More Brick Action! Woot! You Know You Want It!

Continuing the gripping tale of Home Improvement Insanity. Some old guys fill their need for order and beauty by, say, collecting stamps or taking up the banjo, civilized and largely sweat-free activities. Me? I sling bricks. (1)

Micro back story: about 20 years ago, there was a small, ugly front yard in the building we rented for the school. The root system of a large, unruly tree had created a very uneven surface. I thought that we could maybe put in a foot high retaining wall following the contour of the existing uneven portion, backfill a little behind it, and have a somewhat more useful and much less ugly area. Someone suggested we could get free (2) bricks for this project off of Craig’s List, which we did.

It came out really cute, and it was fun! Ever since, I’d been looking for opportunities to do more brick work. Found some more brick work! A couple orders of magnitude more! Whee!

When we last left the Project That’s Even Money to Kill Me Before I Finish It, was looking like this:

Dirt. A hole in the ground. Little patch of concrete. Couple 2 x 4s staked to the ground.

This week, finished the forms and added some rebar for the footers for the next section of fence planter. The Caboose, our 15 year old, helped me pour the concrete Friday:

If there were a Concrete Finishing Merit Badge, the Caboose would have earned it.

Saturday, got to work on finishing the brick walk. Didn’t grab any in progress, ‘fat old man on his hands and knees putting down gravel, sand and bricks’ photos, but snapped a couple ‘sweeping dry mortar into the spaces’:

Cleaned up, sprayed it down with the hose, and voila! A mere 8 hours of work later, looks pretty good:

Completed walk, including the old stuff from a couple years ago.
Couple steps down toward the new stuff…
“I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. Demille.” The concrete to the left gets the planter/fence treatment seen above. Hidden are the little bits of concrete poured earlier, upon which are affixed the bricks that would otherwise have one side not supported by the planter or curb. You can see at the top the bit that completes the curve around the power pole.

So, assuming I can hold up physically (so far, so good, and way, way better than the last 2-3 years) I will try to at least get the planter/fence finished. Then, what remains is the step down from the porch to the orchard, and the south planter/fence combo. The first is a little complicated but not too huge a project; the second is vary simple but a lot of work. Think I have enough bricks.

My daughter and her boyfriend dropped by while I was working, and I asked her if I’d started this project before she left for college or after. We determined that she’d left already, so it could not be more than 7 years running. We settled on 5. I’ve been at this for 5 years. Sheesh.

In related news, as this whole project started when we had to take out an old walnut tree in the front year and I decided I wanted to put in a mini orchard, as front lawns are definitionally useless, at least in the California suburbs, here’s how the little trees are doing:

This is a dwarf fig tree that’s about 15 years old. It spent the first dozen years in a half wine barrel, and was , you know, a dwarf tree. Well, it clearly likes being in the ground, where we planted it about 3 years ago: even though I trimmed it back severely this past winter (3), it’s now threatening to take over the porch. Next winter, it’s going to have to be cut back to about 4 sticks 3′ high, given its growth rate.

On the bright side, up until this year, the figs it produced were also small, and a little bland. This year, for the last couple weeks, I pick about half a dozen nice plump large figs every day. When the tree broke dormancy, it immediately put out a bunch of figs. Then, when the new growth kicked in, it started putting out more, many more, on the new branches. The first round is ripening now, the next round has got a few weeks to go. Last summer we had three rounds of figs ripening throughout the summer, with a fourth round forming that didn’t make it before winter. Let’s see how it goes.

Wish I liked figs more. Need to figure out more uses for them. Got some fig jam cooking on the stove now. I hear there’s a fig jam on toasted brie thing, but that’s not going keep up with the supply no matter how tasty.

Sadly, the avocado trees didn’t make it. While the other trees thrive (if I let the cherry go instead of trimming it relentlessly, I could probably harvest it for lumber in a decade or two), the avocados were stunted pathetic little sticks. So I yanked them – root balle the size of my hand, after 3 years. May try again, but with much larger trees planted a little later in the year, on the theory that bigger trees with 9 months to get established might tolerate the winter better. There are plenty of avocado tress in out neighborhood, so it is possible to grow them here.

