The humble tomato: Fruit or Vegetable?Image by Ollie T. via Flickr

A system or set of terms or symbols especially in a particular science, discipline, or art. 1

The classification of items sometimes varies by the system being used to classify. I wrote a post that include a teacher who marked a child wrong for saying a tomato was a fruit. The problem in that story is that there are two system to classify a tomato.

The first system is that of science and the parts of a plant. In that system, a tomato is a fruit,. a carrot is a root, and broccoli is a flower. Each is a part of a plant.

I suspect the teacher wasn't thinking about that system when she marked the student wrong. Instead she was thinking of another system: food groups. She might have even taught a lesson on food groups. In that system the tomato wasn't a fruit instead it was a vegetable. While that system is less precise in its divisions, it was nevertheless a valid system. Most of us can divide the things I listed above as well as others by the same set of rules. Fruits are sweeter and have more simple sugars. Vegetables don't have a lot of sugars. Starches are plant parts that include more complex sugars. Finally, oils are extracts of plants that contain pure fat (and are the only category that can also include animal products). Unlike the plant part system this one has no clear dividing lines and some items are sorted differently depending on who's doing the sorting.

Children mostly grow up figuring out hundreds of these informal classification systems. Is a color green or blue? Is that a bird or an insect? What's the weather like? In many ways they are much more advanced scientists than us adults who don't have to sort all of life into categories because we have already excepted those divisions of life.
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How to Read 2

This is the third of a series of posts about this article.

Lastly Bauer includes some tips on how to go about thinking about and setting up a reading program. Most of them I agree with.

In large part, the project of classical education is an act of resistance against mainstream culture. It sends a message: “I don't care how fast I do this. I don't care how much of it I do. I don't care how many books I get through. I am not in search of immediate gratification and visible results." This pushes back against our society, which tells us that the faster we work, the more we do, the more we produce and accumulate and experience, the better we are.

I agree. I would add that sometimes it helps to take a break midway in a book. I find this to be especially true of long works of nonfiction. I even decide with some books when I will take a break. In one long history of a very minor technology that I am interested in, I took a break every 200 pages. The material was dense and I need to spend a few days reading a light weight novel. In my most recent book on the Civil War, I planned and took a break at the middle of the book.

One point I did not completely agree with is her suggestion to read in the morning. I've heard that advice a lot over my life, but it just doesn't work out for me. For me the morning before breakfast is a time to get things done. I read, gasp, at the end of the day when my children go to bed, but I admit I also manage to sneak in reading through out the day. I encourage you to find your own time and sneak some reading into those empty moments that happen all through most people's day.

Bauer also suggests reading genre's chronologically. I don't see the necessity in this. Certainly there is an evolution in literature's forms, but if you always wanted to read War and Peace, don't fell you must read 25 other novels before you begin it.

Blue ImpactImage by thefost via Flickr

One point I would suggest is to take some time deciding what level of reading you are at. If you've been reading light weight popular novels and books of encouragement then you may wish to not immediately leap into deep and dense works, but instead begin with some shorter less dense works of literature or more popularized books of nonfiction. Going from Stephen King to Plato might be an unwise choice. There are many easier works to begin with; Greek drama, in my opinion, is easy to read and enjoy.

And if one works stumps you, put it aside after a set number of pages (10 -25 percent is a good goal) and try something else. Whatever you do, don't pick something because it is a classic instead pick something you are interested in.
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How to Read 1

Although overall I love Susan Wise Bauer's "Stop Cleaning the Kitchen and Read," I admit to not much liking her advice on how to read.

I certainly agree with her that what happens to many moms who decide to read "a classic" is that they get a few pages in and get tired, bored, or confused by the book and give it up. That certainly has happened to me in the past and I don't personally know anyone who reads more books than I do (with the possible exception of my dad). So for a mom new to reading regularly the experience could be even more daunting.

Where I depart from Bauer is her recommendation to read a book in a three level process that, oddly, follows the same three levels of the classical curriculum she writes about. I would never had made it through a lot of books I've read if I had had to go three times. While I'm sure that the third time might make some things pop out that I did not catch the first time through, I'm equally sure that some of my first insights are also valid and important.

I also have some questions about the idea of a reading journal. I'll grant you that part of what this blog is about is that, but to have to write each day as I read would be another hindrance to my actual reading and learning.

