• 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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Rewriting history? Or at least museum exhibits

at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa (via The Globe & Mail; emphasis in bold mine):

The battle’s not over yet. But under pressure from Bomber Command veterans’ groups and sympathetic politicians, the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa will adjust the wording on a panel dealing with the 1945 firebombing of Dresden.

“The final wording has not come out,” Fredrik Eaton, chair of the museum board, told The Globe and Mail yesterday. “But we expect to have it installed by October.”

Many observers warn of the precedent of a public museum adapting its texts in response to political pressure. “I am very disturbed,” said Margaret MacMillan, warden of St. Antony’s College at Oxford, author of Paris 1919, and a consultant to the museum on the controversy. “This exhibit was a fair one.”

The fight over the 67-word panel, titled An Enduring Controversy, erupted shortly after the Canadian War Museum opened in May, 2005. A group of veterans objected to its saying that “the value and morality of the strategic bomber offensive against Germany remains bitterly contested,” and to its contrasting 600,000 dead with the statement that “the raids resulted in only small reductions of German war production until late in the war.”

For two years, the museum defended its independence. So did two of a panel of four independent historians, one of them Ms. MacMillan, hired earlier this year to investigate. (All historians found the panel factually accurate, but two questioned the tone.)

The veterans weren’t satisfied. One in four Canadians who served in Bomber Command during the Second World War were killed, and the survivors insist on honouring those comrades’ memory. Art Smith, a former Bomber Command captain and former Conservative MP, explained: “The words said that we were responsible for 600,000 dead. I took offence that we were just helter-skelter bombers. We always had justified targets.”

The veterans threatened a boycott, attempted to have a private member’s bill introduced, and finally got a senate subcommittee to look into their complaints. In June, the subcommittee urged the museum to compromise.

Then, Mr. Eaton volunteered to chair the board. “I thought the museum was taking the wrong slant,” he said. “It wasn’t right that the museum should fight with the vets. I determined to effect a solution.”

Two weeks after Mr. Eaton became chair, museum CEO Joe Geurts – a dogged defender of his institution’s curatorial independence – departed.

Ever since, board members, former board member and retired General Paul Manson, and the vets have been negotiating a new text. They’ll continue into September.

“The museum staff and professional historians will write the text but will be guided by feelings of respect,” said Victor Rabinovitch, president of the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the Canadian War Museum. “We’ll find a way to incorporate the respect while remaining faithful to the historical record.”

In fact, the veterans have given the museum a version they want substituted for the existing panel. But at nearly 300 words, it is far too long. Besides, one point the vets object to is true: The strategic value and morality of the Dresden bombing are contested.

No one questions the veterans’ bravery, Ms. MacMillan insists. “But a museum is not a war memorial. It should allow the public to make up their own minds.” She warned that the decision to alter an exhibition to satisfy the veterans could mean “whoever screams loudest can have their view made known.”

Indeed, several groups are in the midst of doing just that. One, the National Association of Japanese Canadians, says that the war museum’s version of the internment of Japanese Canadians underplays the racist and economic forces behind the internment; the NAJC also wants the museum to recognize that despite the treatment of Japanese Canadians, 150 volunteered to don uniforms and fight for Canada. NAJC president Grace Eiko Thomson met with Mr. Guerts four weeks before his departure.

Yesterday, Mr. Eaton said that the museum had been in touch with the Japanese Canadians. (Not recently, according to Ms. Thomson). “Everyone’s knocking on the door,” Mr. Eaton said.

Or in the words of Paul McCartney, “Open the door, and let ‘em in, oh yeah…”

Further thoughts on self-esteem and self-confidence

In one of my own comments to my post the other week on children, responsibility, and hard work, I mentioned “the whole self-esteem vs. self-confidence business (I consider the former nonsense, the latter vital)”, and my good friend hornblower at HMS Indefatigable replied,

One other thing though — in your comments Becky, where you talk about self confidence coming from doing things well. Yes, I agree with that. But I’m actually a big fan of self-esteem & quite like the term. IMO, it comes from something so basic, so simple, and yet something many parents fail at: kids need to be loved, cherished, accepted for being themselves. Not because they did something well, know something, contribute something, look good or make the family look good. But just because they are. That is the primary gift of a great parent & from there comes an unshakeable core of self.