The avocados were in a choice spot, and I couldn’t let it just lay fallow, so:

Up front: pumpkins, since thinned to one plant per hill. Plan is to train them along/between the raised beds. Mid: Tomatoes and peppers. Got a late start, but we have a very long growing season. Background: back side of the brink planter, with two volunteer vines we’re waiting to see of what, along with some flowers & rosemary, and a pepper and tomato that a kid we know grew as a school project but didn’t want.

Way more than enough for now. Further bulletins when I feel like it, far beyond what events warrant.

  1. And play piano, read, and write. But the brick slinging is more colorful, shall we say. The language I use when I screw up is, at least.
  2. “Free” for the price of going to get them and cleaning mortar off them. I’ve cleaned mortar off several thousand bricks by this point. You get to be a connoisseur: mortar more than, I dunno, 50 years old? come right off with the proper application of leverage; the new stuff, especially refractory cement, is harder than the bricks themselves – if you hit the mortar hard enough to break it, the bricks break as well. You want bricks that were either pavers with little or no mortar on them, or from somebody’s old chimney. You do not want bricks from some suburban barbecue pit project that didn’t fit with the new homeowner’s lifestyle choices. The sad part: in another 50 years, there won’t be enough chimneys coming down for this whole ‘free brick’ thing to work. (In case you’re curious: professional urban recyclers seem to get the big project, like demolitions of old brick building and especially pulling up old brick-paved streets. For us amateur bargain hunters, it has to be small-fry projects.)
  3. Fig trees bleed quite a lot of sap if you trim them when they are growing, I’ve read they can be damaged and even die. Thus, I’m not going to trim this thing for another 6 months, until dormant this coming winter.
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Bach Will Break Your Brain

Here is Nahre Sol, a young and brilliant composer and piano player, talking about Bach’s Goldberg Variations with a teacher of hers, David Louie, who is an expert on Bach.

If you’ve never played any Bach or tried writing music, the discussion may seem so much arcane gibberish. But if you’re a player, and have tried to really understand what Bach is doing, this is just a deeper level of mind-blowing.

The thing to always keep in mind when plunging into the deep end where Bach swims is that it only matters because it is beautiful. Bach’s music is beautiful on so many levels. If you just want to lose yourself in sounds, you can do that. Try his famous Cello Suite #1 or Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. If you want something more emotionally complicated, how about Mache, dich, mein Herze, rein from his Matthew’s Passion. Composers since at least Mozart have found his Well-Tempered Clavier and Art of the Fugue, in addition to the Goldberg Variations, dazzling intellectual and artistic triumphs.

I’m a hack piano player, but enthusiastic, and I love Bach. For the last 40 years, off and on (mostly off, sadly), I’ve been learning pieces from Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier. The ones that are currently open on the piano are the Prelude and Fugue in D minor.

They don’t sound that complicated, certainly not by Bach standards, and they are not too hard to play. But, man, there’s a lot going on here in three minutes of music.

The Prelude starts with that relentless repeated D in the left hand, while the right hand jumps in outlining a i-ii-V-i change over the D as a pedal point. What Bach is doing here, as he does in almost all of the Preludes, is setting up a rock-solid tonal center in as direct and economical manner as possible, while still laying out the melodic and rhythmic materials he’s going to use in the piece.

This prelude is going to feature 8th notes in the bass, 16th note triplets in the treble, with phrases beginning with an upbeat.

Bach then takes a quick tour of F major, and then starts getting more adventurous by playing sequences to move from F to G-minor to A-minor.

We ended the F major section on the first beat of measure 6, then add E-flat and C-sharp and run quickly through G-minor; then add B-natural and G-sharp and run through the exact same pattern in A-minor.

Pretty standard Baroque stuff, done beautifully, and illustrative of the pattern Bach follows in most of the Preludes:

  1. Strong statement of the tonal center (I-ii-V-I or equivalent) and introduction of melodic and structural materials over the first measure or 2;
  2. Quick tour of the key (or the relative key);
  3. Introduction of a little harmonic complexity that are almost forays into nearby keys;
  4. Brief strong reminder of the original key, used as a launching pad off into Bach genius land – about 1/2 way through.
  5. A ramp up into increasingly complex ideas/riffs off of the original material;
  6. A pre-ending climax where hacks like me can’t even figure out he’s doing, except that it sounds great;
  7. The end, which is where Bach tends to throw his ‘that wasn’t supposed to happen for another 100 years!’ stuff.

