• 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 16/Grade 11, 14/Grade 9, and 13/Grade 8.

    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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Over the river

Over the river

and through the woods

and over another river

and over the the newly-renamed bridge

to Grandmama’s and Grandpapa’s

Upper West Side apartment we go!

Happy Thanksgiving!

*  *  *

A Boy’s Thanksgiving Day
by Lydia Maria Child

Over the river, and through the wood,
To Grandmother’s house we go;
The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh
through the white and drifted snow.

Over the river, and through the wood -
Oh, how the wind does blow!
It stings the toes and bites the nose
As over the ground we go.

Over the river, and through the wood,
To have a first-rate play.
Hear the bells ring, “Ting-a-ling-ding”,
Hurrah for Thanksgiving Day!

Over the river, and through the wood
Trot fast, my dapple-gray!
Spring over the ground like a hunting-hound,
For this is Thanksgiving Day.

Over the river, and through the wood -
And straight through the barnyard gate,
We seem to go extremely slow,
It is so hard to wait!

Over the river, and through the wood -
Now Grandmother’s cap I spy!
Hurrah for the fun! Is the pudding done?
Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!

New York: Autumn 2008

ilny

:: I’ve moved this post up as a “stickie” so I can make last-minute additions. About two weeks until we depart and everyone is getting excited. ::

We’ve decided to head to NYC to spend Thanksgiving (or “American Thanksgiving” as it’s known around here) with my parents. We haven’t seen them in a year and a half, and we’re all excited to spend part of the holiday season in NYC, where we haven’t been for four years.

I’m using this page to keep track of some of our readalouds etc. in preparation for our trip, and also some sites/sights we’re planning to visit and revisit.

BOOKS

Storied City: A Children’s Book Walking-Tour Guide to New York City by Leonard Marcus; found at BookCloseouts a few years ago and bought on a whim. I just wish there was a book like this for most cities.

The New York Chronology by James Trager, a great big doorstop of a book (for adults and older children), found not too long ago at BookCloseouts and still available there

The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden; we read this four years ago, but Daniel, who was five-and-a-half, remembered little, and Davy, who was four, remembered nothing.

Chester Cricket’s Pigeon Ride by George Selden

This is New York by Miroslav Sasek

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg; same as Cricket — the boys remember little to nothing.

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

A Rat’s Tale by Tor Seidler, illustrated by Fred Marcellino

The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins by Barbara Kerley, illustrated by Brian Selznick; also very good for chapter one of SOTW4 (about Queen Victoria and the Crystal Palace)

On This Spot: An Expedition Back Through Time by Susan E. Goodman, illustrated by Lee Christiansen; also good for prehistory/evolution

My New York by Kathy Jakobsen

You Can’t Take a Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum by Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman and Robin Glasser

DVDs

Miracle on 34th Street with Edmund Gwenn and Natalie Wood

On the Town with Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Jules Munshin, Ann Miller, Vera Ellen, and Betty Garrett. And Comden and Green and Leonard Bernstein.

My Sister Eileen with Betty Garrett, Jack Lemmon, Bob Fosse, Tommy Rall, and Janet Leigh

A Night at the Opera with the Marx Brothers and Kitty Carlisle

Life with Father with William Powell, Irene Dunne, Elizabeth Taylor, and Edmund Gwenn

It Should Happen to You with Judy Holliday and Jack Lemmon

Guys and Dolls with Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, and Jean Simmons

Bell, Book and Candle with James Stewart, Kim Novak, and Jack Lemmon; somehow it’s just not a NYC movie without Jack Lemmon…

An Affair to Remember with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr

The World of Henry Orient with Merrie Spaeth, Tippy Walker, Peter Sellers, Paula Prentiss, Angela Lansbury, and Tom Bosley

Funny Girl with Barbra Streisand and Omar Sharif

King Kong with Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, and Bruce Cabot

West Side Story with Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn

Splash with Tom Hanks, Daryl Hannah and John Candy

The Muppets Take Manhattan

American Experience: New York directed by Ric Burns

“The Odd Couple” with Tony Randall and Jack Klugman

Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts

SITES/SIGHTS

Free 90-minute walking tours of the Flatiron District, starting at 11 am every Sunday

Museum of the City of New York, especially the exhibits on NYC theater and my childhood favorite toys (including the dollhouses for Laura) and the fire engines

New-York Historical Society, especially the new exhibit on the Hudson River School, “Nature and the American Vision”; and Audubon’s incredible watercolors for his “Birds of America”.  And, good timing for our current Civil War studies: “Grant and Lee in War and Peace”, the new exhibit at The New-York Historical Society; particularly good along with the NYHS’s the permanent exhibit “Slavery in New York”

American Museum of Natural History, especially the new Horse exhibit; and the Planetarium/Rose Center

The Maxilla & Mandible shop near the Museum of Natural History

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade; the parade itself and the balloon blowing-up the night before, on my old block (West 77th Street)

USS Intrepid/Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum for Daniel

South Street Seaport — the museum, not the shopping (oy). Some interesting looking family programs on Saturdays, free with admission.

