• 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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Milton at 400

Jonathan Rosen in The New Yorker (June 2, 2008) on “The enduring relevance of John Milton” [links mine]:

This year is the four-hundredth anniversary of Milton’s birth, and there are a host of Milton books to mark the occasion: the Modern Library has brought out “The Complete Poetry and Essential Prose,” edited by William Kerrigan, John Rumrich, and Stephen M. Fallon, and not long ago Oxford University Press published an edition of “Paradise Lost” introduced by Philip Pullman, whose young-adult trilogy “His Dark Materials” draws its title and much of its mythic energy from “Paradise Lost.” (Titles involving sight and blindness often come from Milton: “Look Homeward, Angel,” “Eyeless in Gaza,” “Darkness at Noon,” “Darkness Visible.”) There is a new edition of “Paradise Lost” edited by the scholar Barbara Lewalski, whose monumental biography of the poet came out a few years ago, and Oxford is launching an eleven-volume series of all Milton’s works, edited by Thomas Corns and Gordon Campbell. Corns and Campbell are also jointly publishing a biography of Milton in time for the birthday, later this year, and Corns is editing “The Milton Encyclopedia,” for Yale University Press. A new critical study by the Princeton scholar Nigel Smith bears the provocative title “Is Milton Better Than Shakespeare?,” and there has been a recent spate of books with titles like “Why Milton Matters” and “Milton in Popular Culture,” pointing out Milton’s influence on everyone from Malcolm X, who read “Paradise Lost” in prison and identified with Satan, to Helen Keller, who created the John Milton Society for the Blind. “Milton in Popular Culture” reminds the reader that in the movie “Animal House,” Donald Sutherland’s Professor Jennings gives a lecture on “Paradise Lost,” taking a bite of an apple as he suggests that the Devil has more fun, before confessing to his unresponsive students that even “Mrs. Milton found Milton boring,” and so does he.

That judgment, alas, still clings to Milton. Never mind that there were actually three Mrs. Miltons, and that Milton, who defended divorce and even polygamy, was a sensuous Puritan, exquisitely attuned to the “amorous delay” of life in Eden: Adam and Eve have sex in the garden before they eat the apple. Never mind that Milton participated in an earthshattering revolution in which he defended the killing of a king; that he was a radical poet who, though he had imaginative power to burn, put aside his art for a decade of political activism. Never mind that he survived imprisonment, the threat of execution and assassination, the plague and the Great Fire of London, and, blind and disillusioned, dictated the greatest long poem in the English language.

Read the rest here, including this bit,

As a boy, Milton was so studious that, he later recalled, from his twelfth birthday on “scarcely ever did I leave my studies for my bed before the hour of midnight” — thus laying the foundation for vast erudition and eventual blindness. Alongside the usual Latin and Greek, Milton received instruction in French, Italian, and Hebrew, and perhaps even Aramaic and Syriac. His father, who was a gifted musician known for his psalm arrangements, also made sure that his son had a thorough musical education.

and this,

In America, where God and the Devil live alongside Western rationalism, Milton seems right at home. After the attacks of September 11th, it was possible to find Milton invoked to remind us of the nature of absolute evil—his Satan really is a model terrorist, who, having abandoned hope of a happy home, devotes his energy to destroying the lives of others—and at the same time quoted to uphold the rights of individuals whose distasteful views might be curtailed during a time of war. Milton’s spirit, mingling prophetic zealotry with a sort of pragmatic humanism, is thoroughly woven into the fabric of American life. Like other disappointed Puritans, Milton might easily have sailed for the literal New World, but he instead settled for an imaginary one that was to exert a strong influence on America’s Founding Fathers. (In Thomas Jefferson’s literary commonplace book, Milton appears more than any other poet.) He shares traits both with the first theocratic European settlers and with the Enlightenment figures of a century later, combining an urge for Biblical fulfillment with an urge for radical new beginnings.

We’re a hard-boiled bunch

Laura was looking over my shoulder this morning as I was tapping away about elites and suddenly started humming. I couldn’t quite place the song, so I asked her to sing the words, which had come to her little pointy head so quickly because she knows the movie so well and also just read the book by Jean Webster. So here, courtesy of my good egg who knows her pop culture (yes, we know we’re about 50 years behind the times; it’s fine by me because I tend to think it should be “tummy in, sweater out” rather than “tummy out, sweater up”), is the Johnny Mercer song from the 1955 movie musical Daddy Long Legs, which the girls at fictional Walston College sing to the orphan Julie on her arrival:

“Welcome Egghead”

Welcome, egghead!
Wipe that smile off your face,
Never speak until you’re spoken to.

