• 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.

I’ve made up my mind before Super Tuesday


Now this warms my heart, if not my feet

It’s still cold here, so cold the mercury is in hiding

(of course, you can run but you can’t hide with the newfangled digital technology)

but the good news is the snow has stopped falling and the wind has quit blowing, so it could be worse.

Worse as in as bad as it was on Monday, in fact, so we really don’t mind that the grader hasn’t made it through to plow out our secondary roads, or the Canada Post truck with our mail, and that a host of lessons and meetings in town today and tonight were (thank goodness) canceled. We’re doing quite well holed up with our books, music, movies, and homemade chocolate chip cookies, thank you very much.

Of course, holed up is relative when we spend several hours every morning feeding the animals, who are bearing up as well as can be expected. The extreme cold has taken a toll too on the tractor, whose engine won’t turn over no matter how long we’ve had the block heater plugged in (so much for Tom plowing us out) and our electric livestock waterers, though Tom was able to coax two out of three into working again.

Also good news and very warming is this

from Audrey at A Small Corner of Nowhere. Thank you, Audrey — what a delightful, cheery, and warming surprise. And I’m sorry all I sent you was this miserable blizzard!

I want to spread the warmth and share the accolades for excellent blogging, though to be fair, picking a handful from the list at right, instead is very very difficult (and feels very very stingy),

Sheila at Greenridge Chronicles who from the start has seemed very much a kindred spirit. No surprise that she, like the original kindred spirit, is Canadian.

Jen at Jen Robinson’s Book Page, not because she said such kind things about me and my blog recently but because her blog continues to grow as a fabulous resource for those interested in children’s literature, and Jen herself is tireless when it comes to posting — no matter that her professional life and passion for kidlit are two very different worlds.

Cami at Full Circle whose beautiful blog gives me something to think about, lovely things to look at, recipes to cook, and elegant handcrafts clearly explained. And sometimes lovely to look at and elegantly crafted at the same time. And Cami also always seems to know just what I need when I need it.

Downloading the Declaration and Constitution

“I prefer a man who will burn the flag and then wrap himself in the Constitution to a man who will burn the Constitution and then wrap himself in the flag.”
U.S. Congressman Craig A. Washington (D-Texas, 1989-1995)

Via GeekDad, the news that voiceover artist Debra Jean Dean has recorded her readings of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution for free downloads.

GeekDad calls it “a portable civics” lesson, and I can’t think of anything more important this election year, especially when some folks who should know better are trying to get away with such hooey as,

“I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution. But I believe it’s a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God. And that’s what we need to do is amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards, rather than trying to change God’s standards so it lines up with some contemporary view of how we treat each other and how we treat the family.”

(More U.S. Constitution resources in this old post)

Speaking of cold blood,

cold hair, and cold skin, this is what 46 below zero C looks like.

An arctic ridge blew in yesterday, bringing the cold, blizzardy winds, and more snow. The wind and cold are supposed to stick around til the end of the week.

Here are some attractively styled ridges on top of the snow drifts,

Anyway, that’s what Laura looked like around 11 o’clock this morning. I apologize for the quality of the photo, I left one pair of gloves on and the wind was whipping about considerably. Not to mention that my face was as frozen as hers. Tom took the morning off work to help with chores, since we had to plow our way through two-and-a-half foot drifts with the truck, and haul some hay bales out to the fields for the cattle. Knowing yesterday that the storm was coming, Tom and the kids moved all of the cattle out of their pens, where there’s not much shelter from the wind. But then we can’t feed them at the fenceline feeder.

Just for comparison, this is what Laura looked like half an hour earlier, just as we left the house,

Definitely more fluffy, less frosty.

Some picturesque views around the farm yard,

And now if you’ll excuse me, we’re going to gather on the couch to read some Story of the World (the end of volume three is nigh, finally, after two years) and see if we can also come close to finishing The Indian in the Cupboard. And then to make a big pot of restorative chicken curry.

Life in Cold Blood

Sir David Attenborough, hale and hearty, and still very very busy at age 81, was recently interviewed by The Guardian in conjunction with his new BBC/Animal Planet program, “Life in Cold Blood“, which begins February 4th. It’s the final installment in his series of programs which have included “Life On Earth”, “The Private Life Of Plants”, “The Life Of Birds”, “The Life Of Mammals”, and “Life In The Undergrowth”. And his “Planet Earth” on DVD was one of our favorite shows last year.

He talks about a child’s fascination with the natural world — “Every child born on this earth starts by being interested in the natural world. You have only got to turn over a stone and see a worm or earwig underneath and the child is fascinated.” — as well as the new program, and his next project, about Charles Darwin. More here from The Guardian on Sir David’s new projects, including the Darwin one. Also in the article is mention of the new program, “The History of Science“, which

is due to air on BBC2 in 2009 to mark the founding of the Royal Society — the first time the subject has been tackled in such a way since Bronowski’s famous “Ascent of Man” series, which is often hailed as one of the landmark shows from the “golden age” of television.

Sir David interview via Michael D. Barton’s blog, The Dispersal of Darwin, which is new to me and full of lots of interesting things

Basic concepts in science

John Wilkins at Evolving Thoughts, part of the ScienceBlogs group, is putting together a handy dandy list of blog posts on basic science concepts, including mathematics, philosophy, logic, and computer science. You can suggest posts, too. Stay tuned for the possibility of a dedicated wiki or blog.

