Last week was the last week of our semester, and we only did a half week because Jeff had his last exam on Wednesday. Now we're enjoying our Winter holiday.
Ending the Term
Joshua read his way through Green Eggs and Ham, finishing it on the Wednesday. I gave up on Seven Little Australians for now, because the story is too complex for the kids at this age. We'll get back to it in a few years time, I think. The kids are still enjoying their bed-time read alouds with Jeff. Joshua and Anna finished lesson 16 and got half way through lesson 17 in their maths text.
Beginning the Holidays
I have been appreciating having Jeff here so I can take half-days out with the kids one at a time. I took Anna first, then Joshua. This week I hope to spend time one-to-one with Abigail and Samuel, but not today. Today I have three or four loads of sheet washing to do. I am trying to work out a new weekly plan for household duties, particularly cleaning, but everything else as well. The major difference is doing lots of loads of clothes only two days a week, and having Sundays off completely from washing and cleaning (well, except dishes). I am hoping we'll be able to get out to the zoo and/or aquarium this week as well. Last night we took a walk over the new bridge at the top of the freeway (where they're extending it north) to a take away store for dinner. It was probably a 6km round trip, and a great opportunity to talk with each other and the kids. We're planning a few longer family walks just around the suburbs nearby these holidays.
Monday, 30 June 2008
Last week was the last week of our semester, and we only did a half week because Jeff had his last exam on Wednesday. Now we're enjoying our Winter holiday.
Friday, 27 June 2008
Since I have been posting a critique of a critique of the recent (last 30 years or so) Bible translations for the last few posts, and prompted by Mrs Edwards comment, I will now add that the differences between any English translation are very very small in comparison to the overwhelming volume of agreement between translations (with perhaps the one exception of the Jehovah's Witnesses' Bible, the NWT).
Every single Christian doctrine is supported by multiple verses in the new translations, as well as in the KJV. This is because while there may be small differences between versions, no doctrine has ever been based on a single verse, but based on many verses which together provide a whole, consistent picture. As Christians, whether we read from the KJV, the NIV, the NASB, the ESV or many of the other translations, we can be reassured that what we read is giving us an accurate picture of God's plan to give eternal salvation to His chosen people through the atoning death of His only Son, Jesus Christ.
As Mrs Edwards wrote so well in her comment to my previous post:
After I first studied all of this years ago, I decided that the KJV was decidedly inferior. But, in that response I was making the same error that I was reacting to, namely, deciding that only one translation is "true." We are so blessed by centuries of textual scholarship that now English translations are well footnoted to bring our attention to the various contradictions in texts or give the alternate word or phrase from other manuscripts for our consideration.
I currently use the ESV for my devotions, a text that "is based on the Masoretic text as found in Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia..." However, the translation team factored in modern scholarship and textual discoveries, improving upon the KJV or RSV. And I have NIV on the shelf along with some other translations.
Translations will always be flawed to some degree and for some this admission feels threatening. I don't agree. I like how the preface to the ESV concludes: "We know that no Bible translation is perfect or final; but we also know that God uses imperfect and inadequate things to his honor and praise."
I have faith that the Holy Spirit is speaking to me through the Bible. While I don't need a textual analysis to bolster that faith, I am satisfied knowing that the English Bible's accuracy and faithfulness to the original manuscript has held up very well to scholarship. (By contrast, the keepers of the "sacred" text of another world religion prohibit outside scholarship, until methinks they protest too much.)
I couldn't have put it better myself.
Thursday, 26 June 2008
Before you read this, please consider reading my previous post which consisted of a rebuttal of two previous paragraphs from Ruth Beechick's description of "How the Bible Came to Us". Text in Courier is from Ruth Beechick's A Biblical Home Education, pp 18-20. Beechick's thesis seems to be that the King James Version is the only reliable version of the Bible. Text in Georgia is mine. I disagree with Beechick's thesis. I have been greatly helped in my research by DA Carson's The King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1979). I have also made use of Bruce L Shelley's Church History in Plain Language (2nd ed, Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1995) and Justo L Gonzales's The Story of Christianity: Volume 1 (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1984).
Just to recap, Beechick claimed that the KJV was based upon 5000+ New Testament manuscripts known as the Textus Receptus, all of which "say the same thing". In reality, it was based upon a handful of partial Greek New Testaments all older the 9th century (and the Latin Vulgate in a few places), critically compiled by the Catholic humanist, Erasmus, in the 16th century. Erasmus' text came to be known as the Textus Receptus after the KJV was translated, based upon a publisher's advertising claim made on its cover. The TR belongs within the Byzantine text-type tradition, for which there is no unambiguous evidence prior to the middle of the 4th century, unlike the other three extant text-types, the Alexandrian, Western and Caesarean. No known Greek manuscript is exactly identical to any other.
Further, Beechick argued that the Septuagint (LXX) was translated by Jews in "the third century" based upon a corrupt Jewish Old Testament and that a New Testament was also produced by them. She also made claims that Origen (one of the early church fathers) was not orthodox in many of his beliefs and that his writings were passed on to Eusebius. Beechick's argument regarding the LXX's history is erroneous (it was translated 400-600 years earlier than she claimed) and her claim of Alexandrian Jews translating the NT is preposterous. Jesus, the New Testament authors and all the early church fathers quoted from the LXX, not Beechick's preferred Masoretic text. Beechick's attack on Origen is both a misinformed and misleading ad hominem attack and is the beginnings of an irrelevant straw man argument against the validity of the non-Byzantine NT text-types, given that Origen worked with the OT not the NT.
