• 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, home schooling, and building our own house. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 18/Grade 12, 16/Grade 11, and 14/Grade 10.

    Contact me at becky(dot)farmschool(at)gmail(dot)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"

    "‘Never look at an ugly thing twice. It is fatally easy to get accustomed to corrupting influences."
    English architect CFA Voysey (1857-1941)

    "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."

    "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 © 2005-2016 Please do not use any of my words or my personal photographs without my express permission.

A new year

“There is no medicine like hope, no incentive so great, and no tonic so powerful as expectation of something tomorrow.”
O.S. Marden (1850-1924)

Our farewell to the old year and welcome to the new one includes lots of skating (the end of the month has brought some cooler temperatures, much beautiful hoar frost, but still no snow), and a meal tonight of fizzy drinks and hors d’oeuvres — devilled eggs, shrimp and cream cheese on crackers (the kids’ invention), smoked salmon (a delicious and thoughtful gift from some friends visiting for the holidays from B.C.), and such — and decadent desserts. Then we watch old movies, I remember Guy Lombardo fondly, and we try to stay up until midnight, but if we can’t we celebrate at New York or Newfoundland time. And I’m definitely in the “no New Year’s resolutions” camp. Life is much too short…

A happy and healthy New Year to all!

"Viewpoint Discrimination"

Interesting article in the most recent issue of The Economist (December 17th) received here yesterday about an even more interesting California case with more than a couple of highly interesting ramifications for home educating families, secular and otherwise. Because the article is considered “premium content” and you have to be an Economist subscriber to get it for free, here’s the long article, in its entirety. Rather more interesting passages highlighted by me.

United States: A new front in the culture wars: The Lord’s word
“Are secular universities discriminating against religious schools? Or are they just setting high standards?”

(Los Angeles) In its opening pages, Biology for Christian Schools (Bob Jones University Press) comes straight to the point:

“The people who have prepared this book have tried consistently to put the Word of God first and science second. To the best of the author’s knowledge, the conclusions drawn from observable facts that are presented in this book agree with the Scriptures. If a mistake has been made (which is probable since this book was prepared by humans) and at any point God’s Word is not put first, the author apologises.”

And that is precisely why a high-school science course using the 693-page book as a primary text does not meet the admission standards of the University of California (UC). It does not, argues the university, reflect “knowledge generally accepted in the scientific and educational communities and with which a student at the university level should be conversant.” The same, says the university, is true of some other courses—in history, literature and government—offered by Calvary Chapel Christian Schools of Murrieta, a small town south-east of Los Angeles. These courses also rely on books from the Bob Jones University Press and from another Christian publisher, A Beka Books.

Welcome to the latest front in America’s culture wars. The Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI), the Calvary Chapel Schools and six Calvary Chapel students are suing the university, whose campuses include that traditional bastion of liberal thought, Berkeley, as well as the huge UCLA campus, for what they call “viewpoint discrimination”. The Christian schools add that the university is violating the students’ constitutional right to freedom of speech and religion. The university naturally denies the charges, and this week a federal judge in Los Angeles began considering the preliminary arguments of a contest which could eventually reach the Supreme Court.

So far the UC case has had less publicity than the argument about whether high schools can teach “intelligent design” as an alternative to evolution (currently being fought out in a courtroom in Pennsylvania) or even a ferocious dispute up in Cupertino, where a history teacher claims he was restrained from teaching about Christianity’s role in American history (parents had complained that he was acting more like an evangelical preacher). In fact, all these arguments are part of the same battleground, which pits an increasingly self-confident evangelical America against a secular education establishment.

The ACSI, which represents almost 4,000 Christian high schools in America, including some 800 in California, worries that if the Christians’ challenge fails, UC’s intolerance might spread to other institutions and other states. Moreover, says a lawyer for the plaintiffs, victory would be “a major blow to the arrogance of the ivory towers and their attempt to say that kids from Christian schools can’t be well prepared for university.”

There is a lot at stake. California, with its ten-campus UC system and the 23-campus California State network, has America’s biggest—and best—system of public universities. The case has arisen because of the way that UC, unlike other systems, intrudes into high-school education. Its Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools assesses high-school courses to see if they meet its standards (known as “A-G requirements”, and ranging from a two-year history syllabus to one-year elective courses in subjects such as the visual and performing arts).

