• 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)
  • Categories

  • Archives

  • ChasDarwinHasAPosse
  • Farm School: A Twitter-Free Zone

    antitwit
  • Copyright © 2005-2014 Please do not use any of my words or my personal photographs without my express permission.

An alternative education

First up on this morning’s CBC Radio “Sunday Edition” show, my favorite weekend listening, was host Michael Enright’s interview with film critic and writer David Gilmour, author of the just-published The Film Club: A True Story of a Father and a Son. Film Club is Mr. Gilmour’s account of his decision, several years ago, to let his son drop out of high school. What he kept coming back to during the radio interview was his son’s need for time.

I found a very good review by Ian McGillis in yesterday’s Montreal Gazette, entitled “Learning from film: A father, a son and an unusual education“. From which,

It’s the kind of thing a movie producer would label “high concept.” A father, at his wits’ end over his teenage son’s extreme aversion to anything classroom-related, suggests that the son drop out of high school on the condition that the two of them watch three films per week, together, for two years. [The other condition was no drugs.]

But this is no movie. The father is David Gilmour, award-winning novelist and former CBC film critic, the son is [16]-year-old Jesse. And their experiment, for which the term “hare-brained” might seemingly have been coined, has turned out against all reasonable expectations to make for a book that’s insightful, surprising and, yes, moving.

It’s a handy hook, of course, that the mere idea of what Gilmour has his son do is sure to cause the taking of mass umbrage by good parents everywhere. It’s not as though Gilmour isn’t aware of this. Even at an advanced stage in the program, when it’s too late to undo, he’s attacked by doubts: “What if I’d allowed him to f–k up his entire life under some misinformed theory that might just be laziness with a smart-ass spin on it?” What if, indeed.

On the surface, Jesse does provide plenty of cause for concern. He has very little sense of geography. (“The United States are right across the lake?” asks the lifelong Torontonian.) He takes his loves and his lost loves extremely seriously and — surprise, surprise — he wants to be a rapper.

But this young man, we come to see, has hidden reserves. The child may never quite become father to the man, but at many times, the dynamic is much more big brother-little brother than Pop and Junior.

The films they watch, handpicked by the father, range from undisputed classics (Citizen Kane) to French New Wave standbys (The 400 Blows) to outright kitsch (Showgirls). It’s a commendably catholic list, though Gilmour père proves utterly unable to predict which films might set his enigmatic son alight. Jesse’s blank response to A Hard Day’s Night, starring Dad’s beloved Beatles, is priceless. But then, the author surprises himself no less on revisiting some old touchstones. “Some films let you down; you must have been in love or heartbroken, you must have been wound up about something when you saw them because now, viewed from a different trajectory, there’s no magic left.”

An index at the end lists nearly 150 films mentioned, but the book somehow never feels weighted down with the references. In fact, in what may or may not be a coincidence, at about the time the reader begins to tire of the device, so do the participants. But that’s fine, because by then, it’s the relationship we really care about. …

In fact, after three years, Jesse rose off the couch and decided that he was indeed interested in further education. He is now 21 and attending university in Toronto.

And an excerpt from yesterday’s Globe & Mail review by Charles Wilkins:

…Gilmour’s intimate and free-wheeling book is, in large part, the story of the role he played in his son Jesse’s life (and vice-versa) when the teenager crashed out of high school at 16 and seemed headed for what Gilmour refers to as “a bad life.”

In a stroke of strategic educational genius (and of optimal deployment of his own fascinations and resources), the writer offered his son freedom from school and employment on the condition that the boy join him in watching and discussing a minimum of three feature films a week.

The deal was made, and over a period of three years, the films became a curriculum unto themselves, a varied and fascinating syllabus rich in ideas, social values, character study, history, geography, family, ethics, music — and, of course, in the import of filmmaking and art, of dramatic writing and acting and directing.

As Jesse learns, we learn — about Hitchcock and Kubrick and Truffaut; and Brando and Bogart and Hepburn; Annie Hall, On the Waterfront, The Godfather. Gilmour was once a film commentator for CBC Television, and his knowledge of the art and industry is both rangy and deep — and is happily charged with anecdotal vigour and gossip.

“I knew I wasn’t giving Jesse a systematic education,” he writes. “We could as easily have gone skin diving or collected stamps. The films simply served as an occasion to spend time together, hundreds of hours, as well as a door-opener for all manner of conversational topics — Rebecca, Zoloft, dental floss, Vietnam, impotence, cigarettes.”

