• 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.

The butler did it

My father sent me the sad but not surprising news that the Murder Ink bookstore on upper Broadway is closing today, New Year’s Eve. I still have, tucked away somewhere, my black gun-shaped Murder Ink bookmark/business card from the original store on West 87th Street.

I also remember the Bar-B-Queen and the candy and nut shop, both of which were a few blocks away from where I grew up. I passed by both daily on my home from high school, and my late grandmother must have bought more than her weight in walnuts from the nut shop.

For those of you lucky to be graced with a nearby independent bookseller, and it’s not something to be taken for granted, please give it your support.

(I think at least one of the articles linked above is of the pesky Times Select variety; if you want the article, email me offlist at farmschool at telus dot net and I’ll send it along.)

Updated to add that I was sorry to hear today, this time from my mother, that Coliseum Books is next on the chopping block. I have fond memories of my father stacking my arms with the books on my summer reading list, and just sitting in the aisles looking through books to decide which to purchase. As the website notes,

Dear Friends,

Since opening our store on 57th Street in July of 1974, it has been our pleasure to bring you the best selection of new and backlist books. After closing that store in January 2002, when the lease expired, we searched long and hard for a suitable new location and thought we had found one here on 42nd Street. Business started more slowly than we had hoped but continued to build until this year, when increased competition from discount stores and book chain stores and the internet started to take its toll. We are now trying to hold on as best we can, and any support you can give will be much appreciated.

Just in time for the holidays we are starting to sell off our entire inventory. You can get great bargains as you choose your holiday gifts and help us at the same time. Shop early before the good titles are gone.

Thank you all for your loyal support..

George S. Leibson
Founding Partner

The year-end list of "100 Cool Teachers in Children’s Literature"

Mary Lee and Franki at A Year of Reading have posted their complete list of
the top 100 wonderful teachers in children’s books
. At this time of year, I tend to get listed out, but this is a fun one, and I’m happy to see so many of my favorites here, from Little Women‘s Jo March, Caddie Woodlawn‘s Miss Parker, Roald Dahl’s Matilda‘s Miss Honey, and Great Aunt Arizona, to Nicholas Nickelby, Stuart Little, Anne Shirley, Miss Stacey, and Laura Ingalls.

A Christmas treasure in disguise

Karen at lightingthefires has a post with an absolutely lovely Christmas poem, A Merry Literary Christmas by Alice Low, which, since we’re smack dab in the midst of thank you card season, is more than timely. And might be rather nice printed on a handmade card with all the books I give my nieces and nephews…

My favorite lines,

But every year when Christmas went
I’d read the book my aunt had sent,
And looking back, I realize
Each gift was treasure in disguise.
So now it’s time to write her here
A thank-you note that is sincere.

So — thanks for Alice and Sara Crewe,
For Christopher Robin and Piglet and Pooh,
For Little Nell and William Tell
And Peter and Wendy and Tinker Bell.

Thanks for Tom and Jim and Huck,
For Robinson Crusoe and Dab-Dab the duck,
For Meg and Jo and Johnny Crow
And Papa Geppeto’s Pinocchio

For Mary Poppins and Rat and Toad
King Arthur and Dorothy’s Yellow Brick Road,
For Kipling’s Kim and tales from Grimm,
And Ferdinand, Babar and Tiny Tim.

Thank you, Karen for the gems you find, and post! My favorite gifts, besides the handmade ones from my children, remain books, especially the ones my parents send. Poor Tom, unfortunately, without a nearby bookstore or being able to use the computer just can’t keep up with my ever-changing wish list!

Oh! Was just catching up on my blog reading and see that Mary Lee and Franki at A Year of Reading also posted the poem, earlier in the month on the other side of Christmas. I think I rather like the idea of it as bookends, to remind one about giving and receiving…

Made you look

Stocking up on reading material for the weekend at the library, I was rather startled to find the January 1st edition of Maclean’s Magazine (at left) looking out from the shelves at me with the cover headline “Why do we dress our daughters like skanks?” over a girl about Laura’s age dressed like a hooker. In case you can’t read the sparkly writing, it says Made You Look.

I was startled not because of the question or the girl’s attire but because Tom and I had just been discussing the very subject, after yet another extended family holiday gathering with a gaggle of underdressed young relations. The conversation regularly pops up here during holiday get-togethers, children’s clothing shopping expeditions, and the obligatory cousins’ dance recital, where students and teachers writhe around in suggestive clothes to suggestive music performing suggestive choreography; all that’s missing, Tom has said more than once, is a pole. This time the conversation took place with the school photo variation, as in, why on earth were some of the girls allowed to pose for their school photos, invariably included in the Christmas cards, wearing tops that drew such startling attention to cleavage? Or what is supposed to be cleavage.

