A thought about our soldiers

One of the most depressing things about the manufactured coronavirus hysteria is that the United States is finally, officially no longer fighting a war in Afghanistan and the chattering class doesn’t care. The longest war in United States history is over, and the media really didn’t even cover it or offer any reflection.

Imagine being the wife, child, or relative of someone who died in Afghanistan. Imagine being a physically or psychologically wounded veteran. The war you made such tremendous sacrifices over has been brought to a conclusion, and you look around and see a collective shrug. People are too busy trying to politicize and sensationalize a virus that the US is well-prepared to address.

For some of these people, they don’t want to give Trump credit for ending a war that George W. Bush mistakenly declared over and that Obama relentlessly campaigned on but failed to end. But many others simply don’t care about it. They haven’t made any personal sacrifices themselves (even the cost of the war will be passed on to their children through the magic of Treasury bonds), so it isn’t even real to them.

My own father is a veteran of an unpopular modern war, and I make it a point to stop and thank every veteran and serviceman I see on the street or out shopping. Please do the same. Because that’s not the message they see on the television or in newspapers.

Three local nature preserves in a single day

We are planning to take the new tandem kayak out for its maiden voyage on Tuesday. It looks like we are going to take it out to Princess Place Nature Preserve, which is home to Pellicer Creek and its related estuaries. This is a sprawling estuary system that leads all the way up to Matanzas Inlet (though I am pretty sure I do not have the upper-body strength to make it that far). We live in a kayaking paradise – there are hundreds of places nearby to kayak (not kidding).

In addition to checking out the kayaking options, we hiked a couple trails there, including one that followed along the big water and one that went to a natural spring.

The trail along the big water had parts that were clearly underwater in high tide. We had to hike through a lot of mud. I understand now why everyone talks about timing tidal rivers and creeks when going out on kayaks. The landscape can be wildly different going out from coming in.

Most of the path looked like a maze of palmettos. There were quite a few armadillos in the area, including one that was the size of a dog. It’s a perk to living in Florida… The trails are full of mostly friendly dinosaurs.

Open water with golden sawgrass.

We also stopped by Long Creek Nature Preserve and the Bulow Plantation Nature Preserve, which I have written about before (see Hiking to the Ruins of a Plantation torched by Seminoles). There was the essential stop for BBQ in between. Here is an osprey nest along Long Creek.

This is Bulow Creek, another beautiful estuary, which feeds into the Halifax River (Intracoastal Waterway) several miles south of us. Plenty of alligators here, judging the number of warning signs.

The forests around the Bulow Plantation Ruins are full of ancient trees. It’s a magical place.

One of the big differences between Florida and places like California is that Florida practices controlled burns in its natural spaces to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires. You can see evidence of that on the trees in some areas.

The evolution of fire ecosystems is a fascinating topic to me. Environmental activists nowadays like to treat controlled burns as if they are a controversial topic, but this is an ancient practice that was also used routinely by indigenous people across several continents:

Prior to European colonization of the Americas, indigenous peoples used controlled burns to modify the landscape. These controlled fires were part of the environmental cycles and maintenance of wildlife habitats that sustained the people’s cultures and economies. What was initially perceived by colonists as “untouched, pristine” wilderness in North America, was actually the cumulative result of these occasional, managed fires creating an intentional mosaic of grasslands and forests across North America, sustained and managed by the original Peoples of the land base.

Radical disruption of Indigenous burning practices occurred with European colonization and forced relocation of those who had historically maintained the landscape. Some colonists understood the traditional use and potential benefits of low intensity, broadcast burns (“Indian-type” fires), while others feared and suppressed them. In the 1880s, impacts of colonization had devastated indigenous populations, and fire exclusion became more widespread; by the early 20th century fire suppression had become official U.S. federal policy. Understanding pre-colonization land management, and the traditional knowledge held by the Indigenous peoples who practiced it, provides an important basis for current re-engagement with the landscape and is critical to correctly interpreting the ecological basis for vegetation distribution.