Gramercy Typewriter Co. for Davy

New York Doll Hospital

Zabar’s

Bronx Zoo

Watching Jacques Torres make chocolate

Chinatown

“Drawing Babar: Early Drafts and Watercolors”, at the Pierpont Morgan Library and Museum from September 19, 2008 through January 4, 2009.
The Morgan Library & Museum
225 Madison Avenue at 36th Street
New York, NY 10016
closed Mondays

FOOD

New York City’s new Rat Tracker website, officially known as the “Rat Information Portal, complete with a searchable map of rat inspections and violations”; via the Associated Press

From Serious Eats/New York:
The NY Times covers cheap sandwich spots in downtown Manhattan
A Guide to the Best Doughnuts in New York
The kids are intrigued by the idea of $1 meat on a stick under a bridge, especially the hot dog flower. Less so the octopus…

Chocolate egg creams (and BLTs) at Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop, and just egg creams at Lexington Candy Shop luncheonette

Black and white cookies and chocolate eclairs at the Glaser Bake Shop, 87th and First

Economy Candy on Rivington Street

Aiming low

For a good laugh on a Sunday, read Dick Cavett, who takes on “The Wild Wordsmith of Wasilla” in his New York Times blog today:

I suppose it will be recorded as among political history’s ironies that Palin was brought in to help John McCain. I can’t blame feminists who might draw amusement from the fact that a woman managed to both cripple the male she was supposed to help while gleaning an almost Elvis-sized following for herself. Mac loses, Sarah wins big-time was the gist of headlines.

I feel a little sorry for John. He aimed low and missed.

What will ambitious politicos learn from this? That frayed syntax, bungled grammar and run-on sentences that ramble on long after thought has given out completely are a candidate’s valuable traits?

And how much more of all that lies in our future if God points her to those open-a-crack doors she refers to? The ones she resolves to splinter and bulldoze her way through upon glimpsing the opportunities, revealed from on high.

And,

A woman in one of Palin’s crowds praised her for being “a mom like me … who thinks the way I do” and added, for ill measure, “That’s what I want in the White House.” Fine, but in what capacity?

Do this lady’s like-minded folk wonder how, say, Jefferson, Lincoln, the Roosevelts, et al (add your own favorites) managed so well without being soccer moms? Without being whizzes in the kitchen, whipping up moose soufflés? Without executing and wounding wolves from the air and without promoting that sad, threadbare hoax — sexual abstinence — as the answer to the sizzling loins of the young?

Mr. Cavett concludes,

I do not wish her ill. But I also don’t wish us ill. I hope she continues to find happiness in Alaska.

May I confess that upon first seeing her, I liked her looks? With the sound off, she presents a not uncomely frontal appearance.

Read the entire post, with lagniappe for English mavens at the end, here.

Over

The New York Times reports,

Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska did something here on Thursday that she had not done in her entire campaign as the Republican Party’s vice-presidential nominee: she stood behind a lectern and held a news conference.

She was asked what had changed.

“The campaign is over,” she said.

Granted, the question-and-answer session lasted only four minutes, and for only four questions.

Two of which were about the lack of a news conference during the campaign.

And a tidbit from the transcript of Gov. Palin’s appearance yesterday on the Larry King show:

[Larry] KING: One of the most frequently asked questions I had, and I don’t like to use the word “I,” was, when are you going to have Sarah Palin on? And we never got a good response. It’s kind of sad. Anyway, it’s good to have you now. Katie Couric, by the way, said last night [link here] that she thinks you should keep your head down, work really hard, and learn about governing before contemplating a presidential run. What are your thoughts about her saying you should learn about governing?

[Sarah] PALIN: Well, thank you, Katie Couric, for your advice. And I won’t reciprocate in giving her any advice, that’s for sure, because I have respect for her and the profession that she is in. I would have greater respect though for the entire profession called mainstream media if we could have great assurance that there is fairness, that there is objectivity throughout the reporting world.

And you know, Larry, there, too, if there is anything that I can do in terms of assisting there and allowing the credence, the credibility that that great vocation, that cornerstone of our democracy called the press, if I can help build up that credibility in the press and allow the electorate to know that they can believe everything that is reported through the airwaves and through print, I want to be able to help.

I started out as a journalist. It’s that important to me that that cornerstone of our democracy is given the credence and credibility that it deserves. But we have to have a two-way street here going where reporters are fair, objective, non-biased.We get back to the who, what, where, when, and why, and allow the viewers and the listeners and the readers to make up their own minds and not so much commentary I think being involved in mainstream media’s questioning and reporting on candidates.