All this in under 30 measures, most of the time, with the feeling that, despite stretching the limits of understanding for us mere mortals, Bach tossed it off with a little smile.

Here’s the climax and ending, at 7 measures long almost 1/3 of the entire Prelude:

Up to measure 20, all we’ve heard is 16th note triplets in the right hand, and 8th motes in the left. Now we get a D pedal, with increasingly dissonant notes on top, and one of Bach’s little things where accidentals introduced in the right hand are immediately canceled in the left, to curious and beautiful effect.

In measure 21, the bass starts a chromatic rise and fall from G-sharp up to B then back to the dominant A, and 16th notes appear in the left hand for the first time as the action intensifies. A rising arpeggio riff gets us up to a high D, then a series of diminished chords brings us chromatically back down to a lower D, and then a vanilla cadance, and we’re done.

26 damn near perfect measures, a little over a minute of music. And the Fugue is worse, by which I mean better. Every time I play it, at the end, I’m thinking, if not saying out loud, that it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. (Of course, I think that a lot for a lot of music – immediacy bias. Victoria’s O Magnum Mysterium is really the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. A lot of Bach is close, though.)

I have almost no idea what he’s doing. Starting in measure 9, he does this, whatever it is:

The more educated musician will tell me: it’s a descending sequence, the first development after the subject has been introduced in all three voices. And I’m like, no, he’s setting up some magic. Later, he does the same thing, a descending sequence, except the second time it has a completely different character. I can’t explain it. It all fits perfectly, and triggers in the ear some sense of recognition and appropriateness, yet, looking at it, it’s hard to figure out why. Two other passages he lays out in the first half of the piece get the same treatment, where he repeats them, sort of, in the second half, but they have that same/completely different vibe.

In between all this fancy-dan stuff, Bach weaves aurally satisfying and beautiful stuff that, again, I can’t figure out. It’s one thing to write a pretty passage, it’s another to follow the constraints of the form, it’s an entirely different game to use the constraints of the form to deepen the beauty of the pretty passages. As is explored in the first video above by people far better versed in this stuff than I, getting the math and mechanics straight is tough but conceivable; doing that and not only achieving beauty, but using the mechanical stuff to inspire and enhance beauty – well, there is where Bach’s genius stands alone.

And this little Prelude and Fugue is almost trivia compared to Art of the Fugue and Goldberg Variations. Yet Mozart, Beethoven, and a dozen other famous composers had *hand copied* sets of the Well Tempered Clavier that they studied in awe. So, at least I’m in good company!

Basics: How to Run a Nation

Like I know how to run a nation. As usual, more or less thinking out loud, given the insanity that is current politics. Seem there are a few obvious points:

  • To have a nation in the first place, the people in it must recognize some overarching interests they hold in common with everyone else in the nation.

Overarching in the sense that this common interest can be used to settle the inevitable disputes. Or, put the other way around, when there is no recognized interest that can be appealed to that everyone agrees is more important than the dispute to be settled, you don’t have a nation, or soon won’t. The obvious case would be the Civil War: the appeal to national unity itself was not enough, and this appeal was only made when appeals to God and His Justice had failed. Much of the South was willing to risk the judgement of God on slavery, and saw national unity as something already defeated as an overarching interest in the Revolution and the Declaration of Independence.

Not for one moment am I denying how messy and full of passion, intrigue and deceit the run up to the Civil War was, but, even given all that, division became inevitable once the appeal to unity, which is an appeal to shared interests, lost its power.

I am here following my understanding of Orestes Brownson. That shared interest, or set of interests, is what is meant by a commonwealth or republic. In a nation that long survives, the Pilgrim’s feet, patriot dreams and alabaster cities count much more than the amber waves of grain and purple mountain majesties – the shared history, goals and dreams much more than the shared physical place.

You can run an empire in which group A has nothing in common with group B, and so on, but an empire isn’t a nation. To run an empire, you must first realize that that’s what you’ve got: a collection of peoples, perhaps of nations, who would not be united except by the empire imposed on them. Empires have often, all things considered, been pretty acceptable arrangements for the people in them. But an empire is not a nation, and must be imposed. A nation must be formed by the people in it.