So now on with the following paragraph:
Emperor Constantine asked Eusebius for fifty copies of the Bible to send to fifty cities, so he used Origen's writings to make those for the emperor. ~~~Exaggeration #4: It took me ages to find a reliable source that confirmed this as a historical event. In the end I had to check out Eusebius' own Life of Constantine Bk4 Ch34-39, which testifies to this event. Eusebius' account does not include the detail of whether he used Origen's writings as source material, so I am unable to verify the accuracy of Beechick's statement. [Later in this paragraph, Beechick connects Eusebius' Bible with the Alexandrian and Caesarean text-types, so I will address those from now on.] The papyrus known as p75 is a prime example of the Alexandrian tradition and has been dated to about AD200 and possibly earlier, predating Origen's writings. For comparison, Origen lived AD185-254 and Eusebius is thought to have lived circa AD260-340. According to Carson, all of the text-types except Beechick's preferred Byzantine pre-date Origen. The churches of the day did not receive that heretical version. ~~~Exaggeration #5: I have already shown that Beechick's ad hominem attack on Origen as a heretic is exaggerated, and even if it was not, it does not follow that his Hexapla would be heretical also. Eusebius was the author of the majority of the AD325 Nicean Creed, the foundational creed for all Christian denominations, so Eusebius' orthodoxy cannot be questioned. He would therefore have no reason to propagate heretical manuscripts. ~~~Error #6: Aside from this, Eusebius' Bible was indeed received favourably, according to Eusebius' own historical account above. For example, Eusebius recounts (Ch37) that the receipt of the manuscripts by Constantine "is attested by another letter, which the emperor wrote in acknowledgment, in which, having heard that the city Constantia in our country, the inhabitants of which had been more than commonly devoted to superstition, had been impelled by a sense of religion to abandon their past idolatry, he testified his joy, and approval of their conduct." They did not use it or make copies of it, and it almost became lost to history. ~~~Error #7: The ante-Nicene church fathers did use the Alexandrian text-type: they quoted from it. There are multiple Greek papyri from the second and third centuries which reflect mixed Alexandrian/Western text-types. With regard to the OT text, Augustine of Hippo (AD354-430) vigorously criticised Jerome's use of the Masoretic text in his Latin translation (the Vulgate), writing of "the Septuagint, whose authority has no equal." Then in the 1800s two manuscripts were found that could possibly be two of those fifty, one found in the Vatican and one in a monastery in the Sinai. ~~~Error #8: Both of these manuscripts are uncials which have been dated to the fourth century, and they belong to two different text-types (that is, they originate from two different ancestor manuscripts). It is possible that one of these is a descendant copy of Eusebius' Bible, but I fail to see the relevance of this in establishing its authority, given that the church fathers accepted these text-types as authoritative. One of these manuscripts belongs to the Alexandrian text-type, which as I have already said, predates Origen: Vaticanus, aka B. The other belongs to the Caesarean (mixed Alexandrian/Western) text-type: Sinaiticus, aka Chi. The Caesarean text-type may have been brought to Caesarea by Origen, but this is irrelevant because its existence predates his work. Those two were not complete and they had many differences between them. Yet a couple of men (Brooke Westcott and Fenton J. A. Hort) made a Greek New Testament from those two manuscripts. ~~~Observation: For comparison, none of the Greek NT manuscripts used by Erasmus was a complete text, and several verses in his published edition are found in no extant Greek manuscript at all; they were translated into the Greek by Erasmus himself from the Latin Vulgate. Erasmus constructed his Greek NT editions from four to six manuscripts. Just for the record, Erasmus staunchly remained a confessing Catholic at the height of the Reformation, not exactly a model of (Protestant) orthodoxy himself, if there is any benefit to considering the doctrinal beliefs of the compilers and translators. These men, like Origen, did not believe in many essential Christian doctrines. ~~~Observation: Another unsubstantiated ad hominem attack. As with the criticisms of Origen, it has no bearing, because a heretic can still be a perfectly able scholar when it comes to technical analysis and comparison of manuscripts. They said the Vaticanus and Sinaiticus manuscripts were older and better than the over 5000 manuscripts of the Textus Receptus (also called the Majority Text). ~~~Exaggeration #6: The Vaticanus and Sinaiticus are older than the manuscripts used in compiling the TR by half a millenia. This is not a matter of opinion, established only by "they said", but a matter of established fact. Older does not necessarily mean better, but neither does a greater number of texts. Again, the fallacious "5000" is referred to, but calling the TR "the Majority Text" does not guarantee its integrity. While it is true that 95% of the Greek manuscripts available belong to the Byzantine text-type (which the TR falls within), it also must be recognised that around 95% of these are miniscules which are dated later than the 7th century. The Byzantine manuscripts almost all come from the Greek-speaking Byzantine (Eastern Orthodox) empire, which collapsed after the fall of Constantinople (AD 1453). This happened shortly before Erasmus collated his Greek NT, providing the manuscripts he used. Even the fact that the Byzantine manuscripts were written in Greek does not necessarily give them greater authority. Greek manuscripts were not propagated in the Western Roman Catholic church after the middle of the fourth century. This was because Latin had supplanted Greek as the vernacular language of the West and they used Old Latin translations and then Jerome's Latin Vulgate. Careful textual analysis of Vaticanus, p75 and other closely related manuscripts suggests the Alexandrian text-type, as preserved in the Vaticanus, is the closest to the lost original autographs of all the known manuscripts. We might ask whether God's true Word was lost for those many centuries until somebody found it again, or did God preserve it for all those generations through the Majority Text? ~~~Exaggeration #7: It is true that God preserved the Byzantine text-type in one small corner of the world for one thousand years. However, it must also be recognised that apart from within the Eastern Orthodox church, the Latin Vulgate was used almost exclusively by the much larger Roman Catholic church, and this translation was based mainly upon a non-Byzantine text-type. I do not think that Beechick would follow her argument to it's natural conclusion and suggest that we all forsake our KJVs along with the NIVs and revert to Jerome's Vulgate. Most new English versions today come from the Greek New Testament begun by Origen. ..." ~~~Final summation: this statement has been shown to be fallacious. On the contrary, most new English versions today, such as the NIV, are carefully based on an eclectic selection of the best testified and most authoritative manuscripts available.
