• About Farm School

    "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live."
    James Adams, from his essay "To 'Be' or to 'Do': A Note on American Education", 1929

    We're a Canadian family of five, farming and home schooling. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 17/Grade 12, 15/Grade 10, and 13/Grade 9.

    Contact me at becky.farmschool@gmail.com

  • Notable Quotables

    "If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
    William Morris, from his lecture "The Beauty of Life"

    "The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall, nations perish, civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead."
    Clarence Day

    "Anyone who has a library and a garden wants for nothing."
    Cicero

    "Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtile; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend."
    Sir Francis Bacon, "Essays"

    "The chief aim of education is to show you, after you make a livelihood, how to enjoy living; and you can live longest and best and most rewardingly by attaining and preserving the happiness of learning."
    Gilbert Highet, "The Immortal Profession: The Joys of Teaching and Learning"

    "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."
    Walter Wriston

    "I'd like to give you a piece of my mind."
    "Oh, I couldn't take the last piece."
    Ginger Rogers to Frances Mercer in "Vivacious Lady" (1938)

    "No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem."
    Booker T. Washington

    "Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."
    Attributed to Groucho Marx in "The Groucho Letters" by Arthur Sheekman

    "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me."
    Alice Roosevelt Longworth

    "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, we feel all our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'."
    Jean Hagen as "Lina Lamont" in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)
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  • Copyright © 2005-2014 Please do not use any of my words or my personal photographs without my express permission.

For Beslan, School No. 1

No. 645
by Emily Dickinson

Bereavement in their death to feel
Whom We have never seen –
A Vital Kinsmanship import
Our Soul and theirs — between –

For Strangers — Strangers do not mourn –
There be Immortal friends
Whom Death see first — ’tis news of this
That paralyze Ourselves –

Who, vital only to Our Thoughts –
Such Presence bear away
In dying — ’tis as if Our Souls
Absconded — suddenly –

Their Island Story

“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”
Rudyard Kipling

One of my favorite places to procrastinate, er, get ideas for our classical homeschooling is the Tanglewood Education website. One of the books I’ve been toying with adding to our collection is An Island Story by H.E. (Henrietta Elizabeth) Marshall, which Tanglewood uses as a main history text in part because it was used by Charlotte Mason in her own schools; the original British title is, of course, Our Island Story: A Child’s History of England, from Tennyson’s stirring and most English Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington, “Not once or twice in our rough island-story/ The path of duty was the way to glory.” I would use it as a supplement, since it’s scope isn’t broad enough for us, mainly because we’re not English. Well, partly but not entirely :). I could just start printing the book from The Baldwin Project online, but there’s something about a real, bound book, not to mention the fact that for what it could cost me in printer ink, I could have that nice bound copy.

I was surprised to read in The Economist the other day that Island Story has been out of print in England for over 50 years. But thanks to the think-tank Civitas, it’s being reissued just in time for its centennial, with a publication date of September 22nd; the organization also has plans to give a free copy of the book to every primary school in the country, and is soliciting donations for the endeavor. In his fundraising appeal, Civitas deputy director Robert Whelan writes,

History teaching [in England] is in an equally bad way, but it has not received the same sort of attention. This is unfortunate, as the teaching of history is a vital part of the process of transmitting from one generation to the next knowledge of the events and the institutions which have enabled us to live in a free and prosperous society. In short, the health of our culture depends on each generation knowing where we have come from and how. [This, of course, was a very common theme after the July 7th London bombings, on the lips of Tony Blair and others.]