What an egghead!
You’re an egghead,
But you’re soon gonna be hard-boiled.

Blow your nose, dry your ears,
Get up and salute when a senior appears,
Move your feet, get out the lead,
Put a hat on to cover the point on your head.

Tummy in, sweater out,
And eliminate that supercilious pout.
But since you are a lady, dear,
You’re very welcome here.

Welcome, egghead,
You’re an egghead,
But you’re soon gonna be hard-boiled.

Census time

I was reading through the June 2008 issue of Harrowsmith Country Life magazine from the library last night when I happened on an article about on the Canadian FrogWatch program (page 12).  Since the sound of the frogs around our house, especially with the slough across the road, has been deafening some days (at times it sounds as if the Martians are landing, with very squeaky, very noisy helicopters), it sounds like a good project for us, especially for the kids.  And something else to watch, and listen, to, along with our painted lady butterflies (Hornblower is watching them, too).

According to the NatureWatch website, becoming a Frogwatch volunteer observer in Alberta at least is

very easy. All you need to do is learn the frog and toad calls, choose a location to listen for calls, record your observations, and send your observations to us via our website, telephone, fax, or by mail. Your information will be entered into a database and you will be able to view a map showing your observation location and the location of other Frogwatch volunteers in Alberta.

There’s information available for the other provinces as well.  In Alberta, we have until the end of June for monitoring, so guess what we’ll be doing next month.  After we take the nifty frog and toad identification tutorial, of course, and register.

I think we’re also going to sign up for the PlantWatch program, and possibly even the National Worm Survey.

Eggheads unite, or, Democracy for Dummies

I’m an egghead, I’m an egghead,
I’m an egghead happily.
And I’d rather be an egghead
Than a bonehead G.O.P.

Sung to the tune of “Oh My Darling Clementine” in 1956 by supporters of Adlai Stevenson

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I’ve been watching former Wal-Mart director and self-styled woman of the people Hillary Clinton, who with her husband earns approximately $16 million annually, with increasing embarrassment and shame lately, and wondering if perhaps Susan Jacoby would surface to say anything. As you may know, last fall saw the publication Ms. Jacoby’s book, The Age of American Unreason, which is more or less an updating of Anti-Intellectualism in American Life by Richard Hofstadter, along the lines of plus ça change. Which I suppose makes me elite, if not effete, at least in Kentucky. Or should that be élite? As an aside, once upon a time, long before I arrived in in this corner of Alberta, our little town had a popular eating spot called the Elite Cafe, called by locals “The Ee-Light”.

So I was happy to see Ms. Jacoby’s op-ed column in today’s New York Times, “Best Is the New Worst” (registration is free or use Bug Me Not):

Pity the poor word “elite,” which simply means “the best” as an adjective and “the best of a group” as a noun. What was once an accolade has turned poisonous in American public life over the past 40 years, as both the left and the right have twisted it into a code word meaning “not one of us.” But the newest and most ominous wrinkle in the denigration of all things elite is that the slur is being applied to knowledge itself.

Senator Hillary Clinton’s use of the phrase “elite opinion” to dismiss the near unanimous opposition of economists to her proposal for a gas tax holiday was a landmark in the use of elite to attack expertise supposedly beyond the comprehension of average Americans. One might as well say that there is no point in consulting musicians about music or ichthyologists about fish.

The assault on “elite” did not begin with politicians, although it does have political antecedents in sneers directed at “eggheads” during the anti-Communist crusades of the 1950s [psst...think Nixon]. The broader cultural perversion of its meaning dates from the late 1960s, when the academic left pinned the label on faculty members who resisted the establishment of separate departments for what were then called “minority studies.” In this case, two distinct faculty groups were tarred with elitism — those who wanted to incorporate black and women’s studies into the core curriculum, and those who thought that blacks and women had produced nothing worthy of study. Instead of elitist, the former group should have been described as “inclusionary” and the latter as “bigoted.”

The second stage of elite-bashing was conceived by the cultural and political right. Conservative intellectuals who rose to prominence during the Reagan administration managed the neat trick of reversing the ’60s usage of “elite” by applying it as a slur to the left alone. “Elite,” often rendered in the plural, became synonymous with “limousine liberals” who opposed supposedly normative American values. That the right-wing intellectual establishment also constituted a powerful elite was somehow obscured.