At the end of this paragraph Beechick cites One Book Stands Alone by Dr Douglas D Stauffer (Milbrook, AL: McCowen Mills Publishers, 2001). I haven't read it, so I am not sure how much of the preceeding is taken from this book, and how much is Beechick's own argument.
Wednesday, 25 June 2008
Before you read this I would like to state that I do have a very high view of Scripture. I happily agree with the reformation creed "Sola Scriptura", the Bible Alone as the source for knowledge of God.
Text in Courier is from Ruth Beechick's A Biblical Home Education, pp 18-20. Beechick's thesis seems to be that the King James Version is the only reliable version of the Bible. Text in Georgia is mine. I disagree with Beechick's thesis. I have been greatly helped in my research by the simple but immensely clear book by DA Carson, The King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1979). I humbly recommend it to all who find this topic interesting, concerning or challenging. I have also made use of Bruce L Shelley's Church History in Plain Language (2nd ed, Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1995). This is a thoroughly readable book on Church History.
Here is a short history of how the English Bible came to us. The original letters and histories of the New Testament that Paul and others wrote were copied and recopied and carried around to the churches. Other writers, too, wrote for the church, and church leaders agreed on which writings were part of the "canon" to be added to the Hebrew Scriptures. So far, so good. As you read further, remember that the New Testament was originally written in Greek ("Koine" Greek, not the earlier "Classical" Greek), the lingua franca of Jesus' time. When the King James translators went to work, they had more than 5000 manuscripts of the New Testament that agreed with each other. ~~~Error #1: The King James translators (working from around 1602-1611) did not have 5000+ manuscripts of the New Testament, at least, not Greek manuscripts. As of (Don Carson's writing in) 1979, there were only around 5000 Greek manuscripts known in total, and around 8000 manuscript versions (that is, early handwritten translations from the Greek into other languages such as Syriac, Coptic and Latin). The 5000 Greek manuscripts known today are not all complete New Testaments. There are (approximately) 2100 lectionary manuscripts (church reading books containing quotations from Scripture), 2700 miniscules (manuscripts using a post-9th century script), 260 uncials (manuscripts using the oldest script, characterised by capital letters only) and about 80 papyri (written on papyrus paper rather than animal skin vellum). The King James was "translated out of the original tongues: and with the former translations diligently compared and revised by His Majesty's special command", according to its title page. Comparisons to these "former translations" suggest the translators relied very heavily on the Great Bible - which was based upon the Bishop's Bible (and Geneva Bible), which was based upon Matthew's Bible, which was largely the work of William Tyndale. The Greek texts which the KJV translators used were editions published by Theodore Beza (Calvin's successor) in 1588-89 and 1598. We might ask from where did Beza obtain his Greek text? It differs little from the 4th edition Greek NT published by Robert Estienne (aka Stephanus) in 1551, which had numbered verses. Where did Stephanus obtain his Greek text? It was based upon Desiderius Erasmus' 4th and 5th critical editions (1520s), and to a much lesser extent the Complutensian Polyglot (1514). Remember Erasmus? Erasmus had access to only a handful of Greek miniscule manuscripts, none of which was a complete NT, and none of which was dated prior to the 10th century. These manuscripts are called the Received Text, or Textus Receptus in Latin. ~~~Error #2: The Textus Receptus (TR) was not a collection of manuscripts. The Textus Receptus title arose from an advertising blurb for the second edition of a printed Greek NT published by the Elzevir brothers in 1624 (13 years after the KJV was first published). The blurb says (in Latin) "The text that you have now received by all, in which we give nothing change or perverted." According to Don Carson, "The TR is not the 'received text' in the sense that it has been received from God as over against other Greek manuscripts. Rather, it is the 'received text' in the sense that it was the standard one at the time of the Elzevirs." Where did the Elzevirs obtained their Greek text? It was largely the same as that of Beza. At last we see how the TR title has come to be abrogated by the KJV. God had promised to preserve His Word for all generations (Psalm 12:6-7) and this seems a better way to do it than to have one original copy in a church or museum somewhere that people claimed was the "original." ~~~Unbiblical argument #1: This does seem a better way to do it if you are thinking from a worldly perspective. But if we are to consider the actions of the God revealed in the Bible, we have to admit that He has usually used the weaker, lesser people (consider his choice of David for king over his elder brothers, 1 Samuel 16) and his means have not always been so overt either (consider Ehud's left-handed sword thrust to kill the king of Moab, Judges 3). The central theme running through the second half of the Old Testament is that God will claim a remnant - a small number of faithful people - for his own, and the rest of Israel will be forsaken just as they forsook their God. If we were to formulate a suggested history for the preservation of the Biblical text following upon these lines, we would have to say that God would be likely to preserve only a few, faithfully copied Biblical manuscripts among many with errors. Who can question 5000-plus copies that say the same thing? ~~~Exaggeration #1: Again Beechick uses the erroneous "5000". However, it is her use of the loaded words, "say the same thing" which I take exception to here. While many of the extant Greek manuscripts are very similar, no two manuscripts are exactly alike. (If you want to understand why, try handwriting a chapter of John for yourself and then checking it for errors.) There is agreement on the vast bulk of the material in these NT manuscripts, but they are not identical. Among these manuscripts, there are only four main "text-types" - groups of manuscripts which, from a critical comparison of their similarities and differences, can be shown to have arisen from probably one or a very small number of ancestor manuscripts. The TR belongs within only one of these text-types, the Byzantine, which has no known and undisputed manuscript sources before the fourth century AD, unlike all the others. For the Old Testament, the translators used the Masoretic text, the one carefully handed down from generation to generation by the Jews.