Authors such as William Henry Hudson, Longfellow, Francis Parkman, and Thoreau contributed to the widespread myth that pre-Columbian North America was a pristine, natural wilderness, “a world of barely perceptible human disturbance.” At the time of these writings, however, enormous tracts of land had already been allowed to succeed to climax due to the reduction in anthropogenic fires after the genocide of Native peoples from epidemics of diseases introduced by Europeans in the 16th century, forced relocation, and warfare. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, Native Americans had played a major role in determining the diversity of their ecosystems….

When first encountered by Europeans, many ecosystems were the result of repeated fires every one to three years, resulting in the replacement of forests with grassland or savanna, or opening up the forest by removing undergrowth. Terra preta soils, created by slow burning, are found mainly in the Amazon basin, where estimates of the area covered range from 0.1 to 0.3%, or 6,300 to 18,900 km² of low forested Amazonia to 1.0% or more.

There is some argument about the effect of human-caused burning when compared to lightning in western North America. As Emily Russell (1983) has pointed out, “There is no strong evidence that Indians purposely burned large areas….The presence of Indians did, however, undoubtedly increase the frequency of fires above the low numbers caused by lightning.” As might be expected, Indian fire use had its greatest impact “in local areas near Indian habitations.”

The best playground ever:

Every Kid Outside

A friend sent me the link to the Every Kid Outside initiative, knowing how much we love history and the great outdoors. Through this program, every 4th grader in the United States is eligible to receive a year-long pass to get into any national park free.

The bipartisan John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation Management and Recreation Act, which was signed into law by President Trump on March 12, 2019, authorized funding for Every Kid Outdoors for the next seven years.

To obtain the free pass, fourth grade students visit the Every Kid Outdoors website, participate in a short educational activity, and download a voucher. The voucher is valid for multiple use between Sept. 1, 2019 and Aug. 31, 2020 to correspond to the traditional school year. The voucher may be exchanged for a keepsake pass at participating federal lands.

The voucher or pass grants free entry for fourth graders, all children under 16 in the group and up to three accompanying adults (or an entire car for drive-in parks) to most federally managed lands and waters. The pass does not cover expanded amenity fees such as camping or boat rides.

(This is an expansion of the “Every Kid in a Park” program established in 2015.)

There are seven federal agencies participating in the program. You can search for participating lands and waters through the agency links below: 

1619 Project revisited

A while back, I wrote a post, Historians destroy the NYT “1619 Project,” but it will still be used in K-12 classrooms.

Sean Wilentz, a history professor at Princeton who was among those who took issue with the New York Times’ revisionist history project, has a long essay in The Atlantic today that gets into the specifics of the NYT’s false claims. It’s a great piece, not only as an effective fisking of the NYT, but for all the details about these events in their own right.

I’m tired of academics rolling over and suggesting that the NYT had “the best of intentions” when they started this project. They absolutely did not. The revisionist nature of the effort is a feature, not a bug.

No sane human being thinks the evils of slavery and Jim Crow need any embellishment to be compelling. So why don’t we talk about what they were really trying to achieve? Why don’t we talk honestly and openly about why the NYT doesn’t care about the factual basis of the narrative they are spinning and how they want it in K-12 schools?

This is not some innocent mistake, but a Stalin-esque effort to change public sentiment through propaganda, aimed mostly at children who do not yet have enough information or experience to discern they are being lied to. It is historically significant that one of the nation’s largest and oldest newspapers is engaged in this sort of behavior. I would submit to you that this sort of thing is not all that different than the white nationalists who wanted to use a recent gun rights rally to start a civil war. These are all people who are trying to create and amplify discord in our society, and their behavior is dangerous.

African-American spirituals – educational resources for kids

This is a follow-up to my earlier post, Searching for an educational resource on African-American spirituals. Our homeschooled daughter will be studying American history this year, and I am gathering folk music to pair with our daily lessons. (See our curriculum here.)

I did end up finding several very good books (with accompanying CDs) on spirituals to share. I am posting the Amazon links, so you can read summaries and reviews there. I am delighted to have found music not only from the period of slavery, but from Emancipation and the Civil Rights Era as well. (And I threw in some other related books and websites.)

