• 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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  • Copyright © 2005-2012 Please do not use any of my words or my personal photographs without my express permission.

John Hope Franklin, 1915 – 2009: A life of learning

“The very essence of the life of the mind is the freedom to inquire, to examine, and to criticize. But that freedom has the same restraints abroad that it has at home: to state one’s position, if impelled by personal conviction, with clarity, reason, and sobriety, always mindful of the point that the scholar recognizes and tolerates different views that others may hold and that his view is independent, not official.”
John Hope Franklin in The American Scholar, 1968


The eminent American historian and scholar John Hope Franklin died on Wednesday at the age of 94.

From “A Life of Learning”, Professor Franklin’s 1988 Charles Homer Haskins lecture:

My mother, an elementary school teacher, introduced me to the world of learning when I was three years old.  Since there were no day-care centers in the village where we lived, she had no alternative to taking me to school and seating me in the rear where she could keep an eye on me.  I remained quiet but presumably attentive, for when I was about five my mother noticed that on the sheet of paper she gave me each morning, I was no longer making lines and sketching out some notable examples of abstract art.  I was writing words, to be sure almost as abstract as my art, and making sentences.  My mother later said that she was not surprised much less astonished at what some, not she, would have called my precocity.  Her only reproach — to herself, not me — was that my penmanship was hopelessly flawed since she had not monitored my progress as she had done for her enrolled students.  From that point no, I would endeavor to write and through the written word to communicate my thoughts to others.

My interest in having some thoughts of my own to express was stimulated by my father who, among other tasks, practiced law by day and read and wrote by night.  In the absence of any possible distractions in the tiny village, he would read or write something each evening. This was my earliest memory of him and, indeed, it was my last memory of him.  Even after we moved to Tulsa, a real city, and after we entered the world of motion pictures, radio, and television, his study and writing habits remained unaffected.  I grew up believing that in the evenings one either read or wrote.  It was always to read something worthwhile, and if one worked t it hard enough he might even write something worthwhile. I continue to believe that. …

My mother no longer taught [after the family moved to Tulsa] but she saw to it that my sister and I completed all of our home assignments promptly.  Quite often, moreover, she introduced us to some of the great writers, especially Negro authors, such as Paul Laurence Dunbar and James Weldon Johnson, who were not a part of our studies at school.  She also told us about some of the world’s great music such as Handel’s Oratorio, “Esther”, in which she had sung in college.  While the music at school was interesting and lively, especially after I achieved the position of first trumpet in the band and orchestra, there was no Handel or Mozart or Beethoven.  We had a full fare of Victor Herbert and John Philip Sousa, and operettas, in more than one of which I sang the leading role.

Often after school I would go to my father’s office. By the time I was in high school, the depression had yielded few clients but ample time which he spent with me.  It was he who introduced me to ancient Greece and Rome, and he delighted in quoting Plato, Socrates, and Pericles.  We would then walk home together, and after dinner he went to his books and I went to mine.  Under the circumstances, there could hardly have been a better way of life, since I had every intention after completing law school of some day becoming his partner. …

Read Prof. Franklin’s entire lecture here.

  •   *  *  *  *

Racial Equality in America by John Hope Franklin

Race and History: Selected Essays, 1938-1988 by John Hope Franklin

Mirror to America: The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin; a 2006 radio interview with JHF about his then-new memoir

From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African-Americans by John Hope Franklin, first published in 1947 and since updated several times

JHF interviewed by The Guardian, 2006: “Power without grace is a curse”

The PBS First Person Singular interview with Charles Kuralt, on DVD

An audio file from the University of Virginia of JHF reading from his autobiography and poet Rita Dove reading from her work, “followed by a conversation between them on personal and cultural history”

Duke University’s website for Professor Franklin

Filched

The one thing that jumped out at me from the recent AP article by William Kates on the 50th anniversary of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style was the following sentence,

Strunk’s “Elements of Style” probably would have vanished for good had not someone stolen one of the two copies in the Cornell library in 1957 and sent it to White.

“Someone” was in fact Andy White’s old friend and Cornell classmate H.A. Stevenson (class of ’19), editor of the Cornell Alumni News in 1957 when he sent White (class of ’21) the little book. As for “stolen”, well, as White wrote to Stevenson in thanks, he preferred a different word,

25 West 43
2 April 1957

Dear Steve:

I was overwhelmed to get the little book, filched from the library, and I hope I deserve it.  Last night I went through it, seeing Will in every word and phrase and line — in Charles’s friend, in Burns’s poems, in the comma after each term except the last.  What a book, what a man!  Will so loved the clear, the brief, the bold — and his book is clear, brief, bold.

It may be that I’ll try to do a piece on “The Elements of Style” for The New Yorker.  Perhaps you can fill me in on a few matters on which I am vague or uninformed (My memory is poor and needs jolting.) …

If you can answer, and feel like answering, any of these tedious questions, I would be delighted to hear from you.  Hell, I would be delighted to hear from you anyway. …

Thanks again, Steve, for this gift.  This is a late day (I almost said a “very” late day, but Will hated “very”) for me to meet up with “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk, Jr.  I shall treasure the book as long as there are any elements of life in my bones.  Hope you and Mildred will get to Maine again.  If you do, you will get fed, not merely ginned; and I will put you in my 18-foot sloop and whirl you round and round. (“Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end.”)