Via GeekDad

Backlog: Winter fun 2: Christmas Eve

The kids went skiing and tobogganing at my inlaws on Christmas Eve afternoon. Tom and the kids groomed the ski hill and cleaned out the chalet at the top of the hill. I arrived around four, just as the sun was setting; I believe that’s one of my children on the way to the bottom of the hill,

We were lucky with great weather right around freezing and no wind.

Tom selecting ski boots for Davy in the chalet,

Davy was kind enough to slow down a bit for his old Ma. Ready,


go. Or should that be going, going, gone?

Backlog: Winter fun 1: The magic of hoar frost

Most of December and early January saw very foggy nights and mornings, which resulted in hoar frost everywhere, including power lines (we got off easily with only one short outage, while friends and neighbors sat in the dark for considerably longer).

Some scenes from around the yard,

Trio of mad trappers

I’m not sure what the matter was with my digital camera, or why it didn’t like the new batteries I fed it.  Maybe it was feeling overworked and in need of a holiday.  At any rate, I tried the darn thing again this morning, with the very same new batteries as last time, and wouldn’t you know its little eye fluttered open.  So we’re back in business, after several weeks’ rest.

Poetry Friday: Bookshelves and anthologies

When My Ship Comes In
by Robert Burdette (1844-1914)

One room I’ll have that’s full of shelves,
For nothing but books; and the books themselves
Shall be of a sort that a man will choose
If he loves that good old word “peruse,”
The kind of book that you open by chance
To browse on the page with a leisurely glance,
Certain of finding something new,
Although you have read it ten times through.

I don’t mean books like “Punch” in series,
Or all the volumes of “Notes and Queries.”
But those wherein, without effort, your eyes
Fall where the favorite passage lies,
Knowing the page and exact position —
It’s never the same in another edition!

“The Vicar of Wakefield,” and “Evelina,”
“Elia,” “The Egoist,” “Emma,” “Catriona,”
Fuller and Malory, “Westward Ho!”
And the wonderful story of Daniel Defoe,
And Izaak Walton, and Gilbert White,
And plays and poetry left and right!

No glass doors, and no “fumed oak” —
Plain deal and fumed by myself with smoke;
Stained, if at all, to a pleasant brown,
With ledges and places for putting books down,
And there I’ll sit by a blazing log
With a sweet old briar and a glass of grog,
And read my “Pickwick,” “Pendennis,” “Huck Finn,”
Cosily there — when my ship comes in.

The Rev. Robert Burdette (1844-1914), a noted humorist in his time, was born in Pennsylvania and raised in Peoria, Illinois. After graduating from Peoria High School in December 1861, he enlisted in the 47th Illinois Infantry the following August, just five days after his 18th birthday. According to this website, the Rev. Burdette’s early life also

included experience as a a Cuban Revolution blockade-runner.

His career was journalism. His humorous columns for the Burlington Daily Hawk Eye earned this paper a national circulation. He extended his success to the lecture platform, where he was compared to his popular contemporary, Mark Twain. By 1888, he was still traveling the lecture circuit, but as a Baptist preacher.

In 1907, he came to California and became the first minister at the Temple Baptist Church, where he contributed substantially to the popularity of that organization. He is remembered as “the physician of the merry heart.”

Shortly before his death and on the eve of World War I, he completed a memoir and Civil War account, The Drums of the 47th; the book was reissued in 2000.

I found the Rev. Burdette’s poem in The Desk Drawer Anthology: Poems for the American People, compiled by Alice Roosevelt Longworth and her brother Theodore (“Ted Jr.”) Roosevelt (1887-1944) and published in 1937. I ran across mention of the anthology in the new biography my parents gave me for Christmas, Alice: Alice Roosevelt Longworth, from White House Princess to Washington Power Broker by Stacy A. Cordery; they were apparently inspired by ARL’s quote over on the sidebar at left and my fondness for the way she viewed the world with what she called “detached malevolence”. As Ms. Cordery explains,

Alexander Woollcott was the inspiration [for the poetry collaboration between brother and sister]. Sunning themselves at Woollcott’s lakefront home in Vermont, Ted and Woollcott idly discussed all the poets whose works were good but “somehow escaped the accident of fame,” and how most anthologies were little more than the favorite poems of the editor. They wondered whether an anthology could be created for which all of America did the selecting. If Ted and Alice would edit the entries, Woollcott promised to use his popular Town Crier radio show to ask listeners to send in their favorite pomes for consideration — the ones they’d cut out and tucked in wallets or desk drawers so they’d have them to read again and again. More than forty thousand poems appeared as a result of his plea. It took Alice and Ted many months to read through and compile the poems, and the book was published by Doubleday, Doran just in time for Christmas 1937.

Alice, and I don’t think she’d mind me calling her that, not once we got to be friends, has proved to be a delightful companion for the past month. From Ms. Cordery’s preface,

Like all Roosevelts, Alice had wide-anging interests. An autodidact with a lifelong passion for knowledge, she taught herself Greek at age eighty. Filling her bookshelves were tomes historical, philosophical, literary, and scientific — theories of evolution were a particular interest. She retained a fascination for subjects that had grabbed her as a girl: Romany culture, fairies, poetry. In common with all her clan, Alice could and did quote liberally great passages from Alexander Pope, William Shakespeare, Rudyard Kipling, Charles Lamb, Niccolò Machiavelli, Sir Thomas Browne, and others. And the amount and type of poetry she cherished and recited from memory was staggering — from Ogden Nash’s limericks to G.K. Chesterton’s “Lepanto.” Alice Longworth’s extensive library contained battered and marked copies of anthologies such as The Oxford Book of English Verse, Burton Stevenson’s Home Book of Verse, The Modern Library edition of Anthology of Famous European and American Poetry, and volumes from poets like E.A. Robinson, Ezra Pound, and Alfred Austin, usually inscribed to her by the authors. … She loved words and word games; dog-eared and annotated in her angular handwriting were Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, The Oxford Book of Green Verse in Translation, and Aesop’s Book of Fables.