History is now not even taught in a chronological way. Instead of showing how one event influences others, and how the great men and women of each century have helped to make us to the sort of people we are, children are presented with all sorts of ‘modules’ about topics such as the state of the peasants, the role of women, slavery and the Empire, as if these things can be comprehended without knowing the order in which events occurred. Jumping from one century and one civilisation to another, children end up scarcely knowing if the Battle of Britain or the Battle of Hastings came first. …

We at Civitas want to do something to improve this lamentable situation, and way to proceed is to identify really good material produced in the past but now out-of-print. In the course of our reading and discussions, one title kept coming up: Our Island Story by H.E. Marshall, a classic children’s history book first published in 1905 and now long out-of-print. …

We acquired several copies of different editions of Our Island Story and started reading through it. It was easy to see why the book is remembered with such affection! It is beautifully written, and tells the history of Britain from the Romans to the death of Queen Victoria. Everything is arranged in chronological order, with every chapter bearing the name of the monarch of the period covered. Wars and revolutions, plagues and inventions, great men and women, all parade through these pages, giving the young reader a brilliant picture, simple but accurate, of the way in which our ancestors made us the people we are today.

Leading British historian Lady Antonia Fraser, writing back in June in The Daily Telegraph, whose readers in particular have been particular generous in the fundraising effort, acknowledged her debt to Marshall: “It’s not just the warmth of childhood memory that this book evokes. It was a direct inspiration for me in my career as a historian. It was from having read these stories that I came to realise that, as a study, history has all the best tunes.” She also gave a nod to modern sensibilities,

While the idea of a reprint is hugely welcome, you might initially wonder whether it stands up in today’s climate or whether it contains racist horrors likely to make one cover the children’s eyes. But actually there is not a great deal to cause modern liberal sensitivity to bristle.

There is the occasional eyebrow raiser: in one chapter, the Maoris are depicted as cannibals, which is not an account that would go down terrifically well in New Zealand today. But other than that, the general approach is not all that incorrect. Henrietta Marshall is, for instance, on the side of the colonists in the War of Independence; she believes that one should never have to pay tax without representation.

In the past couple of days, there has been a row about the Royal Navy’s concern about perceived “triumphalism” over the Trafalgar bicentenary. Anyone approaching Our Island Story might also expect a blast of “triumphalism”. But actually, it isn’t there. Marshall is quite a pacifist, with a small “p”. And her approach to history is very personal. …

The book is also great in the sense that it shines a light into the nature of the times in which it was written. Anyone thinking of giving it to their children might also think about explaining to the child the fact that it was published in a different age. The fact is that attitudes towards people have changed.

Indeed, the reprinting of this book brings the way that history is taught back into sharper focus. Much has been written about the decline in the learning of “chronological” history, of the fading out of narrative history, of the rise, at the cost to all, of social history that seeks to promote “empathy” yet robs history of its context. Marshall is a great reminder of the power of narrative history. I would regard myself as a narrative historian. I feel very strongly the need for chronology – it drives me mad when people can’t place figures or events correctly. This book sticks out now because it seems to say “I will tell you stories”, an idea with which I profoundly agree.

Lady Antonia goes on to say, “That said, in teaching terms, one should never go back entirely,” but you can read the rest yourself. Nice to have my “ripping yarns” theory confirmed by the experts.

Canadians can buy their copy here, and can reading it while waiting for the reprinting of Our Empire Story next.

Unabridged audiobook versions of Our Island Story are available for purchase from Naxos Audiobooks in three CD sets, and for free from LibriVox, here and here.

Give me the splendid silent sun

We’ve had about four inches of rain in the last two days, bad enough that there were “heavy rainfall warnings” on the radio and television. But it seems to be over. I hope. For now, at least. But there’s been quite a bit of damage (nowhere near on the scale of central Europe though), and we heard that most of the houses in the west end of town experienced some flooding. The phone, of course, is ringing off the hook to get Tom to look at flooded basements or leaking roofs or at least provide an estimate for the insurance company.

If it just doesn’t freeze during the nights, we’ll have a nice end of summer. Please? The garden is just beautiful now, with zinnias and several different kinds of poppies in bloom. The poppies are mostly pinks and reds (though not the ladybird kind with black centers), with some orange California poppies thrown in the mix.