Not implying you disagree (though feel free to!) but I sometimes get a little overwhelmed by the emphasis on doing, as opposed to being…..

Since I threw out my comments very briefly and parenthetically, I think I owe it especially to hornblower to expand on my thoughts.

I see self-esteem and self-confidence as two sides of the same coin. Or rather, self-esteem as self-confidence’s evil twin, especially as self-esteem has been co-opted by North American school systems to consist of a great deal of the curriculum.

Esteem I understand as (blame my high school Latin teacher…) as value, regard, worth, standing, and rank, and I think that inner core of a person, especially a child, should be more virtue (in the classical sense) than value, if that makes any sense, especially the virtue of belief in oneself regardless, as hornblower says, of looks or abilities. Self-esteem, particularly as it’s promoted in North American schools, I understand as a little more than an obsession with feeling good about oneself, and it tends to be a concept imposed from without, rarely a successful method of effecting change.

My main experience with self-esteem and its promotion as an educational tool has come from the local school system, especially Laura’s early years, first with play school, then kindergarten (part of the year here and the remainder in the West Indies, with two very different results, in part because the former promoted self-esteem and the latter self-confidence and self-reliance), and then several months of first grade, before we began home schooling. And yes, there was a shameful big-deal graduation from play school and one from kindergarten — the latter of which, darn it all, we missed by leaving partway through the year. All of her Canadian schools, but interestingly not the West Indian one, saw, in the words of Charles J. Sykes in his Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why American Children Feel Good About Themselves But Can’t Read, Write, or Add, their “ultimate product as the well-adjusted teamworker with a healthy sense of self-esteem”. Sykes goes on to say that such schools are “unlikely to adopt the same means as a school whose goal is individualists”, which is part of the reason we abandoned public school for home school when we discovered Laura to be a year ahead of her classmates and the school interested only in “age appropriate” curriculum, most of it centered around boosting self-esteem and patting little backs for no good reason. But that’s another story and another post…

Because self-esteem tends to be a top-down affair, it’s hard to pass along just the right dose. It either doesn’t stick, because it gets stuck in the trickling down, from adult to child; and kids in general are smart enough to know when something is hollow or has been trowelled on thickly. Or, kids get an overdose, veering dangerously from self-esteem into self-absorption and self-gratification. This is one of the reasons I like The Well-Trained Mind‘s approach to teaching and learning history. When I first read the chapter on teaching history to young children, Laura was in first grade at the local public school, where the social studies curriculum that year was the ungrammatical and self-centered “Me, My Family, and Other Families”. The provincial education ministry in all its certificated wisdom sees fit to arrange the the world around first graders, whereas the authors of WTM see things rather differently:

A common assumption found in history curricula seems to be that children can’t comprehend (or be interested in) people and events distant from their own experience. So the first-grade history is renamed Social Studies and begins with what the child knows: first, himself and his family, followed by his community, his state, his country, and only then the rest of the world.

This intensely self-focused pattern of study encourages the student of history to relate everything he studies to himself, to measure the cultures and customs of other peoples against his own experience. And that’s exactly what the classical education fights against — a self-absorbed, self-referential approach to knowledge. History learned this way makes our needs and wants the center of the human endeavor. This attitude is destructive at any time, but it is especially destructive in the present global civilization.

The goal of the classical curriculum is multicultural in the best sense of the word: the student learns the proper place of his community, his state [or province], and his country by seeing the broad sweep of history from its beginning and then fitting his own time and place into that great landscape.

Or as Miss Manners says in her Guide to Rearing Perfect Children,

Schools first started doing parental tasks because they thought parents were neglecting them; and now there are parents desperately trying to make up for the neglect of academic subjects on the part of teachers. The neglect, on both parts, is rarely mere callousness. On the contrary, it is often connected with the idealistic belief that the object of anyone entrusted with a child is to make that child happy, and that the happiest child is one free of constraint. Miss Manners loathes that theory, and doesn’t notice that it has much of a record of success. It is her belief that happiness is a by-product, and that the happy child is one who has been carefully trained to use his abilities to take on challenges and overcome them.

The happiness theory is full of self-defeating characteristics. It directs the child’s attention back into himself, instead of taking the natural self-absorption with which we were all born, and which we are in no danger of losing, and turning it outward, so that the ability to take delight in a varied and curious world may be developed. It also coddles our natural laziness, so that energies that could be put into growth are put into finding excuses and examining reasons for the lack of it.