I would like to kind of help build back that credibility in that cornerstone of our democracy called our media, allowing for the checks and balances that government needs.

KING: Don’t you think, Governor, that there is also a right-wing media?

PALIN: There is a right-wing, there is a left-wing, I tend to believe that what we need is, again, back to the who, what, where, when, and why, and allow the electorate, allow listeners, viewers to make up their own minds based on fair, objective, non-biased reporting. That’s what I would like to see. At the same time though, it’s healthy, it’s interesting, it’s entertaining to be able to hear the commentary on both sides. But when mainstream media especially is expected to be non-biased, without the commentary being involved, I think we really need to get back to giving the — some credence to the wisdom of the people, allowing them the ability to make up their own minds without hearing too much commentary infiltrated in the questions and the reporting.

This close to Thanksgiving, I’d like to jump on the gratitude bandwagon, too, and say, Well, thank you, Katie Couric.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Say what?

Gov. Sarah Palin to softball-lobbing Wolf Blitzer on the role of state Governors in the new Administration:

Sitting here in these chairs that I’m going to be proposing but in working with these governors who again on the front lines are forced to and it’s our privileged obligation to find solutions to the challenges facing our own states every day being held accountable, not being just one of many just casting votes or voting present every once in a while, we don’t get away with that. We have to balance budgets and we’re dealing with multibillion dollar budgets and tens of thousands of employees in our organizations.

That executive experience that every governor has and must have being put to good use now as we work together as governors to help reach out to Barack Obama’s administration, being able to help him make good decisions based on the solutions that we already seek. For me specifically of course, energy independence that is doable here in this country, we have the domestic solutions because we have the domestic supply.

Via Daniel Larison, complete with possible translation, at The American Conservative‘s Eunomia blog.  Poor Sister Bernadette.

Remembrance Day 2008

Library and Archives Canada, in conjunction with Veterans Affairs Canada and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), has an online exhibition, Oral Histories of the First World War: Veterans 1914-1918 featuring audio interviews and written transcripts, as well as photographs.  The exhibition is organized into seven “interview themes”: Second Ypres, Vimy Ridge, War in the Air, The Somme, Trench Warfare, Passchendaele (Third Ypres), and Perspectives on War.

The exhibition is based on the CBC‘s 1964-1965 radio broadcasts In Flanders Fields, a series of interviews with veterans of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

The Library and Archives Canada website includes a number of other online virtual exhibitions, including The Battle of Passchendaele, Canada and the First World War, and Faces of War.

Also online: The Canadian Letters and Images Project, a virtual archive of the Canadian war experience, from the Riel Rebellion and Boer War to World War I, World War II, and the Korean War (one letter).  The project began in 2000 at the Department of History at Vancouver Island University. In November 2003 the Project was very pleased to bring in as partners the History Department at The University of Western Ontario.

The following is a letter in the collection written by Flight Sergeant Harry Hansell of Vulcan, Alberta.  He was 19 when he enlisted with the RCAF in 1942. He was 20 years old when he and his crew were shot down on a raid over Germany in September 1943.

May 21st, 1943

Dear Dad:

I received your letter of the 20th and was very glad to have got one. I haven’t received any letters yet for about 2 weeks. I am glad that Mary got my picture. I have never met a girl that could stand up to her yet, and I don’t think I ever will.

I can’t tell you what l am doing, but I am not in the tail, but in the mid upper turret. I might say I am in the front line now, please don’t worry.

I received mother’s letter and got the address but I only had 5 days’ leave and that was taken up by travelling to the next station. I wish mother would send me some parcels. All the lads are getting them but me. I found my kit bag just as I was leaving the other station. So I got all my personal belongings. It’s all just about dirty laundry. I haven’t stayed in one place long enough to get it all done. I have a very fine crew of fellows. They are all Sgt. just as I. There is seven in the crew all together. I hope my picture turned out all right in the paper. I sure want to see it.

I am not going to write to Mary so much because you can’t tell what may happen, but I will nevertheless continue to write very often. I sure am very proud of her. By the way, I would like to know why Ruth is quitting school. I am doing my part so that she can have the privilege to go to school. I wish now that I was still in school. You tell her that she can’t quit school just as she likes. What do you think the war is for? You tell her she just can’t do as she likes along the lines of education. I realized too late about my education and I don’t want her to do the same. Well, there is no more paper.

I will write soon.
Love to all,

Harry

Half of Sgt. Hansell’s file includes family and government letters after his death.  One RCAF letter three years later finally gives the complete details of the fate of Sgt. Hansell and his crew:

The aircraft crashed on the night of 27th September, 1943 about 1.5 miles South of Eberholsen in a forest. This town is located approximately 22 miles South of Hanover, Germany. The aircraft exploded when it hit the ground and unfortunately individual identification of the crewmen was not possible. Your son, together with his crew, were laid to rest in the Town Cemetery at Eberholsen in a Communal Grave located in the North East corner of the cemetery. The grave is nicely kept and marked by a cross upon which is inscribed the names of the crew.

