Torrey Academy’s Holiday Reading List

readinglist
Every Christmas, the Torrey Academy tutors get together for a Christmas party, and the main event at this party is reading aloud G.K. Chesterton’s Ballad of the White Horse. It’s not a particularly Christmasy tale (it’s about King Alfred’s defeat of Guthram and his Danes at Ethandune) but it is beautifully written and both heart-wrenching and hopeful. It’s always wonderful to be able to read a book of your own choosing during Christmas break, but it’s even more delightful to read a book aloud with your friends, and that is why we chose a poetry reading to begin our Christmas celebrations. You all, unfortunately, won’t fit into the Torrey office to join us for our reading, but I can offer suggestions for texts you will enjoy reading at home. The following list consists of books particularly conducive to an evening spent together with family or friends around a fire at home, or, since we’re in Southern California, perhaps around a bonfire ring at the beach.

  1.     Tolkien Letter from Father ChristmasTolkien’s Letters from Father Christmas. This book is a collection of letters from Father Christmas that Tolkien wrote for his own children over twenty years, which were delivered to them each Christmas. They contain tales of the various adventures and travails of Father Christmas and his helpers, including one particularly unlucky North Pole Bear. Some editions contain Tolkien’s own delightful illustrations.

  2. SayersDorothy Sayers’ The Man Born to Be King. This series of twelve short plays on the life of Jesus were originally broadcast as radio plays on the BBC from 1941–1942. The plays begin with the birth of Jesus, and continue through his death and resurrection. Though only the first few are properly about the Christmas story, it is good to be reminded of the entire story of Jesus’ incarnation that began with his birth in Bethlehem.

  3. plato_Plato’s Meno. This might seem like an odd suggestion for Christmas reading. However, it is an excellent dialogue to spark discussions about virtue and education, which I think is great for any time of year. Additionally, Platonic dialogues are delightfully written, and their dialectic form make them particularly suited for reading aloud.

  4. snowboundJohn Greenleaf Whittier’s epic poem Snowbound. This poem is particularly fitting since Biola’s neighboring city, Whittier, is named after him, but most residents I’ve asked haven’t read anything by him. Whittier was one of the Fireside Poets, along with Longfellow and others, so named for their works’ suitability to be read by families together by the fireside. Snowbound is perhaps not quite as good as Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha or Evangeline, but it does raise interesting questions about the pull of nostalgia in a time of change, as the poem was written about a dying way of life at the end of the Civil War. This pull of nostalgia is often particularly felt at Christmas, and Whittier’s poem gives voice to some of those deeply held feelings.

  5. DickensCharles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Yes, this story is familiar to everyone, and perhaps even feels a little cliché to some. However, reading Dickens’ actual words is a different experience from watching a movie adaptation, and movies are how most of us are familiar with the story. Dickens is a great story-teller, and since this is a shorter novella, it’s perfect for reading out loud.

Students: Why You Should Care About a General Education

GeneralEd

As a teacher, I’ve heard numerous students claim such things as, “I am only going to be an electrician, so I don’t need a college degree” or “I’m planning on just staying home with my kids, so I don’t really need an education.” These statements are troubling, for more than one reason. The first is tangential to my point, but worth noting: using language such as “only” or “just” to describe your future occupation does a disservice to it and to you as a pursuant of it. Our society would be in serious trouble if we had no electricians or mechanics or janitors, and taking care of a home is a much bigger job than the word “just” implies. Jobs that keep society running are important. A similar problem happens in the reverse; I’ve heard students say, “I am going to be a physicist, so why should I read Shakespeare?” The “only” is implied here; it may be true that you will become a physicist, but surely you won’t just be a physicist and have no other duties or interests. Everyone—electricians, mechanics, physicists, teachers, parents—are humans, and, as humans, you need more than just vocational training to flourish.

Language aside, there is an even more troubling assumption at work: that education is about the economic benefit it will bring. If education really is just job preparation, then it doesn’t seem necessary to study subjects not directly related to your chosen field. It comes down to the question of why you should know things that aren’t necessary for you to pay your bills. This is closely connected to the question of why universities require students to take General Education classes. History can help us here. The Liberal Arts (those subjects studied in General Education), according to the ancients (and most up until the 20th Century) were the things that help one live a flourishing life in the world. This included thinking and argumentation skills and disciplines that help one understand the world, like history, astronomy, geometry, etc. Additionally, the Liberal Arts were grounded in classical texts and literature. In Torrey Academy, we talk about taking part in the Great Conversation by reading the important works from the past (and present) and asking questions along with the authors and other readers of the book. Culture and knowledge have largely been passed down to generations through the reading of classic texts. In the Great Conversation, not only do students learn to think for themselves in order to find Truth, their sentiments are formed so they love what is lovely and good and act on what they know to be right. This prepares students for life and to be better Christians. In this scheme of education, vocational or job skills training is done after General Education, not in place of it. Universities maintain this tradition and thus require students to complete at least two years of General Education before they go on to specialize in various majors. Surely, having refined thinking and communication skills can also assist one in their vocation. But it mainly assists you in flourishing as a human. Remember that no one is ever defined just by their job.