Yrs gratefully,

Andy

As White closed his July 1957 essay in The New Yorker (the book’s inspiration) on Prof. Strunk’s pamphlet,

“The little book” has long since passed into disuse.  Will died in 1946, and he had retired from teaching several years before that. Longer, lower textbooks are in use in English classes nowadays, I daresay — books with upswept tail fins and automatic verbs. I hope some of them manage to compress as much wisdom into as mall a space, manage to come to the point as quickly and illuminate it as amusingly.  I think, though, that if I suddenly found myself in the, to me, unthinkable position of facing a class in English usage and style, I would simply lean far out over the desk, clutch my lapels, blink my eyes, and say, “Get the little book! Get the little book! Get the little book!”

Many thanks to Mr. Stevenson from Farm School for rescuing the little book and passing it on to Andy White.  You can, by the way, have your Strunk without White, but to me that’s like getting ginned without the tonic.

(The Cornell Chronicle notes the anniversary, also The Cornell Daily Sun where Andy was editor from Spring 1920-Spring 1921, though neither notes Cornellian H.A. Stevenson’s role)

National Poetry Month 2009: Essential Pleasures

apoetry-month1

Poetry is like peace on earth, good will toward men.  It’s something we should read and enjoy year-round, not just in spring and all, but for many of us, without the extra effort of a special day or month, it gets rather lost of the shuffle of daily living.

National Poetry Month is celebrated both in the US, under the auspices of the Academy of American Poets (whose page has oodles of links — some good ones are How to Read a Poem [often] and  Tips for Booksellers), and in Canada, under the auspices of the League of Canadian Poets. Here’s this year’s poster, “Poetry Planet”,

apoetryplanet

Of course, we wouldn’t need a special month if we lived on a Poetry Planet…

And if we did live on a Poetry Planet, I have no doubt I’d find there my old Poetry Friday and Fib Friend, Gregory K. who blogs at GottaBook and who is planning to announce, on Monday March 23, his monthlong Poetry Party, with new poetry every day of the month and much much more.  For all sorts of wonderful original poetry by Greg, from his poems to his fibs to his very funny Oddaptations, check his sidebar.  UPDATED March 23 to add: Greg’s monthlong poetry party is “30 Poets / 30 Days”, where he’ll be posting a “previously unpublished poem by a different poem” for each day of April.  Check his blog, GottaBook, for details and the list of celebrated contemporary children’s poets.

Greg also has an update on what else is going on in the Kidlitosphere (which now has its own planet, er, website) to celebrate National Poetry Month:

* Sylvia Vardell at her Poetry For Children blog, which has a wealth of information year-round,will be reviewing a new children’s poetry each day for the entire month of April

* Elaine Magliaro at Wild Rose Reader has some plans up her sleeve for the month too (she’ll be offering some lovely books as prizes), as well as a new blog of political poetry and a long, rich post from early March featuring her updated Resources for National Poetry Month (including some tidbits for teachers and home schoolers).

* Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect is featuring interviews with three dozen poets for her series, Poetry Makers.

* Anastasia Suen at the Pencil Talk blog will celebrate by the month with school poems written by children, posting one every day.

Former US Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky will spend the month of April blogging about Poems Out Loud.  You can sign up to join him.  As Poet Laureate, Mr. Pinsky created the Favorite Poem Project to encourage Americans to read their favorite verses aloud. April will see the publication of Essential Pleasures: A New Anthology of Poems to Read Aloud, a book and CD set edited by Mr. Pinsky. Also good to read: the 2007 Mother Jones article on Robert Pinsky the poetry popularizer; and Mr. Pinsky himself, “In Praise of Difficult Poetry”, and on “Poetry and American Memory”.

Poetry podcasts and other online audio poetry:

The Library of Congress’s guide to online poetry audio recordings

The Academy of American Poets “Poetcast”

The Poetry Foundation’s podcasts and audio selections

Cloudy Day Art podcasts

Houghton Mifflin’s “The Poetic Voice”

HarperAudio!, where you can hear Ossie Davis read Langston Hughes, Peter Ustinov read James Thurber, and Dylan Thomas read his own works

The UK Poetry Archive

BBC’s “Poetry Out Loud”

PennSound

Learn Out Loud’s “Intro to Poetry” podcast

The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer’s Poetry Series podcasts

Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac

First World War Digital Poetry Archive podcasts

Poetry at NPR

KCRW’s Bookworm podcast

Some wonderful new, newish and newer poetry books to share with your children:

The Cuckoo’s Haiku: and Other Birding Poems by Michael J. Rosen, illustrated by Stan Fellows (Candlewick, March 2009)

A Foot in the Mouth: Poems to Speak, Sing and Shout, compiled by Paul B. Janeczko and illustrated by Chris Raschka (Candlewick, March 2009), from the same pair who brought us A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms in 2005.  And really, what better way to celebrate poetry every day of the year, not just in April, than to speak, sing, and shout poetry aloud?

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet.   A Caldecott Honor picture book biography of the American poet and physician (1883-1963) who wrote “A Red Wheelbarrow” and “This Is Just to Say”

The Visions in Poetry series from Canadian publisher Kids Can Press, where classic poems are combined with new Canadian artists, sometimes in startling ways, especially on the cover of The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes, illustrated by Murray Kimber.  Other volumes include Casey at the Bat by Ernest L. Thayer, illustrated by Joe Morse; Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch; The Lady of Shalott by Tennyson, illustrated by Geneviève Côté; My Letter to the World and Other Poems by Emily Dickinson, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault; Edward Lear’s The Owl and the Pussycat, illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch; and The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe, illustrated by Ryan Price.  And not new but fabulous from Kids Can Press: their picture book editions of Robert Service’s poems, illustrated by Ted Harrison. Canadian classics.

