• 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.

Milton at 400

Jonathan Rosen in The New Yorker (June 2, 2008) on “The enduring relevance of John Milton” [links mine]:

This year is the four-hundredth anniversary of Milton’s birth, and there are a host of Milton books to mark the occasion: the Modern Library has brought out “The Complete Poetry and Essential Prose,” edited by William Kerrigan, John Rumrich, and Stephen M. Fallon, and not long ago Oxford University Press published an edition of “Paradise Lost” introduced by Philip Pullman, whose young-adult trilogy “His Dark Materials” draws its title and much of its mythic energy from “Paradise Lost.” (Titles involving sight and blindness often come from Milton: “Look Homeward, Angel,” “Eyeless in Gaza,” “Darkness at Noon,” “Darkness Visible.”) There is a new edition of “Paradise Lost” edited by the scholar Barbara Lewalski, whose monumental biography of the poet came out a few years ago, and Oxford is launching an eleven-volume series of all Milton’s works, edited by Thomas Corns and Gordon Campbell. Corns and Campbell are also jointly publishing a biography of Milton in time for the birthday, later this year, and Corns is editing “The Milton Encyclopedia,” for Yale University Press. A new critical study by the Princeton scholar Nigel Smith bears the provocative title “Is Milton Better Than Shakespeare?,” and there has been a recent spate of books with titles like “Why Milton Matters” and “Milton in Popular Culture,” pointing out Milton’s influence on everyone from Malcolm X, who read “Paradise Lost” in prison and identified with Satan, to Helen Keller, who created the John Milton Society for the Blind. “Milton in Popular Culture” reminds the reader that in the movie “Animal House,” Donald Sutherland’s Professor Jennings gives a lecture on “Paradise Lost,” taking a bite of an apple as he suggests that the Devil has more fun, before confessing to his unresponsive students that even “Mrs. Milton found Milton boring,” and so does he.

That judgment, alas, still clings to Milton. Never mind that there were actually three Mrs. Miltons, and that Milton, who defended divorce and even polygamy, was a sensuous Puritan, exquisitely attuned to the “amorous delay” of life in Eden: Adam and Eve have sex in the garden before they eat the apple. Never mind that Milton participated in an earthshattering revolution in which he defended the killing of a king; that he was a radical poet who, though he had imaginative power to burn, put aside his art for a decade of political activism. Never mind that he survived imprisonment, the threat of execution and assassination, the plague and the Great Fire of London, and, blind and disillusioned, dictated the greatest long poem in the English language.

Read the rest here, including this bit,

As a boy, Milton was so studious that, he later recalled, from his twelfth birthday on “scarcely ever did I leave my studies for my bed before the hour of midnight” — thus laying the foundation for vast erudition and eventual blindness. Alongside the usual Latin and Greek, Milton received instruction in French, Italian, and Hebrew, and perhaps even Aramaic and Syriac. His father, who was a gifted musician known for his psalm arrangements, also made sure that his son had a thorough musical education.

and this,

In America, where God and the Devil live alongside Western rationalism, Milton seems right at home. After the attacks of September 11th, it was possible to find Milton invoked to remind us of the nature of absolute evil—his Satan really is a model terrorist, who, having abandoned hope of a happy home, devotes his energy to destroying the lives of others—and at the same time quoted to uphold the rights of individuals whose distasteful views might be curtailed during a time of war. Milton’s spirit, mingling prophetic zealotry with a sort of pragmatic humanism, is thoroughly woven into the fabric of American life. Like other disappointed Puritans, Milton might easily have sailed for the literal New World, but he instead settled for an imaginary one that was to exert a strong influence on America’s Founding Fathers. (In Thomas Jefferson’s literary commonplace book, Milton appears more than any other poet.) He shares traits both with the first theocratic European settlers and with the Enlightenment figures of a century later, combining an urge for Biblical fulfillment with an urge for radical new beginnings.


We’re a hard-boiled bunch

Laura was looking over my shoulder this morning as I was tapping away about elites and suddenly started humming. I couldn’t quite place the song, so I asked her to sing the words, which had come to her little pointy head so quickly because she knows the movie so well and also just read the book by Jean Webster. So here, courtesy of my good egg who knows her pop culture (yes, we know we’re about 50 years behind the times; it’s fine by me because I tend to think it should be “tummy in, sweater out” rather than “tummy out, sweater up”), is the Johnny Mercer song from the 1955 movie musical Daddy Long Legs, which the girls at fictional Walston College sing to the orphan Julie on her arrival:

“Welcome Egghead”

Welcome, egghead!
Wipe that smile off your face,
Never speak until you’re spoken to.

What an egghead!
You’re an egghead,
But you’re soon gonna be hard-boiled.

Blow your nose, dry your ears,
Get up and salute when a senior appears,
Move your feet, get out the lead,
Put a hat on to cover the point on your head.

Tummy in, sweater out,
And eliminate that supercilious pout.
But since you are a lady, dear,
You’re very welcome here.

Welcome, egghead,
You’re an egghead,
But you’re soon gonna be hard-boiled.