For more Poetry this Friday, and Saturday too, head over to Mentor Texts, Read Alouds & More, where Literacy Teacher is hosting today’s round up. Thanks, LT!

New home

Welcome to Farm School’s new home.

I’ve long been looking for a more legible typeface and clearer, attractive theme, plus the chance for a more customized banner (the photo above is from my vegetable garden last year) and was never entirely satisfied with what was available at Blogger. I also have categories now with a complete list of them in the sidebar, not just unlisted tags, and have “pages” which you can see above, over the banner. I’ve compiled some of my history, science, poetry posts in those pages, as well as on the subject of what I’ve decided to call “courting danger” for lack of a better term. Maybe the biggest difference is the three-column rather than two-column format. All of my links and blogroll are in the right-hand column, so push all the way over to see everything.

I’d been hesitant to ditch the old blog and jump ship, even to new Blogger, because I didn’t want to lose all of my old comments. But I think I have that sorted out by keeping the old Farm School blog up.

Some of the formatting of posts, especially italicizing of book titles, got goofed up when I imported the old posts to their new WordPress home, and a few seem to have disappeared en route, but I think otherwise I have everything.  Well, other than my new Cybils widget, which I can’t get to work and which is probably the biggest glitch. I did a quick look through my blogroll and removed some outdated ones, and think I rounded up everyone else. If there are any problem, please do let me know.

Poetry Friday: The Round Up Is Here

Peter Mark Roget, inventor of the slide rule but most famous for his thesaurus, boon to poets everywhere, was born on this date in 1779. In his honor, I give you not a poem but an entry:

poetry, poetics, poesy, Muse, Calliope, tuneful Nine, Parnassus, Helicon, Pierides, Pierian spring. versification, rhyming, making verses; prosody, orthometry.
poem; epic, epic poem; epopee, epopoea, ode, epode, idyl, lyric, eclogue, pastoral, bucolic, dithyramb, anacreontic, sonnet, roundelay, rondeau, rondo, madrigal, canzonet, cento [see below], *monody, elegy; amoebaeum, ghazal, palinode.

When I signed up several months ago for today’s round-up, I didn’t know about two days of snow and windstorms that would create drifts to complicate farm chores considerably, or that the round up would land smack dab in the midst of the annual three-day Farm Curl, where Tom and the kids and one adult friend make up one of the teams (no, I don’t curl and after 13 years still haven’t figured out the rules or the scoring; the only thing I find that makes curling tolerable, besides my kids’ shining faces, is Paul Gross). And after a morning of chores and curling all afternoon, Laura and I head to a three-hour 4H meeting at 7 pm.

So please leave your poems with Mr. Linky, and a comment below, too, please, and I’ll try to do my assembling on Saturday before setting out for the curling rink yet again.

I take it back — just a wee bit of verse from Robert Service (“the Canadian Kipling”), born 16 January 1874. He composed some of his first lines at the age of six,

God bless the cakes and bless the jam;
Bless the cheese and the cold boiled ham:
Bless the scones Aunt Jeannie makes,
And saves us all from bellyaches. Amen

Susan at Chicken Spaghetti is still celebrating Twelfth Night with Shakespeare and continuing to enjoy her Christmas present to herself, the Complete Arkangel Shakespeare. Why? Because, as Susan writes, “you can’t see, hear, or read too much Shakespeare.”

Stacey at Two Writing Teachers stumbles into a colleague’s first grade classroom and discovers poet Zoe Ryder White, who turns a sentence into a poem with line breaks.

Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect shares Louisa May Alcott’s Thoreau’s Flute, and encourages you to read this week’s poetry stretch results, which include “some great centos created from titles of favorite books”. By the way, for those of you who would like to share the Alcott poem — her tribute to her old friend and mentor, Henry David Thoreau, with whom she shared many nature walks — with your children, see if you can find Louisa May and Mr. Thoreau’s Flute by Julie Dunlap and Marybeth Lorbiecki, with illustrations by the great Mary Azarian (who also illustrated Snowflake Bentley and the new Tuttle’s Red Barn). There’s more here on Thoreau’s Flute as well.

MsMac at Check It Out is going back in time to the First Friday in January, with some original poems from some very young and very talented writers in her classrooms.

Becky at Becky’s Book Reviews has been revisiting Narnia and offers a musical Narnia tribute.

Kelly at Big A little a is making the best of yet another Snow Day, with the help of Billy Collins. And don’t miss the bonus snow day poem in Kelly’s comments, either.

Melissa Wiley at Here in the Bonny Glen is in an Elizabeth Bishop mood today, with an elegant villanelle on the relaxing art of losing.

Suzanne at Adventures in Daily Living is also thinking snowy thoughts, with Mary Oliver’s “poem of the night”, Snowy Night. And, as she does every Friday, Suzanne offers a delightful personalized Poetry Friday button, as you can see at the top of this post; the html code is available at her post. Thanks, Suzanne!

Rebecca at Ipsa Dixit offers the sheer poetry that is Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, and a poem by some fellow named Shelley — “You just keep your mind off the poetry and on the pajamas and everything will be alright, see.” Perfectly delightful. Thanks, Rebecca.

Mary Lee at A Year of Reading, after a hard day’s work, has what one of her commenters aptly calls a most “satisfying” poem by Marge Piercy.