Douglas Florian‘s brand new Dinothesaurus: Prehistoric Poems and Paintings (and his not new but entirely seasonally appropriate, his energetic exploration of the vernal equinox, Handsprings)

The lovely new picture book version, illustrated by E.B. Lewis, of The Negro Speaks of Rivers, written by a very young Langston Hughes (Hyperion, January 2009)

I haven’t yet seen Rabbie’s Rhymes: Burns for Wee Folk newly out for the Robbie Burns 250th anniversary, but think it looks adorable.

UPDATED to add: Indefatigable children’s poet J. Patrick Lewis, one of the participants in Greg at Gottabook’s April 30 Poets / 30 Days poetrypalooza, was kind enough to send me a very sweet note complete with ruffles and flourishes — rather than the plank walk at swordpoint I deserved for the omissions — to remind me of his many varied works coming out in 2009:

The Underwear Salesman, And Other Jobs for Better or  Verse by J. Patrick Lewis, illusrated by Serge Bloch (Atheneum, March 2009)

Countdown to Summer: A Poem for Every Day of the School Year by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Ethan Long (Little, Brown, July 2009)

Spot the Plot! A Riddle Book of Book Riddles by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger (Chronicle Books, September 2009)

The House by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger (Creative Editions, October 2009); I’m excited to hear about this one because I loved their previous collaboration, the beautiful, marvelous The Last Resort.

If you or your children aren’t familiar with the poetry of J. Patrick Lewis, I urge you to run to the library or your favorite bookstore.  Pat has written so many illustrated books of verse on such a wide variety of subjects — art, biography, history, science, holidays, bible stories, animals, general silliness, general spookiness, arithmetic, geography, music, reading and libraries, folk tales, castles and pirate kings, and more — that I dare you not to find something appealing. Also his timely tome on Galileo for this year — it’s a pop-up too, great fun.  Best of all, Pat has free printable bookmark poems (or poem bookmarks).  If you’re going to carry a poem in your pocket (an idea sparked in New York City), I can’t think of a handier way to do it!

Coming out soon:

A Mirror to Nature: Poems About Reflection by Jane Yolen, with photographs by Jason Stemple (Wordsong, April 2009)

Previous National Poetry Month celebrations and other Poetry Posts at Farm School (you can also click the green “Poetry” page link up above, second from the right over the carrot leaves):

New and very good

We just finished reading and heartily recommend the newish Ringside, 1925: Views from the Scopes Trial by Jen Bryant (no relation, I believe, to William Jennings…), published by Knopf in February 2008, a novel in verse for older children about the Scopes Monkey Trial.  Jen Bryant has written the book from the perspective of those at ringside, or rather courtside, including the biology pupils of the young substitute teacher John Scopes’s class at Rhea County High School. A very good addition to any evolution and Darwin readings.

Jen Bryant is also the author of the equally excellent A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams and the new Abe’s Fish: a Boyhood Tale of Abraham Lincoln.

Tentative high school science plans

I’ve been working for the past few weeks on what I’m going to do for science with Laura from grades 9-12; she’ll be starting 7th grade this fall, but like many home schoolers I feel more comfortable starting to plan sooner rather than later.  Of all three children, Laura, the eldest, has struggled the most with math (though this year has begun to enjoy the subject, perhaps because she’s also now finding it easier), and is also a keen naturalist, animal lover, and excellent young farmer.  Science, as well as math, are the two high school subjects I feel least comfortable winging and feel best having set out as some sort of plan.

My tentative plan, always subject to change, has involved cobbling together my own choices of books, some of which are already on the shelves at home, along with Teaching Company DVDs, based more or less the Well-Trained Mind rotation of biology (9th grade), earth science/astronomy (10th), chemistry (11th), physics (12th).  There’s also the option, I decided the other day, which I’ll give Laura for 12th grade of another year of biology instead of physics, concentrating on something she’d find interesting; in that case, we’d probably work through one or both of the Teaching Company physics courses (see below) over a couple of summers. She can specialize in ornithology, animal behavior, evolution, botany or whatever she chooses. We’d probably sort that out at the end of 10th grade, after two years of high school science.

I’ve selected completely secular textbooks where necessary (rather than “living books”), but I have tried to make sure they are written by experts in their respective fields who, preferably, are also good writers who make the subject engaging, rather than by committee.

A note: there are so many excellent, worthwhile and worthy books and documentary series on the sciences that I had a hard time winnowing things down.  There is probably more winnowing ahead.  As always, my choices were informed by own preferences.  I’m keen on the works of Chet Raymo, Isaac Asimov, and have recently become a fan of Timothy Ferris.  You might have your own favorite scientists and writers, and I urge you not to be confined by my own preferences and prejudices.  This is science, not rocket science, and there’s more than one way to do this.

OVERALL: We’ve been unschooling science for the most part.  Starting this year and next with Laura for 7th and 8th grades, and of course the boys will be around (so they’ll have two sessions), I’d like to go systematically through one of the first Teaching Company courses I bought, “Joy of Science” with Professor Robert Hazen, along with the book Science Matters by Prof. Hazen and James Trefil; I think their textbook version would be overkill for us at this point.  Also, with Laura’s love of her iPod, perhaps too the audiobook version of Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything.