While all that was going on, other people were trying to tear down God's Word. Back in the third century some Jews were teaching and studying in Greek schools in Alexandria, Egypt, and the Bible there was becoming corrupt. Jews there made a Greek version of the Hebrew Old Testament that we now call the Septuagint. ~~~Error #3: The "third century" mentioned here is very confusing and I have to assume that Beechick has made an error. At the very least she has been unclear. The Septuagint (aka LXX) is generally agreed to have been translated over a long period somewhere between the 3rd and 1st century BC. Tradition, based upon Josephus' story in The Antiquities of the Jews Bk12 Ch2, holds that the LXX was translated in two parts by groups of 70 and 72 Jews for Ptolemy and Ptolemy Philadelphus (285-246BC), but this is considered by modern scholars to be a legendary account rather than strictly historical. ~~~Exaggeration #2: The LXX does differ from the Masoretic text of the Old Testament, but the LXX has close parallels to the Dead Sea Scrolls (almost the only known Biblical manuscripts dated prior to 100BC), and so may well represent a far older and more widespread tradition than is allowed by Beechick's assertion that the Bible (ie, Old Testament) was becoming corrupt in Egypt around 300BC. It is also important to note that the LXX is the text of the Old Testament which Jesus quoted from, as did the New Testament authors and all of the early church fathers. They made a New Testament, too. ~~~Error #4: Why on earth would Jews translate the New Testament into Greek? Firstly, Jews would not be interested in translating the New Testament, the holy Scriptures of the Christians. Secondly, how on earth could Jews in the centuries before Christ produce a New Testament? Were they time travellers? Thirdly, the New Testament was first written in Greek and thus needed no translating. This error just boggles my mind. One famous writer there was Origen. ~~~Observation: Now I believe we are coming to the crux of Beechick's argument. Origen (185-254AD) originally wrote in Alexandria. Around 230AD he travelled to Ceasarea, where he became an ordained minister, an act of which his Alexandrian bishop did not approve, so from this time Origen remained based at Caesarea. He did not believe in Hell, the deity of Christ, His atonement for sin, ~~~Error #5: Origen did believe in all the proclaimed church doctrines of the time, as is made clear in his First Principles. The deity of Christ had not been fully hammered out as a church doctrine at the time of Origen. It did not come to the fore until the Arian controversy in Alexandria at the time of Constantine a century later. Jesus' divinity was then debated formally by the church at the Council of Nicea (325AD). Just because Origen originally lived in Alexandria does not mean he was unorthodox in these beliefs; indeed, it was he who first coined the description "God-man" for Jesus. He also believed in hell, but taught as doctrine the hope that one day, all people would one day be restored to communion with God and hell would be emptied. This is the heresy for which he is most often condemned, by those in his own day as well as in successive generations. At worst we could say that Origen held some unorthodox beliefs, but his beliefs of Scripture were orthodox and conservative. He died after being imprisoned and tortured in the persecution of Christians by Emperor Decius. This is an ad hominem attack and as such is not valid, because even if Origen could be demonstrated to be a pagan, he would still be capable of being a critical scholar analysing Biblical manuscripts. Bible infallibility, and many other important doctrines. ~~~Exaggeration #3 I think Beechick includes this phrase here because of the direction she wants to take in her following argument. It all depends on what you mean by the phrase, "Bible infallibility". The crucial question becomes, "Which copy of the Bible is infallible?" Obviously Beechick has one particular version in mind. Origen did the first work of Biblical textual criticism when he compiled his Old Testament Hexapla (which compared various available translations of the OT), and then added to this commentaries and sermons on particular books. His intent in all this was to establish the accuracy of the Old Testament, as he believed the Scriptures are the treasury of divine revelation. He did also pioneer what is called "allegorical interpretation" of Scripture, but this is not to be confused with the rampant liberalism of today. Origen sought to consider each portion of Scripture in the light of the whole of Scripture to obtain its true meaning, rather than taking selected quotes out of their contexts. Conservative Christians follow in Origen's footsteps today when we reflect upon the way in which God used the OT sacrificial worship practices to teach the spiritual truth which would only be fulfilled in Christ's atoning death on the cross, for example. This is also the beginning of a straw man argument, because while Beechick is arguing for the flawed nature of Origen's writings, she ignores the fact that he worked almost exclusively with Old Testament texts and as such can have had no involvement in manufacturing corrupted New Testament manuscripts. After he died, his writings were passed on to [the] historian Eusebius. ~~~Observation: I am not sure if Beechick is attempting to tar Eusebius with the same brush as Origen with this comment, but it should be noted that Eusebius was the source for the base text of the Nicean Creed. His doctrinal orthodoxy would be very hard to malign.
There's more to come. I really need to go to bed though (yikes! it's 1:50am!) so I hope to deal with the following paragraph tomorrow. There's a whole lot of error and exaggeration in this as well, so don't go throwing out all your non-KJV bibles just yet!
Emperor Constantine asked Eusebius for fifty copies of the Bible to send to fifty cities, so he used Origen's writings to make those for the emperor. The churches of the day did not receive that heretical version. They did not use it or make copies of it, and it almost became lost to history. Then in the 1800s two manuscripts were found that could possibly be two of those fifty, one found in the Vatican and one in a monastery in the Sinai. Those two were not complete and they had many differences between them. Yet a couple of men (Brooke Westcott and Fenton J. A. Hort) made a Greek New Testament from those two manuyscripts. These men, like Origen, did not believe in many essential Christian doctrines. They said the Vaticanus and Sinaiticus manuscripts were older and better than the over 5000 manuscripts of the Textus Receptus (also called the Majority Text). We might ask wheyher God's true Word was lost for those many centuries until somebody found it again, or did God preserve it for all those generations through the Majority Text? Most new English versions today come from the Greek New Testament begun by Origen. ..." At the end of this paragraph Beechick cites One Book Stands Alone by Dr Douglas D Stauffer (Milbrook, AL: McCowen Mills Publishers, 2001). I haven't read it, so I am not sure how much of the preceeding is taken from this book, and how much is Beechick's own argument.
