Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Thoughts on Culture’ Category

imagesToday, we will visit Korea on our world  tour through literature! A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park can broaden a literature approach to Medieval studies by taking the reader to 12th century Korea as viewed through the life of an orphan boy by the name of Tree-ear.  The orphan motif is an oft repeated literary device that draws the reader into the story through pathos, and the author doesn’t fail in her use here. Tree-ear’s story is set firmly in the world of the highly skilled pottery artisans of Korea who first invented celadon pottery.  Tree-ear learns their delicate but highly painstaking craft under a master potter and then must deliver the master’s works for a royal commission.  The journey takes him through danger from both man and beast and teaches Tree-ear perseverance and loyalty.  Winner of the Newbery Medal in 2002, this book not only teaches what medieval life was like for the poor, but also teaches the value of friendship and compassion.

So Far From the Bamboo Grove by Yoko Kawashima Watkins won the American Library Association Award in002112 1987 and tells a story of Korea, but with a twist. The young protagonist Yoko and her family are part of Japanese occupation forces in Korea (Japan occupied Korea from 1910-1945), and must flee Korea when Japan begins to lose the war.  Their harrowing escape and their attempts to pass themselves off as Koreans makes for a gripping and moving work based on the author’s own experiences.  Though Japan was the aggressor–and often a cruel and tyrannical one–what Yoko’s tale shows is how women and children are victimized by war, and must summon almost superhuman courage and sacrifice to help those they love.

The last award-winning book on Korea is Year of Impossible Goodbyes by Sook Nyul images-1Choi and is the author’s own biography of her childhood growing up in Korea during the same period as the title above.  Sook’s family are involved in resistance movement, and her brothers have been sent to labor camps, while her heroic mother keeps the family factory running and does everything in her power to protect her young female factory workers from the Japanese forces.  When war separates Sook from her mother, she and her little brother must escape by themselves.  Their journey is heroic, touching and miraculous!

This is just another brief installment on our Around the World tour through award-winning children’s literature which I will be covering in my upcoming Back-to-School Literature Soiree!  If interested, go here.

Read Full Post »

Harriet Beecher Stowe's home from 1852-1863

Harriet Beecher Stowe‘s home in Andover  from 1852-1863

I have the fortune to have a dear friend who lives just a couple doors down from 80 Bartlet Street in Andover, Massachusetts.  While visiting there recently, I was delighted to learn that this address was the home of Harriet Beecher Stowe.  The author lived there just after the publication of her seminal novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  Indeed, she applied her first royalty check from the novel toward the renovation of the home for her large family.  Her husband, Calvin Stowe, taught Sacred Literature at Andover Theological Seminary, and it was this position that precipitated the move of the family there.

Born into a notable family devoted to faith and education, one of the ironies of Harriet’s childhood, is that when she was born, her father was disappointed that she was a girl!  A preacher himself, her father wanted sons who could follow in his footsteps, which a number did. While a few of the Beecher sons made names for themselves during their lifetimes, it was Harriet who had the most dramatic and lasting impact upon the fate of the natthe_annotated_uncle_toms_cabin.large_-1ion and upon the history of the world. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a runaway best-seller, selling 10,000 copies in the United States in its first week; 300,000 in the first year; and in Great Britain, 1.5 million copies in one year. It was subsequently translated into 60 languages and impacted other nations still under the bondage of serfdom and slavery.

Gazing at the place Harriet called home for eleven years, I enjoyed imagining the happy chaos that must have often filled the halls and chambers of this lovely stone dwelling. It is easy to romanticize the life of someone from the past, but I know better than to do so with her.  Harriet has always been an inspiration for me, because, not only was she the mother of seven children, but she often parented alone, as her husband was sickly and given to melancholy and depression.  Because of her husband’s frequent illnesses, financial matters were always a concern, which was another of Harriet’s motivations for writing, as she was often forced to supplement the family income.  But despite the tremendous pressure upon her as wife and mother, she found time to devote to her passionate desire for abolition, and became a driving force through the dramatic words that flowed from her pen.  So convincing was her characterization in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, that Americans all over the country were able to identify vicariously with the suffering slaves and their brave liberators.  This identification became a catalyst for change, and through the power of Harriet’s pen the nation grew ripe for emancipation.