I do think Bauer has a great idea about marking difficult passages and just moving on with whatever you are reading and then coming back at the end of the book or chapter to reread the difficult section or sections.

My way of taking "notes" is to keep a stack of post-it notes in the places I read. I keep the small 1 by 1.5 inch ones. There are also ones designed to flag reading points, you could get those as well. Whenever I read something I want to remember I put a note on it. I arrange the note so that only a tiny dog ear appears outside the page of the book.

The other thing I use the post-it notes for is to keep my on target with any end notes. I much prefer notes on the same page, but that's not something I get any control on. For books with end notes, I put a post it on the footnote page that is where I am currently reading, so when I have a note in the text I want to check on, I can quickly turn to that page.

In my experience with used books, I can't help but note that some folks use other systems, underlining and writing notes in the margin. These systems can work for you, too.

My feelings are not to get bogged down and doing something that makes it no longer a pleasurable experience (even if hard work). For some moms that may mean writing in a reading journal would add to their experience, but for me that would artificially add a level of frustration to the process.

Selling Ourselves Short 2

Woman readingImage by National Media Museum via Flickr

Susan Wise Bauer has written a wonderful article, "Stop Cleaning the Kitchen and Read a Book"; she encourages moms reading each day to learn more. This is what this blog is about. I am thankful that two years ago Marcia Sommerville challenged me (and all Tapestry of Grace moms) to read the Rhetoric (high school) level literature in her curriculum whether my children were at that level or not. I was fairly well read, but I still had holes and I've found that classics are better after 40 than at 16.

But in the last two years I've expanded Sommerville's definition and also spent time reading other topics that relate to what my children are studying. It's been an amazing experience.

Bauer's article includes some points most home schoolers would agree with, "As home schoolers, we rely too much on experts; this is true not just for home schoolers, but for the American culture at large." Almost all home schoolers I know would be quick to say that standard schooling is incorrect in it's reliance on experts to teach children. But many home schoolers rely on various insider experts in the homeschool world.

Prior to my switch to Tapestry of Grace I used a curriculum that included a guide to the series of books it used to teach American history. Over the years I had heard raves about this guide. I even bought a copy when I switched to Tapestry just in case. So when I finished reading my second books on the Civil War, I turned to that section of the guide. Only to be dumbfounded by the numerous factual errors and poor reasoning of the writer.

Bauer is clear in her article that it is exactly this that moms need to do:

In order to embark on the project of classical education— not just for our children, but also for ourselves—we have to rediscover a much older way of thinking.

In order to get educated, we do not have to go to graduate school. We have to read, take notes on what we read, and discuss ideas with our friends.

The first step in classical self-education is to turn away from the classroom and turn towards reading.

Interestingly for Bauer, she is often seen as an expert on history and literature and has written books for parents on history. But what she encourages is taking the next step to leave her behind and face the open road of learning on your own.

Not every mom will study the same topics, but as part of a network of moms they can become more knowledgeable than the experts they now rely on. Topics are often interrelated. My military history of the Civil War pointed forward to the failures of WWI generals to recognize the same facts of battle that the Civil War generals had already faced and learned.

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Insubordination 3

John Bell HoodImage via Wikipedia

After the loss of Atlanta, Hood attempted to disrupt Sherman's communications (military talk for his supply line) and lure him back to Tennessee. Unfortunately for Hood, things went badly awry.

As his army retreated further south his men changed the words to the popular "Yellow Rose of Texas" to match their feelings about their commander:

So now I'm marching southward,
My heart is full of woe.
I'm going back to Georgia
To see my Uncle Joe.
You may talk about your Beauregard
and sing of General Lee
But the gallant Hood of Texas
Played hell in Tennessee. 1

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Insubordination 2

Abraham Lincoln, three-quarter length portrait...Image via Wikipedia

Bragg was not the only Civil War personality to have remarks address to him that might seem pretty insubordinate to our modern sensibilities. No less than Abraham Lincoln was told while visiting a fort under Confederate fire to, "Get down you Fool!" by a young captain, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. 1

There's even a historic marker at the site.

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2nd third of 17th centuryImage via Wikipedia

One of the things I learned as an adults that sometimes there was pretty amazing stuff hidden in the footnotes. They function not only as a place to indicate where information and ideas comes from but as a place for the author to put points that aren't strictly on topic.