I’d hazard a guess that an overdeveloped sense of self-esteem, not to mention “a self-absorbed, self-referential approach to knowledge” may well play a part in the infantilization of young adults.

Self-confidence, on the other hand, develops from within a child and as it takes root within becomes increasingly difficult to dislodge. It’s the result of good, thoughtful parenting as well as of a child’s efforts and achievements, though these needn’t amount to much at all in the early years. Self-confidence can easily apply to the idea that, as hornblower wrote, “kids need to be loved, cherished, accepted for being themselves. Not because they did something well, know something, contribute something, look good or make the family look good. But just because they are. That is the primary gift of a great parent & from there comes an unshakeable core of self.” But I don’t know how much time a great, or even good, parent really needs to devote to establishing, or later maintaining, a confident core of self in a child, as long as you let your children know, well and often — and that doesn’t mean with workbooks, activities, programs, and curricula — that you love them as they are.

I do think that even more important than just “being”, or being a wonderful you, is the vital necessity to a child of belonging to a family (however it is comprised) and being needed. I’m no psychologist, and maybe Robert Epstein would disagree, but it seems that some of the general footlooseness I see in the teenagers I know is the result of their realization, however unconscious, that they aren’t particularly needed in the family, that they can go about their daily activities with friends or alone and not be missed outside of school hours, even under the same roof, with everyone microwaving his or her separate meal at different hours, sitting in front of the computer or television in private bedrooms, everyone in the backyard but plugged into an individual iPod, or taking separate vacations (sometimes even at the same destination or resort). The very youngest children can help the family with needed tasks such as folding towels, feeding the cat, making a card for a sibling’s birthday, holding the map in the car, and they soon learn the importance not just of being loved just because, but of being trusted, being able, and being needed.

I’ll leave the last words to Charles Sykes, from Dumbing Down Our Kids [links and aside added by me]:

Whether the programs of self-esteem are motivated by a romantic view of childhood, by adult guilt, or simply by a desire to spare children pain, it is increasingly obvious that these eminently well-intentioned efforts often have unintended consequences. Members of the generation that braved the Depression and World War II were so anxious to spare their own children the deprivations of their youth that they created the pampered generation of the baby boomers. The boomers (and Generation X), in turn, seem determined to spare their children the emotional and psychological privations they imagined that they might have suffered in their own youth. While the Depression generation hastened to make sure the boomers would never lack material possessions, today’s parents seem anxious to spare their children the stress, anxiety, and pressures of their youth. Neither of the elder generations seem to have foreseen what such indulgence might mean for the younger generations which not only have been deprived of the adversity of the previous generation, but also of the opportunities to test themselves against those challenges. [My own theory is that Mildred Armstrong Kalish's very contrary opinion, in Little Heathens, is what has made the book sparkle so and touch such a nerve in so many readers.]

Trying to understand the courage and character of the English miners of the 1930s, whose lives he had been observing, George Orwell speculated about the source of their strength and dignity in the face of adversity. “The truth is,” he wrote in The Road to Wigan Pier, “that many of the qualities we admire in human beings can only function in opposition to some kind of disaster, pain or difficulty; but the tendency of mechanical progress is to eliminate disaster, pain and difficulty.” While no one would argue that every effort should not be made to reduce disasters and pain, Orwell’s point about the moral consequences of dealing with difficulties is a crucial insight into the way the human soul develops and grows.

Just as I was finishing this post, I came across Poppins‘ recent post, Shine On,

“Born to Shine” by Joshua Kadison. It has an uplifting message that boils down to: you were born to shine; everything is fine. Baldly stated it loses all of its poetry. Do yourself a favour and listen to the song or I’ll get hate mail from Kadison for misrepresenting his artistry. …

“Aha!” came the thought, “I should play this for [daughter] Sandra.” And then the visceral realization slammed into me: she doesn’t need it. No one is squashing her. No one is making her feel wrong. She is shining. It’s her own light that I see in her eyes and hear in her laugh and marvel at in her conversation. She isn’t wounded.

It occurs to me that another reason that much of the self-esteem business in schools doesn’t stick is because rather than fostering high self-esteem in children, it can introduce instead a nasty, niggling kernel of self-doubt. Which is probably as good a way as any of undermining any self-esteem or self-confidence a child already has.

