• 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."
    Cicero

    "Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtile; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend."
    Sir Francis Bacon, "Essays"

    "The chief aim of education is to show you, after you make a livelihood, how to enjoy living; and you can live longest and best and most rewardingly by attaining and preserving the happiness of learning."
    Gilbert Highet, "The Immortal Profession: The Joys of Teaching and Learning"

    "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."
    Walter Wriston

    "I'd like to give you a piece of my mind."
    "Oh, I couldn't take the last piece."
    Ginger Rogers to Frances Mercer in "Vivacious Lady" (1938)

    "No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem."
    Booker T. Washington

    "Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."
    Attributed to Groucho Marx in "The Groucho Letters" by Arthur Sheekman

    "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me."
    Alice Roosevelt Longworth

    "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, we feel all our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'."
    Jean Hagen as "Lina Lamont" in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)
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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.”

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