You are currently browsing the monthly archive for February 2008.
The Dangerous Book for Boys represents a healthy swing of the pendulum away from 20th century post-Christian sensitive new-age-guy feminist parenting. Me? opinionated?
Seriously, this is a book that works on many levels. If you have a pre-teen boy in the house, I can almost guarantee he’ll like this book. And even if he doesn’t like it at first, you should still have one lying around for him to pick up. Sooner or later he will.
The book is a sort of almanac of “boy’s lore.” The typography, the illustrations, and the article selections are laid out in a sort of cross between the Boy Scout Manual and the old World Book Encyclopedia. The entries are an eclectic mix of lists & lore on topics that boys naturally gravitate to, like “Famous Battles” and “Extraordinary Stories.” There are also some practical academic tips like “Latin Phrases Every Boy Should Know” and three articles on “Understanding Grammar.” But these are not what boys will look at first.
Boys will most likely gravitate at first to “First Aid,” “Five Pen-and-Paper Games,” “Secret Inks,” “Spies – Codes and Ciphers,” “Making Crystals,” and “Making a Go-Cart.” Also included are the rules for “Stickball,” “Table Football,” and a table of the winning hands at Poker. Near and dear to my heart is the list of “Books Every Boy Should Read” at the end, which includes both Lewis and Tolkien as well as Kipling, Mark Twain, Douglas Adams, and Ian Fleming. I’m less happy with the inclusion of J.K.Rowling, but willing to overlook it and politely disagree.
I do recommend this book for homeschooling families who want to delight in the boyhood of boys. The book is just plain fun to read, with quite a few humorous passages. An example: Point one in the Advice About Girls:
1. It is important to listen. Human beings are often very self-centered and like to talk about themselves. In addition, it’s an easy subject if someone is nervous. it is good advice to listen closely — unless she has also been given this advice, in which case an uneasy silence could develop, like two owls sitting together.
2. Be careful with humor. It is very common for boys to try to impress girls with a string of jokes, each one more desperate than the last. One joke, perhaps, and then a long silence while she talks about herself . . .
The authors are two English brothers (who obviously had great fun together as boys), Conn and Hal Iggulden. Conn Iggulden is also the author of the four-volume historical fiction series on Julius Caesar that I recommended earlier this month.
The Dangerous Book for Boys is a well-bound hardback that sells for $24.95. It came out in May of 2007, and in less than a year has already become a classic and a great gift book. You can order it direct from Greenleaf Press.
Sensing a “Good Thing,” the publisher has, of course, brought out a companion book for pre-teen girls in the same style titled The Daring Book for Girls. Printed prominently on the back, in large type, is the invitation (warning?): “For every girl with an Independent spirit and a nose for trouble, here is the no-boys-allowed guide to adventure.”
It is refreshing to read a book that acknowledges that girls’ interests are different from boys’ and celebrates that fact. There are some commonalities (States, Capitals, Greek & Latin vocabulary) but almost everything here is similar in style, but different in content. The games described are Double Dutch Jump Rope and Softball and Slumber Party Games (quite wholesome). The story selections are on Queens of the Ancient World and Women Spies. The projects are Friendship Bracelets, Watercolor Painting, and Roller Skating. I can’t speak personally, of course, but my younger six daughters looked it over and pronounced it “interesting.” I plan to leave it lying around for them to discover and enjoy on their own.
Both books put a smile on my face and made me think that childhood can still be fun and wholesome, and doesn’t require electronic devices to be enjoyed. Recommended for these and many other reasons.
A freshman member of the Tennessee House of Representatives from the Memphis area, Mr. George Hardaway, is sponsoring a bill this year which would require both homeschoolers and private school students to take the same “Gateway” end-of-course exams that the state requires public school students to take.
“Why?” is the question that immediately springs to mind.
Bear with me, for the reasoning is somewhat convoluted. The background is bizarre and parochial but it perfectly illustrates Tip O’Neill’s observation that “all politics is local.”
