• 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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More learning by ear

Laura asked me to find some more podcasts for her so I thought I’d list some of the goodies we’ve come across lately:

Dr. Temple Grandin is giving interviews to help publicize her latest book, Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals; she was on CBC’s “Quirks & Quarks” science show last week, speaking with host Bob MacDonald (there’s a link on the page to download the program on mp3).  Dr. Grandin is giving a talk at our agricultural college in a few weeks and the kids are looking forward to hearing her.

Poking around at iTunesU, I learned that the following new-to-me items are available:

– The New-York Historical Society has its public programs from the Bernard and Irene Schwartz Distinguished Speakers series available as podcasts

–  The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History offers podcasts of historians’ lectures: Doris Kearns Goodwin on Lincoln’s “Team of Rivals”, as well as Joseph Ellis, James McPherson, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Jill Lepore, Arthur Schlesinger, Eric Foner, and Richard Carwadine.  Upcoming podcasts include Walter Isaacson on Ben Franklin and Kenneth Jackson on the New York in the Gilded Age. The Institute has more for teachers and pupils of American history here.

– If you scroll down the main iTunes U page at iTunes, you’ll see they have “Spotlight” sections, for both Abraham Lincoln and Charles  Darwin.  The Spotlight section for Lincoln includes some of the NYHS lectures as well as some podcasts/videocasts at Stanford University, including one by Simon Schama on The Abolition of the Slave Trade.

– The Spotlight section for Darwin includes podcasts from Stanford U. on “Darwin’s Legacy”; Cambridge University’s “Darwin College Lecture Series”; Case Western Reserve’s videocasts for their 2008-2009 “Year of Darwin” lectures; and Arizona State University’s Darwinfest/Darwin Distinguished Lecture Series, featuring E.O. Wilson and others.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art podcasts, including “Episodes for Families” (with Aesop’s fables, an Anansi tale, etc.); and various talks connected to exhibits, including Leutze’s “Washington Crossing the Delaware”; Philippe de Montebello on the face in medieval sculpture; the story of Hatshepsut.  The Met’s page at iTunes has a longer list of available podcasts and videocasts.

Our new favorite family magazine

abbck

Sometime last fall at the grocery store I was surprised to find a new magazine, BBC Knowledge — “for the curious mind: science . history . nature”. The layout is rather busier than I like and the articles not as in depth as Smithsonian‘s, but the magazine is packed with all sorts of interesting articles, with something for everyone; I’ve found at least one science article that was rather racy for the kids, so reading ahead isn’t a bad idea if you have younger keen magazine fans at home.  And the magazine staff is doing a terrific job finding experts in all areas, especially those with new books, to write on what they know.  So in a nutshell, a magazine with lively coverage of timely subjects, and more often than not suitable for kids.

The first issue (October 2009) featured the cover story, “How to Build a Planet” and one of Arthur C. Clarke’s last interviews.  The second issue (December 2008) featured articles on the “small world” (aka “six degrees of separation”) theory, sloths, and Simon Schama on United States history and politics; you can read the second issue online for free.  The third issue (February 2009) featured the cover story, “Lincoln’s Legacy” (“From Abe to Obama”…), the rise of the superscraper, and classicist Mary Beard, author of the new The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found, on the “A-Z of Pompeii”.

The fourth issue, for April 2009, is now on sale, featuring (only a tad late) Darwin 200 and Robert Burns.  For Darwin, the magazine offers a 22-page evolution special with a Richard Dawkins interview, Carl Zimmer on “Evolution in Action”, PZ Meyers on “Is evolution dead?”.  The issue also includes biographer Robert Crawford on Robbie Burns and Democracy.

One of my favorite features so far is “World News in Context”, two pages of informed commentary from The Independent‘s David Keyes accompanied by a map, brief timeline, and several suggestions for further reading.  This month it’s Georgia (the country), last issue it was Zimbabwe.

BBC Knowledge comes out six times a year, and the cover price here in Canada is $5.99. Which means that it’s cheaper for me to pick it up at the store each time rather than subscribing at $37.45 annually or $74.90 for two years.