“Elite” and “elitist” do not, in a dictionary sense, mean the same thing. An elitist is someone who does believe in government by an elite few — an anti-democratic philosophy that has nothing to do with elite achievement. But the terms have become so conflated that Americans have come to consider both elite and elitist synonyms for snobbish.

All the older forms of elite-bashing have now devolved into a kind of aggressive denial of the threat to American democracy posed by public ignorance.

During the past few months, I have received hundreds of e-mail messages calling me an elitist for drawing attention to America’s knowledge deficit. One of the most memorable came from a man who objected to my citation of a statistic, from a 2006 National Geographic-Roper survey, indicating that nearly two-thirds of Americans age 18 to 24 cannot find Iraq on a map. “Why should I care whether my mechanic knows where Iraq is, as long as he knows how to fix my car?” the man asked.

But what could be more elitist than the idea that a mechanic cannot be expected to know the location of a country where thousands of Americans of his own generation are fighting and dying?

Another peculiar new use of “elitist” (often coupled with “Luddite”) is its application to any caveats about the Internet as a source of knowledge. After listening to one of my lectures, a college student told me that it was elitist to express alarm that one in four Americans, according to the National Constitution Center, cannot name any First Amendment rights or that 62 percent cannot name the three branches of government. “You don’t need to have that in your head,” the student said, “because you can just look it up on the Web.”

True, but how can an information-seeker know what to look for if he or she does not know that the Bill of Rights exists? There is no point-and-click formula for accumulating a body of knowledge needed to make sense of isolated facts.

It is past time to retire the sliming of elite knowledge and education from public discourse. Do we want mediocre schools or the best education for our children? If we need an operation, do we want an ordinary surgeon or the best, most elite surgeon available?

America was never imagined as a democracy of dumbness. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were written by an elite group of leaders, and although their dream was limited to white men, it held the seeds of a future in which anyone might aspire to the highest — let us say it out loud, elite — level of achievement.

Also happy to read the always fascinating and thought-provoking Stanley Crouch, who wrote a Daily News column the other week, “Enemies of ‘elite’ Barack Obama show contempt for education”. From which,

Nothing has been quite as exciting and as disappointing or even disgusting as the grand drama of this Democratic contest for the nomination. …

As Patrick Buchanan predicted, the only hope for Obama’s foes was to knock him off of his pedestal and into the mud-wrestling we have seen define our politics. But the Rev. Jeremiah Wright was the big bomb that didn’t quite go off.

Wright’s ethnic Gong Show — and the vast right-wing conspiracy that Hillary Clinton joined when she helped to give it credence — may have allowed Clinton to greasily slip through the door of victory in Indiana, but it raised issues that should make us stop on a dime.

Columbia- and Harvard-educated, bad-bowling Obama is an elite, the conservatives – and the Clintons – claim. He is out of touch with the working class, they say.

It has become commonplace for the predictable millionaire puppets of Fox News and their conservative talk radio counterparts to present themselves as the voices of the working class in combat with an educated elite from places like Harvard.

But beneath those cliches fester ideas that are deeply anti-democratic.

They are anti-democratic because they scoff at this basic truth: Education is the key to social mobility in our country. The stereotyped working class has no innate limits. It has produced the majority of doctors, engineers, architects, educators and others who realized the dreams of their families by studying hard and moving into careers quite different from those of their parents and their neighbors.

Education has always been viewed as suspect by everyone from slave owners to totalitarians. Wherever in the world you find them, they share one hostility: They hate books.

The presidency is not an Academy Award for Best Performance as a bowler, a fast food gobbler, a whisky and beer guzzler, a hard-hat-wearer or a hunter. We ought to know how far leadership capabilities are from surfaces, slogans and costumes.

And we should be ever suspicious of anyone or any group that scorns education, that pretends to believe that only the simple and the uncomplicated can express the national ethos.

That is absolutely ridiculous in a country from which so much technological and scientific innovation has come. Tell that to Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers or Bill Gates, none of whom were from the upper class. Or are we to believe they were just simple men looking for a loud bar and a cold beer?

The precious opportunity that our democracy provides is the chance to stop, look, listen and think through all that history has taught us about the bottom and about the top.

Real leadership is something internal, not superficial, and should be judged by substance, policy and solutions that are empathetic but realistic, inventive, fiscally responsible and feasible. No one knows the taste of pie in the sky, but we have all felt and smelled the putrid humidity of hot air.

Poetry Friday: PennSound

My Poetry Friday offering today isn’t one written poem but many audio poems. I had a comment earlier today from Durga at original remixed with this lovely gift:

Do you know about PennSound?

