• 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)
  • Categories

  • Archives

  • ChasDarwinHasAPosse
  • Farm School: A Twitter-Free Zone

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

Poetry Friday: A post for my father, who thinks I fell off the blogging earth

Written in March
by William Wordsworth

(from our copy of Favorite Poems Old and New, selected by Helen Ferris and illustrated by Leonard Weisgard)

The cock is crowing,
The stream is flowing,
The small birds twitter,
The lake doth glitter,
The green field sleeps in the sun;
The oldest and youngest
Are at work with the strongest:
The cattle are grazing,
Their heads never raising;
There are forty feeding like one!

Like an army defeated
The snow hath retreated,
And now doth fare ill
On the top of the bare hill;
The ploughboy is whooping — anon — anon —
There’s joy in the mountains;
There’s life in the fountains;
Small clouds are sailing,
Blue sky prevailing;
The rain is over and gone!


With apologies for the extended absence and lack of posts — in the past and no doubt to come for at least the next month or so. Spring is springing, there are bluebird nesting boxes (and museums) to clean, pianos to tune, windows to wash (and new ones to order), mud to wipe, cows to calve, sweet peas (and 900+ new saplings…) to plant, noses to grindstone, plays to rehearse, great books to read (and converse about), swim clubs to restart, morels to hunt, lambs to visit, cinnamon buns to deliver to neighbors, bicycles and cap pistols to retrieve, 4H projects to complete, fairs to plan, birthday cakes to bake, and, as the kids would no doubt add, forts to build and holes to dig. Preferably in aforementioned mud.

Add a little more poetry to your family’s life next month and for the rest year. Here are some of my poetry posts from last year at this time. And don’t limit your kids, or anyone else’s, to Young People’s Poetry Week, the third week of National Poetry Month. Be a sport and give ’em, at the very least, the whole month. When my sister and I were children celebrating Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, we’d always ask about Children’s Day. To which my father quite rightly always responded, “Every day is Children’s Day”. So should it be with poetry.

Festival report

We spent most of yesterday at the first day of the town’s arts festival. The boys each recited a poem in the morning for Speech Arts, and in the evening Laura performed her musical theater number, “I Have Confidence” from The Sound of Music.

For the past few years, the kids have entered just the Speech Arts part of the program. This year, I gave Laura a pass on that part, since her voice teacher wanted to enter her in the singing portion, and her piano teacher wanted her to enter the piano portion (tomorrow morning, with “Home on the Range”, like a good cowgirl); plus she had two speeches to give for 4H. But I feel as if we’re letting down the Speech Arts program, which yesterday had only 11 entries (down from a recent high of 26 in 2004, and, in earlier years, as many as eight days of entries compared to today’s two hours). Part of the problem is that poetry, and memorization, are no longer included in most provincial school curricula (in part because neither is included on provincial exams, which goes to prove the unfortunate importance of teaching to the test) — which no doubt explains why six of the 10 entrants yesterday are home educated — and as we see all around, there’s just not much worth nowadays, you know, in like being able to talk good and stuff. Whatever.

But the kids who came out yesterday did an amazing job. In addition to my two boys (whose archy and mehitabel selections by Don Marquis are at the very bottom), the entrants included

a seven-year-old girl reciting Roald Dahl’s “Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker”,

a 10-year-old boy reciting “Abou Ben Adhem and the Angel” by Leigh Hunt,

his eight-year-old sister doing a brilliant job with Charles Dickens’s “The Ivy Green”,

an 11-year-old boy reciting “Casey at the Bat” by Ernest Lawrence Thayer,

a 14-year-old boy reciting “The Policeman’s Song” by Gilbert & Sullivan,

a marvelous rendition of Alfred Noyes’s “The Highwayman” by a 16-year-old homeschooled girl, who brought the piece to life before our eyes,

a prose recitation of Something from Nothing, one of our favorite picture books, by a 14-year-old friend of ours, who also gave a public speaking solo, her 4H speech from last month about her exchange trip to Japan. I’ll try to add links to most of the poems later.

All in all, a wonderful morning, even without Davy winning the prize for the six- and seven-year-old category (from the adjudicator’s report: “That is quite the smile! What a wonderful job you did with all of those big words! You have a very clear and easy sound. Great work!”), and Daniel managing exceedingly well with his first stab at free verse. The kids have each had a chance at winning festival awards now, and it was heartening to see Laura and Daniel so pleased for their little brother. Best of all, because the kids didn’t have classrooms to run back to as did some of the other competitors, we were free to spend the entire morning at the church hall, listening to (and learning from) all of the other recitations.