Tuesday, 24 June 2008
I've just purchased a heap of books from my "I'd like to read..." list from a variety of suppliers who will post them to me but yesterday I took advantage of a 15% off sale at a local major Christian bookstore to purchase A Biblical Home Education by Ruth Beechick. It wasn't a hard read, and Jeff's on holidays now, so I've already plowed through it.
I was surprised at how annoyed I was with this book, because I was expecting to agree with much of what the author had to write. One of my main problems with the book had little to do with its content and argument, however. It read like a set of notes that had not been well crafted into sentences. It was badly edited and some of the sentences were woefully - and confusingly - constructed. This is not a good promotion for an author who is advocating a given approach to teaching at home, including with regard to grammar instruction. For example, some sentences referred to "Internet" (as in, "On Internet...") and others referred to "the Internet" (as in, "On the Internet..."). A simple error which was repeated several times.
Secondly, and this caused me a great deal of angst and annoyance, within the chapter on Using the Bible in homeschooling, Beechick included a section on the history of the Bible which was very badly explained if not completely erroneous. I got really frustrated over this, not so much because of what she was arguing (although I completely disagree with her thesis), but because she later argued against teaching children specific knowledge and skills which would allow them to see the flaws in her argument. I have encountered this same flawed argument before in other Christian homeschooling materials (Teaching the Trivium by Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn) and did some background reading at that time. I've since researched a little more, and I would like to work at providing a rebuttal to circulate among Christian homeschoolers. I am going to quote an extended passage (pp 18-20 from my copy) in Courier and comment on it in my usual Georgia font. It is getting long however, so I will post the rebuttal separately.
I am also going to continue this critique with a third post, I hope, considering other issues which Beechick addressed and my thoughts on her ideas. (Just so you know!)
Friday, 20 June 2008
A review of the book by Alan Thomas and Harriet Pattison:
I finished reading this book a week or so ago and am finally getting around to doing a review. This book is the result of research into homeschooling which follows the "natural learning" method, aka "unschooling", "child-led learning", or in the terms of the authors, "informal learning". It consists primarily of comments from interviewees (either parents of families who unschool and occasionally the children who are unschooled) accompanied with a running analysis by the authors. The book is organised into discussions of the informal curriculum, the ways in which the informal curriculum is accessed by children, and the role of parents. The utility of play is also examined, before the authors progress to analysis of the learning achieved by children informally at home in the academic disciplines of reading, writing and numeracy.
The main thesis of the authors is that informal learning by children along the lines of their own interests, and spurred on by their own desire to know, is sufficient for these children to learn all that they need to know. I am not convinced. In the fifth chapter the authors describe such learning methods as purposeful observation, conversation, exploration, self-directed learning (experimenting, self-directed research, pursuing hobbies), practice and also "doing nothing". In the sixth chapter the authors describe the supportive actions of parents as role model and mediators (providing circumstances and tools for learning), in answering questions and learning along with the children and in having high but reasonable expectations. The main feature of the "informal learning" pedagogy is that it is initiated and sustained by the child's own interests and enthusiasm, as guided by the child's perception of needing to know or wanting to do.
In the fourth chapter, "The informal curriculum", the authors argue that while learning informally at home, children are able to access a "curriculum" which is tailored by their social and family experiences to their personal needs for knowledge and skills. I can accept that children learn from their parents in the ways described and even agree with the premise that the vast bulk of their social knowledge is able to be learnt simply by children being involved in everyday family activities and events. Chaos theory does tend to suggest that even a model unschooling family will be unable to produce children who perfectly reflect their model, however.
My problem is that I do not believe this "curriculum" is sufficient for life in the post-modern, western world. Yes, my children will learn about life in our family by living as a member of our family. They will learn the language we use (English), our religious beliefs (Christian), our values (such as love for others shown through respect and service), songs we sing regularly, prayers we say aloud together, how to relate in a family of four siblings, how to grow vegetables in a back yard garden... They are also likely to learn those things which perhaps I would rather they did not learn, such as my icky habit of biting my fingernails, my rude tendency acquired in teacher days to raise my voice rather than walk across the room and speak directly to a person, my bad temper and lack of self-control.
Of course children will learn these things from their parents. Given exposure to the interest and enthusiasm of others around them, they will also (perhaps) be driven to learn sophisticated carpentry skills or PhD-level biochemical engineering. But I wouldn't want to bet on it. My central criticism of homeschooling via "informal learning", one which I have never yet seen satisfactorily rebutted by its proponents, is that the informal curriculum is insufficient to address the future needs of children. Children cannot simply be left alone to somehow find their own way to "learn how to learn in the future". They would be left at the mercy of those who would seek to convince them of things (advertisers, politicians, religious advocates, friends, enemies...). Unless those who know the truth deliberately pass it on, the children will be in no position to later determine which of two - or more - options is the truth, because they will have no basis upon which to make a decision.
Not only is an informal curriculum insufficient to transfer a knowledge of the basic ideas of truth, it is inadequate in anything more than the basics of everyday social life. So what if my children learn to speak English adequately? Does this ensure that they will later be able to master the languages of the people with whom they want to communicate in future life, whether those people be alive around them or dead with their ideas accessible only through books? So what if my children learn the words of the songs that we sing regularly? Does this ensure that they will have an appreciation or love for the beauties of music and song or a skill in vocal expression? Will it develop an understanding of the use of the mechanics of lyrics and tune to inspire emotional and intellectual assent to the message of the song, sufficient to ensure that they are swayed neither by advertising jingle nor emotive H*llsong chorus? So what if they learn to be wonderful backyard gardeners? Will this given them an understanding of the economics of supply and demand or the advantages and dangers of collective bargaining by employees and co-operative selling by producers? Will it make them wise, just, honest and merciful in their ways as employees or employers, or even in matters of self-discipline? Of course not!