Aside from the four-year breakdown, over the course of high school I’d like to do a light survey of the history of science using the book and new-on-DVD series “The Day the Universe Changed” by James Burke, of “Connections” fame. I’d also like to see each of our children involved at least for one year in high school on the executive of our local naturalist club

BIOLOGY (9th grade): We’re actually going to do a fairly specific farm study, using the provincial Green Certificate program for young farmers, with the specialization of cow-calf beef production.  She’ll also be able to use the program as her 4H project for the year. I’d also like to see if the each of the kids could take a course at the agricultural college in town in connection with the Green Certificate program, in the animal sciences department (anatomy and physiology or genetics of livestock) and/or an internship at the vet clinic. Like most good cattle farmers, we have a copy of Beef Cattle Science by Ensminger on the shelf, for the kids to work through. Also to read: Cattle: An Informal Social History by Laurie Winn Carlson and Raising Steaks: The Life and Times of American Beef by Betty Fussell; possibly the new Beef: The Untold Story of How Milk, Meat, and Muscle Shaped the World by Rimas and Fraser.

The more general stuff we’ll use, especially if we can’t manage to arrange for courses at the local agricultural college: the Teaching Company class “Biology: The Science of Life” taught by Stephen Nowicki of Duke. To read: The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher by Lewis Thomas; The Way Life Works: The Science Lover’s Illustrated Guide to How Life Grows, Develops, Reproduces, and Gets Along by Mahlon Hoagland and Bert Dodson; if we weren’t planning on the beef cattle approach, I think I’d use Hoagland’s textbook version of The Way Life Works. Also, In a Patch of Fireweed: A Biologist’s Life in the Field by Bernd Heinrich (not as good as his later Snoring Bird, but more manageable for ninth graders).

EARTH SCIENCE/ASTRONOMY (10th grade): the combination “Nature of Earth” courses from the Teaching Company (“An Introduction to Geology” and “Understanding the Universe: An Introduction to Astronomy”), along with 365 Starry Nights: An Introduction to Astronomy for Every Night of the Year by Chet Raymo; Seeing in the Dark: How Amateur Astronomers Are Discovering the Wonders of the Universe by Timothy Ferris; The Crust of Our Earth: An Armchair Traveler’s Guide to the New Geology by Chet Raymo; A Field Manual for the Amateur Geologist: Tools and Activities for Exploring Our Planet by Alan M. Cvancara or The Practical Geologist: The Introductory Guide to the Basics of Geology and to Collecting and Identifying Rocks by Dougal Dixon; Isaac Asimov’s Guide to Earth and Space (for general reference); and The Natural History of Canada by RD Lawrence, for Canadian content. Also perhaps one of New Yorker writer John McPhee’s series on North American geology, Basin and Range, In Suspect Terrain, Rising from the Plains, The Control of Nature, and Assembling California; if you don’t have the individual titles, as I do, you can by the one-volume collection, Annals of the Former World which includes all but Control. Additional DVDs: Timothy Ferris’s “Seeing in the Dark” and “The Creation of the Universe”, and Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos”; and Iain Stewart’s “Earth: The Biography”

CHEMISTRY (11th grade): working through Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture by Robert Bruce Thompson, with the help of his HomeChemLab website; and either Hands-On Chemistry Activities with Real-Life Applications: Easy-to-Use Labs and Demonstrations for Grades 8-12 by Herr and Cunningham or what WTM recommends (Chemistry: Concepts and Problems: A Self-Teaching Guide by Houk and Post). I don’t know that we’d need the TC course (High School Chemistry) for this, but perhaps. Also to read: Uncle Tungsten by Oliver Sacks; Nature’s Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide to the Elements by John Emsley; Creations of Fire: Chemistry’s Lively History from Alchemy to the Atomic Age by Cathy Cobb and Harold Goldwhite. Also, if necessary, by the co-author (with Basher) of The Periodic Table: Elements with Style!, high school chemistry teacher Adrian Dingle’s chemistry pages; and my own periodic table round-up.

PHYSICS (12th grade): I was leaning toward the WTM recommendations (this and this) until I ran across How Things Work: The Physics of Everyday Life by Louis A. Bloomfield; while/before Laura works through the textbook, I would work through Dr. Bloomfield’s How Everything Works: Making Physics out of the Ordinary. At his reassuring website, Dr. Bloomfield has a guide to physics homeschooling and an instructor resources page.  Plus either “Physics in Your Life”, “Einstein’s Relativity and the Quantum Revolution: Modern Physics for Non-Scientists”, or “Great Ideas of Classical Physics” course from the Teaching Company, and the puzzle/brainteaser books by Franklin Potter and Christopher Jargodzki.

I have to admit I’m also intrigued, more for the boys than for Laura, by Richard Muller’s “Physics for Future Presidents” course (with webcasts) and books (there’s a textbook edition and a general trade edition).  Also intrigued, more for Laura than her brothers, in the classic Physics for Poets by Robert March, which is also an option depending on how things go through high school; I like this additional bibliography. To read: Understanding Physics by Isaac Asimov; First You Build a Cloud: And Other Reflections on Physics as a Way of Life by KC Cole (recommended by JoVE); and, if manageable, Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics By Its Most Brilliant Teacher by Richard Feynman.  On DVD, NOVA/“Einstein’s Big Idea” and NOVA/”Physics: The Elegant Universe”. Free online from MIT, Physics I: Classical Mechanics with Prof. Walter Lewin.  And some Leon Lederer links: FermiLab, and QuarkNet.

