Sunday, August 14, 2011

God's Grace in the Midst of Middle School Misery

by Virginia Knowles

8th grade
San Carlos, California.  April 1977.  I had just announced to my classmates that our family was moving to Baltimore.  A red headed chick named Kathleen burst out, “Yay!  Now we won’t have to pick her for our teams in gym class anymore!”  I have laughed about that many times since then, but there was also still a sting from the constant and cruel peer rejection that I suffered for so many years.  I’m sure many of you can relate.   Middle school kids can still be vicious.   Maybe this happened to you or maybe you treated other kids like that.  Middle school misery is real.

Well, I was one of those middle school outcasts.  I dressed and acted weirdly.  I talked too much.  I played chess at lunch time in the school library with the other outcast nerds, or we hung out at the nerd bench in the playground.  I had one dear Christian friend named Donna, a Jewish friend named Teresa, a Mormon friend named Kathleen, and a Chinese friend named Anni.  We were social rejects -- and it hurt!  So where is God's grace in “Yay! She’s out of here and good riddance!”

As I reflected on this a few years ago, the amazing truth suddenly dawned on me: How kind the Lord was to rescue me up out of that place and give me a fresh start!   I had been recently saved but didn't have a church to go to.   
Anne and I at my going away party
In his sweet sovereignty, God moved me all the way across the country to Baltimore to plant me in a nurturing church where folks loved me and discipled me.  They didn’t care whether I could play sports or not!   A sweet girl named Anne, who sat next to me in chorus class in my new school, invited me to church.  Her parents faithfully drove out of their way two or three times a week to come pick me up.   By the time I moved away two years later, I had a whole bunch of great Christian friends, and I could hold my own much better among my peers at school.   Most importantly, I now had a solid foundation in Scripture, prayer, and missions.

My sister Barb and brother John, with me in the middle
I also see how kind God was to birth klutzy little me into a creative family that skipped sports, dumped the TV for six years, and put heavy emphasis on books, writing, art, and music.  Those creative pursuits all still serve me well as a home school mom.  

Another benefit I received from my own childhood experience is an increased sensitivity to the middle school students in the co-op English class that I teach.   Each week, using literature, writing, logical thinking skills, and other language arts topics, I seek to give them solid life lessons to chew on.  I personally think it is vital in learning to treat others with dignity. 

I can now see how the Lord has redeemed my middle school misery for his glory.  Instead of rejection, I now see his Tender Loving Care.   


Virginia's note: I wrote this story many years ago, and plan to share it with my 7th-8th grade English students in our Providence Home Educators co-op in conjunction with the story of Joseph in Genesis.  Even if your children are entirely schooled at home and not in a classroom, I would encourage you to talk to them about accepting others, being welcoming and friendly, not being self-righteous with those who are different from them, etc.  And as adults, we too, should do the same, not just as an example to our children, but because there are hurting people out there who need an authentic friend --- someone to listen and love and not "fix" them.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Learning Vocabulary from the Bible

Dear friends,

I've tried to cultivate a habit of reading a chapter of the Bible to my children each morning.  When our school year ended, I got pretty lax with this, but this week, we picked back up in the book of Acts.  I was struck as we read through it how many vocabulary words we could learn, so whenever I came to a word that I thought some of my children wouldn't know very well, I stopped and discussed it with them.  I feel that this really brings out the meaning of the passage and helps them think about it more fully.  Since we aren't doing much formal schooling during the summer, this gives me at least a little time to engage their brains in deeper thinking, too.

I use the New International Version (NIV) 1984 translation for daily reading with my children.  You can find this and other versions on or download it onto a mobile device such as an iPod Touch or iPhone using the YouVersion app.  You can also probably find a Bible dictionary if you need help with some of the words.  I could have used the app on my iPod Touch, but I wasn't thinking about that then.

I usually read and discuss the Bible with my five youngest children, ages 5 to 14.  Middle school students probably get the maximum benefit from a vocabulary activity like this, but I would introduce it little by little around third or fourth grade.  

Look with me at just the first half of Acts 19.  The bold underlined words are the ones that I covered in our impromptu vocabulary lesson.  I could have done a lot more, but I didn't want to drag it on too long since my kids (ages 5-14) do not have infinite attention spans and we were reading the entire chapter.  If a word had an alternate meaning, we talked about that, too.  For example, interior generally means inside.  In this context,  it means inland or away from the coast.  But we also have interior decorators who design the insides of houses.  We mentioned a few antonyms (opposites) as well.  The opposite of interior is exterior.  