Poetry Friday: The February hush

The February Hush
by Thomas Wentworth Higginson (1823-1911)

Snow o’er the darkening moorlands,
Flakes fill the quiet air;
Drifts in the forest hollows,
And a soft mask everywhere.

The nearest twig on the pine-tree
Looks blue through the whitening sky,
And the clinging beech-leaves rustle
Though never a wind goes by.

But there’s red on the wildrose berries,
And red in the lovely glow
On the cheeks of the child beside me,
That once were pale, like snow.

From my copy of Into Winter: Discovering a Season by William P. Nestor, illustrated by Susan Banta (Houghton Mifflin, 1982, out of print); the poem was originally published in Afternoon Landscape: Poems and Translations by William Wentworth Higginson, 1889.

For more Poetry Friday fun, head over to Mommy’s Favorite Children’s Books, where Karen is hosting today’s roundup.  Thank you, Karen!

*  *  *  *

Thomas Wentworth Higginson was an American Unitarian minister, Transcendentalist, writer, Civil War soldier, abolitionist, and supporter of temperance, labor rights, and the rights of women. A particularly good online biography is here, as part of “Notable American Unitarians”.  Col. Higginson born on December 22, 1823 at Cambridge, Massachusetts, the descendant of a Puritan minister who emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and the grandson of Stephen Higginson, a member of the Continental Congress.  Higginson attended Harvard and was a schoolmaster for two years after graduating in 1841.  He returned to Harvard to study at its Divinity School.  Higginson proved to be too liberal for his first church, the First Religious Society (Unitarian) in Newburyport, Massachusetts, and was asked to leave after two years.  An admirer of the writings of William Lloyd Garrison and Lydia Maria Childs, Higginson was one of the “Secret Six” who supported John Brown in his raid on Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, in 1859. During the Civil War, Higginson served the 51st Massachusetts Volunteers as captain, leaving this post to serve as colonel for the first black Union regiment, the First Carolina Volunteers (33rd Infantry Regiment, U.S. Colored Troops), comprised of escaped slaves.

Higginson was an early champion of Emily Dickinson, and the two enjoyed a 23-year-long correspondence; their relationship is the subject of a new book, White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson by Brenda Wineapple (Knopf, 2008). After the poet’s death in 1886, her family asked Higginson and Mabel Loomis Todd to edit and prepare for publication Emily Dickinson’s first collection of poetry.

From the time of the Civil War, Higginson published a number of works — poetry, biography, memoirs, essays, and history, including his Young Folks’ History of the United States; in 1875, The New York Times called the book one “which no American boy or girl can fail to read with pleasure while he or she learns from it all of the essential facts in the progress of the country”. Higginson was poetry editor at The Nation for 26 years, and wrote a regular column for Harper’s Bazaar, “Women and Men”, on equality of the sexes.  A selection of his letters can be found here, though none to Miss Dickinson survive.  One of his first books was a volume of collected natural history essays, Outdoor Papers, each originally published in The Atlantic.  Higginson sent one copy of the book to Charles Darwin and another was found in the Dickinson family library.

Higginson died on May 9, 1911, at the age of 87 at Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The Magnificent Activist: The Writings of Thomas Wentworth Higginson, edited by Howard N. Meyer

White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson by Brenda Wineapple (Knopf, 2008)

Army Life in a Black Regiment: and Other Writings by Thomas Wentworth Higginson

The Complete Civil War Journal and Selected Letters of Thomas Wentworth Higginson, edited by Christopher Looby


“Deep, recurring human truths”

Reading through The Guardian online last week I came across the news that UK Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, an atheist (and also one of the directors of The Poetry Archive), has “called for an overhaul of the school curriculum to reverse the ‘depressing’ trend which threatened to leave future generations unable to fully understand the works of Milton and Shakespeare or even more recent writers such as TS Eliot”:

Mr Motion, who holds a chair in creative writing at Royal Holloway, University of London, said that he had struggled to teach Milton’s Paradise Lost to undergraduates because they had no concept of the fall of man.