I first found this in a comprehensive American history book where the author included not only details that weren't in his text but often made wry remarks.

As I've read more books with extensive footnotes, I've learned this is pretty common. Often if you want to find the author's sense of humour on a point, you'll find it in the footnotes. Or if you want to find what other topics might relate to a point, again the footnotes.

Of course, students rarely get to learn this as textbooks don't footnote much or anything factually and instead only footnote things like definitions of words or dry facts that relate to the text itself.
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Paraphrasing and Plagiarism

Deafblind American author, activist, and lectu...Image via Wikipedia

Thinking Mother has a nice post on plagiarism. I've been reading a book written to classroom teachers about handling plagiarism in the classroom. One of the things I noted in both the blog and the original article on plagiarism was the focus on blatant copying. This is something that is pretty easy to teach. Don't copy. Yes, even if you change a few words, it's still copying.

But there's no mention in either article of what I suspect is a much more common form of plagiarism. In fact one of the comments following the blog describes a writing program that trains students to paraphrase. I may be misreading the writer's intent, but it seems her point is that if students learn to paraphrase then they won't plagiarise. Unfortunately paraphrasing another writer's work without citing your source is plagiarism as well (see here, here, or here).

The difficulty is determining what information is common knowledge and not original to any author which won't need a citation. For instance a biography of Lincoln would likely not cite a source for his wife being Mary Todd Lincoln, but would cite a source describing their first meeting.

The Thinking Mom includes a great example of why this kind of citation is so important not just to avoid plagiarism, but also to prove your case:

To make matters worse for me as a student in fourth grade, when I wrote in my report that the tomato was both a fruit and a vegetable the teacher marked it wrong, chastised me in red ink saying that it was NOT a fruit and lowered my grade. 1

While I'm sure that a footnote wouldn't have made a difference for some readers, it's possible that a footnote for this fact might have convinced her teacher to check this point (although I'll be quick to admit I'm not sure a tomato being a fruit is really a fact that needs a source).

I've read academic books where a long list had every single item footnoted not with just one source but many.

I'm not sure I understood this point about footnotes until I began to seriously read academic writing frequently enough to be exposed to meticulous footnotes (and some pretty sad ones too).
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Total Depravity

Anyone familiar with Calvinism will recognize this as the first point of the "TULIP."

Martin Luther, German reformer, 1529Image via Wikipedia

In my study of history, I learned that Calvin and Luther agreed on many points and it wasn't until the century after Luther's death that Lutherans separated themselves from what would become Reformed Theology.

Witness this observation of Martin Luther in his commentary on Galatians, " Furthermore, we are all subject to the devil both in body and goods, and we be strangers in this world, whereof he is prince and god. Therefore the bread we eat, the liquids we drink, the garments we wear, yea, the air, and whatsoever we live by in the flesh, is under his dominion."
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Pig penImage by james_michael_hill via Flickr

As I read more works by original authors, I become aware that contemporary belief in a time when debate was more mannered and orderly is a myth. Take this little insult from Martin Luther's commentary on the Galatians, "So that these swine do think that righteousness is but a moral thing, only beholding the visor, or outward show of the work, and not the heart of him that doth the work: . . . ."
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Braxton BraggImage via Wikipedia

General Braxton Bragg was not well liked by his troops. During an invasion of Kentucky he was in part on a propaganda mission to sway sympathetic Kentuckians to join the Confederate Army. As such he had to have his troops be orderly and not forage for supplies (which Lee's men had been able to do in his two northern raids). When a soldier snuck into a yard and stole three apples, he court martialed that soldier and had him executed.
So it's not surprising that his men had little good to say of him.

Many southern armies were ill supplied with uniforms so at one time Bragg stopped a man to find out if he was in his army. The man, asked if he was part of Bragg's army and not recognizing Bragg, replied, "Bragg's army? Bragg's got no army. He shot half of them himself, up in Kentucky, and the other half got killed at Murfreesboro." (How the North Won, page 354)

Late in his tenure as a field general he became suspicious of reports about a Federal retreat and ask a soldier, "Do you know what a retreat looks like?" The soldier replied, "I ought to know, General, I've been with you during your whole campaign." (How the North Won, page 454)
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Hand in the air, delayed long, and naked in the snow

Stonewall JacksonImage by daveelmore via Flickr

Imagine for a moment a highly respected general. A man known for his serious demeanor and yet at the same time his quick tactical skill set. A man who was known for his piety.
So as you read about this man would you expect so many quirks and foibles from him as I’ve found.