We asked questions, such as "Why did the people who were renouncing sorcery burn their scrolls publicly instead of selling them or burning them privately?"  (Answer: They didn't want other people to stumble in spiritual darkness by using the scrolls, and they wanted to testify boldly to the community that they were now following Jesus rather than sorcery.)

We also tried to apply the concepts to modern day life as well.  When we talked about people who weren't Christians invoking the name of Jesus to cast out demons, I commented that a lot of people talk about Jesus to get people to believe them, but they are using his name for their own purposes, rather than to accurately represent or glorify him.  So we need discernment to know what is really right and true.  We get that by studying the Bible for ourselves.

Here is the passage:

Acts 19:1-21

1 While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2 and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
   They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
 3 So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”
   “John’s baptism,” they replied.

 4 Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. 7 There were about twelve men in all.

 8 Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. 9 But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. 10 This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.
 11 God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.

 13 Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. 15 One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” 16 Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.

 17 When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor. 18 Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done. 19 A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas20 In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.
 21 After all this had happened, Paul decided to go to Jerusalem, passing through Macedonia and Achaia. “After I have been there,” he said, “I must visit Rome also.” 22 He sent two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, while he stayed in the province of Asia a little longer.
Give it a try!  And please send me your ideas on teaching Bible to children of any age!

To see blog posts on teaching Bible to elementary age children, click here: Bible articles on StartWellHomeSchool.  My posts on teaching Bible in the middle school grades (especially through literature) are here: Bible articles on ContinueWellHomeSchool.

Virginia Knowles

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"With Literature and Justice for All" Workshop Videos

Dear friends,

I presented a workshop called "With Literature and Justice for All: Teaching Virtuous Reality with American Literature for 4th-8th Grades" the 4th Annual Books & Beyond conference. I've got four video clips linked below, as well as handouts and links for on-line study guides.

Workshop notes...

With Literature and Justice for All:
Teaching "Virtuous Reality"
with American Literature
in the 4th-8th Grades

What do stories teach? 
  • Stories capture our interest, stir our imagination, and engage the heart.
  • Stories teach us to ask, "What would I do if you found myself in this scenario?"
  • Stories teach, by positive and negative examples, how to handle situations and challenges in life. What are the consequences of each decision? (Noble action can lead to some unpleasant results, but ultimate impact goes far beyond that if you see the long-term big picture.)
  • Stories teach us how Biblical themes integrate into history and real life situations, even in books that are not written from an explicitly Christian worldview.
  • Stories teach us how to look and understand from a different perspective. They broaden our horizons, challenge our assumptions, and help us understand other people better.
  • Stories teach us to read, reflect, and respond -- to think and do as a result of the ideas.

Recommended Resources for
American Literature & History in the Middle Grades

This is just a sample of the excellent resources available for teaching the "virtuous reality" themes in American history and literature. Many of the books are Newbery winners available in your public library. Texts, audios and videos of speeches, songs, poems, and national documents are on-line. My free study guides are available for many of these, as noted below.  You can also find publisher's free study guides for many books at

Historical Fiction 
  • The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare - Puritan times & witch trials (Free Study Guide)
  • Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes - Revolutionary War (Free Study Guide)
  • Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink - pioneer days and prejudice (Free Study Guide)
  • Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt - Civil War from both perspectives  (Free Study Guide)
  • Turn Homeward, Hannalee and Be Ever Hopeful, Hannalee by Patricia Beatty - Civil War and Reconstruction as told from perspective of young displaced Southern girl
  • Sing Down the Moon by Scott O'Dell - Indian resettlement
  • Strawberry Girl by Lois Lensky - early 1900's cracker Florida
  • Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and other books by Mildred Taylor - racism in 1930s
  • Words by Heart by Ouida Sebestyen -- racism, Scripture memory, forgiveness -- also DVD
  • Lights on the River by Jane Resh Thomas (migrant workers) PICTURE BOOK
  • A Day's Work by Eve Bunting (immigrants) PICTURE BOOK
  • The Blue and the Grey by Eve Bunting (Civil War) PICTURE BOOK

  • American Revolution: George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson , Patrick Henry
  • Slavery, Civil War & Reconstruction: Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglas, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Tubman, George Washington Carver, Booker T. Washington
  • Socio-economic reform, Civil Rights: Jane Addams: Nobel Prize Winner and Founder of Hull House  by Bonnie Carman Harvey, plus Jacob Riis, Susan B. Anthony, Frances Willard, Nellie Bly, Sequoyah, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mary McLeod Bethune
  • In God We Trust: Stories of Faith in American History by Timothy Crater and Ranelda Hunsicker -- short, readable biographies of American’s Christian leaders in one volume.  
Speeches and National Documents  
  • "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death" by Patrick Henry (Free Study Guide)
  • "I Have a Dream" by Dr. Martin Luther King (Free Study Guide)
  • "The Gettysburg Address" by Abraham Lincoln
  • "The Declaration of Independence"
  • "The United States Constitution" 
Patriotic Songs and Poems 