  • Some assumptions and ideas support a nation, while others destroy it. No nation can long exist unless the first dominate or eliminate the second.

Loyalty, patriotism, and a sense that everyone has a duty to obey the law are some ideas that can support a nation. Their opposites – treason, the idea one is a citizen of the world before a citizen of his nation or that citizenship is to be despised, and the rejection of the idea breaking the law is a serious matter with serious consequences – these work for a nation’s destruction.

The Protestant Christianity that was assumed by the American founders and patriots is empirically able to support a nation, at least for a while. The nation itself, at least according to Brownson’s argument, came into being once the colonists recognized that they shared both overarching interests in freedom and self-determination, as well as a contiguous territory, language, and history. They shared a vision of a future as a nation, and a willingness to fight and die for that the nation might continue.

Of course, as many have pointed out, the seeds of destruction were there as well: radical individualism, tissue-thin Enlightenment assumptions about human nature, and slavery. Blank slates call for someone to write on them – the line of volunteers has gotten long. And how can it be said an individual who is nothing but a void to be filled has inalienable rights? Squaring slavery with Protestantism was difficult, to say the least, and should have been far more difficult. These threads, and the battles fought over them, are playing out today.

  • Nations, if the term means anything, have the right and duty to reinforce those ideas and assumptions that are needed for its survival.

A nation shoots its traitors, deports those who express hatred for it, and brings the force of the law down hard on scofflaws. Of course, a nation should not pass laws that are unlikely to be obeyed or it is unwilling or unable to enforce. Machiavelli observed that a wise prince never gives an order unless he knows it will be obeyed, lest he come to be held in contempt by the people. Similarly, when a nation passes Prohibition or refuses to enforce its immigration laws, not just drink and illegal aliens are at issue, bit the very duty to obey *any* law.

bogatyrs
Soviet Nationalism. Um, sure?
  • If taken seriously, Marxist internationalism is an idea a nation has a right and duty to suppress.

No nation can tolerate a movement whose goal is the destruction of the nation. Most attention, it seems to me, is focused on the real-world outcomes of Marxism – totalitarianism, economic collapse, mass murder – but, even apart from the historical record, a nation must criminalize efforts to destroy it. That is the very definition of treason.

Yet this is all but the official position, and is taught in virtually all classrooms, in virtually all universities in America today.

  • There is no formal nation without borders.

It is not just a question of physical borders, although they are indispensable. It is also a question of citizens’ duty to protect the commonwealth. Reject the commonwealth, reject the nation. People can be physically in the nation without supporting the commonwealth of shared history, goals and dreams and the assumptions that underlie and support them. If you look at traditional steps naturalized citizens go through, you see the care given to inculcating these immaterial things as a condition for citizenship. Physical presence was not enough.

Back in the latter half of the 19th and first part of the 20th century, a significant number of bomb-throwing anarchists, mostly Germans, it seems, made it to America. Whether or not they committed any other crimes, the mere fact that they rejected the idea of our nation, or nations in general, made them invaders, not immigrants.

I didn’t watch the debates, as they have never been more than political theater, just a bunch politicians jockeying to unload their soundbites, for my entire adult life. But having read a little about what’s going down, it seems we’re in for a bumpy ride.

Writing, Updates, a Link

A. Finished one story that’s been rattling about unfinished for years, about a musician who doesn’t know he’s an artist, and an artist who knows he is. In space. With cool tech. And bureaucratic intrigue. And with some literal cliff hanging

I still like it, 3 days later. This is an achievement of sorts, whether of growing confidence or self-delusion, I don’t know. Now need to find some place to submit it, but I think I’ll let it sit a few more days first.

The coolest, most encouraging part of all for me is that this is the first story I’ve *finished* finished in the grand SciFi world that has been rattling around in my head for a decade or two. Have draft-like objects of a couple more stories, some outlines of couple more, and an incomplete outline and many pages of notes to what is looking to be a multi-novel series. (I can’t write one novel, but I can *plan* a series. Pathetic.)

In my head I call this world ‘the Systems’, a lame but functional title. It centers around a trip made by a generational ship to a three star system, where two of the stars are stable little suns, each having nice inhabitable planets and moons. These two orbit each other, and together orbit a third, more distant star, which is not so stable, but somewhere along the path to being a red giant.