*  *  *

Other useful links:

MIT OpenCourseWare

Free online MIT course materials for high school (biology, physics)

Writer, home educating mother, and GeekMom Kathy Ceceri’s Home Biology blog and Home Chemistry blog; be sure to check all the links in the sidebars

The Periodic Table: Elements with Style! co-author Adrian Dingle’s Chemistry Pages

*  *  *

The Farm School Science page (at the top above, to the far right, over the carrot leaves)

Poetry Friday: Is it truth you want?

More Phyllis McGinley, from her collection, A Pocketful of Wry (1940). This is a poem she wrote in response to a news item, which nowadays is nowhere to be found online. I can’t find any mention of the American Library Survey Report she mentions, which I suspect may have been an American Library Association report, in the thirties.

Address to the Younger Generation
by Phyllis McGinley

“Children want facts, not fiction, in their reading.” — Excerpt from
American Library Survey Report.

And is it truth you want, and doings factual?
Then from the shelves take down these volumes first.
Here are your heroes. These are real and actual.
These will assuage your thirst.

Turn from the spurious air your elders thrive in
To this more shrewd and honest atmosphere:
The literal world that Mowgli was alive in,
Where Robin slew the deer.

Your minds are tough, my loves, and with compliance
Can bear the truth. So see you get it learned,
How there are ghosts and dragons, yes, and giants,
And frogs to princes turned.

Learn about mermaids, winds among the willows,
Knights, gnomes and monsters; read of the shepherd boy
Who fled with Helen over the wine-dark billows
And brought the ships to Troy.

These are the verities, and you are able
To comprehend them. Leave your elders with
Their ever-changing scientific fable,
Their blind, Utopian myth.

Leave them their legends built on creeds and isms,
Allow them their political fairy tales,
Spun out of conquests, wars and cataclysms,
And not-too-holy Grails.

While you, enlightened tots, shall sip the chalice
Of perfect knowledge as your peers demand,
And keep thereby the sanity of Alice
Roaming in Wonderland.

For more poetry fun, Elaine Magliaro is hosting today’s Poetry Friday roundup at her blog, Wild Rose Reader.  Thanks, Elaine!

* * *
The calendar says Spring, but Mother Nature says not so fast. There is still a big white drift, curved like a frozen wave, just beneath the kitchen windowsill. And yesterday after lunch the boys set off on skis across the pasture and through the Hundred Acre Wood to their hideaway, the old trailer given to them by their uncle, to bring back 40 pounds of camping equipment (mostly pots and pans from the sounds coming from the basement), to “get it ready” for Spring camping. The boys in particular never seem satisfied with the season we’re in. They’re always looking ahead, to the next season and the next holiday. From their mother they seem to have inherited the idea that planning is at least half the fun.

The kids are busy putting the finishing touches on their poems, and rehearsing away with their songs and musical theater pieces. The music festival begins a week from Monday, and that is our  big day, with both speech arts and vocal, from 9 am to 9 pm.  Then we can rest until Wednesday, when Laura has one piano piece to play in the afternoon.  I still need to borrow one more umbrella, for the “Singin’ in the Rain” number, since one of ours does not have a curved handle and my young Gene Kelly is finding it hard to hang on to.  Next Friday, some of the crew from the kids’ play are coming over to film some segments that will be played in the background, so I’m supervising some extra spring cleaning and sorting out what to feed the hordes who will descend on us.

Wednesday evening at our monthly naturalist club meeting we enjoyed a lively but dire presentation from a retired professor of wildlife biology on Alberta moose and winter ticks as well as on new, emerging diseases threatening various species of animals around the world, from white-nose syndrome in bats in the northeastern US, Tasmanian devil facial tumor disease, the chytrid fungus in amphibians around the world, the squirrel pox in the UK carried by interloping gray squirrels that is devastating the indigenous red squirrels (which I mentioned briefly and flippantly here), and one of the newest problems, lice in pelicans. On a happier note, we planned our nocturnal owl call survey, the visit to the local gravel pits in search of fossil-containing concretions, the trip to the sharp-tailed grouse dancing grounds (and sadly for me they dance at dawn, more than an hour away from here), and the thrilling snake hibernaculum tour.

How not to save money with home dentistry

More words of wisdom about managing money, from reporter Joe Nocera at The New York Times:

At a panel a month ago, put together by Portfolio magazine, [Elie] Wiesel expressed, better than I’ve ever heard it, why people gave Mr. Madoff their money. “I remember that it was a myth that he created around him,” Mr. Wiesel said, “that everything was so special, so unique, that it had to be secret. It was like a mystical mythology that nobody could understand.” Mr. Wiesel added: “He gave the impression that maybe 100 people belonged to the club. Now we know thousands of them were cheated by him.”

And yet, just about anybody who actually took the time to kick the tires of Mr. Madoff’s operation tended to run in the other direction. James R. Hedges IV, who runs an advisory firm called LJH Global Investments, says that in 1997 he spent two hours asking Mr. Madoff basic questions about his operation. “The explanation of his strategy, the consistency of his returns, the way he withheld information — it was a very clear set of warning signs,” said Mr. Hedges. When you look at the list of Madoff victims, it contains a lot of high-profile names — but almost no serious institutional investors or endowments. They insist on knowing the kind of information Mr. Madoff refused to supply.