Census time

I was reading through the June 2008 issue of Harrowsmith Country Life magazine from the library last night when I happened on an article about on the Canadian FrogWatch program (page 12).  Since the sound of the frogs around our house, especially with the slough across the road, has been deafening some days (at times it sounds as if the Martians are landing, with very squeaky, very noisy helicopters), it sounds like a good project for us, especially for the kids.  And something else to watch, and listen, to, along with our painted lady butterflies (Hornblower is watching them, too).

According to the NatureWatch website, becoming a Frogwatch volunteer observer in Alberta at least is

very easy. All you need to do is learn the frog and toad calls, choose a location to listen for calls, record your observations, and send your observations to us via our website, telephone, fax, or by mail. Your information will be entered into a database and you will be able to view a map showing your observation location and the location of other Frogwatch volunteers in Alberta.

There’s information available for the other provinces as well.  In Alberta, we have until the end of June for monitoring, so guess what we’ll be doing next month.  After we take the nifty frog and toad identification tutorial, of course, and register.

I think we’re also going to sign up for the PlantWatch program, and possibly even the National Worm Survey.

Eggheads unite, or, Democracy for Dummies

I’m an egghead, I’m an egghead,
I’m an egghead happily.
And I’d rather be an egghead
Than a bonehead G.O.P.

Sung to the tune of “Oh My Darling Clementine” in 1956 by supporters of Adlai Stevenson

I’ve been watching former Wal-Mart director and self-styled woman of the people Hillary Clinton, who with her husband earns approximately $16 million annually, with increasing embarrassment and shame lately, and wondering if perhaps Susan Jacoby would surface to say anything. As you may know, last fall saw the publication Ms. Jacoby’s book, The Age of American Unreason, which is more or less an updating of Anti-Intellectualism in American Life by Richard Hofstadter, along the lines of plus ça change. Which I suppose makes me elite, if not effete, at least in Kentucky. Or should that be élite? As an aside, once upon a time, long before I arrived in in this corner of Alberta, our little town had a popular eating spot called the Elite Cafe, called by locals “The Ee-Light”.

So I was happy to see Ms. Jacoby’s op-ed column in today’s New York Times, “Best Is the New Worst” (registration is free or use Bug Me Not):

Pity the poor word “elite,” which simply means “the best” as an adjective and “the best of a group” as a noun. What was once an accolade has turned poisonous in American public life over the past 40 years, as both the left and the right have twisted it into a code word meaning “not one of us.” But the newest and most ominous wrinkle in the denigration of all things elite is that the slur is being applied to knowledge itself.

Senator Hillary Clinton’s use of the phrase “elite opinion” to dismiss the near unanimous opposition of economists to her proposal for a gas tax holiday was a landmark in the use of elite to attack expertise supposedly beyond the comprehension of average Americans. One might as well say that there is no point in consulting musicians about music or ichthyologists about fish.

The assault on “elite” did not begin with politicians, although it does have political antecedents in sneers directed at “eggheads” during the anti-Communist crusades of the 1950s [psst…think Nixon]. The broader cultural perversion of its meaning dates from the late 1960s, when the academic left pinned the label on faculty members who resisted the establishment of separate departments for what were then called “minority studies.” In this case, two distinct faculty groups were tarred with elitism — those who wanted to incorporate black and women’s studies into the core curriculum, and those who thought that blacks and women had produced nothing worthy of study. Instead of elitist, the former group should have been described as “inclusionary” and the latter as “bigoted.”

The second stage of elite-bashing was conceived by the cultural and political right. Conservative intellectuals who rose to prominence during the Reagan administration managed the neat trick of reversing the ’60s usage of “elite” by applying it as a slur to the left alone. “Elite,” often rendered in the plural, became synonymous with “limousine liberals” who opposed supposedly normative American values. That the right-wing intellectual establishment also constituted a powerful elite was somehow obscured.

“Elite” and “elitist” do not, in a dictionary sense, mean the same thing. An elitist is someone who does believe in government by an elite few — an anti-democratic philosophy that has nothing to do with elite achievement. But the terms have become so conflated that Americans have come to consider both elite and elitist synonyms for snobbish.

All the older forms of elite-bashing have now devolved into a kind of aggressive denial of the threat to American democracy posed by public ignorance.

During the past few months, I have received hundreds of e-mail messages calling me an elitist for drawing attention to America’s knowledge deficit. One of the most memorable came from a man who objected to my citation of a statistic, from a 2006 National Geographic-Roper survey, indicating that nearly two-thirds of Americans age 18 to 24 cannot find Iraq on a map. “Why should I care whether my mechanic knows where Iraq is, as long as he knows how to fix my car?” the man asked.

But what could be more elitist than the idea that a mechanic cannot be expected to know the location of a country where thousands of Americans of his own generation are fighting and dying?

Another peculiar new use of “elitist” (often coupled with “Luddite”) is its application to any caveats about the Internet as a source of knowledge. After listening to one of my lectures, a college student told me that it was elitist to express alarm that one in four Americans, according to the National Constitution Center, cannot name any First Amendment rights or that 62 percent cannot name the three branches of government. “You don’t need to have that in your head,” the student said, “because you can just look it up on the Web.”