Check for these and other titles.
  • "My Country 'Tis of Thee" by Samuel Francis Smith
  • "The Star-Spangled Banner" by Francis Scott Key
  • "Battle Hymn of the Republic" by Julia Ward Howe
  • "Barbara Frietchie," "Expostulation," and "To William Lloyd Garrison" by John Greenleaf Whittier
  • "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  • "The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus, inscribed on the Statue of Liberty
  • "I Am An American" by Elias Lieberman
  • Best Loved Poems of the American People compiled by Hazel Felleman

Anthologies: The Children's Book of Virtues, The Book of Virtues and The Moral Compass edited by Dr. William Bennett - rich treasuries with selections of stories, essays, poems

Parent/Teacher Book: Tending the Heart of Virtue: How Classic Stories Awaken a Child’s Moral Imagination, by Vigen Guroian (doesn't cover American historical literature)

Community Service Opportunity: Want action and not just reading about virtuous reality? Check out and make a difference in your community serving kids from inner city Orlando. OCC meets on Saturday mornings in suburban Maitland and is a life-changing place for young people and adults to volunteer. High school students can also get their Bright Futures volunteer hours there.

"Virtuous Reality"

The reality is that life isn't always fair or pleasant, but we can choose what to believe, what to say, what to do. We can live a "Virtuous Reality" no matter what is going on around us and make a real difference. Otherwise, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We will have to repent in this generation for not merely the cruel words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

Wisdom & Understanding ~ discernment to know what is TRUE and how to apply it to life; listening to others to find out what (and why) they are thinking and feeling; getting the whole story without bias; respecting other perspectives that may differ from your own. See Proverbs & James 1:5-8; 3:13-18. You can't believe everything you see or hear. Many people are ignorant and/or deceptive. Many are also biased and cast an unfair light on the opinions of others, leading to prejudice and discrimination. Not only this, but there is an information explosion with TV, Internet, newspapers, magazines, and more. What is true, real, important and relevant?

Integrity & Honesty ~ doing & saying what is right and true, no matter what ~ knowing & following convictions even at great cost. See 2 Corinthians 1:12, Ephesians 4:25-28. We often have to stand alone. We also have to overcome the desire for ease, popularity, wealth that might tempt us to compromise.

Courage ~ bravery & valor in the face of physical limitations, opposition, difficulty, or danger. See Joshua 1:9, Hebrews 11 and 1 Corinthians 16:13. We are not promised an easy life in Christ. Our ultimate safety is in heaven, not on earth. It takes faith in God's care for us to dare to stand firm and risk danger for justice and mercy.

Compassion ~ ability to notice another's need, show mercy, and do something to alleviate suffering and/or bring joy. See Psalm 112, Colossians 3:12-14, James 2. People are hurting now more than ever, but many don't show it or we don't know them already. Have we isolated ourselves from suffering by apathy or ignorance?

Justice ~ not only treating others fairly, but working for truth, liberty, and equity in the society and culture as a whole. See Isaiah 58, Amos 5, Micah 6:8, and Matthew 23:23. Many people are only out for themselves, willing to cheat, lie, slander, steal, exploit, and even murder to get their own way. Imagine living in a Third World country where the government is corrupt or inept.  What will it take to maintain justice in the USA so it doesn't get that bad here and so that we can continue to set an example of liberty to the rest of the world?

Peacemaking ~ seeking to extend peace to those who oppose us, as well as mediate between others (individuals and/or groups) in conflict. Also, preventing conflict from happening in the first place. See Matthew 5:9, Romans 12:9-21, 1 Peter 3:8-12. War, gangs, and lawsuits are daily news. Conflict is an inherent part of human nature. Much of this is due to selfishness, but also plain misunderstanding and ignorance certainly factor in too.

Patience ~ self-control when tempted to be angry, endurance when tempted to quit, the willingness to wait when tempted to demand what we want right now. See Proverbs 15:18, 16:32, 19:11, Romans 8:18-30. We all want it "yesterday if not sooner!" This is the age of instant gratification, and much injustice occurs simply because we have not learned to wait and to control our selfish impulses.


Just a few trivia notes on the videos...

The background noise is from a workshop in the next classroom.  Apparently Debbie Strayer's class enjoyed her humor!  She's a great inspirational and educational speaker, and it was an honor to be presenting at the same conference as her. (Note: Debbie passed away suddenly in July 2013. You can read a tribute here.)

