Education


Trevor Cairney has posted a helpful (and encouraging) review of the ‘Your Baby Can Read!’ program developed by Dr Robert Titzer. While I was unaware of Titzer’s thesis, the concerns Trevor outlines make real sense to me. As I noted in a comment on his post, I spend all day with a 2-year-old. We cook, play, dance, listen to music, read, count the dongs on the grandfather clock, paint, sort through food, and eat leaves in the garden, among other things. It’s learning all the way, and the resultant growth in her is obvious. I can’t imagine how spending an hour a day sitting in front of a TV (which she is not interested in at all) watching DVD’s can compare with sitting on dad’s knee reading, or kicking a football or counting flower buds in the garden, or learning to share toys and attention with friends. I’m keen to hear from others who may have had experience with Titzer’s program, and whether or not their experiences echo any of Trevor’s concerns.

‘It is part of the mythology of childhood itself that children hate learning and will avoid it at all costs. Of course, anyone who has had a child knows what an absurd lie this is. From infancy onward, children are the most fantastic learners in the world’. – Daniel Quinn, Schooling: The Hidden Agenda.

In her book Faith and Betrayal: A Pioneer Woman’s Passage in the American West Sally Denton provides us with a glimpse into raising children in upper-crust London in the mid 1800’s. Jean Rio Baker is married to Henry Baker, and they have eight young children, less the one who has died as a toddler. Jean Rio later forsakes this life in the pursuit of Mormonism in America:

“Child rearing was left to governesses, and the children were taught what one of them called ‘the pure Queen’s English’ by private tutors, [while] Jean Rio pursued her musical career throughout Europe. A cook and butler handled domestic matters, and Jean Rio and Henry took their meals separate from the children. The family regularly attended public celebrations for Queen Victoria, and, to judge from their proximity to the royal family at these times, the Bakers were apparently among the elite of mid-nineteenth-century London society.

“Henry, a prominent engineer, built a miniature steam locomotive for his children. The couple routinely read Shakespeare aloud to their children from a leather-bound volume of the complete works a book Jean Rio would eventually carry with her to Utah, along with many others. ‘They were taught personal cleanliness, morals, manners, and religion in no uncertain terms,’ wrote a descendant. As each child turned fourteen, he or she was invited to the family dinner table, having received training in etiquette. At that age, the sons were presented with a silver watch and chain. By that age as well, the children were expected to have mastered the common requirements in history and literature, as well as bookkeeping and higher mathematics that included algebra. Upon turning sixteen, the boys received a gold watch and, as son William George remembered the symbolic rite, were told by Jean Rio and Henry that they would now be expected to conduct themselves as proper gentlemen at all times. All the children learned horsemanship and regularly rode the bridle path in Hyde Park; it was a proficiency that would serve them well in their future lives on the American frontier.”

Sally Denton, Faith and Betrayal: A Pioneer Woman’s Passage in the American West (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 134. (HT: Delancey Place)

Oh how times have changed!

Robert W. Jenson & Solveig Lucia Gold, Conversations with Poppi about God: An Eight-Year-Old and Her Theologian Grandfather Trade Questions (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2006). 158 pages. ISBN: 97815874321613. Review copy courtesy of Brazos Press.

When was the last time you had a conversation about baptism, temptation, purgatory, time, economics, the Nicene Creed, creation, the Trinity, Christmas, metaphysics, church calendars, evil, indulgences, the Holy Spirit, liturgy, Lucifer, hamsters, a ‘really stupid’ bishop, the disestablishment of the Roman Church, the imago Dei, and a host of other things, all with the same person? When was the last time you did so with a person who just happens to be a world-renowned Lutheran, and ecumenical, theologian? When was the last time you did so with an eight-year-old who knows more about Dante than not a few philosophy undergrads?

In this remarkable book, we are invited to eavesdrop on a spontaneous and unscripted conversation between elementary schoolgirl Solveig Lucia Gold and her septuagenarian grandfather affectionately called ‘Poppi’, more formally known as the Reverend Canon Professor Dr. D. Robert W. Jenson, B.A., B.D., M.A., D.Theol., D.H.L., DD.

The book comprises the verbatim transcripts – with minor editing of ‘Ums’, ‘Well, buts …’ and ‘You knows…’, etc – of conversations recorded on a Radio Shack cassette recorder over a series of weekends in which Solveig visited her grandparents (‘Poppi’ and ‘Mimi’) in Princeton. After each session, Mimi typed it up.

The authors invite us to read their book ‘as you would a Platonic dialogue, though in this one, the role of Socrates goes back and forth’ (p. 10). Their discussion is more wide-ranging than most systematic theologies, and is filled with wit, warmth and wisdom.

Time for an example:

Solveig: How can God pick who goes to heaven or hell?

Poppi: By looking at Jesus, who loves you, Solveig.

Solveig: Can you show me?