UC denies it practices secular intolerance and “viewpoint discrimination”. It notes that it has approved plenty of courses at Christian schools and in the past four years has accepted 24 of the 32 applicants from the Murrieta school. And it says that if the courses had used these textbooks “as supplementary, rather than primary, texts, it is likely they would have been approved.”

What is really being challenged, says the university, is its right to set its own academic standards and admission requirements. In which case the question is what that right implies. The Christian plaintiffs say they have no objection to science students, for example, being taught conventional wisdom, but “their constitutional rights are abridged or discriminated against when they are told that the current interpretation of scientific method must be taught dogmatically, and must be accepted by students, to be eligible for admission to University of California institutions.” In other words, what the case involves is not so much the now-familiar tussle over intelligent design, but a student’s freedom of speech and thought.

All of which, counters the university, is bogus. As long as they satisfy the A-G requirements, students who are headed into the UC system can believe whatever they choose to and take whatever additional courses—including religious ones—they like. In any case, the university’s lawyers point out, there is plenty of precedent establishing a university’s right to control a student’s speech: witness a court ruling three years ago that a UC student did not have a first amendment right to write “fuck you” to university administrators in his master’s thesis.

In theory, the UC case stops at California’s borders: no other state’s public universities interfere so much in the high-school system, so their “secular intolerance”, real or imagined, is less potent. In practice, whatever happens in the current case, more such conflicts will follow.

For instance, when home-schooled children or students from private Christian schools apply to a public university, they are typically judged by their examination scores—and, typically, they are required to perform much better than their counterparts from the public schools. By the reckoning of the Calvary Chapel plaintiffs, a student from a Christian school in California needs to score within the top 2-4%, whereas a public-school teenager with good course-work could meet the required score almost by guesswork.

Given the growth across America in both home-schooling and Christian schooling, there will surely be more “viewpoint-discriminated” students and their parents contacting their lawyers. And evangelical America will keep pushing. Christian universities such as Wheaton, in Illinois, are proof that decent scholarship can co-exist with evangelical faith; and, given the rise of born-again Christianity across the nation, more evangelical scholars are now found in secular faculties.

Fifty years ago there were only a handful of “megachurches”, drawing more than 2,000 each Sunday; today, there are more than 1,200 such churches, three of them with congregations of over 20,000. Not only is the nation’s president a born-again Christian, but so (according to the Pew Research Centre) are 54% of America’s Protestants, who are 30% of the population.

Will America’s public universities take on a similar tinge? To the extent that educational establishments reflect cultural reality, it may be inevitable. After all, before the liberal era of the 1960s, there were no such things as courses in “Women’s Studies” or “African-American Studies”. Now, no prudent American university would be without them. It would be odd if conservative Christians did not leave similar footprints on the syllabus.

Received and sent

Received in today’s e-mail inbox:

RE: Make Money Off Your Blog

Hello Bloggers!

I am contacting you on behalf of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine and HomeschoolBlogger to see if you would be interested in signing up as an affiliate for our new e-books affiliate program. By signing up for our affiliate program and promoting your affiliate link on your blog you can earn 66% of each sale (that’s over $7.00 per sale!) of our just-released e-book, Secrets to Successful Homeschooling.

You can read more about the e-book here:

If you are interested, you can sign up for the affiliate program here:


It should only take a few moments and then once you have your affiliate link, you can start promoting! I would be happy to send you a banner or button for your blog, if you are interested.

Let me know if you have any questions!

Angela Jett, Public Relations Consultant
The Old Schoolhouse Magazine

Sent in reply:

Dear Angela:

Many thanks for the offer, but no thanks. Even were I more familiar with your publication — I’ve seen a few issues, but so far haven’t been tempted to subscribe — I’m not interested in making any money from my blog, which I realize places me in rather singular and peculiar company. In fact, I started my blog more as a place to think out loud and share information about homeschooling and other subjects rather than as a money-making vehicle.

But I thank you very much for your interest.

With all best wishes for a happy and prosperous New Year,

I am,

Yours truly,

Becky Sharp

Narnia: Better than the book…

and I don’t say that often. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever said that before. Ever. Then again, the book wasn’t one of my favorites (rare for a children’s book). And the movie was thin in parts — the scene with Aslan at the Stone Table reminded me of the Star Wars bar scene — and between the animation and the voice (as other critics have mentioned, Liam Neeson’s voice coming out of a lion is rather disconcerting), not deep and noble enough I thought, the lion is more of a pussycat than the awe-inspiring wild cat he is supposed to be. But the movie has all of the richness, depth, pageantry (Peter, in full armor, on a unicorn!), feeling, and Magic I missed in the book. And the kids are wonderful.

Waiting for the Magic

Today, the kids and I are going to finish up with our reading of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and catch Narnia, possibly with Tom, at the local theater before it departs tomorrow.

I’m still waiting to get captivated by the book, and can’t shake the impression that Lewis must have said to himself, “And now I think I shall write a children’s book” (or the impression that the kids view the book not as a particularly good story but only as a means to an end — our third trip to the movie theater). I’m rather disappointed by the lack of depth and detail, and by so much going on so quickly (perhaps a slower pace would have solved my need for more depth and detail) and by too much repetition, especially that bit about the importance of leaving a wardrobe door open; perhaps Mr. Lewis thought we wouldn’t understand or realize that good, thoughtful children leave wardrobe doors open and bad, thoughtless children close them? And I know the Pevensie children, and we, are supposed to care innately about Aslan because the author says we are supposed to — “the moment the Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different” — but I just, er, don’t. For the same reason none of us felt particularly sad or upset or involved, as we were supposed to, when Aslan ended up on the Stone Table, though the violence of the scene was certainly felt.

I can see the magic in the book — witches, dwarves, talking wolves and lions and beavers (which, you’d think, should have some special hold on Canadian children), and a portal to to a different world — but for the life of me I can’t find the Magic, the same Magic that I find effortlessly (and the kids do too), or rather that finds us, in Understood Betsy, Blueberries for Sal, the works of E. Nesbit and E.B. White, Anne of Green Gables, and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Maybe we’re just missing the Narnia gene, she wondered with a sigh…

Christmas in the Country, Part 2

Here, as promised, is the rest of Justin Isherwood’s magical holiday essay:

Christmas is a time that makes us believers in magic. We as a people are so touched by the season that the selfish find themselves generous and the quiet find themselves singing.

It is a time when people become a little crazy, a time when normal people take to hiding things in secret places. It is a time when country children sneak to the barn on Christmas Eve to wait in the dark so that they might hear cows speak in human tongues.

It is a time when the week pullers of summer walk their fields spreading thistle, sunflower, and rye seeds to gain the blessed flight of birds over their land, in belief that feathered prayers are best.

That the season is generous cannot be doubted. Cash register carols ring in the ears of the nation’s GNP. While we have gained with invention a multitude of curiosities, we have lost something of self-expression, a quality thought quaint. Yet, it is personal expression that reinforces the bonds of friends and family and that repairs the rents made in the communal fabric. Its quality is one of goodness. For those having a generous solid character; what is put in will also flow out. Gifts make people as sure as people make gifts.

Remembered are all the knitted socks, caps, and mittens that mothers forced habitually on children, despite their best efforts to lose, mutilate, or outgrow them. Somehow mothers embodied good health in their children by the sheer number of such articles they could produce.

Flannel pajamas and quilts stuffed with raw wood or old wedding suits gave warm comfort in wood-heated, sawdust-insulated houses, which held pitifully little heat by morning.