Previous Farm School posts marking the day:

Remembrance Day 2007

Poetry Friday: Remembrance Day Edition (2007)

Remembrance: “Nothing forgotten” (2006)

Remembrance Day II (2005)

Remembrance Day 2005

“A language with roots”

James Wood, in the current issue of The New Yorker‘s “Talk of the Town”, on talk:

A theatre critic once memorably complained of a bad play that it had not been a good night out for the English language. Among other triumphs, last Tuesday night was a very good night for the English language. A movement in American politics hostile to the possession and the possibility of words — it had repeatedly disparaged Barack Obama as “just a person of words” — was not only defeated but embarrassed by a victory speech eloquent in echo, allusion, and counterpoint. No doubt many of us would have watched in tears if President-elect Obama had only thanked his campaign staff and shuffled off to bed; but his midnight address was written in a language with roots, and stirred in his audience a correspondingly deep emotion.

Read the rest here.  The entire issue is devoted to the election and well worth reading, from Roger Angell on “A new start for the Greatest Generation” to George Packer on “The New Liberalism”.

(And if you need a break from politics, try Joan Acocella’s book review/article in TNYer on the rise of “overparenting” , and the morality and socioeconomics thereof. Not for the faint of heart.)

Brains are back, or, Even when no-one is looking

From Nicholas Kristof’s NY Times op-ed column, “Obama and the War on Brains”, today:

Barack Obama’s election is a milestone in more than his pigmentation. The second most remarkable thing about his election is that American voters have just picked a president who is an open, out-of-the-closet, practicing intellectual.

Maybe, just maybe, the result will be a step away from the anti-intellectualism that has long been a strain in American life. Smart and educated leadership is no panacea, but we’ve seen recently that the converse — a White House that scorns expertise and shrugs at nuance — doesn’t get very far either. …

At least since Adlai Stevenson’s campaigns for the presidency in the 1950s, it’s been a disadvantage in American politics to seem too learned. Thoughtfulness is portrayed as wimpishness, and careful deliberation is for sissies. The social critic William Burroughs once bluntly declared that “intellectuals are deviants in the U.S.”

(It doesn’t help that intellectuals are often as full of themselves as of ideas. After one of Stevenson’s high-brow speeches, an admirer yelled out something like, You’ll have the vote of every thinking American! Stevenson is said to have shouted back: That’s not enough. I need a majority!)

Yet times may be changing. How else do we explain the election in 2008 of an Ivy League-educated law professor who has favorite philosophers and poets?

Granted, Mr. Obama may have been protected from accusations of excessive intelligence by his race. That distracted everyone, and as a black man he didn’t fit the stereotype of a pointy-head ivory tower elitist. But it may also be that President Bush has discredited superficiality.

An intellectual is a person interested in ideas and comfortable with complexity. Intellectuals read the classics, even when no one is looking, because they appreciate the lessons of Sophocles and Shakespeare that the world abounds in uncertainties and contradictions, and — President Bush, lend me your ears — that leaders self-destruct when they become too rigid and too intoxicated with the fumes of moral clarity. …

… as Mr. Obama goes to Washington, I’m hopeful that his fertile mind will set a new tone for our country. Maybe someday soon our leaders no longer will have to shuffle in shame when they’re caught with brains in their heads.

Read the rest here, and comments at Mr. Kristof’s blog here.  By the way, the two-time Pulitzer Prize winning Mr. Kristof writes of President Bush “I can’t think of anybody I’ve ever interviewed who appeared so uninterested in ideas.”

Speaking of science books

Chris Barton at Bartography is giving sneak peaks of his new science book, The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors, illustrated by Tony Persiani, to be published by Charlesbridge on July 1, 2009.

Here’s the cover, and here’s a two-page spread with a deliciously retro illustration by Tony Persiani of the Brothers in their lab (with a background of books).

Chris, do I get to be the first to say that I hope The Day-Glo Brothers receives a host of glowing reviews?!