John Mutford at The Book Mine Set serves up pure Canadian content with the original epigram Newfoundland Diet PSA.

More Shakespeare, now from cloudscome at a wrung sponge, who has his Sonnet No. 116 (“Let me not to the marriage of true minds/Admit impediments”) and takes it out of the realm of the couple to the family. cloudscome writes, “Now that I’ve reached middle age and been a parent for over 20 years [the sonnet] makes even more sense.”

Over at Read Write Believe, Sara Lewis Holmes is Crossing Unmarked Snow with William Stafford, in a poem that reflects Sara’s post earlier in the week about her new notebook and her plans for it.

writer2b at Findings has an original poem about her young daughter’s passion and the horses that fill their worlds. And nifty quotes from Pablo Picasso and Rachel Carson, too.

Andrea and Mark at Just One More Book offer a podcast Straight from the Pooches’ Mouths — a review of the children’s poetry book Good Dog by Maya Gottfried, illustrated by Robert Rahway Zakanitch.

Laura Salas at Writing the World for Kids has two entries for today. She shares some poems and some of the process too, from her her new children’s book, Tiny Dreams, Sprouting Tall: Poems about the United States. Congratulations, Laura! And Laura also has some of the results from her snowy 15 Words or Less photopoetry project, and a standing invitation to join in the fun.

jama rattigan celebrates the birthday of A.A. Milne, born on this date in 1882, with thoughts on loving a bear and Milne’s poem Teddy Bear.

Shelf Elf shares a Pablo Neruda poem and one of her “most treasured books: Pablo Neruda’s Ode to Common Things. It is full of perfect, deceptively simple seeming poems in praise of ordinary objects and creatures.”

Elaine Magliaro as always has multiple offerings to tempt us. At Wild Rose Reader, Elaine gave this week’s poetry stretch (see above) a try and wrote two centos with children’s poetry book titles, with terrific results. And at Blue Rose Girls, Elaine has advice on How to Change a Frog Into a Prince.

Christine M. at The Simple and the Ordinary is celebrating her husband’s birthday and A.A. Milne’s too with balloons and morning walks, which sounds like a dandy way to celebrate. Many happy returns and “HIPY PAPY BTHUTHDTH THUTHDA BTHUTHDY” to you, Mr. M.! And if you recognize that from “Eeyore Has a Birthday”, you can have a balloon, too.

Mary Ellen Barrett at Tales from The Bonny Blue House offers her daughter’s beautiful selection for their home school poetry reading next month.

Ruth at Two Writing Teachers tries something new for Poetry Friday, an original poem in etheree form accompanied by a photo quatrain. Ruth writes in the comments below, “It’s focused on syllables, starting in line one with one syllable and increasing each line until you get to ten. I loved the way it stretched me creatively on this Friday morning.”

Little Willow offers up the fun to read aloud Cat Scat. No, it’s probably not what you’re thinking. Think along the lines of Ella Fitzgerald instead. Well, Ella Fitzgerald by way of Mozart.

Karen Edmisten is making a joyful noise today with her kids and a classic book of children’s poetry.

Dawn at By Sun and Candlelight and her family take a walk through the snowy woods with Robert Frost and a camera, and she writes, “Doesn’t poetry compliment nature so nicely?” Of course, Dawn goes the extra mile (in the snowy woods and elsewhere) and comes up with yet another nifty project idea.

Sylvia Vardell at Poetry for Children has a post about the surprising number of poetry books that received recognition from the ALSC/YALSA awards this week. Sylvia notes, “I’m happy to say that ALL of these books appeared on my own lists of the best poetry of 2007 (see Dec. 31, 2007) or 2006 (see Dec. 29, 2006). How wonderful to see these rich and engaging works of poetry get the recognition they deserve. Now I hope they will also find their way into the hands of many young readers!”

TadMack at Finding Wonderland has X.J. Kennedy’s moths to the flame. And don’t miss TadMack’s link to LitLinks (the first link in her post).

MotherReader is another Poetry Friday participant taking Tricia’s book title cento challenge, with some of the 2007 books she’s planning to read.

Anne Boles Levy at BookBuds has a review of Nikki Grimes’ new book, “Oh, Brother!” about the shrinking step between new brothers.

Kelly Fineman at Writing and Ruminating, with one of my all-time favorite blog banners, has an original poem and one of my favorite post titles for today — In the Bathtub of Possibilities. Speaking of possibilities, Kelly’s poem has been included in Laura Salas’s new book, Write Your Own Poetry. Congratulations, Kelly!

Jill at The Well-Read Child (where the tag line is “Instill the joy of reading in your child”) offers Phenomenal Woman, which she was once lucky to hear Maya Angelou recite in person. I have it on good authority that at least fifty percent of all well-read children grow up to be phenomenal women…

Sheila at Greenridge Chronicles writes that she’s feeling silly but short (I’m assuming she means time rather than stature), and gives us a little bit of Ogden Nash, always a delightful way to start the weekend.

Chris Rettstatt has a poetry mash-up — he’s posted the first line of a collaborative poem and has turned it into a contest. Chris writes that “the person who adds the final line in the comments “kills” the poem. And wins a signed copy of his Kaimira: The Sky Village.

It’s the first Poetry Friday for Devin McIntyre at Speak of the Splendor, and we extend a big Poetry Friday welcome. Devin has a lovely poem from Emily Dickinson.

Jennifer at S/V Mari Hal-O-Jen heads for land to go fly a kite, as she writes in the comments below, getting a jump start on the Chinese New Year with one of our favorite Christmas presents.” Don’t miss the great kite and Chinese New Year book links at the end of her post. Happy flying and sailing, Jen!

Liz Garton Scanlon at Liz in Ink makes good on a promise in a big way with an original villanelle inspired by a George Bellows lithograph at the Blanton Museum of Art (UT-Austin). Liz writes, “A poet friend solicited the work, inspired by pieces in the museum’s permanent collection. Some of the poems will eventually be posted next to their visual muses in the gallery, and all of them will come together in some sort of collection — printed or online.”

Anamaria at Books Together, who lives within easy visiting distance of the Smithsonian museums, has a review of the new children’s poetry title Behind the Museum Door: Poems to Celebrate the Wonders of Museums, compiled by the indefatigable Lee Bennett Hopkins. My request for this one has been in to interlibrary loan for a while, so I’m heartened to hear that the wait is worthwhile!

Tiel Aisha Ansari at Knocking From Inside offers an original sonnet, Paper Jam: “This is a hybrid rhyme scheme — call it a Spenserian/Italian sonnet.”

Ruth at There is no such thing as a God-forsaken town offers hope, comfort, understanding, and poetry for refugees, in light of current events in Kenya.

Miss Erin sets off on travels with Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Charlotte at Charlotte’s Library offers a look at Four Fur Feet by Margaret Wise Brown, “with never before seen illustrations and an additional verse, plus a useful poetry-related web link” for explaining alliteration to young children.

Crispus Attucks at Dominant Reality shares For I Must Sing of All I Feel and Know, probably one of the lighter and more hopeful poems by the Victorian-era Scottish poet James Thomson (B.V.).

Jennie at Biblio File is dancing in the snow with Emily Dickinson.

Marcie at World of Words is nibbling on icicles.

Anastasia Suen at Picture Book of the Day, a blog where Anastasia explains how to teach the six traits of writing, shares a bit of verse from Where in the Wild?: Camouflaged Creatures Concealed…and Revealed by David Schwartz and Yael Schy, with photography by Dwight Kuhn, which includes “animal facts (in poetry and prose) and an ‘I spy’ element.” By the way, Where in the Wild is one of the Cybils 2007 Nonfiction Picture Book finalists.

Felicity at Look Books also offers Edna St. Vincent Millay on the joys of limited travel.

The Reading Zone shares another Scottish poet named Thomson, this time Alexander Thomson and an excerpt from his ode to Glasgow.

Literacy Teacher at Mentor Texts, Read Alouds & More shares a recently discovered resource for finding Found Poetry.

UPDATED TO ADD: (Poetically) late and probably last, but most certainly not least, my old friend Greg from GottaBook is a true sport and puts in a plug for Poetry Friday, even without a poem. Do yourself a favor and for some true poetry fun any day of the week, go to Greg’s sidebar on the right and pick something, anything (everything!), from the “The Fibs”, “The Oddaptations”, or “The Poem” section. You can thank me later!

And there, that’s it — all 51 entries for this week’s Poetry Friday! Many thanks to all who participated for their poems and patience, and apologies again for the delayed rounding up. Though I’m delighted to report that the Farm School team won their second curling match in a row yesterday and head toward the last day’s game in very good spirits today. Tom told me last night when we returned from the curling rink that toward the middle of the neck-and-neck match, seven-year-old Davy stuck his head in door and asked with a grin, “Are we winning yet, Dad?”.

The 50 Greatest Books ever written

“Over the coming year, an international panel chosen by The Globe and Mail will select the 50 Greatest Books ever written. Each week, a single work will be discussed by an expert or a writer passionate about the work in question. This is the first in the series.”

Just started the other day (Saturday, in the weekly Books supplement) and not a bad way to spend a year. Up firstThe Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, considered by Globe & Mail Books Editor Martin Levin.

Next week: Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past.

By the way, I’m not sure of the official policy, but at The Globe & Mail anything older than a week or so is no longer accessible for free. So best hurry up if you’re interested.

Great Assumptions

Sophie Gee, an assistant professor of English at Princeton University and author of The Scandal of the Season, wrote in yesterday’s NY Times Book Review section,

Mass-market adaptations make Great Books go bad. Or so conventional wisdom would have it. But every so often, plundering and pillaging a canonical text for the sake of entertainment gives it the kiss of life. Take “Beowulf” and “Paradise Lost.” The unpalatable truth is that both originals are now virtually unreadable.

Or so conventional wisdom would have it.

I’ll bet you a loonie I already know what Mama Squirrel in her Treehouse is thinking.

Another red herring

Yesterday I quoted this section from a New York Times article about the tragedy of the Jacks family in Washington, DC,

Mitchell L. Stevens, an associate professor of education and sociology at New York University, said school officials, who are required by law to report suspicion of child abuse, were society’s best watchdogs of how parents treat children.“Home schooling removes children from a lot of that surveillance,” Mr. Stevens said …

And this afternoon while listening to the radio and folding laundry, I discovered that the topic of today’s CBC call-in show “Cross Country Checkup” is school safety, prompted by the release the other day of the Toronto District School Board’s School Community Safety Advisory Panel report. According to a CBC news article on the report,

A report on violence in Toronto schools says gun-sniffing dogs may be needed to combat a problem that is not restricted to troubled neighbourhoods in the northwest area of the city.Lawyer Julian Falconer, who led a three-member school community safety advisory panel, stressed there have been scores of incidents involving guns in schools in other Toronto areas.

“Ladies and gentlemen, nothing could be further from the truth than that this is a problem involving the black kids at Jane [Street] and Finch [Avenue],” he said Thursday as the report was officially released.

“That’s simply an utter, specious myth.” …

The panel was assembled by the Toronto District School Board after the shooting death of 15-year-old Jordan Manners in a hallway of C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute in May. Falconer asked for a moment of silence in the boy’s memory before outlining the panel’s findings.

According to the panel, Toronto’s school system has become a place where violent incidents go unreported, and where there is fear among both students and staff.

The report says a “culture of fear, or culture of silence, permeates through every level of the TDSB [Toronto District School Board].”

The panel made more than 100 recommendations, one involving the creation of a website on which students could file anonymous reports of violence.

But the idea getting the most attention involves buying sniffer dogs that would seek out guns in student lockers and other hiding places.

The report says that “all potential storage areas for weapons” should be subject to “regular non-intrusive searches, including consideration being given to the random usage of TDSB-owned canine units that specialize in firearms detection.”

Falconer said the dogs would not be large or aggressive and would merely sit in front of lockers when they smelled guns inside.

In releasing the report, he highlighted the results of a survey of students at North York’s Westview Centennial Secondary School. Twenty-three percent said they knew someone who brought a gun to school in the previous two years, and six per cent said they knew four people who did so.

The danger is from “disengaged, marginalized youth” who are legally required to attend school, Falconer said.

He said the board needs more funding to ensure schools are safe, but stressed that hard-nosed enforcement is not the answer.

“We miss the point if we believe that the road to health involves punishing or using enforcement methods to try to re-engage youth. It doesn’t work. We suspend in droves. It fails.” Falconer said.

“We as a society failed these youths. The Toronto school board is downstream and houses these youths between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. from Monday to Friday.”

Among other recommendations by the panel:

* Transfers between schools should not be used as an alternative to discipline, and administrators should not urge judges or police to impose conditions that require students to be transferred from their home schools.
* School uniforms should be required except where individual school councils opt out. The uniforms should comply with the Ontario Human Rights Code and should be affordable, and the board should subsidize the cost where necessary.
* In cases of sexual assault on students under 16, school officials should report the crime to the police and, barring exceptional circumstances, notify the victim’s parents.
* In cases of sexual assault on students 16 or older, the decision to file a police report and/or notify parents should be left to the student “in order to encourage victims of sexual assault to come forward and protect the school community.”
* Students should be required to wear identity cards on lanyards around their necks “for the purposes of quickly identifying students and intruders.”

The school board issued a statement saying it welcomes the report.

“These insights will, I am confident, guide us as we make our schools the safest and fairest learning environments they can be, for each and every one of our students,” TDSB director of education said in the statement.

Doug Joliffe, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, said he outlined the problems from his members’ perspective in discussions with the panel.

“I don’t think it’s such a culture of fear — more a culture of frustration,” he told CBC News before seeing the full report.

“There is bitter frustration that has been expressed to [the OSSTF] by members, that they don’t feel they get the support they need in dealing with the issues in the halls at their schools.”

“There’s been incidents where teachers have tried to enforce rules where they have instead been told not to do so. So the frustration happens.”

And from The Globe & Mail on the report, the article “Teachers face mixed messages“:

Educators across the country were undoubtedly rattled by the release yesterday of the School Community Safety Advisory Panel report, which suggests there may have been hundreds of incidents of violence within the Toronto District School Board that have gone unreported by teachers.But some teachers say they are not equipped or trained to deal with the serious array of behaviours and issues being exhibited by students today, and that zero-tolerance policies often directly conflict with the pressure to keep kids — especially those from at-risk backgrounds — in school.

“There are kids whose behaviour is so bad that 20 years ago they’d be told to leave school — they don’t want to be there, they’re not respectful, they’re aggressive and quite prepared to be violent if they need to be – and yet the school system is trying to keep them in school and trying not to disaffect them by punishing them for everything,” said one Toronto teacher, who asked not to be named. “So consequently, there’s a bit of a mixed message.” …

But, he added, some teachers are finding that action is not always taken when they do report incidents to their superiors.

“A lot of the time, teachers’ actions could be nurtured by what has happened in past similar situations,” he said.

“Lets say that teacher X reported something and the administration chose not to do anything with it. If a similar situation came forward again, would that teacher be more hesitant to bring it to the administration’s attention? I think that would be human nature.”

Mr. Coran agreed that there is “tremendous pressure” on schools to increase graduation rates and success among students, a goal that sometimes conflicts with the reality of today’s school environments.

“A lot of this stuff is really more societal problems – there’s so much poverty, so much gang involvement,” he said. “Teachers are grappling with some really important and complex issues and I don’t think this situation is going to disappear overnight.”

Morven Orr, a teacher with 30 years of experience who works with the Toronto District School Board’s Beginning Teacher Coaches program, said she recommends that educators report all potential issues to their principal.

“They should have been given some advice in teacher’s college. You’re certainly made aware of your legal obligations,” she said. “I would immediately tell them to talk to their boss.”

But Ms. Orr said that being able to discern which problems require outside intervention can be extremely fraught.

“When a child presents with a problem, you have no idea what might have caused it,” she said. “And although as a teacher it’s important to keep the idea of abuse in your head, you can’t phone someone every time a child is sad, or depressed or crying. There’s a million reasons.”

Mr. Coran believes that school boards simply need more bodies, and that an infusion of teachers, educational assistants and support staff would go a long way toward helping teachers deal with the problems outlined in the report, including gun incidents, robberies and sexual assaults.

“All of these things require a lot of professional attention,” he said. “This behaviour needs to be corrected and not just ignored.”

Ms. Orr said many teachers are also mindful of making false accusations or suggesting any interventions when none is necessary, a move that can alienate students and anger their parents.”If you do phone [the authorities], the parent often knows it’s come from the school and they’re furious if there’s no reason for it,” she said. “They’re often furious if there is a reason for it.”

And finally, from another Globe & Mail article on the report, “Fears of career suicide stopped educators from reporting violence“,

Teachers and school staff are too intimidated to speak out about violence in Toronto’s public schools, a damning report charges.A school safety panel revealed yesterday that employees of the Toronto District School Board told them they feared that revealing school safety issues or anything that would reflect negatively on the board would be “a career-limiting move.”

As a result, hundreds of incidents that should have been reported were not. This “culture of fear” led to a failure of the system and its overseers to protect students from violence, including robberies and sexual assault, on school grounds, the report said.

“Jordan Manners died on May 23, 2007, of flat neglect, pure neglect,” panel chair Julian Falconer said yesterday, referring to the 15-year-old whose shooting sparked the inquiry.

The panel’s findings had officials at Canada’s largest school board facing uncomfortable questions about why so many violent incidents go unreported, and why it took the death of a 15-year-old to prompt a review of school safety.

“I think that until [the Jordan Manners shooting] happened, we probably thought we had a pretty good handle on it,” said John Campbell, chair of the TDSB. “And I think what that did is it really drew attention to the fact that we didn’t have a very good handle on it.”

Mr. Falconer said many officials within the school system are too intimidated to report violent incidents. Many of the school officials interviewed by the panel refused to go on the record for fear of reprisal.

“People are afraid and it’s not just students; it’s teachers,” Mr. Falconer said. …

But Mr. Falconer said there is no “quick fix” to the board’s problems.

“You could fill a Home Hardware with the amount of knives kids bring to school, but we don’t find them,” he said. …

At C.W. Jefferys yesterday, students didn’t seem too concerned about the dire condition the report says their school is in. However, some said that students simply don’t talk about violent incidents.

“The reputation going around is: when you talk, you’re basically a snitch,” said student Chandé Wilmot. “[People worry] that they might get beat up.”

Red herrings, falling through the cracks, homework, and choice

Kate at I Think Therefore I Blog hits the nail on the head about The New York Times‘s misguided and insufficiently researched article today about the tragic deaths in Washington, DC, of four children. Kate has also done her research, something that can’t be said for Times reporter Jane Gross. Read Kate’s post here. And this thorough account at The Washington Post; here is only the tip of the iceberg,

A single parent at 16, eventually dependent on public assistance, she spent years tangled in court cases, seeking financial support from the fathers of two of her girls. She lifted herself up for a time — learned a skill, cosmetology. With a new boyfriend, and two more daughters, she seemed happy, doting on her girls. Then she plunged into poverty and homelessness.After her boyfriend succumbed to cancer last winter, acquaintances said, she lost her grip entirely.

As for the claims by The Times‘s “experts” —

Clive R. Belfield, a professor of economics at Queens College and formerly a researcher at the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Columbia Teachers College, said that “limited compliance and follow-up” [of home schoolers] gave abusive families “an excuse to get out of being observed.”Mitchell L. Stevens, an associate professor of education and sociology at New York University, said school officials, who are required by law to report suspicion of child abuse, were society’s best watchdogs of how parents treat children.

“Home schooling removes children from a lot of that surveillance,” Mr. Stevens said, adding that the vast majority of home schooling families are “overwhelmingly trustworthy people who place a very high value on parental autonomy.” And thanks to the advocacy of the legal defense fund, he continued, “they have been largely successful since the late 1980s in getting the law to favor parental rights.”

— the most cursory search of GoogleNews turns up the following:

from CNN, January 11, 2008: “It’s happened again. A teacher is accused of having sex with a student and, like many times before, cell phone calls and texting reportedly had a role in sexually abusing a minor.”

from a Florida CBS affiliate, January 8, 2008: “Broward County School Superintendent James Notter has issued a memo reminding all teachers and principals on the district’s policy for reporting abuse. This comes after a parent, whose child attends … Middle School, was outraged after her daughter was allegedly sexually assaulted during the time in which she was supposed to be in constant supervision by school staff. To make matters worse, no one informed the mother of what happened until two days later.”

another Florida TV news station, December 27, 2007: “The state attorney’s office recently announced child abuse and child neglect charges against a Paxon Middle School physical education teacher have been dropped. Aaron Jackson was arrested earlier this month after investigators said he encouraged a father to come to the school to whip his son with a belt. They said Jackson also gave the dad a room near the gym, where he could whip the boy. Earlier this month, authorities said Jackson called 41-year-old Henry Crimes and told him to come to the school with a belt to discipline his 13-year-old son.”

from The Arizona Republic, December 20, 2007: “A… High School guidance counselor accused of twice failing to report child abuse is on administrative leave and could face criminal charges. Deborah Ray is the second southwest Valley educator removed from a campus for disciplinary issues in recent months. … According to police:
* A 16-year-old girl reported in March that an unidentified person had attempted to molest her.
* A 17-year-old girl reported in April that she had suffered physical abuse.”