True, but how can an information-seeker know what to look for if he or she does not know that the Bill of Rights exists? There is no point-and-click formula for accumulating a body of knowledge needed to make sense of isolated facts.

It is past time to retire the sliming of elite knowledge and education from public discourse. Do we want mediocre schools or the best education for our children? If we need an operation, do we want an ordinary surgeon or the best, most elite surgeon available?

America was never imagined as a democracy of dumbness. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were written by an elite group of leaders, and although their dream was limited to white men, it held the seeds of a future in which anyone might aspire to the highest — let us say it out loud, elite — level of achievement.

Also happy to read the always fascinating and thought-provoking Stanley Crouch, who wrote a Daily News column the other week, “Enemies of ‘elite’ Barack Obama show contempt for education”. From which,

Nothing has been quite as exciting and as disappointing or even disgusting as the grand drama of this Democratic contest for the nomination. …

As Patrick Buchanan predicted, the only hope for Obama’s foes was to knock him off of his pedestal and into the mud-wrestling we have seen define our politics. But the Rev. Jeremiah Wright was the big bomb that didn’t quite go off.

Wright’s ethnic Gong Show — and the vast right-wing conspiracy that Hillary Clinton joined when she helped to give it credence — may have allowed Clinton to greasily slip through the door of victory in Indiana, but it raised issues that should make us stop on a dime.

Columbia- and Harvard-educated, bad-bowling Obama is an elite, the conservatives – and the Clintons – claim. He is out of touch with the working class, they say.

It has become commonplace for the predictable millionaire puppets of Fox News and their conservative talk radio counterparts to present themselves as the voices of the working class in combat with an educated elite from places like Harvard.

But beneath those cliches fester ideas that are deeply anti-democratic.

They are anti-democratic because they scoff at this basic truth: Education is the key to social mobility in our country. The stereotyped working class has no innate limits. It has produced the majority of doctors, engineers, architects, educators and others who realized the dreams of their families by studying hard and moving into careers quite different from those of their parents and their neighbors.

Education has always been viewed as suspect by everyone from slave owners to totalitarians. Wherever in the world you find them, they share one hostility: They hate books.

The presidency is not an Academy Award for Best Performance as a bowler, a fast food gobbler, a whisky and beer guzzler, a hard-hat-wearer or a hunter. We ought to know how far leadership capabilities are from surfaces, slogans and costumes.

And we should be ever suspicious of anyone or any group that scorns education, that pretends to believe that only the simple and the uncomplicated can express the national ethos.

That is absolutely ridiculous in a country from which so much technological and scientific innovation has come. Tell that to Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers or Bill Gates, none of whom were from the upper class. Or are we to believe they were just simple men looking for a loud bar and a cold beer?

The precious opportunity that our democracy provides is the chance to stop, look, listen and think through all that history has taught us about the bottom and about the top.

Real leadership is something internal, not superficial, and should be judged by substance, policy and solutions that are empathetic but realistic, inventive, fiscally responsible and feasible. No one knows the taste of pie in the sky, but we have all felt and smelled the putrid humidity of hot air.

Poetry Friday: PennSound

My Poetry Friday offering today isn’t one written poem but many audio poems. I had a comment earlier today from Durga at original remixed with this lovely gift:

Do you know about PennSound?

…I think you will love it – there are over 1500 individual poems – all in mp3 format – the site is dedicated both the distribution (for free) and preservation (there’s stuff from the 1930s!) of recorded poetry. Best of all, you don’t have to listen to a whole 30 minute reading, you can download individual poems.

Thank you very, very much, Durga.

PennSound is “an ongoing project, committed to producing new audio recordings and preserving existing audio archives.” There is a list of authors here.

Elaine Magliaro at Wild Rose Reader has today’s Poetry Friday round-up.  Thanks for hosting, Elaine!

* * *

Today is the first day since last Monday, the 19th, that we don’t need to leave the premises, not for the little town, the little city, or the big city. Tom and company are working on the new shop, so I’m at home recharging my batteries. I could spend a fair bit of time at the computer, but I’m planning on being in the garden, getting my hands dirty. Tom surprised me the other day by building the new strawberry/tomato/squash and melon beds I had thought of the other week, and I have more transplanting to do. And I’ve got some pictures to take, to put up here and, I hope, to send along to cloudscome’s Sunday Garden Tour.

This week we celebrated the last of the music and art lessons for the season. Tomorrow the boys have their first swim meet, and they’re very excited. Sunday and Monday we have Laura’s 4H beef club achievement days. And then we begin getting ready for her 4H baking club achievement day next weekend. Weekend after that is swim meet #2 in the little city, and Laura will be able to participate then.

Despite the general busyness, we’ve kept our ears and eyes open. I heard a general humming and buzzing last Saturday morning, then saw the first hummingbird, ruby-throated. The other day, while doing chores, I noticed a pair of bluebirds, vivid against the red swather, looking very much as if they’re getting ready to build a nest. And yesterday, on the way to the final art lesson, just as we turned off the gravel road onto the tiny secondary highway, Davy yelled, “There’s a bear!” Joined by Laura and Daniel, “I see it too!” “Me too!” So of course I turned around as soon as possible, we doubled back, and I too saw the bear, what looked to be a yearling male, very brown, black bear ambling through a newly seeded crop of wheat.