Anatomy for children

I’ve been trying to catch up on my blog reading before I unplug myself in the middle of next week and just discovered that my online friend Kathy Ceceri recently reviewed David Macaulay’s new The Way We Work: Getting to Know the Amazing Human Body:

Kathy’s review at the Geekdad blog

Kathy’s related post on Human Anatomy Books Old and New at her blog Home Biology (“for homeschoolers and anyone else who wants to learn about life science without a lab!”).  By the way, some of my family’s favorite old and new human anatomy books:

My Body by Patricia Carratello from Teacher Created Materials; Laura had great fun our first year, and the boys subsequently, making life-size body patterns complete with organs, photocopied and colored in from this reproducible book.  We used it to go along with, among other titles, one also mentioned by Kathy — From Head to Toe by Barbara Seuling and Edward Miller

The Human Body: What It Is and How It Works (A DeLuxe Golden Book) by Mitchell Wilson, with illustrations by Cornelius De Witt (1959).  Out of print but well worth tracking down.  A large, profusely illustrated, hardbound volume, with the text and color illustrations based on Man in Structure and Function by Fritz Kahn. 140 pages, with a glossary and an index.  (Another aside: more on Fritz Kahn here and here.)

The How and Why Wonder Book of The Human Body.  Out of print; I grab any book in this series that I come across.

Dover’s Human Anatomy in Full Color book, “within reach of grade-school-age children” according to Dover

Dover’s Human Anatomy coloring book

*  *  *

Kathy’s Home Chemistry blog

Kathy’s Crafts for Learning website

Kathy’s Family Online blog

Kathy, I owe you at least one email and I’ll try to get it out in the next few days!

Links

Via Michael Barton at The Dispersal of Darwin: two UK projects for schoolchildren as part of Darwin200, Survival Rivals (website not yet up and running) and The Great Plant Hunt (up and running already)

Via Jessica Jones at How About Orange: free printable Four Seasons gift tags to download, from Rachel Weber at Fog and Thistle.  Just in time for holiday gift giving.

Also at How About Orange: a project for very tiny fingers — origami mini books.  Jessical also has a section with free downloads.

No, thank you

Speaking to reporters today in Alaska, Sarah Palin said she now wants “to be able to help also Americans to know that they can trust their media”. Erm, “also Americans”?  Does that mean Canadians too?  Then again, maybe I’ll still also pass.

According to Lisa Tozzi of The New York Times, Gov. Palin “said for the most part the media is good but ‘one bad apple sometimes does kind of spoil the whole bunch’ and went on to say that during the campaign there had been some ‘stinkers that have kind of made the whole basket full of apples there once in a while smell kind of bad’.”  Palin also said that she’s “disappointed in the change that I’ve seen in the national media compared to, you know, a couple of decades ago when I received my journalism degree.”  That would be the degree she received from the University of Idaho after attending five colleges in six years.  According to University officials, despite her degree, Palin does not appear to have worked for the college television station or campus newspaper or campus television station; she did, however, work briefly as a sportscaster for KTUU in Anchorage after graduation.

I’ll pass on the fashion advice too, considering that on Wednesday Gov. Palin was wearing “black sweatpants, high heels and a blue hooded sweatshirt”.

Poetry Friday: A thousand whirling dreams of sun

Langston Hughes has been on mind all week.  I think he would be amazed and agog and joyful at the election results. One can only imagine what he might have been inspired to write. Throughout the course of his life (1902-1967), Hughes wrote movingly, painfully, and honestly about blacks in America, in poetry, plays, essays, and stories. He was inspired by American poets Walt Whitman, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Claude McKay, and Carl Sandburg (“my guiding star”, Hughes called him).

In a 1947 article, “My Adventures as a Social Poet”, Langston Hughes wrote,

Poets who write mostly about love, roses and moonlight, sunsets and snow, must lead a very quiet life. Seldom, I imagine, does their poetry get them into difficulties. Beauty and lyricism are really related to another world, to ivory towers, to our head in the clouds, feet floating off the earth.

Unfortunately, having been born poor — and colored — in Missouri, I was stuck in the mud from the beginning. Try as I might to float off into the clouds, poverty and Jim Crow would grab me by the heels, and right back on earth I would land. A third floor furnished room is the nearest thing I have ever had to an ivory tower.

Some of my earliest poems were social poems in that they were about people’s problem’s — whole groups of people’s problems — rather than my own personal difficulties. Sometimes, though, certain aspects of my personal problems happened to be also common to many other people. And certainly, racially speaking, my own problems of adjustment to American life were the same as those of millions of other segregated Negroes. The moon belongs to everybody, but not this American earth of ours. That is perhaps why poems about the moon perturb no one, but poems about color and poverty do perturb many citizens. Social forces pull backwards or forwards, right or left, and social poems get caught in the pulling and hauling. …

After detailing some of his experiences and including some poetry, Hughes concluded,

So goes the life of a social poet. I am sure none of these things would ever have happened to me had I limited the subject mater of my poems to roses and moonlight. But, unfortunately, I was born poor — and colored — and almost all the prettiest roses I have see have been in rich white people’s yards — not in mine. That is why I cannot write exclusively about roses and moonlight — for sometimes in the moonlight my brothers see a fiery cross and a circle of Klansmen’s hoods. Sometimes in the moonlight a dark body swings from a lynchng tree — but for his funeral there are no roses.