The Maclean’s cover story was inspired, I learned, by the publication this fall of Southern humorist and syndicated columnist’s Celia Rivenbark’s book, Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank, and indeed the same issue of Maclean’s features an interview with Ms. Rivenbark along with the cover story, “Why are we dressing our daughters like this?”. But on this particular subject, and in this interview, Ms. Rivenbark leaves the humor behind: “I don’t think it’s harmless to wear a glittery shirt hanging off the shoulder when you’re seven years old. I think that’s just ridiculous, and borders on obscene. I’m a humour columnist by trade and this is probably the most strident thing I’ve ever written. I don’t normally get so agitated over things, but this one, I’m just shocked about it.” The newspaper column was inspired by a trip to the mall:

Well, I went shopping with my daughter, and I saw all these tween skank clothes, and one thing led to another. I just went off on the notion that these clothes are inappropriate, these hoochie-mama Las Vegas showgirl clothes marketed to kids who are as young as seven. There were all these sequined, sparkling midriff tops, lots of fishnet, shirts saying things like Jailbait, Made Ya Look or Juicy on the bottoms of the pants. Pretty disgusting. …

Obviously the stuff sells because the stores are full of it. Parents buy it. They feel a lot of pressure — particularly parents who work all the time — to appease the kids by giving them what they want, so I think that’s why so many parents just finally give in. They feel like this is a battle they don’t want to fight. …

I think sometimes, as parents, we get so conditioned to what we see in the stores it’s almost like you get numb to it, and so this was for some parents, they said, a bit of a wake-up call, you know? If you’re used to seeing ripped jeans and some questionable phrases on kid clothes, you roll with it. Especially when you see it in really nice department stores. You think, this is what they’re selling and you almost get used to it and conditioned to accept it. I’m not a prude, by any means, but I just don’t think there’s any way you could possibly say that these kinds of clothes are suitable for anybody under, I’d say, 24. …

Amen. Other things not meeting Ms. Rivenbark’s parental approval for her nine-year-old daughter include the latest sex-sound stylings of Justin Timberlake and the loose and promiscuous not to mention Canadian Nelly Furtado. And once again I’m reminded that one of the things I appreciate so much about home education is that the conditioning about society’s values and expectations just isn’t a factor for our family, for the children or the adults.

More of Ms. Rivenbark’s thoughts from the interview on modern, ahem, parenting:

… generally speaking, for whatever reason, kids tend to run over their parents a lot more than they used to. The whole child-centered thing is really big now. I see it over and over again just among the friends I have: the child makes the decisions on, for example, what kind of entertainment they watch, what they do on Friday night. Sometimes they need to realize that. But I think that when the kids are running the show it’s not really a good thing. These are little kids, and if you give them that much power they’re not ready for it. …

We’ve lost the notion, as parents, that it’s really okay to be the grown-up and say no. My daughter hears no all the time — occasionally she hears yes, but a lot of no. There was a dress she wanted a couple of months ago, and she had a real meltdown wanting it, and I thought the dress was inappropriate, and we all survived it. Parents almost think that it’s in their contract that they have to negotiate. Well, no, they really don’t. Some things, maybe, but not everything. If your kid is trying to go out of the house looking like a mattress-back, then you just send the kid right back in there and try again.

But we’re not talking about a “whole child-centered thing”. The correct term is “wholesale absence of parental responsibility”. Yes, it’s easier to give in and say yes most of the time, and not to hang around the house long enough to monitor your child’s attire and even, heaven forfend, send him or her back to changed into something appropriate when you could be picking up your daily coffee at Starbucks or slouching about the water cooler exchanging the latest adult conversation with your colleagues. But don’t sugarcoat terms for “slacker parents” — and I understand that Ms. Rivenbark has referred to herself as such at times — who want to take the easy way out, to the detriment of their children and their futures.

Asked by the interviewer, “Do you think the kids are conscious of the meanings of what they’re wearing? Does the fashion come with attitudes and behaviours?”, Ms. Rivenbark replies,

That’s a real good question. I haven’t seen a correlation there. I think they just think it all looks cute. I don’t see that it particularly changes their personalities. They think, “This is hip, I saw it on TV, this is kind of cool.” It doesn’t turn them into monsters. I’m more concerned about the perv who sees them at the mall. A little girl, if her parent is idiot enough to buy something that says Jailbait on it, goes to the mall — it’s the perv who sees that that bothers me.