Why safer isn’t always better

Listening to CBC Radio’s “Sounds Like Canada” show last week (podcast here; let me know if the link doesn’t work), I heard summer host Kevin Sylvester interview Matt Hern about the new U.S. edition of his book, Watch Yourself: Why Safer Isn’t Always Better, out last month in paperback; it was published in Canada last summer, but both Amazon.ca and Chapters list it with 4-6 week and 3-5 week availability, never a good sign, I’ve found.

The radio conversation, which was continued on today’s “Sounds Like Canada” show, and subject of the book, are right in line with my own thoughts about childhood fun, danger, acceptable risk, responsibility, and independence. From the publisher’s website:

From warnings on coffee cups to colour–coded terrorist gauges to ubiquitous security cameras, our culture is obsessed with safety.

Some of this is drive by lawyers and insurance, and some by over–zealous public officials, but much is indicative of a cultural conversation that has lost its bearings. The result is not just a neurotically restrictive society, but one which actively undermines individual and community self–reliance. More importantly, we are creating a world of officious administration, management by statistics, absurd regulations, rampaging lawsuits, and hygenically cleansed public spaces. We are trying to render the human and natural worlds predictable and calculated. In doing so, we are trampling common discourse about politics and ethics.

Hern asserts that safer just isn’t always better. Throughout Watch Yourself, he emphasizes the need to rethink our approach to risk, reconsider our fixation with safety, and reassert individual decision–making.

Much more conversation on the radio than the website about the effect of all this caution on our children.

Looking up the book and author online, I was interested to learn that six years ago Matt Hern founded the Purple Thistle Centre for Youth Arts & Activism, a “deschool” in Vancouver, BC with “alternative ways of taking in information or learning skills”. Hern has written more about his thoughts of learning and deschooling in two books, the out-of-print Deschooling Our Lives (shades of Ivan Illich) and Field Day: Getting Society Out of School.

On a more lighthearted note on the subject of danger, I ran across this post, The Borderline Sociopathic Book for Boys, at the new-to-me and very enjoyable blog Sippican Cottage. The post has inspired Sippican’s new blog, The Borderline Sociopathic Blog for Boys, guided by the words of Mark Twain, “Now and then we had a hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates.” And, just in time for back-to-school season, don’t miss Sippican’s post last week on schools and education.

Our late summer visitor

I noticed this morning while feeding the chickens that all eight roosters were outside in the pen. This is unusual because the four at the top of the pecking order generally stroll around the pen, lording and swanning around, while the four at the bottom of the pecking order quake and cower on the roosts in their little coop. But they were all outdoors this morning. I neared the door, to fill the feeder and peer into the semi-darkness.

And there I saw a bird on the roost. It didn’t look roosterlike, though. It was much more straight up and down, with its head tucked in its shoulder. I whistled, and it raised its head. It was a hawk. In my chicken coop. I quickly and quietly closed the door, and when we got back to the house, instead of proceeding with the chokecherry syrup odyssey, phoned the Fish & Wildlife office in town. I’ve learned to do a lot of things since moving to the farm, but catching raptors isn’t one, and I have a healthy respect for their talons.

An officer turned up on our doorstop before too long, and the kids were all excitement to tumble into the truck and show him our visitor. (I grabbed the digital camera so Tom wouldn’t think I’d been hitting the sauce, chokecherry or otherwise, in his absence.) The officer headed toward the coop with a net,

and quickly and easily netted the hawk. Then the untangling,

and identifying. I had thought from my brief glimpse in the partial dark that it might be a young red-tailed hawk but it was a ferruginous hawk (Buteo regalis), and regal the young male was. Ferruginous hawks aren’t quite as common around here, since their range is a bit further south, usually the southeastern corner of the province. The ferruginous hawk dives for prey from high soaring flights, which is probably how our visitor got between the squares of the page wire over the chicken pen.

