• 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.

Moving in a common rhythm

“Don’t rule out working with your hands. It does not preclude using your head. There’s no reason why education should be incompatible with craftsmanship.”
Andy Rooney in his 2000 commencement address at the University of Virginia

Part of the reason I haven’t blogged since May 7th is that we’ve been working with our hands — looking after new baby chicks, tending our new Painted Lady butterfly caterpillars (now happily hanging from the top of their tank), planting and watering our 645 new shelterbelt trees, caring for the 4H calves which will be shown next weekend, seeding the barley crop, and planting the flower and vegetable gardens.

When I stopped this afternoon for a quick sandwich before heading back to the garden (and later tonight we have the second performance of Tom’s and the kids’ play in town), I quickly read through some New York Times headlines, and clicked on the new NYT Magazine article, “The Case for Working with Your Hands” by Matthew B. Crawford, from which:

High-school shop-class programs were widely dismantled in the 1990s as educators prepared students to become “knowledge workers.” The imperative of the last 20 years to round up every warm body and send it to college, then to the cubicle, was tied to a vision of the future in which we somehow take leave of material reality and glide about in a pure information economy. This has not come to pass. To begin with, such work often feels more enervating than gliding. More fundamentally, now as ever, somebody has to actually do things: fix our cars, unclog our toilets, build our houses.

When we praise people who do work that is straightforwardly useful, the praise often betrays an assumption that they had no other options. We idealize them as the salt of the earth and emphasize the sacrifice for others their work may entail. Such sacrifice does indeed occur — the hazards faced by a lineman restoring power during a storm come to mind. But what if such work answers as well to a basic human need of the one who does it? I take this to be the suggestion of Marge Piercy’s poem “To Be of Use,” which concludes with the lines “the pitcher longs for water to carry/and a person for work that is real.” Beneath our gratitude for the lineman may rest envy.

As someone who, with a BA from small liberal arts college in New England who strayed far, far from the norm to marry a carpenter and farmer, and whose two sons have said they want to follow more or less in their father’s footsteps, I was interested to read this bit,

A gifted young person who chooses to become a mechanic rather than to accumulate academic credentials is viewed as eccentric, if not self-destructive. There is a pervasive anxiety among parents that there is only one track to success for their children. It runs through a series of gates controlled by prestigious institutions. Further, there is wide use of drugs to medicate boys, especially, against their natural tendency toward action, the better to “keep things on track.” I taught briefly in a public high school and would have loved to have set up a Ritalin fogger in my classroom. It is a rare person, male or female, who is naturally inclined to sit still for 17 years in school, and then indefinitely at work.

The trades suffer from low prestige, and I believe this is based on a simple mistake. Because the work is dirty, many people assume it is also stupid. This is not my experience. I have a small business as a motorcycle mechanic in Richmond, Va., which I started in 2002. I work on Japanese and European motorcycles, mostly older bikes with some “vintage” cachet that makes people willing to spend money on them. I have found the satisfactions of the work to be very much bound up with the intellectual challenges it presents. And yet my decision to go into this line of work is a choice that seems to perplex many people.

Read the rest of Matthew Crawford’s article here.  By the way, Mr. Crawford’s book, Shop Craft as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work, will be published on Thursday by Penguin.

I keep meaning to post about one of my favorite blogs, and this is the perfect time to correct that oversight, especially because the blogger is quoted in the article. Woodworker and teacher Doug Stowe’s blog, Wisdom of the Hands, is a gem; as Mr. Stowe writes, his blog is

dedicated to sharing the concept that our hands are essential to learning — that we engage the world and its wonders, sensing and creating primarily through the agency of our hands. We abandon our children to education in boredom and intellectual escapism by failing to engage their hands in learning and making.

Be sure to read Mr. Stowe’ post on The Times article.

Since I haven’t posted anything for Poetry Friday in more than a month, I’ll leave you with some of Marge Piercy’s To Be of Use, which you can find in its entirety here:

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who stand in the line and haul in their places,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

Related Farm School posts:

Craftsmanship

Hands

Tonic and toast

Further thoughts on self-esteem and self-confidence

All roads lead to home and hard work

More thoughts on independence and freedom

(Back to work. With my hands.)

World Science Festival in New York, June 2009

Just had an email with the schedule for next month’s World Science Festival in New York City, June 10-14.

