Review: The Case for Classical Christian Education

Douglas Wilson, Crossway, 2003, 253 pages, 5 of 5 stars

Summary: Because all education is religious and incapable of being morally neutral, classical Christian education is the solution.

Wilson has been a head honcho in the classical and home school educational universe for decades. In his view, classical education (CE) is not a luxury but a necessity. Parents have a moral obligation to remove their children from government schools and provide them with a Christian education (Eph. 6:4)—the best option being classical Christian education.

CE is the teaching philosophy that wants to pass on the Western heritage. The goal of CE is rhetoric (a good man speaking well). But one can only reach rhetoric after the first two basic stages of learning: grammar and logic. Thus, the final product of clear thought is clear speech. Continue reading

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Review: How to Get Unstuck

Matt Perman, Zondervan, 2018, 288 pages, 3 of 5 stars

Summary: it’s not enough to protect your time. You must protect your focus.

“The Preciousness of Time” by Jonathan Edwards is the best teaching I’ve read on time management because of its theological rigor. From a productivity standpoint, however, Unstuck was more profitable. Matt Perman, a Christian that blogs at Whats Best Next, provides ten principles for maximum productivity. But his greatest contribution is the importance of focus–no easy thing in our preoccupied world.

The secret to effectiveness is concentration, which is focusing on one priority for an extended time.

Concentration gets more done better. The goal is “deep work”, a state of high concentration. It is a kind of super power that most people cannot perform because it has so many obstacles. The formula is: time spent x intensity of focus high quality of work produced. Effective people are able to concentrate (doing one thing at a time) for long periods on the most important things. This takes a lot of practice.

Pros: Perman has spent decades crafting excellent habits of time management. I didn’t want to forget his advice, so I consolidated his book into my own mnemonic device: F-O-C-U-S. (1) Fight distractions. These are the biggest obstacles to deep work because it kills flow. It’s crucial to finish one job at a time because incomplete tasks dominate our attention (“I still have to get this done”) and depletes energy (“I’m so stressed”). Personally, eliminating distractions during deep work includes seclusion, having no access to my phone, closing email and Evernote, doing online reading after the work day, no “work” post 5:30 pm, and no phone checks until after breakfast.

(2) Order the day according to priorities. There’s a difference between responsibilities (duties) and priorities (chief duties). It is vital to give our best, longest and most skilled time to priorities.  It’s not a priority if it doesn’t take high concentration. (3) Complete the task. Start and complete one job at a time. Bach and Handel composed one major work at a time. Rare freaks like Mozart that could do multiple works simultaneously are not the model.

(4) Use large chunks of time to accomplish deep work. Two small chunks of 2 hours are must less effective than one chunk of 4 hours. (5) Stop work when the day is over. End your day at a specific time so you can recharge. You’ll be less effective during the day if you tell yourself you can get tasks done late at night.

Cons: Perman is a Christian and Southern Seminary grad (MDiv in two years) that used to serve on staff at Desiring God. I wish he had used more Scripture in the book. Unstuck has a little too much business/CEO feel for my taste. But I never read books from that genre, so it probably was good for me.

Conclusion: Perman succeeds in convincing the reader to habitually prioritize his day and focus on important tasks for long periods of time. Read chapter 13 if you only have time for one. Chapters 1, 11-12, and 16 were helpful too.

Excerpts:

  1. “The more distracted we are, the more shallow our reflections; the shorter our reflections, the more trivial they are likely to be.”
  2. “If there is a ‘secret’ of effectiveness, it is concentration. Effective [people] do first things first and they do one thing at a time.” – Peter Drucker
  3. “Only the confidence that you’re done with work until the next day can convince your brain to downshift to the level where it can begin to recharge for the next day.”
  4. “The ability to concentrate intensely is a skill that must be trained.” Cal Newport

Review: Heart of Darkness

Joseph Conrad, Penguin Books, 1899/2007, 115 pages, 2 of 5 stars

This is a book about the darkness of the human heart. And while the book explores the depravity of specific social evils like colonialism and the African slave trade, this is really a work about man’s soul—the heart of darkness.

Marlow is the narrator who while resting on his steamboat in England tells his friends of his experience in “one of the dark places of the earth.” It appears he was given a job along the Congo River searching for ivory. His real task, however, was to track down an eccentric but savvy ivory trader named Kurtz.

While Marlow repairs his boat, he begins to learn the mysteries surrounding the man who dominates everyone he meets. He is powerful, influential … and evil. The suspense builds as Marlow labors to find the European genius forgotten in Africa, a man apparently near death.