And then the best part, when the Fish & Wildlife officer asked the kids if they’d each like to hold the hawk. Davy kept his distance and said no, thanks, but Daniel and Laura were eager. The officer helped them grab the bird’s legs (thank goodness for kids who keep work gloves at the ready) and then let each child hold the bird alone. Daniel got to go first,

Laura went next

and later got to release the hawk, I tried to snap pictures as quickly as possible, and then the cautious Davy got to ride partway home in the officer’s truck and sound the siren and the lights (needless to say, more than one of the kids has added “Fish & Wildlife officer” — or junior falconer — to the list of possible desirable occupations). After Laura released the hawk, throwing her arm up high and steadily as instructed, our young friend took off for the trees at the edge of our corrals to rest and recuperate from his adventure,

It’s almost enough to make me sorry that the kids aren’t headed toward a regular classroom next week, so they could answer the old question: What did you do on your summer vacation?!

Poetry Friday: "that time when you played outside all day"

Autumn is definitely on the way. It comes a bit earlier this far north and in most years would have arrived weeks ago, just after the country fair. We’ve often shivered through Laura’s mid-August birthday, determinedly pointing at the calendar and ignoring (at our peril) Mother Nature.

Some of the leaves are beginning to turn, fuzzy brown and black caterpillars are out in full force, the meadowlarks have made their usual brief return before their eventual departure, the hummingbirds have already buzzed away, and a few geese have been spotted overhead. The nights are cooler — downright cold sometimes — and at least one neighbor has had frost on the pumpkins. The apples are looking ready, very ready, to pick, which means cider pressing time is on the way too.

These are the days when we begin to look forward to afternoons spent indoors, circled around a book of stories; when the kids are more than content to remain in the kitchen at the table after breakfast with a math book instead of racing outside, the screen door banging behind them, in search of frogs or birds or kittens. And I’m happy to spend afternoons in the kitchen, with a vat of bubbling berries or an oven full of pies, lazily looking through the Sears catalogue, in search of a few more pairs of pants that will come down past Laura’s ankles. Back to school shopping isn’t particularly frenzied around here — in fact, it’s more like a treasure hunt than anything else, for new and amazing stationery supplies and longer and warmer clothing, some of which aren’t even new, just new to us (the boys tend to get a fair amount of nifty hand-me-downs from friends, including the fancy t-shirts and sweatshirts with NHL logos I won’t shell out for).

To me That Was Summer by Marci Ridlon (1969) is the perfect end-of-the season poem. We have, at best, only a few more weeks of playing outside all day left. Because the copyright is still in force, I’ve omitted the middle two stanzas. You can find the entire poem in Joanna Cole’s New Treasury of Children’s Poetry: Old Favorites and New Discoveries (1984).

That Was Summer
by Marci Ridlon

Have you ever smelled summer?
Sure you have.
Remember that time
when you were tired of running
or doing nothing much
and you were hot
and you flopped right down on the ground?
Remember how the warm soil smelled
and the grass?
That was summer.

. . .

. . .

If you try very hard
you can remember that time
when you played outside all day
and you came home for dinner
and had to take a bath right away,
right away?
It took you a long time to pull
your shirt over your head.
Do you remember smelling the sunshine?
That was summer.

* * *

Head over (maybe that should be up, as in Up North) to John Mutford’s The Book Mine Set for today’s Poetry Friday round-up, not to mention more poems on the end of summer.

(Great minds: I see that Literacy Teacher at Mentor Texts & More picked the very same poem. Far from having the urge to pick another poem, I’ll just chalk it up to That Was Summer being the perfect poem for this week in August, whether you’re on the prairies up north or in New York City. Cheers!)

I Meant to Do My Work Today…

I missed Poetry Friday last week because the kids had their last day of performing arts camp with a show for the parents followed by lunch. Great fun for all, especially watching my two youngest dance (not together…) the samba and the tango.

The round-up for last week is at Kelly Fineman’s Writing and Ruminating. (By the way, don’t miss Kelly’s post today, where she writes and ruminates about castles and castle plans.)

This poem has been on my mind for the past few weeks.

I Meant to Do My Work Today
by Richard Le Gallienne (1866-1947)

I meant to do my work today –
But a brown bird sang in the apple tree,
And a butterfly flitted across the field,
And all the leaves were calling me.

And the wind went sighing over the land
Tossing the grasses to and fro,
And a rainbow held out its shining hand –
So what could I do but laugh and go?

