• 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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In like a lion

Though I’m sure he’d succumb: the temperature so far today, at 9:23 am, is -35.7 Celsius, which unlike the recent snow squalls is very unusual here for this time of year.

Unusual and unwanted.

“Listen to some words of wisdom…

…Metrotone reports a talk between Mr. Courage and Mr. Fear in which you’ll be interested”

From Hearst Metrotone News, 1930.  I suppose it’s not too cynical to suggest that William Randolph Hearst had a vested interest in the general moviegoing public throwing in their lot with Mr. Courage. Crackers and milk, anyone?

Letting the sun in through the cellophane

Men and boys are learning all kinds of trades but how to make men of themselves. They learn to make houses; but they are not so well housed, they are not so contented in their houses, as the woodchucks in their holes. What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on? — If you cannot tolerate the planet that it is on? Grade the ground first. If a man believes and expects great things of himself, it makes no odds where you put him, or what you show him … he will be surrounded by grandeur. He is in the condition of a healthy and hungry man, who says to himself, — How sweet this crust is!
— Henry David Thoreau

When talk began of the trillion-dollar stimulus package and zeroes began to swim before my eyes, along with visions of my impoverished grandchildren and great-grandchildren, I began to wonder about the idea of a consumer economy.  I’m no economist and not a professional historian so I honestly don’t know some of the answers: what exactly is a consumer economy? is it better than the alternatives? what are the alternatives? is there such thing as a producer economy? did we once have one and was it replaced?  And then, with some doubt, do we want to continue with a consumer economy by propping it up with a stimulus package? Do we want to continue down this same road?

If we do decide that the sort of economy to have is a consumer economy, then we probably do need to get people shopping for more stuff.  Then again, that striving for ever more stuff in the wake of the astonishing prosperity of the postwar years, has led us toward suburbs and urban sprawl, instant mashed potatoes, Jell-o salad, Wal-Mart, McDonalds, Diners Club, and Ron Popeil’s Ronco empire of things we never knew we needed.

Yesterday in The New York Times economist Thomas Friedman asked “a radical question”:

Let’s today step out of the normal boundaries of analysis of our economic crisis and ask a radical question: What if the crisis of 2008 represents something much more fundamental than a deep recession? What if it’s telling us that the whole growth model we created over the last 50 years is simply unsustainable economically and ecologically and that 2008 was when we hit the wall — when Mother Nature and the market both said: “No more.”

We have created a system for growth that depended on our building more and more stores to sell more and more stuff made in more and more factories in China, powered by more and more coal that would cause more and more climate change but earn China more and more dollars to buy more and more U.S. T-bills so America would have more and more money to build more and more stores and sell more and more stuff that would employ more and more Chinese …

We can’t do this anymore.

Read the rest here; it’s not very long but offers plenty to think about.

It makes me feel less loopy, as a home educating farm wife on the prairie who steered clear from any economics courses, reads more than she remembers, and has to keep looking up exactly how many zeroes are in a trillion, to know I’m not the only one asking away and wondering and that some of the others who are asking and wondering do in fact know what they’re talking about.  The connection between Mother Nature and the economy occurred to me the other day as I was getting together a list of resources for the kids on the present situation and the Great Depression, and, to a lesser extent, the Panic of 1893.  Their recent questions — including “when does a recession turn into a depression” — made me realize we need to do more than just discuss the news they read and hear about. And there’s no separating Mother Nature and her Dust Bowl from the Great Depression.

As I’ve been thinking about this for the past month or so, I also remembered reading in the 1986 E.B. White biography by Scott Elledge that in 1933 Andy White had written a three-piece satirical essay on the Depression, though I couldn’t recall any of the particulars.  I looked it up in the book and found the series was called “Alice Through the Cellophane”.  Here’s what Mr. Elledge wrote,

In [the series White] took issue with various theories advanced for remedying the Depression. To the economists who held that prosperity could be regained only by restoring the consumers’ buying power, he said that “man’s buying power is one of the least noble of his powers and should not be the arch that supports his peace and well-being.”  Efforts to stimulate production  too, he believed, were misguided.  Pointing to the excess of unnecessary goods already being manufactured, and to their consumption by people whose demand for them had been artificially stimulated, he advocated buying nothing — or at least no more than absolutely needed.  He proposed, on the contrary, to decrease production, and to do that by means of a paradoxical scheme: by paying the highest executives the lowest wages and the lowest-ranking employees the highest salaries.  Such a pay scale would provide no incentive to climb the ladder, and those finding themselves by mischance at its top would have no desire to stay there and produce more goods.

White concluded the essay by calling up the memory of Henry David Thoreau, who “had rejected the complexity of life,” and by  urging his fellow men to imitate Thoreau.  His final words were:

“The hope I see for the world, even today, is to simplify life . . . . Nature (whose course we are about to prevent her from taking) is, I grant, complicated; but it is only on the surface that her variety is baffling.  At the core it is a simple ideal.  You feel it when lying stretched on warm rocks, letting the sun in. It is just possible that in our zeal to manufacture sunlamps at a profit, we have lost forever the privilege of sitting in the sun.”