Background: The Memphis delegation has wielded disproportionate influence in the Tenneesee Legislature for over a century. This was partly due to demographics (until quite recently, Memphis was the largest city in the state), partly due to party discipline (Memphis is overwhelmingly Democrat and the Democrats control the state legislature), and partly due to the legacy of Boss Crump. Don’t get me started on Boss Crump. But if you’re going to play politics in Tennessee, you’d be well served to do some research on him.
Where were we… Oh yes, Gateway tests. What are the Gateway tests?
In the High School End of Course Tests Policy, renamed the High School Examinations Policy in August, 2002, the State Board stipulated that beginning with students entering the 9th grade in 2001-2002, students must successfully pass examinations in three subject areas – Mathematics, Science, and Language Arts – in order to earn a high school diploma. These examinations, called Gateway Tests, were intended to raise the academic bar for all high school students and add accountability for students’ academic performance.
– From the Tennessee Department of Education website.
Now, here’s the problem: A disproportionate number of Memphis public school students have been failing the three Gateway Tests required for a high school diploma. Momma and Daddy (and student) aren’t happy when there’s no high school diploma.
Here’s where the politics comes in. Homeschoolers and private school students don’t have to take the Gateway Tests to earn a high school diploma. The cry of “IT’S NOT FAIR!” goes up. Never mind that homeschoolers and private school students have been taking the SAT and ACT tests as a part of their college applications (and doing quite well, thank you very much).
One solution of course would be to try to figure out what the Memphis public schools need to do in order to improve their pass rate on the Gateways. But that would be hard. Simpler solution: Torpedo the Gateway Test requirement! And in order to bring attention and pressure to bear to solve this crisis, require everybody to take them!
Actually, the whole issue is probably moot at this point. Two weeks ago, the Tennessee Board of Education eliminated the requirement that students must pass the Gateway Tests in order to get a high school diploma. They replaced the three Gateway Tests with TEN Gateway Tests (I can’t find a list of the subjects). But passing these tests is no longer required for high school graduation. Instead, the scores on these ten tests will (by mandate of the Tennessee Board of Education) count as 25% of the student’s final grade in each of the ten subjects. You can now fail the test, but unless the test score drags your course average below passing, you don’t have to take the test again. Pretty good summary in this article from the Memphis Flyer on Feb 14, 2008.
So why is Representative Hardaway picking a fight with homeschoolers? Apparently, its a deliberate strategy on his part to get the legislature to focus on changing the Gateway Test rules so more of his constituents can graduate from high school.
A modest suggestion: Somebody ought to try devoting some effort to changing things so students actually learn more.
Oh, and leave the homeschoolers out of it. Of all the groups of students in the state, the homeschoolers are the ones doing the best academically. There are the occasional failures, and stories of kids who fall through the cracks. But I can guarantee you that the success rate of homeschoolers as a group far exceeds the public schools. And the failure rate is far lower.
Just a thought…
– Rob Shearer
PS: For an excellent account of how the first committee hearing on Rep. Hardaway’s bill went, see this account by Kay Brooks: Hardaway Punts.
We have a new product to offer to students of American History. As part of my own fascination with politics, I did quite a bit of background research for the 2006 elections. It’s the silly season once again, and I’ve updated the chart. Lot’s of folks locally have seen me referring to it as I have talked or done political commentary, so I’ve decided to make it available to a wider audience. This is an information rich chart. On three landscape pages, it shows the composition of both houses of Congress by party and all 43 Presidents of the US, with official photographs, terms of office, and vice presidents. The information is laid out chronologically and will print on three sheets of paper.
The chart can be read in a number of interesting ways. The left hand column shows the total number of members of the House of Representatives. Watching that number grow from 65 in 1789 to 435 now is a great way to get a feel for the expansion of the US. At the same time, the count of Senators grows from 26 to 100.
The two columns showing party totals always have the majority party’s number highlighted in red. Watching the red numbers flip from one column to the other let’s you read at a glance when political parties have suffered a reversal of fortune and lost (or gained) control of the House or the Senate.