The book is also the story of the travails of a middle-aged writer who, at the time the action takes place, was, by his own admission, down on his luck, and is painfully honest about it. At one point, when other options have been exhausted, he seeks work as a bicycle courier, and is turned down – too old. (It bears mentioning that Gilmour’s luck changed dramatically in 2005 when he won the Governor-General’s Award for Fiction for his novel A Perfect Night to Go to China.)

And a helpful caution from The Globe & Mail,

…there were points at which I felt as if I were reading through a keyhole and that, given the context, there was simply too much grovelling over “relationships,” over “the game,” over “chicks,” which unfortunately detracts from the book’s erstwhile innocence and integrity. …

In the end, a majority of the pages in the book might more appropriately have appeared under the title The Dating Club or The Mating Club than The Film Club.

And yet the book is meaningful, is insightful, is valuable. On a social level alone, it challenges our notions of education, of productivity, of high schools that have fallen catastrophically behind in their capability to inspire young men. It is, what’s more, a compelling, often tender account of a parent’s deep concern for his child.

Blogging from Burma

In some cases, you’ll need to scroll down through the question marks for photographs and posts.

Burma-Myanma Genocide 2007; last post, Saturday, Sept. 29

ko htike’s prosaic collection; last post, Saturday, Sept. 29

Sone Sea Yar; last post, Saturday, Sept. 29

MoeMaKa — Myanmar Burmese News, Media and Literature Site; last post, Saturday, Sept. 29

NIknayman; last post, Saturday, Sept. 29

Myanmar Media, Education & Development Watch; last post, Saturday, Sept. 29

Lwin Moe’s blog; last post, Saturday, Sept. 29

helen-louise’s Burma blog; last post, Friday, Sept. 28

Dawn’s blog; last post, Thursday, Sept. 27

Satedat; last post, Thursday, Sept. 27

Mogok Media; last post, Monday, Sept. 24

Burmese Daze; last post, Saturday, Sept. 22

Poetry Friday: A plea for the classics, for ambitious boys (and girls)

A Plea for the Classics
by Eugene Field (1850-1895)

A Boston gentleman declares,
By all the gods above, below,
That our degenerate sons and heirs
Must let their Greek and Latin go!
Forbid, O Fate, we loud implore,
A dispensation harsh as that;
What! wipe away the sweets of yore;
The dear “Amo, amas, amat”?

The sweetest hour the student knows
Is not when poring over French,
Or twisted in Teutonic throes,
Upon a hard collegiate bench;
‘T is when on roots and kais* and gars**
He feeds his soul and feels it glow,
Or when his mind transcends the stars
With “Zoa mou, sas agapo”!***

So give our bright, ambitious boys
An inkling of these pleasures, too —
A little smattering of the joys
Their dead and buried fathers knew;
And let them sing — while glorying that
Their sires so sang, long years ago —
The songs “Amo, amas, amat,”
And “Zoa mou, sas agapo”!

* “ands”, in Greek
** “fors”, in Greek
*** More Greek (the refrain from Lord Byron’s poem Maid of Athens, “Zoë mou, sas agapo”, or, “My life, I love you”)

* * * *

Known during his brief lifetime as “the children’s poet”, Eugene Field was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1850, the son of lawyer Roswell Martin Field and Frances Reed Field; Roswell M. Field defended the fugitive slave Dred Scott in the first trial of 1853. When Mrs. Field died three years later, Eugene and his brother, Roswell Jr., were sent to Amherst, Massachusetts, to be raised by a cousin and a paternal aunt; of his upbringing there, Field wrote, “It is almost impossible for a man to get rid of his Puritan grandfathers and nobody who has ever had one has ever escaped his Puritan grandmother.” According to his teachers, Eugene was an intelligent boy but more fond of pranks and practical jokes than studying. However, after Eugene’s death, his brother Roswell recalled,

It is in no sense depreciatory of my brother’s attainments in life to say that he gave no evidence of precocity in his studies in childhood. On the contrary he was somewhat slow in development, though this was due not so much to a lack of natural ability — he learned easily and quickly when so disposed — as to a fondness for the hundred diversions which occupy a wide-awake boy’s time.