“These were all bright students, very hard-working, all with good A-levels, but their knowledge of the great ancient stories was very sketchy,” he said in an interview.

“So when the time came to talk about Milton, I found very few knew there had been a civil war. As for the Bible, forget it, they just about knew who Adam and Eve were.”

He insisted that while secularist ideas had put many people off studying the Bible, parents who do not believe in God should have nothing to fear from their children learning about the Bible.

“If people say this is about ramming religion down people’s throats, they aren’t thinking about it hard enough,” he said.

“It is more about the power of these words to connect with deep, recurring human truths, and also the story of the influence of that language and those stories.”

And he warned that growing ignorance of the great stories of the Bible as well as classical mythology was becoming an increasingly serious handicap for those studying literature.

“Many of my students stumble into vaguely mythological stories in their writing,” he said.

Read the rest of the article here.

Here’s the perfect example of what you can do with a little book learning, not to mention a great deal of craft and patience: retired farmer Alec Garrard’s 12′ by 20′ model of  Herod’s Temple; as Mr. Garrard notes, “I have an interest in buildings and religion so I thought maybe I could combine the two and I came up with the idea of doing the temple”.  A detailed slide show of the model is here.

*  *  *

Polymath Isaac Asimov’s Guide to the Bible: A Historical Look at the Old and New Testaments

The Bible: A Biography, Islam: A Short History, and A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam by Karen Armstrong

Biblical Literacy: The Most Important People, Events, and Ideas of the Hebrew Bible by Joseph Telushkin

Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know — And Doesn’t by Stephen Prothero

World Religions: The Great Faiths Explored & Explained by John Bowker (DK Publishing)

The Bible Literacy Project

Mark your calendar

From PRWeb:

The official 50th anniversary of The Elements of Style is April 16, 2009, and an event to celebrate the occasion will be held in New York City with a panel of writers and journalists discussing the power of the “little book,” featuring acclaimed writers Roger Rosenblatt, Roy Blount Jr. and Barbara Wallraff, columnist for The Atlantic. In addition, the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections at Cornell University, keepers of the papers of E.B. White, will host an exhibit in Olin Library to coincide with the anniversary. Materials include White’s typewriter, handwritten notes, photographs and more. …

The best-known and best-selling book about writing ever published, more than 10 million copies of The Elements of Style have been sold since its first publication in 1959. The original Boston Globe review, quoted in the front of the commemorative edition, still holds true today: “No book in shorter space, with fewer words, will help any writer more than this persistent little volume.”

In 1957, E.B. White rediscovered the brief guide to clear English writing style that had been self-published by William Strunk, Jr., a favorite writing teacher during White’s undergraduate years at Cornell University. White, an acclaimed editorialist and essayist at the New Yorker and the author of Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, expressed his admiration in a New Yorker article. When an editor at Macmillan persuaded White to revise and expand Professor Strunk’s 43-page book, that essay served as its introduction, and the book often known as “Strunk and White” was born. White later revised the book twice, in 1972 and 1979, and a fourth edition appeared in 2000 with a foreword by White’s stepson, writer Roger Angell.

The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White, fourth edition

Call me cranky, but I don’t feel the need for a 50th anniversary edition, even if it is black leather-bound and gold-embossed and includes ” ‘fifty years of acclaim’ from leading literary figures past and present”, or even for an illustrated edition.  I would, though, suggest hardcover over paperback, to hold up to repeated readings. And I like the idea of an exhibit with Andy White’s typewriter, though I suppose Prof. Strunk’s typewriter or pencil is too much to hope for.