The right hand columns depict the terms of the presidents. The brilliance of the American Republic’s achievement in providing for the orderly, peaceful transfer of power from one President to another every four or eight years is much more vivid when laid next to the simultaneous congressional history. You can also see which Presidents enjoyed the backing of Congress and which were at odds with it.
What you are buying is a 3-page eBook (PDF). Printing is allowed for personal use (not for sale or distribution). A color printer is recommended. The cost is $8.00 and the product can be purchased and downloaded from Greenleaf.
They shouldn’t be, but they are. That’s the headline in today’s Tennessean – though they’re not featuring the story nearly as prominently on their website as they did on the print edition front page. Here’s the opening of the story:
From President Bush to chambers of commerce, early education has been heralded like a miracle drug that better prepares youngsters for kindergarten and beyond.
So it came as something of a surprise to Gov. Phil Bredesen and some early-education advocates — including business leaders — this year when several Tennessee Republicans, led by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, expressed both ideological and fiscal resistance to expanding pre-kindergarten.
“These Republican lawmakers are out of step with the rest of the country,” said Libby Doggett, executive director of Pre-K Now, a Washington, D.C.-based group advocating for high-quality, voluntary pre-kindergarten for all 3- and 4-year-olds.
“This has been a bipartisan issue,” Doggett said. “Children are not red or blue. Early education is not about being a Democrat or Republican.”
At issue is Bredesen’s proposal to open 250 additional pre-kindergarten classrooms across the state, with an emphasis on broadening the program to middle-class children. Until now, Tennessee’s $80 million pre-kindergarten program has been geared to low-income children.
“That’s how it was sold to us,” said state Sen. Diane Black, a Gallatin Republican who is chairwoman of the Senate Republican Caucus. She supports public pre-kindergarten for poor children.
She frames her deep concerns over including middle-income tykes in the context of a culture war, finding it “very, very disturbing” for the state to think it can do a better job instructing 4-year-olds than moms or dads can.
“The message of pre-K supporters is that teachers can do a better job than parents can,” Black said. “That goes too far for me, to say that parents are not adequate.
Kudos to State Senators Ramsey and Black for standing up to this misguided attempt to expand the insatiable public education trough.
There are any number of reasons why expanding Pre-K for all children in Tennessee is a bad idea.
First, pre-K programs have NOTHING to do with long-term academic success. Three years ago, the Tennessee Policy Institute did an excellent, detailed review of the existing research on the effectiveness of Pre-K and Head Start programs. The results might surprise you. “In the long run, cognitive and socioemotional test scores of former Head Start students do not remain superior to those of disadvantaged children who did
not attend Head Start.77″ And there’s this conclusion:
“Once the children enter school there is little difference between the scores of Head Start and control children…Findings for the individual cognitive measures—intelligence, readiness and achievement—reflect the same trends as the global measure…By the end of the second year there are no educationally meaningful differences on any of the measures.78
Finally the supposed successes of the existing program are being described this way:
“By the time 4-year-olds leave the program, they’re expected to recognize written letters and numbers, know shapes and colors, follow directions, raise their hands and finish homework.”
Friends, parents have been successfully teaching their children these things for centuries. Its part of being a parent. To imply that only children who have been enrolled in a pre-K program learn these things is insulting.
What the pre-K program REALLY is . . . is a giant jobs program for the educational unions. With declining enrollments in grades 1-12, they’re looking for ways to keep the dollars flowing and to justify the alarming number of administrative positions.
The sad, but cynical truth is this: the goal of the public education system is not to educate children but to keep the dollars flowing to the education bureaucracy and the education bureaucrats.
These objections cannot be overcome by the demagogic rhetorical trick of proclaiming that the opponents of Pre-K hate kids. Its precisely the opposite. Its because we love our children that parents don’t want to surrender them to the government-run, factory, monopoly school system.