Some of the events include:

“Navigating the Cosmos” with Lawrence Krauss and Neil deGrasse Tyson

“The Hudson Since Henry: A Natural and Unnatural History”

“Infinite Worlds” with Festival creator physicist Brian Greene, NPR science correspondent Robert Krulwich, philosopher Nick Bostrom, Nobel Laureate David Gross, and others

And oodles of others fascinating programs, including some special Youth & Family events, including “Bio Blitzing in the Boroughs”, whose “participants are invited to attend the [World Science Festival] Street Fair on Sunday to showcase, discuss, and analyze their findings guided by America’s consummate naturalist, EO Wilson”.  In addition to the great EO Wilson, the Street Fair’s “author alley” will include Lawrence Krauss, Eric W. Sanderson, Richard Wrangham, Evalyn Gates, Brian Floca, Mary Stetten Carson, Deborah Heiligman, and Bill Schutt.  Also at the Street Festival will be a Math Factory, Discovery Labs, the Bio Bus.  And Galileo will apparently be putting in an appearance.

More here at the World Science Festival website

And don’t miss physicist and WSF participant Laurence Krauss’s article last year in Science magazine on “Science Festivals: Science as Culture”.  As a PDF here if the previous link doesn’t work.

(I’ll try to add some author links to the above as time allows, which it doesn’t right now)

Star party

On Saturday night Tom, the kids, and I attended a stargazing party at our provincial park to help celebrate the International Year of Astronomy. It was our town’s “Galileo Moment”. While we live in a rural area and don’t have a local astronomy club, observatory, or planetarium in where we live — though we do have the benefit of almost no light pollution  — we do have some passionate amateur  astronomers who put together two presentations (including the video “Eyes on the Skies”, more here on it) and set up eight telescopes, including a Celestron 14″ in diameter.

The kids ran from telescope to telescope, viewing the moon, Saturn and its ring, nebulae, and more.  Just after 11 pm, we watched an iridium flare as the sun shone briefly on a travelling satellite. We’re planning on keeping our eyes open for more, since the bigger ones are visible to the naked eye.

As with all the best parties, ours had refreshments (hot chocolate, juice, and cookies to keep everyone warm on a cool Spring evening) and party favors, most courtesy of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada: an assortment of AstroCards to collect (one from each telescope owner); Star Finders; the May/June issue of SkyNews, the Canadian Magazine of Astronomy & Stargazing*, which has a constellation chart for late spring and a 2009 summer star party calendar; promotional postcards and brochures (one for 2-for-1 general admission to Edmonton’s science museum, and Cosmic Journey at the Strathcona Wilderness Center); “Become a Sidewalk Astronomer” booklet, also available to download; and also a copy of a new Canadian children’s astronomy book, aimed at those from grades 1-6, Mary Lou’s New Telescope by Don Kelly and illustrated by Michael McEwing, which can also be downloaded and printed.

If we had such a stellar happening in our little town, I can’t imagine all the offerings and special events available in larger cities to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s use of the telescope, wonderful ways to introduce, or further studies in, astronomy for your kids and your family. At the International Year of Astronomy website, click on your flag to your country’s IYA website and see what’s available in your country; this is Canada’s offering.

And no matter where you live, you can supplement your stargazing with starlistening, with the podcasts at 365 Days of Astronomy, Astronomy Cast, The Jodcast, and Slacker Astronomy.

* For anyone not familiar with the magazine, the editor is astronomer and writer Terence Dickinson, author and co-author of a remarkable selection of astronomy books, including The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide, Nightwatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the UniverseExploring the Night Sky: The Equinox Astronomy Guide for Beginners, Exploring the Sky by Day: The Equinox Guide to Weather and the Atmosphere, and Summer Stargazing: A Practical Guide for Recreational Astronomers

,

“I’ve got a song to sing, all over this land”

Happy Birthday, Pete Seeger.

If you’re in New York City today, you can swing by Madison Square Garden and help celebrate his 90th birthday.

Pete Seeger has been presence in my life since childhood with his records, and I still recall one marvelous autumn day when we got to meet him and listen to him sing at South Street Seaport (I think I remember a pier covered with pumpkins, and while I don’t remember the sloop Clearwater think it must have been there as well), well before it was fixed up and turned into a “destination”. We were also fortunate to live down the street from Pete Seeger’s old friend, Brother Kirk (the Rev. Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick, who died in 1987), who would sit on the sidewalk with his guitar and give impromptu sidewalk concerts. Together the friends collaborated on a 1974 children’s album, “Pete Seeger & Brother Kirk Visit Sesame Street”.

As fascinating as Pete Seeger’s life story and career is his family.  He is the son the musicologist and composer of Charles Seeger and violinist Constance Edson; his stepmother was the noted composer Ruth Crawford Seeger;  his uncle Alan Seeger was the celebrated poet killed in World War I; his eldest brother Charles was a pioneering radio astronomer; his brother John, a longtime teacher at New York’s Dalton School also founded Camp Killoleet in the Adirondacks; his half-sister is the singer Peggy Seeger; his half-brother is singer Mike Seeger.