Give Me the Splendid, Silent Sun
by Walt Whitman

Give me the splendid silent sun, with all his beams full-dazzling;
Give me juicy autumnal fruit, ripe and red from the orchard;
Give me a field where the unmow’d grass grows;
Give me an arbor, give me the trellis’d grape;
Give me fresh corn and wheat, give me serene-moving animals, teaching content;
Give me nights perfectly quiet, as on high plateaus west of the Mississippi, and I looking up at the stars;
Give me odorous at sunrise a garden of beautiful flowers, where I can walk undisturb’d…

Very loud, very slow, very simple — and very busy

More coincidences in my life out here on the prairie. First I read about Edward Tufte in the “Low-Tech Chic” (yup, that would me) article in Maclean’s magazine. Tufte and other “modern Luddites” (yup, me again lol)

make a clear distinction between rejecting technology a priori and test-driving innovations with a critical eye. In his infamous screed [now, now] The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint, [Tufte] explains how there’s nothing particularly innovative about software that “routinely disrupts, dominates and trivializes content. PP presentations too often resemble the school play: very loud, very slow, and very simple.”

A few days later I read, over at Daryl’s blog, about first graders learning to use PowerPoint (“PPT is evil”, August 22). And then Tuesday I found this little gem, about a recent project with first graders and fourth graders at the local public school, in our weekly rag (bold elements are mine, all mine):

Mrs. W., who teaches grade four, and Mrs. T., who teaches grade one, teamed up [last year] on a Special Interest Group Technology (SIGTel) project within the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). Along with their students, they created an online project entitled Kid Dictionary: Enhancing Student Learning Via Global Communication. …

“What started it is I have keypals over in Sweden, and when we first started this project, we’d been writing back and forth. My students sent 10 English words over the Sweden and they sent us back 10 Swedish translations,” said Mrs. W. With those translations, students created the online Kid Dictionary Alphabet Pages, illustrated with clip art, and also used the translations to create a word wall. Four students took the project a step further and translated the words into a third language, including Afrikaan [sic], Chinese and Ukrainian. The Swedish words were proofread by Mrs. W.’s keypal in Sweden….

Mrs. T.’s grade ones were able to get involved with the project as well. “The grade one involvement was an extension of the grade four projects. In January, they (the grade fours) brought down whatever word they had up that month on the word wall and brought down a picture of it and taught the meaning of the word to one of my students. When the kids understood the word, we went together and they took my [grade one] students on the computers and peer taught them how to use Microsoft Word to type a sentence that had the word in it, to show that they understood the meaning, how to add a border to page, how to send it to the printer, how to save it under their own name, and then my students took the page they had produced back to our room and illustrated it and then we had our own word wall in our classroom that we displayed those on,” said Mrs. T.

“It was really neat for my kids to get to work with the grade fours. It was really neat for them to be given some peer coaching on the computers, but I think the biggest benefit was for the grade four students. To watch those kids teaching the little kids, and the excitement that went on for them and to get to be the teacher for once, that was really neat, really powerful,” said Mrs. T.

Really neat? Maybe, if you’re intrigued by make-work projects and have nothing else you could be learning. But for Tom and me, it’s just more reassurance that the simple, low-tech way is the best, and most powerful, choice for our first grader, who’s been learning to read, write, and use a dictionary* the old-fashioned way.

*Webster’s Elementary Dictionary: A Dictionary for Boys and Girls, 1945, with some lovely color plates; 50 cents and a bargain at twice the price from a garage sale

It’s definitely not popsicle season any more around here…

We’ve had two inches of rain in the past two days (and the clouds look socked in for tonight) and the mercury hasn’t budged above 50 degrees. And a heavy rainfall warning on the radio for tonight and tomorrow. Ah, August in Alberta. At least it’s not snow lol.

But I have a pot of soup on the stove, cinnamon buns (one batch with raisins and one with pecans, because while all of the raisin-eaters around here will eat nuts, one of the nutty ones will not touch raisins…) and peanut butter cookies in the oven, and stacks of books and movies. Best of all, Tom got rained out of his current job in town (adding a false wall to a store for extra insulation) and so headed to our big shop building with his apprentice and both of the boys to build a new box for the big green dump truck; not only did the boys get to spend all day with Dad, but essentially locked in a candy shop, and able to get lots of exercise in there, too, leaping off assorted bits and pieces and chasing each other around vehicles and cabinetry.