Notifications II: What’s the Matter?

From Amazon.ca this time, one of their “Because you bought ABC, we thought you might be interested to know that XYZ is out now” announcements.

What I bought initially was The Periodic Table: Elements with Style! created (and illustrated) by (Simon) Basher, and written by Adrian Dingle. I reviewed it for the Cybils bloggers’ children’s book awards, and liked it so much that after returning the library copy, I bought one for our own shelves. And I was absolutely delighted to see it make our Cybils shortlist for middle grade/young adult nonfiction.

So of course I was thrilled to get the news from Amazon that Basher‘s new book is out, Physics: Why Matter Matters!, with his illustrations and text by Dan Green (Kingfisher 2008). Not so thrilled to see that Amazon.ca has it listed as a 1-4 month wait for shipping, but Chapters has it in stock. And if it’s as good as the first book, it’s a bargain at under $10.

It’s on order through our library system so I haven’t been able to see a copy yet. No surprise, it’s in my virtual shopping cart.

I’ve searched around and couldn’t find any word on whether Basher has planned any more books in the series. But the other day I did find this good review of Physics, one of the only reviews so far, from kidlitosphere blogger David Elzey at the excelsior file.

Sight unseen, based on the previous effort, definitely a possibility for Cybils nonfiction 2008.

Notifications I

For anyone who’s interested in such things, I’ve had some email notifications recently.

First up, from LibriVox, because I signed up for the announcement, news that The Fairy-Land of Science by Arabella Buckley, originally published in 1879, is now available as a free audiobook. I’m planning to use this in addition to the book, which has charming illustrations that shouldn’t be missed. You can find the book itself as an e-text at The Baldwin Project or a paperback edition, from The Baldwin Project’s publishing arm, Yesterday’s Classics. Other books by Miss Buckley available at The Baldwin Project are here; one of them, Wild Life in Woods and Fields, is available as a paperback and also as a free audiobook from Librivox. The sequel to Fairy-LandThrough Magic Glasses — is available here for free online.

Of interest to anyone fond of Miss Buckley’s books is Dr. John Lienhard‘s NPR piece on The Fairy-Land of Science; he says, “Her so-called children’s books are completely solid texts on botany, geology, chemistry and physics.” Here‘s another piece by Dr. Lienhard on Miss Buckley, including her views on evolution. Dr. Lienhard’s shows run as part of The Engines of Our Ingenuity radio program, which is available as a podcast for those, like us, who can’t get NPR.

From the article on Arabella Buckley by Barbara Gates in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:

Buckley [married name Fisher], Arabella Burton (1840–1929), popularizer of science and writer, was born on 24 October 1840 in Brighton, the daughter of John Wall Buckley, vicar of St Mary’s, Paddington Green, and his wife, Elizabeth … . Little is known of her education and early life. An authoritative popularizer of science, and from 1864 to 1875 secretary to Sir Charles Lyell (for whose entry in the Encyclopaedia Britannica she wrote the expert’s addendum), she was personally familiar with the leading scientists and scientific theories of her day. She lectured on natural science from 1876 until 1888, was editor of Mary Somerville’s Connexion of the Physical Sciences (1877) and Heinrich Leutemann’s Animals from Life (1887), and produced a set of botanical tables for the use of junior students (1876). In her own first book, A Short History of Natural Science (1876), she recalled that she ‘often felt very forcibly how many important facts and generalizations of science, which are of great value … in giving a true estimate of life and its conditions, [were] totally unknown to the majority of otherwise well-educated persons’ (pp. vii–viii). Her Short History was intended ‘to supply that modest amount of scientific information which everyone ought to possess, while, at the same time … form a useful groundwork for those who wish afterwards to study any special branch of science’ (p. viii) and as such was praised by Charles Darwin. On 6 March 1884 she married Thomas Fisher MD (1819/20–1895), a widower twenty years her senior.

Although Arabella Buckley also wrote A History of England for Beginners (1887), traditional history never gave full scope to her distinctive penchant for narrative, which was better exercised in her books retelling the story of evolution. Grounded in evolutionary theory and in all aspects of the new geology, she re-created this knowledge in two popular books whose narratives are highly imaginative, Life and her Children (1881) and Winners in Life’s Race (1883). In them Buckley presented seven divisions of life: Life and her Children covers the first six, from the amoebas to the insects, and Winners in Life’s Race is entirely devoted to the seventh, the ‘great backboned family’.

Buckley was one of a small number of nineteenth-century Darwinians who realized the deficiencies in Darwin’s thinking with regard to the development of moral qualities in the animal kingdom, set out in his discussion of ‘social instincts’ in The Descent of Man (1871). Darwin had observed the competitive advantage species can gain from a well-developed social instinct but had difficulty in explaining its evolution, particularly with respect to parental affections for their offspring. Far from being daunted by this aspect of evolution, Buckley made parents’ care for their offspring central to her books on evolution and continued Darwin’s observations with far greater emphasis on mutuality. For her the raison d’être for evolution was not just the preservation of life, but the development of altruism as well.

