You are currently browsing the monthly archive for July 2008.

I’ve seen the Batman movie – twice.

First, let me echo the cautionary words I have read elsewhere – this is NOT a movie for children. It’s PG-13 for a reason and I would not for a moment consider taking a child less than 13 to see it.

Several reviewers (notably, Sam Thielman in World Magazine) have noted the startling, disturbing, and powerful performance of Heath Ledger as the Joker. Thielman observes that he’s not playing the Joker, “He’s playing Satan. Ledger flicks his tongue like a snake, tempts people to kill one another, and is gleefully sloppy with bullets, bombs, and knives. Everyone else plays gangland archetypes; Ledger’s Joker has escaped to the movies from Milton, or C.S. Lewis’ Perelandra.”

If the Joker is Satan, then Batman is … ? No, he’s not Jesus. And yet, there are some striking details in the way Batman is portrayed which one does not expect to find in a comic book super-hero.

Batman is the hero, but the script does not ask us to admire him because he’s stronger, wiser, faster, or has better gadgets. Instead, the writers, (Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan, and David Goyer) portray Batman as the vigilante who longs for the day when he is no longer needed. Batman is not Jesus, but he is the anti-Joker. This concept is explicitly played with in several scenes.

The Joker has no political agenda, no long-term goals. That, indeed, is one of the things that makes him so terrifying, and so dangerous. The Joker in fact, has no identity. No fingerprint matches, no DNA matches, no ID, no labels in his clothes. His only demand is that Batman should unmask himself. Alfred rebukes Bruce Wayne, who thinks the Joker is just another criminal, with the observation that “Some men aren’t looking for anything logical. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

It is this acknowledgement – that there is real evil in the world – that is part of what makes The Dark Knight a different kind of movie.

The other part is that Batman triumphs, not because he’s stronger, but because he’s willing to deny himself. He’s willing to be the outcast. He’s willing to be rejected by the citizens of Gotham, if that’s what it takes to protect Gotham. He’s willing to be blamed for things he didn’t do, if it will preserve hope.

The Joker strives desperately to prove that everyone, in the end, is as evil as he is. That he’s not mad, he’s just “ahead of the curve.” He tempts, toys, and manipulates everyone – and proves, over and over again, that they can be corrupted – but he fails to corrupt Batman. It is Batman’s rejection of the temptation of the Joker that makes him the victor. And there are some surprising heroes in other places, as well.

Most of the movie is loud and violent, and there are sections of dialogue that are maddeningly difficult to hear (especially the final voice-over). But they are worth listening to. Alfred (Michael Cain) and Lucius (Morgan Freeman) are the wise men in Bruce Wayne’s life. They give him good advice. But in the end, Batman must find the strength of character alone to resist the Joker.

The movie satisfies, because Batman decides to be the Hero that Gotham needs – even though he must pay a terrible personal cost.

Lots of people are going to see this movie. It represents a tremendous opportunity to talk about issues of great significance. Leadership, integrity, service, self-denial, the reality of evil and the importance of self-sacrifice are all themes that are touched on. There have not been many movies that raised those issues, and so I commend the film-makers.

But don’t take the kids.

This is a remarkable, and hopeful children’s book about the struggle for civil rights in the 1960s. The book tells the story of two lives, in simple, clear text and powerful illustrations. The first biography is of a young black boy growing up in Atlanta. He is constantly confronted with painful reminders of the injustice and prejudice directed towards the members of his race. The second biography is of a young Jewish boy growing up in Poland. He too is constantly confronted with painful reminders of the injustice and prejudice directed towards the members of his race.

In the 1960s, the young boy from Atlanta had grown up to be a Baptist preacher like his father. He led a movement to end the injustices of racial segregation and prejudice. That story, too, is told in the book. When Martin organized a protest march in Alabama, his followers were confronted by police with dogs and clubs. Martin issued a national call for all God’s children to come to Alabama and join the march.

The Jewish boy from Poland, who had emigrated to America and become an influential rabbi, was among those who answered the call. On March 21, 1965, in Selma, Alabama, Abraham Joshua Heschel and Martin Luther King, Jr. prayed together. And then they marched together.

In January of 1968, Martin Luther King spoke at Abraham Heschel’s 61st birthday party. In April of 1968, Abraham Heschel spoke at Martin Luther King’s funeral.

This is a simple, yet powerful book with a message that parents should be encouraged to teach their children. Published in May of 2008, forty years after the death of Martin Luther King.