A big thank you to Christina Mitchell, my teenage helper, who agreed to video the workshop for me.  I only told her where the record button was on the camera, and she took it from there!  She's got a good steady hand!

I referred to another keynote speaker, Jim Weiss.  I  really appreciated his story telling workshop and his session on heroes.  The man has an amazing grasp of how to make history come alive, but you don't have to hear him in person to benefit from this since he has dozens of story sets on CD. Check out his web site:

Despite the fact that I mentioned Quakers quite favorably several times, I am not one!  (I attend Lake Baldwin Church, a small Presbyterian congregation.)  I did, however, want to give you the 17th verse to John Greenleaf Whittier's poem "Expostulation." 

Rise now for Freedom! not in strife
Like that your sterner fathers saw,
The awful waste of human life,
The glory and the guilt of war:'
But break the chain, the yoke remove,
And smite to earth Oppression's rod,
With those mild arms of Truth and Love,
Made mighty through the living God!

Another quote I couldn't quite remember and didn't have in my notes is by John Ruskin (1819-1900), English writer, art critic, professor, reformer: 

The entire object of true education is to make people
not merely to do the right things, but to enjoy them;
not merely industrious, but to love industry;
not merely learned, but to love knowledge;
not merely pure, but to love purity;
not merely just, but to hunger and thirst after justice.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Great American Communicators: Patrick Henry

Great American Communicators: Patrick Henry

Patrick Henry was home schooled by his father and his uncle. He had ten brothers and sisters. He didn’t do well at farming or storekeeping, so he taught himself law. He became famous for a case known as “The Parson’s Cause” and went on to establish himself as a prominent lawyer in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Patrick married twice. His first wife, Sarah, went insane after childbirth and had to be confined to her home for several years until she died. Between both wives, he had 15 children, but not all of them survived childhood.

A powerful orator, Patrick Henry was always a staunch supporter of liberty and patriotism. His “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech in March 1775 is credited with starting the American Revolution in Virginia.

He held the following public offices:  
  • Delegate, Virginia House of Burgesses, 1765-1775
  • Member, Virginia Committee of Correspondence, 1773
  • Delegate, Continental Congress, 1774-1775
  • Delegate, Virginia Convention, 1776
  • Governor of Virginia, 1776-1779, 1784-1786
  • Delegate, Virginia Constitution Ratification Convention, 1788
You can hear a historian recite Patrick Henry’s speech at this web site:

  1. Carefully read the speech below. .
  2. Choose at least five of the underlined words to look up and define.
  3. Write one reason why Patrick Henry thinks the Americans should rise up and fight now rather than waiting.
  4. Find an instance where he uses sarcasm to make a point and put a * by it.
  5. Write a summary of the main points of this speech.
  6. Recite the speech with passion.

"Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death"

A speech delivered by Patrick Henry on March 23, 1775

No man thinks more highly than I do of the patriotism, as well as abilities, of the very worthy gentlemen who have just addressed the House. But different men often see the same subject in different lights; and, therefore, I hope it will not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen if, entertaining as I do opinions of a character very opposite to theirs, I shall speak forth my sentiments freely and without reserve. This is no time for ceremony. The questing before the House is one of awful moment to this country. For my own part, I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery; and in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate. It is only in this way that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfill the great responsibility which we hold to God and our country. Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offense, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the Majesty of Heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.

  Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it. I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past. And judging by the past, I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years to justify those hopes with which gentlemen have been pleased to solace themselves and the House. Is it that insidious smile with which our petition has been lately received? Trust it not, sir; it will prove a snare to your feet. Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss. Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition comports with those warlike preparations which cover our waters and darken our land. Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled that force must be called in to win back our love? Let us not deceive ourselves, sir. These are the implements of war and subjugation; the last arguments to which kings resort. I ask gentlemen, sir, what means this martial array, if its purpose be not to force us to submission? Can gentlemen assign any other possible motive for it? Has Great Britain any enemy, in this quarter of the world, to call for all this accumulation of navies and armies? No, sir, she has none. They are meant for us: they can be meant for no other. They are sent over to bind and rivet upon us those chains which the British ministry have been so long forging. And what have we to oppose to them? Shall we try argument? Sir, we have been trying that for the last ten years.

Have we anything new to offer upon the subject? Nothing. We have held the subject up in every light of which it is capable; but it has been all in vain. Shall we resort to entreaty and humble supplication? What terms shall we find which have not been already exhausted? Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive ourselves. Sir, we have done everything that could be done to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament. Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne! In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free--if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending--if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained--we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of hosts is all that is left us!

  They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength but irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. The millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable--and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.

  It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace--but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!
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