Buckley’s work is concurrent with Karl Kessler’s ‘On the law of mutual aid’ (1880), the lecture which stimulated Peter Kropotkin to re-examine Darwin. Kessler died in 1881, the year that saw the publication of Buckley’s Life and her Children; it then took Kropotkin ten years to challenge Thomas Henry Huxley over the importance of mutual aid in the pages of Nineteenth Century, and another ten to formulate his classic Mutual Aid: a Factor in Evolution (1902). Meanwhile, Buckley’s last book, Moral Teachings of Science (1891), was devoted to this idea and written to unite science and philosophy — to study morality from ‘within outward’ and ‘without inward’ (p. 4). For Buckley, ‘these [were] not really two, but only different methods of arriving at one result, namely, the knowledge of laws by which we and all the rest of nature are governed’ (p. 5).

Buckley was deeply aware of the nature of science writing and realized that science, though based in fact or experiment, was transmitted as a literary construction. Two other books, The Fairy-Land of Science (1879, reissued in a number of late nineteenth-century editions) and its sequel, Through Magic Glasses (1890), demonstrate her skill at telling the stories of science. In Fairy-Land Buckley generated interest in her scientific subjects by borrowing the language of fairy stories and wizardry to reinforce her ultimate belief that the wonders of science not only paralleled but surpassed the wonders of fairyland. In its sequel, Through Magic Glasses, she focused more closely on what childlike eyes can see, calling on the help of the telescope, stereoscope, photographic camera, and microscope, and a fictional guide, a magician into whose chamber the reader immediately enters and through whose eyes the world is viewed. Her last work showed the same concern with vision and the visible and was written for Cassell’s series Eyes and No Eyes (1901–24). Buckley died of influenza at her home, 3 Boburg Terrace, Sidmouth, Devon, on 9 February 1929.

Nifty, eh?

Done like dinner

I’m happy to announce that as of this morning at 11 am, we are officially done with volume 3 of Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer, “Early Modern Times”. It’s taken us two years, dozens of rabbit trails, and probably hundreds of supplemental books. 1850, here we come!

Canada needs Mike Ford

I’ve written before (here, here, and here) about how much our family enjoys and learns from Mike Ford‘s first Canadian history CD, “Canada Needs You, Volume 1”. Mike, who used to play with Moxy Früvous, is one of the few people in this country nowadays doing his darndest to make Canadian history popular and appealing for young people.

Back in 2005, the CD was nominated for a Juno (Canadian Grammy) for Best Children’s Album. The 12 songs from pre-1905 Canada include I’m Gonna Roam, Thanadelthur, Les Voyageurs, The Oak Island Mystery, La Patriote, Turn Them Ooot, Sir John A. — You’re O.K., D’Arcy McGee, Louis & Gabriel, Canada Needs You, A Woman Works Twice As Hard, and I’ve Been Everywhere; and though there won’t be a test after this post, here’s a little historical background on the songs.

So mark your calendar, Canadians, because in plenty of time for Canada Day, Mike’s latest CD, “Canada Needs You, Volume 2” will be out on June 3 (I believe I’ve got that right). Songs on the new album, focusing on life in the Great White North after 1905, include: Creeping Barrage, In Winnipeg, Tea Party, Talkin’ Ten Lost Years, Let’s Mobilize!, Canada Doesn’t Need You, Joey Smallwood, Maurice Richard, Expo 67!, Open For Business, The Giants (Clayoquot Trials), and I’m Gonna Roam Again.

To see if Mike Ford will be playing near you (and selling the new CD after each show), check his schedule. And if you’re in Toronto and free this Saturday evening, you can head over to the release party at 8:30 pm at Hugh’s Room, 2261 Dundas St. W. Toronto (close to Dundas West Subway); 416-531-6604. And if you have a student in school in Ontario, you can book Mike for what sound like very lively and highly educational performances.

I don’t get a cut or even a free CD, but just want to spread the news about a very worthwhile Canadian history resource, and some very good music to boot.

Worth reading

Prof. Sherry Turkle’s article, “A Passion for Objects: How science is fueled by an attachment to things”, from the May 30, 2008, issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education.

I’m not a Chronicle subscriber, but I do get the weekly Review Newsletter, which gives me a few days to read articles before they get disappeared.

From Prof. Turkle’s article:

Beyond seeking a way to make any object transparent, young people across generations extol the pleasure of materials, of texture, of what one might call the resistance of the “real.” In the early 1990s, the computer scientist Timothy Bickmore’s experiments with lasers, “passing the laser through every substance I could think of (Vaseline on slowly rotating glass was one of the best),” recall the physical exuberance of Richard Feynman’s candy-wrapped light bulbs of a half-century before. For Selby Cull in 2006, geology becomes real through her childhood experience of baking a chocolate meringue: “Basic ingredients heated, separated, and cooled equals planet. To add an atmospheric glaze, add gases from volcanoes and volatile liquids from comets and wait until they react. Then shock them all with bolts of lightning and stand back. Voilà. Organic compounds. How to bake a planet.” Cull’s joyful comments describe the moment of scientific exultation, the famed “Eureka” moment of raw delight.

Science is fueled by passion, a passion that often attaches to the world of objects much as the artist attaches to his paints, the poet to his or her words. Putting children in a rich object world is essential to giving science a chance. Children will make intimate connections, connections they need to construct on their own. At a time when science education is in crisis, giving science its best chance means guiding children to objects they can love.

At present, there is some evidence that we discourage object passions. Parents and teachers are implicitly putting down both science and scientists when they use phrases such as “boys and their toys,” a devaluing commonplace. It discourages both young men and women from expressing their object enthusiasms until they can shape them into polite forms. One of the things that discourages adults from valuing children’s object passions is fear that children will become trapped in objects, that they will come to prefer the company of objects to the company of other children. Indeed, when the world of people is too frightening, children may retreat into the safety of what can be predicted and controlled. This clear vocation should not give objects a bad name. We should ally ourselves with what objects offer: They can make children feel safe, valuable, and part of something larger than themselves.

The pleasures of the scientist are not so different from those of historians who inhabit other times and ways. What scientist and historian have in common is an experience that respects immersion rather than curricular pace. Their shared experience has little in common with lesson plans, accelerated drill and practice, or rapid-fire multiple simulations.

Read the rest here. Prof. Turkle teaches the social studies of science and technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Chronicle piece is excerpted from Falling for Science: Objects in Mind, which she edited and which was published this month by MIT Press.

(And sadly, as a nonsubscriber, one new article this week I can’t get for free is this: “Introductory Science Moves Beyond ‘Rocks for Jocks’: James S. Trefil, a professor of physics at George Mason U. [and whom you may know and like very much, as we do, as an author], says science classes for nonmajors should describe the big concepts across disciplines.”  Sounds good.)


Just home, very, very early this morning from the provincial music festival, I was relaxing with some online blog reading and at Read Roger read that Roger Sutton of The Horn Book is “immensely enjoying Tricia Tunstall’s Note by Note: A Celebration of the Piano Lesson published last month by Simon & Schuster. Roger writes further,

Noting that “there are very few occasions when a child spends an extended period alone with an unrelated adult,” Tunstall’s observations flicker between her own childhood piano lessons and those she now gives as an adult. There are plenty of parallels for those of us who go mano a mano with child readers, so check it out.

Roger’s thumbs-up is good enough for me, so I headed over to the online library database to place an interlibrary loan request. Note by Note (listed online as Note by Not, hmmm…) is shown as “on order” and I’m first in line. Hurray. Very timely for me, what with Laura’s participation in the festival the other day (more on that in the next day or so), the voice recital tomorrow, and the kids’ formal music lessons for piano, guitar, and voice — though not daily practices — coming to the season’s end. I keep thinking, as the kids get older, that one of these years I’ll start the piano (and art) lessons I never had at their age, and this book just might convince me to consider this seriously.

Looking for more on the book, I found the following:

Author interview at Newsday

Boston Globe review

Publishers Weekly starred review, from which: “For readers who possess the mildest interest in reading about music or how the mysterious process of learning to play a musical instrument is transferred from teacher to student, this well-composed narrative will be a joy to read. . . . This is a gem that deserves a wide audience.”

Finally, if you’re going to be in Maplewood, New Jersey, next Sunday afternoon between 1-3 pm, you can meet Ms. Tunstall and have your copy of Note by Note autographed at her book signing party at Goldfinch Books at 97A Baker Street, which sounds delightful. The store is a self-described “friendly and interesting place to buy books”, and is “staffed by a diverse group of local citizens, most of whom are tremendously overqualified and underpaid”. Call Goldfinch at (973) 763-4225 for particulars.

Two great posts on home schooling

Two of my favorite bloggers have written some excellent posts on the subject this week.

Cami at Full Circle gives us a peek into their family’s home school, in the post A Solitary Plant: How We Homeschool: how the study of one particular plant, in this case mullein, took her family from their nature journals and botany to Thoreau (slavery, the Civil War, and Civil Disobedience), Homer, Latin, and a study of homemade toxins.

Mrs. G. at Derfwad Manor talks about how and why her family homeschools (Part One), along with her “highly subjective opinions regarding homeschooling small fry” and a very kind mention of Farm School. Lots of trademark Derfwad humor, warmth, and common sense. As she writes,

Mrs. G. was reluctant to write about homeschooling because why and how you do it varies so widely. For the G’s homeschooling is more of a way of life than a segment of their day. Homeschooling has given their family so much time and freedom to be together and control the pace of their lives. If Mrs. G. had to describe herself under the current homeschooling labels she would have to say she is an unschooler who makes her kids do math whether they want to or not. Mrs. G. felt her main job was making sure their house was filled to the brim with good books (hello garage sales and Goodwill) on all kinds of subjects, helping her kids identify their passions and figure out how to explore them on a budget, teaching them life skills at an early age so that they understood the concept of teamwork and that Mrs. G. was not a maid or servant or ATM machine and loving them.

Read the rest here.

And Mrs. G. recommends a book I haven’t heard of, The Way Back Home: Essays on Life and Family by Peggy O’Mara, but was able to find at the library (the one book I have read by Ms. O’Mara, when I was pregnant with Laura, is the lovely A Quiet Place). Stay tuned for Part Two later in the week, including Mrs. G.’s experience home schooling older kids, one of whom is Miss G., who is headed for Agnes Scott College in the fall.

Also worth reading, from the comments after her post, is this reply from Mrs. G.,

But I want to make one thing really clear — no one should admire me or any other homeschooling parent just because they homeschool. It is just a choice. I don’t NOT admire anyone who chooses to send their kids to public or private school. I am usually turned off by zealots in general — those who think there is only one BEST way to do anything and that they have the only recipe. Live and let live. I sometimes get the impression that when I tell people I homeschool, they feel the need to justify why they don’t. We all do the best we can for our kids. Period. I also get the impression that when I tell people I homeschool, they decide I am a woman who makes her kids wear calico bonnets while they sit at the kitchen table and carve the ten commandments on wood slabs…in Latin, but that’s another story.

As Mrs. G. writes, home schooling is one more choice we parents make. It is also, as with just about everything else having to do with families and raising children, highly subjective and very personal. Homeschooling itself has many shades and stripes — classical education, neo-classical education, classical unschooling, radical unschooling, and that’s only a sprinkling, without getting into the secular and religious (non-evangelical and evangelical Christian, Catholic, UU, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Pagan…) variations thereof and therein.

I’ll add just a couple of pieces of advice that have worked for me since we started:

Get a library card for every member of the family and use it

When it comes to advice (from books or bloggers or the home schooler down the street), keep what works for you and your family, and ditch the rest

What works with one child might not work for (any of) the others

And that’s truly the beauty of home education — the flexibility, which Cami and Mrs. G. demonstrate so well.

Victoria Day

Here’s a bit of a repeat from a couple of years ago, mainly because I don’t have the time or creativity to come up with something different about the late great Queen on her big day in the Dominion.

Today is Victoria Day, which in Canada means that this is the long weekend known as the gateway to the summer, much like Memorial Day in the US. Also like Memorial Day in the US, the reason behind the long weekend has been pretty much forgotten. Not only is the occasion now known mostly as “the May long weekend” but many folks at least in Alberta, apparently too tired from making all that oil money, have taken to referring is as “The May long,” which makes me shudder.

Victoria’s birthday was in fact 24 May 1819, but Canada appropriates the penultimate Monday in order to make a three-day holiday. We Albertans owe her much, not least our province’s name, after her daughter, Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, herself named after Victoria’s beloved Albert. And then there’s a little lake named after Louise, too.

Just as I wrote two years ago, while most of our family and friends have run off to their cabins at the lake, or their rattletrap tin-can campers near someone else’s cabin at the lake, we’ve stayed put to enjoy the creature comforts of a well-stocked pantry (I tried a new recipe for rhubarb cake and it turned out well — will post the recipe shortly) and fridge and our own beds.

We’ve been busy fixing fences, moving cattle around, seeding our wheat, gardening. And Saturday we went to the annual reopening for the season of our little heritage museum. Today’s weather is sunny, warm, and calm, much like Saturday’s, a relief from all of yesterday’s wind.

There’s a big week ahead of us, with all the usual activities (swim club, a final meeting for 4H achievement day weekend in two weeks) before we leave Thursday to the big city for a few days for Laura’s performances in the provincial performing arts festival. So blogging should be light for the next week or so, and there won’t be any Poetry Friday post this week because I’ll be away.

Time for a Sunday Garden Stroll

Last year Cloudscome at a wrung sponge featured a Sunday Garden Tour all through the summer, and the good news is that the garden tour is back for this new growing season,

Last summer I posted about my garden on Sundays, sharing photos and inviting everyone to send me links to your posts of photos of your garden. I’d like to revive that for this summer. It’s so much fun to see what others are growing and enjoying in different gardens all over the blogosphere.

It’s too windy here today (more of those blasted 80 km/hour gusts) to take decent pictures, so I’ll try to take some tomorrow for the round-up at a wrung sponge.  Thanks, Cloudscome.

Poetry Friday

The leaves have finally come out on the trees in these past few days, and now it looks like Spring around here. On Monday, you could see a light green haze in certain stands of trees, on Tuesday the haze spread to most of the trees, and by Thursday real leaves, actual leaves, were starting to unfurl or just pop open.

So here, for Poetry Friday, is a poem about trees. And a poem meant to read aloud, preferably under a tree:

Counting-out Rhyme
by Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)

Silver bark of beech, and sallow
Bark of yellow birch and yellow
Twig of willow.

Stripe of green in moosewood maple,
Colour seen in leaf of apple,
Bark of popple.

Wood of popple pale as moonbeam,
Wood of oak for yoke and barn-beam,
Wood of hornbeam.

Silver bark of beech, and hollow
Stem of elder, tall and yellow
Twig of willow.