The reason why I choose not to rely upon informal learning methods in our homeschool is that I don't think the product is good enough. I want my children to learn so much more than I am able to expose them to in everyday life. I want them to learn more of mothering than how to fold washing, and more of carpentry than how to make replicas of Daddy's tools with Duplo. I want them to know more of God than what they learn through listening to my prayers and overhearing me sing. And so I choose to direct their learning myself, with guidance and direction from my husband, and covered by prayers seeking wisdom from God. I aspire to my children knowing something more than how to live life as their parents do. I aspire to my children being "equipped to do the good works which God has prepared in advance for them to do."
Thursday, 19 June 2008
Sunday, 15 June 2008
This week, despite - or perhaps assisted by - my mother's visit for a few days, we have been back hard at work.
We didn't do any penmanship but Joshua has steamed ahead with his reading this week. He read all of Go, Dog, Go! on Monday which just amazed me. Then on Tuesday he read a simplified version of Psalm 23 from The Lord Is My Shepherd and other stories from the Psalms, from a series called I Can Read God's Word! For the rest of the week he worked through Hop On Pop which is a lot easier than Go, Dog, Go! and gave him an opportunity to show of his reading prowess for Grandma. In between picking his nose. What is it with reading lessons and nose picking? The two just seem to go together according to Joshua. Even when Grandma is videoing him to show Grandad.
We've been a bit eclectic this week, reading from Seven Little Australians (which I'm not enjoying as much as The Little Black Princess but which we will persist with for another week as well as More Milly-Molly-Mandy and Thomas the Tank Engine: The New Collection which are evening reads.
Anna is also enjoying Jeff reading a rewritten version of The Secret Garden to her (I'm not sure what word to use: paraphrase? abridgement? anyway, it's not the authors original words and there's quite a bit skipped.) I wouldn't have read it to her at this young but it is inspiring quite a few good discussions judging from what I've overheard. The first night Anna observed, "She's not very nice, is she?" and then decided she wanted to pray that the girl would become a Christian and hence become a lot nicer person. Unfortunately she's to be disappointed as the whole premise of the book is the redeeming power of experiencing nature. Which is basically why I had my concerns in the first place, and why I am so glad she is reading it on-to-one with her Dad.
Joshua worked steadily on Maths this week, completing pp56-61 of his book, all of lesson 15 and a bit of lesson 16. He and Anna are learning about the idea of place value with "tens" and "ones".
We read the rest of our library books on Australian animals, such as the bilby, koala, thylacine (the extinct Tasmanian tiger), emu and another general one on Australian birds on Monday and Tuesday. This meant we were ready for a trip to the zoo with Grandma on Thursday (Anna finally got her membership card and was very pleased). We checked out out frogs, turtles and a saltwater crocodile in the wetlands section and then had lunch and a little play. After lunch we visited the bushland exhibit which is an open area with kangaroos free to wander while we "Please stay on the path" as Joshua read from one of the many signs. Other Australian animals are in their enclosures reached from the path. We saw kangaroos (grey and red), lots of noisy black cockatoos, a numbat, three koalas, a dingo, a rock wallaby (Abigail spotted that one and was quite proud of herself) and an emu or two. Joshua was enthusiastic to the end to be "learning about the animals, it's very important Mummy." I appreciated the fact that we had a good view of so many of the animals, especially the croc, which was staring straight at the glass from underwater, rather than being at the back of his cage catching a few rays of sun like he's been the last few times we've visited.
Monday, 9 June 2008
Last week was a complete wash out with me trying my hardest to be able to (1) catch up on all the washing and folding and (2) have an afternoon nap as often as possible so I could get better from sinusitis. Here's just two things we did manage to do.
Making crowns:Joshua made Anna a special crown so she could be "Spider Girl":
And making tools, just like Daddy's, all from Duplo:
In case you're wondering, in the picture above Joshua is using a gigantic hand drill and Abigail is using a sander. It's meant to be a rotary sander, but some things just aren't reproducable in Duplo. In the photo below, Anna is showing off her skills with a hammer.
Sunday, 8 June 2008
At the Perth Children's Convention, we were taught from the following passage of Scripture, and it has been weighing on my mind ever since.
1 Thessalonians 2:6-12
We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else.
As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.
You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.
This passage speaks primarily about the actions of Paul and his fellow-workers when they lived in Thessalonica (in Macedonia) among the Christians there.
*Gentleness (v7) like a mother
Loving the Thessalonians, who had become dear to Paul (v8)
Hard working (v9)
Enduring hardship (v9)
Holy, Righteous, Blameless (v10)
Dealing with them as a father does (v11)
*Caring (v7) like a mother for her children
Shared (v8) and Preached (v9) the good news of God with them
Shared their lives (v8) with them
Worked night and day so as not to be a burden (v9)
Living according to God's holy standards of righteousness so that no-one could accuse or blame them (v10)
Encouraging them (v12), like a father with his own children
Comforting them (v12), like a father with his own children
Urging them to lives worthy of God (v12), like a father with his own children
I can see a progression through this passage:
(1) Love for others which shows itself in gentle care for their needs.
(2) Sharing everyday life with loved ones and at the same time talking to them about the gospel.
(3) Working hard and being patient through trials so that the loved ones [new believers] may be served as far as possible.
(4) Supporting the loved ones [new believers] by encouraging them when they need strength and support for the road God calls them to, comforting them when they experience difficulties and urging them on when they want to 'rest on their laurels' or 'stay in their comfort zone'.