Cool made up tech

The underlying future tech stuff is nothing screamingly original, although I of course try to make it cool; the interest for me is in how one would maintain a sustainable, liveable culture under the mentally and emotionally harsh conditions of the original trip, how people would deal with decades-to-centuries long terraforming exercises after the trip, and how successfully people can transition from epic explorers/conquerors of new worlds to – what? So, you won! Hurrah! Now what? You farm, or just hang out while the bots take care of it for you?

I’m attempting to deal with the central problem Star Trek solves by its most egregious handwavium: in a super cool high tech socialist paradise, what do people *do*? Some tiny percent explore strange new worlds, etc., but most, it is implied, become Trobriand Islanders, only with better toys and manners. They have no hope to better themselves or the world in any objective sense, so they raise yams, figuratively, and screw, trade ‘art’ to reinforce social standing and improve self-esteem , and scheme for enhanced social position.

Talk about Hell. I want to look at this in more detail.

The main challenge for very amatuer and inexperienced me is setting up the overall arc of the stories. It’s fun to fill in once you know where you’re going, but, for me at least, I have to know the destination. I’ve started writing out character arcs for major characters, which can run thousands of words each, but does help me get clear. The plot itself has 4 major incidents, where character is revealed and Rubicons are crossed; I must know how each of about 8 characters deal with them….

One very cool thing: I had a major plot point for which a sympathetic mom had to do something pretty terrible. I’d gotten hung up on that for a long time – why did she do that? Then, months later, I figured out why. Weirdly gratifying.

Another thing: so far, all the most interesting characters are women. Plenty of men, and plenty of derring-do to go around, but so far, it’s the women (and girls – children figure prominently in this) who are most interesting. To me, at least. This will likely change as time goes on.

Anyway, fun and frustrating. At this rate, I’ll be almost done by 2035 or so…

Then made the mistake, maybe, of rereading the last story I finished, a couple months back, which story, in a fit of reckless enthusiasm, I even submitted for an anthology.

Well. I sure can write some trite, awkward stuff, I can. Sheesh. I’m embarrassed by it. Making it better would not have been too difficult, but I seem to have needed some space to see it.

We are assured that humility is a good thing – I’m going with that. And I’m working on cleaning up and finishing some other half-finished stories. See how it goes.

B. As obsessively dedicated readers with long memories here may recall, I lead a religious ed group down at the local parish called Feasts & Faith. Each week, I give a talk/slide show about the week’s feasts, including the saints days. We try to have appropriate snacks, such as foods and drinks from the countries the saints are from. Many big or locally important feast have foods and activities associated with them already, which makes it easy.

The point of all this is that the Church gives us the saints as models and leaders, and the liturgical year lays them out for us in convenient and persistent small doses. There’s really is nothing happening to us today on a personal, political or ecclesiastical level that some, usually large, number of saints have not already gone through. Temptations? Betrayal? Political oppression? Church corruption? Reading the lives of the saints tells us these things are nothing new, they happen in every age, and will be with us until the Second Coming. And, most important, that people did get through them faithfully. I also, you’ll be shocked to hear, digress into long discussions of history, in order to provide some context. Doing the research for these meetings has been very enlightening.

So I was pleased to read this post from David Warren. A sample:

Among the uses of the Catholic (and Orthodox) cult of saints, is the groundwork they provide for the student’s sense of historical time. The saints arrive in succession, some earlier than others. Yet each is a figure who comes from outside time, and leads us, as it were, back where he came from. There is no “progress” from one saint, or generation of saints, to another. Each is sui generis — one of a kind — and each is “perfect,” by which we don’t mean entirely free of sin but complete to a purpose.

In their immense numbers they provide a constellation of light to our dark world, invisible to most but visible to many. The liturgy brings one after another into view, to serve as searchlights of us: thousands or millions of “little Christ lanterns” spread as the stars from horizon to horizon.

The custom of assigning saints to functions, of naming “patron saints” for trades and activities, sufferings and conditions of life, should be self-explanatory. To the faithful, of course, it is more than just custom. The Christian faith was from its origin extremely practical. (“Do this, in memory of me.”) To say, as they teach in our schools today, if they teach anything besides juvenile delinquency and despair, that the cults within our religion are “pagan survivals,” or “old superstitions,” is all very well; so long as we realize that this misses the point entirely, as all acts of malice tend to do.

