Make way for the factotum of the city


One of the true pleasures of homeschooling has been to learn and explore for myself. Call it supply-side education; I believe that being a curious and passionate learner myself will trickle-down to my kids. So I’m happily going to all the museums and events and shows that I want to see and never normally get to.

Two notable recent examples: going to see The Barber of Seville and Kiss Me Kate.

I’ve always admired but never really got into opera. Classical music itself always required a certain sustained concentration for me to appreciate, and I’ve never really known enough about opera as a genre to know what I should be appreciating. I’m not one of those people that have an immediate visceral response to those vocal virtuosities.

When the OperaNoVA company put on The Barber of Seville for local schools and homeschooling groups, however, that gave me a chance to drag my kids into learning more.

I knew the Teaching Company had a course on appreciating opera (by Robert Greenberg), so I checked out portions of that from the library, along with some relevant books from the juvenile section. (The Random House Book of Opera Stories by Adele Geras and The Young Person’s Guide to the Opera).

I left the books in the car for my son to peruse, and I played the Greenberg lectures as we drove around. Learning by osmosis.

Just before the show, we watched two synopses of the plot on YouTube:

The show itself went out of its way to be kid-friendly. It started with an introduction of some of the instruments in the orchestra and their unique tonal qualities:


And the performances emphasized physical humor and exaggerated gestures to make clear some of the developments in plot and relationships. The opera was also abridged and included some slightly bizarre surprises (like a child in a parrot costume), which nevertheless helped manage the attention of its young crowd.

Of course, it kept all the highlights of the opera, and I was impressed at the quality of all of the performers, particularly Figaro himself. It was a great introduction to the opera–for my kids and myself.

Unfortunately, I’m writing this a little too late; the run for The Barber of Seville is long over, but OperaNoVA’s web site states that they’re going to do Cosi Fan Tutte in February and an intriguing opera by Scott Joplin, Treemonisha, in March.


I did less prep work for Kiss Me Kate, mostly because I already knew it so well. Call me bourgeois, but I’m a sucker for all things Shakespeare, and I used to teach Taming of the Shrew for several years. I could give them a rundown of the play–and the musical–off the top of my head.

Even before we saw the play, I signed us up to attend a Page & Stage discussion at the Shakespeare Theatre. It’s a sit-down panel discussion between the director of the show and a local scholar. Alan Paul, the director, gave a lot of great contextual information about the musical in particular and how he saw the influence of all of the original creatives in shaping the themes and subtext of the work. It was all a bit over the heads of my 7- and 2-year olds, but they managed, for the most part, to be a good sport about it.

Kiss Me, Kate

We got a ticket to a noon showing of the musical on a Wednesday. It’s a long show — two hours with an intermission in between — and it tested the antsiness of my kids, but they made it through and they enjoyed it.


And I enjoyed it! It’s a really smart, snappy production — one of the best I’ve ever seen. The leads, in particular, are perfect, and the direction is really wonderful. I’m not sure I’d be able to see much improvement if I saw it on Broadway. I highly recommend it (even if you’re not homeschooling).



Fall ‧ Kid ‧ Miscanthus

Why are little kids in Japan so independent? Because there is a culture of collectivism that promotes trust not fear

Gloria Steinem apparently had a kind of chaotic unschooled childhood
[Fresh Air] Interview with Gloria Steinem Audio

Metro Baby

This episode of Metro Connection includes: Audio
An interview with Gabe Klein, former head of DDOT, on affecting community change
(Another article: How Gabe Klein would improve mobility in DC)
Metro riders uniting to reform WMATA
Maryland looking into high-speed trains

[Nerdist] An interview with two people coordinating the Hyperloop movement Audio

Thanksgiving dinner

[StoryCorps] The Great Thanksgiving Listen

Haven’t seen this documentary yet, but it looks interesting
Just Eat It Documentary
[TED] The global food waste scandal Video

This is a major cognitive blind spot that we all would do well to keep conscious of, especially over Thanksgiving dinner debates!
[You are Not So Smart] Naive Realism: Why you often believe people who see the world differently are wrong Audio

[Weeds] How politics is making us stupid Audio

Sunday Catechism: Discipling


NOTE: I lead the Children’s Service at my church on Sundays. Every week I write a reflection on a question from the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Please note that these posts reflect a frank expression of my faith (Reformed Presbyterian) and are specifically aimed at the parents of children at my church.

Q: What does the fifth commandment forbid?

A: The fifth commandment forbids being disrespectful or not treating others as their position or relationship to us demands.

Let’s talk discipline.

One of the important things we’re learning about the commandments is that, despite initial appearances, they’re not about modifying behavior, not ultimately. Instead, they are standards for the heart, guidelines to shape the mind and forge the will.

We should, likewise, treat the discipline of those under our charge as akin to discipling. Our ultimate goal should not be cementing power, creating compliance, punishing wrongdoing, or even maintaining order. Our ultimate goal should be to teach wisdom and help form the habits to ingrain those truths into character.