One essay about Langston Hughes I remember reading, Arnold Rampersad‘s “Unwearied Blues” for PEN on the centennial of Hughes’ birth, came to mind when I read a recent Guardian Books Blog post, “Presidents who write well, lead well” by Rob Woodard.  Here are the two bits:

From “Unwearied Blues”,

Langston Hughes loved books. During his lonely childhood, while he was living with his aged grandmother, books comforted him. “Then it was,” he confessed, “that books began to happen to me, and I began to believe in nothing but books and the wonderful world in books, where, if people suffered, they suffered in beautiful language—not in monosyllables as we did in Kansas.”

From “Presidents who write well, lead well”,

Given what I do for a living, I suppose it’s only natural that I have a high degree of respect for those who write well. Good writing very often signals a strong intellect and in many cases a deep vision. It also shows its author to be a person of some discipline, in that even those who are born with a great deal of talent in this area still usually have to work hard and make sacrifices to develop their abilities. All of which is making me giddy at the prospect of Barack Obama’s coming presidency.

For Poetry Friday today, I offer a selection of the poems of Langston Hughes.

I, Too (1925)

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed —

I, too, am America.

* * *

Let America Be America Again (1938)

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed–
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek–
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean–
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today — O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home–
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay–
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again–
The land that never has been yet–
And yet must be–the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine–the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME–
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose–
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath–
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain–
All, all the stretch of these great green states–
And make America again!

*  *  *
Words Like Freedom

There are words like Freedom
Sweet and wonderful to say.
On my heart-strings freedom sings
All day everyday.

There are words like Liberty
That almost make me cry.
If you had known what I know,
You would know why.

* * *

My People (1923)

The night is beautiful,
So the faces of my people.
The stars are beautiful,
So the eyes of my people.
Beautiful, also, is the sun.
Beautiful, also, are the souls of my people.

*  *  *

Merry-Go-Round (1942)

Colored child at carnival

Where is the Jim Crow section
On this merry-go-round,
Mister, cause I want to ride?
Down South where I come from
White and colored
Can’t sit side by side.
Down South on the train
There’s a Jim Crow car.
On the bus we’re put in the back –
But there ain’t no back
To a merry-go-round!
Where’s the horse
For a kid that’s black?

* * *

Mother to Son (1922)

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

* * *

One-Way Ticket (1949)

I pick up my life
And take it with me
And I put it down in
Chicago, Detroit,
Buffalo, Scranton,
Any place that is
North and East –
And not Dixie.

I pick up my life
And take it on the train
To Los Angeles, Bakersfield,
Seattle, Oakland, Salt Lake,
Any place that is
North and West –
But not South.

I am fed up
With Jim Crow laws,
People who are cruel
And afraid,
Who lynch and run,
Who are scared of me
And me of them.

I pick up my life
And take it away
On a one-way ticket –
Gone up North,
Gone out West,
Gone!

* * *

Dream Boogie (1951)

Good morning, daddy!
Ain’t you heard
The boogie-woogie rumble
Of a dream deferred?

Listen closely:
You’ll hear their feet
Beating out and beating out a –

You think
It’s a happy beat?

Listen to it closely:
Ain’t you heard
something underneath
like a –

What did I say?

Sure,
I’m happy!
Take it away!

Hey, pop!
Re-bop!
Mop!

Y-e-a-h!

* * *

As I Grew Older (1926)

It was a long time ago.
I have almost forgotten my dream.
But it was there then,
In front of me,
Bright like a sun –
My dream.

And then the wall rose,
Rose slowly,
Slowly,
Between me and my dream.
Rose slowly, slowly,
Dimming,
Hiding,
The light of my dream.
Rose until it touched the sky –
The wall.
Shadow.
I am black.

I lie down in the shadow.
No longer the light of my dream before me,
Above me.
Only the thick wall.
Only the shadow.

My hands!
My dark hands!
Break through the wall!
Find my dream!
Help me to shatter this darkness,
To smash this night,
To break this shadow
Into a thousand lights of sun,
Into a thousand whirling dreams
Of sun!

