• 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

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    "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"

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    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"

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    Walter Wriston

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    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

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    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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Fear, loathing, and bad manners in the classroom

Still across the pond, English author Susan Hill, whose books are included in GCSE and A-level syllabi and who has more patience in one pinky than I do in my whole body,  in The Telegraph says that “she has been flooded with ‘desperate’ emails from pupils struggling to understand her novels”:

“It saddens me greatly to think that my own novels may be taught so badly, so dully and so mechanically that they will contribute to this loathing of books. I have seen enough school essays and coursework to know that standards are lower than they were.”


“It has become distressingly clear to me that too many school pupils are taught badly, lazily, unintelligently and cursorily,” she said.

“They are not taught how to read and understand novels or to write essays and coursework and answer questions about them. Judging by the evidence of their emails, many should not be studying English literature at all, but with guidance, understanding and above all enthusiastic teaching they could certainly be helped to get more out of books – any books – than they are.”

Miss Hill also believes that not all pupils should be required to study GCSE English:

“Not all of them need to, or will ever, find practical application for those particular skills,” she said. ” If those who struggle… were introduced to a wide variety of books which they simply might enjoy reading, far fewer would be put off all literature for the rest of their lives.

Read the rest of the article here, and don’t miss the examples of emails sent to Miss Hill, who points out that teachers (and, I’d add, parents) are doing a poor job in the grammar and manners departments as well: “Manners are not automatic, like breathing. Nor is grammar.”  The Guardian article, by the bye,  came about as a result of a recent Standpoint magazine article by Miss Hill, “A Novel Way to Treat a Writer”.

Recent related articles:

“What Ails Literary Studies: Leaving Literature Behind” by Bruce Fleming in the Dec. 19, 2008, Chronicle of Higher Education (many thanks to Jo for letting me know about The Chronicle Review earlier in the year and also for sending me a number of articles behind the [shhh…] subscriber-only firewall): “We’ve turned revelation into drudgery, shut ourselves in airless rooms, and covered over the windows.”

“Shakespeare, Dickens and Palin. Discuss.” by English writer and critic Philip Hensher in The Independent, on “the place of the illustrious dead”.  (That would be Michael, not Sarah, by the way.)  From which,

The determination to study “the contemporary” and “the relevant” has resulted in a weird situation where a writer’s work never needs to find a public who actually likes the work. Instead, a bureaucrat approves, a volume is bought by huge numbers by schools, and the question of engagement with a living public never seems to arise.

Quite how bizarre this situation is has been pointed out by a mesmerising article by Susan Hill in the recent Standpoint magazine. She is an author with a genuine, living public; other books of hers are favourites, apparently, with the GCSE setters.


A Michael Palin travelogue* may not be the place to look to find out what great literature looks like. On the other hand, we are fairly sure that Coleridge is that place.

* Phileas Fogg and friends

6 Responses

  1. Did you read the comments on the Standpoint article. They are worth it. Particularly the last 2 (well today they are the last two) in which a discussion begins about READING ALOUD to students instead of having them read the text themselves. Fabulous. Engages weaker students in the story. The author has a brilliant example.

    And it strikes me that this practice is very common amongst homeschoolers, though perhaps not so much in the rest of the community especially with older children.

  2. No, there weren’t any when I first read the article after it went up. Was thinking I would go back to check for any, so thanks for the reminder.

  3. I love the Bruce Fleming article. I enjoyed his comments on the academic discipline of literature, and I especially loved the way he described helping students relate literature to real life (through Emma Bovary). He really “gets” what literature is all about.

    Like Jove, I also really liked the discussion of reading aloud, and audiobooks. Since my kids rely heavily on listening (in addition to, or in lieu of, print reading) this topic intrigues me a lot.

  4. The great think about reading aloud to kids is it helps them learn to listen and sustain that auditory attention. We (Hombre more than I) do a *lot* of reading aloud to the boys. I remember my teachers up thru 5th grade reading aloud to us daily. I don’t know that there’s time for that anymore.

  5. Thing, I meant thing. Although I suppose think is on track, too.

  6. Thing and think both work, Casey!

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