life and thought harmonize with it.” Universal patterns were studied and theories constructed to locate things in their particular place of the whole:

The unique position of Hellenism in the history of education depends on the same peculiar characteristic, the supreme instinct to regard every part as subordinate and relative to an ideal whole—for the Greeks carried that point of view into life as well as art—and also on their philosophical sense of the universal, their perception of the profoundest laws of human nature, and of the standards based on them which govern the spiritual life of the individual and the structure of society.

The Greeks realized that they could shape people as a potter molded clay. “They were the first to recognize that education means deliberately moulding human character in accordance with an idea.” Plato captures this idea, using the metaphor of molding character in the Republic several times. At all times there is a sense of the guiding pattern, the idea or typos, leading to a final product. Everything the Greeks did ultimately focused on man. They developed anthropomorphic gods. They would philosophize on the cosmos in order to explain human problems. Most importantly they would attempt to comprehend the state by understanding man. “Other nations made gods, kings, spirits: the Greeks alone made men.”

Paideia starts from ideals, not from the individual. These ideals were the goal, whether the subject was poetry, art, or philosophy. The ideals were rarely static, instead developing over time. “The Greek mind owes its superior strength to the fact that it was deeply rooted in the life of the community.” The hard part was translating these ideals to an aesthetic form that would serve to educate and benefit the community without impinging on individual freedom.

A conflict between ideals helped produce some of the Greeks' greatest works. From Homer to Plato the duel between individual freedom and responsibility to the community works to develop and define the ideal. Jaeger looks at the development of Greek culture and Greek literature and concludes that their histories coincide with each other—“for Greek literature, in the sense intended by its original creators, was the expression of the process by which the Greek ideal shaped itself.”

Jaeger closes with an acknowledgment of the time he was writing (pre-World War II) and the benefit he hoped would accrue from studying, clear-eyed, the educational method and values of the ancient world:

But at this juncture, when our whole civilization, shaken by an overpowering historical experience, is beginning to examine its own values once again, classical scholarship must once more assess the educational value of the ancient world. That is its last problem, and its own existence will depend on the answer. It can be answered only by historical science, on the basis of historical fact. The duty of classical scholarship, therefore, is not to give a flattering and idealistic description of the Greeks, but to interpret their imperishable educational achievement and the directive impetus which they gave to all subsequent cultural movements, by studying their own intellectual and spiritual nature.

The table of contents on this volume and additional links can be found here.
'In hand and foot and mind built foursquare without a flaw'—these are the words in which a Greek poet of the age of Marathon and Salamis describes the essence of that true virtue which is so hard to acquire. (xxii)

Monday, June 02, 2014

Herodotus Salon recording

On May 14, 2014 Paul Cartledge and James Romm talked about Herodotus and the two new translations of his Histories. It's well worth the hour to listen to the salon sponsored by Reading Odyssey, which can be found here.

I asked about other recent books on Herodotus they have enjoyed and they provided some books that will be added to my to-be-read stack soon in addition to the two new translations by Pamela Mensch and Tom Holland. Don't forget Cartledge's After Thermopylae: The Oath of Plataea and the End of the Graeco-Persian Wars (and his lecture on the book) or Romm's Herodotus in the Hermes Book Series, both wonderful books as well.