I suppose you could argue that most of Mr. Madoff’s direct investors lacked the ability or the financial sophistication of someone like Mr. Hedges. But it shouldn’t have mattered. Isn’t the first lesson of personal finance that you should never put all your money with one person or one fund? Even if you think your money manager is “God”? Diversification has many virtues; one of them is that you won’t lose everything if one of your money managers turns out to be a crook.

“These were people with a fair amount of money, and most of them sought no professional advice,” said Bruce C. Greenwald, who teaches value investing at the Graduate School of Business at Columbia University. “It’s like trying to do your own dentistry.” Mr. Hedges said, “It is a real lesson that people cannot abdicate personal responsibility when it comes to their personal finances.”

And that’s the point. People did abdicate responsibility — and now, rather than face that fact, many of them are blaming the government for not, in effect, saving them from themselves. Indeed, what you discover when you talk to victims is that they harbor an anger toward the S.E.C. that is as deep or deeper than the anger they feel toward Mr. Madoff. There is a powerful sense that because the agency was asleep at the switch, they have been doubly victimized. And they want the government to do something about it.

Read the rest here.

In like a lion

Though I’m sure he’d succumb: the temperature so far today, at 9:23 am, is -35.7 Celsius, which unlike the recent snow squalls is very unusual here for this time of year.

Unusual and unwanted.

“Listen to some words of wisdom…

…Metrotone reports a talk between Mr. Courage and Mr. Fear in which you’ll be interested”

From Hearst Metrotone News, 1930.  I suppose it’s not too cynical to suggest that William Randolph Hearst had a vested interest in the general moviegoing public throwing in their lot with Mr. Courage. Crackers and milk, anyone?

Letting the sun in through the cellophane

Men and boys are learning all kinds of trades but how to make men of themselves. They learn to make houses; but they are not so well housed, they are not so contented in their houses, as the woodchucks in their holes. What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on? — If you cannot tolerate the planet that it is on? Grade the ground first. If a man believes and expects great things of himself, it makes no odds where you put him, or what you show him … he will be surrounded by grandeur. He is in the condition of a healthy and hungry man, who says to himself, — How sweet this crust is!
– Henry David Thoreau

When talk began of the trillion-dollar stimulus package and zeroes began to swim before my eyes, along with visions of my impoverished grandchildren and great-grandchildren, I began to wonder about the idea of a consumer economy.  I’m no economist and not a professional historian so I honestly don’t know some of the answers: what exactly is a consumer economy? is it better than the alternatives? what are the alternatives? is there such thing as a producer economy? did we once have one and was it replaced?  And then, with some doubt, do we want to continue with a consumer economy by propping it up with a stimulus package? Do we want to continue down this same road?

If we do decide that the sort of economy to have is a consumer economy, then we probably do need to get people shopping for more stuff.  Then again, that striving for ever more stuff in the wake of the astonishing prosperity of the postwar years, has led us toward suburbs and urban sprawl, instant mashed potatoes, Jell-o salad, Wal-Mart, McDonalds, Diners Club, and Ron Popeil’s Ronco empire of things we never knew we needed.

Yesterday in The New York Times economist Thomas Friedman asked “a radical question”:

Let’s today step out of the normal boundaries of analysis of our economic crisis and ask a radical question: What if the crisis of 2008 represents something much more fundamental than a deep recession? What if it’s telling us that the whole growth model we created over the last 50 years is simply unsustainable economically and ecologically and that 2008 was when we hit the wall — when Mother Nature and the market both said: “No more.”

We have created a system for growth that depended on our building more and more stores to sell more and more stuff made in more and more factories in China, powered by more and more coal that would cause more and more climate change but earn China more and more dollars to buy more and more U.S. T-bills so America would have more and more money to build more and more stores and sell more and more stuff that would employ more and more Chinese …

We can’t do this anymore.

Read the rest here; it’s not very long but offers plenty to think about.

It makes me feel less loopy, as a home educating farm wife on the prairie who steered clear from any economics courses, reads more than she remembers, and has to keep looking up exactly how many zeroes are in a trillion, to know I’m not the only one asking away and wondering and that some of the others who are asking and wondering do in fact know what they’re talking about.  The connection between Mother Nature and the economy occurred to me the other day as I was getting together a list of resources for the kids on the present situation and the Great Depression, and, to a lesser extent, the Panic of 1893.  Their recent questions — including “when does a recession turn into a depression” — made me realize we need to do more than just discuss the news they read and hear about. And there’s no separating Mother Nature and her Dust Bowl from the Great Depression.

As I’ve been thinking about this for the past month or so, I also remembered reading in the 1986 E.B. White biography by Scott Elledge that in 1933 Andy White had written a three-piece satirical essay on the Depression, though I couldn’t recall any of the particulars.  I looked it up in the book and found the series was called “Alice Through the Cellophane”.  Here’s what Mr. Elledge wrote,

In [the series White] took issue with various theories advanced for remedying the Depression. To the economists who held that prosperity could be regained only by restoring the consumers’ buying power, he said that “man’s buying power is one of the least noble of his powers and should not be the arch that supports his peace and well-being.”  Efforts to stimulate production  too, he believed, were misguided.  Pointing to the excess of unnecessary goods already being manufactured, and to their consumption by people whose demand for them had been artificially stimulated, he advocated buying nothing — or at least no more than absolutely needed.  He proposed, on the contrary, to decrease production, and to do that by means of a paradoxical scheme: by paying the highest executives the lowest wages and the lowest-ranking employees the highest salaries.  Such a pay scale would provide no incentive to climb the ladder, and those finding themselves by mischance at its top would have no desire to stay there and produce more goods.