*  *  *

For more on Langston Hughes:

The Voice of Langston Hughes; CD from Smithsonian Folkways, recorded by Moses Asch, featuring works from

Langston Hughes: Voice of the Poet; Hughes reads his poetry (audiobook, with accompanying book)

The Essential Langston Hughes; more of Hughes reading his poetry, from Caedmon

The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, edited by Arnold Rampersad

Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes, edited by David Roessel and Arnold Rampersad

The Collected Works of Langston Hughes: Works for Children and Young Adults: Poetry, Fiction, and Other Writing (Volume 11); and at Amazon.com

The Collected Works of Langston Hughes: Works for Children and Young Adults: Biographies (Volume 12); and at Amazon.com

The Langston Hughes Reader

Langston Hughes by Milton Meltzer, a children’s biography by Hughes’ friend and writing partner, published the year after his death

Langston Hughes: American Poet by Alice Walker, illustrated by Catherine Deeter; children’s picture book biography

The Dream Keeper and Other Poems by Langston Hughes; his poetry collection for young people, illustrated by Brian Pinckney

A Pictorial History of African Americans (1995) by Langston Hughes and Milton Meltzer; the most recently revised edition of what was originally published as A Pictorial History of the Negro in America (1956), and then A Pictorial History of Black Americans (1973)

The Glory of Negro History (1955), Langston Hughes’ spoken word history on Folkway Records

The Story of Jazz (1954), Langston Hughes’ spoken word musical history on Folkway Records

*  *  *

There are more poems and poets at the week’s Poetry Friday round-up, which MsMac is hosting as an early Thanksgiving potluck over at Check It Out.

Vigil

Some links for Remembrance Day 2008:

I’m at least two days late in writing about Vigil 1914-1918, which began this past Tuesday. Vigil 1914-1918 is a project from noted Canadian actor and director R.H. Thompson and lighting designer Martin Conboy to mark the 90th anniversary of the armistice.  From November 4 through November 11, the names of the 68,000 World War I dead will be projected at night onto the National War Memorial in Ottawa, buildings in other regions of Canada and onto the side of Canada House in Trafalgar Square in London, England.  Here’s the link to a CBC article with a photograph of names on Ottawa’s National War Memorial.

The BBC’s film production of My Boy Jack, the story of Rudyard Kipling’s son who was lost in action at the age of 18, after only two days at the front, is now available on DVD. I wrote about the poem and a bit of Kipling’s family history in this post last year at this time.

The current issue of Smithsonian Magazine has an article, “One Man’s Korean War”, featuring reporter John Rich’s color photographs, seen for the first time in more than 50 years.

Fallen Canadians in Afghanistan, at the Department of Defence website

Faces of the Fallen, American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, at The Washington Post

Autumn links

I’m behind with some nifty links for October and November:

It’s gift buying season, and if you have children’s books on your list, the Cybils 2008 nomination list, broken down by category, is a terrific way to find current titles for the children you love.

I’m not quite sure what happened to October, so I’m going to try to get caught up with the October edition of the Carnival of Children’s Literature, “Snuggle Up with a Children’s Book”, especially since it’s better snuggling weather now.  I’m currently snuggling up with the kids and a rat, as we read through the fascinating A Rat’s Tale by Tor Seidler, illustrated by Fred Marcellino; it’s part of our NYC readathon before we take off.

The October edition of the Carnival of the Elitist Bastards, “We Be Sailin’ the Wine Dark Seas”, is up.  Eggheads of the world, unite.  And celebrate!

The New York Times explores the question, “When does a recipe become a science project?” in the recent article, Dry-Ice Martini and Electric Cake”.  For kitchen chemists everywhere.

A new Yahoo group from my online friend Suji: the secular LivingScience books group, inspired by the Living Math website.

Growing up

The New Yorker‘s George Packer writes in his latest Interesting Times blog post this morning,

We will have a President who can think and feel and speak; we will have a grownup who will treat us like grownups.

I was thinking of this yesterday listening to Quebec comedian Derek Seguin’s piece on CBC radio featuring eight years’ worth of audio clips of priceless bumbling Bushisms.

Prescience

I was too untrusting and superstitious to post any of George Packer’s October 23 New Yorker piece, “End of an Era”, before tonight. Now that the results are in, here it is,