Parenting is one way we fulfill the Great Commission.

It is often tempting, when we face chaos and rebellion, to focus on secondary and tertiary objectives of discipline: we want to fix problems and dole out punishments and get everything back on track. This mindset consistently applied, however, diminishes the agency of the child and/or communicates a works-centered mentality. If we’re fair, our children will learn that success is simply gained by following the rules. If we’re not–and none of us are–our children will learn to dance around our tyranny. Either way, we do not serve well as ambassadors of our Lord.

It’s also often tempting to let things slide–perhaps because it is in our temperament to do so, but just as likely because doing the former can be so exhausting. We may feel that it’s more humane to focus on praise and positive incentives than punitive measures. Ironically, the results are the same. Life becomes a game, and kids will have the entirety of their time to figure out how to game their parents, and we as parents will never win because we also have to worry about living life.

(I direct you to “Every conversation between a parent and child”)

Are we, then, never to give consequences or incentives? Are we to never focus on managing behavior? Of course not, but we should try not to make it the end in itself. It’s a good thing, not an ultimate thing, as we like to say in our church. We may achieve what looks like compliance or satisfaction with management techniques, but we will stop short of truth and love.

Let me leave you with some practical advice. I found helpful this podcast episode about classroom management: “Throwing students across the room doesn’t work”

It’s an interview with a school principal and its intended audience is teachers, but I think it’s worth reflecting on what he deems as the basic principles of classroom management: self-reflection by the teacher, establishing useful structures for students, building relationships, and de-escalation of conflicts.

Each of these principles is a way of honoring those below us. And together they’re designed to facilitate the real work of the classroom: learning.

Let me conclude by sharing a small personal parenting triumph, one that is notable because it comes all too infrequently. We had been invited to dinner, and we were all set to go when, at the last minute, Biggie refused to join us. He said he didn’t like the restaurant, he didn’t feel like eating out, and he simply didn’t want to go.

I had been napping, when my wife woke me up, at her wit’s end–perhaps a parenting fail, on my part. I could see I had a couple of options: I could punish him until he relented, I could leave him at home (my brother was staying with us so he could look after him), I could drag him to the car by force, I could let the rest of my family go to the dinner and deal with Biggie intensively. My brother was happy to spend the evening watching TV with Biggie; my wife was almost shaking with frustration; my daughter was dressed and ready to head out the door. My son was balled up, pressed into the folds of the couch, nearly crying. Here’s roughly the conversation that ensued:

“Son, let’s go to the restaurant.”


“Why not?”

“I don’t want to. I don’t like that food. I don’t like that restaurant.”

“Calm down…. The thing is, Biggie, you have to go. I can’t let you not go. If this was just about what you were going to eat tonight, I’d happily let you sit here with Uncle Tim, and give you a pass on the restaurant. You know that, right? But you rebelled against your mother, and I can’t let that pass.

Listen to me. Look at me. I know you’re frustrated. I can see that you’re angry. I know that, for whatever reason, going to this restaurant is causing you a lot of discomfort. I can see that.

But my job is to teach you, Biggie. God put me in charge over you so that I can raise you and protect you and teach you. And one of the most valuable things I can teach you is how to do something you don’t want to do. There are going to be lots of times when you know in your heart that you really should do something, because an authority told you to do it, because it’s good to do, because it’s the right thing to do, and you don’t want to do it. But you have to learn to get over that hump and do it anyways.

If I let you skip the restaurant tonight, I’m afraid that you will think that if you give enough resistance, eventually the other side will always give in, and that you will always get your way. There are times when we can negotiate and come to a compromise, if you’re reasonable. But you weren’t being reasonable with Mom, and now not going to the restaurant is not an option. Come to the restaurant with us.”


“Listen. You don’t have to order anything. You don’t have to eat anything. You can just sit at the table and sulk, and that will be okay. But you do have to come to the restaurant.”


“Biggie, I really don’t want to punish you. I don’t want to drag you kicking and screaming to the car. Please be a good boy and go the restaurant with us. Please.”


“All right. Go downstairs now so that I can give you a spanking.”


“Go. I’m serious.”

“I won’t eat anything.”

“You won’t have to! You don’t have to eat anything you don’t want to.”

“Okay, I’ll go to the restaurant.”

Let me be clear: I really rarely ever lay a hand on my kids, but Biggie knows that getting a spanking is not an empty threat, and not a place I go to lightly. It doesn’t really hurt him physically, but it is a shock and humiliation to him. I also think that it is absolutely possible, maybe even preferable, to successfully enforce discipline without corporal punishment.

This is not the only way to have handled the situation, and others could certainly have done a better job. This is the way it ended up going down, though, and I proffer it as an example because I managed to keep my focus and intentions on improving Biggie’s character. I had empathy and love for him, and I wanted him to face up to his demons and idols so that he would have the tools and experience to fight them again and again.