* * *

Richard Thomas Le Gallienne was an English poet and critic, born in Liverpool in 1866. His circle of romanticists and Aubrey Beardsley and Oscar Wilde. He was also a member of the informal Rhymers Club of Fleet Street, established in 1890 by W.B. Yeats and Ernest Rhys, along with poets Ernest Dowson, Lionel Johnson, Arthur Symmons, John Davidson, T.W. Rolleston, Selwyn Image, and Edwin Ellis.

Widowed with a young daughter after not quite three years of marriage, in 1894 Le Gallienne married a second time, to Danish journalist Julie Norregard. They had a daughter, the noted actress, director, and producer Eva Le Gallienne, who was born in 1899. The couple divorced in 1902 and the following year Richard Le Gallienne moved to the United States, stating, “An American writer! Yes! there was my new flag waving over the doorway — the flag under which henceforward . . . I am to write my books.” Of Le Gallienne’s new enthusiasm, English critic Max Beerbohm wrote,

O witched by American bars,
Pan whistles you home on his pipes.
We love you for loving the stars,
But what can you see in the stripes?

Le Gallienne lived in the U.S. for 24 years, where he published the book of reminiscences, The Romantic ‘90’s (1925). But he was not as successful as he had hoped. According to The Dictionary of Literary Biography,

Although he made his home in the United States until 1927, his relationship to America, and to the twentieth century, was ambivalent. Having no affinity with either, he clung to old world values which, though still marketable in fashionable publications such as Cosmopolitan or Harper’s, were being left behind by writers disdainful of his sort of sentimental meditations upon daintily veiled sensuality. In 1922, the year of The Waste Land, the traditional lyrics of Le Gallienne’s A Jongleur Strayed were criticized for evading the problems of modern life. After spending over twenty-three years in New York struggling to support himself at journalism, book publishing, and lecturing, Le Gallienne became disenchanted with his adopted home where he had expected to make his literary fortune.

Le Gallienne moved to the romantic city of Paris, where he lived until 1935 and continued to avoid modernity. He wrote a weekly column, “From a Paris Garret,” for The New York Sun newspaper. These columns were collected in two volumes, From a Paris Garret (1936) and From a Paris Scrapbook (1938), Le Gallienne’s last book, which won the Commissariat General du Tourisme prize for the best book about France by a foreigner.

In 1935 he moved to the town of Menton on the French Riviera, home of a long established English colony; Le Gallienne’s old friend Aubrey Beardsley is buried in Menton’s hilltop cemetery, so too William Webb Ellis, said by some to be the inventor of Rugby (Yeats was buried in Menton as well, after his 1939 death there, but his remains were later removed to Ireland). Leaving only to spend the war years* in the safety of neutral Monte Carlo, Le Gallienne died in Menton in 1947 at the age of 81.

* According to Le Gallienne’s biographer Richard Whittington-Egan, during World War II, Le Gallienne and his third wife, “both now old and frail and frequently hungry, were offered tempting easements if he would only agree to broadcast for the Germans. Though exiled for nearly half a century, he steadfastly refused.”

All roads lead to home and hard work

“Too many parents make life hard for their children by trying, too zealously, to make it easy for them.”
German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), quoted in “The Case Against Adolescence” by Robert Epstein

I started Farm School two years ago in part because I blathered on for much too long on the subject of children and independence at L’s blog Schola. Independence, self-reliance, and responsibility are among the values Tom and I talked about teaching children when we thought about getting married. And these values are a good part of the reason I decided that it would probably be better to raise children on the Canadian prairie than Manhattan’s Upper West Side; I’m not saying it’s impossible (I think my parents did a fabulous job), but 40 years on it seems rather easier in this neck of the woods.

While we didn’t start homeschooling with the idea that it would be a good way of further inculcating those values, it didn’t take Tom and me long to realize that this educational experiment is as ideal for our child-rearing purposes as it is for our academic ones. And I’m always keen to read anything that supports our rather old-fashioned notions when it comes to raising kids.

So I was more than interested to learn a couple of months ago, at Susan’s blog Corn & Oil, about the new book, The Case Against Adolescence: Rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen (Quill Driver Books, 2007) by Robert Epstein, a psychologist and former editor-in-chief of Pyschology Today magazine. The idea behind the book is that (from the front flap)

teen turmoil is caused by outmoded systems put in place a century ago which destroyed the continuum between childhood and adulthood.

Where this continuum still exists in other countries, there is no adolescence. Isolated from adults, American teens learn everything they know from their media-dominated peers — “the last people on earth they should be learning from,” says Epstein.