So students, you have choices to make. I hope that you will choose to take full advantage of the opportunities afforded to you as a full-time student in college. Treat General Education requirements as important to your human flourishing, not as things to check off a list before you can start your “real” life. Consider finding a program, like the Torrey Honors Institute, that emphasizes the importance of savoring your General Education. You have choices to make right now too. Choose to take harder classes in high school. Choose to take those extra academic electives even if you don’t “need” them to graduate.  Lastly, if your situation doesn’t afford you the ability to thoroughly explore the liberal arts in school, do it on your own. Pick up a copy of a classic text and find a friend with whom to discuss it. Take part in the Great Conversation by experiencing as much goodness, truth, and beauty you can. You will be a better electrician, physicist, or whatever you choose, by flourishing as a human first.1


  1. For those wanting to pursue a general education on their own, I recommend both Bauer’s A Well Trained Mind and Reynolds’ The Great Books Reader.

 

Finding the Language Arts Curriculum That’s Right for You

Language Arts CurriculumWhether you are in a PSP that provides curriculum or you are choosing your own textbooks, it is important to know what to look for in a language arts curriculum. No matter what your child’s reading level, the right curriculum can enhance and challenge your child’s reading development, comprehension, and fluency. It can be quite tempting to simply go with a curriculum that has been recommended by someone you trust, but how do you know it will work well for your child? Sometimes we don’t know until we try it. Clouding the issue even further are the numerous language arts options available, each claiming innovative learning strategies. Some are purely workbook studies, while others use a hands-on approach.  A number of language arts curriculum uses traditional pedagogy, while others are designed with classical education in mind. How does one process all of this in order to make the best choice? Read more

The (homeschooling) day belongs to the Lord!

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This is the 10 year anniversary of The Eastman Academy.

It is hard to believe we have been homeschooling for a decade, but it is true! And I LOVE it! I never thought I would feel so passionately and strongly about homeschooling, but I find the Lord increasing my resolve with each passing year. I remember the day He planted the thought in my mind, and I am so glad He never gave up nudging me in this direction, even when I resisted, or refused to trust Him for the wisdom, finances, discipline, and skills to accomplish what He was asking me to do. How blessed we are to serve a God who knows what we need before we do – and then directs our steps until we are walking in the same direction as His own.
Read more

Preparation Tips for the New Homeschooler

prepare mind for homeschool

If you are new to homeschooling and are now second-guessing yourself, you are not alone. I am a veteran homeschooler of 23 years and sometimes still wonder if I did the right thing. Looking back, however, knowing I depended upon the Lord for answers, I have no regrets. When I ask my adult children how they feel about having been homeschooled, they reply that they are grateful for the relationships they share with each other, the trips we were able to take as a family, and the emphasis of study on topics of their choosing. None of them would change a thing. Now it wasn’t always so easy on the road to getting where we are today. There were definitely trying times (once I even called the local high school and asked how I could enroll my ninth grader the next day!).  Here are some things that I hope will be helpful as you prepare for your new journey into the exciting and often chaotic adventure of homeschooling. Read more

I Can trust Him for the Future!

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This stack of books is a lovely sight to my eyes because it means it is almost time to open the doors of The Eastman Academy for the 2014-2015 school year!
Our 10th year of homeschooling! WooHoo!

We are going back to a completely pure homeschooling model this year. No classes, no outsourcing – just me and my children day by day as we pursue the course of study and character training the Lord has called us to … for such a time as this. Read more

A Formula and a Solution: Why Homeschool Works

homeschool works

As a home educating parent, I am sure we have all experienced at one time or another, tongue clicking, head shaking, eyebrow raising, skeptics as they condescendingly offer the following comments—What about friends? You don’t have a teaching degree. What about college?  Fortunately for us, there has been a surge in home education in the past several decades, and there is research to support this “whim” of ours. Read more

Laying the Foundation: Homeschool in History

 

Laying the Foundation: Homeschool in History

Just when did this novel idea of teaching your own children at home become such a fad? Did it evolve with the hippie movement of the 60s? I am sure you have heard the list of prominent homeschoolers over time; George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Douglas MacArthur, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Dwight Moody, Benjamin Franklin, John Philip Sousa, and C.S. Lewis, to name a few. Since it appears that home education has been around for some time, let’s take a look at how the foundation was laid. Read more

When “Knowing Better” Isn’t

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We were all told as children that we “knew better than that” if we persisted in acting upon a belief that ran contrary to reality.  Children learn about gravity and know better than to try to fly by jumping off the roof.  Children learn that monsters aren’t real, and they should know better than to be afraid of what might be under the bed. Many keep using the phrase as a way to explain how much they think they know about the world, often with a derisive connotation.  Indeed, some who do not profess the Christian faith use this language when describing why they do not believe in Jesus; they “know better” than to think a man born in the Middle East two thousand years ago is actually God. Read more

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