When the AmeriHarriet-Beecher-Stowe-and-the-Beecher-Preachers-9780399226663can Civil War broke out in 1861 Stowe wrote “It was God’s will that this nation—the North as well as the South—should deeply and terribly suffer for the sin of consenting to and encouraging the great oppressions of the South”—(The Life of Harriet Beecher Stowe).  It was to her a direct breach of the second great commandment as she noted, ” . . . the enslaving of the African race is a clear violation of the great law which commands us to love our neighbor as ourself”.

If you have never enjoyed the moving experience of reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin, consider picking it up as a summer read-aloud.  Though the language can seem a bit archaic at first, a little diligence will be rewarded handsomely, as the dramatic plot will quickly pull readers in. Most importantly, the lessons of compassion, empathy, and justice will linger long in listener’s hearts and minds.

A wonderful companion to the study of Stowe’s novel is Harriet Beecher Stowe and the Beecher Preachers by Jean Fritz. The stories of the rambunctious household that Harriet grew up in, and the tales of her own seven children, may have a familiar ring to contemporary families who have made home education a choice and a lifestyle.  In the often humdrum duties of daily life, it is easy to forget that sometimes, future greatness can be hidden in an unlikely package.  Though her father and her culture could not have imagined it, Harriet’s preaching turned her world upside down and helped bring justice to untold millions.

Read Full Post »

Hello Friends,

The clueless Mr. Collins

The clueless Mr. Collins

I am currently reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with my soon-to-be 13 year-old daughter.  It is such a joy most of the time, as Austen is such a master at characterization.  I say, most of the time because there are moments when reading her is just painful.  Painful because when she goes on and on about Mr. Collins (the obnoxious protegée of Lady Catherine de Bourg) one finds oneself about to scream with frustration!  Mr. Collins is so completely narcissistic, self-absorbed, socially retarded, and downright selfish, that his lengthy monologues are almost too much to bear.  He is beyond human endurance.

But there is another character who tries human patience almost as much.  Mrs. Bennett.  Mrs. Bennett is nearly as narcissistic, self-absorbed, and socially retarded as Mr. Collins.  Her only saving grace is that she does have 5 daughters who demand her attention.  But Mrs. Bennett is almost worse than Collins in that she humiliates, embarrasses and nearly sabotages the prospects of those 5 daughters in her efforts to find them suitable husbands.  What makes Mrs. Bennett’s behavior sometimes even more painful than Collins’ is that her actions have an uncanny ability to hit close to home. I know that most teenagers (and even adolescents) are sometimes embarrassed by their parents. This is a natural and important part of the separation that must come for healthy independence.  But how often, inadvertently, and maybe even intentionally, do I embarrass my teen/adult children by behavior that simply lacks discretion?  As parents, I think that we can easily mistake a teen’s particular vulnerability as immaturity, and not regard it properly.  By failing to be discreet with our teen’s areas of sensitivity or vulnerability we can easily become like

Mrs. Bennett, forever embarrassing her daughters!

Mrs. Bennett, forever embarrassing her daughters!

Mrs. Bennett.  I know I have failed at times in this area, and Mrs. Bennett teaches me what not to be.

Another area where Mrs. Bennett’s behavior is particularly instructive, is her insatiable need to boast about her daughters looks, prospects, impending engagements, and so forth.  She does this regularly while putting other girls down in comparing their hopes and expectations to her superior daughters.  Austen is a master at exposing what is such a common foible of the mother heart.  As mothers, our tendency is to compare our children to other children. Even if we aren’t so foolish as to

verbalize those feelings in social situations (as the clueless Mrs. Bennett often does), harboring those feelings can become a destructive force. If our children are academically or artistically gifted, then our comparisons lead to pride.  If our children are not academically or physically gifted, then our comparisons can lead to envy.  Not good, either way.

We humans laud beauty, intelligence, athletic ability, education, artistic skill, charm, and graciousness.  We hold persons who have these attributes in high esteem.  We often forget that these qualities and abilities are the fruit of other’s investment, time, and sacrifice.  We often forget that we are all products of those who have loved us, sacrificed for us, driven us to countless orthodontic appointments, paid for violin lessons, attended myriad sporting events and so forth.  The academic is the product of the teaching, skill, and investment of many teachers through every stage of their intellectual development. The successful athlete reflects the tutoring, training, and coaching of many individuals. Failing to nurture a recognition of  this very obvious fact in our children, can create narcissistic, self-absorbed youngsters that believe the world revolves around them.  This can lead to our children thinking much more highly of themselves than they ought to think.