If I had intervened earlier, I might have focused on helping him not react so vociferously and, instead, air his concerns more calmly and dispassionately, to get him himself to de-escalate the discourse. As it is, when I was called in, I could see he was struggling with the anxiety of being stuck facing a new or difficult circumstances — something he’s consistently having a lot of problems with. I know he will only gain confidence in overcoming these situations and managing his discomfort if he had practice facing them down.

He, in fact, did go to the restaurant and ended up eating quite a lot of food and enjoying the experience.


We have a sacred duty, and it’s a tough one. Discipline is often the least pleasant part of our jobs, but it’s sometimes the most important. My prayers go to you all.

Coming Events


I think we’re going to lay low a bit this week; we did a bunch of things last week that peaked with Biggie’s birthday party with his old school chums.

I’ve got less things on the calendar for this week. I’m thinking we need to conserve some energy for the big push into Thanksgiving.

Here’s what I do have, though:


Penguin Science:
The 2015 season for the penguin nest checks at Cape Royd, Antarctica will start today. Follow the progress of this penguin colony and learn about penguins, ecosystems, climates, etc.




Black Friday: Shop Local
Over 50 independent local stores will open early and provide significant discounts. It’s a good weekend to shop local.

NOVA Scoop Holiday Kick-off
NovaScoop is a local homeschooling community that’s having a holiday kick-off event from noon to 4 pm at St. Peter’s in the Woods Episcopal Church (Burke, VA).


Small Business Saturday
In addition to holiday discounts from local businesses, the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce will be handing out goodie bags in Market Square in the morning and Del Ray in the afternoon.

KeeKee’s Big Adventure Reading
Shannon Jones, the writer of KeeKee’s Big Adventures will also be at Market Square from 9:00-11:30 to do a reading of her children’s books.

Sunday Catechism: Brother’s Keeper


NOTE: I lead the Children’s Service at my church on Sundays. Every week I write a reflection on a question from the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Please note that these posts reflect a frank expression of my faith (Reformed Presbyterian) and are specifically aimed at the parents of children at my church.

Q: What does the fifth commandment require?

A: The fifth commandment requires us to respect and treat others, whether above, below, or equal to us, as their position or our relationship to them demands.

What does it mean to honor something? To properly recognize its value. Worship, then, is a form of honoring—but only when the object of worship credits adulation. Justice, too, is a form of honor—when able to perfectly balance culpability and recompense. We always try to steal from God what belongs to Him while ignoring what we actually can, and are called, to do.


We must teach our children how to honor others, and to do that we must communicate fundamental truths about the value of others.

Every person is made in the image of God. There is an intrinsic value to each person. Though born with original sin, each person is made and deemed “good” by the Creator. We must recognize that all the differences we fixate on to ascribe social worth (race, class, appearance, ability, history, power) are all fundamentally cosmetic. And Christian humanism is mandated not by genetic commonality but the attention and intention of God that is both personal and universal.

We all share in sinfulness as well as in the availability of our salvation. Relative to God’s perfect demands, none of us can claim relative merit above or below any other. We’ve all failed as utterly as anyone else, and not a one deserve any measure of grace. Christ’s sacrifice, though, is sufficient for all — and we have no right to judge or claim to know who has, should, or will take that invitation. We must keep in mind that as deep and unfathomable and complete as God’s love has been for me, it has been so for all.

God works through people. God in his sovereignty shapes our experiences, including the persons he places in our path. His grace to lead us into salvation and his promise to guide us through sanctification is done through everyday life, including its suffering, frustrations, tragedies, and annoyances. God not only sends ministers, helpers, and friends, but also allows enemies, dependents, and tyrants.

Conversely, we must recognize that we are instruments for God’s redemption to others. We are to rep Jesus to everyone around us, compassionately serving and revealing the goodness in God’s intended design.

These are not easy truths to be consistent about, and when something like a terrorist attack occurs, they can be downright counter-cultural, never mind counter-intuitive. We must remember, though, that when we encounter sedition–whether in the form of a jihadist or own child–it not only challenges our values and authority, but also accuses our hypocrisy and failures of responsibility. We must still, in our own imperfect way, uphold order and justice, but we should also take the opportunity to honestly examine what this says about what we worship and how we value others.

As I reflected on last week’s sermon on the sheep and the goats, I suddenly realized that the parable foreshadows how Christ would take on the fallen-ness of the world. Yes, He is the judge at the apocalypse, but at the cross He is every wrong needing mercy, every deprivation needing fruit, every suffering needing solace, every crisis needing help. At these crossroads we find not only forgiveness but also purpose.

The fifth commandment tells us that behind every person is God. Are we to be God’s goat or lamb?

As a final note, I recommend the following listen from the BBC:

It suggests that mounting psychological and sociological evidence indicate that in seemingly intractable conflicts what is needed first is a restoration of honor.


As the father of a baby girl that I’ve had to accompany to a many a public bathroom stall, I have quite a lot of contempt for men who don’t raise the seat.