Its a frequent canard from those who have objections to Christianity – the idea that Jesus was a much nicer man than Paul. Jesus is love and compassion. Paul was a misogynist and homophobe (i.e. he hated women and gays). Lurking behind this is the idea that Jesus never really claimed to be God – it was his followers and the early church who got carried away, made claims on his behalf that he never would have endorsed, and “invented” Christianity as a religion.
In the early 1990’s, A.N. Wilson, a British author, biographer, journalist, and lapsed Christian wrote a book titled, Jesus: A Life. He dismissed the biblical accounts as completely unreliable fabrications and proceeded to tell the world an entertaining story about the Life of Jesus as revealed to A.N. Wilson – without much evidence of course, but very imaginative.A very important scholarly response was forthcoming from the learned Bishop of Durham, N.T. Wright in 1997: What Saint Paul Really Said. This short (180 page) volume is rooted in thorough scholarship and a lifetime of study and appreciation for the New Testament texts and the history of the New Testament world. Wright decisively refutes A.N.Wilson on every point in dispute.
But Wright’s book is useful in ways that transcend its immediate purpose. His first chapter is a concise and very useful outline of the history of Pauline studies in the 20th century. His second chapter is by far the best discussion of who the Pharisees were that I have ever read. His third chapter focuses on the original meaning of the word “gospel” in the Greek and Roman world. I thought I knew what the word meant, but I was wrong. It is a technical term in Greek, meaning the announcement of a great military victory, or the rule of a new king or emperor. Jesus death and resurrection fit both categories, of course, but it was startling for me to think that the announcement in the marketplace of a new emperor was an “evangelion” as well. This changes what we must think of the political dimension of Christianity. The Roman world proclaimed, “Caesar is Lord!” When Christians proclaimed, “Jesus is Lord!” they were on a collision course with Roman culture, Roman religion, and Roman politics.
Wright’s fourth chapter examines how Paul could proclaim that Jesus was God within the context of strict Jewish mono-theism. He does this by examining closely three core passages from Paul’s letters: 1 Corinthians 8:1-6, Philippians 2:5-11, and Romans 8:1-11. Wright’s study is masterful, insightful, and inspiring.
Wright’s fifth chapter analyzes Paul’s engagement with and challenge to the pagan worldview of his day. Again by closely analyzing what Paul wrote, Wright demonstrates Paul’s faithfulness to Jesus’ teaching as he confronts the pagan world.
Wright’s sixth chapter is a detailed analysis of the word “righteousness” in Paul’s writings. This is a rich vein to mine and Wright uses it to show Paul’s understanding of how Jesus fulfilled the Law and established a new covenantal relationship that included both Jew and Gentile.
Chapter seven analyzes the word “justification” – a concept at the core of Christian theology.
In chapter eight, Wright moves on to examine Paul’s view of the Church. Paul, according to Wright, sees the Church as a community focused on worship, hope in the resurrection, holiness, love, and mission
Chapter nine is a rousing call to take these New Testament concepts and live them out today: Gospel, Justification, and Righteousness
Chapter ten is a reflective summary on the original question: Did Paul found Christianity? Wright’s answer is a decisive “NO!” Paul faithfully taught that which was delivered unto him and his teachings are consistent with and faithful to his Lord, Jesus Christ.
Perhaps the most striking passage from the book for me is the following:
“The gospel is not a set of techniques for making people Christians. The gospel is the announcement that Jesus is Lord!”
This is a rich book. Worth reading and re-reading. I highly recommend it as an introduction to the writings of Paul in particular and the fundamental biblical vocabulary and concepts in general. You can order it directly from Greenleaf Press by clicking here, paperback, 180 pages, $17.00.
And God be praised for the Bishop of Durham!
After each film there is an onscreen commentary/message by an evangelical pastor (two Presbyterian, two Baptist, and two Independent), including one by Classical homeschooling star George Grant.
There’s also a teacher’s audio CD with audio files that teachers can listen to at their leisure as an additional resource to help prepare for leading discussions.