I’ll also admit to some curiosity about Mark Garvey‘s Stylized: A Slightly Obsessive History of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, coming out in October from Simon & Schuster.

aebw
* * *
Associated links:

Strunk without White, the 1918 edition

Andy White ’21 at Cornell

“Romeo and Juliet” starring Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer, and directed by George Cukor, the 1936 MGM version for which William Strunk served as literary consultant

Writing that endures

From Jonathan Darman’s recent article on biographer Robert A. Caro, “The Marathon Man”, in the current issue of Newsweek:

By training, Robert Caro is a journalist. By profession, he is a biographer, among the most highly acclaimed living, thanks to his four books—three volumes on Johnson and a saga about the New York public-works titan Robert Moses. But in his daily life, Caro more resembles a scientist, driven by the principle that you understand something only by observing it, watching it with great concentration and for a long time. In his New York City office, where everything has its particular place, he works long hours, seven days a week, poring through interview transcripts and primary source notes, working slowly and deliberately on books he publishes, on average, once every 10 years. His meticulous routine is sometimes painful, he says, but necessary. Only by gathering as many facts as possible, cataloging them, cross-checking them and sitting with them at great length, can he choose the right words to re-create the past inside his readers’ heads. Words matter to Caro. “I have always thought,” he told me this winter, “that in nonfiction, the level of the writing has to be as good as any novel if it is going to endure.” …

The story of Robert Caro is the story of a man who set out at a young age to produce writing that would survive. A close look at his research and writing process offers lessons at a moment when it seems that nothing endures. Does Caro’s obsessive work life — ruled by diligence, deliberateness and desperation—offer hope for the printed word? Or is Caro the last of his kind?

Robert Caro has always needed more words. Growing up on New York’s Upper West Side in the 1930s and ’40s, reading was his haven; as a student at the Manhattan prep school Horace Mann, he devoured all six volumes of Edward Gibbon’s “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” At Princeton in the ’50s, he wrote his senior thesis on Ernest Hemingway, who believed ideas were best expressed in as few words as possible. (Caro’s essay ran 235 pages.) Working as a cub reporter for the Long Island tabloid Newsday, he learned that, while editors would technically limit the number of words he could write, when it came time to measure his stories, they would count only lines on the page. So Caro peppered his typed prose with tiny carets, squeezing every inch of available white space.

Oh, and no computer (though he does have a website).  Read the rest here.

A Robert A. Caro bibliography:

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York (1975 Pulitzer Prize for biography)

The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power, Volume 1 (1982)

The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Means of Ascent, Volume 2 (1990)

The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate, Volume 3 (2003 Pulitzer Prize for biography)


Selling (to) girls

Admission: Laura does have two American Girl dolls, just about all of their clothes, a nightgown for herself (now hitting mid-calf), the movies, and all of the hardcover collected historical stories, from Felicity to the WWII one (Molly?).  But I’ve always been aware of the marketing angle, one of the reasons we try to avoid licensed products and the movies and books that serve as vehicles for the consumption; we also talk to the kids about how they make good targets for companies. So I was interested to read the article “Marketing American Girlhood” by Elizabeth Marshall at the current issue of Rethinking Schools Online:

Some might argue that American Girl is not as bad as other materials on the market, or as offensive as Barbie or Bratz dolls. This argument misses the key features of what makes this phenomenon so insidious: how corporations play on the feminist and /or educative aspirations of parents, teachers, girls, and young women and turn these toward consumption. American Girl is less about strong girls, diversity or history than about marketing girlhood, about hooking girls, their parents and grandparents into buying the American Girl products and experience.

I have more thoughts but not more time right now, having just emptied out the fridge for a big cleaning.

Related posts:

Made You Look (December 2006), which mentions Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers’ Schemes by Sharon Lamb and Lyn Mikel Brown

Hot to trot tots and their pole-dancing mamas (March 2007)

Other worthwhile links:

Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture by Juliet B. Schor, which I think first heard about from Hornblower at HMS Indefatigable; I seem to recall that Ms. Schor appears in the documentary “How the Kids Took Over” which is good to watch with the whole family

Two CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corp.) programs: on the radio, “The Age of Advertising” with Terry O’Reilly; and on television, “Marketplace”

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which has lately taken on the Scholastic book club, asking it to “put the book back in book club” — which means making room by taking out the “M&M’s Kart Racing Wii videogame, the Princess Room Alarm, Monopoly® SpongeBob SquarePants™ Edition computer game, lip gloss and a Hannah Montana bracelet”.  I applaud the idea of a commercial-free childhood, but in this day and age it seems wiser, as a parent at least, to put one’s energies into commercial-proofing the kids.

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