Step back a moment from the robocalls and the Biden gaffes and the Valentino jacket to take in the history being made as we watch. I don’t mean the likelihood of a black American President, though that’s mind-bending enough. I’m referring to the complete collapse of the four-decade project that brought conservatism to power in America. The conservative movement was driven by the single unifying idea that government is the problem, not the solution. It attained and kept power through the highly successful political strategy of dividing the country into the hard-working, America-loving, God-fearing majority and the minority of élitist liberals who wanted to tell the majority what to do. What’s happened to that idea and that strategy over the past few weeks? When Obama told an Ohio plumber on camera that his tax plan would take some money from the rich and give some back to the middle- and working-class, the McCain-Palin campaign got very excited — they finally had the key to turning the race around. Since then, the Republicans have been talking about Joe, socialism, and spreading the wealth around at every turn. Did Obama begin to sink in the polls, as pundits predicted? Was Dick Morris finally going to get something about this election right? No, Obama rose—and even on taxes he’s preferred over McCain. Like Democrats running against Herbert Hoover well into the 1970s, the Republican campaign still thinks it’s 1980. But it turns out that in 2008 voters can actually imagine worse things than tax rates on upper incomes returning to their Clinton-era level. What about Republican strategy, which still wakes Democrats up in the middle of the night — the devastating invocation of Bill Ayers, terrorists, real Americans, small-town values, Hollywood, and (on the fringes of the McCain-Palin campaign and Fox News) the spectre of a Muslim President destroying the country from within? Even right-wing commentators have been begging the campaign to drop this line of attack — not because they disapprove, but because it isn’t working. If anything, it’s dragging McCain’s numbers down and driving moderate Republicans and Independents toward Obama. A Republican congresswoman from Minnesota deployed the strategy at its most unvarnished on national television, and the Party has had to desert her. Who can blame Michele Bachmann for being dumbfounded? It was always O.K. when it was successful. As for Palin, the incarnation of red-meat, know-nothing Christian nationalism, she turns out to be McCain’s single biggest mistake. The Republican Party’s immediate post-election future will be a bloody struggle over Palinism. It’s already started at National Review online, where the growing hysteria of the posts signals that the roof is falling in on conservatism. Everything that worked for forty years has suddenly not just stopped working, it has become self-defeating. Republican candidates, strategists, and pundits are like witchdoctors who keep repeating the old incantations over and over, their voices rising in furious shock, to no effect. That’s the sound of an era ending.

Chosen

I lied. I thought I’d avoid election eve results but between my own overwhelming curiosity and Laura’s, we’ve been glued to the computer since coming home from curling; we have only the two Canadian TV stations and neither is covering the election until the late evening news. Laura is madly and gleefully filling in her electoral college map.

I needed something to read by the computer, so I grabbed a poetry book from the shelf around the corner. I decided nothing could be better for tonight than Carl Sandburg, a man of the people, a man from Main Street who knew how to use words and who was born and raised in Illinois. The title of the book in my hand is Rainbows Are Made, which seems a good thought for tonight.

Choose
by Carl Sandburg

The single clenched fist lifted and ready,
Or the open asking hand held out and waiting.
Choose:
For we meet by one or the other.

I am relieved that so many of us chose the open hand rather than clenched (“Fight, fight!”) fist.

Why we vote

It is not impossible to conceive the surprising liberty that the Americans enjoy; some idea may likewise be formed of their extreme equality; but the political activity that pervades the United States must be seen in order to be understood. No sooner do you set foot upon American ground than you are stunned by a kind of tumult; a confused clamor is heard on every side, and a thousand simultaneous voices demand the satisfaction of their social wants. Everything is in motion around you; here the people of one quarter of a town are met to decide upon the building of a church; there the election of a representative is going on; a little farther, the delegates of a district are hastening to the town in order to consult upon some local improvements; in another place, the laborers of a village quit their plows to deliberate upon the project of a road or a public school. Meetings are called for the sole purpose of declaring their disapprobation of the conduct of the government; while in other assemblies citizens salute the authorities of the day as the fathers of their country. …

In some countries the inhabitants seem unwilling to avail themselves of the political privileges which the law gives them; it would seem that they set too high a value upon their time to spend it on the interests of the community; and they shut themselves up in a narrow selfishness, marked out by four sunk fences and a quickset hedge. But if an American were condemned to confine his activity to his own affairs, he would be robbed of one half of his existence; he would feel an immense void in the life which he is accustomed to lead, and his wretchedness would be unbearable. I am persuaded that if ever a despotism should be established in America, it will be more difficult to overcome the habits that freedom has formed than to conquer the love of freedom itself. …

Democracy does not give the people the most skillful government, but it produces what the ablest governments are frequently unable to create: namely, an all-pervading and restless activity, a superabundant force, and an energy which is inseparable from it and which may, however unfavorable circumstances may be, produce wonders. These are the true advantages of democracy. ..,

We must first understand what is wanted of society and its government. … [I]f you hold it expedient to divert the moral and intellectual activity of man to the production of comfort and the promotion of general well-being; if a clear understanding be more profitable to man than genius; if your object is not to stimulate the virtues of heroism, but the habits of peace; if you had rather witness vices than crimes, and are content to meet with fewer noble deeds, provided offenses be diminished in the same proportion; if, instead of living in the midst of a brilliant society, you are contented to have prosperity around you; if, in short, you are of the opinion that the principal object of a government is not to confer the greatest possible power and glory upon the body of the nation, but to ensure the greatest enjoyment and to avoid the most misery to each of the individuals who compose it — if such be your desire, then equalize the conditions of men and establish democratic institutions.

* * * *

excerpted from chapter 14, “What Are the Real Advantages Which American Society Derives from a Democratic Government,” of Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville, 1835

Surprise home school content

Color-your-own Electoral College Map, from the generous Elizabeth Perry at Flickr

Just click “ALL SIZES” at the top left of the map

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