No childhood should be complete without Pete Seeger — for the music he has sung and written, his family’s place in the history of American music, for his sense of history, and his environmental and political activism.  You can listen to his music and listen to songs about America as it was, and America — and the world –  as it should be. Here’s a list, not nearly complete or comprehensive, of some of our favorite Pete Seeger records, books, and more.

Music especially for children:

“Abiyoyo and Other Story Songs for Children”

“American Folk, Game and Activity Songs”

“Birds, Beasts, Bugs and Fishes (Little and Big)”

“Folk Songs for Young People”

“Song and Play Time”

Pete Seeger’s “Children’s Concert at Town Hall”

Music for the entire family:

“American Favorite Ballads”, on five CDs

“Frontier Ballads”

“Headlines and Footnotes: A Collection of Topical Songs”

“If I Had a Hammer: Songs of Hope and Struggle”

“Love Songs for Friends and Foes”

“Pete Seeger Sings Leadbelly”

“Sing Out!: Hootenanny with Pete Seeger and the Hooteneers”

“Traditional Christmas Carols”

Pete Seeger/The Weavers 3 CD box set

“Pete Seeger at 89″

A Pete Seeger discography at Smithsonian Folkways.  By the way, SF has a new publication, “Folkways Magazine”, just debuted with the Spring 2009 issue, and the main article is “Pete Seeger: Standing Tall”

A Pete Seeger discography and biography at Appleseed Records

Books (many of which are children’s picture books based on his songs):

Abiyoyo with accompanying CD; and Abiyoyo Returns

Turn! Turn! Turn! with accompanying CD

One Grain of Sand: A Lullaby

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?: A Musical Autobiography

Pete Seeger’s Storytelling Book

His memoirs, Where Have All the Flowers Gone: A Singer’s Stories, Songs, Seeds, Robberies

The biography How Can I Keep from Singing?: The Ballad of Pete Seeger by David King Dunaway, the companion volume to the radio series produced by Dunaway (see below)

Audio and Video:

PBS’s American Masters episode: “Pete Seeger: The Power of Song”; now available on DVD

How Can I Keep from Singing?, the three-part radio series produced by David King Dunaway

“To Hear Your Banjo Play” (1947)

“How to Play the 5-String Banjo” DVD, Davy’s favorite; there’s also an accompanying book (not on film, but also instructive and instructional is Pete Seeger’s “The Folksinger’s Guitar Guide”)

At NPR; and today’s NPR appreciation, “Pete Seeger At 90″ by Lynn Neary and Tom Cole.  At the latter link, you’ll find a little orange box on the left with The Pete Seeger Mix, a “five-hour mix of Pete Seeger classics and covers” put together by NPR Music partner Folk Alley

Pete Seeger at the pre-inaugural concert for Barack Obama

Websites:

Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress, where Pete Seeger worked as an assistant in 1940

Clearwater, the organization Pete Seeger established in 1969 to preserve and protect the Hudson River

Bits and bobs:

Studs Terkel’s 2005 appreciation, in The Nation, of Pete Seeger’s 86th birthday

The New Yorker‘s 2006 profile, “The Protest Singer”, by Alec Wilkinson, recently released in hardcover

Pete Seeger’s biography at the Kennedy Center, where he was a Kennedy Center honor recipient in 1994

Call me piggish

and cynical, but I was interested to watch as the public health and news gathering organizations seemed rather deflated at the end of this week as their best efforts to whip up panic — working very well (especially as far my eight-year-old is concerned) — seemed at odds with the fact that the swine flu just hadn’t been the pandemic they were hoping for.  After all, nothing sells like bad news. And what a grand distraction from our financial woes; and I suppose stockpiling face masks and hand sanitizer helps the economy.

apanic

But now, with the news that a herd of pigs in this very province apparently contracted swine flu from a human, everyone is reinflated and happy again.  More cynically perhaps, I wonder if all this panic now is setting us up for a case of “the boy who cried swine” when the real pandemic strikes.  And most Canadians will remember that less than a year ago pigs and pig parts were much more deadly as part of the listeria outbreak in deli meats that killed 22 people last summer.

In the meantime, I’m doing my darndest to keep everyone here distracted from the fear-mongering.  Fortunately, we’re in our busy farming season, with fields to cultivate, baby chicks arriving in a few days, an incubator of duck eggs humming away in the basement (the Pekin and Rouen eggs were a present from our neighbor), a filly with an eye infection to treat, the first of six or so expected litters of kitten here, and 4H calves to ready for achievement day at the end of the month.  And the youngest, who has been the most disconcerted by the news, has discovered the joy of Allan Sherman, who makes for much better listening right about now.  In heavy rotation now are “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah”, “Good Advice”, and “You Went the Wrong Way, Old King Louie”.  Highly recommended even if you aren’t suffering the effects of swine flu fatigue.

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