This is the same progression that Jesus used with His twelve disciples and other followers:
(1) Jesus loved his disciples and cared for them, protecting them from persecution while He was with them. He provided for their needs and safety so they need fear nothing if they relied upon Him. Notable examples of this include the time when Jesus calmed the storm on the sea of Galilee and the multiplication of loaves and fish to provide for the masses who followed Him. Jesus love was also shown every time he healed those who came to him: the lame, the blind, the deaf, the mute, the lepers, those possessed by demons, the woman with a bleeding problem, even the dead were brought back to life through Jesus' miraculous, caring words or touch.
(2) Jesus was with his disciples throughout His ministry, enabling them to see how he lived his life as well as teaching them. They listened to His public preaching and also were able to ask Him questions and hear deeper teaching from him at other times. For example, the Sermon on the Mount, recorded in Matthew 5-7, includes some of Jesus' public teaching. Jesus' instructions to the Twelve, recorded in Matthew 10, was given to His chosen apostles.
(3) Jesus persisted with His ministry, even when it was physically demanding (taking respite and refreshment through times of prayer). He walked away from rebuke or turned it from Himself with wise answers, until the appointed time came. He suffered mightily for the sake of those who would believe and trust in Him, at times such as in the desert after His baptism, in the Garden of Gethsemane and many times in between. Most critically He suffered on the cross when He atoned for the sins of all who trust in His name.
(4) Jesus gave great encouragement to His followers while He was with them, but His greatest provision in this area was through the coming of the Holy Spirit, which Jesus, before His death, had promised would be a counsellor and comforter to His disciples. In Acts 2:38-39, Peter told those listening at Pentecost to "Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off - for all whom the Lord our God will call." The Holy Spirit was first sent from God to all believers at Pentecost, but continues today to be a seal upon the hearts of those who are called and place their trust in Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of their sins and the promise of eternal life.
I think this passage provides a model for godly, practical evangelical effort in my own times as well as in the times of Christ and the first Christians. It is based upon Paul's own "Discipleship Curriculum" as he reflected upon it in 1 Thessalonians 2:6-12 and accords well with the ways that Jesus discipled His followers. In summary, the model calls for:
(1) Love for others shown in gentle, caring ways.
(2) Sharing everyday life and explicit teaching of the gospel.
(3) Hard work and patient endurance of suffering.
(4) Giving encouragement, comfort and counsel in accordance with the Bible and the Holy Spirit, to build up the believers and keep them on the path of sanctification, as they become ever more like Christ Himself.
Friday, 6 June 2008
I had a day like this yesterday.
We had to go to the doctor - yet again - and the child varied between moments of perfect behaviour (sitting and listening while I read them all a book from the play area on Thomas Edison) to moments of complete insanity (screaming, but thankfully not quite at the top of the child's lungs, as we bought lunch from the supermarket waiting for our script to be filled. Yes. All around the entire supermarket.) What on earth could I do?
I prayed: "God, You know how I feel. I'm sorry, but I just feel like giving this child back to you. Please, please, PLEASE change my attitude and I'd really appreciate it if you'd change the child's attitude too!"
I got out of the doctor and shops as quickly as I could.
When we got home I attempted to feed the child some food but they refused it so I sent the child to their bedroom until (maybe half an hour or more later, the others had all well and truly finished their lunch) the child came to say sorry and I could see the child was in a better frame of mind.
Later that night, when the child was not settling down in bed, they got stuck in the high chair and proceeded to demonstrate just exactly what "the top of their lungs" was all about. For simply ages! Scream, scream, scream. Deep breath. Scream, scream, scream. Deep breath. Scream, scream, scream, scream. You get the picture.
So after everyone else had been kissed and cuddled, I went and sat in the room next to the high chair and sang. Very softly at first, but the child tapered off screaming pretty fast, and I raised my voice a little as the child lowered theirs. I sang "Shout to the Lord" and "In Christ Alone" and "Amazing Grace" and "Crown Him with Many Crowns" and by that time the child was almost asleep, still sitting in the high chair. And then I read my Bible. Because that was what I needed for my own attitude adjustment.
Later, I talked to my husband about this child. I told him that I don't want to leave the house with this child anymore, except to go to BSF on Wednesdays, when they are in class with other children (this is the one thing I would most hate to give up from my week, for both our sakes). Thankfully, Jeff has just begun his study and exam period so if I run out of something like milk, I can ask him to get it from the shops, or to stay late in the morning or come home early so that I can get it on my own, rather than take this child anywhere in public. I think I even want to stay home from church with them and have mini-church services and special mothering time with the child then, for a month or so, but I'm not sure how that idea will work out. I am also committing to spending more time one-to-one with the child during the day. And over the next five weeks before we head down to the farm, we're going to work real hard on the basics of first-time obedience again.
From my end of things I'm going to have as many afternoon naps as I can manage and take my antibiotics diligently so I can get over this sinusitis and blah feeling and begin to cope with life. I'm also going to be more diligent with my Bible study. And do more singing. That really helped both of us last night and it helped me this morning as well.
I think we need to just stay at home and focus on important things until this attitude problem is not a problem any more, for both of us. Because the child just can't handle the responsibility of being out in public at the moment, and at the moment I can't handle the mothering stress that comes with taking the child out.
Wednesday, 4 June 2008
I handed in my Church History assignment today. The first version I wrote was 3x the word limit, this is only 900 or so words. So if you've got the time and are interested, here's my take on the causes of the Reformation:
Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg church is the most well-known event of the Reformation, and the sale of indulgences that reformers rebelled against was certainly an inspiration for their efforts; however, this essay posits that the central cause of the Reformation was the reading of the Bible by people who came to believe that it was the only infallible authority for faith and life.