C. The Endless Front Yard Brick Project is slowly progressing. Did have one of those moments that is both encouraging and discouraging at the same time: Leading down from the front porch, which is already complete as far as brick paving goes, will be a gate and two steps down into the front yard orchard. For some reason, I have been wildly overthinking this. Curved footers on weird radii, lots of holes, steel and concrete, hard-to-stake out forms – every time I thought about it, it got more complicated. Been putting it off for like 2 years now.

The encouraging part: once I stopped making it into the Great Wall in my head, a good and very simple solution presented itself. Just not that complicated. So, on the encouraging side, I think I can knock it off in a couple days with a minimum of digging and concrete pouring; on the discouraging side – why do I work myself up into knots trying to make things hard? If only this were a rare event…

Further updates and pictures as events warrant.

Subtle Poison

Yes, we’re talking about schooling.

The late John Taylor Gatto said that the greatest achievement of modern schooling is that people can’t even imagine doing it any other way. That state controlled age-segregated graded compulsory schooling is poison is a major point of this blog. But it’s not enough to make sure your kids never see the inside of a state school classroom by homeschooling them or otherwise keeping them out of the clutches of state education machine. We – including myself, here – must comes to grips with the damage, the subtle ways being immersed in a state-schooled culture has poisoned us. That this damage often shows itself particularly in those who actively reject state schooling, and even those who have themselves been spared from the age-segregated classroom. shows how deep the poison runs.

Consider:

To recap: Pestalozzi, back at the end of the 18th century, set up the first in a series of his experimental schools in Switzerland. He came up with the idea that the proper way to educate a child was to have experts (e.g., Pestalozzi) predigest subjects, reduce them to well-defined tactile steps, and to insist the child master step 1 before being allowed to attempt step 2. He had this fear that a child left to learn anything on his own or in some way not shaped by a teacher would be end up morally and intellectually crippled, prematurely proud of his achievements and dismissive of things he could not learn readily on his own, and, in general, unmanageable.

His method required a detailed curriculum with very specific goals. But most importantly, Pestalozzian education requires frequent and intimate guidance of the student by his teacher. (1) Fichte, when he delivered himself of a series of lectures on how the German Nation could resume its manifest destiny to become the ruler of planet (for our own unenlightened good, of course), latched on to the Pestalozzian method as THE key step. (no, really.) Not because it was particularly suited to teaching the child math or reading or other such trivia, but because by it the loyalty of the child could be removed from family, village and church and be fixed entirely on the teacher – a teacher trained and certified by the state!

See how that works? A child is only praised, only succeeds in school, when he does exactly what the teacher demands. The teacher is a certified product of a state education bureaucracy, expected to follow carefully prescribed paths and deliver kids ‘performing to grade level’. What the teacher then necessarily demands of the student is compliance with a detailed curriculum, with an arbitrary set of goals and timelines. A ‘good student’ – and what parent doesn’t want his child identified as a good student? – is thus one who does exactly what the teacher says. Nothing the kid does outside the classroom matters; success is defined as pleasing the teacher by passing tests and not making a fuss.(2)

A family might want its children to be nice to grandma, help out around the house, feed the chickens, learn the viola, make dinner, help dad plow the south 40, sing in the Sunday choir or a million other things. A kid in such an environment, as Fichte well knew, might not put the state’s interests first! School is meant to remedy that situation.

Yet you hear even homeschoolers talk about grade level, as if it is some sort of objective standard. What’s really happening: all those years of training in school, during which the parents learned that complying was the only measure of success, has lead them to seek the approval of the state even when rejecting state schooling! See? Our kids are performing to grade level! We are good parents! Just say no.

Image result for classroom historical
Nice standardized kids in nice neat rows.
  • Age segregation is an unnatural horror. At no other time or place in our lives are we limited to interaction with only people of our own age, not a work, not in our families, not in church, not when just hanging out in public. At home, we share a life with people older and often younger than ourselves. The real, fundamental relationships we do not choose give meaning to our lives. Enforced arbitrary relationships do not.

