Category Archives: Moral Compas


BW working out the laws of division. “Mhhhhh. I wonder if there is a way that you can know if this really giant number is divisible by four without having to divide it alllll the way out?”

Just a reminder to myself:  

The process defines who we are.  It isn’t the product that defines.  It is the journey that guides us and allows us to guide others.  It is the way we approach the difficult, the impossible, the unknown that determines who we are in the end and what we understand once we have reached the product.

How we approach the weak, the needy, the hopeless shows the depth of the understanding of ourselves and our own poverty of soul.  It is not the giving of charity as a product but rather the recognition of the deepest needs in ourselves and overcoming those needs to aid another person in their pilgrimage through this mortal plane. When it is in “pardoning that we are pardoned” then we are aware of the importance of the work.  This is process.

How we sit with the suffering in silence; how we laugh when laughing is easy; how we find hope in the time when laughter is impossible;  these are process.  This is what matters.

What my hand, mind, mouth, soul makes is not as important as the process by which it is envisioned, spoken, pursued, constructed, and loved.



Filed under BW, Educational Philosophy, Mathematics, Montessori, Moral Compas, Operations, Practical Life - Elementary, Students

Firefly gathering intensive week

We’ve been up in Greenville/Asheville this week taking three intensives at Firefly.  JV and Dad – DV took primitive pottery; AV took forge making and iron working;  I took Ethnobotany.

Here are a few shots for you.

AV learning how to sharpen a blade he made.

Plant identification in Ethnobotany.

DV forming a pot.

People's pots bring fire.

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Filed under "Coming of Man", American History, Art, AV, Botany, Camping/Basic Survival Skills, Ceramics, Chemistry, Construction Skills, gardening, Geography and World Studies, Geology, Going outs (Field Trips), JV, Mineralogy, Moral Compas, Practical Life - Elementary, Projects, Rock classification, Science, Tectonics

Observing with the Generations

I think the count this year was 27 bags of leaves.

Last Thursday AV, JV and I continued on cleaning up the last third of our back yard.  When we bought our home, the back yard had not been touched in many years.  We divided the yard into three areas.  The first two years were spent burning the five years of accumulated leaves: fall (sweet gum) and spring (live oak).  We had the sweet gum removed not just because our bare feet aren’t fond of the gum balls but because I could reach out of my kitchen window and touch the 3.5 foot diameter trunk.  Sigh.  Last year we had the live oak thinned and added raised beds for a garden.

The boys took out the 20 foot tree in the background, too.

This year we finally made it over to the third quadrant of the back yard – the lower trunk of the sweet gum (4 pieces that were too large for Charleston’s generous debris pick-up or a local furniture maker to salvage) and un-checked azalea bushes plus the five years of leaves. This year will be know to the family as the year EV found out that she has overdosed on Virginia Creeper proteins and had a masssssssive allergic reaction, but that is for another story.

All that aside, for me personally, this is the year we transcended time and space. Somewhere in the thinning of azalea bush number one, the pruning of the wild rose, and the removal of the fox grape vines JV discovered a group of ants hauling a dead roach back to their hole in one of the rotting trunk pieces. We all laid down on our stomachs and watched the ants and watched the ants and watched the ants.

They were hauling the roach up a nearly vertical surface to a chainsaw nick about half way up the trunk. We were mesmerized. We cheered when the one ant with a great grip on a dangling leg kept the whole process from starting over.  We realized the futility of saying, “hurry-up” or, “come on,” but we still talked to the ants. We waited with baited breath for the other ants to find where the roach was now dangling and rally around it to shove upwards again.  We watched while we pulled other ants and grass spiders from each other – subconsciously becoming more aware of the insects that surround us in our yard.

At one point my mind wandered to my dad, Samuel Clemons, Henry David Thoreau, the ancient Greek and 12th century Arab scientists, Solomon, and even Newton.  All of these folks told stories of their exploits watching ants.  They all became observers of the tiny world around them and this informed their view of the whole universe.