We stepped out of the church at lunchtime to unexpected heavy snow (happy spring to you, too), got home as fast as we could under the road conditions, ate lunch, relaxed as much as we dared, and an hour or so later, hopped back into the truck and drove back to town for music lessons, an abbreviated Fiddler rehearsal, and then dinner at a restaurant in town at 5 p.m. so Laura could be back at the church for the Vocal program just after 6. Her voice instructor arrived for a bit of a warm-up, and she changed into her costume. Only to discover that she had left her straw hat on her bed. Thank goodness for some dear friends, homeschoolers too, who live literally across the street from the church and saved the day with the loan of a hat five minutes before show time.

Laura and her accompanist did a terrific job — simple, appealing, enjoyable — all the more impressive since, as the youngest as the category, Laura was the first to go on. The adjudicator, the same one from Speech Arts earlier in the day, enjoyed it too, and gave Laura a very good critique. She was followed by a selection of Disney Princesses, which after L’s comment on the other day’s hot-to-trot-tot post, with this link to Off-Duty Disney Princesses (the play) from Breed ‘Em And Weep), seemed more even more disturbing than usual (relevant, L? You betcha). There was Beauty minus Beast, the mermaid complete with shockingly bright wig and homemade tail, and Aladdin’s midriff-baring princess pal, all complete with not particularly memorable — nor easy to sing or suitable for 10- and 11-year-olds — Alan Menken drivel. Why do mothers and women teachers do this to their girls? Which only made the good stuff — including the only boy’s performance of Chim Chim Cheree (the same lad who had given us Casey at the Bat earlier in the day), an 11-year-old girl performing a number from “Annie” and a 12-year-old’s “Just You Wait (‘enry ‘iggins)” from “My Fair Lady” — stand out that much more.

There followed some classical vocal solos, including oratoria, and a rousing finale from two local adult choruses. Beautiful stuff. A late night, but the kids were still singing on the way home — mostly selections from Singin’ in the Rain — and planning their entries for next year.

Today we’re recovering with a quiet, unschooly day, with plans to reread Something from Nothing, which ties in nicely with the kids’ Fiddler on the Roof production; Casey at the Bat (there are more than a few good picture book editions to choose from), and a few other stories. Tomorrow morning Laura bangs out “Home on the Range” for the piano part of the program. And we stop off at the hospital afterwards to have Daniel’s stitch removed.

Daniel’s excerpt from “some maxims of archy” by Don Marquis (from archy and mehitabel)

i heard a
couple of fleas
talking the other
day says one come
to lunch with
me i can lead you
to a pedigreed
dog says the
other one
i do not care
what a dog s
pedigree may be
safety first
is my motto what
Ii want to know
is whether he
has got a
muzzle on
millionaires and
bums taste
about a like to me

Davy’s prize-winning excerpt from “some natural history” by Don Marquis (from archy and mehitabel)

the patagonian
is a most
he lives on
and his tongue
is always furred
the porcupine
of chile
sleeps his life away
and that is how
the needles
get into the hay
the argentinian
is a very
subtle gink
for when he s
being eaten
he pretends he is
a skink
when you see
a sea gull
on a bald man s dome
she likely thinks
she s nesting
on her rocky
island home
do not tease
the inmates
when strolling
through the zoo
for they have
their finer feelings
the same
as me and you.

(Yes, we talked about that last line and why it was needed for the rhyme. Ha. And about the saying “a needle in a haystack”. Both poems got the biggest laughs of the day, so it seems Don Marquis was a big hit on the prairie.)

March issue of The Edge of the Forest

has been out now for a bit. Hurray, and thanks to Kelly Herrold and all the contributors. Features that have caught my eye so far, since I just started reading through it:

Liz‘s interview with Kirby Larson, author of Hattie Big Sky (historical fiction set in 1918 Montana, and a 2007 Newbery Honor book)

Nonfiction reviews of Diego, a picture book biography (1994) of artist Diego Rivera conceived and illustrated by Jeannette Winter, with text (in English and Spanish) by Jonah Winter; and John Lewis in the Lead: A Story of the Civil Rights Movement, a picture book biography (2006) for older children

Sherry at Semicolon surveys a group of homeschoolers at her bowling alley for the latest Kid Picks column

This month’s In the Backpack features an interview with author Elizabeth Bluemle, who is also the co-owner of the independent Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne, Vermont, one of my favorite towns

And there’s oodles, just oodles, more.

