• 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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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.)

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8 Responses

  1. Lovely…and I’m sure your farm is even lovelier! Love, Goddess

  2. I can’t be the only one who’s reminded of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

    If I may ask, which small liberal arts college in New England?

  3. The Times article reminds me of a segment from This American Life earlier this year:

    Act One. Hey Mister DJ.

    For NPR’s Adam Davidson, dropping out of college is the worst thing any young person can do in this economy. So when Adam’s favorite cousin DJ does just that, Adam brings in a professor of economics from Georgetown University to help persuade DJ to get back on the right track. Only after hearing them both out, the professor thinks Adam, not DJ, might be the one on the wrong side of things. (10 minutes)

    It’s not that DJ was especially passionate about a particular craft — rather that he was perfectly happy with a life that has thus far included any number of jobs (construction worker, bouncer, etc.) that aren’t in any danger of getting shipped overseas.

  4. Thank you for taking a break and writing that up. Lovely reminders.

  5. I have just set that magazine article aside to read. I think one of the things i love about knitting is the working with my hands aspect. thanks for the link to working with hands blog, I’ll check that out later, apres gardening…

  6. I loved that article. And I do recall the overt message at my highly competitive high school that there was only one path to success — college and an advanced degree in medicine, law or engineering.

    I have a BA. I’m the only one of my close high school friends who didn’t continue after undergrad. But then I was always the one who hated sitting still and being indoors. And it turns out that, with one or two stellar exceptions, we’ve all ended up pretty much at the same place in life.

    I tell my kids to do whatever they want, as long as they do it well.

  7. I have often thought our privileging of intellectual work problematic. I’m glad it is getting some coverage in prestigious venues.

    This past week I was talking to a friend whose partner is going through the difficult decision to give up her studies. And I realized that she has ended up where she has because people have said “You’re smart. You should study more.” Why don’t we say “You’re smart. You could do anything. What would you like to use your smarts for?”

    There are a lot of very unhappy PhD students and academics. Which demonstrates that even smart people do not always find intellectual labour satisfying.

  8. fantastic post!

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