No Man Can Hinder Me: The Journey from Slavery to Emancipation Through Song

No More!: Stories and Songs of Slave Resistance

Free at Last!: Stories and Songs of Emancipation

Nobody Gonna Turn Me ‘Round: Stories and Songs of the Civil Rights Movement

The People Could Fly: American Black Folk Tales

Many Thousand Gone: African Americans from Slavery to Freedom

The Story Of Ruby Bridges

Websites:

African=American Spirituals – Beth’s Notes

The Spirituals Database

Hidden Messages in Spirituals – PBS

Slave Songbook : Origin of the Negro Spiritual (YouTube)

African American Music from the Civil War Era (YouTube)

Blues as Protest – Library of Congress

What I am reading these days (a lot of history!)

I asked for a bunch of history books for Christmas (in addition to the world’s coolest garden hose) and received quite a haul.

My favorite periods of history are the ancient Greek and Roman worlds. I already had the Landmark Thucydides, but wanted the entire collection. So my husband gave me the Landmark Herodotus, Landmark Xenophon’s Hellenika, Landmark Arrian Campaigns of Alexander, and my in-laws gave me the Landmark Julius Caesar. These are going to keep me busy for a while! I love having resources like this around the house for when Elise gets older too.

Before the holidays, I started two books that I would highly recommend. The first is Victor Davis Hanson’s A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War. The second is Philip Matyszak’s Sparta: Rise of a Warrior Nation.

(I love Sparta and stories about Sparta. When I was younger and in far better shape, I used to participate in endurance sports, especially running. I’d have my husband drop me off in a nearby town with a CamelBak of Powerade and a credit card in case I needed food, and I would then spend all day running back home. No joke, it was nuts. Anyway, we had many inside jokes about Sparta during those days. When we were buying a new house, we had a meet-and-greet with our real estate agent, who asked in a very chipper voice, “And what kind of neighborhood do see as your ideal place to live? I just want a vision of what you are going for.” To which my husband replied, “Her ideal neighborhood is ancient Sparta. Do you have any properties there?” I can only imagine what personality category our realtor put us into.)

My husband also gave me Cicero’s On Living and Dying Well.

I recently read an outstanding biography on Cicero by Anthony Everitt, Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome’s Greatest Politician. I would highly recommend it in general, but particularly to any cultural conservatives out there who are worried about how our social institutions are going to hell. Cicero experienced many similar events during the Roman civil wars that played out during his boyhood. He retreated to his family’s country home and spent all of his time preparing himself for a political career once life in the city sorted itself out. He studied history, the law, and rhetoric intensely and avoided getting into trouble with the increasingly mad crowds. This strategy served him very well, obviously.

One of my all-time favorite writers is Plutarch. I have been working my way through Plutarch’s Essays lately (see my earlier post, Do you hear what I hear?) My husband gave me copies of Plutarch’s Makers of Rome, Rome in Crisis, The Age of Alexander, and On Sparta. I really love the Penguin Classics editions of these books, as the translation is very clear and enjoyable, as Plutarch was meant to be read.

Also in the stack is the Complete Sophocles, Volume I and Volume II.

Somewhat related to all of this, I find it incredible the books that public libraries are getting rid of these days. Our library here has a bookshelf in the foyer of books that anyone can take and keep for free, as many as you like. I have found the most unbelievable books there. And it’s not like the library is throwing most of them out because they already have the books on their shelves and do not want duplicates (though that is certainly the case for some of them). They simply don’t want to keep them on their shelves.

I picked up five books from Harvard University Press’ series on antiquity, Early Greece, The Hellenistic World, Democracy in Classical Greece, The Roman Republic, and the Later Roman Empire. I also found hardback copies of Kennedy’s Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 (part of Oxford University Press’ incredible History of the United States series) and Edmund Morris’ Theodore Rex. And a copy of the Bhagavad Gita. And The Penguin Opera Guide, M. Owen Lee’s The Operagoer’s Guide: One Hundred Stories and Commentaries, and The Metropolitan Opera Encyclopedia. I plan to use those books for a homeschooling unit on opera at some point.