During the Middle Ages, the Bible was available only as the Latin Vulgate, which only the clergy had access to. Then the humanist movement arose . Humanists sought eloquence, pursuing it through the study of the classics. They desired to persuade through rhetorical discourse rather than through the systematic logic of scholastics such as Thomas Aquinas. Humanists were fluent in Latin and scholars of ancient Greek and/or Hebrew. They took advantage of the influx of manuscripts from the East, with the motto “Ad fontes” (back to the sources), and developed the science of textual criticism.
John Wyclif (or Wycliffe, c1320-1384) was the first person to translate the Bible into English. Wyclif held various Catholic livings and also taught at Oxford University. Wyclif said that the role of those in ministry was to teach the people rather than be involved in politics and he held that if clergy misused church property, it should be taken away by the king. After Wyclif’s denial of transubstantiation he had to leave Oxford and he spent the rest of his life at Lutterworth. There, he trained lay preachers and led the translation of the Vulgate into vernacular English around 1384 . Wyclif’s rationale for translating the Vulgate was that “it helpeth Christian men to study the Gospel in that tongue in which they know best.”
Lollards, the persecuted followers of Wyclif, took his ideas to Bohemia where Jan Hus (John Huss 1369-1415) was influenced. Hus was rector of the University of Prague and protested when Alexander V issued a bull to destroy Wyclif’s writings so he was excommunicated. Supported by the government, he continued to preach. Hus argued against indulgences, saying that repentance is required for forgiveness. Hus taught that the Bible was the authority for faith, and argued that if he was to be condemned for his views they should be shown to be unscriptural. Hus was requested to attend the Council of Constance and despite being promised safe conduct, he was declared a heretic and burnt at the stake.
100 years later in Spain, the Complutensian Polyglot Bible was being prepared. The New Testament was printed, but publishing was delayed to include the Old Testament. A humanist scholar, Desiderius Erasmus (c1466-1536), heard of the delay and decided to take advantage of it. He compiled a Greek New Testament (with his own Latin translation) using four quickly acquired partial Greek manuscripts, and was granted an exclusive publishing right for four years. Erasmus’ hastily prepared critical Greek text, published in 1516 and later revised, became the standard Greek text for those who would later translate the Bible into vernacular languages, despite containing many errors. It became known as the “Textus Receptus” and was highly regarded for over three centuries . Erasmus’s Latin translation differed from Jerome’s Vulgate and his commentary throughout was quite critical of Jerome’s translation. Erasmus called for a return to reading the Bible and the translation of the Bible into common European languages, including a comment to this effect in the preface of his New Testament.
As a monk, Martin Luther (1483-1546) was very aware of his own sin and sought salvation through the traditional church sacraments and asceticism. Luther read some of Augustine’s works and found differences from Roman Catholic doctrine, which led him to turn to the Bible, Creeds, the Liturgy and the Councils for authority. He taught at the University of Witttenberg after receiving his doctorate of theology and lectured directly from the Bible. He was confronted with the problem of the righteousness of God as a measure for judgement, which again brought up Luther’s concern over his sinfulness. At last Luther realised that Romans 1:17 showed that God’s righteousness is imputed to His people by God’s free gift of faith. Thus began Luther’s attempts to proclaim a doctrine of salvation based on justification by faith alone, rather than through Roman Catholic sacraments. Luther then protested the sale of indulgences, and was proclaimed a heretic. He argued in response that every doctrine must be tested against Scripture. Luther debated John Eck in 1519 and discovered the teachings of Hus. He decided that the Council had made a mistake in condemning Hus, and realised that even church councils were not infallible. Luther subsequently formulated his doctrine of “Sola Scriptura”, the Bible as the single authority for faith. Pope Leo X excommunicated Luther and at the Diet of Worms placed him under an imperial ban with limited safe conduct. Luther was taken to Wartburg Castle where he translated the Bible into the language of the common people of his country, German. This work placed the Bible into the hands of lay people and gave them the means to judge for themselves about the decisions of the church.
The major cause of the reformation was the work of these four men in making the Bible available to the lay people so they could judge for themselves on matters of doctrine, with the Bible as their final authority. The Reformation was subsequently taken up Zwingli, Calvin, Tyndale, Cranmer and others. Its work continues today with efforts to translate the Bible and encourage Christians to follow in Augustine’s footsteps and “take up and read”.
So there you have it!
Monday, 2 June 2008
Sunday, 1 June 2008
I'll never forget the first time a fork was made into a gun in our house, I'm pretty sure Joshua wasn't even 2 at the time.
Yesterday we did beading to keep the kids busy and quiet while Jeff slept in, and Anna wanted her beads around her neck as a necklace, but Abigail said hers were a fishing line, and proceeded to go fishing.
One of Joshua's favourite things with the cooking set is to get out the plastic lids I have collected for maths counters and set them up just so to be "jellies". The blocks, beads and pirate coins all get used as food when they're pretending to cook as well.
The mini Jenga blocks get used as building blocks more often than we play Jenga.
We have a Wallabies flag which has never flown but which makes a fantastic cape for Rescue Man.
Shoelaces seem to be very useful in our house as well. Sometimes the kids wash their clothes under the tap outside and need their own washing line. Sometimes Joshua wants to rig up a complicated hanging door knocker for the boys' bedroom. Sometimes Anna wants to take her pet Abigail :-) for a walk. Until I had kids I did not know shoelaces could be nearly so versatile.
But the one thing which continually amazes me with its apparently limitless uses? It's sand. Plain old dig-it-up-from-the-sandpit sand. Sometimes it makes cakes, sometimes it makes castles, sometimes it makes crowns - although the littler kids tend to protest when the bigger ones hold "coronations". Sand hides dinosaur fossils, is great for dig-dig-digging (of course) and is really useful when you need a desert island to visit in your pirate ship so you can bury some treasure (or dig some up). Talk about multi-purpose plaything!
This post was inspired by Mrs Edwards, at Veritas at Home, who has just written two posts on her kids' Off-Label Imaginations.