Poppi: One way of saying what happened with Jesus is that Jesus so attached himself to you that if God the Father wants his Son, Jesus, back, he is stuck with you too. Which is how he picks you. (p. 20)

The young Episcopalian and her ‘sort of half Anglican and half Lutheran’ (p. 70) Poppi return to some themes a number of times over the weekends. One such theme that offers some of the book’s richest insights concerns the Spirit, or ‘God’s liveliness’ (p. 38), as the good Professor Dr Poppi likes to remind his granddaughter. Solveig tries on more than one occasion to argue a case that the second and third articles in the Creed ought to be reversed not only because ‘all of us share in the Spirit’ (Father and Son included), but also because that’s how you cross yourself. Poppi agrees, ‘Father, Spirit, Son is probably a better arrangement’ (p. 146). The Spirit is also ‘God’s own future that he is looking forward to’ (p. 42). They compare God’s liveliness with Santa Claus who is ‘sort of like a messenger from the Holy Spirit – in a way’ (p. 100), before coming to discern the spirits to see if they are from God, for whom to have Spirit means that he ‘doesn’t stay shut up in himself … but that the goodness and mercy – and wrath, when it comes to that – that is in God blows out from him to hit you and me. And that means that just like your spirit is yours and not mine, even though your spirit effects me, so God’s Spirit is his and not a spirit like Santa Claus’ (p. 101).

In between laughs, they talk about what it is about Holy Communion – Solveig’s ‘favourite part of going to church’ because she gets to ‘stretch and walk around a little’ (p. 31) – that means that ‘the wine should be the very best’ (p. 33) and that dissolvable bread should be banned. The meal should be appetising, and not like those baptisms ‘when they just dribble a couple of drops on the baby’ (p. 34). They also talk about a confirmation service led by ‘this weird bishop guy’ who is ‘really stupid’ (p. 34).

While I’m trying to resist the temptation to share every gem in the book (and there are lots), allow me one more, this time on heaven, purgatory, and hell:

Solveig: Do you think of where you might go after you die as two places or three places? I think of it as three places.

Poppi: What three is that?

Solveig: Heaven, purgatory, and hell.

Poppi: So you hold to the doctrine of purgatory?

Solveig: Yes.

Poppi: You know that is very controversial.

Solveig: Why? It’s in Dante, isn’t it?

Poppi: Well, it’s in Dante, yes. But of course, Dante isn’t exactly in the Bible.

Solveig: No. But he’s still …

Poppi: The thing about purgatory is that it’s a very reasonable idea. It’s just that we don’t know if it is true.

Solveig: Except … Maybe God thinks that you should just go to two places. If you are bad, he has no patience with you at all, and he will just sort you to go to heaven or hell. I think that is reasonable enough.

Poppi: That God is impatient?

Solveig: Yes.

Poppi: That’s where I think the notion of purgatory is reasonable. I don’t think the Bible talks about God’s being impatient in quite that way.

Solveig: If he isn’t impatient, maybe he doesn’t want us to spend time thinking about where we should go.

Poppi: You know that plate that your mother and father gave us that hangs on the wall in the dining room?

Solveig: Yes.

Poppi: Remember what it says on it?

Solveig: I don’t remember what it says.

Poppi: It says, ‘I desire not the death of the wicked.’

Solveig: ‘As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked.’

Poppi: Right. So the biblical God takes no pleasure in sending people to hell, and that’s why I think that purgatory is a reasonable idea. The problem is we don’t have any way of knowing whether the purgatory idea is true or not.

Solveig: It’s just Dante’s idea.

Poppi: Well, it was older than Dante.

Solveig: It was?

Poppi: Yes.

Solveig: Yes. Well, see, I think of Dante as a theologian, in a way.

Poppi: He was a very great theologian.

Solveig: Yeah, I know. I’m saying that he kind of liked to make up things he wasn’t quite sure about, if you know what I mean.

The delightful exchanges in this album offer us a model of how good theological dialogue can and should take place: with mutual respect and humility which delights in both the giving and the receiving; with an eye on the scripture, an eye on the tradition, and an eye on the world (for those who possess at least three eyes); and within an environment of safety in which no idea is too whacky and no avenue of enquiry cut off prematurely.

Carl Braaten’s words regarding this book are worth repeating,

Robert Jenson has created a new medium, with his granddaughter Solveig, to teach the basics of the Christian faith. Just as Martin Luther wrote his Small Catechism for children, this book of conversations covers the beliefs and practices of the Christian church – among them the commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the sacraments – in a way that parents, regardless of their denomination, can confidently read and discuss with their children. Robert Jenson has translated the core convictions of his two volumes of Systematic Theology into simple truths that his eight-year-old grandchild can understand in the course of their unrehearsed and lively conversations. If you want to know what a sophisticated theologian really believes, listen to him explain the mysteries of the Christian faith to a child in simple terms without being simplistic.

Hamelife has a beautiful wee post here on giving our kids enough time to nut things out, process information and respond.

Here’s a preview:

… sometimes parents just need to give their child enough time to let the cogs turn, to allow a moment to process the information. Those few more seconds might take some patience on our behalf, but they could be absolutely priceless when it comes to our child’s personal development. Their little minds going over the words, processing what they mean, deciding what to do. I wonder if when parents hurry their children up, push them out the door, they deny them the opportunity to do that … Parents seem to be under increasing pressure these days, run off their feet. In the choice between the quick hit or the slow release it might feel like we have no time to go for the lengthier option. But in the long run, when they look back, parents might be glad that they extended just a little bit more time to their children, time to allow the cogs to turn.

There’s also a good podcast here on Family Values in The Simpsons and one here on Steiner Schools and a discussion on whether public schools are as good as private schools.