You can purchase the boxed set kit (which includes the 3 DVDs, 1 audio CD, Teacher’s Guide, and Student Book) for $129 by clicking here and adding it to your cart. Additional copies of the Teacher’s Guide are 12.99. Additional Student Books are $8.99.
Here’s a link to the online trailer for Prodigal Sons.
This is a very engaging way to study scripture. Its great to see creative Christians mastering this rich medium. Five Stars!
– Rob Shearer
Publisher, Greenleaf Press
Director, Schaeffer Study Center
From the Times Online:
Extracts from letters
Abu-Tariq, al-Qaeda leader
“There were almost 600 fighters in our sector before the tribes changed course 360 degrees . . . Many of our fighters quit and some of them joined the deserters . . . As a result of that the number of fighters dropped down to 20 or less.”
In what direction would you be heading (relative to your original course), if you changed course 360 degrees?
The story of Sophie Scholl is breath-taking and heart-breaking. In 1943, along with her older brother and four other students at the University of Munich, she was arrested while distributing copies of an anti-Hitler flyer at the University. They called themselves the “White Rose” movement. Sophie had worked as a teacher and a nurse. She had heard first-hand accounts of the euthanasia of handicapped children. Her brother and many of his university friends had served over the summer vacation as medical assistants at military hospitals on the eastern front in Russia. They had seen and heard accounts of some of the atrocities committed by German troops in the German-occupied territories in the east.
Sophie and her brother were interrogated by the Gestapo for several days, then tried and condemned to death by one of the notorious People’s Courts of the Nazi government. They were executed by guillotine the same day their sentences were handed down.
The movie depiction of Sophie and the other members of the White Rose group is based on meticulous research, and is able to re-create what was written and said by them based on documents discovered in Russian and East German archives after the collapse of Communism.
What emerges is a picture of an extraordinarily courageous young woman (she was just 21 when she was executed) who is also a Christian martyr. Sophie’s parents were Lutherans. Her mother expecially was a committed Christian. Sophie’s faith, her prayers in prison as she is awaiting interrogation and trial, are neither overlooked nor overemphasized. It is simply an essential part of who she was. When one of her interrogators argues with her that the handicapped and disabled were leading lives not worth living, she responds clearly and emphatically that, “All life is precious.”
The name that the Scholls chose for their group points to Luther as well. Luther’s symbol or crest, granted him by the Elector of Saxony was the white rose around a red heart, with a cross at the center.
When Sophie is allowed to make brief statements before her sentencing, she looks at the judge and calmly states, “Soon, you will stand where we now stand.” Later that day, at 5:00pm, she was executed.
The film is in German with English subtitles, but remarkably easy to follow. I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to understand what life during World War II was like in Germany – both the good and the bad. You can order a DVD of the film directly from Greenleaf (the price is $29.99).
The film had a particular connection to me. When I was 20 years old, I spent a year in Germany as an exchange student. The dormitory I lived in was located on a street called Geschwister-Scholl-Strasse (Siblings Scholl Street).
I’ve just finished the fourth and last installment in Conn Iggulden’s epic novelization of the life of Julius Caesar. I enjoyed them. It’s an epic tale, and can only be told in epic form.
The Gates of Rome tells the story of Julius’ childhood. It begins with his upbringing on an estate on the outskirts of Rome, the death of his father while he was quite young, and his adoption by his uncle Marius. It then tells of the death of Marius and Julius’ flight into exile after the conquest of Rome by Sulla, as well as his defiance of Sulla when Sulla ordered him to divorce his wife Cornelia – whose family were strong supporters of Marius. The book closes with Julius and his childhood friend, Marcus, both in exile from Rome and beginning their careers in the Roman army with the lowest officer rank – roughly equivalent to the modern rank of 2nd lieutenant.
