Thoughtful Reads

Make It Your Own– a four part series, and this is the fourth.  So maybe it will be more than four parts.  I don’t know, but I love this and you should read it, too. They are short, you have time.  You’ll be glad you read them.

You hear this CM quote batted around a bit:

“I can only point to the unusual results we obtain through adhering not ‘more or less’ but strictly to the principles and practices I have indicated. ”

Don’t miss the context.


The Play Deficit: Get those babies outside.  Go with them.  Leave your work, or what you think is your work, because this is the real thing.

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Why You Should Read Challenging Older Books

George Grant on why we read Plutarch:

“It was the primary textbook of the Greek and Roman world for generations of students throughout Christendom. It was the historical source for many of Shakespeare’s finest plays. It forever set the pattern for the biographical arts. It was the inspiration for many of the ideas of the American political pioneers–evidenced by liberal quotations in the articles, speeches, and sermons of Samuel Adams, Peyton Randolph, Patrick Henry, Samuel Davies, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Henry Lee, John Jay, George Mason, Gouverneur Morris, and Thomas Jefferson. Indeed, after the Bible it was the most frequently referenced source during the Founding era. For these and a myriad of other reasons, Plutarch’s Lives is one of the most vital and consequential of all the ancient classics.”

Click through the link above to read the rest.  While Plutarch stands alone, it also stands tall in a long tradition of worthy minds communicating to minds.

I get a little tired of people dismissing classics merely on the basis that “I don’t believe that we need to read anything just because it’s on somebody’s list.”  That’s not an argument anybody makes.  But some lists are worthy of more respect than others. I do not know who this mythical ‘somebody’ is, but I would not lightly dismiss a book on George Grant’s or C.S. Lewis’ list.

We read Plutarch because he is Plutarch, and centuries of the best and the brightest have concluded he has compiled a remarkable book useful for the education and character building of the young and we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Anything that has worked for centuries but isn’t working well in this generation, I generally take a suspicious glance at this generation to see where the fault lies (not 100% failproof, as slavery might be said to have worked well for at least half the people for centuries, but now we in the west at least have a different understanding of liberty and the Golden Rule of doing until others).

If a child can read stuff like Plutarch and Shakespeare and the KJV of the Bible, then there is not going to be any literature in English that is barred to him. He will at some point no longer be dependent on the explanations and interpretations of others.

This is not a *goal,* but rather a side benefit, kids who can read stuff like Plutarch generally do well on the verbal portion of their SAT and ACT scores with no extra studies.

And then there’s this very fascinating research:”Serious literature acts as a rocket booster to the brain.”

More here.  Good stuff, like:

“In one example, volunteers read a line from King Lear: “A father and a gracious aged man: him have you madded”. They then read a simpler version: “A father and a gracious aged man: him you have enraged.”

Shakespeare’s use of the adjective “mad” as a verb sparked a higher level of brain activity than the straightforward prose.

The study went on to test how long the effect lasted. It found that the “peak” triggered by the unfamiliar word was sustained onto the following phrases, suggesting the striking word had hooked the reader, with their mind “primed for more attention”.”

The best books are not books with perfect morals to deliver, sermons candy coated in fiction.  They are books that are true in their characterizations, in their depiction of life, and human nature.

We ask too much of our literature and also not enough.


” We demand that every story be a sermon, that every written thing speak as holy writ. Literature is not so. Written by fallen man for fallen men, the most it can ever do is “hold the mirror up to nature” and show us ourselves in the clear light of art.

Fortunately, this self-knowledge is the first step on the road to virtue. Where endless models for emulation will eventually create a self-righteous Pharisee, true depictions of human nature can make a humble, empathetic man.”

(Circe, What is a Classic, Anyway?)


Doug Lemov on Reading podcast

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IT’s a flowering shrub here, an ornamental.  I have also seen what I thought was ixora as a kind of large (tallerthan me) topiary outside.  I have seen red, yellow, and white.  There’s another common name for it here in the Philippines but I have forgotten what I was told.


Ixora is a genus of flowering plants in the Rubiaceaefamily. It is the only genus in the tribe Ixoreae. It consists of tropical evergreen trees and shrubs and holds around 545 species. Though native to the tropical and subtropical areas throughout the world, its centre of diversity is in Tropical Asia.


It grows in the US in zones 10 and 11 and you can get it from your local plant nurseries.  Here’s how to care for it.

It blooms all year round here, and makes a very pretty hedge.

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Nature Study as Science


Nature-study is not elementary science as so taught, because its point of attack is not the same; error in this respect has caused many a teacher to abandon nature-study and many a pupil to hate it. In elementary science the work begins with the simplest animals and plants and progresses logically through to the highest forms; at least this is the method pursued in most universities and schools. The object of the study is to give the pupils an outlook over all the forms of life and their relation one to another. In nature-study the work begins with any plant or creature which chances to interest the pupil. It begins with the robin when it comes back to us in March, promising spring; or it begins with the maple leaf which flutters to the ground in all the beauty of its autumnal tints. A course in biological science leads to the comprehension of all kinds of life upon our globe. Nature study is for the comprehension of the individual life of the bird, insect, or plant that is nearest at hand.

Nature-study is perfectly good science within its limits, but it is not meant to be more profound or comprehensive than the capabilities of the child’s mind. More than all, nature-study is not science belittled as if it were to be looked at through the reversed opera glass in order to bring it down small enough for the child to play with. Nature-study, as far as it goes, is just as large as is science for ” grown-ups. It may deal with the same subject matter and should be characterized by the same accuracy. It simply does not go so far.

To illustrate: If we are teaching the science of ornithology, we take first the Archaeopteryx, then the swimming and scratching birds, and finally reach the song birds, studying each as a part of the whole. Nature-study begins with the robin because the child sees it and is interested in it, and notes the things about the habits and appearance of the robin that may be perceived by intimate observation. In fact, he discovers for himself all that the most advanced book of ornithology would give concerning the ordinary habits of this one bird; the next bird studied may be the turkey in the barn-yard, or the duck on the pond, or the screech owl in the spruces, if any of these happen to impinge upon his notice and interest. However, such nature-study makes for the best of scientific ornithology , because by studying the individual birds thus thoroughly, the pupil finally studies a sufficient number of forms so that his knowledge, thus assembled, gives him a better comprehension of birds as a whole than could be obtained by the routine study of them. Nature-study does not start out with the classification given in books, but in the end it builds up in the child’s mind a classification which is based on fundamental knowledge; it is a classification like that evolved by the first naturalists, because it is built on careful personal observations of both form and life.

If nature-study is made a drill, its pedagogic value is lost. When it is properly taught, the child is unconscious of mental effort or that he is suffering the act of teaching. As soon as nature-study becomes a task, it should be dropped; but how could it ever be a task to see that the sky is blue, or the dandelion golden, or to listen to the oriole in the elm!

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Writing notes by hand, an important life skill

Don’t take notes by laptop
Research shows you only remember 5% of what you hear in a lecture, about 10% of what you read, but about 75% of what you learn when you practice what you’ve learned and 90% of what you learned about when you immediately go over it and tell somebody else about it. Writing is a kind of telling. Research also shows that when you know you are going to write down what you learned about, your brain starts working ahead of time sorting the information and picking out the most important details. Other research shows that students who write out their notes by hand and then have a chance to go over those notes at least once, remembered more and had a deeper understanding of the material than students who took notes with a laptop.

(the study with the 10% of what you read, etc, was a lifehack article, and probably a little shakier in terms of firm research than the one linked above).

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