I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. In early April of 1968, I turned thirteen years old. In late April, Martin Luther King was assassinated. It was, to say the least, a terrible year. In Atlanta, my family had been proud of Dr. King, and we mourned his death. We were proud that Atlanta had a reputation as “the city too busy to hate.” The ideals of the Declaration and Constitution have taken a long time to be fully realized. Teaching our children about the ideals and the struggle is an important part of their education.

The book is a hardback, 40 pages, full color throughout. The text is written on a 3rd-4th grade reading level, but the book will work very well read out loud to younger children as well. As Good as Anybody is available directly from Greenleaf Press for $16.99.

“In the not-too-impossible-to-imagine future, a gay Jewish man has been elected President of the United States. . .”

So begins the book blurb for a forthcoming YoungAdult novel (Wide Awake) which will be published by Random House/Alfred A. Knopf this fall.

And the plot twist of course, is an evil scheme by a conservative governor to alter the presidential voting results in one state to prevent our hero’s election. And our youthful protagonists’ adventure is to support their candidate by “taking part in the rallies and protests.” Our heroes are Jimmy and Duncan and the book promises “an exploration of their relationship, their politics, and their country.”

By David Levithan, the author who previously brought us Boy Meets Boy.

Welcome to the next phase of the desensitization and recruitment program.

I’m reading a fascinating new book on American History (What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 – it won the Pulitzer Prize this year) when I ran across this striking passage in chapter 5, titled “Awakenings of Religion:”

“Americans eventually came to think of the separation of church and state as one of the achievements of the Revolution, and as guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. Actually, these common beliefs are but half-truths. The Revolution separated church and state in those places where the Church of England had been established in colonial times. But in several New England states, Congregationalist religious establishments, remained in place. Unlike the Anglican establishments, those of the Congregationalists had been on the winning side of the Revolution and did not seem discredited by American independence. The Bill of Rights, added to the national Constitution in 1791, read: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Applying specifically to Congress, this First Amendment restricted the federal government only, not the states. The Congregational standing orders (as these establishments were called) persisted in Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.”

[. . .]

“Under Republican leadership, New Hampshire separated church from state in 1817, and Connecticut in 1818, leaving Massachusetts the only state with an establishment of religion, which would endure until 1833.”

Several points are worth emphasizing.

ONE: The “Establishment Clause” did not require the banishment of religion from the public or civic life of either state or federal government. It prohibited Congress from picking one particular denomination and making it the “national religion.” The Founding Fathers wanted no American counterpart to the Church of England and the Test Act (which required that all public office holders, including all members of Parliament be members of the Church of England). There would be no “Church of the United States.”

TWO: The last US state to have an officially “established” state religion? Class? Anyone? Bueller? Yes, that’s right, MASSACHUSETTS. [heh]

THREE: The phrase “separation of church and state” does not, of course, appear in the US Constitution or the Bill of Rights. It is a phrase taken from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to the Baptists in Virginia where he expresses his personal opposition to the continuation of the Church of England (aka the Episcopal Church) as the “established” church of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

And again, to sum up, the 1st Amendment guarantees Freedom OF Religion… NOT Freedom FROM Religion. Here’s the full text, which I recommend all students should memorize:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,
or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;
or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press;
or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
/blockquote>

  • Rob Shearer
    Director, Schaeffer Study Center

<

It is with great pride that Greenleaf Press announces the publication of the Greenleaf Guide to Medieval Literature ($19.95) by Cyndy Shearer

For over ten years, Cyndy has been teaching high school literature classes in home school tutorial settings. For the past five years, she has been teaching all four years of western literature at the Schaeffer Study Center, in Mt. Juliet. We are very pleased to be able to publish the second volume in her four year syllabus. The Greenleaf Guide to Medieval Literature joins the already published Greenleaf Guide to Ancient Literature
($18.95). The Greenleaf Guides for years three & four (Early Modern Lit and Modern Lit) are under development – meaning Cyndy is already teaching them and refining the material.

Like the Greenleaf Guide to Ancient Literature, the Greenleaf Guide to Medieval Literature takes an inductive approach to the study of selected outstanding literary compositions. Rather than studying short excerpts from dozens of possible works, Cyndy has selected a representative set of selections for close study. Students are led by a series of questions that help them to read and understand the text, and then to reflect on the larger questions being dealt with and the authors’ worldviews. A high school student who completes these two literary studies will have a superior background and preparation for the study of modern literature – either in high school or college.

Beginning with Bede and Anglo-Saxon poetry, the Guide (with wry observations by Cyndy) takes students through Beowulf, Gawain, Chaucer, & Hamlet. A worldview bonus is the conclusion of the course with a study of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead – Tom Stoppard’s raucous verbal pyrotechnics on the themes of fate and death which uses two of the minor characters from Hamlet who get caught up in Shakespeare’s play and then try to puzzle out what the intrigues of Denmark mean when all the Shakespearean characters have left the stage.

The text is designed for an instructor (parent, teacher, or tutor) and student who are reading the text together. Some students may be able to complete this study on their own, but the best experiences will be the discussion of themes and issues with another reader. You don’t have to be an expert in medieval lit in order to teach this course – you just have to be willing to do the reading along with your student(s).

Cyndy is eminently well qualified to teach and write on these themes. She is a summa cum laude graduate of Queens College (she graduated in three years and wrote an undergraduate honors thesis on the poetry of T.S.Eliot). She has an MA in English from the University of Virginia, with an emphasis in contemporary American and European poetry. At U.Va. she participated in the graduate poetry writing workshop led by the gifted poet, Gregory Orr. Cyndy has been homeschooling the Shearer children since 1985, having graduated five from high school – and with six more still at home. She co-founded the Francis Schaeffer Study Center in Mt. Juliet with her husband Rob in 2003.

Along with the Greenleaf Guide to Medieval Literature, Greenleaf Press is pleased to make available a complete study package which includes the Guide and all six of the texts selected by Cyndy for her course on Medieval Literature. The texts include:

The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, by the Venerable Bede
Beowulf, trans. Rebsamen
Gawain, trans. Tolkien
Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer
Hamlet, by William Shakespeare
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, by Tom Stoppard
The Greenleaf Guide to Medieval Literature, by Cyndy Shearer

The Medieval Lit Study Package is available for $70.91 (regular retail – $78.70)

Also available from Greenleaf Press is the Ancient Lit Study Package which contains:

The Greenleaf Guide to Ancient Literature ($18.95)
The Epic of Gilgamesh (Sandars translation)
The Odyssey (Robert Fitzgerald translation)
The Oedipus Cycle (Robert Fitzgerald translation)
Antigone by Anouilh (Barbara Bray translation)

The Ancient Lit Study Package
is available for $61.08 (regular retail – $67.85)

Both the Greenleaf Guide to Ancient Literature and the Greenleaf Guide to Medieval Literature are also available as downloadable eBooks, making it easy for a parent/teacher/tutor to provide the text to their student, while using the eBook to follow along on their computer.

Needless to say, I highly recommend these high school literature courses for homeschoolers, classical schools, and any high school program that wants a thoughtful rich study of the history of Western Literature.

By popular demand, we have restocked and resumed selling Anna Botsford Comstock’s Handbook of Nature Study and all 18 of the Audubon Field Guides.

For those who want to do nature study (especially for those inspired by Charlotte Mason), these are invaluable resources.

The late Anna Botsford Comstock was the founder and first head of the Department of Nature Study at Cornell University and the first woman to be appointed to the Cornell faculty. Written originally for elementary school teachers, this book is as valid and helpful today as it was when it was first written in 1911.

Here’s an accolade to her from the Conservation Hall of Fame at the National Wildlife Federation:

“Named one of America’s 12 greatest living women in a 1923 survey by the League of Women Voters, Anna Botsford Comstock was a conservationist before most people knew what the word meant.

Comstock is widely recognized as the mother of nature education. Along with her husband, John, whom she met while she was a student at Cornell University, she formed the Comstock Publishing Company. Its motto: “Nature through Books.” In 1911 the company published Anna’s 900-page Handbook of Nature Study. The now-famous sourcebook for teachers went through 24 editions and was translated into eight languages.

In her book, Comstock emphasized the rewards of direct observation. She was ahead of her time in stressing the importance of natural relationships that work to form what we now call an ecosystem. The point of her approach to nature study, she said, was to “cultivate the child’s imagination, love of the beautiful, and sense of companionship with life out-of-doors.”

Comstock was instrumental in launching a pilot nature study program – the first of its kind in the country – in the schools of Westchester County, New York. In time, the program grew into a nationwide teacher-education program administered by Cornell University and other colleges.

By encouraging instructors to take their students outside to learn, and then helping them see the relationship between people and the natural world, Anna Botsford Comstock left her mark on countless generations.”

Similarly, the 18 Audubon Field Guides are among the best nature resources ever produced. First released over 30 years ago, they are still magnificent. Each is over 800 pages, and each has 200+ color photographs to aid in identification. There are guides on Birds, Trees, Wildflowers, Mushrooms, Insects, Seashells, Rocks, Fossils, and Weather. These are books that we still consult regularly, 20 years after having first purchased them.

The Handbook of Nature Study is a paperback, 887 pages, available direct from Greenleaf Press for $26.00.

Most of the Audubon Field Guides sell for $19.95. A few have been more recently updated and reprinted and sell for $20.95 or $21.95.

“Political correctness, at its heart, is the effort to dissolve the foundation on which American and European culture has been built. It has been a demolition project: undermine Western civilization in whatever way possible, and build a brave new world from the rubble.”

“Multiculturalism has nothing to do with genuine love for natives of the Australian outback or the monks of Tibet. It is an effort to crowd out our own cultural traditions. Radical secularization – in the name of “separation of church and state” – aims to burn our religious roots. Public education, purveying convenient untruths about our past – the Middle Ages were miserable, the ancients were simpletons, the church is oppressive – has sought to rob us of our heritage. Misrepresentations of the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the last two hundred years serve to create an illusion of unvarying progress made possible by abandoning the old ways. And that is the central myth that justifies the continued discarding of our religious, intellectual, and moral traditions.”

“Once our culture is untethered from Athens, Rome, and Jerusalem – once we’ve forgotten about or dismissed Moses, Plato, and Jesus – then the PC platoons in academia, government, and the media hope to steer the ship of culture to new shores.”

“Because political correctness is a project of destruction, the message has not always been consistent. Either Shakespeare was a subversive, closeted homosexual, or he was an ignorant chauvinist. Either Jesus was a non-judgmental hippie, or he was a preacher of hate. But this much has been consistent: anything that reeks of the West is therefore politically incorrect and must be denigrated or condemned.”

“For those of us who love the West, it’s a daunting battle. The other side has the mainstream media, the Ivy League, the political classes, and a lot more money. Thankfully, on our side, we’ve got thousands of years of history and some pretty big guns – with names like Aristotle, Augustine, Burke, and Eliot.”

“The bad ideas touted today as revolutionary and enlightened are hardly new; the West’s great minds have battled relativism, atheism, materialism, and State-worship for millennia. The great ideas can hold their own against anything today’s most renowned Women’s Studies professor can devise.”

  • Anthony Esolen, Professor of English at Providence College
    from the Preface to The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization

I really can’t sum it up any better than Prof. Esolen. If you know a college student taking Western Civ, you should buy them this book. If you plan to teach your own children Western Civ, you should buy yourself this book. Paperback, 340 pages, available directly from Greenleaf Press for $19.95.

Sometimes, simply reading a book’s title opens doors and helps us make connections and understand things better. Who knew that some 240 Yale graduates fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War? Professor Nathaniel Cheairs Hughes, Jr., eminent Civil War historian, aims to illuminate that overlooked detail. In October of this year, The University of Tennessee Press will publish his book, Yale’s Confederates: A Biographical Dictionary. They didn’t all come from the South, but they did pay a terrible price. Almost 70% of them were killed in the war. The Yale Library web site reports that the names of the Confederate dead were inscribed in marble along with alumni who fought for the Union in the 1915 Woolsey Rotunda. Another fascinating tidbit from that site is that in the 1870′s, barely ten years after the war’s end, ivy from Robert E. Lee’s house at Washington College in Virginia was planted on the Yale campus to symbolize reconciliation of the Confederacy with the rest of the nation.

In honor of Independence Day:

George vs. George: The American Revolution as seen from Both Sides, by Rosalyn Schanzer. It’s rare for a children’s book in the US to give any consideration to the British position on the rebellion in the colonies. Schanzer has the perfect hook to start her book – the similarities between George Washington of Virginia and George III of England. George III was 22 when he succeeded his grandfather as King in 1760. George Washington was slightly older (he was 28 in 1760) but his upbringing, as an English gentleman in the colonies was remarkably similar to King George’s in England. From the similarities in their personal lives, Schanzer then examines how government worked in England and in the Colonies and then reviews the controversy over taxes in the colonies from 1764-1770. Finally, she shows how George vs. George came into direct conflict in 1774-1775 over the blockade of Boston and the attempt to disarm the colonists and seize their guns at Lexington & Concord. She gives a detailed comparison of the British forces vs. the Rebel forces and then gives a good overview of the Tides of War 1776-1783. There are two final sections on what each George did after the war. Washington went on to be President of course, and George III ruled as King of England for 60 years, dying in 1820. Paperback, 60 pages, $6.95 directly from Greenleaf Press.

Farmer George Plants a Nation, by Peggy Thomas.. A delightful book that shows us an overlooked side of George Washington. Washington was the owner of a substantial plantation of Virginia and devoted most of his life to managing it, improving it, tinkering with methods and machines to improve his crops. In many ways, he might be described as man who spent his life farming, with a few interludes where he dabbled in politics and military command. The book begins with Washington as a young man who has just inherited his older brother’s plantation, Mt. Vernon (named for the British admiral under whom his brother had served). Washington orders books on farming from England and then throws himself into the study of farming in general, and the characteristics of his own land and climate in particular. One of his first innovations was a combination plow/tiller/harrow that reduced the time and effort needed to sow his fields with barley. Over the years, no matter where he was, Washington thoughts always turned to Mt. Vernon. He wrote home asking for news, and giving instructions for projects he wanted carried forward. The period from 1781 to 1787 was perhaps his happiest. The war with Britain was over, and he was able to spend his days uninterrupted tending Mt. Vernon. During the eight years that he served as President, Washington kept Mt. Vernon close to his heart. From the presidential desk in New York, he designed new barns and new machinery. It is characteristic of his life, that his last act, in December of 1799 was to ride out and check on his fields. Hardback, 40 pages, $17.95 directly from Greenleaf Press.

Duel! Burr and Hamilton’s Deadly War of Words,
by Dennis Brindell Fradin. An unlikely topic for a children’s book, but an important and jarring event from early in United States history. Hamilton and Burr had both served as officers on George Washington’s staff. Hamilton was appointed by Washington as the first Secretary of the Treasury. Burr was elected Vice President in 1800 on the winning ticket with Thomas Jefferson. Both men had difficult childhoods (a fact poignantly referenced in the book’s opening pages). Hamilton was orphaned at 13 on the Caribbean island of Nevis. Burr was orphaned at two in Newark, New Jersey. Near the end of his term as vice president, Burr ran for governor of New York. Hamilton opposed him and when Burr lost, he blamed Hamilton for having started malicious rumors that blackened his name. He challenged Hamilton to a duel. Hamilton accepted the challenge. The drawings of the two men rowing across the Hudson, facing each other at twenty paces, aiming, and firing are sobering and compelling. Each fired one shot. Burr was unscathed, but Hamilton was fatally wounded. This is a fascinating look at one of the less savory moments in our political history. The book makes the point that after the duel, Burr was disgraced – his future in politics destroyed. The book affords an excellent opportunity to talk with children about anger, forgiveness, and the terrible consequences of rash deeds. Hardback, 40 pages, $16.95 directly from Greenleaf Press.

My Name is York,
by Elizabeth Van Steenwyk. One of the fascinating details of the Lewis and Clark expedition is the inclusion in the party of Captain Clark’s black slave, York. With simple, understated text, Van Steenwyk imagines what the voyage of exploration would have looked like through York’s eyes. The color illustrations by Bill Farnsworth and arresting and compelling. They capture the tension between a new world and a new country dedicated to freedom that still tolerates the continuation of slavery. Paperback, 32 pages, $7.95 directly from Greenleaf Press.

 

 

 

How We Crossed the West: The Adventures of Lewis & Clark
by Rosalyn Schanzer. Schanzer takes her text form the Journals of Lewis and Clark, selecting the most noteworthy, daring, arresting incidents they experienced along the way. She takes the diary entries and illustrates the events that they describe. The result is an adventure book, all the more compelling because it is true. Paperback, 48 pages, $7.95 directly from Greenleaf Press.

 

 

 

Gold Fever! Tales from the California Gold Rush, by Rosalyn Schanzer. To prepare for writing and illustrating this book, Schanzer visited every California gold rush historical site she could find. She took more than 600 photographs of everything from gold nuggets to saloons in order ot make her art as accurate and flavorful as possible. With skill and humor Rosalyn brings historical characters vividly to life. The adventures of the 49ers, whether they traveled by land or by sea make some tall tales sound tame. Paperback, 48 pages, $7.95 directly from Greenleaf Press.

 

 

 

Have a happy (and safe) Fourth of July celebration! (I always enjoy the fireworks!)

Zeitgeist = Spirit of the Times.

Why do I think that?

I just read a preview for a new hard-cover novel scheduled for release on August 5 by John Ringo, entitled The Last Centurion. Here’s the two-sentence blurb:

“In the second decade of the 21st century the world is struck by two catastrophes, a new mini-ice age and a plague to dwarf all previous experiences. An American Army officer struggles to prevent the fall of his homeland – despite others’ efforts to stop him.”

Thank about that. An author thinks a surprising, but plausible plot line for the near future is the occurrence of a “mini ice-age.” It’s a delicious premise, of course. It has all sorts of possibilities for skewering the elites and marveling at their surprise and come-uppance. I can just imagine the dialog: “How much good are your compact fluorescent light-bulbs doing you now?”

Sounds like a good summer read. . . (while contemplating Global Warming!)

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.