Used by permission for educator use. Alexander Wild Photography -

My dad, who I called about the Virginia Creeper reaction, gave me more knowledge about dealing with it than Google did. He sees the grander of the Creator in the searching ants in his garden.

Samuel Clemons has a wonderful short story which tells of the fighting of the red and black ants in the afternoon sun.

Thoreau made a living about talking about preserving the natural world.

The Greeks discussed entire societies and based them on their observations and conclusions of the natural world.

The Arabs discovered how ant families follow each other around and hypothesized about pheromones and scent trails.

Solomon watched ants and discussed productivity in a society based on these observations.

Newton’s whole problem is that he looked at everything from the tiny ants in his childhood to the galaxies in his adult world and saw non-linear patterns – calculus was what he created to make sense of his world.

Only one thing was needed to travel with the past generations – time.

Time to pause.

Time to wonder.

Time to be caught up in the details happening under our feet.

What is it? How does he move? What does he make? What does he eat? How does he breathe? Why rotting wood?

The inquisitive mind is the gift the child brings to spending time out doors and being observant of our world.  Creating a time for the child to engage their mind with nature is my gift.

Side note here: Watching nature shows is not observing nature.  It is getting disjointed facts from an edited, hyped, ratings driven show. Rant over.

The boys didn’t try to fit it into information they had received on the Nature or Natural Geographic channels (which might be because they only get to watch cable a couple of times a year) or one-up the simple ants we were watching with discussions of killer ants or allow fear to guide them – spiders, the dirt, or the near universal fear of all ants must be fire ants. They observed.  Occasionally discussing a distinction in the classes of ants at the nest but only so much as to inform their observation.  Mainly we were silent.

Silence, peace, and comfort, observation. Work.

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Filed under AV, Biology, Educational Philosophy, gardening, JV, Montessori, Moral Compas, Practical Life - Elementary, Science

Time in the woods – The Kolb Dig Site

We bunked on Friday evening in Hartsville at the Landmark Inn.  Our day on Saturday began with a visit to Coker College’s green space to play a bit of soccer. We proceeded to visit Ms. ER’s relatives who gave us an extensive tour of the Brown Pennington and Atkins Funeral Home.  We enjoyed the tour immensely. We covered everything from social expectations, to the grief process, to the reasons for vaults, the difference among caskets, the handling of a body upon death, organ harvesting, cremation, and the history funerals in the South.  It was fascinating.

When we left at 10:00, we headed through Darlington and saw the track where there we people tailgating for the afternoon race.

As we headed deep into the PeeDee region of SC towards Mechanicsville, newly planted wheat fields glowed green as if lit by some underground neon light. The Kolb site is located about three miles down a dirt road in a DNR wildlife management site.  It is situated on a bluff overlooking what has now become an ox bow lake (or a dead river).  It would be a grave mistake to try to drive a sports car to the site. (Once we arrived home, my husband took one look at the mud splatter on the car and gasped.)  I was proud of the Vibe.  It managed it really well.

Fuz making fire

Upon arrival the boys and I were excited to see friends from Rivercane and Firefly.  We hung out with Keith Grenoble and cooked in his clay pots.  Keith had a leg of a wild hog he sliced chunks off of to cook in his pots.

We paused from the cooking long enough to watch Fuz make fire. It was one of the most instructive lessons I’ve seen in a long time.

Then it seemed everyone scattered to the winds.  AV went back to Keith and buried a pear with some hot rocks to see about pit roasting methods. JV and BR went over to see if they could help with the archeology. LR and Ms. ER went to see the 18th century demonstrator.  AR and DW went to the pottery area to work on formation of pinch and slab pots.  The kids would cycle back by Keiths and eventually left the bags near his fire as they clamored up and down the bluff working themselves through the underbrush learning how to move in nature.