When our children do well, when their successes please us, if they ace the SAT, score a winning goal, or land a leading role, we would do well, unlike the foolish Mrs. Bennett, to reflect upon and remember all those who helped to make that success possible. Cultivating the ability to see that we are who we are, because of what we’ve been given is foundational to having a grateful, humble, and joyful perspective on life.  Reading books like Pride and Prejudice together, affords us opportunities to wrestle with our baser instincts, ponder them with our children, to see ourselves for what we truly are, and to help ourselves and our children grow in favor with God and man.

Read Full Post »

Dear Readers,

Having spent the last month visiting the remarkable city of Paris, I have returned with a new appreciation for a number of distinctly French things.  Besides the Normandy butter, melt-in-your-mouth croissants, rich dark coffee, organic meats, stunningly fresh and beautiful produce, not to mention the world class art and architecture, I’ve come to appreciate something which has quite taken hold of me, and spurred a great deal of thought and interest.  That is the French art of conversation.

While traversing countless parks, gardens, cafes, restaurants, art galleries, museums, cathedrals, and other public places, I was continually struck by the way in which the French engage with one another through the medium of speech.  Whether observing a work of art, or visiting over an espresso, the French are devoted to conversation. One thing which immediately becomes apparent, is that the French do not consider gazing at one’s iphone or smartphone while conversing the least bit civilized.  You simply don’t see it.  The French parks are filled with people of all ages, of all socioeconomic strata, and of diverse racial heritage.  And while they are conversing, they are looking directly at one another, completely engaged.  Their conversations are animated, apparently interesting to both parties (or multiple parties, as the case may be), and they are polite in their tone, and respectful in that they consider making eye contact essential to meaningful exchange.

In pondering this, I have been struck by how far our American culture has slipped in something so fundamental to a civilized society.  The saturation of PDAs  in American society has done little to improve true communication. If eye contact is fundamental to real exchange, then no wonder we seem to have slipped so far in the last few decades.  What kind of effects will a degeneration in true conversation portend for our future?

In reviewing a classic book I am currently preparing for publication, I came across this statement by Benjamin Franklin from his Autobiography, and it seems to strike at some essential components of meaningful human interaction.  It is to be wondered how much Franklin developed these notions about conversation due to his long tenure in France as America’s ambassador.

Benjamin Franklin 1767

Benjamin Franklin 1767

As the chief ends of conversation are to inform or to be informed, to please or to persuade, I wish well-meaning, sensible men would not lessen their power of doing good by a positive, assuming manner that seldom fails to disgust, tends to create opposition, and to defeat every one of these purposes for which speech was given to us, to wit, giving or receiving information or pleasure.  For, if you would inform, a positive and dogmatical manner in advancing your sentiments may provoke contradiction and prevent a candid attention. If you wish information and improvement from the knowledge of others, and yet at the same time express yourself as firmly fixed in your present opinions, modest, sensible men, who do not love disputation, will probably leave you undisturbed in the possession of your error.”

Franklin’s perspective certainly gives one pause if applied to much that is considered “talk” today.  How will our loss in this area affect future diplomacy, family relationships, and the civil discourse necessary to a true “liberal arts” education?  Is there a bright future for reasoned and civil discourse in this country?

In discussing these notions with a close friend who accompanied me to France, we both felt quite convicted by how often we miss the opportunity to make eye contact, to speak kindly and respectfully and to truly listen to the other. We were impressed as we pondered it, by the notion of how powerful eye contact is in affirming a person’s sense of worth and dignity.  Our fully intentional and direct gaze gives the sense of true engagement and interest in the other.  It imparts something quite elemental to the soul,

Americans (yes, us!) conversing excitedly in front of Notre Dame de Paris, despite the cold wind and rain!

something we perhaps can’t completely understand or define, but something critical nonetheless.  That, combined with Franklin’s plea for well-meaning and sensible men to be modest and pleasant in their conversation, are simple but powerful tools available to anyone with their sense of sight and speech intact.  What do you think?  How have these ideas impacted your life?  Does the art of conversation come naturally to you?

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts

%d bloggers like this: