• 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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How to write a sentence

I rather feel as if I’m waking up from a long nap.  I’ve been so distracted, and away from home, for months that I wasn’t paying attention to much outside my own life.  For example, I had had no idea that Blake Edwards had died while we were in the West Indies preparing to return home via NYC, which I learned only from the Oscars’ annual memorial montage.

I also had no idea until yesterday that Stanley Fish has a new book, How to Write a Sentence, and How to Read One (Harper, January 25, 2011). I don’t think it’s specifically meant for anyone but adults looking to improve their composition skills, but it seems ideal for high school students, especially those schooling at home.  I’ve long been a fan of Professor Fish’s aptly-named and well-written “Opinionator” blog for The New York Times, which I heartily recommend to you and which is the easiest way for you to decide whether Prof. Fish can write a sentence and whether he’s the one to teach you, or your child, to write one.  For extra added benefit, he does a good job of teaching one to think, too.

From NPR’s recent book review, shades of the progymnasmata (imitative writing), and which contains a healthy excerpt at the end,

Fish is something of a sentence connoisseur, and he says writing a fine sentence is a delicate process — but it’s a process that can be learned. He laments that many educators approach teaching the craft the wrong way — by relying on rules rather than examples.

Analyzing great sentences “will tell you more about … what you can possibly hope to imitate than a set of sterile rules that seem often impossibly abstract,” Fish tells NPR’s Neal Conan.

A good sentence may be easy to pick out, but learning to understand what makes it great, says Fish, will help a student become a stronger writer and a “better reader of sentences.”

Just as a student of art must learn how to describe the merits of a painting, aspiring writers must be able to articulate what constitutes a well-crafted sentence.

“If you can begin to understand an accomplishment in detail, and be able to talk about what makes it work, you will begin to know why your sentences work or don’t work,” Fish explains.

I much prefer my “how to write” books by those who can write.  It’s one of the reasons I’ve long treasured my father’s old copy of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, because William Strunk and especially E.B. White could write stylish circles around anyone else. Having read Susan Wise Bauer’s “Story of the World” history series, I appreciate the job she did making history come alive for younger children, but much of the time the language is clunky and falls flat.  It’s one of the reasons I gave Writing with Ease a pass.  I’ll be picking up a copy of Prof. Fish’s new book is because his sentences sparkle and crackle with life and meaning. The contrariness, a bonus, keeps you alert.  I’ll leave you with an example from an old blog post, “I Am, Therefore I Pollute”,

Some years ago, I beat back an attempt to eliminate paper towels altogether and replace them with re-washable rags. But there are too many battles to be fought and I find that I am losing most of them. I did retain the right to have a small supply of paper napkins in an out-of-the-way cupboard. (I hate cloth napkins; you always have to worry about soiling them; paper napkins you just throw away, which is of course the problem.) But my house is now full of environmentally approved lightbulbs. They are dim, ugly and expensive, but I am told that they will last beyond my lifetime. (That’s supposed to be reassuring?) A neighbor told me today that he is planning to stockpile incandescent bulbs in the face of a prediction that they will be phased out by 2012.

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4 Responses

  1. [...] How to write a sentence « Farm School. Becky’s back, therefore I bookmark. And my TBR pile [...]

  2. I found your blog via Melissa’s reference. I am hooked and look forward to reading more.

  3. Welcome, Sarah, and thank you!

    I haven’t been a very good or dedicated blogger for the past few years as life seems to have become complicated and got in my way. But I’m trying to crawl my way back…

  4. One of my favorite “how to write” books is The Sound on the Page by Ben Yagoda (it’s anti-Strunk & White). He interviews many writers on “voice” and it thus illuminates both writing and the writing life.

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