Extra curricular activities – and notice how we call normal activities healthy people do ‘extra curricular’ – such as kiddie sports leagues and even musical and dance activities are almost always arranged by grade or age. Why? If you’re worried the older kids will make life harder on the little kids, remember that athletic and musical talents, just like academic talents, are not distributed fairly by age. Example: When I was in 8th grade, I was a mediocre basketball player; my two little brothers, in 6th and 4th grade, were comparative athletic freaks. When we played on the playground before or after school, all three Moore brothers played with the other 8th graders, because that was roughly their competence levels. During school, however, and on formal teams, they generally played with kids their own ages, and, from a competitive standpoint, dominated them. Point: in our free time, we did something fair, so that games were competitive and fun; in school, we competed with kids our age, which worked out fine for me, but not so good with the kids playing with my little brothers.

The same dynamics go on in the classroom, except the more precocious kids (and this classification changes from subject to subject and grade to grade!) get shipped out or ignored, or learn to make trouble to get some attention.

Yet, even outside school, parents tend to invest actual energy in getting their kids together with others their age, not recognizing that kids LEARN to play only with kids their own ages, both in informal and more formal settings. The stickball and touch football games in the street outside the house did not follow those rules. Great lessons in socializing are learned when older kids tone it down and little kids step it up in order to play together. Anybody with a big (happy) family sees this all the time.

  • You are not incompetent to teach your children. As Socrates said, anyone who charges money to teach children what any competent adult knows is committing fraud. Yet, somehow, we imagine some magic happens in educations schools, whereby the bottom 10% (generally) of college students get some superpower needed to teach our 6 year old that the ‘A’ in ‘ate’ says its name, or 3 times 7 is 21, or that June is abbreviated ‘Jun’.

Or do you think you need special training to understand what’s going on in Huckleberry Fin, oops, can’t read that racist stuff, um, Anne of Green Gables, no, too sexist, um, Chronicles of Narnia, nope, that whole God thing, um – well, what do you think they’re reading? Do you think they’re learning to think by regurgitating the one right answer found at the back of the teacher’s edition of whatever passes for reading materials these days?

Does the magic of state certification make a teacher better? How? It’s all part of the mythology of grade level: your kid, my kid, everybody’s kid needs to be in a group of 6 year olds when they’re 6 years old, and needs to have a state certified teacher to make sure they understand that only state certified teachers can teach them, to make sure that they perform at grade level like all the other 6 year olds. Because….

  • The management tricks of the classroom are not how we learn. OK, class, who can tell me what we discussed last week? How does the word micromanagement make you feel? OK, anybody else? I’m looking for another word. Don’t forget to raise your hand! Don’t speak out of turn. Wait to be called on. There will be a test.

Does it occur to you that nobody outside a classroom ever acts like this? If somebody were to come up to me and ask me what we talked about last week, and expected me to guess until I said what they wanted to hear – I’d put up with that?

Here’s another St. John’s College story: right off the bat, day one, we went to our first class, and found out that 20 people can sit around a table and talk about something without raising hands, with interruptions as long as they’re polite about it (you can be polite about interruptions, just check out the dinner table conversations in any happy family), that people will generally listen and take turns without any policing by the teacher.

Speaking for myself, I was not a particularly mature 18 year old, far from it, and neither were most of the other kids in my classes – and it took about 90 seconds to get the hang of it. You get better at it as you go along, but just wanting to hear what others think about something you’ve all studied, wanting to get your say said, and not wanting to be seen as a bore or a fool – these things go a long way toward cultivating civil discussion. Every Johnny I’ve ever talked about this with agrees that these civil, engaged conversations were what we all missed most about St. John’s.

Every time I go to a talk or participate in some sort of educational endeavor, I see people falling back into what are, essentially, crowd control techniques masquerading as teaching. Other lame schooling tricks no self-respecting adult should put up with include small group discussions on specified questions, on the assumption we can’t all just talk it over and need guidance to know what to think about; constant shifts from one thing to another, like changing topics or speaker or medium, on the assumption no one can pay attention for more than 5 minutes; attempts to take whole topics and predigest them down to itty bitty bits or just generally dumbing topics down in the dread fear that somebody might not get it, or, worse, get it in some non-approved way.

