Worth Fighting For

What draws me  to the Charlotte Mason Educational philosophy is that it encourages one to live a life of awareness and gratitude. Ambleside Online(a website dedicated to her teaching and helping individuals implement it) describes her this way, “CM was a British educator in the late 1880’s who believed that education was about more than training for a job, passing an exam, or getting into the right college. She said education was an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life; it was about finding out who we were and how we fit into the world of human beings and into the universe God created.(emphasis mine)

First and foremost, she saw the child as an image bearer of God and not an empty vessel to merely fill.  “She thought children should do the work of dealing with ideas and knowledge, rather than the teacher acting as a middle man, dispensing filtered knowledge. A Charlotte Mason education includes first-hand exposure to great and noble ideas through books in each school subject, and through art, music and poetry,” Ambleside Online writes.

On my second day of the Charlotte Mason conference at Gardner Webb University, one of the lecturers asked each one present to turn to their neighbor and tell them what had impacted them the most thus far. So, i turned to my friend and simply said, “I am grateful for the reminder that beauty and redemption are worth fighting for. For myself and specifically for my children.” This was given to me the night before while attending a lecture on how to take your children through an artist study. So, began my introduction to Henry Ossawa Tanner.

As i sat in the auditorium for the last seminar on my first conference day, i was just thankful that the lights were low and i could doze off if need be. I was exhausted and mentally full. Which was fine because though unaware at the moment, what i was about to experience was going to touch and fill my spirit and soul. And it was desperately needed.

The artist study lecturer did something fascinating. She paralleled Tanner’s life and painting to what was going on in our country at the same time in the realm of  culture and politics. This highlighted that his life had more purpose and meaning than he could have ever imagined or dreamed.

Henry Ossawa Tanner was born in Philadelphia, 1859 which was just a few years before the Civil War. Though he was born into an affluent and intellectual African-American family, they were not unaffected by racism and prejudice. So, as Tanner grew up as an artist, his paintings were an effort to break stereotypes of the AA culture and to use allegories from Scripture that resembled the plight of the Negro.

One biographer writes this about Ossawa and one of his more recognizable paintings called “The Banjo Lesson.”

“In 1893 most American artists painted African-American subjects either as grotesque caricatures or sentimental figures of rural poverty. Henry Ossawa Tanner, who sought to represent black subjects with dignity, wrote: “Many of the artists who have represented Negro life have seen only the comic, the ludicrous side of it, and have lacked sympathy with and appreciation for the warm big heart that dwells within such a rough exterior.”

Tanner tackles this stereotype head on, portraying a man teaching his young protegé to play the instrument – the large body of the older man lovingly envelops the boy as he patiently instructs him. If popular nineteenth-century imagery of the African-American male had divested him of authority and leadership, then Tanner in The Banjo Lesson recreated him in the role of father, mentor, and sage. The Banjo Lesson is about sharing knowledge and passing on wisdom.”

Later in Tanner’s painting career, he began to feel called to do “Religious Art with Excellence.”  He used his deep abiding faith in God to draw from as he tried to  communicate to others the beauty of perseverance and biblical hope.

“The Escape from Egypt” was inspired by his leaving America where he endured lots of racism and was never considered a true artist because of his skin color. One story was told of him being dragged out of his home at night by white men, tied to his artist’s easel, and left in the middle of the street. So, Tanner went to Europe in order to study art.

One of my favorites is “The Disciples see Christ Walking on Water.”

Tanner went on to receive acclaim that was unprecedented for an African-American artist in Europe and America. His perseverance through hardship and being misunderstood moved me to tears as i saw how he chose to use his life as one to create beauty and believe in the redemption of God instead of returning evil for evil. There was great value and purpose in his suffering. None of it was wasted in the economy of God. His life and testimony renewed my spirit, and made me realize that those things are worth fighting for. For myself and for my children.

Romans 8:28-30 NLT

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to his purpose. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among  many brothers and sisters. Having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them His glory.”

The Value of Play Coalition

A few weeks ago, I had an opportunity to attend the Charlotte Mason Conference at Gardner Webb University. One of the guest speakers there was a member of the US Play Coalition: Value of Play which is a partnership of organizations that promote the value of play throughout life and is located at Clemson University. Say what you will about the Tigers, but those people know how to have fun.  The Coalition was established in 2009 in an effort to stem the inactive, sedentary tide that is pounding against the shores of our nation’s children.

What exactly is the heart behind the US Play Coalition? Dr. Joe Frost describes it like this, “”The consequences of play deprivation are profound — a growing crisis that threatens children’s health, fitness, and development. As free, outdoor play declines, fitness levels decline, waistlines expand, and a host of health problems follow, including obesity, heart disease, rickets, and a spiraling upturn in emotional and social disorders. The solutions are complex and require massive, coordinated action.”

At a cursory glance, you may think to yourself that  this  is yet another galactic misuse of tax dollars. But, here are some staggering national statistics that they shared with us during their seminar.

*Today kids spend 6.5 hours in front of a screen daily.( almost as long as they are in school) That’s TV, computer, and cell phones.

*40% of school kids are at risk of  cardiac risk.

*Less than 25% of school children have access to daily physical activity.

*20% of children were obese in 2004 compared to the 4% in 1960

* in 2010 85% of children are on the verge of obesity

*this is the first generation of children that may not live as long as their parents

*the two main reasons for lack of outdoor play….stranger danger and over scheduling. We are over scheduling our children to death.

You do not have to be a mom to see that children are becoming way too inert and over scheduled. To see that they have very little time outdoors for unstructured, imaginative play, you merely need to be an observer. Just last week, I was telling two of my  friends who are in their mid 20’s about one of my children trying to learn how to roller blade. One young lady said incredulously, “You mean kids still roller blade?!” To which my other friend said astounded, “You mean, kids still play outside!?”

Though I try to not  over schedule my children, i am not immune to its wooing. It is something i struggle with as a mom and as a woman on a daily basis because i am a comparison addict. I also live in a city with TONS of options for our time. I constantly look around at others thinking what they are doing for themselves and their children is better than what we are doing. It does not even matter what it is as i get sucked up in the philosophy that ‘more is always better.’

I know it is an insecure, sinful  heart that drives me to compare. My husband always tells me that there is no joy in comparison. To which, i say, “There is a hole in your thinking because it really depends on which side of the comparison you fall.”  But deep down, i know that it does not bring life. It only brings death to my soul and spirit as i frantically try to keep up with the ‘jones’.’

Which is why, I really appreciated listening to this lecture on the Value of Play, specifically unstructured play. I loved hearing that slowing down from a ragged pace was good for the essence of my family.  I relished being affirmed in the  benefit of kicking my girls outside with their friends to just play. It’s a good thing for them to enjoy time to be creative and imaginative.

And I feel that it is important for as all, children and adults alike to hear that resting and playing is not a waste of our time. For some of us, it has been a long time since we just laughed and played without an agenda. We may have forgotten how to do so. And sadly, some of us really never learned how to play without the use of a screen and buttons.  But it’s not too late. It is never to late to unplug yourself or your children and get outside with some friends for a walk or a bike ride, a game of four square or hopscotch, or a trip to the park.

Hopefully we all in time will experience the value of play, friendship, family, and laughter.

*me participating in the annual ‘bag game’ during our church women’s retreat. i’m in the division for 5’7 and under.