Friday, February 10, 2017

Plutarch, Polio, and Philopoemen

Morning lessons at TBG/The Hive
I have mentioned that in 2010 on the way to L'Harmas in Canada, I had the privilege of sitting next to Ron Stroud, a Classics Professor at UC Berkeley. He noticed that I was reading Howard's End is on the Landing (a delightful book about books) and we struck up a conversation.  Well, I asked most of the questions when I found out what he had spent his life studying and I was particularly interested in his experience with Plutarch.  He shared with me how he encountered Plutarch as a student and how that helped him choose his career path.

Artist study
This past week, I sent him an email.  One never knows if one will hear back from someone they met 7 years ago, especially if that person is, shall we say, elderly. To my delight, he responded and was happy to answer my question about Plutarch and the influence Plutarch had on his life. I shared this with my children (13,15, 17) and they all LOVED it.  Actually, they said, "Awwwww!  Mom, you have to share that!" And so I will.


Dear Nancy;
I am very sorry to disappoint you but I have lost all memory of Plutarch changing my life, but I can tell you about the Latin teacher in Toronto who first introduced me to Plutarch when I was in high school. He had been a student at the University of Toronto, active in sports such as swimming and bike riding, when a severe polio epidemic hit that city in 1938. At that time there was no Salk vaccine or the like and thousands of people were left maimed and crippled, if they recovered at all. He was put in irons from his neck to his ankles and told that he would be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He was able to finish his B.A. in Classics and went on to a year at Ontario Teachers' College where he completed his certification to teach high school. He got a job at the high school in my neighborhood and taught for a few years in a wheelchair. By the time I encountered him, he had abandoned the wheelchair and got around on a pair of crutches. He was still in irons and had to prop up his writing arm whenever he wrote on the board--and his handwriting was beautiful. Every Friday morning in Latin class he would take 15 minutes off for a "commercial." He was recommending the Great Books and that was when I first met Plutarch. My teacher's name was Lorne Smith and he used to ask us, "How can you live another year of your life without reading Plutarch, Plato, Dante, Gibbon, .... " It was through him that I was led to read the Parallel Lives in the old North translation when I was 16-17. He was a most remarkable man and one day he said to me, "Ron, Latin is really fine, but a truly educated man knows Greek." Well, my high school did not offer Greek, but he agreed to teach me early in the morning before the school day began and late in the afternoon after the last scheduled classes were over. He even corrected my Greek exercises in the summer when I was up 900 miles north of Toronto working on the railroad. Through him I was able to get enough Greek to enroll in the Honour Classics program at the University of Toronto.
A truly great man.       
All best wishes,  
I began our lesson at TBG/The Hive today with reading that note. Needless to say, our Plutarch lesson went well as the students narrated about Philopoemen breaking the javelin that had pierced both his thighs by moving his legs and then moving on to lead his troops into battle. They mentioned many ideas of courage, determination, and valor that Philopoemen demonstrated, how he refused to compromise, and how he took a rag-tag group of soldiers and worked with them until they could move like a murmuration.

I think Ron's note inspired them.

Teaching from Peace,
Explaining her diagram of an internal combustion engine (Physics)
Simple experiment with cyclic motion (Physics)
Written narrations regarding great speeches and Queen Elizabeth I (Great Speeches)

Annual Valentine exchange - I love that the high schoolers still like to do this!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Winter Thoughts

Miss Mason extolling the virtues of the Humanities

We talked at our last Living Education Lesson about virtue and how it plays out in Mason's paradigm, particularly in regard to Citizenship. The above was a favorite quote of mine, so I thought I would share. Things are busy this week as I am off to the Large Room Retreat in D.C. - can't wait to see everyone, share about some exciting living books (immersion fun!), and talk about Charlotte Mason.

The word for today from John Greenleaf Whittier is timely -


Father! to Thy suffering poor
   Strength and grace and faith impart.
And with Thy own love restore
   Comfort to the broken heart! 

 And here is a recommended blog post by Amy about what is enough, or rather, WHO is enough!

Teaching from Peace,

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Parnassus on Wheels

 “When you sell a man a book you don’t sell him just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue - you sell him a whole new life. Love and friendship and humour and ships at sea by night - there’s all heaven and earth in a book, a real book I mean.”- from Parnassus on Wheels
It's about time that I tell you about a little book that is one of my favorites - Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley, pub. 1917.  It is related to the name of my blog. It's not a heavy, deep book.  Rather, it's a lovely, sometimes humorous read with lots of book titles involved.  What's not to like?  I've read it a few times and it brings me a little bit of joy each time. Any book about a mobile bookseller from the early 20th century will have my interest. (Jan and Gary Bloom, anyone?)

To read the dust jacket, one might conclude that Roger Mifflin is the main character.  He is a well-read bachelor who roams the country in his book wagon, Parnassus, seeking to enlighten all he can convince with his selection of great literature. But right away we meet the self-deprecating Helen McGill, spinster and caretaker of her famous country author-brother, Andrew. She leaves the farm and sets out on a series of adventures, sometimes with and sometimes without Roger. My edition is the Book Club edition.  It has an introductory section titled "Certain Essential Preliminary Footnotage" by John T. Winterich"  - don't miss it.