The library was throwing out all of those extraordinary books. I don’t know what to think about what is happening at public libraries these days, to be honest. They exist to serve the interests of taxpayers and to provide a place for the community to gather. If ordinary people are legitimately uninterested in reading content like this, maybe libraries should stuff their shelves with mindless crap that they do want to read. At least they are keeping people basically literate, right?

I do sort of fear, however, that we are watching a new battleground in the culture wars play out. Many professional associations of librarians have been taken over by left-wing political activists (just take a look at what they are posting on their Twitter pages, and the fact that some libraries now host events like Drag Queen Story Hour). The children’s library where we lived before moving to Florida was unusable, as the shelves were fully stocked with identity politics-oriented fare instead of quality children’s non-fiction. (I’ve always found it amusing that books written by political actors tend to be written at an early elementary reading level. There is quite seriously nothing to be gained from consuming such nonsense, except perhaps some bizarre emotional catharsis.) So perhaps that is what I am seeing here, too, such that Harvard’s series on Ancient Greece and Rome is destined for the dumpster. If so, what a shame.

At any rate, if you are looking for a way to build your personal library on the cheap, I highly recommend checking out what your local library is tossing. There are some treasures in there.

As our DD7 is going to be studying American history in the upcoming academic year, I thought I would get back into American history for a while.

I like for my own pleasure reading to overlap with what she is studying. It helps me to make our lessons more interesting if I have engaging stories and digressions from the period to share with her that are not in her own books. A sort of educational synergy if you will. It also sends the message to her that I am not being compelled to study this topic, but I am still delighted to learn about it and find it fascinating. It reinforces the notion that education is not something with a state-mandated beginning and end, but the project of a lifetime.

(For more observations along those lines, see my earlier post, Modeling being a lifelong learner for your children.)

To that end, I am going to be reading soon Down the Santa Fe trail and into Mexico: The Diary of Susan Shelby Magoffin 1846-1847 and Hampton Sides’ Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West.

Traditional vs symbolic logic: homeschoolers need them BOTH

When we first started homeschooling our daughter, our affinity toward classical education programs was clear. Choosing a curriculum, however, was less straightforward.

The first curriculum provider we chose to work with was Memoria Press. Memoria Press is based out of Louisville, Kentucky, and operates classical schools out of local churches around the country. We ended up dropping it in the middle of first grade, and I mostly regard purchasing their materials as an expensive mistake.

Memoria Press’ idea of teaching grammar is to have young children write out the rules of grammar over and over and over again. Then they get to recite them. It is the same way with Latin, though at least with their early books children can learn the Latin Mass. It is a brilliant way to make your child hate doing school work to the point of tears.

But the worst aspect of their curriculum was that their math and science education was virtually non-existent. In fact, I would say their math curriculum is actually below the standards found in public schools. That’s kind of difficult to achieve.

This is a problem that I have noticed with a lot of classical and Charlotte Mason homeschoolers, however. They love teaching literature, poetry, and history. They hate teaching math and higher levels of science. Thus, most of them ignore math and long for the days when they can read The Screwtape Letters as a family. That’s no way to prepare your child to thrive in a thoroughly modern world.

At any rate, I still receive Memoria Press’ catalogs and find great humor in reading the articles they publish. The latest has an article on teaching logic that I feel compelled to share with readers here.

In Logic Is Not Math, Martin Cothran offers a polemic suggesting logic is a “language art” unrelated to the field of mathematics. It torments him, he confesses,. that so many publishers include logic materials under their math section. He blames those dastardly logical positivists for this unfortunate development. According to Cothran, symbolic logic did not exist until the early 20th century, when it was invented by Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead.

As someone who studied philosophy in both my undergraduate and graduate years and aced both traditional and advanced symbolic logic, this article had me rolling. It reinforced for me that we made a good decision about what curriculum to use for our daughter. I cannot intellectually process someone claiming that mathematical logic is of no use for children, except if you really, really, really suck at every STEM field and want an excuse for why you are not prepared to provide such an education.

From Cothran’s piece:

The question I want to ask and answer here is this: If logic is not math, then what is it? The answer is that logic is a language art. It is the study of right reasoning. I cannot stress this point strongly enough. For classical educators, this point is absolutely crucial because it will determine the very makeup of the curriculum.