Which, in my case at least, means the good doctor is preaching to the converted. While I tend to think that part of the problem with the way kids are being raised is that they are being raised by advice from books rather than from parents’ hearts or instincts or the way they themselves were raised by their own parents (somehow that all seems too easy…), at least there seem to be some better parenting books to choose from nowadays, including Dr. Epstein’s. And as you can see from the bit above, The Case Against Adolescence contains echoes of Hold On to Your Kids by Dr. Gordon Neufeld and Dr. Gabor Mate, another book I like, though I don’t find mention of the title or authors in the index.

But I’ve already found, just partway through chapter three, mention of the two home education gurus, former New York public school teacher John Taylor Gatto and the late John Holt; a peek at the index shows three mentions of “Home Schooling” toward the end of the book. Dr. Epstein notes that Gatto addresses “quite explicitly, … the artificial extension of childhood” in his latest book, The Underground History of American Education (an excerpt of which was published in Harper’s Magazine in September 2003, and which I saw the very week I hit upon the alternative of home schooling for Laura. Yes, I took it as a good omen).

The Case Against Adolescence owes a considerable debt to Jean Liedloff’s 1977 classic, The Continuum Concept: In Search of Lost Happiness, which I read while pregnant with Laura, after coming across a secondhand copy at a library book sale. Indeed, the CC website’s main page features glowing quotes about the book from both Dr. Epstein (“This book is the work of a genius” in Psychology Today) and John Holt (“I don’t know whether the world can be saved by a book, but if it could be, this might just be the book.”)

Just last night, I read Dr. Epstein’s handy summary of Liedloff’s two years with the Yequana Indians of Venezuela:

There is no distinct separation between childhood and adulthood in the tribe; instead, there is a continuum of activities, behaviors, and expectations. Expectations are modest when children are young and increase gradually and smoothly over the years, but the goals are always clear: the development of self-reliance and the full integration of the child into the world of responsible adulthood. Responsibility and authority are never forced on anyone, but they’re given freely as soon as a child shows an interest in taking them on. Independent decision making is encouraged, because “leaving the choice to the child from the earliest age keeps his judgment at peak efficiency,” and the child’s “self protecting ability” is trusted to keep him or her from serious harm.

In contrast, she says, we weaken and damage our children by overprotecting them; we even impair their ability to make reasonable decisions and to protect themselves.

And then, still mulling over the development of this “self-protecting ability” this morning, I happened upon today’s New York Times article on claims of possible child abuse in connection with Kid Nation, a new show to air in September:

The ads promoting “Kid Nation,” a new reality show coming to CBS next month, extol the incredible experience of a group of 40 children, ages 8 to 15, who built a sort of idealistic society in a New Mexico ghost town, free of adults. For 40 days the children cooked their own meals, cleaned their own outhouses, formed a government and ran their own businesses, all without adult intervention or participation.

To at least one parent of a participant, who wrote a letter of complaint to New Mexico state officials after the show had completed production, the experience bordered on abuse and neglect. Several children required medical attention after drinking bleach that had been left in an unmarked soda bottle, according to both the parent and CBS. One 11-year-old girl burned her face with splattered grease while cooking.

The children were made to haul wagons loaded with supplies for more than a mile through the New Mexico countryside, and they worked long hours — “from the crack of dawn when the rooster started crowing” until at least 9:30 p.m., according to Taylor, a 10-year-old from Sylvester, Ga., who was made available by CBS to respond to questions about conditions on the set.

I also came across a Los Angeles Times article from last week, “Kid Nation” parents: What were they thinking?, where three women were interviewed to “respond to the critics condemning them for allowing their children to participate in the CBS show”. Said one mother, about her 10-year-old, an only child,

He does live in what I call a sheltered environment. He goes to a small school. Most of the schoolmates and friends that he knows he’s known almost his entire life. I thought that this was a good opportunity for Zachary to experience some independence and learn some self-reliance. And if he was able to do this, I thought that was a very good way for him to build confidence in himself.

I worry that in today’s world kids don’t realize things they might have to face in life that might be difficult because, I think, as baby boomers we tend to be very protective of them. And I want him to know that he has the capability to be out in the world and be independent and self-reliant.