So let’s begin with that hand which got shot twice during the war. Once in the first battle of Manassas and once in the wilderness which eventually led to his death. There were many opinions on why he held his hand up during battle, but he claimed that it was to establish balance in his body which he felt was out of equilibrium. Eventually he suffered a wound that leads to his death, once again in that hand.

Later during the seven days battle in Virginia he repeatedly delayed entering the battle and follow Lee’s plan to bottle up the union army. This happened not on just one day but several days running. It was thought he might have been in prayer.

Finally when the South had crushed the North at Marye’s Heights he proposed to pursue the North and charge them while they were demoralized and in retreat. Since it was night he proposed to Lee to strip naked so that they could recognize each other in the dark.

I suppose that some folk might think I’ve written this post to somehow redeem the men of my fine state who shot Stonewall Jackson by mistake during that battle in the wilderness.

Once again I find myself puzzled by action of military men that I can’t imagine modern military leaders taking.
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Civil War Characters

Rufus King ( January 26 1814 – October 1...Image via Wikipedia

One of the things I’ve discovered in reading about the Civil War is how many unique personalities there were involved in the war. Many of these personalities were leaders: politicians, generals, and others. It’s also interesting to note in regards to that how small their world was and how much they knew of each other.

As I’ve read what they’ve said about themselves and others and their actions, I often find myself puzzling over whether similar modern leaders would do such things, would be so candid, would undermine rivals to the point of jeopardizing the war effort. I can’t imagine it, but maybe I just haven’t read enough about war.

Finally, I’ve also noticed that the regular army members were not as respectful of their leaders as we would expect regular army members to be today. I’ve already written about Nelly but there are many other instances where a general doesn’t seem to get the respectful demour I would expect in today’s army.
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No Shills

1930's Emerson RegalImage by The Rocketeer via Flickr

Shill: A shill is an associate of a person selling goods or services or a political group, who pretends no association to the seller/group and assumes the air of an enthusiastic customer. The intention of the shill is, using crowd psychology, to encourage others unaware of the set-up to purchase said goods or services or support the political group's ideological claims. Shills are often employed by confidence artists. The term plant is also used. 1

Recently I heard a piece on NPR about "mom bloggers" and "blog-ola" or "pay-ola." It appear NPR picked this up from a similar piece at Business Week. Since I'm a mom and a blogger I felt the need to write something.

I spent some time reading mom blog reactions to this. There are many. I also spent some time looking a mom blog hubs that include articles on product recommendations.

I've faced this in the homeschool world where many curriculum companies offer parents who use their product the ability to be a sales representative for them using the materials they already own. Anyone who is interested is given a special code that will give the parent/rep credit for a sale if one takes place. This can be done face to face, but it can also be included in links from posts, emails, and blogs to the website of the curriculum company. No one who is not familiar with such practices would know that clicking such a link might represent money in the pocket of the person who recommended the product or provided the link.

In a large email group I run, we have a rule that such affiliations must be disclosed and I've lobbied at forums I've been a member of to have such ethics standards in place as well.

One of the astounding things to me in reading through many blogs in the past week is how comfortable many people are with this idea. How little they feel it needs to be made clear what is going on. What ambiguous turns of phrase might be used to describe a product they received free from a company. Certainly caveat emptor must be the watch word of many places.

I'm sure many of the people who only post positive reviews would be quite upset to spend money on a product only to find out that it has many faults that weren't given in a review because the reviewer felt obliged to only publish a positive review. No doubt the reviewer feels they liked some aspects, but didn't feel it was right to give the negatives and they really weren't that important anyway.

The other interesting thing I noted was many bloggers pointed out that some magazines and newspaper also do this in their pages (in newspaper this occurs mostly in the pages aimed at women). They are correct, but does that mean that this new media of blogging is just going to follow the example of the old media without thought?

In case anyone is wondering: first, I'm not even sure anyone is reading my blog, I'm pretty sure that not enough readers exist for anyone to ever offer me blog-ola, but if offered I'm going to turn it down. If I ever get to be a book reviewer (the only product I can see anyone offering to give me to review), I'll let you know very clearly that I've been given a book. But for now I have my doubts about anyone offering me anything.
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