and

For a few years my brother attended a private school for boys in Amherst; then, at the age of fourteen, he was entrusted to the care of Rev. James Tufts, of Monson, one of those noble instructors of the blessed old school who are passing away from the arena of education in America. By Mr. Tufts he was fitted for college, and from the enthusiasm of this old scholar he caught perhaps the inspiration for the love of the classics which he carried through life. In the fall of 1868 he entered Williams College — the choice was largely accidental — and remained there one year

until the death of their father. Eugene moved to Illinois to attend Knox College, where the college’s Children’s and Young Adult Literature magazine is named Wynken, Blynken and Nod in Field’s honor; according to the magazine’s website, “His independent, free-spirited personality was apparently too much for the conservative college of the 19th century and he left without completing a degree” after one year. Brother Roswell agreed, writing about “the restlessness which was so characteristic of him in youth.” Eugene Field transferred for the final time, also without graduating, to the University of Missouri. After dabbling a bit in acting and the law, he proposed marriage to fourteen-year-old Julia Sutherland Comstock and embarked on a tour of Europe during which he spent his entire $8,000 inheritance from his father; as he told friends upon his return, “I spent six months and my patrimony in France, Italy, Ireland, and England.”

In 1873, he joined the staff of The St. Louis Journal as a reporter and married Miss Comstock, with whom he would have a happy union and eight children. He moved on, as writer and editor, to The St. Joseph Gazette (Missouri), followed by The Kansas City Times and The Denver Tribune. In 1883, he was enticed to join The Chicago Daily News with the promise of writing “exactly what I please on any subject I please”, which turned into his column “Sharps and Flats” (1883-95). Indeed, Field is considered the first newspaper columnist, and one of the most successful.

Eugene Field’s column, along with books such as A Little Book of Western Verse (1889) and Love Songs of Childhood (1894), brought him national fame. In 1892, he and his brother, a journalist and critic, collaborated on a translation from the works of the poet Horace, Echoes from the Sabine Farm (the nickname of Eugene’s Chicago house). Field’s love of the classics and sense of humor led him to write some verses that were most certainly not for children, including “The Truth about Horace“.

Field was further celebrated, and remains known today, for his whimsical children’s verse, including the poems “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod“, “The Ride to Bumpville”, “The Duel“, “The Sugar Plum Tree“, and “Little Boy Blue“. His works for children came out of his fervent belief that the young imagination should be encouraged with fancy and make-believe, and according to all reports Field was an indulgent husband and father, and his home and family life were remarkably happy.

Eugene Field died in his sleep of heart failure in 1895, at the age of 45. In 1902, Mark Twain dedicated a plaque marking the St. Louis, Missouri, house in which Field was born; earlier this year the building was designated a National Historic Landmark. In 1922, a bronze statue in Eugene Field’s memory was erected in Lincoln Park, Chicago, of a winged fairy and two sleeping children (inspired by Field’s poem “The Rock-a-By Lady“. The statue, by American sculptor Edward McCartan, was raised with the help of children in Chicago and across the country.

More of Eugene Field’s poetry can be found online here.

Gina at AmoxCalli has today’s Poetry Friday round-up. Thanks, Gina! Speaking of classics, don’t forget that AmoxCalli has the feature, “Reviewing the Classics of Children’s Literature” — good stuff!

Gearing up for the Cybils

As I wrote last week, the Cybils are back, the Cybils are back!

I’m delighted to be on the Middle Grade/Young Adult Nonfiction committee, wrangled and organized by Jen Robinson, on the nominating panel along with

Mindy at Proper Noun Dot Net
Susan Thomsen at Chicken Spaghetti
KT Horning at Worth the Trip
Vivian at HipWriterMama

Following up later will be the Judging Panel, comprised of

Tracy Chrenka at Talking in the Library
Emily Mitchell at Emily Reads
Camille Powell at Book Moot
Alice Herold at Big A little a
Jennie Rothschild at Biblio File

As a reminder about how wonderful this category is, last year’s winner was

Freedom Walkers: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott by Russell Freedman

and the rest of the short list included

Escape! The Story of the Great Houdini by Sid Fleischman
Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon by Catherine Thimmesh
Immersed in Verse: An Informative, Slightly Irreverent & Totally Tremendous Guide to Living the Poet’s Life by Alan Wolf
Isaac Newton by Kathleen Krull (from her Giants of Science series)

For information on all of the other categories, including poetry (which has a fond place in my heart, and where I see Elaine Magliaro at Wild Rose Reader and Sylvia Vardell at Poetry for Children are holding down the fort!) and interviews with various participants, head over to the Cybils blog.

Nominations in all categories open on Monday, October 1st, so put your thinking caps on. The categories include picture books (fiction), picture books (nonfiction), poetry, middle grade & young adult nonfiction, middle grade fiction, young adult fiction, graphic novels, and fantasy & science fiction.