White concluded the essay by calling up the memory of Henry David Thoreau, who “had rejected the complexity of life,” and by  urging his fellow men to imitate Thoreau.  His final words were:

“The hope I see for the world, even today, is to simplify life . . . . Nature (whose course we are about to prevent her from taking) is, I grant, complicated; but it is only on the surface that her variety is baffling.  At the core it is a simple ideal.  You feel it when lying stretched on warm rocks, letting the sun in. It is just possible that in our zeal to manufacture sunlamps at a profit, we have lost forever the privilege of sitting in the sun.”

(I’d like to request, please, that The New Yorker consider making E.B. White’s three-part series, “Alice through the Cellophane”, 1933, available online for free to all readers as a public service. Many thanks.)

Poetry Friday: Down the human road

I don’t know what made this poem jump into my head this week. It’s one of Phyllis McGinley’s most powerful, I think, and I have no idea whether she was inspired by Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous quotation, “I have seen gross intolerance shewn in support of toleration” from his 1817 essay, “Blessed are ye that sow beside all Waters!” on political justice.

The Angry Man
by Phyllis McGinley

The other day I chanced to meet
An angry man upon the street –
A man of wrath, a man of war,
A man who truculently bore
Over his shoulders, like a lance,
A banner labeled “Tolerance.”

And when I asked him why he strode
Thus scowling down the human road,
Scowling, he answered, “I am he
Who champions total liberty –
Intolerance being, ma’am, a state
No tolerant man can tolerate.

“When I meet rogues,” he cried, “who choose
To cherish oppositional views,
Lady, like this, and in this manner,
I lay about me with my banner
Till they cry mercy, ma’am.” His blows
Rained proudly on prospective foes.

Fearful, I turned and left him there
Still muttering, as he thrashed the air,
“Let the Intolerant beware!”

For more poems, Anastasia Suen at Picture Book of the Day is hosting today’s Poetry Friday round-up.  And her picture book of the day, Poetry Speaks to Children, which comes with a CD, is one of our favorites.  Thank you for hosting, Anastasia.

We got walloped with two snowstorms this week, a fairly gentle one with heavy snow on Tuesday — which didn’t keep us from the kids’ end-of-season curling party in town, though at one point on the country road I did have to stop the truck to see where the ditches were — and a windy blizzardy one yesterday that left us with much more snow, including enormous and very hard-packed drifts.  That one did keep us home, mainly because of the drift in front of the truck.  Tom and the boys had a bit of a struggle getting into our corrals yesterday morning, but brought the tractor the mile and a half back to the house, clearing snow all the way.  Very comforting to have a tractor in the driveway on a day like today.  And the temperature has dropped like the proverbial stone, from around 3 degrees Celsius earlier this week (about 37 F) to -32 C (about -22 F).

The kids decided to make the most of the weather; unlike their mother, they’re rather worried about the possibility of any melting.  The snow Tom cleared out of the driveway now makes a pretty dandy sledding hill, and the plenty of remaining drifts around the house are so hard that they’re good for igloo blocks.  The kids have had one of my kitchen knives for most of the day and are busy sawing and stacking away.  With any luck I’ll get my knife back after dark.

Just to keep things educational, you can watch this.  I can’t remember if I posted, as I meant to, that the National Film Board of Canada is celebrating its 7oth anniversary by offering some of its best works for free online.  We’ve been gorging ourselves since January.  Happy birthday, NFB!

You don’t say

astairerogers1

The New York Times discovers after 75 years that in hard times, people “just want to hide in a very dark place”, particularly a movie theater.

Researchers have discovered the shocking news that children learn better if they’re allowed to have recess, and “other research suggests that all children, not just those with attention problems, can benefit from spending time in nature during the school day.”

– However, all bets are off if you live in the North where recess is apparently dangerous. According to another study, this one in the Journal of School Health based on 2002 figures, more “than 4,000 children between the ages of five and 19 were injured in a year in Ottawa-area schools”. Then again, this is no longer the country of the intrepid Sam Steele and  Laura Secord (she could have put an eye out or twisted an ankel running through the woods) but the safety tuque and the campaign to wear helmets while sledding.

– Apparently the “most popular” emailed article at The New York Times this weekend was Friday’s op-ed column, “The Great Solvent North” by Theresa Tedesco, chief business correspondent of the Canadian newspaper, The National Post, in which she writes, “Canada, whose banking system had long been notorious for its stodgy practices and government coddling, is now being celebrated for those very qualities.”  Of course, there’s banking and then there are pension funds, and interestingly this week brought news that “Canada’s largest pension fund — Caisse de Depot et Placement du Quebec — lost a quarter of its $155-billion pension fund asset” in 2008.  According to The Toronto Star, the Caisse’s “recent ambitions have led it to aggressively sink billions into novel financial instruments, such as nonbank asset-backed commercial paper – short-term corporate debts that turned toxic.”