BW had watched Scott Jones presentation of how arrows and spears were made.  He set off to make his own spear.  He created a shaft and formed an insertable point.  We consulted with Keith and decided to temper the wood a bit.  To help BW with that, Kieth stuck a piece of meat on the stick and BW roasted the prize.  Soon the other children wanted to roast meat.  This required some knife skills.  AR and BW had some basic knife skill lessons and each found a “living” stick to form into a skewer.  BR tried his hand at it as did other children. The pear was wonderful pit roasted.  Several of the children tried roasting pear over the fire, to varying degrees of success.

JV found two good sized scrapers in his sifting job in the pit. We left around 3:30 more peaceful, confident, and deeply pleased by the time we were able to spend at the dig site.

As we piled in the cars, we made a snap decision to visit the home of A Man Named Pearl and see his topiary gardens. Wow! what that man has done with nature!  Spectacular.  It is one of those things that will come back to be parts of discussions later.  He had oaks grafted back into themselves creating various shapes; yews, live oaks, boxwoods – you name it, he has created whimsical shapes out of it.

One last stop was at the Summerton Diner for home cooking done right. Boy howdy.

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Filed under "Coming of Man", AR, Art, AV, BR, BW, Camping/Basic Survival Skills, Ceramics, Cooking, DW, Geography and World Studies, Going outs (Field Trips), JV, LR, Moral Compas, Practical Life - Elementary

Rhetoric – Debates

Class listening, taking notes, and processing during Q and A time

As part of Darwin Week at the College of Charleston, we decided to attend a Lincoln-Douglas Debate (and here). The topic was Does Science Make a Belief in God Easier or More Difficult.  Interesting topic.  The College allocated a relatively small room for this event.  The room seats maybe 75.  I imagine there were 125 to 150 people crammed into the room and more in the hall outside.  We arrived an hour early and claimed our seats.  DW arrived late and sat with the “groundlings” in the pit between the audience and the speakers.

Format being explained.

The “Easier” position was being argued by Dr. Giberson whom we heard earlier in the day while the

Dr. Silverman's opening salvo.

“Harder” position was argued by Dr. Silverman. It was probably one of the least rancorous debates on science and religion that I have ever attended.   The class and I had a meeting about proper decorum at a debate.  We re-discussed the ideas of communication styles: ethos, pathos, and logos.  We also discussed the definition of “humanist” and its implication to one’s world view – new concept to the class.

The Q and A time was well managed by the MC – Colin Kerr and we found the event interesting and though provoking.

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Filed under AV, BR, DW, Going outs (Field Trips), JV, LR, Moral Compas, Practical Life - Elementary, Science

Random Classroom Shots

AR desperately wants to do the checkerboard abstractly. She's made her own and lays it on the table but only puts beads on it in her mind.


JV felting. Our "reset button" this semester has been felting - repetition, low thought process, focusing or you jab yourself.

Ms. ER became tired of being asked, "What's for lunch?"

Our prayer table. We are working on "pray without ceasing" and sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between match lighting practice and prayer work. The art are two panels from a stations of the cross. They are made from plaster and you can see the straw impressions in the back.

The kids are back into the "Where in the World" game. They are quizzing each other at their levels. Best game to work purchase ever.


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Filed under AR, BR, Checkerboard, Cooking, Geography and World Studies, JV, Mathematics, Moral Compas, Practical Life - Elementary, Sewing

Epiphany Thoughts in the Classroom

We are well on our way in the Season of Epiphany.  For the non-liturgical folk scratching their heads here, Epiphany is a series of weeks in the Christian year that emphasize Jesus’ coming to not only the Jews but to the whole world. As a class we have begun working through the Rule of St. Benedict.  He worked to create a “rule” of life to lead to spiritual growth.  The first we are focusing on is Poverty.  For monks their physical poverty was an outward manifestation on their inward poverty of spirit.  We have been looking at different ways to observe the greatness of God in our lives.

Yesterday we began discussing T.S. Eliot’s poem about Epiphany:

The Journey of the Magi

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The was deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires gong out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty, and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

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Filed under Moral Compas, Practical Life - Elementary