I do see a correlation, and it’s been there at least since I was in fifth grade about 30 years ago. Kids are indeed conscious of the meanings of what they’re wearing, and they’re conscious — and more cavalier — at ever younger ages. And while the threat from child molesters is not to be discounted, what of the threat of the warped attitudes and paucity of the imagination with which so many boys and girls are growing up? What sort of lives will they have, with friends (or, I suppose, “hook ups”), colleagues, spouses, and their own children? Do I really want my daughter, her cousins, and their friends to think that their bodies for a few drinks and some airtime on Girls Gone Wild is a fair trade? Sex even far from its best isn’t a toy, a tool, or a joke, but the greatest expression of love between two people.

The Maclean’s interview and article both mention Bob Herbert’s October New York Times column (reprinted here since the original is behind the Times Select firewall), “Why Aren’t We Shocked?”, written after the Amish school shooting and inspired in part by an Abercrombie & Fitch t-shirt reading Who needs a brain when I have these?:

The disrespectful, degrading, contemptuous treatment of women is so pervasive and so mainstream that it has just about lost its ability to shock. Guys at sporting events and other public venues have shown no qualms about raising an insistent chant to nearby women to show their breasts. An ad for a major long-distance telephone carrier shows three apparently naked women holding a billing statement from a competitor. The text asks, “When was the last time you got screwed?” …

We have a problem. Staggering amounts of violence are unleashed on women every day, and there is no escaping the fact that in the most sensational stories, large segments of the population are titillated by that violence. We’ve been watching the sexualized image of the murdered 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey for 10 years. JonBenet is dead. Her mother is dead. And we’re still watching the video of this poor child prancing in lipstick and high heels.

What have we learned since then? That there’s big money to be made from thongs, spandex tops and sexy makeovers for little girls. In a misogynistic culture, it’s never too early to drill into the minds of girls that what really matters is their appearance and their ability to please men sexually.

What continues to surprise me is how many mothers around here, and remember, I’m far away from liberal east coast urban types, so your experience may be wide of my mark, are the ones who choose to pimp put their daughters in (often matching) stripper chic not because it’s the path of least resistance but because it’s the path to popularity, to approval, and — hey, a bonus — makes the mothers themselves look or at least seem hip and trendy and young. Well, younger at least. When Laura was in kindergarten and first grade at the local public school, one of her classmates was often dressed by her mother (who in the past few years decided to return to the classroom and now teaches first grade) in fashion-conscious “mini me” style — feather boa trim on sweaters and matching short skirts and dressy suede boots. Not good for the playground at recess or those messy arts and crafts projects, but certainly eye-catching. And this classmate was in good company. As the Maclean’s article notes,

We tell girls that, in wearing these things, they are somehow expressing themselves in an essential way. “If [T-shirts] expressed who a girl is,” write [Lyn Mikel] Brown and Sharon Lamb [authors of Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers’ Schemes], “you’d think she’d be wearing the T she got at the summer camp she went to, the music festival she attended or the Humane Society where she volunteers to walk the dogs. But instead they express ‘attitude’ rather than interests, skills, concerns, and hobbies.” Worse still, in their very construction, these clothes prescribe behaviours that are hard to describe as empowering. A micro-mini, for instance, is a great disincentive to playing on the monkey bars. A halter top and tight, low-rise jeans make it rather more challenging to run and jump. “Every message to a preteen girl,” write Brown and Lamb, “says that it’s preferable to pose on the beach rather than surf, to shop rather than play, to decorate rather than invent.”

Now there’s a challenge for the daughters of North America and their parents for the new year: step away from the fishnets and those size 2 stilleto heels and run, jump, play, and invent. Who needs a brain, indeed.

Poetry Friday: The New Year’s edition

I rarely make resolutions, of the New Year’s — or any other — variety, mostly because they seem to be a sucker’s bet.

Though if one did want advice for a New Year, it’s hard to top Kipling; among other things I rarely do is fret about the idea of mankind in general or the last line below in particular. The poem is grand counsel for girls as well as boys, women as well as men.