All this of course after I’ve spent the past few weeks on and off delightedly wallowing in Mildred Armstrong Kalish’s charming memoir, Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression. Unvarnished and homespun, these are the stories, words, and advice of a real grandmother eager to share her own part of a disappearing world, and to let later generations know the lasting value of pulling up your socks and putting your nose to the grindstone. As I read through each of the chapters, from her earliest reminiscences to the recipes to her later life as detailed in Epilogue, I realized that Mrs. Kalish has written about a happiness and freedom in childhood, and a contentment in adulthood, that today are sadly rare. From Little Heathens,

The summer after I graduated from eighth grade I … was delighted to go to work as a hired girl on a large farm south of [the town of] Garrison. The family consisted of Cecil, Anna, and their two girls and four boys, ranging in age from one and a half to eleven. Cecil hired one or two extra men in the summer. That meant that Ann and I cooked, set the table, and did the dishes for at least ten people, three times a day.

Anna paid me four dollars a week for my work on the farm, and I was especially proud of that for my closest girlfriends and all of my other friends were being paid only three and a half dollars. Of course, we all received room and board, too.

Here I should report that we were also accepted as full-fledged members of the family, for hired girls were not treated as maids. In fact, I was the only one in this family who had a private room. Located at the top of the crooked stairs, it was about five feet wide by ten feet long, and it had a window overlooking the huge vegetable garden. To me it was a palace.

During those summer months we rose at five-thirty A.M., unless it was haying or threshing time on the farm; then we got up at four-thirty. Anna and I timed it so that we got up just after the men, who immediately disappeared to the barns to do the morning chores. Anna built a fire in the iron kitchen range, while I put the copper teakettle on along with the gray, graniteware coffee boiler and got the bacon started. As the kitchen filled with the delicious fragrance of the bacon crisping and browning, I carried jam, a whole pound of butter, sliced bread, a large pitcher of milk, and a smaller pitcher of heavy cream to the table, which was already set for ten people. Then I carefully broke twenty eggs into a mixing bowl and waited for one of the boys to report that the men were ready for breakfast. At that point I poured the blow of eggs into the gigantic iron skillet and fried them to perfection in bacon fat, sunny-side up.

If there was a delay, or if the men had an especially busy day before them, I might make an applesauce cake — the very one I described in an earlier chapter. Here again, the family training in thinking ahead and always doing more than was required stood me in good stead. I could whip up that cake in just a few minutes since I kept a ready supply of homemade applesauce in the pantry; it would bake while we were eating breakfast and would be ready to eat with our second cups of coffee.

I could handle almost every task in Anna’s household; I could even make gravy without lumps, for heaven’s sake. There was always something to do on that farm: cakes, cookies, and pies to bake; potatoes, radishes, beets, carrots, peas, lettuce, tomatoes, and beans to pick, wash, clean, and peel; chickens to kill, scald, pluck, singe, draw, and disjoint; dishes to wash and dry; clothing to wash; laundry to be hung on the line, then taken down from the line, folded, and ironed. And every day, we made beds for ten people. Everything I had learned in my early years [up until eighth grade] I put to use as a hired girl for this family.

The children all helped in as many ways as they could. They would make their own beds, wash vegetables, carry wood and water, set the table, dry dishes, and gather eggs and apples. Like the children I grew up with, they understood that hey played a part in making the family work.

We had fun with one another. There was a lot of joking, laughing, and good-natured teasing. And often in the evening, on those occasions when we had somehow managed to finish our chores as well as our supper before dark, the kids would hep me with the dishes if I would agree to come outside afterward and play with them. We played hide-and-go-seek, touched-you-last, and may-I. Some evenings we would have water fights, tossing pails of water on one another. Or we might just sit out on the front porch and sing.

Or, as The New York Times article on alleged child abuse concluded,

“Everyone usually had a job,” said Mike, an 11-year-old from Bellevue, Wash., who participated in the show. Among them were cooking, cleaning, hauling water and running the stores, where, he said: “It was hard work, but it was really good. It taught us all that life is not all play and no work.”

Taylor, from Georgia, agreed. “I learned I have to work for what I want,” she said.

I’m sure both Mrs. Kalish and Dr. Epstein would approve. Pass the applesauce cake, please.

(Very likely more thoughts to come on The Case Against Adolescence, and Little Heathens, in upcoming posts.)

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