For more Poetry Friday fun, head over to Two Writing Teachers, where Stacey and Ruth are hosting today’s round-up. Thanks to both of you for hosting and rounding up

* * *

This is the Victoria Day weekend, otherwise known as the May long weekend (or the Canadian version of Memorial Day), the unofficial start of summer. It’s when many Canadian gardeners start their gardens, and I’ll be doing quite a bit of gardening this weekend, since the kids and I headed north yesterday to one of my favorite greenhouses and came home laden with trays of plants and flowers; one older woman peered at the kids over her glasses and said, “What? No school today?” to which Laura replied with a smile, “We homeschool, and this is a field trip!”  And the nosy old bat smiled back. The weather is still a bit iffy, though; we’ve had stiff winds (80 km/hour gusts yesterday), and while last night at 10 pm it was 20 Celsius, the night before it came close to freezing. But I think I’m ready to plant out my squash (giant and otherwise), watermelon, cantaloupe and tomato seedlings.

Our painted lady caterpillars arrived yesterday from Boreal Northwest, seven larvae in a large vial with nutrient. The company sent an email on Wednesday that “your order has shipped” by two-day express-mail, and we turned up yesterday at the post office to collect our box. The kids were happy to find two extra caterpillars (“just in case”), for a total of seven — which makes two per kid and one for me — and a lovely and quite unexpected “Butterfly Life Cycle” poster from Boreal. Not bad for $23.95 and free shipping with their special offer the other month.

Tomorrow the little local pioneer museum has its grand reopening for the season, and we’re all looking forward to attending. And then we’re hoping just maybe to get our wheat seeded, and then we can breathe — a bit — before heading heading to the big city late next week for Laura’s performances at the provincial music/performing arts festival.

The newest Farm School pupil

is already very intelligent and well-trained. In fact, probably not much more that I can teach her.

Meet Lady, who is not quite three years old, and who came to live with us last night,

While the kids and I still tear up thinking of our late, much loved Heidi, there was definitely room in our hearts and on the farm for another dog. We didn’t dare hope for another German Shepherd, but when the kids and I went to check the notice board at the vet clinic for animals to give away, lo and behold, there was a sign for a young shepherd, to give away to a good home.

Lady spent the first part of her life with a family who has another, older dog who needs more attention than they could give her with an active young dog around. They were kind enough to let us give Lady a new home and the three young, lively playmates she needs. Also a fan club,

But while Lady is young and lively, she’s also quite calm and quiet. She hasn’t given a thought to running away or barking or jumping up on people, and seems to have taken ownership of the house, yard, and children. We thought it might be wise to keep her tied up overnight, just to get used to her new surroundings. No need. This morning, Daniel woke up brighter and earlier than usual, and discovered Lady where we had left her, in the garden in the shade, but disengaged from the chain. Waiting for someone to come play.

Needless to say, lessons for the three humans here happened outdoors this morning.

Books for little geeks

Or rather, books from geeks, GeekDads to be specific.

Today Michael Harrison at GeekDad has a post about Laura’s new b00kn3rd.com blog [it took me a while to figure out that “book nerd” is in there, but then I’m still woozy from my breakfast of waffles, whipped cream, and strawberries] and her post on rare children’s books at the Library of Congress.  Definitely worth a look.  Michael also links to a GeekDad post from last summer about the Rosetta Project.

Other recent GeekDad posts worth a look:

also by Michael, a GeekDad who obviously appreciates children and children’s books — “Resources for Reading Out Loud”

“Treasure Hunting for Kids”, by Dave Banks, which is a fabulous idea for spring and summer

“What our 11-year-old thought were the “best birthday gifts ever” by Chris Anderson

What we’ve been up to

Building a new open-front pole shed.

Tom and his helper, his father, and the boys (Laura is otherwise engaged, halter-breaking Benny) have done this bit in the past week. Daniel especially likes what I think of as the “high wire” work. I’ll stay down on the ground with my camera, and the chickens, thanks. When it’s finished, the pole shed will be covered with green steel and will house the tractors, loader, and telehandler.

Trusses going on:

You should just be able to make out seven-and-a-half year-old Davy, in the middle just in front of the concrete post,

Happy Mother’s Day

from all the mamas and their offspring at Farm School!

Callie the calico cat and some of her kittens,

Laura’s 4H cow-calf pair, Bunny and Benny,

Oreo the Speckle Park calf,

Poetry Friday: Mushrooms

It’s still Friday around here, for another two hours and 50 minutes, so technically I’m not late. It’s been a busy week, with swim club starting (requiring us to be in town four afternoons a week), an art lesson (we had just about forgotten what the art teacher looked like), and a make-up singing lesson today, just to make sure that we could be in town five days this week.

We had about an inch of rain last week, so with a bit more warmth and sunshine, the mushrooms should be coming up soon. Which made me think of

by Sylvia Plath (1932-1963)

Overnight, very
Whitely, discreetly,
Very quietly

Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.

Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room.

Soft fists insist on
Heaving the needles,
The leafy bedding,

Even the paving.
Our hammers, our rams,
Earless and eyeless.

Perfectly voiceless,
Widen the crannies,
Shoulder through holes. We

Diet on water,
On crumbs of shadow,
Bland-mannered, asking

Little or nothing.
So many of us!
So many of us!

We are shelves, we are
Tables, we are meek,
We are edible,

Nudgers and shovers
In spite of ourselves.
Our kind multiplies:

We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot’s in the door.

For more poetry fun, writer2b is hosting this week’s Poetry Friday round-up