Without years of classroom training, no adult would put up with this treatment. Many, if not most, of us have been completely crippled by the whole participation trophy approach, where the class serves to create a group to which attendance is the only real achievement. But anyone who can actually do anything real will more or less consciously tune out these management tricks, just as they tuned them out for however much school they did.

These four things – there are others – are the poisonous residue of graded classroom education. They are tools of control, not tools of learning or teaching. If no competent adult would put up with it, no child should have to put up with it either. Yet, we really can’t imagine doing it any other way.

  1. Pestalozzi’s approach was seen by many – Einstein, for example, who attended a Pestalozzian school for part of his education – as a vast improvement over the rigidity, intimidation and physical discipline common in other schools. And who knows? Maybe young Albert lucked into great teachers. The point I’m making is, failing an outstanding and profoundly sympathetic teacher, this micromanagement of the child’s life will quickly become a bureaucratic nightmare – and such it has become.
  2. Fichte wanted all children physically removed from their families as soon as practical for the duration of their educations. Since this power grab by the state was too much even for obedient Prussians and Americans, or maybe too expensive, we’ve since settled on merely tying up virtually all of a child’s life with school, school activities, and homework, and reducing parents to mere enforcers of the school’s goals – you do help your kid with his homework every single night for as many hours as it takes, right?

Endless Brick Project Update: You Know You Want It!

It’s been almost 2 whole weeks! And I did a bunch of insufferable culture/politics/education posts. So we all need a break:

We we last left the endless brick project, I’d just run into a nasty root: (1)

Got that sucker out:

Next steps included putting in part of the forms for the footings under the planter walls, so that I could get the depth correct on the *other* little footings that go under the places where the brick path ends without the support of the planter or the curb. What I mean is, the brick walk is just bricks on sand and a little gravel with a little bit of mortar between them. Where the walk transitions directly to dirt, such as where it ends at the power pole and in front of the water meter, the bricks will likely soon work themselves loose just by people walking on them. So I’m putting in a little 3.5″ deep, 8″ wide strips of concrete with a little rebar in it, so I can mortar those transitional bricks down so they don’t readily come lose.

That make any sense? Here’s what it looks like in front of the water meter:

For most of its length, the brick walk butts up against the curb on one side and the planter on the other, helping keep the bricks in place. Here, the bricks would end at what will be loose dirt – people stepping on them would quickly work them loose. Thus, a bit of concrete to firm it up and on which to mortar the bricks.

It’s a little tricky, since the footers under the walk are at a lower level than the footers under the planter walls. I need to have the walk footers in, and maybe even the bricks mortared on to them, before pouring the concrete for the planter. At least, it seems like I should at the moment; I can imagine some workarounds.

Here’s is where it sits as of this morning:

Looking south from the finished portion. Brick walk will be on the right to within 2′ of the pole; planter with wrought iron style fence to the left.
Looking north. The 2 2x4s are set to the correct height and position, so that I can gauge depth and position on the curved bit around the pole that ends the walk and that I’ve yet to pour. Eventually, more forms will be added, leaving a 12″ wide strip of open dirt down the middle where the planter proper will sit, with walls on either side and towers to support the wrought iron style fence at either end – just like the existing planter/wall.
This little curved trench will have a 3-4″ deep slab poured into it, upon which will be affixed brick; at the top of the curve, in the center, a bit of the planter walls will sit atop the curve; bottom right, the planned south wall will begin where the curve ends.

Today or most likely tomorrow I will put in some rebar and pour the curve section. Youngest son will be back from a week of Boy Scout camping on Sunday – I’ll wait for his help and rent a mixer to do the planter footings, so next week, maybe?

Then I’ll be all set to while away many hours on my hands and knees laying bricks. Hope to be more or less done with it by the end of summer. This will satisfy my bricklaying Jones for many years to come, I should think.

Today (Wednesday) @ 3:00 PDT: Yard Sale of the Mind on Simple Facts of Life Radio

Since we had so much fun last time, the Chief, over on Simple Facts of Life, is having me over on his web radio show again today to continue our light-hearted discussion of the insanity that is modern ‘thought’: the epistemic closure of the Left, gender theory, the Marxist takeover of the schools – the usual. Wednesday, June 19th, at 3:00 P.M. PDT. Click here to go to the broadcast on his website.

So, if you’re free this afternoon, check it out. If not, it will be up on the Chief’s website shortly afterwards.