Did you know that the first full-fledged bookmobile was started in Hibbing, MN in 1915?  I didn't, until my friend Sandy sent me The Horn Book Magazine with an article about mobile booksellers (and how Parnassus on Wheels was an inspiration).  You can read the article, "Treasure Island by the Roadside", here!

Now,  just when you thought I wasn't going to tie any of this (besides books in general) to Charlotte Mason...a connection has been uncovered! My friend Kerri, a mobile bookseller herself of sorts, found this gem in the archives from a 1921 Parents' Review book review:

Parnassus on Wheels, by Christopher Morley. Here we have a most racy tale of "the most godly diversion known to man,-selling books." A man who loves books and knows a book when he sees it sets up 'Parnassus' which is a van containing many books and many comforts for the natural man and very naturally drawn by 'Pegasus.' He meets 'Helen McGill' the sister of a popular author who tries to keep farm and home togehter while her brother makes books. He sells his van to her and goes a trial run with her that she may learn the trade. Of course they marry. "What I say is, who has ever gone into highroads and hedges to bring literature to the plain man, to bring it home to his business and bosom? The farther into the country you go the fewer and worse books you find...It's a great work, mind you, it is like carrying the Holy Grail to some of these wayback farm houses." Here Mr. Mifflin gives us the motif of Parnassus on Wheels.

I may or may not have shouted with glee when she sent this to me.   Some of you will understand.

Hopefully,  I have mentioned a new book for your enjoyment!



Extra goodness:

A modern day Parnassus on Wheels!

Librovox audio of Parnassus on Wheels!

Parnassus on Wheels has a sequel - The Haunted Bookshop which is great fun, too!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

"A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!" - Resources for Richard III

A new year, a new Shakespeare play! In case you didn't know, all my Shakespeare posts can be found under the TBG tab above (just scroll down).  I keep them all there for quick reference. Speaking of Shakespeare, I will be presenting an hour-long Shakespeare immersion in Washington, D.C. on February 3 at the In A Large Room retreat and I can't wait! (Registration will close soon - around the 15th!)

The horse quote in the title is a famous line from Shakespeare's play, Richard III, shouted by the now powerless and lonely Richard in the final battle scene from the play which we read this past semester.  The ending was a relief and a favorite for me, mainly because of brave and true Henry Richmond and the realization that Stanley will be reunited with his son. This is a good play to read in middle/high school after you have read widely in other areas, especially history because most of the complex characters and the timeline of monarchs are drawn from fact. That, and a certain level of maturity is needed to observe and evaluate Richard's fascinating and evil behavior.

Talking through the Way of the Will and The Way of Reason is imperative with this play.  And it makes for good talk, too. If your students keep a Way of the Will chart in their Citizenship Notebooks or elsewhere, this play has plenty of fodder.  Even Charlotte Mason saw that in Richard III:

"A due recognition of the function of reason should be an enormous help to us all in days when the air is full of fallacies, and when our personal modesty, that becoming respect for other people which is proper to well-ordered natures whether young or old, makes us willing to accept conclusions duly supported by public opinion or by those whose opinions we value. Nevertheless, it is something to recognise that probably no wrong thing has ever been done or said, no crime committed, but has been justified to the perpetrator by arguments coming to him involuntarily and produced with cumulative force by his own reason. Is Shakespeare ever wrong? And, if so, may we think that a Richard III who gloats over his own villainy as villainy, who is in fact no hypocrite, in the sense of acting, to himself––is hardly true to human nature? Great is Shakespeare! So perhaps Richard was the exception to the rule which makes a man go out and hang himself when at last he sees his incomparable villainy, and does not Richard say in the end, "I myself find in myself no pity for myself"? For ourselves and our children it is enough to know that reason will put a good face on any matter we propose; and, that we can prove ourselves to be in the right is no justification for there is absolutely no theory we may receive, no action we may contemplate, which our reason will not affirm." 6.153

The Hollow Crown - Richard the III
Here are some of the resources we used:

Before beginning the play, the students were to have read and narrated pp. 263-285 of Our Island Story. This gave them the backstory of the War of the Roses. (Most of the students had previously read this but it was helpful for those who had not and gave them the necessary scaffolding.)

My cover/information sheet that each student receives - Richard III cover page.

Secrets: Richard III Revealed on Netflix - This was so interesting to watch!  Crazy but true story about a body found under a parking lot and the scientific sleuthing needed to see if was really him.

The Hollow Crown - Richard III - Benedict Cumberbatch is outstanding in his portrayal of Richard III. I used many clips from this with the students. Parental discretion is advised! Loved the chessboard motif - just perfect for this play.

Site we use for students to choose their recitation pieces - Shakespeare's Monolgues.

Here are more posts related to Richard III -
Opinions During This Political Season and Always
Planning Post 2016!  Should You Have Your Child Reread Books?

One more amazing quote from Mason on The Way of Reason, once again so fitting for our current times and stating that Reason, while limited, is full of beauty and wonder - 
We need no longer wonder that two men equally upright, equally virtuous, selected out of any company, will hold opposite views on almost any question; and each will support his views by logical argument. So we are at the mercy of the doctrinaire in religion, the demagogue in politics, and, dare we say, of the dreamer in science; and we think to save our souls by being in the front rank of opinion in one or the other. But not if we have grown up cognisant of the beauty and wonder of the act of reasoning, and also, of the limitations which attend it. 6.144

Beauty and Wonder,