Marlow discovers that it was Kurtz who ordered the natives to sabotage his steamboat. At first the reader is made to believe that Kurtz was “shamefully abandoned” (76), but soon discovers he attacked Marlow in an effort to remain in the heart of darkness as a god to the natives. Perhaps he played this game to obtain more ivory. Maybe he began to believe it. Witchcraft was involved (“it had horns—antelope horns, I think—on its head… some sorcerer, some witch-man, no doubt”).

Continue reading

Review: This Horrid Practice: The Myth and Reality of Traditional Maori Cannibalism

Paul Moon, Penguin, 2008, 304 pages, 3 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2017-02-15-at-10-28-29-pmExactly 130 years ago some Swiss missionaries living just a stone’s throw from our village drew attention to some particularly gruesome scenes of cannibalism in Elim.

The missionaries recorded most of these accounts in their private journals. And yet, the modern author (and revisionist) I was reading–now looking back at such claims–believes this material was most likely invented. “Missionaries embellish,” he would say cynically. “Foreign churches expect dramatic stories.” On and on. Continue reading

Review: Wordsmithy

Douglas Wilson, Canon Press, 2011, 128 pages, 3 of 5 pages

screen-shot-2017-01-21-at-8-28-39-amWilson’s Blog and Mablog is the only blog I read consistently, not because we lock shields on every theological matter but because he is such a consummate writer.

So who better to publish a book on skillful scribble than a writing wiz like Wilson? The chapters divide into seven “hot tips” for writing–filled to the brim with advice like using the element of surprise, the importance of reading books on grammar, steering clear of word fussers and the goodly role of a verbal pack rat.

If you want to write well, find a model and follow him. Doug Wilson’s Wordsmithy is a good place to start. It’s short, lively, and humorous.

Excerpts:

  1. “The more you know the more you can know.”
  2. “The writer’s life is a scrounger’s life.”
  3. “Interesting people are interested people.”
  4. “The mind is like a muscle, not an attic.”

Review: The New Well-Tempered Sentence

Karen Gordon, Mariner Books, 1993, 147 pages, 3 of 5 stars

51X4G9M7Q1L._SX354_BO1,204,203,200_Like flannel pajamas in a wedding march, jocularity and jest seemed out-of-place in a grammar book. But everyone stayed until the final vows and I finished the whole book!

The NWTS is a creative book on punctuation designed to make the reader gasp, guffaw, and giggle. Long on puns and short on punctiliousness, it teaches grammar with sass and verve and answers those thorny punctuation questions piercing my side.

Can an explanation point fit mid sentence? Should it go inside or outside the quotation marks? Really now. Is a verbless sentence like the former allowed? When do ellipses come in threes and when in fours?

My favorite chapter was on the comma, that curvaceous acrobat too often littering our sentences. Should the comma divide two independent sentences? What about simple items in a list? Gordon answers, then moves to colons (“forthcoming is her middle name”), italics, brackets, semicolons and more. Per the author, too many parentheses is sophomoric (we all know how annoying that can be!).

My one complaint is the nude graphics covering every other chapter or so. Intended to be whimsical, the sketches were tawdry and a deal breaker for younger audiences. Still, this little volume hit its mark, so much so that I didn’t insert an apostrophe in “its”. I like paperbacks that are not abashed to use borscht, puissance, lugubrious, chintz, and fichu on the same page. By the end of the book, I was combing for the well-turned phrase more than the well-placed comma.

Review: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Robert Louis Stevenson, Amazon Digital, 1886. 82 pages. Five of Five stars

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 4.12.51 PMIn 1885 and at the age of 36, Robert Louis Stevenson published his third and most popular larger novel, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It is a dark and complex tale about corrupt human nature.

In real life, Stevenson experienced a grim story of his own. Always tormented by poor health, Stevenson dropped out of his law profession, married a divorcée against his parent’s wishes and died suddenly of a brain hemorrhage at the age of 44.

The protagonist is Dr. Jekyll, an elderly scientist who has discovered how to change himself into the grotesque form of Mr. Hyde. It began as an innocent experiment by which Hyde could indulge in carnal delight by night and Jekyll could maintain his high social standard by day. It was the perfect life of two identities.

The doctor made systematic provisions for his evil nature, including his own quarters, wardrobe and bank account. Though Jekyll was confident that he could control Hyde, he soon found that his evil nature was gaining strength.

If each, I told myself, could be housed in separate identities, life would be relieved of all that was unbearable; the unjust might go his way, delivered from the aspirations and remorse of his more upright twin; and the just could walk steadfastly and securely on his upward path, doing the good things in which he found his pleasure…

But Hyde had energy and the will to be alive. One morning, Jekyll awoke to discover that he had transformed into Hyde without taking the potion. “My devil had been long caged, he came out roaring.” He then realized that a choice had to be made between the two. Continue reading