Hot to trot tots and their pole-dancing mamas

A couple of months ago, after seeing the Macleans magazine cover story about “dressing our daughters like skanks”, I wrote,

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.

So I was interested to discover, lurking behind today’s Times Select firewall, the latest blog installment from Judith Warner,“Hot Tots, and Moms Hot to Trot”; here’s a Select selection:

Bling-Bling Barbies and pouty-lipped Bratz. Thongs for tweens, and makeover parties for 5-year-olds. The past couple of shopping seasons have brought a constant stream of media stories — and books and school lectures and anguished mom conversations — all decrying the increasingly tarted-up world of young girls and preteens. Now the American Psychological Association has weighed in as well, with a 67-page report on the dangers of the “sexualization” of girls.

The report takes aim at the music lyrics, Internet content, video games and clothing that are now being marketed to younger and younger kids, and correlates their smutty content with a number of risks to girls’ well-being. It finds that sexualization — turning someone into “eye candy” — is linked to eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression in girls and women. Adopting an early identity as a “Hot Tot” also has, the researchers wrote, “negative consequences on girls’ ability to develop healthy sexuality.”

This isn’t surprising, or even new. But what did surprise me, reading through the A.P.A.’s many pages of recommendations for fighting back (like beefed-up athletics, extracurriculars, religion, spirituality, “media literacy” and meditation), was the degree to which the experts — who in an earlier section of the report acknowledge the toxicity of mother-daughter “fat talk” — let moms themselves off the hook as agents of destruction requiring change.

I know that sounds pretty nasty. We’re not supposed to be judgmental these days. We’re not supposed to blame parents — especially mothers. I also know that what mothers do or don’t do (short of out-and-out abuse) doesn’t, single-handedly, “cause” much of anything. But I think it’s fair, even necessary, to wonder: how can we expect our daughters to navigate the cultural rapids of becoming sexual beings when we ourselves are flying blind? How can we teach them to inhabit their bodies with grace and pleasure if we spend our own lives locked in hateful battles of control, mastery and self-improvement?

We all tend to talk a good game now on things like body image and sexual empowerment. We buy the American Girl body book, “The Care and Keeping of You,” promote a “healthy” diet and exercise, and wax rhapsodic about team sports. But do we practice what we preach?

Not when we walk around the house sucking in our stomachs in front of the mirrors. Not when we obsessively regulate the contents of our refrigerators in the name of “purity.” (Did you know that there’s a clinical word for the “fixation on righteous eating”? It’s called “orthorexia.”) Our girls see right through all our righteousness. And they hear the hypocrisy, too, when we dish out all kinds of pabulum about a “positive body image,” then go on to trash our own thighs. …

Maybe it’s time to take a break from bashing the media and start to take a long, hard look instead at the issue of mothers’ sexuality, which is, apparently, after a long and well-documented dormancy, enjoying a kind of rebirth — thanks, it is said, to things like pole dancing classes and sports club stripteases. These new evening antics of the erstwhile book club set are supposed to be fabulous because they give sexless moms a new kind of erotic identity. But what a disaster they really are: an admission that we’ve failed utterly, as adult women, to figure out what it means to look and feel sexy with dignity. We’ve created an aesthetic void. Should we be surprised that stores like Limited Too are rushing in to fill it? (Now on sale: a T-shirt with two luscious cherries and the slogan “Double trouble.”)…

“Smart Is Sexy” likely wouldn’t sell as many t-shirts, though I suppose you could try a “Double trouble” version with Ben Franklin and Tom Jefferson, or Plato and Aristotle, especially if you decide to trade in that pole dancing class for a Great Books discussion group. I don’t always agree with Warner, or with Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees and Wannabees, whom Warner quotes at length in her post, but there are some good thoughts in Warner’s post today.

As an aside, last summer I read both Queen Bees and Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher and much preferred the latter. I read them on the recommendation of a good friend, who happens to be the mother of three daughters, ages six to almost 15; as she put it succinctly in a letter about a year ago,

it’s Mary Pipher’s “Fence at the Top of the Hill” metaphor that differentiates the aim of the books. QB&W is the ambulance at the bottom of the precipice. RO is the fence on the hilltop. QB&W’s focus on cliques is just one manifestation of a much larger problem, instructing parents how to deal with the situation at hand, not how to avoid it.

Good fences make good families as well as good neighbors. And you can start building that fence with the pole that used to be in the living room.

St. Patrick’s Day: One thing leads to another, and the mist that do be on the bog

Last year’s more conventional entry

This year’s less conventional one, from ‘Tis by Frank McCourt, which I’m rereading while awaiting the arrival via ILL of his Teacher Man:

I walk through Woodside to the library to borrow a book I looked at the last time I was there, Sean O’Casey‘s I Knock at the Door. It’s a book about growing up poor in Dublin and I never knew you could write about things like that. It was all right for Charles Dickens to write about poor people in London but his books always end with characters discovering they’re the long-lost sons of the Duke of Somerset and everyone lives happily ever after.

There is no happily ever after in Sean O’Casey. His eyes are worse than mine, so ad he can barely go to school. Still he manages to read, teaches himself to write, teaches himself Irish, writes plays for the Abbey Theatre, meets Lady Gregory and the poet Yeats, but has to leave Ireland when everyone turns against him. He would never sit in a class and let someone mock him over Jonathan Swift. He’d fight back and then walk out even if he walked into the wall with his bad eyes. He’s the first Irish writer I ever read who writes about rags, dirt, hunger, babies dying. The other writers go on about farms and fairies and the mist that do be on the bog and it’s a relief to discover one with bad eyes and a suffering mother.

What I’m discovering now is that one thing leads to another. When Sean O’Casey writes about Lady Gregory or Yeats I have to look them up in the Encyclopedia Britannica and that keeps me busy till the librarian starts turning the light on and off. I don’t know how I could have reached the age of nineteen in Limerick ignorant of all that went on in Dublin before my time. I have to go to the Encyclopedia Britannica to learn how famous the Irish writers were, Yeats, Lady Gregory, AE and John Millington Synge who wrote plays where the people talk in a way I never heard in Limerick or anywhere else.

Here I am in a library in Queens discovering Irish literature, wondering why the schoolmaster never told us about these writers till I discover they were all Protestants, even Sean O’Casey whose father came from Limerick. No one in Limerick would want to give Protestants credit for being great Irish writers.

Project Beagle (and Science in School)

I’ve added a new button to the right for Project Beagle, which I discovered at the Beagle blog. You can read more there and at the Project Beagle website; the actual ship plans are here. As the website notes,

we aim to provide the most compelling event of Charles Darwin’s 2009 bicentenary by building a sailing replica of HMS Beagle and sailing in Darwin’s wake. The build and Beagle’s arrival in the Galapagos in 2009 will be two of the central events of the Darwin200 celebrations. The Beagle intends to fire a new generation of scientific imaginations, and to play a central role in celebrating the life and work of Charles Darwin, one of the greatest biologists ever to live.

Don’t miss the website’s Links Page, which includes a link to Science in School, a free online (and, in Europe, print) journal that

addresses science teaching both across Europe and across disciplines: highlighting the best in teaching and cutting-edge research. It covers not only biology, physics and chemistry, but also maths, earth sciences, engineering and medicine, focusing on interdisciplinary work.

The contents include teaching materials; cutting-edge science; education projects; interviews with young scientists and inspiring teachers; European education news; reviews of books and other resources; and European events for teachers.

(And in Serbo-Croatian, too.) The current issue includes articles (science in film) as well as book reviews and teaching activities (build your own spectrometer). Worth a peek in any language.

Poetry Friday II: A new(ish) resource for literature

With many thanks to the person on one of my Sonlight groups for posting the link to the American literature page at AOL@School (with some interesting looking literature guides), which led me to these Emily Dickinson links (here, here, and here). Though I wonder what Ms. Dickinson would think about her modern transformation.

And AOL’s page on World Literature has a section with “World Poets”, featuring links for Dante Alighieri, Goethe, Homer, James Joyce, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Pablo Neruda, and Yeats (and, yes, I’ve already written to AOL about the typos I’ve found on the page). For tomorrow, scroll down the page for the little corner on “Irish Literature”.