– Not surprisingly, not many Canadian politicians or oil and gas executives seem to subscribe to National Geographic.  Which is the only way to explain why the hullabaloo over the current issue’s photo essay on Alberta’s tar sands, “Scraping Bottom”, was raised only when the issue hit the newstands last week, not when it hit mailboxes earlier.  What is surprising is how the lines have been drawn over the article, though it helps to remember that line about politics and bedfellows: new Liberal opposition leader Michael Ignatieff* not coincidentally looking for votes on a swing through Alberta and quirky CBC commentator Rex Murphy calling foul, and the Alberta government and The Edmonton Journal‘s editorial page calling fair.  And silence from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, last seen at an Ottawa press conference with President Obama throwing the Bush regime under the bus,

We will be watching what the United States does [regarding the environment] very — with a lot of — with a lot of interest for the obvious reasons that, as we all know, Canada has had great difficulty developing an effective regulatory regime alone in the context of a integrated continental economy. It’s very hard to have a tough regulatory system here when we are competed with — competing with an unregulated economy south of the border.

Also interesting to note that it’s an article with photographs, including two large foldouts, that makes such a splash.  And not any of the equally dramatic but more or less pictureless articles on the oil sands over the years, such as Elizabeth Kolbert‘s “Unconventional Crude” for The New Yorker in 2007 and The Guardian‘s “Mud, sweat and tears” the same year.  A thousand words, indeed.

Better late than never department: I have a post in my draft folder about this, but each time I pull it up I start to gnash my teeth.  Here’s what the non-Canadian The Economist has to say on the subject, with less teeth-gnashing and garment-rending on my part (I’ve added some links to the original article),

The Battle of the Plains of Abraham was brief and not all that bloody, but it was historic. On September 13th 1759, France’s loss of its colonial territories in North America was set in motion when British redcoats scaled cliffs protecting Quebec City and defeated troops and militia loyal to Louis XV. A modern-day battle over the battle, which concluded on February 17th, lasted somewhat longer and ended very differently. It flared up over plans to mark the battle’s 250th anniversary with a re-enactment, and ended with Quebec separatists crying victory and Canada’s federal government beating a hasty retreat.

The re-enactment was to have been the centrepiece of a summer-long commemoration of 1759’s events. But to some Quebeckers commemoration sounded like celebration. “Dancing on the graves of our ancestors,” was how the Réseau de Résistance du Québécois (RRQ), a group of sovereigntist hardliners, described it. They demanded the re-enactment’s cancellation. For several weeks debate raged. The re-enactment was an exercise to pay tribute to the fallen and educate the living about one of Canada’s most important episodes, said its supporters. These included 2,000 or so mostly American “re-enacters”, the federal government and Quebec City’s mayor, who was loth to lose millions of dollars in tourist spending.

Opponents, and most of the French-language press, cursed the proposed re-enactment as a “repugnant federalist propaganda operation”. When it reached a point where its organisers were receiving threats—including having “our bayonets shoved up our butts”, according to their leader—the National Battlefields Commission, which administers the Plains of Abraham, cancelled the mock battle and other activities planned for the summer. Or, as the Gazette, Quebec’s only English daily, wrote, it “cravenly surrendered the field”.

If there was an edifying component to the brouhaha, it lay in displaying the different light in which the Conquest, as it is known, is seen by those on opposite sides of the Quebec independence debate. For many sovereigntists it was the beginning of domination by the wretched English, and of the struggle for cultural survival. Federalists, however, both Francophone and Anglophone, argue that after the Conquest the French of New France got rights they could only dream of under the exploitative, authoritarian ancien régime.

Whatever the case, the re-enactment was probably doomed from the moment in mid-January when the RRQ pledged “to go on the warpath” against it. Support for Quebec’s sovereignty spikes whenever it is felt that English Canada is taking it for granted or not respecting it. Wise federal politicians are thus wary of anything that may rile Quebec sensitivities. Nevertheless, a few cabinet ministers took opposing positions on the re-enactment.

Quebec’s premier, Jean Charest, was shrewd enough not to get involved. He simply announced that he would not attend. This is a decision Generals Wolfe and Montcalm, the commanders of the British and French forces in 1759, should probably also have made; both died of wounds suffered on the Plains of Abraham

A few thoughts. First, outside of Quebec in the rest of the country this article didn’t make much of a splash at all. Second, how disappointing to live in a country, a world, where some can confuse commemoration with celebration, and where hundreds of years later there are still such sensitivities over historical facts. I can’t help but think of the bicentary commemoration of the Battle of Trafalgar four years ago, when the famous sea battle was re-enacted, as the BBC noted, “between a blue and a red team, rather than Britain versus France, in order not to offend the French”.  And yet there’s the feeling that confusion has been raised over the meaning of words, the prospect of insult to ancestors has been raised and bandied about merely to make separatist, sovereigntist hay. And the rest of the country, especially the part scratching its collective head every so often over Quebec, doesn’t know enough of its own history to care.  As Hugh MacLennan wrote in Rivers of Canada in 1974 (almost 30 years after his Two Solitudes), “Ours is not the only nation which has out-travelled its own soul and now is forced to search frantically for a new identity. No wonder, for so many, the past Canadian experience has become not so much a forgotten thing as an unknown thing.”

Anyone moved to learn more might be interested to know that the other weekend The Ottawa Citizen excerpted part of D. Peter Macleod’s new book, Northern Armageddon: The Battle of the Plains of Abraham.  You can read the excerpt here.

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UPDATED to add: I knew I forgot something. Here’s a birthday present from the National Film Board of Canada: “The Fate of America: Two well-known Quebec artists, a filmmaker and a playwright, look at various aspects of the story of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. Whose version should prevail? Is history best served by documentary or fiction?”

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