For a more traditional approach to New Year’s poetry, try the Academy of American Poets or The Poets’ Corner. And of course, for poetry throughout the (new) year, it’s hard to beat Poetry Fridays!

by Rudyard Kipling

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream — and not make dreams your master;
If you can think — and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings — nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And — which is more — you’ll be a Man, my son!


Updated to add that Liz B. at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy is looking after the day’s round-up. Drop her a note in the comments section of her post if you have a poem for the day. Thanks, Liz, and a happy and healthy New Year to you, the chair, the fireplace, and the tea cozy! Indeed, warm wishes for a very happy New Year to all!

Christmas week reading: "lovely interesting discussions"

My Christmas week reading so far:

Through the Children’s Gate: A Home in New York by Adam Gopnik (thanks, Mom and Pop); my Upper West Side past and rural Canadian prairie present run into each other:

In my experience, at least, it is liberal parents who tend to be the most socially conservative — the most queasy at the endless ribbon of violence and squalor that passes for American entertainment, more concerned to protect their children from it. One migh have the impression that it is the Upper West Side atheist and the Lancaster County Amish who dispute the prize for who can be most obsessive about having the children around the table at six p.m. for a homemade dinner from farm-raised food. Morals and manners proceed in twisting spirals of contradiction more often than in neat sandwiches of sameness, and the attitudes of the prohibitive and the secular end up resembling each other. We try to find a way to say grace every night., too, although in our own way. We hold hands, and clink glasses.

The Making of Pride and Prejudice, found in the Deluxe Gold-Embossed Cloth Slipcase (wowee!) of the Pride & Prejudice 10th Anniversary Limited Collector’s Edition (a gift to myself, double wowee!); from Chapter 5, Music, an interview with composer Carl Davis:

Q: What were you trying to say with the opening music?
A: There were two main things I wanted to communicate. The first was to pick up the essence of the book — its wit and vitality, its modern feel, something of the character of Elizabeth and her family. I worked through something very lively and bright for this and then, without my being conscious of it, a slight hunting refrain crept in — which, of course, echoes one of the main drives of the book, the hunt for husbands! And this was linked with my second theme, which was marriage and affairs of the heart. This is what the story is about. …

The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short Works of Richard P. Feynman (one of my presents to Tom, which I couldn’t resist picking up before he did); from the title piece, the transcript of a 1981 BBC interview for the program Horizon:

Looking at a bird [my father] says, “Do you know what that bird is? It’s a brown throated thrush; but in Portugese it’s a . . . in Italian a . . . ,” he says “in Chinese it’s a . . . , in Japanese a . . . ,” etcetera. “Now,” he says, “you know in all the languages you want to know what the name if that bird is and when you’ve finished with all that,” he says, “you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird. You only know about humans in different places and what they call the bird. Now,” he says, “let’s look at the bird.”

He had taught me to notice things and one day when I was playing with what we call an express wagon, which is a little wagon which has a railing around it for children to play with that they can pull around. It had a ball in it — I remember this — it had a ball in it, and I pulled the wagon and I noticed something about the way the ball moved, so I went to my father and I said, “Say, Pop, I noticed something: When I pull the wagon the ball rolls to the back of the wagon, and when I’m pulling it along and I suddenly stop, the ball rolls to the front of the wagon,” and I says, “why is that?” And he said, “That nobody nows,” he said. “The general principle is that things that are moving try to keep on moving and things that are standing still tend to stand still unless you push on them hard.” And he says, “This tendency is called inertia but nobody knows why it’s true.” Now that’s a deep understanding — he doesn’t give me a name, he knew the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something, which I learnt very early. … So that’s the way I was educated by my father, with those kinds of examples and discussions, no pressure, just lovely interesting discussions.

Cool runnings

Though we don’t have any sledding hills near the house, I’m told by those in the know that our snow-filled but otherwise empty silage pit at the corrals makes a dandy sledding hill and bobsled run. It also for some reason is amazingly effective at making the kids whiz through chores faster than usual. Santa has received much praise for his timely gift this snowy Christmas.

And the experiment for the day, the kids’ idea, is seeing if they can sled the mile and a half home. Davy sounded rather doubtful, but the other two persuaded him to change his mind by offering to pull him home on the sled if he can’t make it. And just in case they find the chest-deep stuff that almost defeated Tom the other week and none of them can make it, I promised to go looking for them in the next hour or so if they don’t make it back before then.

Just spotted from the window: my three Olympians high-stepping through the high snow. Time to make hot chocolate, and I think they deserve some candy cane swizzle sticks.