And this past week marked the second anniversary of the murder of Nixzmary Brown, age 7, of Brooklyn, New York, as covered by The New York Times, January 12, 2008

And what of the infants and children too young for school? More from a quick survey of GoogleNews:

from The Florida Sun-Sentinel, January 10, 2008: “A grandmother pleaded no contest today to aggravated manslaughter and aggravated child abuse for the death of a 3-year-old boy who was dipped in scalding water as punishment and left to suffer for a week until dying.”

from the Rochester, Minnesota Post-Bulletin, January 12, 2008: “Ty’Shay Staten was still in diapers when she became a victim of violence. She died this week at age 4, nearly three years after being shaken and thrown down a flight of stairs by her father. Timothy Lee Staten is serving more than 16 years in prison for nearly killing his daughter in March 2005. Police officers responding to Staten’s Red Wing home for a domestic disturbance witnessed Staten shaking Ty’Shay, who had also been bitten in the cheek and torso, before he threw her down the stairs. At his sentencing in 2006 for second-degree attempted intentional homicide, Staten said he was under the influence of drugs at the time. Ty’Shay suffered a fractured skull among other injuries from the assault. She was at Saint Marys Hospital in Rochester for several months, and eventually placed in foster care.”

from The Baltimore Sun, January 9, 2008: “Child Protective Services had already taken two of her daughters, but Vernice Harris was raising her third girl amid squalor and boarded-up rowhouses on East 25th Street. Apparently frustrated that the crying 2-year-old was disturbing her and her drug-addicted friends, Harris began giving the girl methadone to keep her quiet, according to police charging documents. Harris told authorities that she found the girl unresponsive in an upstairs bedroom about 3 a.m. June 5. She carried the toddler downstairs, where friends and paramedics were unable to revive her. Two months later, medical examiners ruled that Bryanna Ashley Harris’ death was the result of a methadone overdose and a beating to her stomach.”

Whether or not you home school, you should decide the best use of your tax dollars to help children — to supervise home schooling parents, the majority of whom are law abiding and mentally and physically healthy; or to unburden already overburdened Family Court judges, as in New York, and to relieve overworked and train undertrained staff in child welfare systems throughout North America. You choose. This is not about home schooling, but putting scarce dollars, time, and people where they will best be used to save children’s lives.

Time for delurking

Kris Bordessa, who blogs at Paradise Found, home schools, and writes nifty nonfiction for kids, says it’s Delurking Week so I believe her. Having made so many invisible friends through this blog, and from leaving comments at others’ blogs, I like the idea of meeting, and getting to know, new readers. Now’s your chance, before I break into song like Deborah Kerr and Marni Nixon.

So whether you’re a regular reader (in which case, thank you, thank you, thank you) or the people looking for answers to “what to do when somebody steels your account on stardoll” or “what would you do if your farm was taken away after world war 2” (I’m sorry, I don’t have any suggestions for either situation) or the person at GreekGoogle looking for “the golden book of chemiSTRY experiments DANGER” (leave a comment below with your email and I just might be able to steer you in the right direction) or the folks from Rancho Cucamonga and Alamo, California; Brooklyn and Bangor; Regina and Saskatoon (why, you’re nearly neighbors!); not to mention Cyprus, Costa Rica, Warwickshire, Milan, Tokyo, the Netherlands, Belgium, Dubai and Durban, please stop in and say hello.

Poetry Friday

No. 668, c1863
by Emily Dickinson

“Nature” is what we see –
The Hill – the afternoon –
Squirrel – Eclipse the Bumble bee –
Nay – Nature is Heaven –
Nature is what we hear –
The Bobolink – the Sea –
Thunder – the Cricket –
Nay – Nature is Harmony –
Nature is what we know –
Yet have no art to say –
So impotent Our Wisdom is
To her Simplicity.

Today’s Poetry Friday round-up is here, hosted by John Mutford over at the Book Mine Set. Thank you, John.

By the way, John, who hails from Iqaluit, Nunavut, has the Great Canadian Book Challenge, which could be a fun way to spend the new year. You definitely have plenty of time to read 13 Canadian books before Canada Day.

And just a head’s up that Poetry Friday will be hosted here next Friday!

Beowulf and Grendel

rendered in Lego

by MicahBerger at Brickshelf. Click each thumbnail for a larger view.

This turned up in my “Beowulf” GoogleAlert…

Oh no Canada

Canadian teenagers, from bad to worse. Much, much worse.

A Good Samaritan became a victim of crime himself as he went to save a woman from a mugging at a downtown [Edmonton] LRT station Wednesday.Jonas Servage’s duffle bag was allegedly stolen by three bystanders [ages 18, 17, and 15] as he attempted to catch the [15-year-old female] attacker.

* * *

Camrose [Alberta] police have charged four teenagers after a cat was found dead in a microwave.Police said the cat was killed on Dec. 30 after the teenagers, aged 13 to 15, broke into an empty house for the second straight night. …

The cat was found by someone taking care of the house for the owners while they were away from Camrose, which is about 100 kilometres southeast of Edmonton.

* * *

On the first day of this year, a 15-year-old Toronto girl was busy cleaning up her bedroom in preparation for her coming sweet 16 party, her lawyer says.At the same time, police say, a 17-year-old male – who turns 18 today – was stabbing another teenage girl to death at the 15-year-old’s command. However, allegations that the girl is a manipulative killer are fiercely challenged by her lawyer, who says his client is anything but.

Stefanie Rengel, 14, is the city’s first homicide victim of 2008. According to a Crown synopsis, she died at the hands of the 17-year-old, who was driven to do it by the 15-year-old girl, who was fuelled by jealousy. Both teens now face first-degree murder charges in Stefanie’s death.

Friends and neighbours of both the victim and the two suspects said she and the 17-year-old had been in a relationship that ended, and that the two suspects later began dating. The girl’s lawyer says his client was not at the scene of the crime and should never have been charged with first-degree murder.