…I think you will love it – there are over 1500 individual poems – all in mp3 format – the site is dedicated both the distribution (for free) and preservation (there’s stuff from the 1930s!) of recorded poetry. Best of all, you don’t have to listen to a whole 30 minute reading, you can download individual poems.

Thank you very, very much, Durga.

PennSound is “an ongoing project, committed to producing new audio recordings and preserving existing audio archives.” There is a list of authors here.

Elaine Magliaro at Wild Rose Reader has today’s Poetry Friday round-up.  Thanks for hosting, Elaine!

* * *

Today is the first day since last Monday, the 19th, that we don’t need to leave the premises, not for the little town, the little city, or the big city. Tom and company are working on the new shop, so I’m at home recharging my batteries. I could spend a fair bit of time at the computer, but I’m planning on being in the garden, getting my hands dirty. Tom surprised me the other day by building the new strawberry/tomato/squash and melon beds I had thought of the other week, and I have more transplanting to do. And I’ve got some pictures to take, to put up here and, I hope, to send along to cloudscome’s Sunday Garden Tour.

This week we celebrated the last of the music and art lessons for the season. Tomorrow the boys have their first swim meet, and they’re very excited. Sunday and Monday we have Laura’s 4H beef club achievement days. And then we begin getting ready for her 4H baking club achievement day next weekend. Weekend after that is swim meet #2 in the little city, and Laura will be able to participate then.

Despite the general busyness, we’ve kept our ears and eyes open. I heard a general humming and buzzing last Saturday morning, then saw the first hummingbird, ruby-throated. The other day, while doing chores, I noticed a pair of bluebirds, vivid against the red swather, looking very much as if they’re getting ready to build a nest. And yesterday, on the way to the final art lesson, just as we turned off the gravel road onto the tiny secondary highway, Davy yelled, “There’s a bear!” Joined by Laura and Daniel, “I see it too!” “Me too!” So of course I turned around as soon as possible, we doubled back, and I too saw the bear, what looked to be a yearling male, very brown, black bear ambling through a newly seeded crop of wheat.

Notifications II: What’s the Matter?

From Amazon.ca this time, one of their “Because you bought ABC, we thought you might be interested to know that XYZ is out now” announcements.

What I bought initially was

The Periodic Table: Elements with Style! created (and illustrated) by (Simon) Basher, and written by Adrian Dingle. I reviewed it for the Cybils bloggers’ children’s book awards, and liked it so much that after returning the library copy, I bought one for our own shelves. And I was absolutely delighted to see it make our Cybils shortlist for middle grade/young adult nonfiction.

So of course I was thrilled to get the news from Amazon that Basher‘s new book

is out, Physics: Why Matter Matters!, with his illustrations and text by Dan Green (Kingfisher 2008). Not so thrilled to see that Amazon.ca has it listed as a 1-4 month wait for shipping, but Chapters has it in stock. And if it’s as good as the first book, it’s a bargain at under $10.

It’s on order through our library system so I haven’t been able to see a copy yet. No surprise, it’s in my virtual shopping cart.

I’ve searched around and couldn’t find any word on whether Basher has planned any more books in the series. But the other day I did find this good review of Physics, one of the only ones so far, from kidlitosphere blogger David Elzey at the excelsior file.

Sight unseen, based on the previous effort, definitely a possibility for Cybils nonfiction 2008.

Notifications I

For anyone who’s interested in such things, I’ve had some email notifications recently.

First up, from LibriVox, because I signed up for the announcement, news that The Fairy-Land of Science by Arabella Buckley, originally published in 1879, is now available as a free audiobook. I’m planning to use this in addition to the book, which has charming illustrations that shouldn’t be missed. You can find the book itself as an e-text at The Baldwin Project or a paperback edition, from The Baldwin Project’s publishing arm, Yesterday’s Classics. Other books by Miss Buckley available at The Baldwin Project are here; one of them, Wild Life in Woods and Fields, is available as a paperback and also as a free audiobook from Librivox. The sequel to Fairy-LandThrough Magic Glasses — is available here for free online.

Of interest to anyone fond of Miss Buckley’s books is Dr. John Lienhard‘s NPR piece on The Fairy-Land of Science; he says, “Her so-called children’s books are completely solid texts on botany, geology, chemistry and physics.” Here‘s another piece by Dr. Lienhard on Miss Buckley, including her views on evolution. Dr. Lienhard’s shows run as part of The Engines of Our Ingenuity radio program, which is available as a podcast for those, like us, who can’t get NPR.