Laura and I spent a nice quiet day working our way through the end of SOTW2 and reading extra books about Gutenberg, the printing press, and Galileo. And we watched “The Private Life of Henry VIII” and “In Search of the Castaways” with Hayley Mills yet again. Elsa Lanchester (Mrs. Charles Laughton) as Anne of Cleves is a hoot. Now if I can just keep my child from chanting “Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived” out loud in the supermarket I’ll be okay…

A coincidence?

I think not.

As the Kansas Board of Education gets ready to decide whether to allow the latest incarnation of creationism, this arrived in my inbox today:

Dear Reader,

In the annals of American humor, Will Cuppy (1884-1949) deserves a chapter all his own, but, with characteristic caginess, he instead lurks among the footnotes, now and then emerging to cast a jaundiced squint at the passing parades of history and nature. InHow to Tell Your Friends From the Apes,” a wise-guy’s guide to our fellow creatures, Cuppy does to the animal kingdom what he did to Hannibal, Columbus, and Miles Standish in “The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody,” namely, cuts it down to size. With nary a hint of reverence, awe, or wonder, Cuppy considers our fossilized ancestors, their ape-like progenitors, and assorted birds and beasts; the result is hilarious. His admirer, P.G. Wodehouse, who contributes an Introduction to this volume, gets quickly to the heart of Cuppy’s peculiar genius: “He is the author of the best thing said about Pekingese, viz. ‘I don’t see why they should look so conceited. They’re not better than we are.'” What else can I say? Illustrated.

What else can I say? (Maybe, “Something to read while we wait for the Neanderthals to decide”?) Get your copy from the wise-guys at A Common Reader.

Living history


For her birthday this year, Laura decided she wanted a family adventure instead of a party. More than happy to oblige instead of planning another tea party for half a dozen little girls and their mothers and assorted uninvited siblings, we spent a warm sunny Sunday yesterday at Fort Edmonton Park, 160 acres in the middle of downtown Edmonton. It’s a living history museum, similar to but not as elaborate as Colonial Williamsburg, tracing the growth and development of Edmonton from its origins as a Hudson’s Bay fur trading fort in 1700, to the early pioneer settlement of 1885, to the young city of 1905, and finally the 1920s, on the verge of modernity.

Many of the buildings are originals, donated or bought and moved to the Park. Others are recreations, and all are fitted together very nicely. The fort is a recreation of the original (torn down in 1915), surrounded by real palisades and bastions, and full of real furs and skins — bear, bison, wolf, Arctic fox, raccoon, and even a wolverine or too. The other three eras are represented by “streets,” some longer than others; the 1920s era is still very much an ongoing project. For some reason the official website, mentioned above, is chintzy. This unofficial website is delightful, and you can also learn more at the official Fort Edmonton Foundation website; the Foundation does a lot of hard work coming up with the money to keep the Park going.

The big family favorites were the the ride on the Edmonton Yukon & Pacific Railway, from the entrance to the fort, the fort itself (reconstructed as it appeared in 1846), and 1885 Street, with more than two dozen buildings including period shops (selling souvenirs), businesses, houses, and a church. At the Hutchings & Riley Harness Shop, Laura was allowed to try a girl’s sidesaddle she might have used over 100 years ago

Another highlight was the invitation, from the Edwardian costumed interpreters on 1905 Street, to a gunny-sack race and croquet game on the lawn of the Anglican church. Afterwards, the kids were treated to some homemade lemonade.

The most amazing realization for Tom and me was that the Park, which is tucked away in Edmonton’s river valley, is that at almost no point are you aware of the city’s existence surrounding the Park — you can’t hear it and you almost can’t see it (except for the glimpse of a few houses backing onto the valley near the entrance). Walking around the fort, Tom tried to remember the only time he had been to Fort Edmonton — around 30 years ago, shortly after the fort’s reconstruction in 1970.

Interesting aside, even if you don’t much care for Brad Pitt — there’s talk that the new movie, “The Assassination of Jesse James,” which began filming today in Calgary, will shoot some of the town scenes at Fort Edmonton Park this fall.

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