The Death of Kings picks up the stories of Julius and his childhood best friend Marcus as they serve in Roman legions in the field, a long way from Rome. A large part of novel follows Julius and his unit as they are dispatched in a galley to deliver a paymaster’s chest of gold to north Africa. The ship is attacked by pirates, Julius and the other officers are captured and held for ransom. Julius vows to the pirates that he will escape, track them down, and execute them – which he proceeds to do. Although not the ranking officer, by strength of will he becomes the leader of the captives. After being freed, and recruiting a force of volunteer soldiers, Caesar tracks the pirates down, kills them and retrieves not only the ransoms that had been paid, but a large hoard of gold stolen by the pirates. Caesar sails his captured ships into a Greek port and finds himself in the middle of a rebellion led by the Greek king Mithridates. Caesar organizes a military force from Roman settlers and retired veterans and defeats Mithridates while the “official” expedition dispatched by Rome dithers waiting for reinforcements. Learning that Sulla has died, the young Julius (now with a victory in the field to his credit) returns to Rome, brushes aside the opposition of the old supporters of Sulla and is recognized by the Senate with a commendation and promotion. He is reunited with his wife and his boyhood friend Marcus. He is then quickly elected Tribune. The book ends with Julius leading his troops under the command of Consuls Pompey and Crassus in fighting the slave rebellion of Spartacus. Before the rebellion is over, he is given orders by Pompey to take command in Spain and govern the Roman province there.
The Field of Swords opens with Julius in Spain. His wife has died, he’s depressed, and his friends and officers are worried about him. A romantic liaison with the Roman courtesan Servilia (who is the mother of his friend Marcus Brutus) revives him, finding a statue in Spain dedicated to Alexander the Great inspires him. At the end of his term of service in Spain he returns to Rome and becomes a candidate for the office of Consul. When he is elected, he forms an alliance with Pompey and Crassus, called the “Triumvirate.” In return for supporting their interests in the Senate he asks for, and receives, a commission at the end of his term as Consul, to take command of a Roman army and conquer Gaul. The second half of the book races through Caesar’s ten year conquest of Gaul (and Britain). As the book ends, Caesar receives word that Crassus has been killed leading a Roman army in the east against the Parthians. Caesar has finished the conquest of Gaul and is resolved to return to Rome and rule the city. In violation of Roman law, he leads his army without the Senate’s permission back into Italy, and crosses the Rubicon as he heads for Rome.
In The Gods of War, Pompey flees from Rome, with many members of the Senate and their families accompanying him and goes to Greece to assemble the Roman troops into an army to defeat Julius. Julius takes possession of Rome, is elected Consul, and quickly leaves with an army for Greece to find Pompey and defeat him. Julius wins the ensuing battle and Pompey flees from Greece to Egypt. Julius pursues, Pompey is killed, and Cleopatra has herself smuggled into Julius’ camp where they promptly fall in love. He was 50, she was 21. One year later, after the birth of his son by Cleopatra (whom they named Caesar Ptolemy), Caesar returns to Rome. Cleopatra and his friend Marcus Brutus accompany him. After seeing his veteran soldiers mustered out and rewarded, Caesar wishes to be named king and to found a dynasty. The Senate, joined by Marcus Brutus, have had enough and Caesar is murdered on March 15, 44BC.
The four novels together comprise a biography of Julius Caesar that runs to 2,000+ pages. And though Iggulden has taken a number of liberties with the historical facts, at the end of the day he seems to have captured the fascinating, multi-dimensional character of Caesar. There have been only a handful of men with his gifts of leadership, his strategic and tactical skills, and the luck to accomplish the territorial conquests he achieved. In many ways, though he was never an “Emperor,” Julius must be credited with the founding of the Empire. His great-nephew and adopted heir, Octavian succeeded in being named “Emperor” just 18 years after Julius’ death.
These are definitely adult novels. Though there is nothing salacious, there is much material that is by definition adult in nature – and lots of gore and battle scenes. Julius’ life (and his own writings) is far too rich to be contained by anything smaller. Iggulden succeeds in presenting a 3-dimensional portrait of Caesar that will make him understandable (if not entirely admirable) for modern audiences.
The novelization of Caesar’s life will not appeal to all tastes, but if you have any interest in ancient history, ancient Rome, or Julius Caesar, I think you will find these four volumes well worth your while.