Saturday, June 26, 2010

Week 26: The Making of Americans and Unseen Academicals

The Making of Americans: Democracy and Our Schools, by E. D. Hirsch

Hirsch is a famous critic of American educational practices and promoter of common standards. I've already reviewed his older book The Schools We Need; this is a newer book with quite a lot of the same message, but shorter and much easier to get through. Here, Hirsch concentrates on the development of American citizens, and how a common curriculum would promote egalitarian schools and a stronger public culture. I agree with much of his message, so I haven't got a whole lot to argue with here.

Unseen Academicals, by Terry Pratchett

This must be something like number 35 in the Discworld series, but Pterry is still going pretty strong. Discworld started off as funny fantasy, poking a bit of fun at the standard tropes, and has matured into social satire that is both entertaining and insightful. Here's hoping that Discworld will continue as long as possible.

And, this marks the halfway point in the 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge! So far, I've put about 40 books up here.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Week 25: Beautiful Girlhood and Mistakes Were Made...

Beautiful Girlhood, by Mabel Hale, revised by Karen Andreola

This rather romantic growing-up book for young teenage girls was first written in 1922. It is very much something you imagine Anne Shirley reading and taking to heart (it may have been old-fashioned even when it was new). Karen Andreola, who is best known as the major name in Charlotte Mason education, kept the flowery Victorian language but took out anything that had dated particularly badly and added a few updates. It was not usually easy for me to tell where she edited.

Much of the basic advice in the book is still quite applicable today, even if most modern girls would balk at the tone. Quite a lot of it is about honesty, consideration for others, popularity, getting along with your parents, and so on. If you take the spirit and not the letter of the advice, it's just fine.

I rather enjoyed reading it and gave it to my 9-year-old daughter to read as well, thinking she would like reading something Anne would have read, and she said she liked it.

Mistakes were made...but not by me, by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson

Tavris and Aronson come up with case study after case study to explain "why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and hurtful acts." It comes down to self-justification--the desire deep within each of us to avoid having to admit that we made a mistake or chose a wrong action. Why will people continue to give money to a con artist long after it's completely obvious they're being scammed? Why do we see and condemn hypocrisy in others but don't notice it in ourselves? Why do people do horrible things to one another without feeling bad about it? Because it's often really, really hard to admit--or sometimes even to notice--that we've been fooled or done wrong, and it's fatally easy to downplay our wrong actions and justify them to ourselves.

I found this book to be really interesting, and would recommend it to others. It can be so hard to understand why some people do such obviously awful things, and this book really helps to explain it. It also makes you take a good hard look at some of the things you've been up to yourself.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Week 24: Quiverfull and The Red Pyramid

Quiverfull, by Kathryn Joyce

I don't think that many people in my area of the world know very much about the Quiverfull movement. Lately I've been interested in understanding it, and the tragic Schatz case made me feel more strongly that this is something more of us should be aware of. Quiverfull is one term for a growing movement among very conservative Protestants, which emphasizes wifely submission, male headship, and "openness" to children, which can frequently translate to having as many as physically possible because it's a sign of righteousness. Adherents also homeschool, try to live as self-sufficiently as possible, and are usually quite isolationist. Women bear the heavy burdens that go with the lifestyle--but wives are also frequently the ones who are attracted to it in the first place and who pull their husbands in.

Joyce explains some of the history behind the movement and the major players. This was very helpful to me since, as a homeschooler, I have often heard some of the names mentioned before but was ignorant of exactly who they were. I've seen Vision Forum at conventions and seen their catalog (full of amazingly sexist toys for children), but I didn't know that the leader, Doug Phillips, preaches an extreme form of submission, advising girls to stay home and serve their fathers until marriage, and to submit not only to their fathers but also their brothers, regardless of age. Nor did I know that the woman who designs Sense and Sensibility patterns (which I have purchased in the past) also writes for Vision Forum! So the book really helped me to make sense of all the small glimpses I've had.

Joyce does not comment very much on the people she describes. She just quotes them and lets them explain themselves, without giving very much of her own opinion. This is just fine, and I think perhaps too much commentary would have been superfluous. She also interviews a couple of women who were prominent in the Quiverfull world but have since left. Leaving is quite a long and painful process for many women, who often find themselves penniless and without job skills, with many children to feed.

I appreciated this overview of the Quiverfull movement and would recommend it to those trying to understand patriarchalist fundamentalists.

The Red Pyramid, by Rick Riordan

Rick Riordan is kicking off a new mythology-based series, and our book club decided to read it for a fun summer book this month. It's the story of two siblings, raised separately, who find themselves forced to work together in the middle of a crisis of the Egyptian gods. Their father has been captured by Set, and they must try to restore ma'at (cosmic order) and stop Set from unleashing chaos across the world. I quite enjoyed it, although it seemed a bit over-long --over 500 pages.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Week 23: The Aeneid

The Aeneid, by Virgil, translated by Sarah Ruden

After reading Paul Among the People, I thought I'd see what Ms. Ruden's translations are like. It's a long time since I read the Aeneid, though. The story is only half-written; Virgil meant to write a 24-book epic, but only finished 12 before his death.

I felt that the translation was quite clear and readable, and I enjoyed going back to the story and refreshing my memory. I need to tackle some more ancient classics this summer, not to mention the medieval books that have been put on hold lately...