A final note: I usually include links from Amazon.com when I write about books, not because I think that’s where you should buy your books, but because their listings seem to be the most comprehensive of the ones online, more so than the wonderful Powells which continues to be a dandy place to buy books in the US and the terrific Chinaberry which is thorough but highly selective (not a bad thing at all), and more so even than Amazon.ca, whose website is a shadow of its American self. Amazon.com’s “Search Inside this Book” feature is pretty nifty, too, especially for those of us living in the back of beyond, far from any bookstores, independent, big box/chain or otherwise. Well, as long as we’re not limping along with dial-up service.

Fall fun around the kidlitosphere

All aboard to Take a Ride on the Reading Railroad, the latest Carnival of Children’s Literature hosted by Charlotte’s Library. So put away the Monopoly board for now and get reading!

And a bit late (sorry…) — the September issue of The Edge of the Forest is up, with many features. I was delighted to find Kelly Herold‘s discussion of the different Anglo-American versions of Baba Yaga tales in her article, “Baba Yaga Heads West“. Lots of other good stuff, too!

Also, a reminder that the deadline for LiteracyTeacher‘s Picture Book Carnival, Part 3 is coming up. Submissions are due by Friday, October 5.

And two new blogs of note from new-to-me homeschoolers,

Learning. Living. Books!, with two posts so far, “What Are ‘Living Books’?” and “Twaddle Dee, Twaddle Dum”

A Storybook Life, KalexaLott’s thoughts on nature, children’s literature, poetry, and simple wonder.

Lawn darts, slingshots, and pellet guns, oh my…

Not to mention lead-filled toy soldiers.

“Hasbro gets Dangerous”, Toy News Online reports. But no fear of boys putting their eyes out or requiring stitches, because Hasbro’s idea is to “develop board and travel games based on the hugely successful book brand”:

Andrew Lane, licensing director at Hasbro, said: “The book is fantastic, a fabulous concept and rich in material with which we can develop some great games”.

“We have established a key partnership with Hasbro, the first of many internationally renowned licensees we shall be signing. Our aim is simple, to make The Dangerous Book for Boys the best boys licensed brand ever” said Charlie Donaldson at Rocket Licensing.

Dessert time

For Karen, because it’s chocolate, it’s as easy as a boxed mix, and a six-and-a-half year-old can make it (also a mother with a head cold and cough who needs to put dessert on the table for company now):

Wacky Cake (from The New York Times, sometime in the early 1990s…)

3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
½ cup cocoa
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. vinegar
2 tsp. vanilla
⅔ cup vegetable oil
2 cups cold water

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a 9-by-13-inch cake pan [I do ours in a 9x9 or 10x10 metal pan], mix all dry ingredients with a fork; be sure to get in the edges. Smooth them out and make three holes. Put the vinegar in one hole, the vanilla in another and the oil in the third. Then cover the whole thing with the water. Mix it all up with a fork until the lumps are gone.

3. Bake 40 or 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

And some autumnal treats from Baking for Britain, one of my favorite baking blogs, inspired by the 30-pound box of apples in my kitchen (next to the 30-pound box of Bosc pears, to be canned and poached, and the 10 pounds of Oxheart plums — and yes, they do look like bloody hearts):

Welsh Harvest Cake (Teisen y Cynhaeaf), best served warm

Apple Gingerbread with Cinnamon Icing

Herefordshire Cider Cake

Dorset Apple Cake

The pears, and all this talk of chocolate, remind me that it might be time for Laurie Colwin‘s chocolate pear pudding recipe, which she originally found in Josceline Dimbleby’s Book of Puddings, Desserts and Savouries (out of print but still sounding delightfully English and onm the verge of made-up), “a treasured text now falling apart. … The recipes are uncomplicated and delicious.” The recipe as Laurie Colwin wrote it up in More Home Cooking,

You peel, core, and slice think (or cut into chunks) 1 pound of pears, which you arrange on the bottom of a buttered baking dish, sprinkle with sugar, and dot with about 2 tablespoons of butter. You then mix together ¾ cup floor, 1 generous tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder, ½ teaspoon baking soda, ½ teaspoon baking powder, a scant ¾ cup dark brown sugar, 2 tablespoons Lyle’s Golden Syrup (now generally available), 1 large egg, beaten, 4 tablespoons melted butter, and ¼ cup milk and beat it all into a batter. The whole performance takes about 20 minutes. Pour the batter on top of the pears and bake the pudding for 45 to 50 minutes in a 325 F. oven. This pudding can be eaten hot, cold, or at room temperature and is especially good with ice cream.

Look what I just found: two of my very favorite things together, Laurie Colwin on Chocolate.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 64 other followers