In the old listing of the liberal arts, there were two basic classes of subjects: the three language arts (the trivium) and the four math arts (the quadrivium). Logic was always considered to be the second of the language subjects, after grammar and before rhetoric.

Grammar is the prerequisite for logic, since the ability to argue and reason rightly assumes the ability to communicate competently. And logic is the prerequisite for rhetoric, since logic is one of the three persuasive appeals: to the will (ethos—the appeal to the speaker’s character), to the imagination (pathos—the appeal to the audience’s emotions), and to the intellect (logos—the appeal to truth).

In fact, modern symbolic logic is the creation of modern philosophers (such as Bertrand Russell) and didn’t even exist until the turn of the twentieth century. Russell and Alfred North Whitehead wrote a book called Principia Mathematica that attempted to create a logical calculus that could be used to solve scientific problems. To this was added “truth tables,” a procedure that purported to be able to resolve any meaningful statement into a set of symbols and determine its truth value.

This was at a time when philosophers in the English world were experiencing science envy. They wanted their discipline to have the same objectivity and accuracy as the hard sciences. For these people Principia Mathematica became a sort of totem, and for many years it was required reading for English and American philosophy students. This was, of course, a daunting task, since most students were not mathematically sophisticated (or patient) enough to even understand the book, with its complex technical formulas and turgid explanations.

It helped give rise to the school of philosophy known as “logical positivism,” which claimed that the only meaningful statements were statements which could be scientifically verified, a belief that persisted into the late twentieth century. But the close connection between modern logic and philosophical positivism has turned into something of a curse given the steep fall of positivism since the late twentieth century.

Logical positivism was in one sense a victim of its own criterion. Its adherents believed that there were only two kinds of meaningful statements: logical statements that were true by definition (the ones we see in modern logic) and factual statements that could be empirically verified. Statements that were neither logical nor factual (like the statement “God exists,” which is neither true by definition nor empirically verifiable) were dismissed as meaningless.

But the central criterion of logical positivism does not meet its own criterion. The statement “There were only two kinds of meaningful statements: logical statements and factual statements” is neither a logical nor a factual statement, and is therefore meaningless.

As these and other issues arose inside and outside the movement, confidence in the movement began to erode, and, along with it, the original basis for modern logic.

What a bunch of poppycock.

Symbolic logic is not dead. In fact, it is thriving. Anyone who has been well trained in symbolic logic can easily learn any programming language they want. It is the single best preparation there is for landing a gig in the technology industry and breaking into the top 1% of earners in this country. The operating system of your computer, the apps you use on your phone, all of it, are constructed using the principles of symbolic logic. Do you think these operations work because the system is an accurate way of describing what is true and consistent?

Symbolic logic has not been some strange form of entertainment in the modern world. It physically built the modern world. It is the functional expression of intelligence.

It’s also not factually accurate to suggest that mathematical logic was “invented” by Brits in the 20th century. Elaborate systems of logic emerged across the millennia in the Far East, Greece, and in the Islamic world. It was the latter that gave the world mathematical logic, although the Greeks did use predicate logic to some extent in their work. It’s kind of hard to argue that symbolic logic was foreign to them. The Greeks loved the idea of proof.

It hardly took until the 20th century for mathematical logic to reach Europe, either. Leibniz, Lambert, Boole, De Morgan, Peacock, Peirce, and Frege all predated Russell and Whitehead.

Studying logic involves a lot more than merely knowing what ad hominem means. Thinking logically is not equivalent to being persuasive. It is the structural ordering and manipulation of ideas. It involves being able to test and prove concepts.

I think it is fine to suggest that children should study traditional logic during their K-12 years and save symbolic logic for college if their parent is not willing or able to teach it. But that’s not ideal. Teaching symbolic logic and math together is ideal. Beyond that, symbolic logic will likely improve your child’s ordinary quantitative reasoning skills. It’s certainly an odd prejudice to suggest that symbolic logic should be ignored because we are past its alleged decline and fall.