(I’d like to request, please, that The New Yorker consider making E.B. White’s three-part series, “Alice through the Cellophane”, 1933, available online for free to all readers as a public service. Many thanks.)

Poetry Friday: Down the human road

I don’t know what made this poem jump into my head this week. It’s one of Phyllis McGinley’s most powerful, I think, and I have no idea whether she was inspired by Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous quotation, “I have seen gross intolerance shewn in support of toleration” from his 1817 essay, “Blessed are ye that sow beside all Waters!” on political justice.

The Angry Man
by Phyllis McGinley

The other day I chanced to meet
An angry man upon the street —
A man of wrath, a man of war,
A man who truculently bore
Over his shoulders, like a lance,
A banner labeled “Tolerance.”

And when I asked him why he strode
Thus scowling down the human road,
Scowling, he answered, “I am he
Who champions total liberty —
Intolerance being, ma’am, a state
No tolerant man can tolerate.

“When I meet rogues,” he cried, “who choose
To cherish oppositional views,
Lady, like this, and in this manner,
I lay about me with my banner
Till they cry mercy, ma’am.” His blows
Rained proudly on prospective foes.

Fearful, I turned and left him there
Still muttering, as he thrashed the air,
“Let the Intolerant beware!”

For more poems, Anastasia Suen at Picture Book of the Day is hosting today’s Poetry Friday round-up.  And her picture book of the day, Poetry Speaks to Children, which comes with a CD, is one of our favorites.  Thank you for hosting, Anastasia.

We got walloped with two snowstorms this week, a fairly gentle one with heavy snow on Tuesday — which didn’t keep us from the kids’ end-of-season curling party in town, though at one point on the country road I did have to stop the truck to see where the ditches were — and a windy blizzardy one yesterday that left us with much more snow, including enormous and very hard-packed drifts.  That one did keep us home, mainly because of the drift in front of the truck.  Tom and the boys had a bit of a struggle getting into our corrals yesterday morning, but brought the tractor the mile and a half back to the house, clearing snow all the way.  Very comforting to have a tractor in the driveway on a day like today.  And the temperature has dropped like the proverbial stone, from around 3 degrees Celsius earlier this week (about 37 F) to -32 C (about -22 F).

The kids decided to make the most of the weather; unlike their mother, they’re rather worried about the possibility of any melting.  The snow Tom cleared out of the driveway now makes a pretty dandy sledding hill, and the plenty of remaining drifts around the house are so hard that they’re good for igloo blocks.  The kids have had one of my kitchen knives for most of the day and are busy sawing and stacking away.  With any luck I’ll get my knife back after dark.

Just to keep things educational, you can watch this.  I can’t remember if I posted, as I meant to, that the National Film Board of Canada is celebrating its 7oth anniversary by offering some of its best works for free online.  We’ve been gorging ourselves since January.  Happy birthday, NFB!

You don’t say

The New York Times discovers after 75 years that in hard times, people “just want to hide in a very dark place”, particularly a movie theater.

Researchers have discovered the shocking news that children learn better if they’re allowed to have recess, and “other research suggests that all children, not just those with attention problems, can benefit from spending time in nature during the school day.”

— However, all bets are off if you live in the North where recess is apparently dangerous. According to another study, this one in the Journal of School Health based on 2002 figures, more “than 4,000 children between the ages of five and 19 were injured in a year in Ottawa-area schools”. Then again, this is no longer the country of the intrepid Sam Steele and  Laura Secord (she could have put an eye out or twisted an ankel running through the woods) but the safety tuque and the campaign to wear helmets while sledding.

— Apparently the “most popular” emailed article at The New York Times this weekend was Friday’s op-ed column, “The Great Solvent North” by Theresa Tedesco, chief business correspondent of the Canadian newspaper, The National Post, in which she writes, “Canada, whose banking system had long been notorious for its stodgy practices and government coddling, is now being celebrated for those very qualities.”  Of course, there’s banking and then there are pension funds, and interestingly this week brought news that “Canada’s largest pension fund — Caisse de Depot et Placement du Quebec — lost a quarter of its $155-billion pension fund asset” in 2008.  According to The Toronto Star, the Caisse’s “recent ambitions have led it to aggressively sink billions into novel financial instruments, such as nonbank asset-backed commercial paper – short-term corporate debts that turned toxic.”

— Not surprisingly, not many Canadian politicians or oil and gas executives seem to subscribe to National Geographic.  Which is the only way to explain why the hullabaloo over the current issue’s photo essay on Alberta’s tar sands, “Scraping Bottom”, was raised only when the issue hit the newstands last week, not when it hit mailboxes earlier.  What is surprising is how the lines have been drawn over the article, though it helps to remember that line about politics and bedfellows: new Liberal opposition leader Michael Ignatieff* not coincidentally looking for votes on a swing through Alberta and quirky CBC commentator Rex Murphy calling foul, and the Alberta government and The Edmonton Journal‘s editorial page calling fair.  And silence from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, last seen at an Ottawa press conference with President Obama throwing the Bush regime under the bus,

We will be watching what the United States does [regarding the environment] very — with a lot of — with a lot of interest for the obvious reasons that, as we all know, Canada has had great difficulty developing an effective regulatory regime alone in the context of a integrated continental economy. It’s very hard to have a tough regulatory system here when we are competed with — competing with an unregulated economy south of the border.

Also interesting to note that it’s an article with photographs, including two large foldouts, that makes such a splash.  And not any of the equally dramatic but more or less pictureless articles on the oil sands over the years, such as Elizabeth Kolbert‘s “Unconventional Crude” for The New Yorker in 2007 and The Guardian‘s “Mud, sweat and tears” the same year.  A thousand words, indeed.

Better late than never department: I have a post in my draft folder about this, but each time I pull it up I start to gnash my teeth.  Here’s what the non-Canadian The Economist has to say on the subject, with less teeth-gnashing and garment-rending on my part (I’ve added some links to the original article),

The Battle of the Plains of Abraham was brief and not all that bloody, but it was historic. On September 13th 1759, France’s loss of its colonial territories in North America was set in motion when British redcoats scaled cliffs protecting Quebec City and defeated troops and militia loyal to Louis XV. A modern-day battle over the battle, which concluded on February 17th, lasted somewhat longer and ended very differently. It flared up over plans to mark the battle’s 250th anniversary with a re-enactment, and ended with Quebec separatists crying victory and Canada’s federal government beating a hasty retreat.

The re-enactment was to have been the centrepiece of a summer-long commemoration of 1759’s events. But to some Quebeckers commemoration sounded like celebration. “Dancing on the graves of our ancestors,” was how the Réseau de Résistance du Québécois (RRQ), a group of sovereigntist hardliners, described it. They demanded the re-enactment’s cancellation. For several weeks debate raged. The re-enactment was an exercise to pay tribute to the fallen and educate the living about one of Canada’s most important episodes, said its supporters. These included 2,000 or so mostly American “re-enacters”, the federal government and Quebec City’s mayor, who was loth to lose millions of dollars in tourist spending.

Opponents, and most of the French-language press, cursed the proposed re-enactment as a “repugnant federalist propaganda operation”. When it reached a point where its organisers were receiving threats—including having “our bayonets shoved up our butts”, according to their leader—the National Battlefields Commission, which administers the Plains of Abraham, cancelled the mock battle and other activities planned for the summer. Or, as the Gazette, Quebec’s only English daily, wrote, it “cravenly surrendered the field”.

If there was an edifying component to the brouhaha, it lay in displaying the different light in which the Conquest, as it is known, is seen by those on opposite sides of the Quebec independence debate. For many sovereigntists it was the beginning of domination by the wretched English, and of the struggle for cultural survival. Federalists, however, both Francophone and Anglophone, argue that after the Conquest the French of New France got rights they could only dream of under the exploitative, authoritarian ancien régime.

Whatever the case, the re-enactment was probably doomed from the moment in mid-January when the RRQ pledged “to go on the warpath” against it. Support for Quebec’s sovereignty spikes whenever it is felt that English Canada is taking it for granted or not respecting it. Wise federal politicians are thus wary of anything that may rile Quebec sensitivities. Nevertheless, a few cabinet ministers took opposing positions on the re-enactment.

Quebec’s premier, Jean Charest, was shrewd enough not to get involved. He simply announced that he would not attend. This is a decision Generals Wolfe and Montcalm, the commanders of the British and French forces in 1759, should probably also have made; both died of wounds suffered on the Plains of Abraham

A few thoughts. First, outside of Quebec in the rest of the country this article didn’t make much of a splash at all. Second, how disappointing to live in a country, a world, where some can confuse commemoration with celebration, and where hundreds of years later there are still such sensitivities over historical facts. I can’t help but think of the bicentary commemoration of the Battle of Trafalgar four years ago, when the famous sea battle was re-enacted, as the BBC noted, “between a blue and a red team, rather than Britain versus France, in order not to offend the French”.  And yet there’s the feeling that confusion has been raised over the meaning of words, the prospect of insult to ancestors has been raised and bandied about merely to make separatist, sovereigntist hay. And the rest of the country, especially the part scratching its collective head every so often over Quebec, doesn’t know enough of its own history to care.  As Hugh MacLennan wrote in Rivers of Canada in 1974 (almost 30 years after his Two Solitudes), “Ours is not the only nation which has out-travelled its own soul and now is forced to search frantically for a new identity. No wonder, for so many, the past Canadian experience has become not so much a forgotten thing as an unknown thing.”

Anyone moved to learn more might be interested to know that the other weekend The Ottawa Citizen excerpted part of D. Peter Macleod’s new book, Northern Armageddon: The Battle of the Plains of Abraham.  You can read the excerpt here.

UPDATED to add: I knew I forgot something. Here’s a birthday present from the National Film Board of Canada: “The Fate of America: Two well-known Quebec artists, a filmmaker and a playwright, look at various aspects of the story of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. Whose version should prevail? Is history best served by documentary or fiction?”