From the article on Arabella Buckley by Barbara Gates in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:

Buckley [married name Fisher], Arabella Burton (1840–1929), popularizer of science and writer, was born on 24 October 1840 in Brighton, the daughter of John Wall Buckley, vicar of St Mary’s, Paddington Green, and his wife, Elizabeth … . Little is known of her education and early life. An authoritative popularizer of science, and from 1864 to 1875 secretary to Sir Charles Lyell (for whose entry in the Encyclopaedia Britannica she wrote the expert’s addendum), she was personally familiar with the leading scientists and scientific theories of her day. She lectured on natural science from 1876 until 1888, was editor of Mary Somerville’s Connexion of the Physical Sciences (1877) and Heinrich Leutemann’s Animals from Life (1887), and produced a set of botanical tables for the use of junior students (1876). In her own first book, A Short History of Natural Science (1876), she recalled that she ‘often felt very forcibly how many important facts and generalizations of science, which are of great value … in giving a true estimate of life and its conditions, [were] totally unknown to the majority of otherwise well-educated persons’ (pp. vii–viii). Her Short History was intended ‘to supply that modest amount of scientific information which everyone ought to possess, while, at the same time … form a useful groundwork for those who wish afterwards to study any special branch of science’ (p. viii) and as such was praised by Charles Darwin. On 6 March 1884 she married Thomas Fisher MD (1819/20–1895), a widower twenty years her senior.

Although Arabella Buckley also wrote A History of England for Beginners (1887), traditional history never gave full scope to her distinctive penchant for narrative, which was better exercised in her books retelling the story of evolution. Grounded in evolutionary theory and in all aspects of the new geology, she re-created this knowledge in two popular books whose narratives are highly imaginative, Life and her Children (1881) and Winners in Life’s Race (1883). In them Buckley presented seven divisions of life: Life and her Children covers the first six, from the amoebas to the insects, and Winners in Life’s Race is entirely devoted to the seventh, the ‘great backboned family’.

Buckley was one of a small number of nineteenth-century Darwinians who realized the deficiencies in Darwin’s thinking with regard to the development of moral qualities in the animal kingdom, set out in his discussion of ‘social instincts’ in The Descent of Man (1871). Darwin had observed the competitive advantage species can gain from a well-developed social instinct but had difficulty in explaining its evolution, particularly with respect to parental affections for their offspring. Far from being daunted by this aspect of evolution, Buckley made parents’ care for their offspring central to her books on evolution and continued Darwin’s observations with far greater emphasis on mutuality. For her the raison d’être for evolution was not just the preservation of life, but the development of altruism as well.

Buckley’s work is concurrent with Karl Kessler’s ‘On the law of mutual aid’ (1880), the lecture which stimulated Peter Kropotkin to re-examine Darwin. Kessler died in 1881, the year that saw the publication of Buckley’s Life and her Children; it then took Kropotkin ten years to challenge Thomas Henry Huxley over the importance of mutual aid in the pages of Nineteenth Century, and another ten to formulate his classic Mutual Aid: a Factor in Evolution (1902). Meanwhile, Buckley’s last book, Moral Teachings of Science (1891), was devoted to this idea and written to unite science and philosophy — to study morality from ‘within outward’ and ‘without inward’ (p. 4). For Buckley, ‘these [were] not really two, but only different methods of arriving at one result, namely, the knowledge of laws by which we and all the rest of nature are governed’ (p. 5).

Buckley was deeply aware of the nature of science writing and realized that science, though based in fact or experiment, was transmitted as a literary construction. Two other books, The Fairy-Land of Science (1879, reissued in a number of late nineteenth-century editions) and its sequel, Through Magic Glasses (1890), demonstrate her skill at telling the stories of science. In Fairy-Land Buckley generated interest in her scientific subjects by borrowing the language of fairy stories and wizardry to reinforce her ultimate belief that the wonders of science not only paralleled but surpassed the wonders of fairyland. In its sequel, Through Magic Glasses, she focused more closely on what childlike eyes can see, calling on the help of the telescope, stereoscope, photographic camera, and microscope, and a fictional guide, a magician into whose chamber the reader immediately enters and through whose eyes the world is viewed. Her last work showed the same concern with vision and the visible and was written for Cassell’s series Eyes and No Eyes (1901–24). Buckley died of influenza at her home, 3 Boburg Terrace, Sidmouth, Devon, on 9 February 1929.

Nifty, eh?

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