Indeed, there were store-bought BB guns and toy trains that puffed flour smoke. There were Raggedy Ann dolls, and bicycles, and light bulb ovens, and baseball bats, and Flexible Flyers, and ice skates and, and, and — and all so child necessary. Beyond store-bought things were those contraptions, those inventions of glue and jack plane, alchemies of counter-sunk screw and dovetail mortise. They were gifts of the sort remembered, which gave off an affection if only from the lingering warmth of their manufacture. The spokeshave conveyed the heat of the builder into the wood grain. It was caught there, enmeshed in the fiber and net of a tree’s core, only to be released slowly, the effect left to ripple across generations. There were dollhouses with tiny doors and itsy-bitsy cupboards. There were bookshelves and basswood mixing spoons, breadboards and spice racks. A coffee table with purple blemishes testified to the fence staples some great grandfather had driven into the tree, the iron taken till all that remained was the tinted tattle of wood. There was a child’s wagon and lathe-turned white ash wheels. The basement oozed to the rest of the house the aroma of woodworking king. A cradle birch headboard and rockers cut from wind-shaped limbs, a dulcimer of prized black walnut, a four-horse team with bobsled whittled from a block of white pine all took form there. Patient fingers made little ears and whittled almost breathing nostrils. The leather harness had all the lines; and the ironbound bobs were connected beneath by tiny iron rods so the bobs would swing opposite, just like the real bobsleds that hauled away the great trees of the once near wilderness. A gift of the early days, it ties together all the years. And a rocking chair — made from homegrown pine, pegged, and glued — lulled to sleep three generations and rocked away the anxious days of two world wars and one jungle fight.

There were simpler gifts of a pancake breakfast taken to neighbors, or the sudden appearance of two full cords of oak firewood, or snowtires mysteriously installed. Notes found in the bottom of stockings promised two Sunday afternoons of ice-skating adventures or three Saturday mornings without chores to go romp in the woods. Other simple notes promised to show a favorite fishing hole or a tree where flickers nested.

There was gift in all the cookies made and cut in the shape of angels, stars, and deers that flew. A haunting gift of powerful pride was given child, that they might decorate stars from the humble perch of a country kitchen, cloistered behind its steamed-up windows.

The season was popcorn, grown in the garden and wildly crossed with Indian corn to produce among the bright yellow kernels spotted ones of red and purple. Shelled on the living room floor, the cobs were tossed to the fire. Hazelnuts were just for kids sitting cross-legged to crack. Ice skating on the irrigation pit meant popple branch hockey sticks and granite stone pucks. Hot cider, suet pudding, black fudge, cranberry bread, popcorn balls, and oyster suppers punctuated the season.

And the great green tree brought home from the woodlot in the emptied honey wagon swelled the whole house with its vapors. Its fragrance and good cheer left few lives untouched.

Christmas in the township catches hold of the generosity first given by the land. It is a season that knows what a good gift is, one that keeps on giving, echoing down what hard walls time makes. It was in just such a country place that angels were heard to sing of a child lain in a feedbox. It was, as all farmers know, a good place to be born and a good place for a promise to begin.

A Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Christmas in the Country, Part 1

Our main holiday celebration is Christmas Eve, so, before I go off to bake lemon shortbread squares for tonight’s dessert, here’s my Christmas Eve present to all of my invisible friends, by way of Wisconsin farmer and writer Justin Isherwood, from A Farm Country Christmas:

Winter brings an armistice to the countryside. The fields lie frozen, resting from the marathon event of summer just run with the sun. A peaceful product grows now from the land.

Christmas is a farmer’s holiday. The reason is one of logistics. Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day all come in the green season, at a time when farmers cannot take liberties with their vocation. That the nation does celebrate with mass exodus all the cars packed and outward-bound to some haven, makes little difference.

Christmas comes at a time when work has cooled its fevered pace; the mows, granaries, and warehouses attest to the fulfillment of spring, summer, and harvest. The great work is finished.

Christmas has a primitive heritage. Sky watchers, who by nature were farmers, have for millenia noted the autumnal declination of the sun, noted the days becoming both shorter and colder. Because they had a direct relationship with the earth, this no doubt caused a reverberate fear the sun would sink altogether beneath the horizon, never to rise again.

Perhaps their celestial instrument was a tree seen from their habitation, perhaps a large rock. One day, two-thirds of the way through December, notice was given the sun would rise high again. This observation of the sun rising on the north side of the tree assured the farmer of the return of the sun and its connected growing season.

Modern farmers are yet tied to such ancient solar rites; some small muscle twitches at solstice. A near universal time of celebration, feast days, dances, and gift giving, its importance is held within our blood as an almost genetic response to a tilted planet’s return swing about a nearby star.

Winter always provides the struggle to survive. We have little difficulty in understanding why this is so, with blizzards and the worst cold yet to be told. The fall rush of canning, pickling, and hunting is but preparation to endure winter’s coming, to survive to a distant spring.

To be continued tomorrow, Christmas Day. Merry Christmas!